SWISS chintz gives way to Asian chic at the Chedi Andermatt, finds Kate Wickers
It’s worth paying extra for a first class train ticket if you’re heading on the Gotthard railway from Zurich to Andermatt, as you get to sit in a carriage like a giant test tube with a huge curved glass roof, designed to get the best views of the Swiss Alps. It’s a lovely journey past vast lakes and perfect pastures dotted with wild flowers, where pretty cows with bells happily graze. Inside mountain tunnels we spiral gently, listing first to one side then the other, until we pop out into the sunshine and are surprised to find that we haven’t gone further, just much higher. There’s a famous baroque church in the town of Wassen that you see from different angles as you make this ascent.
A limousine is waiting at Goschenen station for the 10-minute car journey to The Chedi Andermatt, a magnificent wooden structure with 101 rooms and suites and with an intriguing Swiss-Asian design – imagine Buddha on skis. It has transformed this sleepy town, a key stopping off point for travellers since the Stone Age and a military base until 2003, into the trendiest bolthole in the country. Inside there’s not a hint of Swiss chintz but rather low tables, dark hardwood floors, orchids and soaring roofs reminiscent of Thai temples. Fur cushions; log fires and stag heads (modern art rather than actual deer noggins) give it that cosy, chalet atmosphere. During the ski season from December to April there’s a ski butler service for arranging everything from ski hire to transport to the 125-kilometres of local piste and the boot room (handily next to the bar) is decorated with the vintage skis of famous Swiss skiers.
Our gorgeous suite (think James Bond, Dr Zhivago and Bangkok all rolled in to one) wins the prize for longest sofa in a hotel room ever, (we can both lie fully stretched out on it, toe to toe). It would be easy to hole up here and order room service but instead we get out a map of walking routes and lace up our boots.
Andermatt is an attractive chocolate-box town with wooden painted houses bordered with fertile allotments and year round attracts walkers, mountain bikers, golfers and climbers. I pop in to La Boutique to buy hand knitted cuffs fringed with rabbit fur that I’m glad of as a brisk autumn wind chases us up to the Mariahilf chapel on a hill, built in 1735 to protect the village against avalanches. We follow the Herbal Plants Trail where boards give information about the culinary and medicinal uses of plants such as Good-King-Henry and Breckland Thyme. We cross a gushing waterfall and hear the tinkle of bells from goats long before we spot them in the heather and discover that llama and yak are among the more unusual livestock of the modern Swiss herder.
The 8km loop brings us back to town and the traditional Galthaus zum Sternen, where we choose comfort food of goulash soup and potato rosti topped with fried egg and crispy onion – perfect after a morning scrambling along mountain trails.
The Spa, which won Conde Nast’s Most Decadent award in 2014, is pure indulgence, particularly the relaxation room with its beds, blankets and images of Nepal projected on to the wall. I’m brought green tea and told to take my time before my facial so I lie back and watch life in the Himalayas unfold.
The Restaurant has four show kitchens, which create Asian and Swiss European food. There are long chefs tables between them if you want to watch the action, while beyond there’s a less frenetic atmosphere in the main dining area. We go to Asia for our supper (Thai fishcakes, a dim sum of steamed pork buns followed by monkfish with ginger) but to Switzerland for our wine, choosing an Erich Meier Rauschling, and learn the reason that you don’t hear much of Swiss wine is because what little they produce they like to keep to themselves. No wonder, it’s delicious. The Restaurant’s centrepiece is the huge five-metre high glass cheese cellar, where we sample tasty local cheeses such as Gotto and Gottardo that owe their particular aromatic flavour to the cow’s alpine herb diet.
On Sunday morning we catch the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn train to Oberalppass at 2,042 metres. It’s a beautiful trek past the Oberalpsee lake, through the muddy, heather-filled Urseren valley flanked by the snow-capped Saint Gotthard mountains, to the tiny station at Natschen, where we catch a train back to Andermatt. We’ve just time for a soak in the Chedi’s steamy outside hydrothermal pool before our train journey back to Zurich.
• Rates at the Chedi Andermatt (www.chediandermatt.com) start from CHF 500 per night (around £338) for a Deluxe Room including breakfast, based on two people sharing. Air France (www.airfrance.co.uk) flies return from Edinburgh to Zurich via Paris from around £111; next month EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) is launching a direct service from Glasgow; www.myswitzerland.com