A travel song
The best road to Andermatt is the longest, from the Canton of Valais, running from the Rhone valley through the Furka pass, connecting it with the Urseren valley. A car train carries you from one valley to the next through a tunnel and you don't even need to step out of your car. The tunnel is narrow, dark, and on its longest stage becomes a little uncomfortable. You find yourself involuntarily wondering how heavy the mountain must be above your head and how easily the rocks could crush the flimsy train. However, at this point you remember that you are in the country that makes the world's best tourbillons and where the public transport leave on time to the second, and so the idea of actually being afraid that something might break and collapse, or even not work properly, seems a little silly.
Without a car it is even easier to get there. You can cross the Alps on the new Glacier Express or on an old train that goes straight over the top of the mountains through the Furka Pass, where one of the pictures from the Bond series, "Goldfinger", was filmed. Through the windows of the train cars you can catch a glimpse of the Rhone Glacier, and during a stop pose for photos with each other or take a selfie against the background of the mountains, which appear as if they are holding up the sky.
A town in the valley
After making the crossing through the Alps, you will find yourself in a closed valley, shut off from the outside world, home to Andermatt. If it were not for the new buildings (the Swiss are frantically turning the area into a major ski resort, investing tens of millions of francs into the construction of pistes and ski lifts), it would resemble a kind of toy city – we used to create such precise, square houses from German building kits, neatly attaching tiny flower boxes under each window.
Andermatt is surrounded by meadows, above which, especially on windy days, the air is filled with the sounds of bells. Hearing them for the first time, you might turn your head in search of the nearest church, but you’ll soon realize that this clanging has no religious overtones. The bells (quite massive) are ringing from the necks of the large cows grazing on the slopes. The goats and donkeys also wandering about the meadows give the valley an extraordinarily idyllic appearance. However, the town itself is no rural backwater. Its main and largest hotel (in fact, it takes up a whole city block), the Chedi, whose name in Thai means "temple", is located just a stone’s throw from the center.
All the external and internal arrangements of the Chedi Hotel – the wooden and glass facade, pools lined with stone Buddhas, high-ceilinged halls, hundreds of fireplaces, a skating rink in the courtyard – complement the surrounding landscapes and coexist perfectly with the town’s old quarter. This is precise and modern architecture, which manages to somehow incorporate the rugged mountains beyond the windows into the building itself as if they were part of the very construction. The modernist new quarter and the rococo historic center, the roof of the fire department overgrown with grass and moss and a giant glass canopy above the entrance to the Chedi – this is today's Andermatt.
Passing through the central part of the city and crossing the humpbacked bridge across the river, you find yourself in meadows that stretch to the very bottom of the mountains that surround the valley. The paths go in different directions. In the off-season, there are just as many things to do as in the winter: Nordic walking, trail running, mountain biking, not to mention some unique programs thought up by the Chedi, for example "goat tracking" (the cheese made on the farm during this tour, once ripened, will be sent home with you). Part of the meadow has been turned into a golf course, and hairy-eared cows, lying on the grass a little at a distance, throw glances at the players.
The countryside around Andermatt could well be replicated on some orbital space station, so that its crew from time to time could remember just how beautiful the earth is. Any photo from here is worthy of a desktop wallpaper: meadows full with plush cows, small houses with red shutters, decorated with wooden tiles resembling fish scales, and the temple-like silhouette of the Chedi against the background of the snowy mountain peaks.
Everything in its right place
Perhaps the best place in the entire hotel complex, and in the whole city (not counting, of course, the hot pools with the outstretched arms of the many Buddhas) is its Japanese restaurant.
After taking your fill of delicious Swiss cheeses, for some reason you start desperately to dream of sushi. Japanese cuisine, on the whole, is very well established in the Alps, but the restaurant in the Chedi is where East and West meet in the most delicious fashion possible. After gliding around the seamlessly flowing halls of the Chedi, a couple of times taking the wrong turn and ending up in the library, and then in the cigar room, I finally made it to the Japanese restaurant. This area of the hotel is always uncrowded, there is no movement – neither behind the windows nor inside – just the waving of the curtains in front of the entrance to the dining area. Once settled at the bar, through the glass wall you can see the hotel courtyard with its skating rink and surrounding rocks. And right before you, the chef draws incredible pictures from tiny pieces of vegetables and fish onto your plate. Magically a butterfly appears out of a carrot – so tiny that it's impossible to imagine how a knife could have fashioned it. Nearby there is a sushi mosaic from local lake fish, different cuts from various types of tuna, shrimps and other fruits of the sea. But even before they are served, the waiter brings spring water with cucumber and mint and a tiny compliment from the chef from something that you do not immediately recognize.
And in this water, and in this carrot butterfly, and in the rice with fish, and in the tiny chocolate sweets with sorbet from yuzu and wasabi you can find the purity and fragility of snowflakes. This is the perfect night meal in the mountains. While in the afternoon, after a hike or a ski, it is rather lovely to relax by the traditional fireplace and indulge yourself with the warming food of the Restaurant. The menu is eclectic to the extreme – from Singapore street food to the classics of fine European dining.
The thoroughly modern Andermatt seems to have it all. And precisely because there is everything here – alpine sports and Japanese zen, glaciers and the hot pools of the Chedi, fondue and sashimi, history and a glimpse into the future – at the end of your stay you will find yourself reluctant to leave.
Published on: August 25, 2018
Text: Julia Kerner