A licence to thrill in Andermatt
Switzerland, the land of cheese and exceptional time keeping and the home to one of the most surprising ski resorts, Andermatt.
Just over 100Km from Zurich airport and accessible by train, the sleepy and charming village which is receiving an Egyptian financial boost offers some wonderful off-piste skiing.
Arriving by the snow train having navigated 4 changes with 20 pieces of luggage and 7 persons we were greeted by the charming Louis from Hotel Sonne. Clearly well versed at stuffing guests luggage into his mini 4×4 we made our way on foot to what would be our base for the next four days.
Home to 1,500 residents, the quaint and unassuming Andermatt of only 9 ski lifts boasts a vast expanse off-piste skiing area. James Bond fans may be excited to hear that this is indeed the resort where they filmed the ‘skiing parts’ of GoldFinger and where we are reliably informed that Sean Connery may or may not have created a few mini Bonds during his time there*
In continuing with my licence to thrill (ahem) that evening we met with Andrea Enzio, our mountain guide for the next two days. Now, how can I best describe Andrea? Well don’t be fooled by the female sounding spelling of his name. He’s so far from that. He’s Italian but speaks fantastic English, French and German, is well-tanned, is a qualified ski instructor, has been a mountain guide for donkey’s years, and owns 15 pairs of skis. He is the calmest man known to earth, wears white sunglasses whilst his googles perch upon his helmet and is the most wonderful skier. If there was ever a reason so jump ship, I think he might be it.
But in all seriousness, I can’t recommended having a guide highly enough. His knowledge of the area was second to none as was his desire to stress the importance of being safe on the mountain. It really was a wonderful addition to the trip.
With the sun shining we took the cable car (the type that James Bond would totally have a fight on) up Gemstock, the main mountain of Andermatt. It felt like you could only go up the mountain if your skis were wide or well, wide. This is a serious free-riding area. God knows where we actually went but that’s the great thing about having a guide, you just put your trust in them and follow. But what I do know is -and being fairly new to off-piste skiing – that there is something really wonderful about adventuring down the mountain. It took us 20 minutes to get up yet more than 2 hours to get down. Whether you are traversing to get a higher line or circumnavigating a field of small trees, every part offers a new challenge, untouched snow and the chance to see no one else!
As we navigated the last bits that the back country had to offer we skied straight into a Gasthaus of Andermatt’s neighbouring town, Hospental for a spot of lunch (bratwurst & rosti AKA Sausage and chips) Actually let’s be honest, if there was ever a need for a greater example of an Oxymoron this would be it; Hospental is a large town. To give you an idea, the shuttle service between here and Andermatt stops for an hour at lunch, yes that type of place.
It was not long after lunch that the daily ‘ski leg ache’ surfaced and we returned to Hotel Sonne for (another) good feed and a few medicinal glasses of wine before an early bed.
Come Wednesday morning there was a sense of trepidation as we learned that Andrea planned to take us up to the top and over a pass. No lifts in sight. ‘It eees not faaar’ he says in his Italian toned English. We all nod in unison and agree we can manage a short hike. Course we can, we would have done ANYTHING for him. A quick self-check of our transceivers and a drop of the back of the GemStock. Well technically let’s be honest it wasn’t that cool, we actually walked precariously down the most inappropriate designed set of steps attached to a mountain before we mounted and….dropped off the back of the Gemstock.
“MMMMmmmhmmm”…one of us says as we come to a standstill and view the sizeable hill we now have to climb. “I thought he said it wasn’t far?” one of us exclaims as we lose sight of the other adventurers who have neared the summit. Well there is literally no turning back now. Some went for the skis on the shoulder, others attached their skis to their back pack. I went for the latter, I felt it gave me that extreme edge.
“Go slowly and set a steady pace” Andrea says placidly. Yes, well that works for people whose legs actually stretch into the ‘normal’ sized foot holes that predecessors have made, it doesn’t account for those who are just shy of 5ft 3. Needless to say I felt like I had conquered Everest when we made it to the top. And you know our dear Andrea? Well here’s something to add to the list. He carried up two pairs of skis up the hike and wasn’t even out of breath…yeh I know.
Once we’d all regained some composure we were led down another wonderful off-piste journey. Apart from those we had seen at the top of the pass we met no one for the entirety of our 2 hour descent. Absolute bliss.
That evening we were treated to a visit at the Chedi, Andermatt’s 5 star luxury hotel, the first of 6 being built by the Andermatt Swiss Alps (ASA) project – the initiative backed by the Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris to develop the resort. With rooms the size of my flat, the prices aren’t for the faint hearted but from the brief experience we had, the service and the food is worth paying for. We enjoyed a delicious three course extravaganza with matching wines; it was a truly luxurious experience.
I didn’t jump out of bed so swiftly come Thursday partly due to the 5am drumming wakeup call that resounded through the streets. We seemed to have found ourselves staying during Switzerland’s’ Carnival day. God knows why they like to start so early, maybe it’s a time thing. But as we waved farewell (and I sobbed) to Andrea we took it upon ourselves to take the train from Andermatt across to Nätschen the neighbouring resort. With an abundance of runs for piste skiers we were at a loss as to who on earth these other people where crowding our slope and more importantly the hell where we going? Bring back Andrea!!! Not wanting to shoot ourselves in the foot and miss our connecting train back to Andermatt we stopped for a quick lunch (sausage and chips take 3) and clambered back on board for the last stretch home. Showers and goodbyes followed as we all sadly left behind a resort that now sits fondly in our hearts.
It was an excellent experience. The Hotel was perfect for what we needed, comfortable, warm and lovely staff. The skiing was exceptional and the guide was, well, I’ve booked my travel arrangements out to Italy.
(*please note that this information will not stand up in a court of law)
Beth visited Andermatt as part of a Ski Club of Great Britain Freshtracks holiday (+44 (0)20 8410 2022; skiclub.co.uk/skiclubfreshtracks) staying at the Hotel Sonne (+41(0)41 887 1226; hotelsonneandermatt.ch)
For further information on Switzerland visit MySwitzerland.com
Written by Beth Begg – PR/Partnerships Manager