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I’m attracted to the fire in the lounge of the Chedi Andermatt like a moth to a flame. Every afternoon I curl up on one of the velvet day beds with tea and cake while outside the snow falls. The Chedi opened for its winter season last week - celebrating its first birthday at the same time. It has been a big year. The GHM hotel group’s first European hotel received rave reviews and a glittering medal tally of awards for its design.
I’m not surprised; Chedi Andermatt is the most photogenic hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Clearly other people think so too, the hotel has been so inundated by style paparazzi that there is now a sign in the foyer asking people not take pictures.  The hotel is already a member of Leading Hotels of the World which is also a good start.

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Designer Jean-Michel Gathy has been responsible for the look of some of the planet’s most perfect hotels, many of them in Asia (think Aman, One & Only, Mandarin Oriental). So it is no wonder that the Chedi somehow manages to combine the elements of a traditional alpine lodge with some significant Asian touches. Those daybeds for example - and the low table surrounded by cushions in my bedroom. 

The bedroom whispers “relaxxxxx’ at me as I walk in the door. My bed has pillows piled high as a snow drift and the open-plan bathroom means I can watch TV from the tub. The hotel has 200 fireplaces and the one in my bedroom has two way glass backing so I can warm my toes from my balcony too. Which is just as well because it is worth sitting there to take in the view. I am surrounded by soaring mountain peaks as triangular as Toblerone.

Coming down on the cable car the Chedi blends seamlessly with its surroundings; its snow-covered roof at exactly the same pitch as the roofs of the traditional wooden houses all around it.  However in reality I sense that Chedi and the sleepy village are still getting used to each other - like feet and new ski boots it takes a little time.

Don’t go to Andermatt expecting a Zermatt-style infrastructure.  As yet there isn’t a five star skiing experience to go with the five star hotel. The mountains are breathtakingly beautiful and the view from the top of the Gemmstock cable car is extraordinary with unspoiled snowy peaks as far as the eye can see. But at present the runs are limited although intrepid off-piste types will love the pristine wilderness. The black Bernhard-Russi-Run from the top and the off-piste routes Giraffe and Geissberg are famous.

However little Andermatt has big plans. BY 2017 a series of new lifts will improve Andermatt and link nearby Sedrun and Nätschen. Egyptian owner Samih Sawiris has a “field of Dreams mentality when it comes to the area- “if you build it they will come”. The Chedi Andermatt is the first step in a very ambitious plan. Sawiris is pouring several billion dollars into the redevelopment of the area with plans for another five hotels, apartments and villas.  I walk to the edge of town where a new golf course is hidden under the snow  and a new leisure centre is also planned.

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Interestingly the development is really only returning Andermatt to its former tourism glory. Before they built the railway tunnel the area was the gateway to St Gotthard valley and a meeting place for travellers.  Back in 1872 it had an elaborate luxury hotel, the Bellevue, to rival anything seen in St Moritz. Queen Victoria even stayed here because she felt Interlaken was just too touristy.

In 1937Andermatt was one of the first resorts in Switzerland to get a ski lift but then everything changed.  During the war the Swiss army moved in ready to protect the country from invasion over the high passes from Italy on one side and Germany on the other.  And by all accounts the surrounding mountains are as full of holes and secret passages as Emmenthal cheese. 

So while Gstaad and Zermatt continued to develop as ultra-ritzy ski resorts Andermatt pinned its hopes on the army and the barracks built nearby.  When the army moved out Andermatt was struggling. Until that is a local Swiss diplomat met a Egyptian businessman and the transformation began.

The Chedi is built on the exact site of the old Bellevue, its new ice- rink  (opening this season) will be on the same spot as the Bellevue’s rink used to be. There is a pleasing symmetry about this, a sense that Andermatt’s fate has come full circle and that former glories will return. For now visitors will enjoy the hotel and its impressive three-floored spa with polar- bear white interiors and a fusion of Asian and Alpine treatments.

They will also enjoy the charm of a place where locals walk their dogs around quiet lanes on snowy mornings,  little red mountain trains pop in and out of tunnels like something out of Thomas the Tank engine and people hike, snowshoe and sledge for entertainment. ...and there isn’t a designer shop in sight. 

Luxury Hotels Link: www.lhw.com www.thechedi-andermatt.com

 Hilary Doling, 11/12/14 
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