Andermatt in Switzerland has found new life with the arrival of luxury resort, The Chedi Andermatt, in 2013, but the small village hasn’t always been a prime destination for the international community. From last resort to military outpost, we take a walk through Andermatt’s shrouded past and uncover the beginnings of this modest mountain hideaway.
Roughly 800 years ago, in the St. Gotthard Pass of the Swiss Alps, a deal was made with the Devil. Upon the Devil’s completion of a bridge that crossed the Reuss River, the Devil would be entitled to the soul of whoever crossed the bridge first. Owing to the difficulty of the task, the bridge makers obliged. But when the bridge was finished, instead of sending a person across for sacrifice a goat was chased across. This trickery so angered the Devil that he found a 220-tonne stone to smash the newly completed bridge. Yet his revenge too was foiled as he was subsequently stopped in his tracks by a woman wielding a crucifix. The Devil, rattled by the woman’s showing, fled and in his haste, dropped the battering stone, now known as the Devil’s Stone located in Göschenen. The Alps villagers had proven victorious, but it wouldn’t be the only time. Recently they have found a new type of success, and it is happening just a stone’s throw away from both the Devil’s Bridge and Devil’s Stone in Andermatt, Switzerland.
Located in the Swiss canton of Uri, and at the heart of four integral Swiss mountain passes—Furka, St. Gotthard, Oberalp, and Göschenertal—Andermatt first became known as little more than a last resort. While modest, and offering little more than the necessities, the municipality was one of the only outposts offering refuge and relaxation for those travelling through the Swiss passes. But because of its modesty and size, Andermatt remained largely unknown to the international community. However, when passages were carved out for stagecoaches in the early 19th century, the village turned its modest existence into one of hospitality and became increasingly recognised amongst travellers and traders as a spa destination—a reputation it would continue to cultivate over the next 200-plus years.
Recently they have found a new type of success, and it is happening just a stone’s throw away from both the Devil’s Bridge and Devil’s Stone in Andermatt, Switzerland.
But small-town obscurity materialised once again when the new Gotthard Railway Tunnel was built on a path that bypassed the town completely. In an attempt to revive the small town from a stretch of relative inactivity, however, Sebastian Christen opened The Grand Bellevue Hotel in 1872. Selling his hotel on its central Alpine location, spate of spas and a moderate temperatures, Christen succeeded in drawing in a small but wealthy crowd of Europeans who enjoyed the seclusion of the increasingly fashionable destination. This recognition began to push the municipality down the path of recognised Alpine destinations, but the village’s trajectory was soon to change again with the onset of World War II and subsequent destruction of The Grand Bellevue.
The Swiss, who have been known historically as neutralists, decided during the early years of the Second World War that Andermatt was the ideal location for a strategic military outpost. Tunnelling into the surrounding mountains, the high command in the Swiss military created an extensive series of military bunkers which were to be used for hiding and defensive purposes in case of foreign invasion during the war. Left abandoned now, these tunnels marked the beginning of 70-years-plus of recognition as nothing more than a military ground. In part due to the central location within Switzerland, and in part due to the inaccessibility of the surrounding mountains, Andermatt has since remained as such. And though the Swiss government has, over time, reduced the size and importance of the forces in town, Swiss soldiers can still be seen kicking around outside the barracks in the small Alpine retreat. A far cry from the hospitality-oriented beginning it enjoyed, it was for these military reasons that Andermatt became known in the Swiss Federation in the modern era.
Up until recently the closest to international recognition and relevance Andermatt got was when the 1964 James Bond flick, Goldfinger, had Sean Connery whipping around the bending roads of the Furka Pass in his sleek Aston Martin DB5. But things are changing. Finally.
With a growing handful of new businesses and hotels slated to open in the coming years, this snow-laden village is undergoing a modern makeover that will undoubtedly make it a prime destination in the Swiss Alps.
With the recent arrival of The Chedi Andermatt in 2013, the small town has been put on the map once more, and for good. With a growing handful of new businesses and hotels slated to open in the coming years, this snow-laden village is undergoing a modern makeover that will undoubtedly make it a prime destination in the Swiss Alps. Home now to one of Europe’s top hotels, an 18-hole golf course, the starting point for skiers of Nätschen and Gemsstock, and a hub for travellers seeking passage to Zurich, Lucerne, Bern and Milan, Andermatt is back in business, and the Devil is nowhere to be seen.
(Featured image: Andermatt is becoming increasingly known as both a summer and winter destination for travellers seeking a secluded Swiss retreat)