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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

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Located around 1437 metres above sea level, Andermatt is a little closer to heaven than most European villages.

I certainly feel transported to an elevated spiritual plane as I soak in the otherworldly scenery of one of Switzerland’s most storied ski destinations from my vantage spot.

Just an hour ago I was wrapping up breakfast at The Chedi Andermatt. The fact that I am now a couple of hundred metres higher is down to two main factors.

There’s a degree of guilty self-flagellation disguised as a get-up-and-go — the direct consequence of a delicious evening meal at The Chalet at The Chedi that was heavy on truffled fondue, raclette and other exquisitely rich Alpine fares. But mainly I’m up here thanks to the efforts of the heroes who clear the network of winter walking trails that surround Andermatt every day.

The walk from Andermatt to the sun-drench slopes of Nätschen climbs 440 metres over six kilometres. (Credits: Andermatt Tourism)

As I stop to take in the vista, I silently salute their doughty work. In the foreground, wooden chalets are crowned with a thick dusting of fresh powder. Some are practically buried, only their uppermost sections poking out of the snow like enormous mushrooms. Further away, the white peaks of the Lepontine Alps compete for my attention as if shouldering in especially for a picture postcard shot.

It’s hard to single out a star in this show-stopping tableau, which is framed this perfect December morning by a dazzling blue sky. But the sight of the 3000m bulk of the Gemsstock standing proudly at the centre of the frame stops me in my tracks.

The view is revelatory— and not just because of its visual appeal.

Walk up and out of Andermatt in any direction and the views look like something out of a storybook. (Credits: Andermatt Tourism)

Down the years I’ve become extremely familiar with the Gemmstock. With its modern lifts, perfectly prepared slopes, assurance of snow and 180+ kilometres of pistes on skis and snowboard, Andermatt is the perfect choice for anyone looking to propagate a love affair with the slopes. I’ve done just that courtesy of numerous family skiing holidays.

I eased my way in gently on its beginner blue runs as a childhood naïf, upped the ante on its red runs as a teenager and then graduated in my early-20s to the Guspis run: one of the most thrilling off-piste experiences in the whole of Europe.

Such has my obsession been with moving through the ski gears on the Gemmstock that I’ve viewed the peak as a challenge: a place to conquer and not observe.

And this newly detached perspective is just one of the reasons why I’m savouring this winter hike so much.

While it’s impossible to deny the pre-eminence of skiing and snowboarding in its list of draws, Andermatt has myriad strings to its bow.

In summer, visitors come to pedal around the quaint streets of the 800-year-old village, play golf at the acclaimed Andermatt Swiss Alps club — a championship beauty regarded among the best in Switzerland — or hike rugged trails flanked by meadows carpeted by white, blue, yellow and pink Alpine flowers.

In winter too, there’s plenty to appreciate beyond the piste, with dazzling Michelin-worthy gastronomy vying for airtime with sumptuous spas and even horse-drawn sleigh rides.

For those who prefer to get active without strapping on skis or a snowboard, meanwhile, there’s a veritable wealth of cardiovascular manna to be found by stomping the trails that extend like tendrils out of Andermatt.

My morning constitutional involves a hike from the village up to the sunny mountain terrace of Natschen, following the numerous curves that lead towards the closed road that crosses the Oberalp Pass. It’s a gentle yet spectacular shlep, with a slew of visual highlights that include the loops formed by the Matterhorn-Gotthard Railway and a sighting of a former artillery fortress, Gutsch, believed to be the highest in Europe.

Six kilometres from Andermatt, a fairytale forest surrounds the railway village of Göschenen. (Credits: Andermatt Tourism)

Other superb winter walking options abound, with hikes ranging from an easy, breezy hike around picturesque Lake Arni to more taxing expeditions such as the 9km route that leads through the Ursern Valley along the Reuss River to the village of Realp. The latter option is notable, not just for its stunning scenery, but for the fact that it passes by Zumdorf, officially declared to be the smallest village in Switzerland.

Back on the trail, I’m reaching my destination. The sun beats down as I settle in outside one of the restaurants at Natschen. Way down below — 440metres to be exact — Andermatt nestles in the shade. Shortly I’ll take a gondola back down the mountain. For now, I’m happy to end this hike, beer in hand, on a high.

Explore the beauty of the Alps with a stay at The Chedi Andermatt.

Text by Duncan Forgan for GHM Journeys.
Featured image: In the footsteps of bygone muleteers, the route out of Hospental follows the historic Furkaweg and crosses an idyllic valley. Credits: Andermatt Tourism

First published on 18 December 2020.

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