The Swiss town that’s emerging from the shadows

ANDERMATT – a sleeping beauty of a village, nestled in the Urseren valley in central Switzerland – is set to be awoken from its slumber and transformed into one of the Alps’ major year-round holiday destinations. The prince in question here is the self-described “town-developer” Samir Sawiris. He plans to revolutionise the town’s tourism industry (currently comprising of a few cosy but unremarkable two and three-star digs) by building six luxury hotels, 25 private villas and 490 apartments in 42 buildings (each named, rather charmingly, after the animals and flowers that flourish in the surrounding mountains) over the next decade. If anyone is the man for the job, it’s Sawiris, the brains behind the world-renowned El Gouna and Taba Heights developments in Egypt.

This little town hasn’t always been so quiet. In the Thirties it was a shining example of Switzerland’s burgeoning holiday industry and was the location for one of the first English ski clubs. The Glacier Express train linking St. Moritz and Zermatt passes through Andermatt to this day. However, the Gotthard rail and road tunnel built in the early eighties bypassed Andermatt, leaving it stranded. It has since been used as a military base, and it is soldiers rather than skiers who dominate the town. Still, the principal reason for Andermatt’s former glory remains: just an hour and a half’s drive from Zurich, it offers among the best ski runs in easy reach of the country’s financial capital. High altitude means that snow is guaranteed, and there is a wide range of pistes from the sunny, child-friendly slopes of Natschen to the challenging Gemsstock area – which resides almost 3,000 metres above sea-level. Under the expert eye of the Swiss ski legend Bernhard Russi (who also happens to be Andermatt born and bred), these areas are to be linked up with the neighbouring ski area of Sedrun to form one ultra-modern, highly-varied ski arena with 135 kilometres of piste.

While Sawiris is keen to make the most of Andermatt’s natural suitability for winter sports, he takes a reassuringly long-sighted view of the project. “While the project looks big on paper, we are building slowly” he explains. “Andermatt will never be as big as Gstaad or Zermatt but will become a year-round destination”. Not just for ski-lovers, anyone desirous of escaping the city grind and unwinding in the fresh air will find much to relish in Andermatt. In the summer months its mountains take on a Sound-of-Music-style prettiness – lush green and packed with wild flowers. They lend themselves to an array of outdoor activities: hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, water-rafting and picnicking. It’s in the warmer weather that the town’s cultural life really gets going – including local museums, open-air theatre and concerts from the Lucerne Festival, a world famous classical music event. And if all that wasn’t enough, the development includes an 18-hole golf course – seamlessly embedded into the natural landscape – and a sports centre with a range of wellness programs and spa facilities.

Eager to preserve what he describes enigmatically as “the untouched nature that is the soul of the region”, Sawiris has stipulated that the resort be supplied by renewable energy and all buildings will be built to MINERGIE standards, a recognised Swiss Quality label for sustainable and ecologically designed buildings. It will also be a traffic free zone, with parking facilities housed underground.

The tough restrictions on foreign buying of Swiss real-estate – known as Lex Koller legislation – have been lifted especially for this project, making Swiss Alps Andermatt a tempting opportunity for those hankering for a slice of the Alpine dream – whether for personal use or as an investment (incidentally, exemption also means property can be resold without a minimum retention period). Currently on the market and set to complete in winter 2013/2014 are 45 one to four bedroom properties – ranging from £814,700 for a one-bedroom apartment to £6.5m for chalets. 120 furnished one and two bedroom furnished apartments are also available in the resort’s showpiece hotel – the sumptuous Chedi Andermatt – with a starting price of £1.2m. The hotel’s lavish facilities include a state of the art gym, an elegant wine and cigar room, après-ski bar and two fine-dining restaurant. All apartments can be rented through Swiss Alps Andermatt, with owners receiving 60 per cent of the profits.

Not bad for a town with a current population of just 1,270. St. Moritz, eat your heart out. Contact: Andermatt Swiss Alps on 00 41 41 874 1717 or go to