How do you get Satan to build you a bridge? The folk of the Ursern Valley in the Swiss Alps will happily enlighten you on this and the many myths of their magical region. Come see the 16th century Devil’s Bridge spanning the sheer Schöllenen Gorge. It’s just one example of the remarkable feats that facilitated hugely important Alpine trading routes. Historic Andermatt lies 1444 metres above sea level, directly over the Gotthard tunnel. For centuries it was a vital intersection connecting east to west, north to south, a hub for travellers, culture, and commerce.
These days Andermatt is growing in popularity once more as tourists rediscover the fairy tale village of stunning mountain scenery, running rivers and forested slopes. Just 90 minutes from the international airports of Zürich or Milan, it feels like you’re a million miles away. Locals and visitors love to reconnect with nature here while enjoying the burgeoning growth of its modern infrastructure. Essentially known for great winter sports, peak time to appreciate Andermatt is mid-December to March, with a second peak in the warm July and August summer months. Low season travellers though are increasingly benefitting from the reduced rates and crowd-free slopes of the spring and autumn periods. As the snow begins to clear, hiking trails become more accessible and green mountain sides emerge dotted with wildflowers, while wildlife comes out of hibernation. Autumn is beautiful with stunning colours and as the snow returns the early ski season sees few visitors and a chance to have the slopes to yourself against clear blue skies.
Until recently Andermatt was known as an important military base, a strategic centre for both World Wars and later the Cold War with up to 4000 military personnel in residence. In the 1990s the base disbanded, families and young people flooded out, and the area was left pretty much abandoned and purposeless. Enter investor Samih Sawiris who has revolutionised the tourist infrastructure of Andermatt’s Gemsttock Mountain ski resort, building 2 hotels, 16 apartment houses, and a golf course. At the centre of his project is the Piazza Gottardo with boutiques, bakeries, chocolate shops and restaurants serving authentic Swiss cuisine. Despite initial concerns, the new developments are done with the utmost sympathy to the original traditional style architecture, rendering a destination steeped in history, nature and excellent facilities.
850km of Hiking Trails
With routes leading out in all directions, you’d better get ready to don your walking boots. There’s lots of info for hikers like maps, apps and well established tracks taking in secluded valleys, crystal-clear streams, mirror like lakes and sky high peaks. Spring and autumn are perfect as many trails become impassable in the winter. For a stroll try the Schöllenen Circular Trail passing the Devil’s Bridge. It takes a mere 30 minutes and there’s a restaurant en route. In contrast, many trails are several days in duration and incorporate overnight stops at some of the numerous cosy Alpine huts or guesthouses en route. There are also many themed trails such as the herbal hike for the collection and identification of edible plants, and the hike & taste route which builds up an excellent appetite for local delicacies.
Cycling Alpine Passes
Cycling is a tremendous spring and autumn sport. Many routes open to cyclists even before they are accessible by car, usually in around May, making cycling at this time a wonderfully peaceful experience. There are many excellent circuits for beginners as well as more experienced cyclists, and lots of information available for planning your adventure. Bike centres offer expert guidance, do maintenance and repairs and if you don’t want the hassle of bringing your own, they also rent out mountain bikes, road bikes, and the increasingly popular e-bikes.