Three villages – one perfect retreat
The region Andermatt+Sedrun+Disentis is the gateway to superb skiing, blending tradition and modernity. It is a place of strength for holidaymakers and offers peace and tranquility high up in the mountains.
Survival in the untouched and poor mountain villages was difficult in days gone by: Hard winters, long transport routes and famines did their bit. Such circumstances, however, made Andermatt, Sedrun and Disentis inventive, and today they have one thing in common: The villages are committed to tourism and are very successful. With mountain peaks reaching 3,000 metres and modern ski areas in the middle of the Gotthard massif, they became perfect retreats without falling into the après-ski frenzy, for much has remained authentic: The land, the people and their customs and ski tourism are traditionally Swiss and steeped in tradition, yet always innovative and looking out to the future. The stage is set for three of the most picturesque winter sports resorts in the Swiss Alps, three gems which constitute the perfect retreat.
Andermatt is known for its protection forest which has shielded the village from avalanches for centuries - it is probably no coincidence that people have settled here: Today, the mountain village is home to approx. 1,400 inhabitants. In days gone by, the Gotthard Pass was the most important link across the Alps; a difficult and dangerous route. In 1198, the inhabitants of Uri built the Teufelsbrücke (Devil's Bridge), the most beautiful sight in the village, between steep rock faces and still shrouded in legend. It opened a gate to the south through which the first visitors could enter relatively easily.
Since 2013, the Matterhorn-Gotthard railway with the world-famous Glacier Express has been an important artery for tourism between St Moritz and Zermatt which began to prosper early on: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe already felt at home here in the 18th century. Among other famous guests were Queen Victoria, or James Bond, if only for a fuel stop and a chase in the film Goldfinger. Visitors who want to learn more about tourism, the history of the valley, housing and settlement culture and the economy in the Alps, can visit the Ursern Valley Museum in Andermatt.
But back to tourism: Andermatt began as a health resort, today it is a superb winter sports resort for alpinists, freeriders and families with children. The Gemsstock (2,963m) in the ski area is accessible by a cable car and smaller lifts. Accommodation is available in high-end hotels, chalets, family hotels and private rooms, which characterise the village’s image between tradition and modernity: In the narrow alleys, houses clad with colourful wooden shingles stand alongside buildings made of concrete and glass. Old Walser houses, historic farmhouses made of stone and dark wood, stand symbiotically next to traditional hotels decorated with murals.
“May I have my skis please”, is how guests summon the waiter in the culinary hotspot "Chedi", the symbol of award-winning cuisine and one of Switzerland's most exclusive hotels featuring a mix of alpine chic, Swiss tradition and a touch of Asia. Before anyone begins to worry, the progressive influence does not extend too far: Après-ski can only be found in Andermatt if you are really looking for it; here the guests celebrate discreetly or party in the après-ski train from Andermatt to Disentis.
Sedrun was founded in the 8th century below the Oberalp Pass at an elevation of 1,450 m as a remote farm settlement. It stretched from the pass to Bugnei; until then a village in the proper sense did not exist. It was not until 1,000 years later that mountain farmers settled in a village centre. Today Sedrun, with its many hamlets, has a population of 1,800 and is located where the cantons of Graubünden and Uri meet - which is why it now has a special feature: The official language in Graubünden is Rhaeto-Romanic (Rumantsch), which is spoken only by a few Swiss people but is nevertheless an important part of regional identity. The so-called “Bündnerromanisch” was included in the constitution in 1938 as the national language; Google and Wikipedia recognize it, but Microsoft Word does not.
Water has always played an important role in the development of Sedrun as a source of life and continues to do so today: What begins as a small stream in Sedrun ends as a mighty river 1,000 kilometres further to the north in the North Sea. Here at Lake Tomasee, a mountain lake at an elevation of 2,345 metres, is the source of the river Rhine.
While the romantic village at the Rhine is a place of strength for holidaymakers, the Sedrun power station supplies energy for the surrounding communities and, of course, the ski lifts. A guided tour of the plant with groups of 8 or more is free of charge and certainly just as interesting as the work of the century in Swiss tunnel construction which also needs electricity: The Gotthard tunnel, at 57 kilometres (still) the longest railway tunnel in the world. During guided tours passing trains can be watched through a window. If you are looking for more recreational activities or peace and quiet after a day of extensive skiing, the water park in Bogn is the right place. The wellness and experience water park conveys the typical Swiss nonchalance and is perfect for sauna bathing or a relaxing soak in the swimming pool, ideal for parents with children and sporty skiers alike.
The name Disentis comes from the Latin Desertina, which means "back of beyond": The village is not - and does not want to be - a vibrant metropolis. In the 8th century, the Irish monk Sigisbert built a monastery called Desertina, from which the Disentis monastery grew, which for a long time was the cultural and spiritual centre of Graubünden. Today the monastery with the baroque chapel St Agatha is an important cultural asset, the adjoining grammar school the most important educational institution. The monastery museum shows sacred medieval art, precious textiles and natural treasures from the local flora and fauna.
In 1872, tourism started to develop in Disentis thanks to the spring water with the highest Radon concentration in Europe: Since 1877 guests from all over the world have travelled to the Hotel Disentiser Hof which was built in neoclassical style but had to give way to a new building in 1970 - this also marked the end of a time-honoured spa resort. But the old patrician houses and several Oberland farmhouses in many small hamlets characterise the typical charm of the village.
Today the small winter sports resort with a population of 2,000 situated at an elevation of 1,130 metres is very popular among families looking for affordable and child-friendly offers – this means there is hardly any nightlife. Focusing on families and skiers, the picturesque village has kept some of its sacred patina and tradition. Boasting 150 kilometres of hiking trails and 30 kilometres of cross-country ski trails, it is a place of blissful tranquillity ideal for escapists: Near the Vorderrhein lies a small bathing lake which is a popular hiking destination in winter. In 1996(!) a 3-centimetre gold nugget was found in the emerald green waters of the Rhine, triggering a gold rush in the village which is of course an attraction for families with children. This is complemented by down-to-earth family hotels, traditional Swiss stone pine parlours (Swiss style) as well as simple and classic ski hotels, which also appeal to a completely different genre: Freeriders who travel up to an elevation of 3,000 metres with the Disentis-Chaiscavedra cable car and venture out into terrain filled with untouched powder.
Whether you choose Andermatt, Sedrun or Disentis, each of the villages has great options for skiing holidays. In Andermatt everything is a bit more upscale, whereas Sedrun and Disentis are placid and rich in tradition. Small guests and families are welcome in all three villages, as are experienced and aspiring freeriders. The villages have preserved their mountain farming culture, and many guests value the laid-back and homely environment. So, it’s up to you to decide which place you prefer – all of them are charming and beautiful. All that remains is to wish you a pleasant stay.