A visit to the village of Hospental – the ‘Gateway to the Gotthard’
Five minutes’ drive down the Urseren Valley from Andermatt sits the village of Hospental.
Now a sleepy, historic little place, it was formerly known as the ‘gateway to the Gotthard Pass’. Until the building of the Gotthard Railway Tunnel, Hospental, rather than Andermatt, was this area’s most important settlement. The remarkably high number of historic sites of interest reflects the village’s important past and makes for a fascinating day-trip from Andermatt.
One of Hospental’s most striking features is the 13th-century Tower of the Lords of Hospental, a reminder of the region’s former strategic importance for defence and trade. Once part of a larger structure but uninhabited since the 15th century, the remains of a moat can still be seen nearby. Walking up to the tower for a closer look will also provide you with impressive views over the Urseren Valley.
There are two other buildings of great historical significance in Hospental that are well worth a visit.
The first is the Müller-Lombardi house, built in 1687. It was home to the Müller family, a prominent local dynasty who claimed descent from Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, and at least one doge of Venice. The house itself was left in trust by Adolfo Müller-Ury, a famous portraitist who is remembered thanks through his portraits of leading figures of his day, including Kaiser Wilhelm I, Theodore Roosevelt, Pope Pius X, and Dame Nellie Melba.
You can’t fail to spot the starkly beautiful grey and white Kaplanei St Karl, a baroque chapel that is home to the Hospenthal Brotherhood. Such organisations have long played a crucial role in alpine regions of Switzerland, providing care for the sick and old, offering respite to weary travellers, and performing other religious duties. The Brotherhood still exists today. The chapel itself was designed by prominent local architect Bartholomaus Schmid, who also designed Andermatt’s church. A thoughtful and respectful renovation process has recently helped restore this striking building, and create idiosyncratic residential apartments.
Finish a morning – or begin an afternoon – in Hospental with lunch at one of the village’s two excellent restaurants. The Hotel Gotthard (Gotthard Strasse 15) serves traditional Swiss cuisine in fittingly traditional surroundings, while the 400-year-old Hotel Burg (Gotthard Strasse 12) has recently opened a new Italian restaurant which has been drawing widespread praise. The combination of a Swiss alpine valley and classically Italian food isn’t as incongruous as it might originally appear: miners and workers from Italy have long brought their own culture to this region as they moved here for work, and Airolese, a dialect of Italian, was spoken here by many in the past – including the Müller family.
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