A post-modern hotel with an ascetic ambience has opened its doors beneath the Gotthard Massif.
A former top-secret military bunker has become “La Claustra” (the monastery), an underground retreat for people wishing to get away from it all.
“When people first arrive, they don’t want to stay, but after three days, they don’t want to leave,” says artist and sociologist Jean Odermatt.
Odermatt is the driving force behind this unusual place which is located at 2,050 metres above sea level, yet deep inside the mountain.
La Claustra is a hotel and seminar and communications centre all rolled into one. But it is easy to miss the plain door leading into the mountain retreat while driving over the Gotthard Pass.
Behind the door, a 200 metre long tunnel leads inside the former bunker which once housed up to 200 soldiers.
With each step through the tunnel, the air becomes colder and damper. Visitors are finally granted relief as they pass through glass doors into the complex.
A restaurant, bar and conference rooms are arranged in air-conditioned pre-fab containers. The furnishings are plain but elegant and there is indirect lighting and candles for ambience.
Nothing has been left to chance. There are plenty of windows to give the illusion of being able to look outside.
Beds, tables and chairs in each of the 17 hotel rooms are on wheels enabling guests to re-arrange the furniture as the mood strikes.
Glancing at the mirror, one sees an alpine panorama, which vanishes as soon as the light is turned on. The hotel has its own Turkish bath and one can even shower in a cavern fed by an underground spring.
The four elements
The senses are concentrated on the four basic elements; stone, water, light and fire, with water in the central role.
The Gotthard is one of the few watersheds in the world where the water flows in each direction of the compass.
“It’s Switzerland’s Piccadilly Circus, Times Square or Place de la Concorde – the place where all thoughts begin and eventually return,” Odermatt wrote a few years ago.
With this in mind, La Claustra has a single aim: to focus one’s thoughts on the essentials. Odermatt wants to make work and experience possible in a particularly cultural and mystical place, far removed from the outside world.
Refuge and retreat
Odermatt insists that monasteries have always been refuges or served as cultural retreats.
Post-modern in La Claustra’s case also means no mobile phone reception or television, but the complex is linked to the internet.
The kitchen is also well connected with the outside, with 50 different varieties of fresh cheese in stock and meals prepared mostly from organically grown products and free-range meats.
Odermatt has installed a telescope in a former gun placement to allow guests to catch a glimpse of the stars undisturbed from the light pollution of the towns far below.
He has not created an ordinary hotel, but an interactive sculpture, waiting to be discovered deep within a mountain.
swissinfo, Gerhard Lob on the Gotthard Pass
It took four years and SFr4 million to convert the military bunker into the hotel and seminar complex, La Claustra.
The four-star hotel has 17 rooms (25 beds), a dining hall, bistro, library and spa.
Full board costs SFr325 a night per person.