If there’s one thing the Swiss know how to do, it’s dig. Tunnels, bank vaults, storage facilities – in a country stuffed with mountains, the only way to go is… down. And the most impressive mass digging enterprise in Switzerland’s history is its national bunker system, a network of over 5,000 public and 300,000 private bunkers capable of housing well over 8 million people. But now, as many of them have outlived their original purpose, these bunkers are getting a makeover.
Private Swiss bunkers, built in basements and back gardens, have mostly long since transformed from stockpiles of survivalist supplies to storehouses for family junk. Tools. Old photo albums. Outgrown children’s clothes. All the stuff that has inundated our modern world and inspired the opposing phenomena of IKEA storage solutions and twinkly Marie Kondo joy-based triage.
But in recent years the military has sold off a number of bunkers to entrepreneurs looking to house not just the detritus of our past for an uncertain future, but people and cherished things of our living present.
Switzerland gives you the only real chance to walk on clouds – on The Cloud, to be exact. Data storage provider Detaltis occupied a thin sliver of the massive underground K7 bunker – built to withstand a 20 megaton bomb – outside of Lucerne, to house the modern, digitized version of everybody’s old family albums. A walk through those mountains and you’d be literally standing on the Cloud. Others have followed suit, with crypto currency vaults and Switzerland’s answer to Fort Knox, all underground.
For those who prefer bites to bytes, there’s more in store underground. Tunneled 200m into the Blüemlisalp massif and overlooking (that is, when the single heavy entrance door is opened) the Kien River, the Gourmino Emmentaler AOP affinage facility is a converted underground military bunker that houses around 6,500 cheese wheels in perfect cool and humid temperatures. And mushroom producer Gotthard-Pilze uses nearly a dozen bunkers outside the town of Erstfeld to produce over 20 tons of shiitake mushrooms a year.
Sasso San Gottardo proves that all that glitters isn’t (Swiss) gold, in a fortress-turned-museum showcasing massive 1-metre-long crystals found relatively recently in a nearby cleft.
The Null Stern pop-up hotel famously offered one of the first bunker stay experiences, a proudly “zero-star hotel” that gleefully lived up (or down) to its rating. It’s now a museum, but in Canton Ticino you can even book your bunker stay for business meetings, family reunions or church events (groups of 20 or more, please). You’ll get a real military briefing upon arrival, and a traditional Swiss band will drop in to serenade you upon request.
But if you expect a bit more than mere survival while holing up underground, you can try Hotel La Claustra, in a reconverted bunker dug into St. Gotthard – more famous, of course, for another example of Swiss burrowing: the longest tunnel in the world.
At La Claustra you can experience this renewed love for Swiss bunkers first hand, as rock, concrete – immutable substances – are being transformed into something unexpected and new.
Enjoy the fine dining and the jacuzzi. Just don’t ask for a room with a view.
Photo credits: Gourmino AG: © Tom Trachsel Photography La Claustra: © FJMeier Photographie