Paragliders enjoying the views of Zermatt from the skies above
It was a fantastic few days on the mountains of Zermatt, Switzerland. Ever since my brother and his friends stayed there during college I dreamed of seeing the Matterhorn and Zermatt, both of which exceeded my expectations. I hiked, ate mountain lunches en plain air and checked into a couple of hotels that were just delightful! The weather was idyllic with blue skies and few clouds which made photographing the majestic views of the Matterhorn a dream come true.
Zermatt is a city of only six thousand full-time residents who are allowed to own cars, but they must park in underground garages and they may not be driven above ground in the city proper. The pedestrian nature of the town ensures visitors will have a restful sleep, free from car engine noises and horns beeping.
When walking in the streets, one only need watch for the herds of goats brought down from the mountains in the morning, and up again at the end of the day to graze upon the rich green pastures and the horse drawn carriages that five-star hotels use to transport their guests and luggage.
The Matterhorn and the City of Zermatt
Hiking and skiing are two of the most popular activities in Zermatt. The town has four different access points up the mountain making it easy to be at a high altitude in no time. A system of trains, gondolas and lifts bring adventure seekers into alpine country. I found the transportation systems incredibly efficient and easy to use.
The town has a museum filled with the history of climbing and skiing. Inside this domed exhibit hall replicas of Swiss mountain villages tell the tale of life under the shadow of the Matterhorn. The petit back streets are lined with out buildings used for storage by groups of families who created cooperatives. Multiple families built these units together and shared the spaces for centuries. A testament to how well they were built, original facades remain today, preserving the history of this simple village.
Zermatt is a heavily Christian town with Catholicism being the predominate religion. A crucifix is erected at the viewing station at 12,739 feet above the Little Horn overlooking Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Did you know that Matterhorn means “the horn of the meadow?” The faces of this iconic mountain appear very differently at night verses day and from different angles.
Artists flock to the Gornergrat at 10,132 feet to paint and draw the scenery and capture the essence of the impressive Matterhorn. I found this lady working on a masterpiece when on a hike down from the Gornergrat. Her impromptu outdoor studio was filled with other images she had created.
My private guide for the day was the illustrious Amadé Perrig, the brainchild behind the Best of the Alps organization which includes Zermatt as one of their best resorts of the alps. He grew up in Zermatt herding sheep and cows and living a simple life where the mountains were his play grounds. He was a ski instructor, mountain guide and Head of Zermatt Tourism for years. I don’t think there’s a person over the age of 40 who doesn’t know him. He was the perfect person to show me the city of Zermatt from the high altitude perspective.
Upscale shopping and certainly souvenir shops are in town. I was lucky that the camera shop had a replacement filter for my camera. It broke while clumsily handling it and I was afraid to be without one for the remainder of my trip. I wish I had more time to shop, but with the weather so good, I took advantage of it and hiked each day instead. One unique brand sold in Zermatt is Karlen Swiss which recycles Swiss Army issued materials and makes them into unique accessories.
Where to Eat
There are many dining options in Zermatt, both on the mountain and in town. On the alpine slopes I stopped at cafeteria style restaurants for a refreshing cool drink while hiking and had lunches at charming gourmet bistros in the hamlets in the lower valleys. Zum See (which means The Way to the Lake), is a family-run bistro run by chef Max Henning and his son. Max’s wife Greti inspires the menu.
I dined outside on the terrace of the 17th century rustic chalet on mouth-watering roasted chicken with au gratin potatoes and veggies and sipped on a lovely 2012 Humagne Rouge Swiss wine. Dessert was a sensational flaky puff pastry filled with raspberry cream. Locals host special dinners at Zum See where lighted torches guide the way down into town.
Grill le Cervin in Hotel Mont Cervin Palace. Meat and fish specialties are cooked on the indoor grill and they have an enormous wine cellar which includes some of Switzerland’s finest wines. The wait staff are Italian and provide impeccable service.
Hotel Cervo’s restaurant has both indoor and outdoor dining choices with views of the Matterhorn. The boutique hotel prides itself on using fresh local ingredients.
Restaurant Alphitta just down the hill from Hotel Riffelalp has 360 degree views of the mountains and town. It’s the perfect lunch spot for skiers and hikers. They have wild flowers in summer that flank the terrace – amazing! Great authentic Swiss food and atmosphere for casual dining.
Where to Stay
Hotel Mont Cervin Palace lies in the center of town and boasts views of the famous Matterhorn from many of the rooms. Guests arrive at the hotel in style; luxurious bright red horse drawn carriages pick up visitors from the train station and deliver them to the historic hotel in a matter of five minutes time. I loved my room! It was quite large by European standards and had all the amenities I needed to work while on the road.
The gorgeous bathroom had an oversized tub, two sinks and enormous shower with a heated towel rack with soft bath linens. The bathroom had a glass wall separating it from the sleeping and living areas. An electronic remote control lowers blinds for privacy. The flower lined balconies provide a lovely outdoor seating area to enjoy the views. Their spa is considered one of the best in town and I was so disappointed to miss the opportunity to check it out myself. I was too busy hiking, eating and drinking Swiss wines to benefit from their wellness program. I did, however, get to meet the hotel’s mascot, Pepe and was given a Swiss dog tag to bring home to my dog Boomer who is by now missing me horribly. I hope this makes up for my absence.
Hotel Christiana was a comfortable four-star hotel at the west end of town, but still within walking distance to all the restaurants and gondola services up the mountain. Their wellness area was superb and has some of the best views of the Matterhorn from the Pferrermühle restaurant and outdoor terrace. I enjoyed one night at the hotel and had a wonderful dinner with a delicious Thai Chicken Curry, summer salad and tiramisu for dessert.
German, Swiss German and French are the official languages of the area and most everyone speaks English as well.
Thank you to Zermatt Tourism, Hotel Mont Cervin Palace, Hotel Christiana and The Best of the Alps for sponsoring my trip to Zermatt. It was a spectacular visit to one of the finest resorts in the Swiss Alps. Of course the ultimate planning tool to learn more about Switzerland begins with clicking here: My Switzerland, the home for Switzerland Tourism. In no way did the sponsorship influence my opinion; the place is simply gorgeous and fun and sells itself!