An Alpine Paradise: Zermatt
Picture yourself sitting on the balcony of a chalet hotel in the middle of the Swiss Alps, overlooking the majestic Matterhorn. No, it’s not a scene from a make-believe movie filmed in Hollywood or a delightful vision you once had in a dream. This will be your reality when you visit the charming village of Zermatt, Switzerland. From the towering Alps to the sweeping valleys and the glacial streams to the Swiss architecture, Zermatt is a one-of-a-kind alpine paradise.
Located in the district of Visp in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, Zermatt has a population of approximately 5,800 people. Its smaller size in comparison to larger European destinations makes it the perfect place to get away from it all. Take a train from a larger city through the breathtaking mountain vistas as you make your way to this awe-inspiring locale. You’ll want to have your camera on hand to capture the stunning scenery along the way, from the rolling green valleys dotted with ornate chalets and lush gardens to the massive glaciers capping many of the towering peaks along the way. I can assure you that a scenic ride on the rails alone is enough to make you want to return! As you walk down the Bahnhofstrasse, the main thoroughfare in Zermatt, toward your hotel, you will be awestruck by the beauty that surrounds you. Pinch yourself and you’ll find that this idyllic setting is not a dream, but your absolute reality for the length of your stay.
Be sure to plan your trip ahead of time, so you can reserve a room at one of the beautiful hotels in Zermatt. While the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof offers some of the most luxurious accommodations, I prefer the smaller Swiss-style chalet hotels like Hotel Antika. It’s more affordable and offers a more intimate stay than a large hotel. This particular hotel also serves up a delicious breakfast each morning featuring thinly sliced meats and cheeses, fruits, homemade bread, jams, yogurt, and some of the fluffiest, most buttery croissants I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. Request a balcony room facing the Matterhorn. The only problem? Prying yourself away from the captivating view! Of course, you may choose to walk down the Coop, which is one of the two local markets in Zermatt, and purchase some fresh baked bread, sliced lunchmeat, Swiss cheese (of course!), and an apple strudel for dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth. Then, bring your purchases back to the hotel and enjoy a delightful picnic on your own private balcony with the Matterhorn as the backdrop.
If you’re looking for something more adventurous, take the highest open-air cogwheel railway in Europe up to Gornergrat, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Switzerland at a height of 3,089 meters. Or you can take a cable car directly from Zermatt to one of many locations including the highest altitude mountain railway station in all of Europe, the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. This is the place to have a bite to eat, relax, or embark an even grander adventure. Besides being a scenic wonderland at a height of 3,883 meters with views of the Italian, French, and Swiss Alps, this is also the starting point for a climb to the top of Breithorn, a 4,000 meter mountain that will delight any mountain climber brave enough to take on the two and a half hour hike.
Feeling a need for speed? Don your skis and get ready to hit the slopes! Zermatt is home to Klein Matterhorn, the highest ski lift in Europe. This small Alpine village also proudly offers the largest summer skiing area in the Alps with 9 ski lifts and 25 kilometer runs open all year. Want to travel over the snow in a cooler part of the year? They also have the longest winter skiing season in Europe, running late November to early May. Zermatt is known as one of the best ski resorts in the world. And rightly so, since it is used as a training facility for Olympic athletes and champions from around the world! From the green Bunny Hill to the black advanced slope, you’ll find a run made just for you, giving you a million reasons to smile as you cruise through the powder underneath the shadow of the Matterhorn!
If all of this activity has given you an appetite, head back down to the village of Zermatt for dinner at one of the charming restaurants serving up delicious Swiss cuisine. We chose Whymperstube, a restaurant known for their cheese fondue, beef bourguignon, and other culinary delights. While you may have experienced fondue at a restaurant near you, Swiss fondue is unlike any other. The cheese used in this savory dish is especially Swiss, rich and creamy and sure to please cheese lovers from every part of the globe. They also offer lighter fare such as a salad featuring buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil. The ambience is pure Swiss with the small ornate windows and classic Swiss style wood furniture. Whichever you choose, a visit to a restaurant in Zermatt will enable you to mingle with the locals, enjoy the Swiss delicacies, and leisurely reflect on the day’s events or look ahead to new memories to be made during your stay in Switzerland.
When you plan your itinerary, be sure to leave a little wiggle room. You never know when you might walk down a side road and hear a group of musicians gathered together to share their love of folk music. Take a stroll outside of town and leave the village behind. Explore the nature trails, visit the Glacier Palace, or take flight on a helicopter sightseeing tour. Visit the Matterhorn Museum to learn more about the history of this majestic mountain landscape, including the first group of individuals to ever attempt to summit the Matterhorn itself.
No matter what you do, if your stay in Zermatt falls between the start of July and mid-August, you must make plans to be on the Bahnhofstrasse, at 9:00 a.m. in the morning and/or 5:00 p.m. each evening. And don’t forget to have your camera in hand! The head goat herder and young people from around the area will don traditional Swiss costumes and parade through town with a herd of Blackneck goats. These goats are considered by many to be the most beautiful Swiss breed of goat. While it is for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike, this tradition has its roots in the history of the village. As late as the 1960’s, Blackneck goats have been driven to the meadows in Zermatt and back to their stalls for milking in the evenings. In the 1990’s, the tradition of the Blackneck goats parading through town was reintroduced as a way to entertain visitors and promote the breed through this one-of-a-kind street performance. It is an experience you will always remember, so get ready to hear the bells on the goat’s collars ring! Take a lot of photographs and don’t be afraid to reach out and touch one of these friendly residents of Zermatt!
Whether you keep it cool as you glide across the pristine alpine snow on a pair of skis or heat things up as you mingle over a pot of fondue, you’ll quickly realize that a trip to Zermatt is much more than a vacation; it is an experience. And if you’re like me, you’ll sit on your balcony, gazing at the moonlight over the Matterhorn on your last evening there, with only one question in your mind. The question? When can I return? Zermatt may look like it was ripped from the pages of a storybook, but I can tell you firsthand that it is not a fairytale. Zermatt, Switzerland is the ultimate alpine paradise!
Do you have any recommendations for what to see and do in Zermatt or the surrounding areas? E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org!
May you always have joyful journeys!