Zermatt and the Toblerone mountain!
Zermatt is a small mountain resort nestled in the mountains of Canton Valais in the south of Switzerland. The town is at an elevation of 1608m and has a population of less than 6000 people, although this number swells to around 30,000 over Christmas and New Year as visitors flock to experience this winter wonderland. We were lucky enough to enjoy “the calm before the storm” (as several locals described it) by visiting midweek just before Christmas.
The first thing we discovered when planning our trip to Zermatt was that the town is completely car free! The closest town you can drive to is Täsch which is located 5km down the valley, and from there you take the train to Zermatt itself. There are 3 different routes you can take when driving from Luzern to Täsch. We choose to drive via Bern as we happened to be starting our journey north of Luzern but you can also go via Interlaken or Andermatt; It’s worth checking the road conditions in advance for all routes but in particular for the latter 2 options as during winter the higher alpine passes are often closed due to heavy snowfall. This being Switzerland however you can always opt to take a car-train to the other side of the mountain instead of driving over the pass! You can find out more about that here.
We parked at the Matterhorn Terminal in Täsch having reserved a space in advance online. Given the size of the parking area I’m not sure this was strictly necessary, however, it was convenient to simply enter our booking code at the barrier and then not have to think about it again! And if you have any concerns about how to transfer your car-full of winter paraphernalia to the train then fear not! There is a wonderfully efficient trolley system! You pay a CHF 5.00 deposit for the trolley, unload your car directly and then take said trolley with you on the train. It even has a special section for securing skis and snowboards.
The station itself was practically deserted and we had the luxury of our own train carriage for the short 12-minute trip to Zermatt Bahnhofplatz. I imagine at peak times it is somewhat busier but there was certainly plenty of space onboard for passengers and their luggage! The trains run every 20 minutes and details of the schedule can be found online here. By now we were eager to arrive and eager to catch our first glimpse of the mighty Matterhorn Mountain!
We were greeted on arrival by Janine Imesch of Zermatt Tourism and accompanied her to the Tourism office (conveniently located at the station) to discuss our trip. As well as a welcome pack full of information, Janine also offered us some great advice and tips to make the most of our stay. She then called the owner of our hotel, the Europe Hotel & Spa, and arranged for us to be picked up. Our vehicle was an electric taxi and on the drive through town we discussed the history of Zermatt and it’s car free heritage. Our driver also kindly made a stop at a sports shop so we could leave our skis to be serviced, ready for action the next day!
We checked into our hotel and the first thing we noticed was the sheep theme running throughout! Sheep wallpaper, sheep skin rugs, sheep soap, sheep stationary, even the staff wore sheep print shirts. We discovered later that the owner has a flock of over 300 Schwarznaseschaf (black nosed sheep) – a rare breed native to the area. The room itself was spacious and clean with a lovely terrace and best of all a view of the Matterhorn! Janine had warned us that during our stay “we would be stalked by the mountain” and it seemed she wasn’t wrong!
Having dropped our bags we decided to go for a wander around town and get our bearings. We quickly discovered that Zermatt is very small and compact and that the river running through the center makes navigating easy. Our first stop was the oldest part of the village known as ‘Hinterdorf’ with its traditional barns, stores and stables, some dating back to the 16th century! The buildings were constructed in a traditional style with an upper level sitting on flat stone slabs balanced on wooden stilts. Later on in the museum we discovered that this design was to keep out mice! Wandering thorough the narrow alleys it really felt like we had gone back in time and it was wonderful to see such well preserved examples of these traditional buildings.
We continued to the Bahnhofstrasse, which is the main shopping area, packed with boutiques, jewelers, watch shops, sports clothing retailers, souvenir shops as well as restaurants, bars and bakeries! Zermatt is definitely a shopper’s paradise with an impressive range of shops and boutiques for such a small town. We were lured however by the wafting aroma of freshly made crepes and decided an afternoon snack was in order.
Having enjoyed a quick bite to eat we decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight and embark on a short hike. Janine had recommended an easy trail (2.2km), interestingly named the ‘AHV weg’ (which roughly translates as ‘pension path’). The track led through the forest, crossing the Gornergrat railway and afforded spectacular views of the Matterhorn as well as the twinkling lights of the town below. We started the trail in Schönegg and ended up in Winkelmatten (the Beverley Hills of Zermatt!) with its grand chalets and houses. The trail was suitable for all ages (including pensioners!) and more details can be found here.
It was now evening and getting rather chilly, so we decided to head to the Matterhorn Museum aka ‘Zermatlantis’ to warm up! This small but interesting museum offers a glimpse into the history and development of Zermatt including examples of original houses and artifacts from as far back as the Neolithic age. Visitors can also learn about the infamous first assent of the Matterhorn which took place in 1865 and unfortunately ended in tragedy. The exhibit includes the snapped rope from the original expedition. Overall the museum was well laid out, accessible for all and information was available in multiple languages including English, German, French and Japanese – Well worth a visit!
We returned to our hotel and had just enough time for a quick visit to the spa before dinner in the restaurant. The food was excellent; we opted for the menu of the day and enjoyed every course, which included a celeriac soup, arctic char with sunchoke, beef stroganoff and gratinated berries for dessert!
We awoke early the next morning, excited for a day on the slopes! Zermatt has a reputation as a world-class skiing resort with over 360km of slopes, open 365 days of the year. It is also the highest ski resort in Europe and covers 2 countries – Switzerland and Italy. You can actually ski over the border and have lunch in Italy! So after a quick stop at the breakfast buffet we headed to the hotels specially designated ski room to collect our gear. Each locker in the ski room included a heated rack for drying ski boots and gloves – very useful! We then walked 5 minutes down the hill and caught the local bus to the Sunnegga funicular station. Having not skied last season I wanted to start off slowly so we decided to check out the Wolli Park, which is the beginner’s area at Sunnegga. The area has 3 magic carpet lifts and was perfect for kids (or those finding their ski legs again). From there we quickly progressed onto the surrounding slopes and found there was more than enough in the area to keep us occupied for the rest of the day! The weather was beautiful and the conditions were perfect and we kept commenting on how lucky we were that it was so quiet.
After a fantastic day of skiing we returned to our hotel for a quick change before heading to the Gornergrat Railway station, which is opposite the main train station in the center of town. At 3089m the Gornergrat summit is the perfect vantage point for watching the sunset behind the Matterhorn! The train journey took around 30 minutes and was in itself very scenic, passing through forest and deep snow drifts before eventually reaching the peak. At the top there was an observatory, which looked like the idea hideaway for a Bond villain, and a viewing platform with spectacular 360° vistas. We were treated to a magnificent sunset before hopping back on the train for the return journey. The timetable for the Gornergrat railway can be found online here.
Having asked Janine to recommend a restaurant where we could try fondue Chinoise, a first for both of us, it was now time for dinner. Her suggestion was Chez Gaby, a small family run establishment, which was tucked away on a small side street close to the St. Mauritius Church. We were pleased we had made a reservation as the place was packed when we arrived! The fondue was delicious and we both enjoyed the experience of cooking the thinly sliced meat in the boiling broth. Back at our hotel we had a drink at the ‘Schwarznasenbar’ before calling it a night.
Friday was another early start as we wanted to make the most of our last day in Zermatt! This time with snowshoe’s strapped to our backpacks we headed to the opposite end of town and took the cable car all the way up to Trockener Steg; it was by far the longest cable car I’ve ever been on and it made several stops along the way to allow passengers to embark and disembark. From there we took ‘Europe’s highest aerial cable car’ to the summit station of the Matterhorn Glacial Paradise! The viewing platform offers a 360° panorama taking in 38 peaks towering over four thousand meters including Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau! It was absolutely freezing out of the platform and we stayed just long enough to take a few photos before heading back into the warm!
We then took the cable car back down as far as Schwarzsee before strapping on our snowshoes and continuing on foot. The ‘White Magic Trail’ covers 4km and was extremely well marked by bright pink poles set every 100m or so. The snow was thick and the views were fantastic with the Matterhorn behind us and Zermatt nestled in the valley below! After an hour and half we reached Furi and stopped for lunch at a mountain restaurant. From there we took the cable car back down and returned to our hotel to collect our bags. Details of other snowshoeing routes in the area can be found here.
Having checked out before we left in the morning the hotel had kindly allowed us to leave our bags in the reception for the day. Upon our return they promptly called for the hotel taxi to pick us up and take us to the main train station. We had just enough time to stop by the tourism office and thank Janine for all her help before catching the train back to Täsch. For our return journey we decided to take the car train through the Furka Tunnel, which was in itself quite an experience! The tunnel goes from Oberwald in Canton Valais to Realp in Canton Uri and is a vital transport link for when the higher alpine passes are closed in winter. The journey through the 15.4km tunnel took just 15 minutes!
Overall we were extremely impressed by the facilities in Zermatt and blown away by the natural beauty of the area. It really is a winter wonderland with activities to suit all ages and interests! We were also impressed to learn about the ‘Wolli Card’, which allows children under the age of 9 to travel for free on all mountain lifts and also free accommodation in many of the hotels and holiday apartments. This certainly makes Zermatt a great option for families! More information for the ‘Wolli Card’ can be found here.
Finally, a big thank-you to Janine and the rest of the team at the Zermatt Tourism office for making our stay so easy and enjoyable! We can’t wait to visit again one day!