05 Aug 20
On top of the world! Discover Zermatt
Stuart, RAW Travel’s Product & Operations Manager, is an accomplished mountaineering guide and specialist in destination management. He has lived most of his working life in Europe, including in Switzerland where he worked as an operations manager and Swiss National Guide. After you have read about Stuart’s time in Zermatt, we think you’ll be ready to pack your bags for a week of summer hiking in the Swiss Alps.
Years ago I visited Zermatt for the first time for a week of trekking around the Matterhorn (matte meaning meadows) with my climbing school. Visiting this Swiss gem is an absolute must. Zermatt is the most famous mountain climbing village in the region, and a paradise for hikers and climbers: Switzerland’s highest peaks are all around you and on offer is a great combination of easy to challenging walks.
You can’t actually see the mountain from the village centre, you have to walk up through the village towards the old historical part or southern end and look for the sign to the Kirchebrucke (Churchbridge) its here you will finally come face-to-face with this hypnotically beautiful mountain. The pyramid-shaped peak of the Matterhorn (4478m) is a wonder to behold, along the Kirchestrasse to the bridge is also the Mountaineers Memorial and Cemetery.
You can walk from Zermatt to the base of the Matterhorn to the Hornli Hut. This short, steep hike is the same route that claimed the lives of the climbing group who first conquered the Matterhorn back in 1865. Four team members died on the descent and the infamous rope that broke is exhibited in the Matterhorn Museum. This hike is a must for any enthusiast.
You’ll find that from Zermatt there are many different walking and hiking trails out around the area of the Village. You can even hike your way over to Italy to Cervina; just do a little research – or ask me!
The 5-Seenweg (Five Lakes Walk) is in a class of its own among hikes in the Zermatt mountains. The views of the mountain lakes are superb, with the Matterhorn reflected in three of them) and the trail is full of variety. Remember to pack your bathers – the Leisee and Grunsee lakes are good for swimming. (This walk is part of our 8-day Swiss Alps Discovery Trip See below for more details.)
If you have a guide you can traverse the Matte glacier, which lies in front of the Matterhorn or visit the Glacier palace which is under the Matte glacier on top of the small Mattehorn. Or hike the haute route to Chamonix in France. The options seem endless!
One of the best viewing walks is the trek up the Gornergrat (3089m) known as the Aussichtweg or Swiss Top Walk. You can follow the glacier (more research required!); the views once you come out of the forest are spectacular!
Once you arrive at the Gornergrat viewing platform you have some of the most sought-after views of the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa Massif (which if you are a climber like me, you’ll love, as it requires fitness and stamina). Look out for Heidi, a St Bernard dog, who will happily pose for a photo with you and the Matterhorn in the background.
It’s not all physical. The village itself has a vibrant scene. Dive back to the 80s and try the traditional fondues. If you love mountain cuisine like I do, get your hands on rosti and bacon and eggs.
And don’t forget to find a terrace bar and stare at the mountain scenery while you sip a cocktail or two.
Accommodation in Zermatt is varied. Over the years I have stayed in nearly every hotel in the village, so ask me for recommendations! On this trip I stayed at the grand Zermatterhof, which is among the top 30 hotels in Europe(!) and was treated like a king. Travel Tip: Go to the Ruden Bar in the Zermattehof enjoy a glass of wine/beer and take note of all the coat of arms of all the families of Zermatt that are displayed on the wall.
Getting there and away
You can only reach Zermatt by train. It’s a combustion-engine free town, so there are no cars, although there are electric taxis that take you to your hotel.
Coming from Geneva, Zermatt is an easy train trip with changes in Visp and Tasch. From Italy, you can train or car it over the Simplone Pass or the St Bernado Pass and again change in Visp or turn up the Mattevalley towards the small village of Tasch. Arriving in Tasch you will have to change trains or park your car and take the Cog Railway to Zermatt.
If you enjoy train travel and want million-dollar views, catch the Glacier Express – one of Europe’s mythical train journeys (8 hours). You don’t have to take it from St Moritz; there are stops along the way where you can pick it up, but you can go all the way to Zermatt if you choose.
If you are driving, the southern side of Switzerland is all mountains, so navigation is fairly simple due to the passes and the deep valleys, although you can get caught out on some passes because of heavy snow, so you might have to take an alternative route. In some areas you can put your car on a train from Visp to Kandersteg through the mountains so you do not have to drive around.
The Swiss are the most educated drivers in the world, so driving is a dream, it’s the tourists you have to watch out for!