Since the mid-19th century, Zermatt has starred among Switzerland’s glitziest resorts. Today it attracts intrepid mountaineers and hikers, skiers who cruise at a snail’s pace, spellbound by the scenery, and style-conscious darlings flashing designer togs in the lounge bars.
But all are smitten with the Matterhorn (4478m), the Alps’ most famous peak and an unfathomable monolith synonymous with Switzerland that you simply can’t quite stop looking at.
What should I do in Zermatt?
Zermatt is skiing heaven, with mostly long, scenic red runs, plus a smattering of blues for ski virgins and knuckle-whitening blacks for experts. The main skiing areas in winter are Rothorn, Stockhorn and Klein Matterhorn – 350km of ski runs in all, with a link from Klein Matterhorn to the Italian resort of Cervinia and a freestyle park with half-pipe for snowboarders.
Summer skiing (20km of runs) and boarding (gravity park at Plateau Rosa on the Theodul glacier) is Europe’s most extensive. One-/two-day summer ski passes are Sfr84/125. Zermatt is also excellent for hiking, with 400km of summer trails through some of the most incredible scenery in the Alps – the tourist office has trail maps.
For Matterhorn close-ups, nothing beats the highly dramatic Matterhorn Glacier Trail (two hours, 6.5km) from Trockener Steg to Schwarzsee; 23 information panels en route tell you everything you could possibly need to know about glaciers and glacial life.
Europe’s highest cogwheel railway has climbed through picture-postcard scenery to Gornergrat (3089m) – a 30-minute journey – since 1898. On the way up, sit on the right-hand side of the little red train to gawp at the Matterhorn. Tickets allow you to get on and off en route; there are restaurants at Riffelalp (2211m) and Riffelberg (2582m). In summer an extra train runs once a week at sunrise and sunset – the most spectacular trips of all.
GOOGLE MAP: www.gornergrat.ch
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise 🏔
Views from Zermatt’s cable cars are all remarkable, but the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is the icing on the cake. Ride Europe’s highest-altitude cable car to 3883m and gawp at 14 glaciers and 38 mountain peaks over 4000m from the Panoramic Platform (only open in good weather).
Don’t miss the Glacier
Palace, an ice palace complete with glittering ice sculptures and an ice slide to swoosh down bum first. End with some exhilarating snow tubing outside in the snowy surrounds.
GOOGLE MAP: wwwmaterhornparadise.ch
Switzerland’s scenic trains
Swiss trains, buses and boats are more than a means of getting from A to B. Stunning views invariably make the journey itself the destination. Switzerland boasts the following routes among its classic sightseeing journeys. You’re able to choose just one leg of the trip. Also, scheduled services often ply the same routes for standard fares; these are cheaper than the named trains, which often have cars with extra-large windows and require reservations.
Glacier Express (www.glacierexpress.ch) Hop aboard this red train with floor-to-ceiling windows for the famous eight-hour journey between St Moritz and Zermatt. Scenic highlights include the climb through Alpine meadows to Oberalp Pass (2033m) – the journey’s high point between Disentis/Mustér and Andermatt – and the crossing of the iconic 65m-high Landwasser Viaduct between St Moritz and Chur.
Bernina Express (www.rhb.ch) This unforgettable four-hour train ride cuts 145km through the Engadine’s glaciated realms, linking Chur, St Moritz and Tirano, Italy. Between May and October, continue 2½ hours by bus from Tirano to Lugano along Italy’s Lake Como and Ticino’s palm-fringed Lake Lugano.
Jungfrau Region (www.jungfrau.ch) You can spend days ogling stunning Alpine scenery from the trains, cable cars and more here.
GoldenPass Line (www.goldenpass.ch) Travels between Lucerne and Montreux. The journey is in three legs, and you must change trains twice. Regular trains, without panoramic windows, work the whole route hourly.
Centovalli Express (www.centovalli.ch) An underappreciated gem of a line (two hours) that snakes along fantastic river gorges in Switzerland and Italy, from Locarno to Domodossola. Trains run through the day and it is easy to connect to Brig and beyond from Domodossola in Italy.
🛌🍽 Sleeping & Eating Most places close May to mid- (or late) June and again from October to mid November.
🏠 Hotel Bahnhof – Opposite the train station, these five-star budget digs have comfy beds, spotless bathrooms and family-perfect rooms for four. Dorms (Sfr5 liner obligatory) are cosy and there’s a stylish lounge with armchairs to flop in and books to read. No breakfast, but feel free to prepare your own in the snazzy, open-plan kitchen.
🏠 Snowboat Bar & Yacht Club – This hybrid eating-drinking riverside address, with marigold-yellow deckchairs sprawled across its rooftop sun terrace, is a blessing. When fondue tires, head here for barbecue-sizzled burgers (not just beef, but crab and veggie burgers too), super-power creative salads (the Omega 3 buster is a favourite) and great cocktails. The vibe? 100% friendly, fun and funky.
Around Zermatt 🚗🚡
Zermatt is car-free. Motorists have to park in Täsch ( GOOGLE MAP ;📞 027 967 12 14; www.matterhornterminal.ch; Täsch; per 24hr Sfr15.50) and ride the Zermatt Shuttle train (adult/child Sfr8.40/4.20, 12 minutes, every 20 minutes from 6am to 9.40pm) the last 5km to Zermatt.
Trains depart regularly from Brig – a major rail hub (Sfr38, 1½ hours), stopping at Visp en route. Zermatt is also the starting point of the popular Glacier Express to Graubünden.
See also, WINTER VACATION AT SWITZERLAND