Zermatt Travel Guide
Swiss Alps © Artur Staszewski
Enjoy a holiday in the charming town of Zermatt, Switzerland's best-known ski resort. Nestled on a high plateau, it sits at the foot of the highest and most photographed peak in the country, the Matterhorn (14,692ft or 4,478m). The resort is a picturesque, if rather sprawling, old mountain village that is car-free with Swiss-style chalets.
The village of Zermatt can only be reached via a spectacular cog railway from the valley below. It has one of the best networks of super-efficient cable cars, gondolas and cog railways in the country that whisk skiers to three separate ski areas and to altitudes of over 12,000ft (3,600m). Twenty-one of the 36 lifts also operate during the summer to cater for the busy hiking and climbing season.
There are also plenty of non-skiing holiday activities in Zermatt, superb views, some of the best mountain restaurants worldwide, and a raucous nightlife to keep everyone entertained. The Matterhorn Museum commemorates the tragic first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 and the many lives claimed by 'the killer mountain', as well as telling the story of Zermatt.
Because of abundant snowfall, high altitudes and the glacier area of the Klein Matterhorn, a Zermatt holiday offers some of the finest skiing in Europe, and glacier skiing can be enjoyed well into the summer. The high and extensive terrain stretches across three individual mountains and mainly caters for intermediate and experienced skiers. The resort is best known for its excellent powder skiing, although off-piste areas and unofficial runs should only be explored with a guide, due to sudden drop-offs and avalanche risks.
Intermediate skiers have a wide range of slopes to enjoy around the Zermatt-Matterhorn Ski Area and it is possible to ski across all three mountains in a day. Klein Matterhorn is reached by the highest aerial cable car in Europe that provides access to a snowboard half pipe and the longest ski run in Europe, an exhilarating slope with breathtaking views that drops all the way down to the village. The easiest slopes are high up on the glacier in the Klein Matterhorn region, but beginners should be aware that trails that start out as novice often end up being intermediate and there are no beginner trails that connect the mountains. Snowboarders share the same exciting terrain.
Switzerland is renowned for high quality products, and most of them are on offer in the dozens of classy shops that line the main street of Zermatt. Price tags are heavy. Favourite holiday buys are of course souvenirs, from fine Swiss watches to the classic Swiss army knife, or perhaps a T-Shirt bearing an image of the mighty Matterhorn. Cuckoo clocks and fluffy toy animals abound, too, and there is enough jewellery to stock a treasury. Being a ski and climbing resort, Zermatt also boasts several stores offering the latest in equipment and outfits, and there are also numerous designer clothing boutiques.
The holiday hub of Zermatt excels particularly in the area of fine dining, with a multitude of options, but those who prefer something a little more basic can also find McDonalds in the Main Street. The most charming dining experiences are offered at the mountain restaurants in little villages (like Sunnegga, Rothorn and Findeln) surrounding the town, where quaint chalets have been turned into gourmet kingdoms and view sites topped with terraces offer hearty snacks and warming drinks. The mountain restaurants specialise in luncheons, and reservations are advisable.
In Zermatt itself there are plenty of restaurants throughout the town. Regarded as one of the best is the Rôtisserie La Broche in the Zermatterhof, with prices to match its elegant and flawless reputation. Part of the Zermatt experience is to enjoy a traditional Swiss fondue (either meat or cheese). The Stockhorn Grill Room is highly recommended for fondue, as is the Café Du Pont set at the south end of the main street. Homegrown lamb is another local speciality, prepared in a variety of delicious ways.
For an excellent budget meal while on holiday in Zermatt, the station buffet (Bahnhofbuffet-Panorama) is a good bet, offering a buffet 'menu of the day'.
On a Zermatt holiday, the evening fun begins when skiers are wending their way down the slopes heading home, stopping off to warm up with schnapps or a mug of hot spiced wine in one of the cosy mountain stubli. In Zermatt itself, restaurants tend not to open too early, so before dinner drinks are called for at one of the multitude of bars hidden away in the village alleys, or the firelit pubs in the hotels. To dance off the effects of dinner later there are discos aplenty. The hottest spot in town is the Post Hotel, which has a disco and a jazz bar.
Although Zermatt is a holiday resort dedicated to skiing, there are plenty of other winter sports and indoor pursuits to keep everyone busy. Hiking paths can be tackled even in winter, or those who can't balance on skis can hire a sled from their hotel and toboggan down the trails. A great way to get some exercise and explore the area is to take one of the walking tours arranged by the local tourist office. Sleigh rides and dog sledding are also popular diversions. Indoors there are seven swimming pools and 17 saunas distributed through the various hotels, and indoor sports like tennis, squash and even golf can be enjoyed. The village also sports two ice rinks and a fascinating museum devoted to mountaineering.
Zermatt is not a resort for beginners and the ski school has a poor reputation. Getting up the mountain and around the different ski areas can be slow, and the waiting time for lifts during the peak holiday season can be long. Some of the expert slopes only open in January or early February.