Switzerland is a landlocked country in the heart of Europe that is blessed with so many natural attractions. It is bordered by France, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Italy and is one of the few countries on earth with four official languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh (a language spoken in the Roman era when they occupied this region).
Zermatt is located in southern Switzerland and is considered Europe’s premier resort village for both summer and winter activities. This beautiful village is situated at the base of what is the world’s most recognised mountain – The Matterhorn. This iconic symbol of Switzerland straddles the border of Switzerland and Italy, and stands at an immense 4,478 metres, but as any Swiss resident will tell you, they see the best side of the mountain (the northeast side).
What is so unique about Zermatt?
The town lies at the foot of the Matterhorn Mountain and for outdoor enthusiasts, this area is paradise. Since 1947 Zermatt has been a car-free zone, only electric cars are allowed to operate in the village, making the air clean, dry and the sky very clear.
Getting to Zermatt
Simply, by train. Visitors can go direct from Zurich or Geneva with a transfer in Visp (this is about a 3 to 4-hour journey). From Visp it’s approximately a one-hour train ride viewing some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and eye-opening drop-offs as the cogwheel train hugs the edge of the mountain route.
Trains in Switzerland run like clockwork, in fact you can set your watch to the punctuality of the train schedule. If you do happen to be late and miss your train, there’s no need to worry, another one will be by within an hour or less.
Another way to get to Zermatt is to drive to Brig or Täsch – 7 kilometres, leave your car at the designated parking areas and then take the train.
The train will drop you off in the centre of Zermatt. You will see the famed Matterhorn as the train pulls into the station. Have your camera ready.
Summer In Zermatt
In the summer, hikers can experience any of the more than 400 kilometres of marked trails that wind themselves in and out of the ALPINE mountains.
Zermatt is blessed with being surrounded by 38 mountain peaks, all of which are over 4,000 metres high. With this altitude, the air is very thin so pace yourself and do not carry heavy equipment with you unless you are really fit.
The hikes are spectacular, climbing over glaciers, seeing the beautiful valleys below and if you are lucky, catching a glimpse of an Ibex (a local mountain goat) grazing on the mountain .
There are quaint villages and pastures dotting the incredible mountain vistas. Relax, find a restaurant along the route, find a seat and enjoy the breathtaking views (and there are many).
Zermatt in winter
In the winter months, Zermatt transform into Europe’s premier ski resort. Get this, there are over 300 kilometres of ski runs (also known as pistes) spread out over three ski areas and at the centre of it all is The Matterhorn and Zermatt. Skiers can even ride trails along side the Matterhorn on the Italian side so in actuality, one can ski two countries in one day.
There are so many lifts and gondolas whisking skiers to heights of more than 4,000 metres so they can begin their descents. Zermatt is unique because one can actually ski through the village and even to their hotel for a break before they start another run …what a thrill. Between the gondolas and trains, one can go to any peak effortlessly.
One very unique attraction that must be experienced is called The Glacier Paradise located on the Klein Matterhorn (name means Little Matterhorn located near the east side of the Matterhorn). This is the highest glacier in the world. One can actually go inside a glacier for an out of this world experience. An ice tunnel (cave) has been bored into the glacier fifteen metres below the surface (an elevator takes you down). It is an eerie feeling when you get inside. The ice walls that surround you are a bluish tinge and I did catch myself looking deep into the glacier to see if there was any debris caught frozen in the ice. I had heard all these chilling stories of people falling into the crevasses, and that made me look.
Within the cave there are amazing ice sculptures, so life-like, but what amazes me is that I can see what giant ice crevasses look like from the inside. They are both amazing and scary at the same time.
One of the most enjoyable attractions is the ice slide. Here is where adults become kids again. Just sit on a plastic mat that is provided and let yourself go. The slide takes you through a short tunnel and out the other side where there is a great photo opportunity (of you) as you exit the tunnel. It’s a fast and bumpy ride and you will be airborne at the end…but all so fun. A word of caution – it is cold inside the glacier. Most people take a break at the restaurant located at the Klein Matterhorn for a coffee or delectable cup of Swiss hot chocolate, taking in the amazing views and bask in the sun.
The village of Zermatt provides an international gastronomy. All you have to do is know what you are in the mood for. Zermatt has a wide array of gourmet restaurants. Since this village is heavily influenced by Germany and Italy, most of the gastronomy will reflect this and it is so delicious. Zermatt is Europe’s jewel and an area that should be experienced for what may be a once in a lifetime experience…and most people keep going back for that same experience year after year.
The food is just plain outstanding. One local favourite that must be experienced, besides the Swiss chocolate of course, is the Raclette cheese dish. The cheese is melted into your plate accompanied by a pickle and potato and it tastes delicious. If you are daring, try the local Ibex goat as a meal. It is a Zermatt delicacy.
The Travel Guy Travel Tips:
1) The Euro is widely accepted in throughout Switzerland but any change will always be returned to you in Swiss Francs.
2) The Swiss have a remedy for upset tummies, especially if you eat too much of the Raclette cheese or fondues. Just drink a glass of snaps and your tummy problems will be over…I know this from experience!
3) Do not exert yourself or carry a heavy load as you climb or take a gondola to the various mountain peaks. The air is quite thin at higher altitudes making people very lightheaded and experience difficulty in breathing.
4) Do not venture out on glaciers for a walk or to explore. Stick to the marked routes, better yet, go with an experienced guide or you may be the one that people see frozen in the ice at The Glacier Palace.
5) All hotels have electric cars that will pick passengers up from the Zermatt station. It is quite a magnificent experience to ride in these cars. A courtesy telephone is available at the station to call your hotel.
6) Local refer to the Matterhorn as “das horn” (The Peak).
7) For more information, check out these websites:
by Frank Greco
Frank Greco is a world traveller; producer and host of a television travel show called The Travel Guy. Frank’s show has been broadcast through Discovery World HD in Canada. Contact Frank at: firstname.lastname@example.org.