Zermatt is in the German speaking Canton of Valais in Switzerland, at the end of a valley called the Mattertal. At 5310 ft above sea level, it is nestled between the mountains at the foot of the Matterhorn, one of the most famous and highest Swiss peaks. The river Matter Vispa runs through the village, taking its sources from mountain glaciers. To prevent air pollution, no cars are allowed in the town and tiny electric shuttles whizz around instead. If you are a reasonable skier, you can access the Italian resort of Cervinia from Zermatt as well.
I have been skiing for a long time and have been to many fantastic resorts including Verbier, Courchevel 1850, Val d’Isère, Megève, Lech, Whistler, Banff and beautiful Gstaad to name a few…but there is something about Zermatt which is the icing on the cake. Zermatt is glamorous but unpretentious. The town is truly alpine with some chalets over five hundred years old. It was not overcrowded when we visited (try to avoid the European school holidays), the snow conditions were superb and the food is outstanding, particularly in the mountain restaurants. We really love this break, we enjoy our days skiing, and those include fun lunch stops, great accommodation as well as having excellent ski guides…and warm but fabulous ski gear is also on my list (there is fiendishly expensive JetSet shop in the town).
The easiest way to get to Zermatt is to fly to Geneva or Zurich in Switzerland. It is really pointless driving from the airport as it is not that much quicker and you cannot take the car into the resort. We flew into Zurich and outside arrivals it was easy to follow directions to the station beneath the airport. The transfer time takes 3.5 hours to Zermatt. We had to change at Visp to get the train on the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn which took us right into the middle of Zermatt and it was the most beautiful train journey. Swiss railways offer greatly discounted, return transfer rail tickets when purchased in advance from outside the country. These will transport you from any airport in Switzerland to your final destination.
Your hotel concierge (or chalet host if you choose to rent a chalet and there are some amazing ones available) will send someone to meet you at the station to whizz you to your accommodation by electric car. They will then set you up with your ski passes, ski hire, help with restaurant reservations, beauty appointments, ski school, private guides – you name it, they will book it. Make sure you book restaurants in advance for lunch as they are all very popular and get extremely busy in the high season.
Skiing in Zermatt is fantastic. There are 224 miles of pistes with fast ski lifts and pistes groomed for all levels of skiers. You can get all the way up to the Klein Matterhorn at 3883M, where you can look the four thousand-meter alps and the Matterhorn right in the eye. Pistes are carefully groomed each night to suite all ski levels.
Our first day was very snowy and we stopped at one of our favourites, Franz & Heidi’s, (formally known as the Findlerhof) for lunch. It is low down in the hamlet of Findeln, just below Sunnegga. Don’t miss it as it is hard to see the sign post! Leave your skis by a small, white chapel and if it is snowy, it is a good tip to take your poles with you to help you walk down a little pathway in between the old wooden chalets to the restaurant. If it is warm enough to eat al fresco, then they have a small number of tables outside with great views (they have a covered terrace in winter too). The restaurant is divine inside, very traditional with tables close together, a great cosy atmosphere.
Zermatt has a fantastic music festival each April, Zermatt Unplugged, attracting some good names and it is very much a resort where live music is featured everywhere you go. Turn up at most bars or restaurants and there will be some good bands playing and guitarists strumming and singing…fantastic. We stopped at the Blue Bar at Blauherd for a quick mug of gluhwein one morning. It is fun and modern, the terrace has an amazing view of the mesmerising Matterhorn (you get a bit obsessed with that mountain) and it is a good pit stop on the way to Fluhalp. Fly around the corner on your way to Fluhalp and make sure you get some serious speed up so you can schuss up the slope to the restaurant!
Lunch at the Fluhalp was another firm favourite. It is one of the highest restaurants in the resort at 8,596ft above sea level. The food was wonderful with large sharing platters, and the best tables are to the left of the main entrance, against the wall of the chalet facing the sun. It is well protected by glass dividers for warmth. Guaranteed after a few glasses of wine, you will all be up dancing in your ski boots with new friends.
Staffelalp is on Red Run 52 from Schwarzsee to Furi. There was a band playing during lunch on its beautiful terrace with a magnificent different angle of the Matterhorn. Staffelalp is worth a trip if the weather is good and is the closest you will get to the Matterhorn unless you are climbing it.
Zum See is an old hamlet of Zermatt, below Furi. The restaurant there, also named Zum See and run by Max and Greti is on a similar par with Findlerhof. It is situated low down on the main run from Furi (look out for the blue banner as you can easily miss it). If you are having a late lunch in early March and the weather is good you want to ask for a table away from the main chalet as once the sun disappears over the roof tops, it gets pretty chilly…later in the season, the nicest tables are against the wall of the chalet.
At the end of day, on the way back, you can stop at some really fun bars depending on where you come from. Just down from Furi, The Hennu-Stall open air bar is always loud and happening – they have live music from February and if you dare and are in a group, try the metre of shots. If you are coming down from Sunnegga, then you can stop along the pathway which leads back to the other end of the town at the Olympia Stubli, a fun and cosy bar. If you ski a bit further, then you can tumble into the glamourous Cervo hotel. The Champagne Bar downstairs has live music and there is a quieter bar with lots of seating upstairs which has great views of the mountains. This is a great place to meet non-skiers for lunch or après ski and a safe place if you are going to have drinks at the end of the day as you do not have to ski further, can cross over from the bar into a lift which takes you down to a taxi rank.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for exploring Zermatt which is not just wonderful in the winter but in summer too with many fantastic hiking/biking trails with alpine huts to stay in. Check out their informative website Zermatt.ch
As the nights draw in and the days get shorter in England, the winter sun rises in the sky and it is time for me to start planning our ski trip once more, Just the mere thought of skiing in Zermatt fills my heart with utter joy. Zermatt, here we come…
This very traditional, five-star hotel has been the ‘Grande Dame’ of Zermatt since it opened its doors in 1852. The hotel is the smartest in town and stands right in the heart of Zermatt with fantastic access to all the shops, bars and restaurants in the town (you would need to taxi to the lifts each morning). It has six restaurants of its own, a wonderful spa and a great Dine Around package if you book half board, allowing you to dine out in other restaurants (including Molino, Monte Rose and Myoko Teppan-Yaki Sushi Restaurant and the lovely Italian Al Bosco at the Riffelalp Resort up the mountain).
The Omnia is perched on a mountain side overlooking the Matterhorn. Accessed via a tunnel carved through the rock, you enter a glass elevator, feeling somewhat like James Bond, entering the fabulous penthouse of a dastardly villain, except it opens into a stunning, modern hotel with exceptional views. Self-described as a ‘contemporary interpretation of the traditional mountain lodge’, the hotel has 30 rooms including 12 suites, a library with a fireplace to sit and relax and a wellness centre with an indoor/outdoor pool, Turkish bath and Finnish sauna, über cool.
This is a ski-in, ski-out, four-star hotel, which stands on a rock terrace and is accessed from the village via the Sunnegga Funicular (elevator). It is made up of six chalets of five and six rooms, with 36 rooms in total. It is very chic, popular for groups of friends (not ideal for kids) who can take over one chalet, has a very cosy atmosphere a central chalet with a great bar, lobby and restaurant. Cervo has a fantastic panoramic terrace and outdoor hot tub. Even if you don’t stay you can pop in for some après-ski and a glass of Champagne on your way back to the village.
Riffelalp Resort 2222M
If you are not fussed about going out at night, then stay at this mountain resort with its great spa. It is not in the town but a 20-minute chug up the mountain on the Gornergrat train, 2222 metres (7290ft) above sea level, directly facing The Matterhorn. Like its sister hotel, the Mont Cervin Hotel, they also offer the half board Dine Around option but don’t miss the last train home! With only 65 rooms it has a friendly, cosy atmosphere and a great Italian restaurant Al Bosco with a fabulous terrace. Beautifully decorated in a traditional Swiss style, rooms and suites are spacious and warm. With its in-house pharmacy, sports rental centre Bayard Sports and fantastic Wellness Centre this ski-in, ski-out hotel is rather heavenly.
Something completely different – 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat
This is the highest hotel in the Swiss Alps at 10,170ft above sea level.
With very simple rooms (the ones on the west side have unobstructed views of the Matterhorn), it has its own planetarium and the star gazing is truly breathtaking. You reach the hotel from the Gornergrat Bahn, it takes about 40 minutes from the village of Zermatt to get to the top of the mountain and if you feel like something completely different for a couple of days, or need somewhere to acclimatise for a heli-skiing trip, you won’t be disappointed. Fabulous sun terrace, good Swiss food, you might get to see an Ibex in the early morning and obviously it is ski-in, ski-out.
Favourite shops are Peak Performance, Jet Set, Lorenz Bach (and his outlet shop around the corner which sells JP Tod’s etc.), Peak Performance and the best chocolate shop of all time Merkur in the Bahnhofstrasse with slabs of chocolate in the window. Impossible to pass!
The Vernissage is rather an unusual cinema with a bar and log fire. Films are shown in English but look for E d/f on the programme which means English with French or German subtitles. Make sure you book.
Favourite Mountain Restaurants
▪ Findlerhof (Franz & Heidi) 027 967 2588
▪ Fluhalp (Reinhard) 027 967 2597
▪ Zum See (Max & Greti) 027 967 2045
▪ Staffelalp 027 967 3062
▪ Blatten 027 967 2096
▪ Schwarzee (part of Hotel Schwarzsee, live music & easy non-skier access) 0041 764619422
▪ Chez Vrony 027 967 2552
▪ Al Bosco (part of the Riffelalp Hotel, and non-skiers get the Gornergrat train and walk)
We would be delighted to help with any reservations. If you wish to get in contact please do so firstname.lastname@example.org and one of the team will get in touch with you.