There's nothing quite like the Matterhorn, Zermatt's iconic peak, overlooking a wonderfully buzzing, authentic village, and surrounded by rip-roaring high-altitude skiing with links across the Italian border, too.
The mountain village of Zermatt is one of the great ski centres of the world. Nestled in a deep valley enclosed between steeply scarped mountains, it is dominated by the iconic Matterhorn, famously known as the “Toblerone Mountain”. Zermatt is a place that every skier should visit at least once – although many who do so find it hard to stay away.
From the moment you arrive in Zermatt, and catch sight of the cobbled streets and horses and carriages patiently waiting, you know you are in a special place. There are no cars, so the air is noticeably cleaner and silence abounds. This is no purpose built ski resort and you immediately feel a part of the village – it draws you in. The village has been here since 1495 and the name appeared first as Zur Matte ("in the meadow").
The town was "discovered" by mid-nineteenth century British mountaineers, most notably Edward Whymper, whose conquest of the Matterhorn in 1865 made the village famous. The Matterhorn was one of the last alpine mountains to be conquered and the first successful expedition ended dramatically with only 3 of the 7 climbers surviving the descent. The story is related in the fascinating Matterhorn Museum.
Resort altitude: 1620m
Highest point: 3899m
Vertical drop: 2279m
Ski areas: 3 areas: Rothorn, Gornergrat and Matterhorn glacier, as well as access to Cervinia and Valtournenche
Pistes: 350km (of which 24% beginner/intermediate, 58% advanced, 18% expert)
Best for: Intermediate, advanced and expert skiers but with several beginner areas.
Skiing in Zermatt (1670m) is divided between four areas; Sunnegga (3103m), Gornergrat, (3089m) Klein Matterhorn (3883m) and Schwarzsee (2552m). There is also a connection to Cervinia and Valtournenche in Italy.
Zermatt has a wide range of skiing and plenty of the runs are high altitude making them very snow sure. Until recently the areas were poorly connected and the only way of linking them was to return to the village to take another lift. All areas are now linked by a highly efficient lift system which has made skiing the resort a joy. The final piece in the puzzle is the Furi-Riffelberg gondola. Completed in 2006 it links the Klein Matterhorn sector back to the Gornergrat one and removes the tiresome bus journey through town to get back to the other side. There has been a huge investment in snowmaking equipment, so that all of the main runs are covered, and you can ski on the glacier all year round.
Across all of the ski areas you will find lovely long and wide runs, not to mention a wealth of challenging terrain and heliskiing which make this region great for beginners, intermediates and experts alike. The run to Cervinia is the world’s longest ski run and is a great way to build up an appetite for lunch in Italy.
Zermatt has a well-earned reputation as the home of the very best mountain restaurants. In the small hamlet of Findeln you will find Chez Vrony, Findlerhof (Franz & Heidi) and Chez Adler to name but a few.
The Gornergrat ski area is reached by the Gornergrat Bahn railway, which started service in 1898 and is a real treat, especially for non-skiers. At the summit, the hotel and restaurant are exceptional places to relax on the terrace and there are many other superb restaurants in this area.
Testa Grigia at the top of the Theodulpass serves as a connection to the Italian ski resorts of Cervinia and Valtournenche. From the Swiss side it is reachable by t-bar or from the Klein Matterhorn cable car. From the Italian side by a chairlift and by a cable car. There are customs offices here as well as a small alpine museum.
Famous mountain restaurants in this area are Zum See, Simi and Les Marmottes, all with the most amazing views of the Matterhorn and again excellent places to while away the hours if you want a break from skiing.
In addition to the Swiss Ski School, Summit and Stoked ski schools provide excellent ski coaching with English speaking instructors. See ski schools in Zermatt.
Zermatt attracts as many non-skiers as skiers, as there are many activities in the village as well as lovely walks and opportunities to join skiers for lunch as most of the mountain restaurants for which Zermatt is famous are accessible to non skiers too. It takes less than half an hour to walk from one end of the village to the other and the only mode of transport besides the horses are silent elektro taxis.
Numerous other winter activities are also available in Zermatt. There are two toboggan runs, snow shoeing, ice skating, curling, cross country skiing, heli-skiing and paragliding. For children there are numerous playgrounds with fun activities for all ages and for the adults, there are many wonderful spas available, to receive ultimate pampering, There are also a wonderful selections of luxurious fashion shops and luxury goods stores in and around the village.
There is a multitude of places to partake in a lively après ski scene which can rival the Austrian resorts. On the way down from The Matterhorn/ Schwarzee ski areas is The Hennu Stall, which usually has a live band playing outside on a fair weather day. The only drawback is that you may have to ski the last few minutes back with too many Jagermeisters in your system (not to be advised!).
In the village, there are several après-ski bars, so you can drop off your skis before enjoying our favourites, The Papperla Pub and The Bubble, both close to the church. If you are coming down from the Sunnegga area you will pass The Cervo which is sophisticated with occasional live music. For the more discerning, Elsie’s Bar is the favourite destination, where you can sip the finest Champagnes by the glass, huddled in a small original wooded chalet, a great pre-dinner activity.
The fine food is not limited to the mountain restaurants and Zermatt boasts wonderful cuisine from all over the world to suit most budgets and includes Michelin star restaurants. Going out in Zermatt can be far more refined than in other ski resorts. You can take in live jazz in The Pink Music Bar, the latest movie in English, at The Vernissage, an after dinner drink in the stylish Papa Caesar Cocktail Bar or dance the night (and morning) away at The Schnee Wittchen Night Club (less refined!).
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Condé Nast Traveller, February 2016
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