ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND: The view from any of the peaks is breathtaking and the village stretches out below, framed by wooden barns, at the foot of the king of mountains. I can see lush green forest, the blue sky and suddenly, just as the sky turns from grey to blue – 132 reporters from all over the world rush towards the photo point to shoot pictures of one of the most famous mountain pinnacle in the world: the Matterhorn.
Its something strange, romantic and common with people from Chine, Australia, Brazil, the US, Egypt and more or less all European countries – they all seek as high as possible, not only to ski, but also to walk the mountains during the summer and fall. Young and old – they reach for the sky and the highest peak possible.
Mark Twain came here. ”I went to bed, but not to sleep. No man can sleep when he is about to undertake one of the Alpine exploits. I tossed feverishly all night long, and was glad enough when I heard the clock strike half past eleven and knew it was time to get up for dinner. I rose, jaded and rusty, and went to the noon meal”, the American author Mark Twain wrote in his book ”A tramp Abroad” on his way to Riffelberg, high above Zermatt, more than 125 years ago.
First meeting. Gornegrat, framed by 4,000-metre peaks, was my first meeting on top of the world above the chic village of Zermatt. While Mark Twain more or less walked up the mountains, the historic Gornegrat Bahn brought me up to the high-mountain scenery within 45 minutes. Twain’s book was published in 1890, butt he mountains are pretty much the same. Twain realized that reality lies not in the travel brochure but in the real travel and observation of that place. Excellent, and nothing has changed, except there are many more hotels, restaurants and it’s much easier to reach top of the mountains.
300 days of sun. I enjoyed an enchanting view of the majestic Matterhorn – reflected in the crystal clear water of the Riffelsee. From here, a one-hour walk brought us up to the 3,135 metres Gornegrat, home to Switzerland’s highest summit hotel. The day before was all grey – as a local version of the erotic book ”Fifty Shades of Grey”. In this area you can’t expect more than 300 days of sunshine a year.
After a breathtaking view of 29 mountains above 4,000 metres I ride the train down to Riffelapl (2,222 m) for a luxurious welcome at Switzerland’s highest five-star resort.
The Village. A walk through the village of Zermatt shows a mix of old history and modern tourism. A visit to Matterhorn Museum under the glass dome of the former casino open the world of old Zermatt – of the poor farmer’s village. The mountaineer’s cemetery is a moving reminder of the accidents that have occurred in the mountains around Zermatt. A tranquil site and a memorial to all climbers who have lost their lives here.
Here to eat. For lunch and warm meals we suggest these four, all in Bahnhofstrasse. Derby in number 22, Walliserhof Stübli & Grill in 30, Walliserkanne in 32 and Pinte in number 28.
Here to stay. In Switzerland you can live higher than ever with glorious view. However, in Zermatt the Schweizerhof hotel is a four star and central alternative, with modern rooms, while others are furnished in a chalet style. This hotel offers four very different restaurants and the kindergarten team is happy to look after kids. The wellness centre has saunas, whirlpool, relaxation area and an indoor pool.
All year activities. With 400 km of trails running between the village and the mountains, Zermatt is certainly a hikers and bikers paradise. In addition they offers snow pistes 365 days a year. During summer the Theodul glacier provides 21 km of pistes, and the total of 365 km of pistes in the region during the winter.
King of mountains. Matterhorn (4,478m) is the most photographed mountain in the world – it’s the king of mountains. Between 1865 and the end of 2013, around 500 Alpinists had met their death on the Matterhorn. Now fixed ropes are installed on the top triangular of the mountain to reduce the number of death. On a day with ideal weather conditions, up to 300 Alpinists make an attempt to climb to the top, 65 percent do not make it, mainly because they try without a mountain guide.
The Countdown clock. On 14 July 1865, mountain guides and the English climber Edward Whymper managed to reach the peak of Matterhorn. Only three of the mountaineers survived the descent. The 150th anniversary of this event will be celebrated with numerous festivities spread over the whole year. The Swiss watch manufacturer Tissot has a clock on the Bahnhofplatz, showing how many days, hours and minutes remain until the celebration of the historic event that started people flocking to Zermatt.
Sharp observer. “A Tramp Abroad” was interesting as a guide, a glimpse into 19th century Europe from a sharp observer. A description of Zermatt these days, of architecture, hotels, restaurants, mountains and mountain climbing, are still great joy – for tramps and the herd searching the magical height.
Click for large photos Zermatt
The official website of Zermatt Tourism: zermatt.ch/en/
Make it Happen!
Touch Down: By air; fly to Geneva or Zürich. A train journey to Zermatt will take 3-4 hours. The national airline Swiss serves over 80 destinations worldwide. More than 70 airlines fly to Zürich Airport direct from 196 destinations. Zermatt is car-free.
Stay: Zermatt has over 110 hotels with more than 7,000 beds, and 1,200 holiday apartments. Hotel Schweizerhof is a 4-star and central alternative.
Eat: Over 100 restaurants and 50 bars in the village. More than 50 mountain restaurants. Culinary highlights are lamb meat, dried meat specialities, Fondue made from Zermatt, mountain cheese, white wine soup, alpine cheese and Chocolate Matterhörnli.
Play: Events in Zermatt: Ski Cup and Curling tournament in January, Zermatt Unplugged in April and Zermatt Marathon in July 2015.
Mini Guide: Guaranteed snow all year. Europe’s highest cable car. Glacier Express Zermatt-St Moritz is the slowest fast train in the world. The British explorer Edward Whymper achieved the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of this event.