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October 13, 2011

Getting to Know Zermatt, Switzerland

by Anne Paddock

Zermatt, Switzerland, home of the Matterhorn (pictured at right) is about 40 miles from Sion in the southern region of Switzerland (see map below) and is the only place in Switzerland that I’ve always left wishing I had more time to stay because there is so much to see and do. Although there is an airport in Sion, most international flights arrive in and depart out of Geneva or Zurich because weather conditions can change so rapidly in this mountainous region.

Accessible by car or train (preferable), Zermatt is 140 miles or 230 kilometers from Geneva or Zurich in the Canton of Valaisclose to the Italian border, which must be why I’m drawn to Zermatt.  The “I’m going to enjoy my life” mentality seeps across the border and inhabits the Zermattians and those that visit even though this area is a German-speaking part of Switzerland (Note:  There is a pecking order in Swiss culture and although all of Switzerland is quite rigid, the Swiss Italians are by far the most laid back group in the country. The Swiss Germans look down upon the Swiss French as inefficient and both the Swiss German and Swiss French agree that Swiss Italians border on being inefficient fun-loving fools).

zermatt mapZermatt has many attributes:
  • Mountains
  • Altitude
  • Charming Village
  • Transportation System
  • Skiing, Hiking, Snow Shoeing, and Biking Trails
  • Abundance of Other Activities
  • Hotels and Restaurants
The Mountains

Zermatt is most famous for the Matterhorn (pictured below), one of the highest peaks in the Alps at 14,600 feet (4,478 meters).  Although the Matterhorn looks like a lone ranger, there are 37 other mountains that have peaks in excess of 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) so Zermatt is considered a mountain climber’s paradise.

canstockphoto8175659
The Altitude

The village of Zermatt is at 5,310 feet (1,620 meters) and in a valley with the surrounding accessible five peaks by railway or gondola ranging from a low of 7,506 feet (2,288 meters) at Sunnegga to a high of 12,740 feet (3,883 meters) at the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. Consequently, Zermatt lays claim to 365 days of skiing although summer skiing is limited to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.

canstockphoto12796883
Charming Village
Zermatt is a small charming village in a deep valley (as shown below) and next to the River Vispa.canstockphoto16832160

Vehicles with engines are prohibited and instead there are electric buses, battery operated vehicles, and horse-drawn carriages to minimize pollution and allow pedestrians to walk (somewhat) freely through the streets.

canstockphoto10692228The village is condensed and although a bit hilly in areas, easy to explore.  The alpine chalet style buildings have a multitude of shops and restaurants at street level.  Zermatt has an abundance of sporting good stores filled with high quality clothing and equipment as this town caters to the outdoor enthusiast.

The Transportation System
Zermatt has a central train station in the village which makes travel to the peaks and neighboring areas very easy.  The transportation system serving the area is designed to expand the use of the mountains beyond skiers and to encourage walkers, hikers, snowshoers, and others to explore the accessible peaks.  One of the most famous railway lines is the rack railway called the “Gornergratbahn” (shown below) to the summit of the Gornergrat at 10,140 feet (3,089 meters).

canstockphoto4059518At the top of the Gornergrat, there is a spectacular view of the Matterhorn (as illustrated below).For those that want to go even higher (12,740 feet), take the Matterhorn Express gondola up to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise where there is a restaurant, a shop and even hotel rooms, albeit basic. Be aware of the altitude and use caution, especially if you have been at lower altitudes.

Ski, Cross Country, Snow Shoeing, Hiking and Biking Trails

Zermatt ski areas offer 350 kilometers (210 miles) of pistes for skiers in a condensed area. One of the great advantages of Zermatt is that a skier can go to any slope and even ski in Italy starting from the center of town.  The basic information to know is that there are five easily accessible peaks in Zermatt:

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise:   12,740 feet or 3,883 meters
Gornergrat;   10,140 feet or 3,089 meters
Sunnegga:   7,500 feet or  2,288 meters
Schwarzee:   8,470 feet or  2,583 meters

Rothorn:  10,170 feet or 3,103 meters

Transportation is available to all of the peaks with options to eat at restaurants, enjoy the views, hike, ski, and more.  A summary of trails for skiers, cross country/skate skiers,snowshoers, hikers and cyclists is as follows:

Skiing:   210 miles or  350 kilometers
Cross Country/Skate Ski :  14 miles or  24 kilometers over  2 trails
Snowshoe:    7 miles or 11 kilometers over 4 trails
Winter Hiking:   42 miles or 70 kilometers over 17 trails
Summer Hiking:   240 miles or 400 kilometers over 55 trails

Mountain Biking:   60 miles or 100 kilometers over   6 trails

Abundance of Other Activities

Zermatt is a sports lovers mecca with golf, tennis, river rafting, mountaineering and climbing, tobogganing, sledding, fly fishing, ice hockey and more.  There is never a day in Zermattwhen there isn’t a choice of sports to participate in and that is one of the main reasons Zermattis a destination spot for many tourists.  For detailed information on winter and summer sports, go to www.zermatt.ch. 

562616_400340323338773_1975556645_nThe Forest Fun Park is an outdoor adventure park that is enjoyed by both kids and adults. My daughter especially enjoyed spending an afternoon here as she could step, swing, climb, and zip line from tree to tree. The park has courses for kids as young as 4-7 years.  Course difficulty is signified by color with green the easiest followed by red and then black.  For complete information, go to www.zermatt-fun.ch.

Hotels and Restaurants

There are more than 150 hotels in Zermatt and the most informative website is www.zermatt.ch.  My criteria for booking a hotel included a central location in the village that was kid and pet friendly because we traveled with our dog.  We enjoy the Hotel Sonne where we were greeted by the owner’s golden retriever at the front door and our dog was greeted as enthusiastically as any hotel guest.

hotelsonneThe hotel has a large indoor heated swimming pool, a sauna, and a spa.  The elevator is small (but aren’t all European elevators small?) and so we almost always took the steps but the room was large and the views spectacular.  The hotel is family owned and operated.  Breakfast was a huge buffet with a strong Swiss emphasis:  cheese, meat, yogurt, fruit, muesli, assorted breads and juices.  Dinner is also served at the hotel and even though we arrived after serving hours (which can be quite rigid in Switzerland), they sensed our exhaustion and offered to cook up dinner, which we happily accepted.

68e46108ebd12914024d37a4a9ef122cHotel Sonne Zermatt
Postfach 121
3920 Zermatt CH
00 41 27 966 20 66

www.sonnezermatt.ch

Zermatt has a wide variety of restaurants which can be viewed by category (Italian, Swiss, Asian, Vegetarian, etc) at www.zermatt.ch.  A friend highly recommended “Ristorante Capri” – an Italian restaurant in the Mont Cervin Palace Hotel (www.seilerhotels.ch) at Bahnhofstrasse 31 which is in the central part of the village, but with our large group that included four hungry kids, we decided to take a more casual route and eat at Ristorante Molino– a large Italian restaurant in the center of the town that was willing to seat our large group right away. Best described as a casual pizza and pasta place, Molino provided quick service which pleased the group.

Ristorante Molino
Bahnhofstrasse 52
3920 Zermatt CH

00 41 27 966 81 81

www.molino.ch

Ristorante Molino is a chain and has 18 locations in throughout Switzerland.
Zermatt is a casual and an outdoor sports lovers paradise that begs for return visits.

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