Zermatt: Nonstop Alpine Adventure
It looms over the land, like a great king surveying his kingdom from the top of his keep, casting a great shadow so all will know who rules these lands. The Matterhorn, the icon of the Alps, and the most photographed mountain in the world, is even more imposing in person. It will stagger you with its dramatic, awe-inspiring face, and is worth a trip to Zermatt on its own. But there is so much more to this quintessential ski town sitting at the base of the Matterhorn, with near endless alpine adventures to be had in all directions. Thankfully, you can enjoy them all in clear view of the ancient mountain peering down at you.
To get a clear picture of all of your sightseeing and adventuring options from Zermatt it is best to think about them in terms of four areas: downtown Zermatt and 3 mountainside climbs; The Gornergrat, Rothorn, and Klein Matterhorn, each with their own unique view of the iconic Matterhorn.
Old Town Zermatt
Zermatt itself is a touristy ski-town, but it does have a unique old town area, and delicious chocolate shops at every corner. Our favorite activities include wandering through the old wood houses perched precariously upon stone stilts, and reading the tombstones near the church. It is both tragic and fascinating to learn how many people have risked their lives trying to climb these majestic mountains.
The highest cable-car in Europe takes you to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. From here you’ll have breathtaking views of the Alps and the opportunity to explore an underground palace carved into the ice. Though technically closer to the Matterhorn than the others on this list, your view is from a different, less flattering angle, meaning you don’t get the iconic pinnacle-looking photo that’s expected of the Matterhorn.
More incredible views of the Matterhorn can be had from the top of the Gornergrat train, but don’t stop there. Take the easy, gentle downhill hike to Riffelsee to see a beautiful reflection of the Matterhorn off of the lake.
Another cable-car will take you up the Rothorn, where you can find Sunnegga. If you have to choose one mountainside to scale, this would be the one. Stop in at the restaurant, grab a picnic table outside and enjoy arguably the best view of the Matterhorn. The Liesee lake sits right next to the cable-car station, and is a great spot for families with its playground and barbecue. This is also a great jumping-off point for many hikes, including trails back down to Zermatt or over to the Gornergrat’s cable-car station.
Zermatt is “car-free,” meaning unless you’re taking a helicopter the only way in or out is by train. If you plan to have a car at this point in your trip, which is not recommended or necessary, you can drive as close as Täsch, where you can park at the Matterhorn Terminal and take one of the frequent shuttle trains, departing every 20 minutes, to Zermatt.
We said Zermatt was “car-free,” but put that term in quotes due to the excessive use of electric golf carts to buzz tourists to and from their hotels. Always be on the lookout for these carts as, being electric, they are silent but quite quick, and unaware tourists staring up at the Matterhorn can find themselves in the path of an oncoming electric cart very easily. There is also an electric bus option, and together these vehicles can be handy for hauling luggage across town, but part of the charm of Zermatt is the lack of vehicles polluting the peacefulness of this place. Bring good walking shoes, as that will be your primary mode of travel here. It’s hard to think of a more wonderful place to walk!
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Hotel Romantica, a beautiful boutique hotel in the heart of old town Zermatt. It even provides the opportunity to stay in one of its two cottages, each being over 200 years old and built in the traditional style, but equipped with modern comforts.
There are plenty of options for lodging in Zermatt, just don’t be alarmed if you find that your bed only has a comforter, and no sheets. This is typical in Switzerland, where people sleep with only a top comforter, or duvet. It’s actually quite wonderful, like being wrapped in a cloud.
Zermatt is the Alps’ idyllic ski town. The most iconic mountain in the world is always stealing your attention, and countless adventures await up each mountainside of this narrow valley. Only accessible by train, with no motorized cars to be found, Zermatt is a peaceful escape with all of the trimmings for a great vacation. Are there any other climbs or excursions worthy of a mention on this list? Let us know in the comments below.