Visit Zermatt for dramatic walking and skiing against a magnificent Matterhorn backdrop
With the Alps stretching from one end of the country to the other, Switzerland certainly has no shortage of dramatic mountain scenery – and few of those mountains are as iconic as the Matterhorn (4,478 m), which stands guard over the busy town of Zermatt (1,620 m), in the canton of Valais.
The Matterhorn isn’t actually the highest peak in the Mattertal, or Matter Valley – that honour belongs to Monte Rosa, which reaches 4,634 m at Dufourspitze – but its distinctive triangular silhouette, immortalised in the famous Toblerone logo, makes it certainly the most recognisable of the 33 peaks above 4,000 m that surround the town.
Year-round outdoor activity
Like many Alpine resorts, Zermatt morphs seamlessly from a heady skiing destination in winter to a superb base for hiking, climbing and biking in summer.
Skiing fans are certainly well catered for in Zermatt – the town is surrounded by 200 km of pistes, with another 160 km of slopes over the border in Cervinia, Italy. Experienced skiers will feel right at home straight away, but don’t worry if you need help getting up to speed on the slopes – Zermatt has trusted companies like Matterhorn Diamonds that provide private ski lessons from the best-qualified ski-school instructors.
As you’d expect, the whole area is well served by cable cars and lifts, including the spectacular “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise” cable car, opened in 2018, which ascends to Europe’s highest mountain station on Klein Matterhorn at an impressive 3,883 m.
The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is also among the cable car services that operate for walkers and tourists in Zermatt during the summer, with an impressive 400 km of well-maintained paths to enjoy. Two good starting points for a multitude of walks are Schwarzsee (Black Lake; 2,583 m), which can be reached by gondola from Zermatt in just 12 minutes, and Riffelalp (2,211 m), on the route of the Gornergrat rack railway.
For those who are suitably equipped and have a head for heights, one of the most dramatic hikes is that from Schwarzsee to Hörnlihütte (3,260 m), which is as close as you can get to the Matterhorn without actually climbing it, and rewards walkers with views as amazing as you would expect.
There are also plenty of less challenging walking options, though, such as the delightful Matterhorn Trail (route 29) that meanders from Schwarzsee to the Stafelalp restaurant – where you can enjoy “Swiss cuisine with a modern touch” – and back to Zermatt. Many other walks, of various difficulties, fan out from the Blauherd gondola station (2,571 m), where you might well spot – and hear – marmots, on the way to the beautiful Stellisee lake.
If you’re going to be making lots of use of Zermatt’s mountain lifts over multiple days, it’s worth looking at the Peak Pass, which can save money compared to the price of individual tickets.
One of the particular delights of Zermatt is that the town is basically car-free, making it an enjoyable and relaxing place to explore on foot, with plenty of quaint buildings and characterful streets.
Of course, that has implications for how you get there too, but, as you’d imagine, everything operates with typical Swiss efficiency. Tourists arriving in Switzerland by plane will typically take the train straight from the airport at Zurich (3.5 hours) or Geneva (4 hours), changing on to the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn in Zisp, which takes you on a 1,000-m ascent to Bahnhofplatz Zermatt in the centre of town.
From there, little electric buses serve the surrounding area – so don’t worry about having to get off the train and then carry your suitcases halfway up a mountain.
For drivers, cars can be left at the parking garage in Täsch, with the journey into Zermatt again completed by train.
Eating and staying
As you’d hope for a busy town of over 5,000 permanent residents – and several times that in peak season – Zermatt offers a wide range of eating options from fine dining to hearty local cuisine.
Situated at 2,100 m, Chez Vrony is a popular choice that combines amazing views and elegant surroundings with delicious food – including the ubiquitous fondue! – and garners consistently great reviews. Alternatively, for a cheaper eat, many visitors recommend the friendly and welcoming North Wall Bar & Restaurant, which offers tasty and great-value (in Zermatt terms) create-your-own pizzas.
It’s not exactly a surprise that staying in Zermatt doesn’t come cheap, with plenty of the more luxurious hotel options costing in excess of £300 a night in peak season. That’s not to say that you can’t visit on a budget, though, with a number of cosy hostels and chalets offering simple accommodation at comparatively wallet-friendly prices.
Another alternative is to book one of the many apartments available in the town, which can work out particularly good value if travelling in a family or other group. One example we like is Chez Nous, located in the heart of the town, which offers four boutique luxury holiday apartments in one building, accommodating between three and eight people each. Located next to a green field, and looking straight out on to the Matterhorn, Chez Nous is certainly a good choice if you’re looking for a Zermatt apartment with a view, while still being handy for all the town’s facilities and transport connections.
Finding out more
The official Zermatt Tourism website at zermatt.ch is the place to go for all the information you need to organise your Mattertal trip.
The site includes full details of Zermatt’s hiking and skiing opportunities, how to get there, and all the lifts and cable cars, as well as the latest news and events.
Or, if you fancy a sneak preview before you arrive, the site also includes a range of webcams featuring stunning views of the town and its surrounding peaks!
Do you have a favourite Zermatt hike, viewpoint or après-ski spot? Do feel free to share your own tips by posting a comment below!