Beneath Switzerland's iconic Matterhorn lies Zermatt, one of the world’s very best ski resorts, combining tradition and history with a huge international ski area, Europe's highest pistes, long runs, steep off-piste terrain and sumptuous mountain restaurants with glorious views.
You get to car-free Zermatt on an old cog railway and the journey builds expectations. You walk off the platform and straight into old Zermatt, a farming and mountaineering village in the Matter valley long before winter sports arrived. Passing through the waiting electric taxis and horsedrawn carriages, you walk up Bahnhofstrasse to the original Monte Rosa Hotel, and like countless others before, you stop and look up. Above the old Church, the Matterhorn dominates the view until you slowly appreciate that it is just one remarkable gem set in a coronet of fabulous high peaks, because there are 38 other 4000 metre peaks surrounding this valley.
Zermatt’s Matterhorn Ski Paradise lives up to its name. Zermatt’s four ski sectors – Rothorn, Gornergrat, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise and Schwarzsee – are all interconnected. All of them except Schwarzee have top lifts reaching over 3000m, and those on Klein Matterhorn access Europe’s highest pistes at 3820m, from where you can descend all the way to Zermatt, a distance of 21 km and 2,279 vertical metres. Or you can head off in the other direction, skiing across the Italian border and down into Cervina and Valtournenche, before returning by lift and piste to Zermatt.
It’s a huge shared ski area – 360km and 52 lifts – but the statistics don’t capture Zermatt’s variety. There are good nursery slopes accessed with a special beginners pass on Sunnegga, gentle blue runs for novices reached by train on Gornergart, plenty of challenging reds for intermediates, and a long, high North-facing ridge from Hohtalli to Stockhorn that is the jumping off point for several steep official ungroomed ski routes and countless unofficial ones. And for those who want to learn, improve or explore, there is a wide choice of ski schools and guides, and several heliskiing operations.
And yet many of Zermatt’s visitors never put on skis or a snowboard. They come for the mountain restaurants which are among the very best in the world, with exquisite food, service and views. And they also come for the resort’s unique charm that seeps out of the ancient clutter of simple alpine timber, stone and slate buildings that still survive in the village, amid endless restaurants, bars and shops, and all kinds of accommodation, from luxury hotels to (relatively) humble stopovers, as well as self-catering apartments and chalets.
Zermat Pros & Cons
+ Huge interlinked ski area
+ Traffic free village of charm at 1,620 m
+ Wide range of accommodation
+ Superb mountain huts & restaurants
+ Outstanding mountain scenery
– Longer transfer times
Zermatt photo by Leander Wenger www.zermattfoto.ch