You could waste a lot of time and space discussing how extensive and distinctive Zermatt's skiing is, so here goes: wherever you compare it with, Zermatt is one of the world's best ski resorts, not merely in terms of piste extent, variety and challenge but for the setting. The nature of a day in Zermatt, on or off-piste, is a journey through stunning mountains. Thanks to sympathetic development and the physical limitations imposed by the huge glaciers descending from the surrounding peaks, the ski area retains a wild feel; for a major ski resort, the landscape is barely touched.
Zermatt sits at 1,620 m within the Pennine Alps, a mountain chain that stretches from the Grand Combin in the west to the cluster of 4,000 m peaks which form the Monte Rosa massif to the east. The village marks the end of a narrow valley, and is bounded by three integrated ski areas each reaching over 3,000 m: to the south, forming the watershed between Switzerland and Italy, is the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn) region with huge glaciers at altitude and snow-sure north-facing slopes stretching 2,200 vertical metres down to the village; to the west, high mountains rise steeply, remaining unskied other than by heli-skiers and ski mountaineers; to the east, on gentler but still massive slopes, are the two other areas, Blauherd-Rothorn and Stockhorn-Gornergrat, the latter still accessed from the heart of the village by the cog railway which first opened in 1898.
The skiing is best described following the order in which you most easily cover the three ski areas, linking one with another in a clockwise tour. Keep in mind that each area amounts to a resort in its own right, in terms of quantity and variety of terrain, uplift, restaurants and other facilities; those in the know often advise skiing just one ski area each day rather than trying to link them, but it's fair to say the different areas are much better connected now, so it's easier to switch from one area to another.
This single mountain has it all: beginner skiing, intermediate cruising and off-piste challenge, as well as what are regarded as the best mountain restaurants in the world. From the top of the Rothorn there are broad, fast red runs, long cruisers around mid-mountain, off-piste itineraries and tree-skiing on the lower third down of the mountain to the village; throw in the restaurants at Findeln and you might not feel the need to venture further.
First stop out of the village is Sunnega, a main ski school meeting place accessed by a fast underground funicular train. A gondola takes you on to Blauherd, followed by a cable car up to the Rothorn from where several itineraries and a red run take you down the west side of the mountain. In the other direction, a long red run traces its way over south-facing slopes to Gant, for access to the Stockhorn and Gornergrat, and onwards to the biggest area of all, the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn) and the neighouring Italian resort of Cervinia to the south. When on the Rothorn, don't miss the last run of the day: one huge descent, top to bottom, with a pit-stop at Tuftern to catch the last of the sun dropping behind the Matterhorn - long after the village is overtaken by shadow.
The yin and yang of Zermatt on one mountain: a smooth cruise on the west face and the toughest, biggest freeriding to the north. The slow train ride from the centre of the village to the observatory, hotel and restaurant at the top of the Gornergrat, overlooking the Gorner and Grenz glaciers, reflects the skiing on the west side - relaxed, with a truly stunning view of Monte Rosa, Lyskamm and Breithorn among other peaks working their way towards the Matterhorn. The train is not fast but it keeps to its well publicised timetable and it gets you to over 3,000m in about the same time as it would take to queue for then ride two or three different bubble and chair lifts. But if you don't like the idea of a steady chug up the mountain, or if you are staying in Zermatt at the Klein Matterhorn end of the village, you can take the lift from Furi instead.
It is almost entirely intermediate terrain, brought up to date when the comfortable Gifthittli six-seater chair replaced an old T-bar. With several pistes tracing their way back to its base you can spend all day here, basking on west-facing slopes with some of the best views of the Matterhorn in the entire resort. There's similarly gentle skiing winding the length of the cog railway, punctuated by bars, mountain restaurants and the luxury Riffelalp Resort.
Heading onwardsv via Hohtalli and Rote Nase to Stockhorn takes you from the sublime to the ridiculous: over one thousand vertical metres of high altitude freeriding terrain and one of the steepest, broadest, longest mogul slopes - just under 1,200 vertical metres - you are ever likely to encounter. This area can be reached from the Gornergrat by the Hohtalli cable car - a slow process - but is better accessed from the Rothorn. Stockhorn itself is often closed until mid-February because it takes time for the snow to accumulate,
The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn) is the biggest ski area in Zermatt's constellation, from 3,880 m down to the village at 1,620 m. Not only is it a huge vertical drop, but the distance, on or off-piste, is enormous too. Ten miles from top to bottom is the shortest way down by piste. Take it in one and you might never walk again! From the top of the Klein Matterhorn is a 360-degree panorama - beyond Mont Blanc to the west and the rest of the Alps to the east - and snowsure, expansive ski area. The snowfields at the top are home to Zermatt's snowpark. Down below, beneath Schwarzsee, there's also some of Zermatt's best tree-skiing.
Direct access is from the southern end of Zermatt, via Furi and on to Trockner Steg or Schwarzsee. Crossing from the Gornergrat to Furi reveals the weakest link in the chain if you're trying to ski the region as a whole. An 8-seat gondola runs from Furi to Riffelberg (with an intermediate station) and provides the missing connection between the Klein Matterhorn and Gornergrat sections of the mountain. A new summit lift takes you directly from the station to an observation platform at 3883 m, where you can enjoy the panorama of peaks in Italy, France and Switzerland towering above.
The Glacier restaurant at Matterhorn Glacier Park, with seating for up to 120 people, accommodation for 40 climbers and a vantage window facing the Breithorn (4,164 m), opened in 2008. A special sewage treatment facility, the highest in the Alps, ensures waste water is purified in an environmentally friendly way. The front of the building is equipped with solar panels, which at this altitude generate nearly twice the amount of energy as the same size solar panels in lowland areas. Solar energy is stored for heating the building, and no external energy supply is required.
Zermatt's highest terrain spans the area between the 4,164 m Breithorn to the east and the 4,477 m Matterhorn to the west. The vast Theodul and Furgg glaciers cap the relatively flat, broad col over which the Italian resort of Cervinia is reached. Staying on the northern side, a high traverse brings you under the Matterhorn's east face for a close-up encounter with this noble monster. A more direct descent to where the glaciers end and the real skiing begins - exceptional red runs, wide, steep enough for interest and almost always well covered in chalky, dry snow - leads to the Schwarzsee link. From there you are soon into the treeline and different skiing once again. Given the mileage you will have covered just to get here, the excellent mountain restaurants at Furi are as much necessity as they are luxury.
The opportunity to cover big mileage is one of the key aspects of Zermatt's skiing, but it's worth knowing that not all connecting runs are created equal: Rothorn to Gant is long and varied, whereas the Stockhorn side is best skied as is now intended, as a freeride area. Following the 'White Hare' red run from Hohtalli for the sake of skiing that side of the mountain, or simply heading for the Rothorn via Gant may well be disappointing - the top section is narrow, relatively steep and rapidly scraped to hardpack by skiers avoiding the various off-piste routes. And it is likely to be in its worst condition just when the freeriding isn't inviting either - better to stay away at these times; it's not a problem as the route from Rothorn to Matterhorn via the Gornergrat area can still be skied without having to descend this side at all. In any event, the Stockhorn usually only opens at the end of January as the steep, rocky and partly glaciated terrain requires a substantial accumulation of snow to be safely skied.
Zermatt is one of only two ski resorts worldwide offering skiing and boarding 365 days a year and is one of the most snow sure resorts in the Alps with more than 70 per cent of Zermatt's pistes benefiting from artificial snow-making or on glaciers. Across the border in Italy, around 50 per cent of Cervinia pistes can be covered with artificial snow, and the Matterhorn ski paradise (Zermatt, Valtournench and Cervinia) as a whole can guarantee snow cover on over 200km of pistes.
When Zermatt's three separate lift companies joined to become Zermatt Bergbahnen in 2002, the coherence of the ski experience didn't noticeably change - there had long been a shared lift ticket and seamless integration between the ski areas. But for the first time in years, the will to make significant improvements to the resort's infrastructure was matched by the ability. The result has been several major new ski lifts and plans for further improvements which are more than just pipe dreams.
Traditionally, Zermatt's lift system was a mix of charm and frustration: slow, old mountain railways and slow, not quite so old cable cars could be so oversubscribed at busy times that ascending the mountain via a string of lifts seemed to take up much of your day. But in recent years, several lifts have been built, each of which would rank as a major project for any resort.
The Furggsattel chairlift was among the first to be built on a glacier in Switzerland, with pylons 'floating' in the moving ice flow. At a stroke, this lift replaced the infamous T-bar which dragged you slowly across the often wind-blasted upper glacier. The covered, cushioned six-seater chair is not only faster but infinitely more comfortable, taking you rapidly from Trockener Steg and depositing you in another country, Italy, over 400m higher up, on the border ridge.
Even more high-tech than the six-seater Gifthittli chairlift on the Gornergrat, when the Matterhorn Express opened, it was an audacious break with the pack-'em-in sardine-tin arrangement favoured elsewhere on the mountain: a comfy eight-seater gondola from the Klein Matterhorn valley station via Furi to Schwarzsee. Unlike some of the massive projects in France and Austria in recent years, Zermatt's more recent lifts all have the advantage of going up the mountain, rather than being merely horizontal link-lifts.
There's room for eight people in the Matterhorn-Express gondola from Schwarzsee via Furgg to Trockener Steg; simply stay in your seat and from the Matterhorn Express bottom station you can reach Trockener Steg via Furi and Schwarzsee in just 25 minutes without changing gondolas. The new lift can now transport 2,800 people an hour instead of just 800. When you get to Trockener Steg, you can decide between taking the Theodulsee run and on to Europe's highest cable car station, or heading for the Ice Restaurant.
But perhaps the best single feature of Zermatt's lifts is that they run from 8am every day, allowing early birds to beat the queues, reach the powder and fit in more skiing by lunchtime than should be allowed. Towards the end of season, the last lifts run as late as 5pm.
Lift pass prices are high, so don't buy a pass that covers more than you need. The main pass covers all of Zermatt. You can also buy a Zermatt/Cervinia (Italy) combined pass, or a Klein Matterhorn/Schwarzsee/Cervinia combined pass if you know that you won't be skiing Gornergrat or Rothorn. Single trip tickets for walkers and sightseers are so prohibitively priced that you can only conclude they don't want you jamming up the lift system.
Since 2002, Zermatt's lift company has invested a total of CHF 336 million including CHF 173 million in transport facilities, CHF 83 million in ski pistes and artificial snow making, CHF 25 million in piste groomers and CHF 55 million in other facilities. Major investments include the 8-seat Matterhorn-Express gondola (2 sections), 6-seat chair lifts with hoods at Furggsattel Gletscherbahn and Gifthittli, the Gandegg ski lift extension, an 8-seat gondola and 6-seat chairlift at Sunnegga paradise - Blauherd, a new lift at Riedweg to the Stollen of the Sunneggabahn, the 8-seat gondola lift Furi - Schweigmatten - Riffelberg, a new 4-seat chairlift Sunnegga Paradise - Findeln - Breitboden, a new ski lift at Stockhorn, the new Glacier restaurant and shop at the Matterhorn glacier paradise and an 8-seat gondola Schwarzsee - Trockener Steg.
New projects for 2013-2016 include new carriages and tracks for the Sunnegga-Express funicular, a new 4-seat chairlift at Hörnli, a new 3S cable car between Trockener Steg and Matterhorn glacier paradise and cable car between Testa Grigia - Matterhorn glacier paradise.
For a more exclusive lift experience in Zermatt, pre-book a VIP Gondola (max 4 persons) on the Matterhorn-Express and ride in comfort and style with luxurious seating and a bottle of champagne to complement the unforgettable views. Pre-book one way from Schwarzee to Trockener Steg or a round trip no later than the day before at Zermatt Bergbahnen, Tel: +41 (0) 27 966 01 01; [email protected]
Beginners are the only losers in Zermatt, though even that's merely in relative terms: there are good slopes on which to learn, including Wolli Park for novices and long gentle runs on the glaciers. Snow is never a problem, but novices and timid intermediates in Zermatt will miss out on a range of ski experiences that require sufficient skills to travel the slopes efficiently.
And though beginners will still get to experience Zermatt's magnificent mountain atmosphere, they have to get up there, and reaching the glaciers by a series of busy cable cars, for instance, is a chore which won't be appreciated without the reward of a huge descent.
Logically, novices should ideally choose to go to another resort, though beginners within a mixed-ability group will be well enough served as long as they accept that there will be whole swathes of the ski area that they won't visit. Sunnegga, Blauherd and Trockener Steg are the main ski school meeting points and, along with the Gornergrat, these are where the best blue slopes can be found.
Improvements include the new vertical Leisee Shuttle lift providing first time beginners with easy access from the top of the Sunnega funicular lift down to the Wolli Park - a dedicated nursery area at Findeln, with four magic carpet conveyor lifts and a range of play equipment for children.
The Wolli Park lift pass costs 50% less than the full Zermatt ski lift pass and includes uplift from the village (1,620 m) to Sunegga (2,288 m) via the funicular, the Leisee Shuttle, Eisfluh, Findelbahn and the magic carpets in Wolli Park.
With as many as five main ski schools for group instruction in skiing and boarding in Zermatt and three private ski schools, beginners have plenty of ski schools to choose from and invariably all of Zermatt's ski sintructors speak good English.
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For the biggest category of skiers Zermatt has plenty to offer. Strong intermediates - in terms of technique and fitness - have the most fun as they can link the resort's ski areas together and also enjoy a day trip to Cervinia on the Italian side. Though most of the runs marked on the piste map are red, many of these routes are broad as well as long, giving weaker skiers the opportunity to traverse out of trouble and take their time. Crowded bottlenecks on piste are the exception other than in highest season, though that may change as Zermatt's ski lifts continue to increase in capacity and push up skier density.
The Rothorn offers top-to-bottom routes that can be tackled by most skiers, offering the kind of away-from-it-all ski experience that normally remains the preserve of advanced skiers. The long Kumme run down to Tuftern continues by a blue track through the trees right back to the village, passing cafes and restaurants in the bottom half. The connecting run to Gant gives even more sense of a journey, through varied, winding terrain, though staying above the treeline. A useful pit stop is the Flualp restaurant a third of the way down, with views across the Findel glacier, the north face of the Stockhorn and across to the Matterhorn. Below Blauherd and Sunnegga are forest glades and multiple routes back down to village level. In good snow conditions and on colder or windy days, when the top of the mountain doesn't appeal, this is the place to be, with easy access back to the village or to a range of mountain restaurants.
Avoid the Stockhorn/Hohtalli area unless you're confident on steep terrain, and concentrate on the Gornergrat instead. The blue pistes running either side of the six-seat Gifthittli chairlift bask in afternoon sun but retain exceptional snow - the base is over 2,500 m (8,202 ft). This is ideal cruising territory, good for a blast on rolling, well-groomed and often deserted terrain. Following the railway all the way back to base is another big journey, with both easy intermediate and slightly tougher options, as well as the onward route via Furi to link with the Klein Matterhorn ("Matterhorn Glacier Paradise"). The new gondola between Furi and Riffelberg dramatically improves the link.
The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn) extensive terrain is bliss for intermediates. Once again, there's a chance for skiers to experience the kind of high-mountain terrain that often means a serious descent in other resorts. Here it's the length of the route home that's serious: 16km is the shortest way down by piste. Up high, the snow is invariably good, though the long flat section under the Theodulhorn needs a massive run-up to avoid a slow pole-push finish; it's certainly one to avoid on a board or into a headwind.
The Furggsattel six-seater (which starts in Switzerland and deposits you in Italy) was a sensational improvement over the T-bars it replaced, giving quicker and more comfortable access to perfect carving pistes as well as to the Matterhornpiste - the start of yet another big journey, via Furgg and Schwarzsee, beneath the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn and down, at last, to Furi. More challenging are the direct routes to Furgg from Trockner Steg and the Furggsattel - still wide open, but with bumps usually developing, and mixed, rolling and at times quite steep terrain.
Don't be misled by the apparent lack of black runs on the piste map. Plenty of Zermatt's red runs are of a scale and diversity that make them well worth your time. For tougher stuff, Zermatt has introduced off-piste itineraries: marked in orange on the map, these are not groomed and should be undertaken only by appropriately equipped, competent skiers, taking current avalanche conditions into account. These ski itineraries offer a classic off-piste experience after recent snowfall and for many skiers are best visited with one of Zermatt's mountain guides.
From the top of the Rothorn, two itineraries are reached by cutting high and over a ridge onto the west face of the Unterrothorn, to lead down towards Tuftern. The face is a consistent pitch, with multiple rocky gullies. It catches a lot of wind, often leaving pockets of sublime snow flanked by bony ribs. Back on piste, the top of the 'National' black run from Blauherd to Patrullarve is a fast ride down into the trees. Much of it can be skied to either side, ducking into tight trees; alternatively, the 'rock garden' directly under the Patrullarve chairlift gives a great line into excellent tree-skiing, but needs plenty of snow if you value your skis.
The Stockhorn is the supreme HQ for Zermatt's experts. It usually opens in late January when sufficient snowfall has accumulated to fill crevasses and cover rocks. The main Stockhorn face is a steep, sustained bump run through Triftji of eleven hundred vertical metres; after fresh snowfall, if you like powder-covered bumps, this is the ultimate. To either side are enormous tracts of freeride terrain. The area is north-facing, and so steep that the snow stays in good condition almost indefinitely. To skier's right of the central slope, reached either by hiking the ridge from the lift top or by cutting under the lift and traversing below the cliffs, there are endless ways down. But care is needed: there are crevasses as well as the potential for avalanche. The further right you go, the longer the traverse out at the bottom, though only the final section flattens off enough to be an issue in fresh snow.
The circuitous round trip, via a minimum of two lifts, is the only thing between you and more powder than you can handle. The rest of the face, from either the Rote Nase draglift or the Hohtalli cable car, covers a huge area, with most of it up for grabs. Crevasse danger is not an issue, but the bowls and gullies are punctuated by rocky outcrops and small cliffs that leave you in no doubt about the level of skiing involved; for all but experienced off-piste skiers this is guide territory. Skiier's left of Hohtalli gives yet more routes down to Gant or to the restaurant at Grunsee and on to Findeln. These routes can also be picked up by hiking the ridge from the Gornergrat.
The top of the Klein Matterhorn area and Cervinia offers relatively little real challenge, but plenty of temptation: the powder is often perfect beyond the ropes but you take your chances with crevasses. On the pisted areas they are filled each summer by bulldozers; beyond the boundaries they sometimes claim snowboarders who have tried to backtrack out of a tricky line by taking off their boards and walking. Without the support of the board they easily drop through thin snow bridges. Skiers are vulnerable too, particularly in a bad snow year, or simply by stopping or falling in the wrong place.
Where the mountain steepens lower down, a couple of itineraries head towards Furgg, while beneath Schwarzsee two main itineraries - the Tiefbach and the Momatt - drop off the shoulder through tree-lined riflebarrel gullies and a black run descends from Aroleid to Furi. It's a more rewarding experience than the twisty Furgg-to-Furi black run, frequently hard-scraped by the descending hordes who want to ski all the way home on the last run of the day, regardless of their ability. Higher up and almost always deserted, with a covering of fresh-blown snow, is the short, sharp black run from the Hornli lift, a T-bar with a wind-blasted double-black diamond finish.
The mountain guides at Zermatt's Alpine Center offers a comprehensive programme of off-piste training, guided itineraries and day tours as well as heli-skiing. Beyond the in-bounds off-piste itineraries are more day tours than you will have days in your week, many of them involving high-altitude peak-bagging. They are best left towards the end of your stay - when you're acclimatised to the altitude - and are only for fit and adventurous skiers.
Notable for a lack of climbing - more a long traverse - and some of the best skiing in the whole region, is the Schwarztor, a 3,731 m col on the far side of the Breithorn. A huge, steep descent of the Schwarze glacier brings you onto a broad, flat section of the Gorner glacier and back to Zermatt. Depending on the state of the snow, there's a more or less sporting drop from the snout of the glacier, deep in a rock cleft, which involves sliding down a rudimentary fixed rope. One way or another you can be sure of a day you'll never forget.
Other peaks on the Alpine Center's regular day tour list include: Pfulwe, Cima di Jazzi, Fluhhorn, Fillarhorn and the Breithorn. These are mostly well over 3,000 m, but by using the nearest, highest lift access, most 'only' involve around two hours' climbing on skins, followed by long descents - in some cases to Tasch, one village down the valley from Zermatt. For guided off-piste skiing not on this list, guides must be booked individually, so going with a group is helpful to spread costs. The only 'turn- up-and-go' groups are the tours.
Guided heli-ski drops are made on the Alphubeljoch (descending either to Tasch or Saas-Fee), Monte Rosa, Aschihorn, Testa Grigia and the Rothorn, giving vertical drops of up to 2,600 vertical metres.
Flats and traverses in Zermatt are not a huge problem when balanced by the incredible off-piste riding, but avoid the Plateau Rose glacier and the Weisse Perle below Schwarzsee. The carving area below Furgsattel is served by a fairly recent chair and the lift system in general is boarder-friendly.
Specific facilities are typically big and thorough: above Trockener Steg below the Gandegg chairlift is the Gravity Park (the venue for the Swiss Snowboard Championships) with halfpipes, kickers and rails, and also a ski/boarder-cross course. From July to November it moves up the mountain, to just above the lift; Stoked Snowboard School runs summer camps in July and August. There's also a snowcross course and mini park at Blauherd.
Zermatt's mountain restaurants are blessed with a winning combination of great cuisine, majestic views and the authentic feel of charmingly restored alpine farm buildings, and regarded by many as the best mountain restaurants in the world.
This is the point of coming to Zermatt, maybe even the reason to learn to ski in the first place. Hard to believe there are more than 50 huts and mountain restaurants, many of them famous for great cuisine, some even with Gault Millau points. Throw in the views (not just of the Matterhorn, but it's a good starting point) and the authentic feel of many of the restaurants - charmingly restored alpine farm buildings - and you're onto a winner.
There's a range of food that includes traditional Swiss dishes, including the cheesy ones, but it's worth seeking out menus featuring the local fauna and flora. Lunching on the old terrace at Franz & Heidi's (Findlerhof) on a sunny day with the Matterhorn rising majestically as if from the end of the deck, the hubbub and the delicious food and wine are an intoxicating mix. The real wonder is that comparable experiences can be had in huts across Zermatt's entire ski area. These typically offer well prepared traditional Walliser specialities (lots of home-made soups, cheese plates, salads, breads and cured meats) as well as wonderful bratwurst, rösti and special pasta dishes, the last reflecting the influence - just across the peaks - of Italy.
Some other excellent huts you might try (by no means exclusively) are the Paradies, also at Findeln, both the Zum See and Blatten restaurants in the eponymous hamlets below Furi, the Fluhalp, just below Unter Rothorn at over 3000 metres, which often has live music on sunny days, and the famous Simi's at Furi. Also at over 3000 metres, you shouldn't miss the charming Gandegghűtte, above Trockener Steg, which has been going since 1885. And if Zermatt ever runs out (impossible) you can always ski over to Cervinia for some genuine Italian food. Be sure to book unless eating very early or late.
Here's our pick of ten of the best mountain restaurants in Zermatt, an eclectic mix based on quality, geography, charm and sheer fun.
Still number one in our view and rightly so for the combination of all that makes lunching an unforgettable experience in Zermatt. Tucked away at furthest accessible extent at the bottom of Findeln, amongst some old wooden sheds, down a roped path, you come upon this half-hidden gem. Ski carefully as you approach for fear of missing Franz and Heidi Schwery's lovely ancient mountain hut. They serve traditional Swiss cooking, Walliserteller and modern Italian dishes along with the best salads. The food is simply mouth-wateringly good. An excellent wine list contains a large Italian offering, carefully selected by Franz. Inside or out though, Findlerhof is all about ambiance and the charm of old Zermatt.
Skiing down below Furgg, steep below the Matterhorn on the way back to Zermatt through some woods, you will come on a collection of black timber houses and farmsheds from another century. This is the hamlet of Zum See, after which this famous mountain restaurant names itself. Max and Greti Mannig offer more old Zermatt charm, whether outside on the terrace on a sunny day or in the lovely old dining room. Swiss cooking dominates a fine menu, including homemade pasta dishes, with veal, calves liver and lamb specialities typical of these lower shepherd hamlets. Unmissable quality and atmosphere again.
Back in Findeln again the very smart and renowned Chez Vrony delivers theclosest thing to haute cuisine on the mountain in Zermatt, as you will probably get, to its well-heeled clientele. Retaining all of its old hut character with tasteful furnishings (loads of wood and sheepskins), Chez Vrony is perhaps a more chi-chi version of Findlerhof. The cooking offers the same Valais product but with more international influences and is more fussily presented. This is accompanied as you would expect by a fine wine list. Chez Vrony is hard to beat anywhere in the Alps.
Nadine & Roby Perren have made Les Marmottes a top 10 mountain hut in Zermatt. This stylish Furi venue combines mountain charm and natural local farm produce and added an international and modern twist. Home made soups are followed for example by pasta dishes like linguini with king prawns flambé in vodka, oriental rice and noodles, a lamb curry or ( if you pre-order) Wagyu beef fillet. The local mountains are represented by dishes like venison in thyme sauce and chamois in cowberry sauce. The selection of game on offer also includes ibex, marmotte and roe deer. All in all quite amazing.
Relative newcomer on the block, straight into the top 10 and a welcome addition to lunching below Schwarzsee, this stunning hut is more like a large conservatory with timber floors and sheepskin furnishings. And lamb is quite a theme here as the indigenous black-nosed sheep pasture on the meadows nearby in summer. So with historic lamb cutlets, the Shafer-Pasta a variation of aglio e olio with finely sliced lamb's tongues ( exquisite) and a homemade lamb kasebratwurst, Chef Hubert Konig redefines ovine experience here below the Matterhorn. If you are really hungry, you should also consider their hot stone dishes including Bison Rib-eye. And a selection of excellent Valais wines enlivens a competent wine list.
Only Zermatt offers so much choice above 3000m and Fluhalp is unmissable just below Unter Rothorn with its tall black timbered structure and red shutters. Famous for years for wonderful big Swiss cooking from homemade soups to pot au feu, bratwurst and pasta, what Fluhalp is really about is the live music and party atmosphere inside or out on the deck.
Part of the smart Riffelalp Resort at 2222m below Gornegrat, Al Bosco fills the geographical eating blank in this part of Zermatt's range with fine Italian mountain food, including homemade pizzas! A modern timber clad room and wood burning stove add to the convivial lunchtime ambiance. Riffelalp is a beautiful setting in woods above Zermatt with its neighbouring station on the Gornergratbahn and Al Bosco finishes the picture.
Back in Findeln, as if in need of more culinary excellence, the newly refurbished Adler hut has re-opened for business. The stunning refit still retains mountain roots with timber much in evidence but also with a refreshing modern cut, and another deck outside to sit and stare at the majestic Matterhorn from. Traditional Swiss/Italian mountain cooking is offered with some subtle variations (eg. homemade leek spatzli with bacon and penne with truffles and ceps). The 'Eagle' is an excellent mountain hut by any standards anywhere in the Alps.
Opened in 1967 Simi's is part of Zermatt legend. Situated in Furi at 1800m it has never stopped serving traditional Swiss and Walliser cooking and local Valais wines. A beautiful old hut and lovely terrace on which you can enjoy food cooked on the wood grill and also on hot stone. Simi's is another Zermatt gem.
There are not many places to choose from above 3000m on the Matterhorn Paradies side but the Gandegghutte above Trockener Steg has been a mountaineer's refuge for over a 100years. Describing itself as an alpine cottage, it stands bleakly in winter on a rocky outcrop, with outstanding views, offering warmth and succour to skiers and mountaineers. Simple but excellent fare of smoked sausages, omelettes,pastas and kaseschnittes with a surprisingly good offering of mainly Valais wines but some Italian and even one Champagne typify Richard and Yvette Lehner-Gaudin's list. Without electricity or water connection and supplied by helicopter and pistenbully, Gandegghutte is something of a miracleand is at the opposite end of the lunching spectrum from Chez Vrony. And it should be cherished for that.
Zermatt village at 1,620m stretches along the river and has extended over the years up each side of the valley. The main street reaches from the station to the church and beyond. Restaurants, bars, and shops - a mix of luxury (watches and jewellery) and more practical but still high-quality ski and book shops and even supermarkets - are concentrated along here with some of the major hotels. A separate area of apartments and chalets at Winkelmatten, up a steep hill on the far side of the river, south east of town, is good for access to the Klein Matterhorn lifts and stirring views of the Matterhorn. On the east bank of the river, more hotels, bars and restaurants are to be found, less densely packed than in the centre.
Dating back to early mediaeval times at least, Zermatt was a collection of meadows - high alpine pasture land used principally for sheep farming. The name is a variation of the German 'zur Matte' - literally 'on the meadow', itself a translation from the ealier Romantsch name 'Prato Borno'. In the mid -nineteenth century the British discovered Zermatt as a mountaineering destination and Alexander Seiler built the Monte Rosa hotel, thereby founding Zermatt's premier hotel dynasty.
And following Edward Whymper's first successful ascent of the Matterhorn in July 1865 (but more particularly because of the notoriety which followed the tragedy of his disastrously led descent) Zermatt took off, as it were. This story is part of Zermatt legend and of the experience in visiting it. Everyone knows the story, you can read about it in Whymper's famous book, Scrambles in the Alps, you can see it in the Matterhorn Museum and the bodies are buried in the churchyards , apart from Lord Francis Douglas, who was never found and remains somewhere up in the Matterhorn Glacier. His family- the Queensbury's - provided a founding donation for the English Church in Zermatt, because of it. No wonder Edward Whymper is so fondly remembered in Zermatt still.
In the centre of Zermatt there remains a tiny cluster of ancient chalets where livestock huddles in stalls beneath ramshackle, twisted living quarters. The rest of the village - now more of a town - is a mix of modern and restored buildings that, thanks to the lack of motor vehicles, retains a charming, relaxed feel, where people happily stroll despite the electric taxis hurtling past with a moaning whine and the occasional horsedrawn sled or carriage clattering by. There's a mix of non-skiing, fur-coated holiday makers, mountain men fresh from epic trips, tourists from all over the world and ski instructors cycling the snowy cobbled streets with ski boots on.
Zermatt village photo by Leander Wenger www.zermattfoto.ch
A member of the "Best of the Alps" association of twelve classic mountain resorts, Zermatt is Switzerland's most prestigious skiing and mountaineering resort and offers a perfect mix of tradition, carefully nurtured progress and superb snowsure skiing amid spectacular mountain scenery along with a huge range of accommodation, excellent hospitality and probably the best mountain restaurants in the world.
CH-3920 Zermatt, Switzerland
Tel: +41 27 966 81 00
Email: [email protected]
Zermatt is as strong on apres ski and nightlife as it is on skiing and dining. Starting on the mountain, with relaxed drinks, some music and that scenery: Rothorn/Sunnegga - Tuftern for sunset views, followed by Othmar's Hutte and the Olympic Bar (yellow canvas roof) and now as well the front terrace bar of the chic Hotel Cervo , all on the paths down to the village - live music and barely any more to ski; the Klein Matterhorn (aka "Matterhorn Glacier Paradise") bars and restaurants at Furi and Zum See and, for partying below there - Hennu Stall, do brisk end-of-day business. At the other end of the village, close to the Sunnega lift station, the Zermatt Yacht Club and Snowboat are worth visiting for apres ski.
In the centre of Zermatt, the Papperla with good live music fills up early and stays busy til late. Lower key but sophisticated is the legendary Elsie's bar, a small wooden chalet near the church, the Little Bar, maximum capacity of about a dozen and the Hexenbar. Seasonaires and instructors hang out in the Cable Car and the North Wall. Refuel along the main street with a pancake from the tiny Creperie or a grilled sausage with bread, mustard and ketchup and a cup of gluhwein from outside the butcher's shop. Alternatively there are plenty of tearooms with patisserie alongside that can meet most needs.
After the on-mountain restaurant offerings, the village has a tough act to follow. But it does pretty well, with a huge choice of over 100 restaurants covering most bases and more Gault Millau points than you can count, with good Chinese and Japanese food, a strong Italian showing (the motherland is just at the end of a lift) and excellent Swiss restaurants.
The exceptional and upmarket Le Mazot by the river specializes in lamb and fine wines; a different take on a similar menu with open barbecue cooking is Chez Heini where your evening ends with the owner singing his tribute to the Matterhorn against a projected backdrop of mountain views. Hotel restaurants, particularly the multi-starred variety like the Cervin Grill, Le Corbeau d'Or (at the Mirabeau) and the Monte Rosa dining room are also excellent but tend to be pricey. Finally, there's even a McDonald's, if you must but showing that Zermatt does cater for different tastes and budgets.
With so many good restaurants to choose from producing a short list is not easy, but here is a selection of six from cross section of some of Zermatt's best village restaurants (excluding hotel restaurants) in terms of cuisine, ambiance and fun.
Somewhat of a Zermatt original, Le Mazot offers traditional fine dining, with grill specialities (lamb, beef etc) from their open fire. This is accompanied by a serious wine list including a big selection of Valais and Italian wines. What really makes Le Mazot special though is the warm welcome from hosts, Roger Muther and Antoinette Moser, and the cosy ambiance of this old house.
Tel: +41 27 966 06 06, Email: [email protected],Web: www.lemazotzermatt.ch.
Totally worth the slight treck or cab ride to get to Wiestistrasse, Chez Heini is a complete one-off and another Zermatt legend. As much for the personality of its host, Dan Daniell, as for the open fire grilled lamb dishes, which are sourced form sheep still bred locally by his father. Not lacking confidence, Danielle describes himself, in this order, as 'singer, chef, host, entertainer and lateral thinker'. And that's about right, as he closes the evening's entertainment and the lights do go down) personally singing to his guests from his own repertoire; pretty amazing and great fun.
Tel: +41 27 967 16 30, Email: [email protected], Web: www.dandaniell.ch.
A necessary change to the traditional Swiss mountain fare on offer in Zermatt with this most competent Chinese menu composed and expertly delivered by head chef Chen Lijun. A varied offering includes some mouthwatering crispy duck and seafood specials and all accompanied by an interesting wine list, featuring a white selection mainly from Valais, although a Trimbach Guwurztraminer from Alsace is a welcome inclusion. Traditional Chinese fit out and décor completes the illusion of a night out from Switzerland.
Tel: +41 27 967 53 23, Email: [email protected], Web: www.chinagarden-zermatt.ch.
In similar vein to China Garden, Zermatt's Myoko Japanese restaurant provides appetising alternatives to the Swiss/Italian cuisine and delivers big time with fresh sushi and sashimi dishes as well as Teppan Yaki cooking. An expensive wine list is accompanied by a good selection of quality sakis.
Tel: +41 27 966 87 39, Email: [email protected], Web: www.seilerhotels.ch.
This lovely old alpine stube below the Hotel Julen is as snug as it gets in winter. Quintessential mountain Walliser cooking from locally sourced lamb to soups and fondues and raclettes is accompanied by a competent principally Valais winelist.
Tel: +41 27 966 76 00, Email: [email protected], Web: www.julen.com.
Just about where it all started in Zermatt here on the corner of the Monte Rosa, Edward Whymper is rightly honoured. The big dining room is panelled in basic old Alpine timber and offers great raclettes, fondues and a superb Wiener schnitzel; a really nice place for a convivial evening with friends over good food.
Tel: +41 27 967 22 96, Email: [email protected], Web: www.whymper-stube.ch.
Part of the excellent Unique Hotel Post set-up, the Spaghetti & Pizza Factory is a deservedly popular pizza and pasta restaurant with a wood oven and all set in modern alpine design. Some grills and fish, but mainly a great selection of pizzas, pasta and risotto dishes and salads with an Italian dominated winelist.
Tel: +41 27 967 19 31, Email: [email protected], Web: www.hotelpost.ch.
The night scene is vigorous, with bars and clubs with discos or live music until late: the T-bar, the Schneewittchen, the North Wall, Grampi's and the Hotel Post, which has everything on every level including the Brown Cow, the Loft Club Lounge, the Broken Bar and the famous Pink for live jazz and soul music. Papperla also keeps rocking late with live music. The prize for most unlikely nightspot goes to the very hip Vernissage Bar and Kino (cinema), designed by a prominent local artist, Heinz Julen.
Sightseeing flights are available all year round from Air Zermatt, who also offer a helicopter taxi service, heli-skiing and provide Zermatt's helicopter rescue and air ambulance service. Headphones pre-programmed with commentary in English and foreign languages are available at the Matterhorn Express lift station in Zermatt on payment of a deposit.
Firstly, don't ignore the history: the Matterhorn Museum, now located under a glass dome next to the village church, is excellent and well worth visiting, particularly the room dedicated to the tragic events of 14 July 1865, when half of Edward Whymper's party, which had set off from the Monte Rosa hotel, fell off the Matterhorn after the first successful ascent. There are various macabre items as well as a transcript from the ensuing enquiry. One of the climbers, the Rev. Charles Hudson, is buried under the altar of the little English Church, St Peter's. This church was donated after the incident by subscriptions from Zermatt families including the Seilers (who own some of Zermatt's premier hotels, including the Monte Rosa and the Mont Cervin) and Queensbury family, who lost a young family member - Lord Francis Douglas - in the tragedy. Whymper's favourite guide, Michel Croz from Chamonix, also perished and is buried in the main churchyard. Matterhorn Museum,
Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 41 00; Email: [email protected].
Though it may be hard to imagine visiting Zermatt and not skiing, there is more to do without skis or snowboard than in most mountain resorts. A highlight is the scenic winter-walking trails; many have wonderful restaurants en route and the walk up-valley to Zmutt should not be missed. The winter trail map, available from the tourist office, features 70 km of trails for winter walking in Zermatt, Tasch and Randa open between December and April and fully maintained between Christmas and Easter. Winter walking tickets for Gornergrat and Rottenboden, Riffelberg available from the Gornergrat Bahn booking office,
Tel: +41 (0) 27 927 70 00; Email: [email protected].
Zermatt has 25km of cross-country skiing lower down the valley on the Tasch-Randa cross-country trails (15km skating and 10km classic). Trail passes for one day, one week or longer periods can be purchased at the Tourist Offices in Zermatt, Tasch or Randa or at the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn offices in Zermatt or Tasch. Zermatt Tourism, office Tasch,
Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 16 89, Email: tä[email protected].
Zermatt offers a choice of four marked snowshoe trails between December and April, which can be traversed without a guide, but they are not cleared nor protected from avalanche risk so you use them at your own risk. Hiking guides available from the Alpin Center Zermatt (Tel: +41 (0) 27 966 24 60) and snow shoe rental for full day or half a day at Riffelalp, Riffelberg or Rotenboden stations on Gornergrat. Contact Zermatt Tourism for more information.
Tel: +41 (0) 27 966 81 00; Email: [email protected].
Zermatt's Rotenboden (2,815 m) to Riffelberg (2,582 m) toboggan run - the highest in Switzerland -takes about 10 minutes from top to bottom and is accessed by riding the Gornergrat Bahn railway. Trains run approximately every 10 minutes and toboggans can be hired (full day or half day) at the Rotenboden station. Open from December to April, subject to snow and weather conditions. Fun-Ride Furi - a thrilling toboggan ride from Furi down to Zermatt - is available on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from mid-December until March; departure 7:30pm from the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise valley station. All-inclusive offers including toboggan hire and fondue dinner can be pre-booked with the following mountain restaurants:
Bergrestaurant Blatten Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 20 96
Les Marmottes Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 82 82
Gitz-Gadi Hotel Silvana Tel: +41 (0) 27 966 28 00
Restaurant Simi Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 26 95
Restaurant Zum See Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 20 45
Enjoy a delicious fondue and cosy atmosphere at the Restaurant Rothorn (Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 26 75) followed by a romantic moonlit ski descent with the piste patrol or experience moonlight on Gornergrat surrounded by 29 moonlit peaks above 4,000 m followed by a cheese fondue in the 3,100 m Kulmhotel Gornergrat (Tel: +41 (0) 27 966 64 00) then ski down or take the train back to Zermatt. Available once a month, full moon only, from December to March. Starlight dinner at the 3,100 m Kulmhotel Gornergrat also every Thursday night December - March including return journey via Gornergrat Bahn; departing 6:00pm and arriving back in Zermatt 11:15pm.
Tel: +41 (0) 27 966 64 00; Email: [email protected].
In winter, indoor climbing is available on a 7 metre high and 140 sq m wall space at the Triftbachhalle; open on Monday, Thursday and Friday evenings. Booking not necessary, but bring your own equipment. The waterfalls by Furi and Blatten offer good ice climbing opportunities for experts and beginners with tuition and equipment available through the Alpin Center Zermatt, Tel: +41 (0) 27 966 24 60.
Though mainly for the benefit of Zermattens, the Obere Matten Sports & Leisure Arena in the centre of Zermatt features a tennis hall as well volleyball, basketball and, in winter, there's also ice skating and curling.
Tel: +41 (0) 27 967 62 64; Email: [email protected].
Tandem-paragliding flights (amd lessons) must be be pre-booked: