Try to picture a typical, beautiful, snowy alpine mountain scene, the kind you might try to draw as a child, and then add lots of Swiss money and glamour, and you get Zermatt. Switzerland is thought of as an expensive skiing destination, and it’s places like Zermatt which help the stereotype to persist. The problem, for those of us not blessed with huge trust funds, is that for skiing, Zermatt (and Switzerland, for that matter) is worth it.
Zermatt is breathtakingly beautiful. Nestled in the valley under what is probably the world’s most iconic mountain, the Matterhorn, Zermatt has been preserved in a sort of time lock. No cars are allowed on the streets, so the only way in is on the incredible, glass walled mountain train. The only vehicles in the town are electric baggage buggies operated by the expensive hotels, and horse drawn carriages. Wherever you are in Zermatt, you are always aware of the looming presence of the huge mountains which surround the town, crowned by the Matterhorn itself. When you’re there, keep an eye out for restaurants and guesthouses named Whymper. Edward Whymper was a British mountaineer who led the first ascent of the Matterhorn, a triumph which ended in disaster when three of the party died on the descent.
As you might expect in a town like this, the architecture all fits in perfectly, with genuinely old wooden chalets and converted farm buildings mingled with sympathetically styled newer buildings. The high street is laden with watch and chocolate shops, alongside ski shops selling the most stylish and expensive equipment. This is not just a poseur’s town though, as with the rich mountaineering heritage there is some serious backcountry skiing to be had here. Europe (and the world’s) most famous ski tour, the Haute Route, ends here, and the biennial race for the unbelievable fit, the Patrouille des Glaciers, starts here. Piste skiing is excellent and varied, with long, well maintained pistes, many of which are on one of the four glaciers in the area, effectively guaranteeing the snow cover. Zermatt itself is at 1600m, and you can get up to 3800m on the lifts, which are all new and fast. One of the main lifts from the town is actually a funicular railway, the Gornergratbahn, which somehow feels so much more Swiss and civilised than a cable car.
There are plenty of bars and pubs, and a couple of clubs, but Zermatt isn’t really about wild night life. It’s about a genuine mountain experience, with clean air, great food, incredible scenery, roast chestnuts and mulled wine, and of course fantastic skiing.