The peaks of Zermatt in the Swiss Alps have long drawn skiers and mountaineers to their slopes. Today their alpine resorts continue to attract tourists seeking the thrill of adrenaline, fresh air, and natural wonder, says Laird McInnes.
Few places in the world can be found that don’t admit the motor vehicle.
But when you find one that eschews the exhaust fumes of Henry Ford’s invention then you know you’re in the right place for some serious R&R.
Here, you leave your vehicle in a secure car park, then take the Glacier Express train into this magnificent alpine resort, which takes about 12 minutes. It’s an altogether more pleasant take on Park & Ride, if you will.
Geared towards skiing, snowboarding and skating in winter, and biking, hiking and adventure sports in summer, Zermatt has been pulling in pleasure-seekers since the Victorian era.
A picturesque place teeming with narrow lanes and venerable but wonky-looking wooden chalets, it’s an adventure playground endowed with traditional charm and imbued with Swiss affluence and efficiency.
The town is surrounded by 38 summits above 4,000m, and its lucky 5,700 residents include pop superstars Phil Collins and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (ABBA).
The lack of cars means this magical place has a unique atmosphere. As it nestles within a mountain valley shrouded by the glowering presence of the Matterhorn, it’s about as close to a real-life fairytale experience as you’re ever likely to get.
My favourite place- In summer, Sunnegga is a paradise for families, with swimming to be had in the azure waters of Lake Leisee, and the children’s playground and barbecue areas mean you can easily spend the afternoon up here. This spot is also the starting point for hiking and biking trails, including descent trails for the Kickbike (a kind of scooter), which you can hire if you fancy coming down the mountain back to Zermatt at your own pace. In winter, Sunnegga offers direct access to the ‘pistes’ (including Wolli’s Park, for beginners) and winter hiking trails. Furi Adventure World, which is 1,857m high, can be reached on foot or by gondola. Young adults can try the zip-wire but the less energetic can simply wallow in the wondrous views from the Hanging Bridge, or take on some pretty terrific walking trails.
Highlights- Well, obviously the skiing. Even if you haven’t progressed much past your ‘snow-plough’ – the accessibility of easy-to-use runs and plenty of tuition options mean there’s no way you won’t go home a better skier. And the great thing is, the under-10s go free. Here, there’s more than 200km of ‘pistes’ catering for all abilities.
Even if you don’t intend to ski, your gondola ride options are many – but arguably the star-turn is the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise ride up to Europe’s highest cable-car station on the Klein Matterhorn (3,883m). Summer, or winter, the views to be had here are, quite literally, out of this world.
A funicular ride from Zermatt’s station to Sunnegga (2,288m) is another must-do. The four-and-a-half-minute train ride takes you up a rock tunnel through the inside of the mountain and will let you out at a delightful terrace that offers magnificent views.
Souvenirs- This is Switzerland so expect plenty of opportunities to buy chocolate. Walnut torte or pear bread are some other local delicacies to buy and send or take home.
Getting there- Emirates offers regular flights from Dubai to Zurich. From that city, the train journey takes between three and three-and-a-half hours.
Where to stay- Hotels and holiday chalets abound, and some can be very alluring (and expensive) indeed, with swimming pools and spas. Choose carefully because if you’re here to ski, you don’t want be walking too far to the ski gondola. Walking distances are longer than they look on an online map.
Check out options on Booking.com, Kayak, Expedia, and Hotels.com
1. Enjoy a view for the ages with a helicopter ride over the Matterhorn
2. Take the kids on the town mascot Wollis’s Treasure Hunt
3. Try your luck on the zip-wire at Furi Adventure World
4. Visit the Matterhorn Museum for an insight into alpine living
5. Channel your inner Torvill & Dean at the Obere Matten ice rink