Zermatt – one of the world's most spectacular ski destinations
Many agree that Zermatt has the toughest mountains, the most beautiful village, and the very best food on the slopes.
Spectacular, high, and snow sure.
Those are the keywords for this visually beautiful Swiss Alpine village. Zermatt is truly unique. There is no car traffic of the usual kind here. You arrive in Zermatt by train and are transported around in small electric taxis. The mountains that surround the city are absolutely incredible, with the iconic Matterhorn (4,478 metres above sea level) being the king of them all. The mountains rise straight up from the city on all sides. Just where the mountains meet the starry sky, you can see the snow catchers a thousand meters up, which are there to protect the small town from avalanches.
Read more: Bad Gastein – one of the most popular ski resorts in the Alps
Beware of avalanches on the slopes
In Zermatt, you will find everything from black and narrow pistes that require the sharpest edges and most skilled alpinists, to more family-friendly trails marked in blue. In the gondola on the way up, you can expect to hear explosions from the crews who are tasked with triggering avalanches and slides before the pistes are opened. This may be a bit unfamiliar to many but is quite common in most Alpine destinations. Helicopters are normally used to initiate the avalanches.
Be aware that the Swiss accept a slightly higher risk than in common in North America and Scandinavia, for example. Avalanches may occur on the pistes themselves. However, the most important thing is that you respect the signs and pay attention to avalanche warnings. If there is a high risk of avalanches, you should avoid the black pistes. If you are going to ski off-piste, it is recommended that you hire a guide and follow the guide's instructions at all times.
A popular Italian neighbour
There are few ski resorts in Europe where you can reach the same heights as in Zermatt. The highest point is Klein Matterhorn (3,883 metres above sea level), the neighbouring mountain to its bigger brother of the same name. This point is located right on the border between Switzerland and Italy. It's common for many to feel a little uncomfortable due to the elevation. But this disappears as you tighten your clamps and get a little further down the piste.
...if you lose the last lift departure, you will be stuck on one or the other side of the mountain.
You can thus get on the gondola in Switzerland and ski down into Italy – or vice versa. And this is precisely one of the strengths of Zermatt, which is connected to Cervinia, a ski resort and village on the sunny side of the mountains. It's usually quite a bit cheaper to holiday in Cervinia, so if you're not too keen on staying in Zermatt, this is an option that's friendly to your wallet. Note that you have to keep an eye on the time, because if you lose the last lift departure, you will be stuck on one or the other side of the mountain. Should that happen, you have no choice but to find a hotel. This can also happen if the lifts close due to strong winds. There is no other way to get between the villages than via the lifts.
Piste number 7
Make sure you don't miss piste number 7, which has many times been voted one of the best pistes in the world. It is definitely one of the longest there is, going from the very top of the Klein Matterhorn all the way down to the station at the base of Cervinia. No. 7 is not one of the most demanding slopes, but there is something truly unique about skiing down from a height of almost four thousand metres, from one country to another. The length itself is enough to fill your legs with lactic acid.
There are plenty of opportunities for off-piste skiing. If you absolutely want to ski without a guide, it is recommended to keep to the lower parts of the facility. For example, there are great opportunities in the area around Schwarzsee and Hirli, at the foot of Matterhorn. Here, you can experience being completely alone in the powder, if you put your ski boots on early.
Note that in the Alps, most people are on the slopes as soon as they open. There is often a queue at the gondolas as early as 08:30 and the slopes are often worn down with bumps appearing by 11 or 12.
World class restaurants
Restaurants in Zermatt are well known for their high quality, both on the slopes and in the city. You won't want to miss gems like Adler-Hitta, Chalet Alm, Les Marmottes, Findlerhof, Chez Vrony, and Gandegghütte, all of which offer amazing culinary experiences. The latter also has a dizzying location on the edge of a vertical cliff. Les Marmottes is named after an animal you risk meeting both on the slopes and on the menu. If you haven't tasted marmots before, now's your chance. It tastes better than you think. Another animal you can often see on the slopes or on narrow mountain ledges are the well-known Swiss goats, which have a unique status in Zermatt.
It is not wrong to say that Zermatt has some of the best Alpine restaurants in the world, and no ski resort has as many Michelin stars. Do yourself a favour and book a table well in advance if you want to enjoy these experiences. There are long traditions for lunch on the slopes, with many taking off their skis by one o'clock. If you're not so keen on three-course meals and first class wines, but rather crave a serious après-ski party, Zermatt isn't the place for you. With the exception of a couple of places with relatively older guests, there are few options for loud music and dancing on the tables in this Swiss Alpine village.
Getting to Zermatt
Zurich or Bern are both a good starting point for taking the train to Zermatt, on comfortable and fast trains with two floors. Note that you need to change trains at Visp. You may not have much time there, so it's not a good idea to linger. Then take the Zermatt Gotthard Bahn 1,000 metres up to car-free Zermatt. These are panoramic trains with a partial glass roof, providing fantastic views of the mountains, waterfalls, and all the old farms you pass along the route. If you are arriving by car, you can drive to a car park a little below Zermatt and take the train on the last stretch. Note that it is not possible to drive all the way to the village.
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