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marianne Zermatt - A travel report by Marianne
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Zermatt,  Switzerland - flag Switzerland
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marianne's travel reports

Zermatt: Also for Non-skiers

  18 votes
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Zermatt has the Matterhorn as Paris has the Eiffel Tower or Agra the Taj Mahal. Not only does it have the Matterhorn but the village is also surrounded by 36 other mountains all over 4000 m.

Zermatt Train Station
Zermatt Train Station
Zermatt, at 1620 m, is a mountain paradise discovered as early as 1820s by British climbers who came in droves. They needed places to stay and soon hotels opened. Monte Rosa, Mont Cervin and Hotel Post are the three oldest and still very popular.

It is also the starting point of the Glacier Express, one of the Swiss panorama trains. This narrow-gauge railway winds its way along steep canyons, across 291 bridges and 91 tunnels and terminates in St Moritz/Davos. I lost count halfway, but I trust the Swiss rail info.

The village is also home to the Gornergratbahn, the rack railway that crawls its way up to the Monte Rosa massif from where spectecular views of the Matterhorn.

Zermatt is a popular place both in winter and summer. That's why I was pleasantly surprised to find a still authentic, unspoilt village with weathered-brown chalets harmoniously dotted across the valley in such a picturesque way only the Swiss are capable of.

Bahnhofstrasse is the main street. It bustles with tourists, without being overcrowded. Top-star hotels lurk behind rustic chalet façades. Inviting shops sell luxurious ski outfits in winter and wooden carvings, talking murmeltier and hand-crafted cuckoo clocks in all seasons. By late afternoon in winter the streets are wrapped in deep shadow, but the sunlight still plays on the mountains and makes the Matterhorn shine like a piece of glowing coal.

The train station is a lively place. Everyone arrives by train because the village is car-free. Cars have to be left at the car parks in the village of Täsch, from here shuttle trains run every 20 mins.

If you have booked accommodationl the electric hotel taxi will whisk you off to your hotel. If you haven't prebooked, the Tourist Information next to the station has a list of hotels and guesthouses. It is also a good place to find out weather conditions in the mountains. In one corner is a TV screen showing live pictures of the local summits.

Favourite spots:
Zermatt travelogue picture
Zermatt's top attractions are winter skiing, summer hiking and cable-car rides any time of year. The village itself is also a pleasant place for a stroll and unexpected views of the Matterhorn with its charcteristic bent-over top.

Left of the main shopping street, close to the church is Hinterdorf, full of twisting alleys and dark-wooden chalets. Many of them have the date of building carved under the eaves. I was amazed to see that some chalets date back to the 18th century and are still in tip-top condition.

These chalets are interspersed with traditional barns. They are easy to spot because they stand raised on stone discs to prevent mice and other creepy crawlies from feasting on the harvest.

What's really great:
Gornergratbahn station
Gornergratbahn station
The station for the cogwheel Gornergratbahn is across the street from the main train station. A return ticket will set you back 64 CHF or €40 (half of this for Swiss rail-pass holders. more info at

The ride on the Gornergratbahn is unforgetable. When the track becomes to steep for a conventional locomotive the train switches to rack-and-cogwheel drive. In 45 mins it claws its way up to the terminal, an icefield look-out station 3,131 m above sea level.

The day we are here there is plenty of sunshine. I feel as if I can almost touch the Matterhorn but it is several kilometres away. Its dramatic peak stands isolated and in sharp contrast to the deep blue sky. I photograph the play of sunlights and the windsculpted snowdrifts on the mountain sides. Each minute the colours and contours change. I could watch this for ages.

Gornergrat viewing platform and Matterhorn
Gornergrat viewing platform and Matterhorn
The Gornergrat viewpoint is on a ridge in the middle of an ice sea. Here is Switzerland's highest shopping centre full of Swiss Army Knives, watches and ceremic cows.

Adjacent is Kulm Hotel and the astronomical observation station. High altitude, 3135m, and pure dry air are favourable conditions for meterological observations. A laboratory container at the Belvedere terrace is used for measurements of solar neutrons. The astronomical observatories house in two domed towers of the Kulm Hotel.

The view from the hotels's terrace is sublime, and worth the trip, but only on fine days. Ask the mountain centre in Zermatt village what the weather prospects are because the weather can change very quickly in the mountains.

Hotel Weisshorn
Hotel Weisshorn
Weisshorn is the name of one of the mountain peaks near Zermatt and the name of the hotel where we stayed.

It is easy to find. Turn right when leaving the station, follow Bahnhofstrasse as far as the church, cross (a very small) bridge and opposite is Hotel Weisshorn. It is a 7-min walk.

Our room was pine-panelled, comfortable, if a little small and included satellite TV, a balcony (no views), no ensuite bathroom but a washbasin in the room. A huge radiator heated the room. We had to turn it down as its capacity was more than sufficient to heat the room.

The breakfast buffet was a real treat, cereals, eggs, several kind of charcuterie, good Swiss cheeses, home made jam, rye bread and butter Gipfli (butter crest), what a wonderful word for croissant.

Zermatt's Main Street
Zermatt's Main Street
The rye bread was very special and had a very hard crust, only suited for strong teeth, as it is 150 years old. Strictly speaking this is true. Its main ingredient is sour dough. each new batch contains a portion of the previous batch.

In the old days communal bread baking in the village took place every two months.The first few weeks the bread was still reletively fresh, but when it had been stored for five or more weeks the bread had became as hard as a rock. The last few slices had to be cut with an axe.

Café du Pont is next to Weisshorn Hotel and specialises in cheese dishes. We tried raclette, fondue and rösti. Strictly speaking rösti is not a cheese dish but consisting of grated, fried potatoes with grilled cheese on top.

Raclette is melted cheese and served with boiled potatoes and bread. It is by pickled onions and gherkins. The name comes from the French verb racler, to scrape, because of the way the melted cheese is scraped off the block.

Alpine Museum and the Church
Alpine Museum and the Church
The Alpine Museum is next to the church and well-worth the hour or so we spent there. The theme of the exhibition is Zermatt's mountaineering history and the challenges the climbers faced. It also shows glimpses of village life; life-size replicas of chalets, barns, the first hotel. The exhibition gives a good insight into the lives of mountain families, the mountain guides and porters who made ascents possible and the first tourists.

I found the display of climbing equipment very interesting to see. The axes, ropes and well-worn boots looked very primitive by today's standards. Many of these were retrieved after the climbers had perished.

The first successful acsent of the Matterhorn was in 1865 and led by the Englishman Edward Whymper. In all fairness it should be added that his guides who were locals prepared the climb and were the real heroes.

The rope that snapped
The rope that snapped
On the way back the rope snapped sending four climbers to a sudden death. Rumour had it that Whymper cut the rope to save himslef and a fellow climber but this has never been proven. The rope is on display in a glass case and does not look very sturdy. No wonder it snapped.

The Climber's Cemetery behind the church is a good place for a very short stroll. There are some 50 graves of climbers who perished on the the mountain. The earliest is a grave stone commemorating the fall of the first climbers in 1865 and the most recent is Donald Stephen William's grave who died on Breithorn in 1975, aged 17.

The inscriptions on the stones are thought-provoking and I wondered what made those people climb and did one wrong step kill them or were there different circumstances?

Other recommendations:
Climbers' graves
Climbers' graves
The Glacier Express, Switzerland's slowest express train, winds its way in 7 hours from Zermatt via Brig, Andermatt, Chur to either St Moritz or Davos. There is 1 train in winter and 4 trains in summer (all start in Zermatt, 2 terminate in Davos and 2 in St Moritz). Most trains have glass-roofed observation cars and a narrated trip commentary. On top of the fare (single trip Zermatt-Davos €137) there is an obligatory €18 for seat reservation.

Especially in summer this train is very popular. To avoid the crowd take ordinary trains along the Glacier Express route. No panoramic windows but the same scenery. The bonus is that windows can be opened (better photos) whereas the Glacier Express is airconditioned and windows don't open.

Swiss Rail has a variety of rail passes. ( We bought a Swiss Half Fare Card at €61, valid for one month, to be used on all Swiss trains, mountain trains and most cablecars.

Published on Saturday February 10th, 2007

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Wed, Feb 14 2007 - 04:16 AM rating by downundergal

Another top grade report. I like the way you descibe the other activities aside from the obvious (skiing). Well done.

Tue, Feb 13 2007 - 05:53 PM rating by eirissa

An excellent report with so many useful details. I enjoyed reading it a lot:) I hope I will go there one day and enjoy the place as much as you did.

Tue, Feb 13 2007 - 05:40 PM rating by travler

Maam I love skiing here and your report was outstanding.

Tue, Feb 13 2007 - 03:28 AM rating by fieryfox

Wow Marianne, this report is fabulous!! Very informative and descriptive. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Mon, Feb 12 2007 - 07:54 AM rating by frenchfrog

Marianne, as always, a great report, thanks for reminding me the great time I had there. Lots of info and very detailed report.

Sun, Feb 11 2007 - 04:21 AM rating by st.vincent

Lots of interesting and useful information Marianne. Proof that you don't always have to ski in ski resorts to have fun. Years ago I went to Cervinia which is on the Italian side of the Matterhorn.

Sat, Feb 10 2007 - 09:00 PM rating by eirekay

Marianne, marvelous as always! I too could sit and watch changing light in the mountains for hours on end. Great tip on the Half Fare card! sounds like a marvelous trip!

Sat, Feb 10 2007 - 04:50 PM rating by mistybleu

Simply excellent. What a wonderful read, so many facts and interesting comments. I love the descriptive pictures as well.

Sat, Feb 10 2007 - 04:33 PM rating by rangutan

Wonderful Marianne! Well written, interesting facts and tips as usual. That picture of the Matterhorn (also your current profile picture) are so clear that the scene looks like a painted backdrop. [4.7]

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