Greentraveller's Guide to Zermatt, Switzerland

Posted by Richard Hammond at 03:04 on Wednesday 03 August 2011

Zermatt is a fashionable alpine resort in one of the most spectacular spots in the Swiss Alps. It is famous as a ski resort, but it is fast becoming a year-round destination attracting trekkers, cyclists and rock climbers in summer, drawn to its magnificent mountains, including the iconic Matterhorn. Zermatt is entirely car free, so you can enjoy the facilities of a bustling town with the blissful tranquility of a small mountain village. Here you can step outside of bars and restaurants to hear the sounds of cow bells on the hills and birdsong from the alpine trees. And the good news is that London to Zermatt is reachable by high-speed trains in a day... Less Carbon, More Fun!

Greentraveller's trip to Zermatt to research this article was organised with the support of Inntravel and Swiss Tourism. Greentraveller retained all independent editorial control over the work, which has been written by Richard Hammond in his own words based on his own experience of the trip.

Car-free Zermatt is fast becoming as popular in summer as it is in winter. Photo Richard HammondCar-free Zermatt is fast becoming as popular in summer as it is in winter. Photo Richard HammondHere are a few of things I saw on my recent trip to the Zermatt as part of our Grand Tour of Switzerland by Train, plus a selection of the many tips that were sent in by readers via our twitter account: @greentraveller and via greentraveller's facebook page. Thanks to all those who sent in recommendations, in particular: @ShepherdLucy @Pennylein @theidlepoor @matthewteller & Zermatt Tourism.

What to do

The Matterhorn Museum tells the story of Zermatt. Photo Richard HammondThe Matterhorn Museum tells the story of Zermatt. Photo Richard Hammond1. Matterhorn Museum
Home to the broken rope from the first ever ascent of the Matterhorn, this museum was established to tell the story of Zermatt, from unknown mountain village to mountaineering resort. The glass dome structure houses moving exhibitions and events, so check local listings while you are there.
Open year around; 15:00 - 19:00 in winter and 11:00 - 18:00 in summer. 10 CHF for adults. Free with a Swiss Travel Pass or Museum Pass 

The Gornergrat provides stellar views of the Matterhorn. Photo Richard HammondThe Gornergrat provides stellar views of the Matterhorn. Photo Richard Hammond2. The Gornergrat
This mountain ridge (3,089m) is reached by train from Zermatt. It is one of the oldest mountain cog railways, which cleverly runs on it's own power - three trains going down the tracks create enough energy for two trains to drive up.

The train departs from the Gornergratt station (opposite the main station in the middle of the town), where it climbs just over 9km to the Gornergratt, via an impressive series of bridges and tunnels.

From the ridge, you can see more than twenty 4,000m peaks, including the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, as well as peering onto the vast Gorner Glacier. When there is snow, the Gornergrat is a popular tobogganing run for families, with a cleared 10 minute slope from Rotenboden Station, where toboggans can be hired, to Riffelberg Station. At the top, you can also see the new (and very isolated!) Monte Rosa hut (2,883m) overlooking the Monte Rosa glacier. It's built to a high eco spec - solar panels and thermal solar collectors provide most of the energy supply and the water supply is provided by meltwater collected during the summer.   

The view from the platform shows the location of the new Monte Rosa Hut. Photo Richard HammondThe view from the platform shows the location of the new Monte Rosa Hut. Photo Richard Hammond

The new Monte Rosa Hut in the mountains above Zermatt is powered largely by renewable energy. Photo © Tonatiuh AmbrosettiThe new Monte Rosa Hut in the mountains above Zermatt is powered largely by renewable energy. Photo © Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

Zermatt's mountaineers' graveyard is a sober reminder of the dangers in the mountains. Photo Richard HammondZermatt's mountaineers' graveyard is a sober reminder of the dangers in the mountains. Photo Richard Hammond3. Mountaineers Graveyard
Many mountaineers have lost their lives on the Matterhorn and recently the council decided to restore some of these gravestones in the Anglican church of St. Peters. There is also a memorial to mountain guides who have been killed in accidents in the Catholic cemetery. Both sites are worth seeing, ifonly for a sober reminder of the power of the mountains that surround the town. 

Where to eat and drink
1. Grab a crepe at the top of the town
Since Zermatt is a popular ski resort, there are plenty of warming winter treats around and the Zermatt crepes are not to be missed. There's no need to head to a restaurant for one of these, simply pick one up from a food vendor on your way through town and find a bench overlooking some mountains to enjoy it on!

2. Indulge in organic treats at Chez Vrony
This mountain side restaurant is a great option for those that appreciate 'real food' - cheese made in the basement and cattle reared in the fields next door. Max and his wife, Vrony have run this restaurant for years, using only organic and largely homemade produce. Signature dishes include risotto with venison sausages and ravioli filled with mountain cheeses, pan-fried foi gras with apple, pear and berries. A terrace means you can eat outside when the sun's out.
For more information see a review of Chez Vrony or their website: Chez Vrony

Cafe du Pont is one of the most popular cafes in Zermatt. Photo Richard HammondCafe du Pont is one of the most popular cafes in Zermatt. Photo Richard Hammond3. Enjoy Swiss dishes at Cafe du Pont
The oldest restaurant in town remains a charming and cheap spot for some famous Swiss fondu and raclette. Located close to the council building, at the top of the main street, the restaurant sits besides the cool mountain waters of the Triftbach, looking up at the Matterhorn.  

Where to stay
I stayed at Hotel la Ginabelle, which is on Inntravel's itinerary. It's a traditional, elegant 4-star hotel about a 5-minute walk from the main train station.

The following hotels all have the Steinbock label, which means they have been proven to be committed to sustainable standards:

 
1. Grandhotel Gornergrat
The highest hotel in the Swiss Alps has panoramic views of over 25 peaks, which can be enjoyed from the huge sun terrace, bedrooms and indoor restaurant. The hotel is simply but comfortably furnished in chalet style. There is an on site spa and activities can be booked directly with the hotel. A double room, half board costs starts at 200CHF per night. 

2. Jugendherberge - Swiss Youth Hostel in Zermatt
The hostels in Swiss towns are a great option for anyone slightly dismayed at the cost of accommodation. This hostel has rooms for between 2 and 8 people, including double bedrooms with en-suite facilities. The hostel is comfortable, clean and convenient, only a 15 minute walk from the train station. A bed costs from 37 Euros per night including breakfast, dinner and tax. 

3. Sunstar Style Hotel
This 4 star chalet style hotel is part of the sunstar hotel group, who were the first to completely off set their CO2 commissions in 2008. The hotel is the newest in their chain, which is reflected in the modern interior and shiny spa facilities! The hotel costs from 100CHF per person, per night including breakfast. 

Hotel la Ginabelle is five minute's walk from the main train station in Zermatt. Photo Richard HammondHotel la Ginabelle is five minute's walk from the main train station in Zermatt. Photo Richard HammondOne of car-free Zermatt's many electric taxis. Photo Richard HammondOne of car-free Zermatt's many electric taxis. Photo Richard HammondGetting Around Zermatt
There are no vehicles in Zermatt apart from electric buses and electric taxis so getting around will not be a problem. That said, the town is small and the best way to get about is to walk. Tourist maps are available in most hotels and at the train station. 
 

Local Information
The Zermatt tourist office has stacks of information online and on the end of the phone. For more personal accounts, see the review of a weekend in Zermatt from an expat's perspective in The Genevette or an account of a skiing holiday in Go To Zermatt.

Travelling to Zermatt by train from London St Pancras International
Zermatt is the perfect destination if you want to travel to the heart of the Swiss Alps by train, taking in some magnificent scenery on route. The journey can take up to 12 hours but the breath-taking scenery and relaxing nature of Swiss trains means your holiday starts long before you arrive in Zermatt.

To get to Zermatt by train you first travel to Lausanne, via Paris. From Lausanne get the hourly intercity train to Visp, where you change for the scenic narrow gauge train up to Zermatt. If you travel during peak season (July to August and December to April) the TGV train from Paris, leaving on Fridays and Saturdays, is extended all the way to Visp, meaning you only change three times between London and Zermatt.

See greentraveller's journey planner with details of times and transfers for the Train from London to ZermattTrain from London to Lausanne

Once in Switzerland a Swiss Travel Pass will give you unlimited travel on their excellent train, boat and bus network.

 

 

 

 

By Richard Hammond and Holly Tuppen.

Recommend Reading:

Rough Guide to Switzerland, by Matthew Teller
Switzerland without a car, by Anthony Lambert

Snowshoeing off-piste near the Matterhorn. Photo Richard HammondSnowshoeing off-piste near the Matterhorn. Photo Richard Hammond


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Blogs posts categorised as 'Reviews' have been written with the support of one or more of the following: accommodation owner, activity provider, operator, equipment supplier, tourist board, protected landscape authority or other destination-focussed authority. The reviewer retains full editorial control of the work, which has been written in the reviewer's own words based on their experience of the accommodation, activity, equipment or destination.

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