Canton: Valais / Wallis (in German)
Destination: Zermatt / Matterhorn
Interesting thing: Zermatt is car-free, there’s only small, commercial electrical vehicles in the town (taxis, delivery vans) to prevent air pollution obscuring the views! You could really notice the fresh air and the lack of traffic noise was lovely.
Special guests: my parents-in-law and sister-in-law visiting from Australia, and my aunt-in-law from Scotland
Valais is one of the farthest-away cantons from Zurich. It’s around 3.5 hours by train to the town of Zermatt, located at the end of the Mattertal valley and loomed over by the majestic Matterhorn mountain. So, since we had international visitors and we figured there was some pretty spectacular stuff to see, we decided to spend four nights in this alp-studded canton in the southwest of Switzerland bordering Italy and France. I’m so glad we did.
Zermatt is 1,620 metres above sea level and surrounded by snow-capped peaks. However, we spent our first couple of days here feeling rather teased by its most famous inhabitant. Possibly the world’s most recognisable mountain was acting coy – swathed in clouds, shrouded in fog, we only caught glimpses here and there. It didn’t stop us enjoying ourselves though.
Zermatt itself is a small alpine town that felt large since it was chock-a-block with tourists at this time of year: the first weekend of the official summer season. That said, I can only imagine how much more packed it would be in winter when all the slopes are open and everyone is padded out and weighed down with snow-gear and all the trappings! (fun fact – Zermatt’s permanent population of around 6,000 doubles, triples or even quadruples in the tourist seasons).
The town and surrounding hamlets looked very pretty for the first weekend of July – full of all the requisite wooden chalets, bright bunches of flowers flowing over balconies, grey-green glacial rivers and lakes and, of course, the stunning, if rather shy-at-first Alps.
Our first fully day (Saturday) coincided with the annual Zermatt marathon. Since I’ve recently taken up running (eek!) this was inspiring/intimidating in equal measure. Billed as one of the most gruelling marathons in Europe, the route ranges up and down an altitude of 1,800 metres over its 42 kilometres. Watching the 2,500-odd runners throwing themselves down the rocky paths as we walked from Sunnegga to the incredibly lovely Chez Vrony for our leisurely lunch, you can see how the race earned its tough reputation. (I promise not to become a run-bore, but I need to tell you that I was inspired to complete the circuit of the far-more humble Zermatt Parcours the next day!)
Day two, we awoke to more cloud cover, but undaunted and unable to resist a swooping cable car ride, Himself and I took advantage of the built-in babysitters and jumped on the Matterhorn Express cable car/ gondola which takes about 50 minutes to rise around 2km in altitude (!!) to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the highest I think I’ve been on land – 3,883 metres above sea level. From which viewpoint we would have had an amazing view of the elusive Matterhorn, if it hadn’t been a total whiteout.
Day three was due to be our best yet according to the weather reports so we headed off early for the Gornergrat bahn and finally the mountain of mountains revealed itself (himself? herself?). It was certainly worth the wait, in fact, possibly more awe-inspiring for the fact that we’d enjoyed a burlesque of clouds concealing/revealing it for days now.
Oh. My. Word. What a sight!
I had this weird-beautiful moment with an older Swiss-German guy on the train. We had a short conversation as we politely shared the window space to take 1 million photos. I said something like “Diese Berge sind sehr schön” (these mountains are so beautiful) and he agreed, adding “Wir Ameisen!” (we’re ants). But, through my momentary misinterpretation, I thought he was saying “Wir atmen” – we breathe… which is also quite apt.
We picked the best place to see it from too, IMHO. Gornergrat is 3,089 metres and from there you’re surrounded by a vista of big guns – around 50 peaks that all clock in at 4,000+ metres (Matterhorn is 4,478 and you can also see Switzerland’s highest mountain, Monte Rosa and its highest peak, Dufourspitze, at 4,634). Plus, you can hike or catch the train down to the impressive Riffelsee lake, in which the Matterhorn is reflected on clear days (and this was one of them, yay!).
Some of the party hiked further, while the rest of us got back on the train to enjoy another gorgeous lunch at Alphitta, this time with the Matterhorn views fully in our favour. There was also a rather superbly situated playground, which my two kids thoroughly enjoyed.
Final day – can’t get enough of those Matterhorn-vista playgrounds! I actually felt I’d have liked to stay in Zermatt longer. Once I finally saw that mountain, I didn’t want to stop looking! It has got its own weather system, little puffs and candy flosses of clouds that float and drape around it in different configurations by the hour. So pretty.
Considering the distance to get there and time spent, Zermatt/ Matterhorn / Valais felt like a real ‘destination’ that did not disappoint. I’m thrilled (and kind of humbled, even) to have seen the Matterhorn in real life. And we breathe …
Cantons visited / to go so far.
*I haven’t written this up yet!