The small Swiss town of Zermatt sits at the very southern end of a deep valley nestled below the Matterhorn and Weisshorn, some of the highest peaks in Switzerland’s Alps. Like Chamonix, where we started our hike, Zermatt is a mountaineering center (and the starting point for ascents of the Matterhorn), but in the summertime it feels more like an outdoor adventure center – skiing, paragliding, climbing, hiking, ziplining – everything but bungee jumping – were readily available.
Knowing that Zermatt has been carless for decades, I was expecting a quaint Swiss Alpine Village, so the actual town was a bit of a disappointment. There were wide asphalt streets linking a small city center to miles of sprawling chalets. Like many popular tourist destinations, it has grown exponentially with its popularity. The much described ‘view of the Matterhorn’ was a little hard to find (even with clear skies), and required walking up to the upper part of the village, near the Gondola station, to get past the cluster of buildings. In the center, ugly chalets rubbed elbows with quaint traditional buildings. Everywhere we looked construction was underway. I’m not sure what sort of historic preservation ordinances are in place, but it seemed like they were preserving the quaint little buildings by building mega structures around and under them.
We had been hoping to run into our friends once we reached town, but soon realized there was no way that was going to happen. The town was filled, brimming full, of Swiss Orienteers – Swiss O Week. More than 4,000 people plus their families running courses throughout the hills! No matter where we went we ran into swarms of them, with their distinctive coats and backpacks – racing through courses.
Zermatt truly is carless, and almost everyone arrives by train or a train shuttle from nearby Tasch (where there is an enormous parking lot.) Train passengers are greeted by little electric taxis or hotel shuttles – or if staying in a five star hotel, horse drawn carriages.
We had one day of good weather while we were in Zermatt (between the downpours) and started off early in the morning by taking a Gondola to Glacier Paradise on Klein Matterhorn (3800 m) for views of the entire Alps. We had to squeeze into a huge Gondola with hundreds of excited skiiers (and their equipment) on the first morning run, but it was worth it for a view that stretched from Mt. Blanc to the Matterhorn to Weisshorn. It was our hike laid out in front of our eyes.
After a quick run through the Glacier Palace (basically a tunnel through the glacier with a bunch of ice sculptures – interesting to walk through a glacier and see the crevasses from the underside) we headed down to a mid-station for more pictures, this time of the Matterhorn reflecting in some little lakes. We had to wade our way through photo shoots and Swiss O participants, but I think that just meant they were running more gondolas than usual. After that we headed up yet another peak to get shots back to the other side of the valley.
Mid-morning and we had ducked our way back through Zermatt and were riding the Gornergrat railway – a cog railway – up to the highest hotel in the Alps – at just over 3,000 m. From there were spectacular views of a glacier and the Matterhorn.
And finally, we rode funicular and two gondolas up to another viewpoint for more views, because after three weeks of crummy weather, we wanted to see as much as we could.