In and around Zermatt
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Uniquely for a mountain resort, a wander in Zermatt village is actually worth making time for. East of the main street is the Hinterdorf quarter, full of old weathered-wood chalets and traditional mazots (barns raised on stone discs to protect against mice). The town’s burgeoning cemetery is down by the river, filled with memorials to attempts on the Matterhorn and other peaks gone wrong. The Alpine Museum beside the post office (May–Oct daily 10am–noon & 4–6pm; Nov–April Sun–Fri daily 4.30–6.30pm; Fr.5) is worth a visit, with an interesting collection of mountaineering bits and bobs, as well as a room devoted to Edward Whymper, the English climber, who led the first ascent of the Matterhorn on July 14, 1865, only for the rope to snap on the descent – four of his party of seven went over a precipice.

Above the village

Skiing aside, the reason for visiting Zermatt is to get out onto the slopes above the village to explore some of the country’s most scenic hiking trails. The ever-popular Gornergrat railway (25 percent discount for Swiss Pass holders) leads up from the village across the meadows of the Riffelalp up to the Gornergrat itself (3130m) – get a seat on the right-hand side for magical Matterhorn vistas. The Gornergrat is the first point on a ridge that runs out to the Hohtälligrat (3286m) and, amidst a sea of ice, the Stockhorn (3407m), all linked by cable-car from Gornergrat. The view from any of these peaks is terrific, with the entire Monte Rosa massif laid out in front of you, the vast Gornergletscher carving along at your feet, and the Matterhorn itself in isolation away to one side, while at your back is the Rothorn (3103m), behind it the Dom (4545m), and behind the Dom the whole sweep of the Pennine Alps. As you might expect, the Gornergrat Kulm hotel (027/966 64 00, fax 966 64 04; a) can get crowded, but it’s a uniquely atmospheric place to spend the night. Hikes between the various stations on the Gornergrat railway are all immensely rewarding with, for example, three good trails leading out from the new hotel alongside the station at Riffelalp (027/966 46 46, fax 967 51 09; b; mid-June to late Sept), easiest of which is the pleasant one-hour walk up to the Riffelberg hotel, on a spectacular exposed platform overlooking the valley (027/966 65 00, fax 966 65 05; b; mid-June to mid-Oct), with dorm beds at Fr.75 half board. In summer, there are once-weekly dawn trains up to the Gornergrat so you can catch an awe-inspiring sunrise break on the Matterhorn.

Also from the village, an underground funicular tunnels up to Sunnegga (2300m), also on a plateau and linked to the Rothorn summit by gondola. Walks from Sunnegga are beautiful, weaving for a comfortable hour or two between the tiny lakelets of the Leisee, Moosjesee, Grindjisee and Stellisee out to Fluhalp (2616m). From the south end of Zermatt village, cable-cars run to Furi and on up to Trockener Steg (2939m), overlooking the gigantic Theodulgletscher, which slides over the Italian border at the foot of the Matterhorn. From Trockener Steg, another cable-car runs up to the crest of the Klein Matterhorn – at 3820m, this is the highest cable-car station in Europe, and there’s an ice pavilion and other bits and bobs on top to bring the message home. From Furi, though, the cable-car up to the little Schwarzsee gives what is commended as the most picture-perfect views of the Matterhorn, at close quarters and reflected in a pine-fringed lake. Again hikes abound round and about, including a long but easy walk (7hr) back down into Zermatt village.

For skiing, there are satisfying runs in all sectors, with a healthy dose of blues and manageable reds way up on the glacier above Trockener Steg and around Blauherd above Sunnegga, as well as plenty on the Gornergrat. Some of Zermatt’s black runs are highly acclaimed, but as with all the pistes, are liable to overcrowding in the peak season. One exciting plus is that if you’re happy with intermediate red runs, you can ski off the back of the Klein Matterhorn down to the Italian resort of Cervinia on the other side for a whole new perspective and a host of new runs (you’ll need to show your passport). The liftpass system is complicated, with eight different bands of validity; a one-day pass for any of the ski sectors is around Fr.60, with a week’s resort pass at Fr.314. A three-day pass covering lifts in Zermatt and Cervinia is Fr.206.

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