Swiss Dreams

Winter Visit to Zermatt

Our train from Geneva rolled into Zermatt on a crisp and clear evening in late January. Weary from the international trip but energized by our arrival to Switzerland, we grabbed our luggage and walked out of the station to find the electric taxi designated to Chalet Hotel Schönegg. I looked up and around, eagerly hoping to catch a glimpse of the14,692-foot peak that towers over town.

It had been over a decade since I’d been to Zermatt, but familiarities of the alpine village came rushing back as we began riding through the village. No cars are permitted, only bicycles and electric taxis and buses. Most often, you’ll see people walking on the path by the river or the cobblestone streets that wind throughout town.

We turned a corner, and the Matterhorn came into view. Of all the impressive mountains in the world, there are many reasons why “the peak of the meadows” is so celebrated. What seems most notable is the jaw-dropping prominence and scale of the lone peak from every angle. Wherever you are in Zermatt, and from its other side in Cervino, Italy, the Matterhorn is a magnificent backdrop to the memories of a lifetime that you’re making.

"What seems most notable is the jaw-dropping prominence and scale of the lone peak from every angle. The Matterhorn is a magnificent backdrop to to the memories of a lifetime that you're making. "

Chalet Hotel Schönegg is a Relais & Châteaux boutique hotel with a gourmet restaurant, offering exception-al service and an incredible location just above the main village of Zermatt. The Relais & Châteaux hotel portfolio boasts incredible properties around the world, including two in Colorado: Dunton Hot Springs near Telluride and The Little Nell in Aspen. This affiliation drew us to the property, and it lived up to our expectations thoroughly. We enjoyed a quaint and lovely guest room with a balcony offering sweeping views of town and the Matterhorn, a lovely Swiss breakfast buffet every morning, a ski locker room and a spa area with a whirlpool, along with a number of other sweet details and amenities.

While prices fluctuate according to the season, Chalet Hotel Schönegg was mid-range yet didn’t skimp at all on high standards of European hospitality. Next door is a lower priced sister hotel, Hotel Alpenroyal, and our friend who stayed there had no complaints at all.

A winter visit to Zermatt is everything you’d imagine from an idyllic European ski town. Rows of authentic shops and restaurants line the streets; in the morning, people are headed toward the mountain and in the evening, coming down from it. While skiing is the main recreation attraction in the snowy months, miles of winter hiking trails are marked and well-maintained for daily use.

Zermatt is Europe’s highest ski resort, offering a few distinct areas like the Sunnegga-Rothornwith sweeping piste terrain and great views of the Matter-horn, the Gornergratarea accessed from a scenic alpine railway and Schwarz-see-Klein Matterhornglacier area that links to Cervina, Italy. At the top of the Klein Matterhorn at 12,532 feet, you can drop over 7,000 feet back to town—the largest on-piste vertical drop in the Alps. Day tickets are the lowest price when purchased ahead of time online at matterhornparadise.ch and are less than $100 per day.

On-mountain dining is a highlight in Zermatt. A can’t-miss spot for lunch (and you must make a reservation) is Chez Vronyin the rustic hamlet of Finde ln. The Alphitta at Riffelalp is also a notable stop, even just for a pint of beer or spritz on the Matterhorn-facing balcony. Aprèsis a big part of the ski culture in all of Europe, and Zermatt has some extra fun spots, like Hennu Stall, located at the bottom of the Furi-Zermatt valley slope, and it seems once you start dancing herein ski boots you cannot stop.

Wonderful meals are a part of the Zermatt experience, and while fondue, raclette and all the Swiss cheeses pecialties are readily available (we liked Restaurant Schäferstube for fondue!), a diverse array of international cuisine can be found throughout the village. Located within the high-end resort CERVO, the eastern-inspired restaurant Bazaar offers eclectic flavor with a cozy atmosphere if you want a break from Swiss menus. We also really enjoyed Le Gitan for its warm ambiance, wine list featuring local Valais varieties, grill-fired meats and mouthwatering pasta dishes.

It’s no secret that people travel from all over the United States and the world to visit our magnificent mountain towns and ski areas here in Colorado, but there is no denying how special a European Alps ski trip truly is. The logistics aren’t bad —just find a flight to Geneva, line yourself up with a Swiss Travel Pass(pricey, but worth it if you’re doing some train travel in Switzerland, including scenic rides around Zermatt), book a hotel and some ski days and get yourself there. Oh yes, and invite some fun friends to join you.

To wake up in a place like Zermatt and take a step outside to watch the morning sun hit the Matterhorn … it’s a dream that you get to be awake for. Be sure to take it all in, because before you know it you’ll be on the train again, looking back for a last glimpse of that magnificent mountain and all those memories in the making.

Photos courtesy of Kim Fuller.

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