Switzerland’s iconic peak, a towering pyramid rising above Zermatt and gracing the labels of Toblerone chocolate, the Matterhorn is the poster child of Alpine majesty.
It’s even better in person, but the Matterhorn region has much, much more to offer.
In photos, it looks elegant, and it certainly is, but in person a new realization comes to mind… the Matterhorn is also absolutely massive. You can’t believe how big and solid it looks. And it manages to dominate an area that is filled with some of the highest and most impressive mountains in the Alps. Many people think that Zermatt is all about the Matterhorn, and if that were all, it would be enough of a reason to visit here.
Where to start…? Monte Rosa is the highest mountain in Switzerland, and anchors one end of a huge glacier wall that, when seen from the Gornergrat ridge, is among the most breathtaking views in the Alps. The Gorner gorge is a thrilling and unexpected walk through an extremely narrow gorge on suspended wooded planks. Schonbiel hut offers impressive views of the Zmutt valley, and the Trift valley is a great hidden gem, with waterfalls, handsome mountains (with unpronounceable names such as Obergabelhorn), some practically private viewpoints. The particularly energetic Trift mountain inn that makes a great lunch stop or memorable overnight. Zermatt has no end of things to do… summer skiing on the glacier, great spas and shopping in town, classic hikes that should not be missed, and quiet hidden corners to escape the crowds. It’s easy to come here for a few days and feel like you could have stayed a few weeks.
Beautiful Larch Forests
The Matterhorn region is drier than the Bernese Oberland, so overall should expect more days of sun here. It also changes the vegetation, with soft-green larch trees replacing the spruce forests in the north. Larch trees let in a lot of light, and make very pleasant trails that lead you above treeline to the mountain views higher up. If you are hoping to spot Edelweiss, there’s no better place to find this modest flower than the high meadows above Riffelberg or on the slopes of the Rothorn. You’ll find sheep and goats high in the meadows, and stand a good chance of spotting marmots, deer, and wild Steinbock mountain goats.
Car-free, Walkable Zermatt
At the heart of the Matterhorn region lies Zermatt, the quintessential mountain resort. For a mountain village, Zermatt is huge – with over 130 hotels – and it is constantly thrumming with activity. Step off the train and immediately into a chaotic maze of hikers, mountaineers, hotels, and chocolate shops. It can be overwhelming, and exciting as well. You’ll be amazed at what the people of Zermatt have managed to do. Zermatt is a car-free village – electric carts move people and luggage to various hotels around town, and are restricted to certain main routes – so the town itself is very walkable. And Zermatt is filled with rustic alpine charm. Dark-timbered chalets overflow with colorful geraniums, narrow cobblestoned alleyways lead to hidden surprises, and hikes into the countryside start from every corner. It’s a great town to walk and explore.
The Best Hotels in the Alps
Zermatt is also home to, without a doubt, the best hotels and restaurants in the Alps. Competition is tight in Zermatt, and as a hotel or restaurant, you have to excel to survive. Meals are superb, rooms regularly renovated, spas abound, and hosts go out of their way to make sure you’re comfortable. The 5-star Riffelalp resort above Zermatt is among the best hotels we’ve seen, and does everything perfectly. Our local favorite, the 4-star Europe, exudes a downhome family atmosphere with great rooms and world-class meals. Along the trails, the Zum See restaurant is hidden away in a 500 year old hamlet up in the mountains and serves fantastic meals with baby greens from their garden and homemade ice cream.
Zermatt is the most famous mountain village in the Alps, and the Matterhorn is perhaps the most recognizable mountain in the world. They absolutely live up to their reputation, and should be on everybody’s list of places to see.
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