So much has been written about the splendor of this almost symmetrical pyramid peak that it defies conventional explanations. 19th-century mountaineering was generally speaking about ‘conquering’ each challenge and then moving on to the next. It was rare for the expert climbers to return after they had chalked another off their list. Yet the Matterhorn – one of the last Swiss peaks to be successfully scaled (1865) – entranced even these grizzled adventurers back time after time.
Offering stunning views across both the Swiss and Italian Alps, Edward Whymper’s book about the first ascent ‘Scrambles Amongst the Alps’ (1871) became a global bestseller and ignited a tourist craze for the region that today remains as strong as ever. One of the beauties of the Matter Valley is that it offers evermore gorgeous views of the mountain from seemingly every angle. Combine this with the splendor of other great mountains such as Monte Rosa, Dom, and Weisshorn and it is simply a photographer’s dream.
Needless to say, Zermatt itself is absolutely all about the Matterhorn. Yet as would be expected, it is done so in an incredibly classy Swiss style. On clear days it is easy to watch adventurous visitors scaling the peak, which despite being routine for seasoned climbers nowadays still remains a dangerous endeavor. There is a surprisingly modest yet fascinating museum in the town itself which is one of the finest of its kind.
Accessing The Peaks
2018 is an exciting year for Zermatt’s already excellent network of efficient yet discreet cable car industry. A brand new gondola system connecting Trockener Steg to the Klein Matterhorn is set to open in September of this year which will increase speed and capacity by over 2000 visitors per hour. It will be one of the highest in the world (3,821m) and open up yet another stunning vista for visitors not keen on a few hours hiking!
There are four prime routes up the mountain for those with sufficient expertise. A fee is required (approx $1200) and usually the services of an experienced mountain guide on top of that amount. Beautiful as it most assuredly is, the Matterhorn remains one of the deadliest mountains on the planet with approximately a dozen fatalities per year.
It may not look challenging from the base, but be assured that determination and grit are by no means enough. Rock falls are common and usually caused by inexperienced climbers going off route – presenting a danger not just to themselves but those below. So for 99% of the visitors, the Matterhorn is best enjoyed from the surrounding mountainside which offers heavenly walking on well-maintained trails.
Practicalities Of Visiting Zermatt
Zermatt is an around the year resort with the winter months being predominantly based around ski sports and the summer for walking, cycling, relaxing and of course taking in the scenery. One interesting quirk is that in order to prevent air pollution spoiling the atmosphere all combustion engine vehicles are banned! So don’t expect a taxi (there are a few electric vehicles) but it is so small (population of just over 5000) that you will not need one anyway. Accessing the little town is usually done via a mountain railway system that slowly plows its way ever upwards – with the incredible views making this one of life’s great train journeys.
As for accommodation and prices – there’s no point beating about the bush. Zermatt is expensive in all regards. Even the cheapest hostel rooms (booked out months in advance) will run close to $100/night with basic hotels offering doubles for three or four times that sum. An Alpine lunch with magnificent views will cost around the same as it would in a top of the line city restaurant. So to put it simply, there really is not any way to do Zermatt on the cheap, which is why for most readers we’ve titled this article as being a weekend treat and not a destination vacation.
Sure it is expensive (as is all of Switzerland) but two or three days at any time of the year will provide an unforgettable experience of classic Alpine splendor. Thanks to the excellent cable car system – surprisingly affordable for day passes and with a fascinating history of its own – you can get around the valley easily and enjoy the most magnificent views in the region. Sleepy as the town may well be as it is refreshingly absent of the apres-ski glitz that spoils many other similar destinations, Zermatt rewards those who are active and make the most of every second enjoy its many delights.