After spending 4 days in The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland, my wife and I took a 3 hour train ride to the village of Zermatt, home of the famous Matterhorn. Fortunately, after a very a cloudy and rainy 4 days, much better weather awaited us in Zermatt!
Zermatt is best known for its fabulous skiing in the winter but it has a lot to offer to visitors in the summer as well. The village itself is just quaint as can be, with lots of nice places to stay, restaurants and shopping. And then there’s the hiking. So many amazing hikes!
The unique thing about hiking in Zermatt is that you can take cable cars or ski lifts to many of the higher elevation trails, turning what would be an exhausting all day trek into a much easier stroll down the mountains, IF all of the lifts are operating (more on that in just a bit). Plus, there are actually restaurants in the mountains that you can only get to by cable car or ski lift. How cool is that?!
How to get to Zermatt
The nearest airports are Geneva and Zurich and it’s about a 3hr and 45min train ride from either airport. You could also get to Zermatt from Milan, Italy on a 4hr train ride. If coming to Zermatt by train from Interlaken like we did, you’ll take a train to Spiez, then Visp, then Zermatt. Zermatt is a car-free village so if driving, you would park at Täsch, a nearby village, and take the shuttle into Zermatt. Once in town you’ll get around by walking or taking a trolley bus or electric taxi.
Where To Stay in Zermatt
There’s no shortage of lovely places to stay in the village of Zermatt. Click here to see the hotels on Booking.com. I suggest staying in the middle of the village for the quickest access to restaurants and shops and to be in between the major lifts that go up the mountains. We stayed at the Hotel Arca Solebad and absolutely loved it. It’s located in the far end of the village, near the train station, so there’s some walking to get to other side of the village, but the rooms are really nice and the pool and sauna was perfect for unwinding after a long day.
Our room had a full kitchen, so we stocked up at a nearby grocery store and made several of our meals there. (Have you heard? Going out to eat in Switzerland is expensive!) The room also had a large balcony with a view of the Matterhorn.
Mountain Hikes and Scenic Matterhorn Views
To get to the best hikes and scenic views, there are three primary trains, cable cars or funiculars from the village into the mountains. We knew that we would be using the lifts a lot so we splurged on the peak passes, offering unlimited access to the lifts. These passes and other lift tickets are available at the tourist information center near the train station.
1. Zermatt – Sunnegga – Blauherd – Rothorn
To the left of the above map is the underground funicular from Zermatt to Sunnegga. At Sunnegga there is Lake Leislee, a popular place in the summer for swimming, as well as a playground and there are several restaurants in the nearby Findelbach village. From Sunnegga, you can access the lift to Blauherd from late June through the end of September. Popular trails from here include the Marmot Trail (#8), Panoramaweg (#9), and 5 Seenweg (#11). From July 1st through October 1st the lift from Blauherd to Rothorn is running, where you can do the Path to Freedom (#13), the highest hiking trail in Europe.
2. Zermatt – Gonergrat
Open year round, the Gonergrat Bahn, the highest open-air rack railway in Europe, offers tremendous views on its 30 minute ride to Gonergrat, which offers 360 views of the mountains, including a great view of the Mattherhorn. From Gonergrat, in late summer when the snow has finally melted you can hike Aussichtsweg (#15) down to Rifelberg or Weg Der Stille (#24) to Lake Grunsee, where you can either take the Naturweg (#19) to Rifelap or the 5 Seenweg to Sunnegga. There are also several other hikes at Rifelberg and Rifelalp, the two stops that the Gonergrat Bahn makes on its way to Gornergrat, the most popular of which is the Mark Twain Weg (#18) from Rifelburg down to Rifelalp. The trails at Rifelberg aren’t usually passable until July but the trails from Rifelalp down to Zermatt will be open in June.
3. Zermatt – Furi – Trockerner Steg or Schwarzee – Glacier Paradise
One of the most popular attractions in Zermatt is Glacier Paradise, high up in the mountains, where you can enjoy fine views of the surrounding mountains, walk through the underground tunnels and see the ice sculptures at Glacier Palace, eat at the restaurant, and even go skiing or snow tubing in the summer! The lift from Trockerner Steg to Glacier Paradise runs from mid-May until the end of October when it briefly closes before re-opening for the winter. From Furi, there is another lift to Schwarzsee that opens in late June and a lift to Rifelberg that opens July 1st. There are more hiking trails in those areas and there is a cool suspension bridge (#17A) that you can access from Furi as well.
When To Go to Zermatt in Summer
To help you plan your trip, I’ve included the summer 2017 lift schedule below.
|Zermatt to Sunnega||May 25 – Oct 15|
|Sunnega to Blauherd||June 17 – Oct 1|
|Blauherd to Rothorn||July 1 – Oct 1|
|Zermatt to Gornergrat||Always Open|
|Zermatt to Furi||Always Open|
|Furi – Glacier Paradise||May 13 – Oct 29|
|Furi – Schwarzee||June 23 – Oct 8|
The other thing to keep in mind when deciding when to visit Zermatt is that many of the restaurants in the mountains close after the busy skiing season and do not re-open until July. So, although it will be more crowded and more more expensive, I recommend going in July, August or September, if possible, so that all of the lifts are running and all or most of the mountain restaurants are open.
Our Trip: June 4th – June 8th 2016
Day 1: After checking our bags at the hotel, we walked over to the Zermatt-Sunnega valley station where the underground funicular took us up to Sunnega. Many hikes start/end here, and we decided to start with the Marmot Trail (#18). When the ski lift to Blauherd is running, you can take that to the top of the hike and just walk down but unfortunately we were there a week too soon, so did it up-hill but still enjoyed the impressive views of the Matterhorn on the way back down and yes, we did see a few marmots too!
Day 2: We walked from Zermatt to the Gorner Gorge, a canyon with wooden walkways that allow you to walk through it. On the way there, we had the surprise gift of getting to see cows being let out into the fields for the first time after being inside for the winter. It was really funny to watch, as we had never seen cows run, jump and dance with excitement.After exploring the canyon, we continued on the trail to Furi, passing a small village and a Ricolo garden where we got to smell the herbs used in Ricolo. An unexpected treat! We were wiped out when we got to Furi, as it was pretty hot that day, so we got a table at the restaurant near the station and re-hydrated before taking the cable car back down to Zermatt.
Day 3: We took the Gonergrat Bahn up to Gornergrat, where we enjoyed the amazing 360 views of the surrounding mountains, including one of the best views of the Matterhorn we had during the whole trip. Just to set your expectations accordingly, this was the most touristy of the places we visited in Zermatt so be prepared to enjoy the sights with lots of other tourists with selfie sticks! On the way back, we got off at the Rifelalp station and walked down the Advenweg (#14) back to Zermatt. It was really neat to be walking around in the snow at Gornergrat and then to be walking through a lush green forest a half hour later!
Next, we took the cable cars from Zermatt to Furi, then to Trockerner Steg, then up to Glacier Paradise. We walked through the underground Glaciar Palace and looked at the amazing ice sculptures, ate at the restaurant, and of course enjoyed the amazing views. You can see many of the highest mountains in Switzerland as well as Italy from this viewpoint. We actually got light headed from the little walking we did up there because its so high in elevation. There’s even a snow park there where you can ski during the summer!
Day 4: The 5 Seenweg (5 Lakes) trail (#11) was on our to-do list. This famous hike starts up at the Baluherd station and winds around 5 lakes as you make your way down to Sunnega. We didn’t think we would do it because with the lift not running, we would have to hike up, then back down, turning this moderate 5.8 mile hike into a much more strenuous 11.6 mile hike with 1,500 feet in elevation gain. But, we decided what the hell, lets do it!
It wasn’t easy but this goes down as one of the more epic hikes we’ve done! On the way we passed mountain goats on the trail and there were sheep greeting us at the last of the five lakes. It was a great way to spend our last day in Zermatt.
And that was it! Our tour of Zermatt was complete. Like everywhere else we went in Europe, we could’ve spent more time here, but I think we did a pretty good job exploring the area and were thankful for good weather. The next day we took an early train to the Rhine River of Germany for the final part of our first adventure in Europe.