By Jeremy Khalil on October 14, 2015
When Gaya Travel visited Switzerland for the very first time courtesy of Switzerland Tourism, we were instantly head over heels in love with this landlocked country due to its mesmerising beauty and high quality of life. One of the places that we were introduced was Zermatt, a quaint town located at the foot of the Matterhorn in the upper Valais region.
Switzerland at a Glance
To get to Zermatt from the Zurich airport, together with other fellow media representatives who were invited by Switzerland Tourism for a familiarisation trip, we were required to take two trains. The first train was the passage from Zurich Airport (Z Flughafen) to Visp, which was two hours and a half. After disembarking at Visp, we were required to change to another line known as the Glacier Express that took us directly to Zermatt in another hour.
Whenever travellers need to change trains in Switzerland, be sure to check on which platform and what time the train they are embarking on will depart. There may be times when travellers will only have a few minutes to change trains, therefore travellers need to be on their toes at that crucial moment. Should they miss the onward train, they may need to wait up to an hour for the next one, which could mess up their entire travel schedule.
The entire journey from Zurich to Zermatt took three hours and a half; however, we enjoyed every minute of it because along the way, as the train left the urban settings, we feasted our eyes on the quintessential million dollar Swiss sceneries: Frisian cows, undulating terrains, pastoral mountainside landscapes, coniferous forests, lush alpine vegetation, rolling hills, clean rivers, quaint houses made of larch, snowcapped mountain ranges and the Alps. We therefore realised that we never knew how beautiful Switzerland is until we saw it with our own eyes – the sensation that we got from looking at the images of Switzerland prior to visiting it can never substitute the elation we felt when seeing it in real life.
When the train pulled into Zermatt Bahnhof (Railway Station), we were totally in awe of the place. Certain information ascribes Zermatt as a village, but to us, it could already be categorised as a town, albeit somewhat small, pedestrian-friendly, quaint, intimate and cosy.
Travellers who visit Zermatt should appreciate its remarkably beautiful mountainous setting and adorable low-slung buildings. As we walked around Zermatt, we found that the town is among the most postcard picture perfect that we have ever visited – the town is so picturesque and quintessentially Swiss that it is hard not to fall in love with it. Everything in the town is only within 20 minutes’ walk.
Gaya Travel was fascinated to learn from a Belgian media friend that even though the number of buildings and visitors have increased due to its increasing popularity, Zermatt still retains its charming village-like atmosphere and feels the same as when he last visited the place with his parents 15 years ago. Today, Zermatt ranks among the most famous tourist destinations in the Alps.
At the other end of the town – which is the opposite from where the railway station is located – is the place where travellers will be able to see the majestic Matterhorn looming in the near distance. The mountain’s much touted silhouette graces the packaging of the widely available Toblerone chocolate as its logo that has now become one of the most distinctive Swiss signature, besides the Swiss flag. Each summer, the village attracts scores of Alpinists who come to climb any of the 38 four-thousand-metre peaks surrounding Zermatt. Up to 3,000 mountaineers attempt to conquer the Matterhorn (4,478 m) every year.
The Matterhorn (German), Monte Cervino (Italian) or Mont Cervin (French), is a mountain in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy. Its summit is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest peaks in the Alps. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points. The mountain overlooks the town of Zermatt in the canton of Valais to the north-east and Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. Theodul Pass, located at the eastern base of the peak, is the lowest passage between its north and south side. (Source: Wikipedia)
150 years ago, Zermatt was merely a village full of shepherds and farmers until the British mountaineer Edward Whymper, including Zermatt’s mountain guides Peter and Peter Taugwalder (father and son) and team mates became the first ones ever to conquer the Matterhorn on 14 July 1865. Unfortunately, their successful first ascent of the Matterhorn was overshadowed by tragedy: during descent, seven of the climbers fell to their deaths.
The success of the climb however triggered mountain tourism in Zermatt because many mountaineers begin to come to the village and use it as the base to scale the Matterhorn. On 14 July 2015, Zermatt will be celebrating its 150 years anniversary as a resort town. To commemorate the event, the Matterhorn village has invited the Queen of England to attend the week-long celebrations in July 2015. Travellers are therefore recommended to visit Zermatt in mid-July 2015 since they will be able to experience Zermatt at its best.
As we strolled around Zermatt and fell more in love with the town, we kept on bumping into droves of middle aged Japanese tourists and young Chinese tourists, besides Europeans, who were also exploring the town and tasting its delights. As Zermatt receives more international exposure, especially from the media familiarisation programme that Gaya Travel was apart of, it is not too difficult to envisage that more Asians, particularly those from South East Asia, are bound to come to Zermatt for its beauty, serenity and fresh air.
Zermatt also has a policy of not permitting carbon-emitting vehicles within its limits. Only electric battery-operated vehicles, which we noticed are quieter yet purposeful, are allowed to run. Due to such tranquil atmosphere, we can imagine ourselves settling down here during our retirement years – as a matter of fact, we wouldn’t mind settling down now…
The Swiss, especially those who reside in Zermatt and the Valais region, are big consumers of cheese such as Raclette as their staple diet. The region also produces distinctly fine wine that is not exported but instead consumed locally, thus travellers interested in savouring Valais wine such as Fendant need to visit the region. Speaking of food, in Zermatt, we noticed that there is one halal eatery available selling doner kebab called ‘Take It Doner’, located close to St. Peter’s Church, making it all the more convenient for Muslims to enjoy Zermatt.
To those who want to enjoy Zermatt and the Alps, please take note that the mountains are generally closed during May due to maintenance and change of weather. The best time to visit Zermatt for inspiring summer views is from July to September.
Since Zermatt is a fantastic base to discover the surrounding mountainous areas, travellers to Zermatt should at least experience trekking to the nearby peaks, which is not difficult to do because they are all accessible via funicular trains and gondolas or cable cars. Efficient mountain railways take travellers up to the mountains, allowing them to witness some of the most spectacular views, including Rothorn (3,103 metres), Gornergrat (3,089 metres) and Matterhorn glacier paradise (3,883 metres), which is the highest mountain railway station in Europe.
During summer, the place is heavenly for those who love hiking and trekking, including mountain biking. There are 400 km of signposted hiking and themed trails, including 100 km of flow-tastic bike trails, which guide visitors through the spectacular Alpine world, linking Zermatt with the mountain pastures and the beautiful areas at the foot of the glaciers. In winter, Zermatt is one of the best places for skiing due to the amount of snow that the Valais region gets, as well as the presence of many ski slopes.
Some parts of the Swiss mountain areas, particularly in the Valais region (such as the Saint Bernard Pass), seem to experience eight months of winter and four months of summer, so be sure to bring warm clothing when going up the mountains, even during summer, because it can get cold, especially when it rains and there is no sun.
One of the options that Gaya Travel had the privilege of experiencing is trekking to Fluhalp. To get there, we first took the funicular train from Zermatt to Sunnega. From there, we then took the gondola or cable car to Blauherd, which is the starting point of trekking up to Fluhalp.
During the hike, we enjoyed taking in the views of the area’s majestic mountainous surroundings, including the Findel Glacier. If lucky, along the way, travellers could even stumble upon the elusive Edelweiss, the national flower of Switzerland. After a couple of hours, we took a break from trekking around Fluhalp by having lunch at the quaint Bergrestaurant Fluhalp, which served wholesome meal. We were quite taken in with the restaurant’s dessert, apple strudel with vanilla sauce, which we thought was superb.
On the way back down to Blauherd from Bergrestaurant Fluhalp, we stopped for a while by Stellisee (Lake Stelli) to see the awe-inspiring reflection of the Matterhorn on the lake’s calm surface. We then trekked back to Blauherd station to take the gondola back to Sunnega and funicular train back to Zermatt.
Honestly, we couldn’t get enough of Zermatt and felt that the two days spent there was too short that we hardly scratched its surface. We hope to be able to return, perhaps in mid-July 2015 when Zermatt celebrates the 150-year anniversary of the arrival of mountain tourism at its doors. From the looks of it, Zermatt, including Switzerland, indeed holds strong potential as one of the fashionable destinations in 2015 for South East Asian travellers to discover.
Zermatt Facts and figures
Zermatt village: Altitude of 1,620 m
Population: Close to 6,000
Mountains: 38 four-thousand metre peaks accessible from Zermatt
No. of mountain guides: 70
Restaurants: 100 in the village, 50 in the mountains
Car-free Zermatt: Arrival by car in Täsch, change-over to train shuttles
Matterhorn Museum: History of the Matterhorn’s first ascent and Zermatt’s development
from a village of mountain farmers to world famous
Mountain railways: Up to 3,883 m, Rothorn, Gornergrat, Matterhorn glacier paradise
Hiking: 400 km of signposted trails and themed trails
Biking: 100 km bike trails, Mountain railways have spaces reserved for bikes
Snow sports: 365 days a year, 21 km of pistes in summer, 365 km in winter