On the train to Zermatt, already, the passengers are peeking out to see if the Matterhorn is visible. It’s not.
We’ve visited Zermatt twice, in July 2014 and 2017. Both times, rain started when we arrived in the village. And the main attraction, the Matterhorn (4,478 m), the mountain we know because of Toblerone chocolate, had withdrawn behind the clouds.
The canton of Valais on the Mediterranean side of the Alps is the sunniest region in Switzerland but Zermatt has its own microclimate. The mountains can stop the arrival of clouds and the weather may be clear for weeks. Or the mountains can hold the clouds where there are and it may rain for days.
For travellers with no car, there are small electric taxis waiting at Zermatt Railway Station. However, we choose to walk to our accommodation to get an impression of the village.
Our hotel, The Alpenlodge, is about a kilometre away from the town centre. Walking with our rucksacks on our backs is a sweaty business since we have to climb quite a big hill.
The small hotel is worth the effort: it’s lovely, stylish and comfortable. It’s no doubt one of the best places we’ve stayed in on our journeys in the Alps. Our room has a great view to the village and to the Matterhorn – if only it were visible.
The room is not cheap but not more than average price in Zermatt. A double room with a view of the Matterhorn cost about 250 euro a night in July 2017.
The Matterhorn has been showered with all the best praise already: it’s the most photographed, the most unique and the greatest. And it is, undeniably, the mountain of all mountains. While other peaks in the Alps have to compete for attention with each other, the Matterhorn stands there in its majestic sovereignty.
In the morning, when I open the curtains and see the silhouette of the Matterhorn against the blue sky, I cry out, “Come and see this now!” When the Matterhorn is visible, you have to act fast. We pack our hiking kits, have a quick breakfast and rush out to catch the train to Gornergrat.
The Gornergrat Railway is one of the famous mountain railways of Switzerland. The rack railway from 1898 ascends nearly 1,500 metres during the distance of 10 kilometres. From the windows of the train, you can watch the marmots dashing around in the mountain meadows. That creates a burst of joy in the morning train.
We make it to Gornergrat (3,098 m) just about in time. We can see the peak! In just a moment, the unpredictable Matterhorn is covered in the fog and clouds coming from below.
When the weather is clear, Gornergrat can offer a mountain view hard to beat in Europe. The Matterhorn in all its glory, Dufourspitze (4,634 m) which is the highest peak in Switzerland, and 27 other peaks more than 4,000 metres high.
Gornergrat also boasts the highest-located hotel in Europe, Kulmhotel Gornergrat. We have no time to go and see it. Time is running out, the fog is appearing. We’re going to hike to the village of Zermatt which is 1,500 metres lower.
At first, the fog is so thick we have to be careful in order to head to the right direction. Lower down, the fog is lifting but then it starts to rain. The three-hour hike is good exercise but the stunning view is nearly completely hidden from us.
After our wet hike, there is nothing better than the little zen-spirited spa in our hotel. After sauna, we rest perfectly relaxed in the beautiful resting room of the spa.
Still, there’s something bothering us slightly about Zermatt. In our opinion, the village is not as beautiful and idyllic as advertisements and travel guides lead you to believe. The main street crowded with tourists could as well be in many other popular Central European towns. There seems to be too many people trying to see the Matterhorn in too small an area. And every 20 minutes, the train brings more of them from all over the world.
Zermatt, described as a luxury resort, is also a sort of Disneyland of the Alps. It’s not our top choice if we compare three very popular destinations in the Alps: Zermatt, Jungfrau Region, and Chamonix.
However, Zermatt enthusiasts shouldn’t get upset. Everything has to be put into perspective. If you only had to see one mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn would be a strong contender. The hiking trails and the view are world-class – if only the clouds went away…
The search for the authentic mountain village that has vanished can be started in the Matterhorn Museum in Zermatt. It’s a great way to spend a rainy day.
We get to learn about the first tragic conquest of the Matterhorn in 1865 that started the rise of Zermatt as a world-famous travel destination. Out of the first seven climbers that reached the peak of the Matterhorn, four fell into the emptiness when the expedition was on its way back. The rope that connected all the climbers was hemp rope that can only take 150 kilograms. It snapped when some of the climbers had already fallen down from the cliff.
Next to the church in Zermatt, you can find the cemetery of climbers, very interesting in a harsh way. It is the last resting place of people who came from all over the world to conquer the Matterhorn, mainly young men.
On the morning of our last day in Zermatt, we defy the weather forecasts. We pack our hiking kits even though the clouds still hang low on the mountains, not budging. We start out on one of the most magnificent day hikes in the Alps, The Höhenweg Höhbalmen Trail – at all costs.
The trail starts in the town centre, beside the restaurant Grampi’s. It climbs up from Zermatt (1,609 m), making us puff and sweat, to Trift (2,337 m). We can only imagine the magnificent view of the valleys around us since the fog covers most of it.
After the handsome mountain hotel in Trift, the path follows a gentle slope to the highest point of the trail (Schwarzläger, 2,741 m). As we’re having a packed lunch, the Matterhorn seems to be at an arm’s reach. Nevertheless, the mountain will not reveal itself to us completely from amidst the clouds.
We’ll have to come back again when it’s sunny.
Translated into English by Katja Juutistenaho. Original Finnish text by Tuomas Hyytinen and Mila Hyytinen.