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Nine reasons to holiday in Zermatt, Switzerland

Zermatt, Switzerland is one of Europe’s oldest and most traditional alpine areas, and one of the most progressive for skiers and non-skiers alike.

Wandering the Hinterdorf of Zermatt, it’s easy to become lost. Not geographically, this ancient slice of one of Europe’s most famous alpine towns (Hinterdorf meaning ‘rear village’) consists of around 30 buildings in a compact labyrinth, jostling for space like skiers waiting for the chairlift to open. But bearing witness to the 500-year-old buildings, the resin-rich larch blackened with centuries of elements, and the heavy slabs of roof rock still intact will have you lost in thought and time. With the slightest stretch, one can imagine hardy 16th-century mountain farmers propping the barns up on stilts to evade mice, bartering between the community or experiencing posthumous pride in having built houses that have endured the (many) tests of time.

Visit a traditional ski town

Simply tapping with an ice pick at the surface of Zermatt reveals there is way more here than the famed Matterhorn, the omnipresent crooked finger that’s the signature of the bustling town, looming overhead and beckoning skiers from around the globe. The mix is a heady holiday cocktail and utterly unique; the town is car-free (bar a few electric luggage buggies) which preserves a traditional atmosphere, a glacier offers year-round skiing, the amphitheatre location features spectacular jagged fanged peaks, it’s home to the highest lifted ski point in Europe and skiers come for the big vertical, quick lifts and constant jaw-dropping views that never get old.

Freeriding in Zermatt on the slopes
Freeriding in Zermatt © Silvano Zeiter

The Matterhorn Alpine Crossing is now open

Plus, there’s sparkly new infrastructure. This infrastructure is Zermatt’s Matterhorn-sized news, opening up the high-altitude mountains to summer or winter, skier or non-skier. The recent debut of the Matterhorn Alpine Crossing is a game changer, the highest alpine cableway link between two countries, joining Zermatt and the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia. The engineering masterpiece soars above the Alps, giving passengers a year-round, bird’s-eye view of the world above 3,000 metres, beginning at the Klein Matterhorn, home to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, a Swiss trip highlight in itself.

Experience a winter playground

At 3,821 metres above sea level, the Klein Matterhorn peak isn’t just the highest mountain station in Europe, but a snow and ice-encased playground. From the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise viewing platform the vistas are endless; strutting across the spiky horizon are 38 4,000-metre-mountains (including the showstoppers of the Eiger and Mont Blanc) and 14 glaciers in France, Italy and Switzerland. Then head below to hang in an egg-shaped chair watching didactic alpine films in the Cinema Lounge in a tunnel hewn from rock. Descend further again into the mountain, to the glistening Glacier Palace; try an ice slide and walk along a glacial crevasse, past intricate ice sculptures and centuries-old ice formations. And follow it up with a homemade soup or Valais speciality, such as a rösti in the Restaurant Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.

CERVO Mountain Resort
CERVO Mountain Resort © Andre Meier / Switzerland Tourism

Try a sleigh ride

Not all adventures involve mechanics and engineering. One of the best involves a beating heart, fluffy paws and boundless enthusiasm. A sleigh ride with Husky Zermatt, along a 12-kilometre track at almost 3,000 metres (access is by the Trockener Steg cable car station) is not just exhilarating, but unlike any husky ride anywhere else thanks to the iconic Matterhorn at point blank range. The cinematic setting is almost surreal, an Insta-image comes to life with your new best four-legged friends.

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Indulge in some self-care

Take the slow lane and book into the Mountain Ashram Spa at CERVO Mountain Resort. A global menu of centuries-old body and beauty traditions awaits, from a steam bath with local herbal essences to a Bhutanese hot stone herbal bath or Japanese-inspired onsen with a Matterhorn backdrop.

Enjoying a husky dog sled through the peaks
Enjoying a husky dog sled through the peaks

Stay at the world’s best ski chalet

Although, if you’re staying at nearby Chalet Zermatt Peak, it will be hard to prise yourself away. Awarded ‘World’s Best Ski Chalet’ at the World Ski Awards three years in a row (and ‘Switzerland’s Best Ski Chalet’ six times), Chalet Zermatt Peak is the town’s most exclusive accommodation, with helicopter transfer options, an in-house gourmet chef and access to one of the finest private wine collections in Zermatt. Five-bedroom suites (the master with jacuzzi) make it ideal for multi-generational families or friends and couples seeking the finest in mountain luxury. The chef will produce options to rival any Zermatt restaurant, but if deciding to step out, you can’t put a fork wrong.

Sample the flavours of the region

Restaurant Schäferstube has incredible cheese fondue and is a magnet for meat lovers, Michelin-starred Chez Vrony mid-slope in Findeln is an organic-focused institution run by the Julen family for more than a hundred years. Cosy and atmospheric Zum See tempts with site- grown salads, homemade Mediterranean pastas and Matterhorn views (with a scoop of gelato) for dessert, and Brasserie 1809 is the hyper-local experience – using produce from a 150-kilometre radius to its full potential.

Vistas of the Matterhorn from glass walls to ceiling
Vistas of the Matterhorn from glass walls to ceiling © David Birri

See Zermatt by luxury rail

Another gourmet experience to add to the menu is the Gourmet Ticket on the Gornergrat, the railway travelling from 1604 metres above sea level in Zermatt to Gornergrat at 3089. It’s a moving feast with an aperitif at 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat, a three-course gourmet menu at Riffelberg and dessert at Riffelalp. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, be one of the few to experience the NostalChic Class by Gornergrat Railway. The star is a vintage 1961 carriage, and on the ride not only will a multilingual concierge (and entertaining storyteller) offer fascinating anecdotes, but they’ll also steer you towards the best regional meals with perfectly paired wines. The tour gets rolling with a warm welcome and a drink, plus a guided walk through the Hinterdorf on the way to the Gornergrat Railway valley station.

Browse the museums

Under the glass dome of the Matterhorn Museum – Zermatlantis see vignettes of the quotidian life of how locals lived and marvel at the cutting-edge technology used in the state-of-the-art Monte Rosa Hütte for modern-day mountaineers. Explore the line between past and present, between valley discoveries and alpine highs and raise a glass of Valais’s finest in between.

Read more:
A luxury travel guide to Switzerland
What to expect on the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
14 bucket list experiences in Switzerland

This article originally appeared in volume 47, was produced with content supplied by Switzerland Tourism and is a Signature Luxury Travel & Style digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter below.