He says, “It is a cosmopolitan, world-famous mountain hamlet, it has fabulous food, glamorous accommodations, and the iconic Matterhorn!”
I hear, “It is an arctic blast of air on an icy, snowy, steep, giant hill and I don’t ski. It’s hours of traveling by plane, train and electric car for a four day trip.” No, I said, I’ll sit this one out.”
Zermatt, Switzerland… Enter guest contributor, my husband. Please read on.
“When my wife told me she was going to create a food and travel blog, I was all for it. I even agreed to help her with all of the technical issues. Needless to say, I have not helped her with any aspect whatsoever other than read her entries with pride and joy. That being said, I never thought I might actually compose an entry to post, given the fact that I am not so eloquent with a pen, nor did I have the courage to write. Nonetheless, after visiting Zermatt with my son, I felt the need to commemorate my experience.
Our son was studying abroad in Florence and called to ask if I would like to join him for a four day ski trip in the Swiss Alps. I didn’t ask where or when, I just said, of course! We are a skiing family (well, except for my wife), and there was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity. So, after sorting out the details and depleting my frequent flyer miles account, I was on my way. One long plane ride, three trains, and two car rides later, after traveling through two countries and four cities, I arrived in spectacular Zermatt, Switzerland. A quaint village carved into a valley created by massive rock mountains 1600 meters above sea level, and highlighted by the awe-inspiring, world-famous Matterhorn. The hamlet dates back to the 1500′s and many of the original buildings still stand. You feel as though you are free from the high-speed frenetic world that we have grown accustomed to. The only way to access Zermatt is by a train which comes from down valley, usually from the towns of Visp or Brig.
Once in town, there are no cars other than electric taxis and hotel shuttles, which zip people to and from the mountain, hotels and restaurants. Moms pull the children and groceries on sleds on the snow-covered roads, and dads ride around on mountain bikes equipped for towing everything one could imagine. Instead of pick up basketball, baseball or soccer games, there is hockey. There’s always a game on in the rink in the center of town. People of all ages play, with crowds gathering about to watch good old-fashioned hockey. No hitting, no checking, no fighting. Just players having fun. While the lack of cars in town might make it seem a bit behind the times, that could not be further from the truth. Wifi is almost everywhere, and everybody is online and up to date on all of the technical advancements. And, of course, the Swiss are always on time. Never, I mean never, be late. Swiss time means on time. I mean come on, they do make the best watches.
The ParkHotel Beau-Site was everything one could imagine for in the Swiss Alps. Clean, comfortable and classic Swiss style with contemporary elegance. Great pool, massage center, and a great “porter” named Emilio. Emilio has been living in Zermatt and working at ParkHotel Beau-Site for over 40 years and seemingly 24/7. No matter what you need, he is always two steps ahead of you. Emilio is just like the Matterhorn, always there and brilliant.
We had many great meals at the hotel, but the one that will stay with me forever is the barbecue. This was a five course meal fit for a king. First, a delicious apple carrot soup. My son said it was the best soup he has ever has in his life. A bold statement given the fact that he has hated carrots since kindergarten. Next, we stepped up to the magnificent display of raw fish. We could choose as many as we wanted and the chef would then pass the plate to the cook at the wood-fired grill. Ten minutes later, the most deliciously seasoned, perfectly cooked fish (salmon, perch, halibut, local bass, and so on) would arrive at your table. Following the seafood course, we moved on to a buffet of salads, and then stepped back in line for the main course. On to the beef selection process. Raw meats were artfully displayed for us to choose from. We feasted on delicious sirloin and chicken and left the rabbit, duck and livers for other more adventuresome palates. Grape sorbet, all kinds of chocolates, cheeses, and a double shot of espresso followed for dessert.
Skiing. Ah yes, Zermatt is all about the skiing. Zermatt’s pride in skiing is akin to the pride an Italian from Montalcino feels about his Brunello. We rented skis at Bayayrd Sports who recommended the Swiss made Stoykli ski, designed to carve the endless slopes of Zermatt. “Why would you come to Zermatt and ski on anything else?”, the salesperson said. Boy was he right. They carved like a knife cutting through butter and held an edge like no other ski I have experienced.
The mountain is so massive that it has over 54 lifts (elevators), including five separate trams (cable cars) that fit close to 80 people on each. Five different gondolas (bubbles as our guide liked to call them), along with two different train lines covering five distinctly different connected ski areas in two countries. Yes, you could ski over the border into Italy to the town of Cervinia. But you risk missing the last lift back to the Swiss side, due possibly to the wind closing down the lifts or having a little too much Italian fun and not making it back to the lift in time. You may get stuck in Cervinia for the night, which can be a great thing. They love to party, eat and drink great wine. Or take the three hour drive around and through the Alps to get back to Zermatt.
The total skiable terrain is 360 kilometers of on piste skiing along with more off piste skiing than one could ever dream of. The trails are different from those of Colorado or Vermont, as the skiing is above the tree line and the trails are meticulously cut and prepared (as they like to say) through and in the mountainside of the Alps. The views are like no other I have experienced before, including Colorado and Utah. The area is so huge that it would take you about a week to see it all with a guide and even longer without one. You can ride trains, gondolas, chairs, T-bars and poma lifts. I even saw a lift that had both gondolas and chairs alternating on the same cable. Did I mention the heated seats on the chair lifts, wow!
In Zermatt, they respect nature and the mountain life that lives within the borders of the ski area. We saw mountain goats milling about on the mountain as well as the ever elusive Ibex, interesting to see while skiing. Avoiding people and obstacles are one thing, but mountain goats?
The highest area serviceable by lift is the Kline Matterhorn, which sits at 3883 meters which is about 12,750 feet and sports a gigantic glacier which provides skiing 365 days a year. The glacier is constantly shifting, but I was assured by many people that if you stay on piste, it is safe. Going off piste requires a guide. Makes sense to me!
Skiing is different in Zermatt than in the USA. It’s not about waking up early in a frenzy, rushing to the mountain and seeing how many runs you can get in in a day on a crowded slope. Rather, you have a leisurely morning, which includes a delicious breakfast followed by a few hours of great skiing, followed by an hour long delicious lunch in which you ski to a village on the mountain (yes, a village), then enjoy a great meal with a great bottle of wine, take in the sun and then head out for an afternoon ski session. This all concludes with apres ski at the Hennu Stall, a few 100 meters from the bottom, whereby people swap stories of the day. In the past, if you asked me what I did last Saturday, I might say I skied. In Zermatt, I would say I had a great day. Skiing is just part of the experience. And the skiing is different. It’s all about carving. They ski fast. Carve and form are always very important. It is a beautiful style to watch. It’s kind of like rhythmic dancing down the slopes with grace, beauty and finesse.
I highly recommend two delicious waiter service restaurants, one on the Italian side and one on the Swiss side. Chalet Etoile on the Italian side has spectacular ambiance and cuisine as well a spectacular wine list. We had a delicious meal along with a tasty local wine made exclusively for the restaurant. It was one of the best meals I have had on the slopes or off. Italian espresso followed, along with the requisite biscotti.
On the Swiss side we skied to a little village with a restaurant more formally called Findlerhof, but everyone called it Franz and Heidi’s. Our guide made the reservation by calling at 8:45 in the morning for a 12:30 lunch. He explained that if you didn’t call early and were unknown to either Franz or Heidi, getting a reservation would be next to impossible. Once we skied through the mountain village of chalets from the 1600′s and sat down to dine…. I saw what he meant. We ate in a glass enclosed “Winter Garden” with views of the Matterhorn and snow-covered mountains. It was magnificent. They were famous for the lamb, but I, of course, had the sampling of three pastas in sauce; arrabiatta, pesto and ravioli. A delicious meal with impeccable service. Franz and Heidi treated us as if we were family, tending to every need.
The last day we ate at the Buffet Bar Sunnegga, a self service restaurant on the Italian side. Great pasta and crazy views. People watching at its best. My son, while eating his pasta Bolognese, gave my wife the ultimate compliment, “this is the best Bolognese I have ever had, it tastes just like mom’s.”
Apres Ski at Hennu Stall is an on mountain party which begins at about 3 pm and goes until…I don’t know, whenever I guess. They offer special warm wine along with Swiss beer and ski shots all accompanied by loud music. A must visit, but don’t imbibe too much because you still have a couple of hundred meters to concur before your ski day is complete.
Make sure to visit the famous Restaurant Walliserkanne in the middle of town. They have great cheese fondue. I used to think, isn’t fondue just a different form of grilled cheese? I don’t think so anymore. Swiss Fondue…. it doesn’t get any better! Also, a visit to Zermatt would not be complete without a visit to Stefanie’s Creperie. Delectable crepes in all flavors and fillings. We shared a chocolate and banana (Swiss chocolate, of course) crepe. A great way to end the day.
All in all, Zermatt is a must visit for anyone who calls himself a skier. The views, the food, the skiing, the snow, the people, and the fun all make the long trip a no brainer.”
My husband and my sons are all expert skiers. They have competed, ski patrolled and navigated some extreme terrains, so you can trust their opinions on skiing. Me, on the other hand, I’ll stick to the food.