Zermatt is a picture-perfect mountain village, situated in southern Switzerland, near the Italian border. Perfectly set in the backdrop of the celebrity Alpine mountain Matterhorn, and strategically placed in the centre of one of the largest skiing regions in the world, Zermatt is not only a mecca for international skiers and hiking enthusiasts but also an exceedingly amazing place with awesome scenery and a vibrant atmosphere. As Matterhorn is considered as one of the most famous mountains worldwide and arguably the most photographed peak, Zermatt is undoubtedly one of the most sought after vacation places in the world. It proudly receives over 2 million annual visitors from everywhere.
My first encounter with the Alpine Giant, Matterhorn, took place a long time ago when I had not even heard the name Switzerland. It happened on a rather memorable day in my childhood when I had the mouth-watering treat of a Toblerone, every time I had a bite of the Swiss delicacy, I would want to go and see Matterhorn even more.
It was September 2019 when I was sitting in my car, which was boarded in a train, going through a tunnel which was to take me to the valley on the other side of the mountain. I was going to visit Zermatt. By that time, I had already been to Switzerland a number of times. But this time, I had 2 goals in my mind. The first was to do a 5-hour hike to Gornergrat and the second was to spend a night of wild camping in front of Matterhorn, near Riffelsee and eventually, will try to catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn glowing when the first rays of sun hit the top of the mountain.
This blog is the journey from a Toblerone bar to a chilly September sunrise in the shadow of Matterhorn, and I will try to share all the details of the path and some useful tips for you so that your journey can be as memorable as mine.
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How to Get to Zermatt by Car
Zermatt is a car-free region and hence it can't be reached by car directly. You can only drive up to Täsch which is a neighbouring village at a distance of only 5 km from Zermatt and you must park your car there. There is a huge parking station at Täsch, called the Matterhorn Parking Terminal, which has a capacity to park over 2000 vehicles. Other than that, there are other private parking spaces as well.
Once the car is parked, you now have to take the shuttle train to Zermatt. The journey takes only 12 minutes and there is a connection every 20 minutes. In order to transfer your luggage from your car to the train, there is a baggage cart service, with which you can conveniently transfer your baggage to the train. There is a deposit of 5 CHF to use the baggage cart service. More details can be seen here.
As I was travelling by car, so I had to park it at Täsch, like everyone else. I parked my car right next to the Täsch Train station in Hotel Täscherhof Parking which is probably the most convenient and cheapest I could find there. The total cost of parking the car for 24 hours and the train ticket to Zermatt cost me around 12 € return.If I have to compare the train journey with the car journey, I will personally recommend the train journey, especially if you are visiting for the first time. It may take a little longer to reach Zermatt by train and the trains, like everything else in Switzerland, can be a little expensive, yet there is nothing better than to sit back and relax on a comfortable seat of a Swiss train and indulge yourself in a cup of coffee while enjoying the outside scenery.
How to Get to Zermatt by Train
If you are planning to get to Zermatt by train, the most optimal option is to start from either Zurich or Geneva. If you are flying to these cities, then you will find a bi-hourly connection directly from the airport train station, whereas if you get there by train, then you can take the train from the main station. There is no direct train from the two cities and you have to make at least one change over.
From both these cities, you have to take the train to Visp and once you reach Visp, you get the train that goes directly to Zermatt. The travel time from Zurich to Visp is roughly 2 to 2h 30 minutes depending upon the connection, whereas from Geneva you reach Visp in around 2h 30 minutes. However, from Visp, it takes only 1h 10 minutes to reach Zermatt. The train ticket from Geneva starts from 50 CHF and from Zurich its price start from 65 CHF. For more details about the time table and ticket price, you need to visit the official website of Swiss Railways.
The whole journey is very scenic and you thoroughly enjoy your travel time.
Things to Do in Zermatt
Zermatt and Matterhorn are connected not just by physical location but by their names as well. It comes from the German word for 'meadows' which is Matten. At first, it became, Zur Matten or 'the meadow in the valley' before it eventually became Zermatt. There can be a long list of best things to do in Zermatt. It includes the more adventurous things like skiing, hiking and mountain climbing as well as rather simple things such as exploring the village, having a warm cup of coffee in one of many awesome cafés and restaurants, and taking an afternoon stroll absorbing the peace and calm of the alpine rural life.
1. Explore the Zermatt Village
Zermatt is breathtakingly beautiful mountain heaven. Its fame exceeds that of any other Swiss village. One of the foremost reasons for Zermatt being such an esteemed vacation point is that it is literally a Gateway to the Glacier Paradise. It is surrounded by almost a third of all the 4000-meter mountains in the Alps, which includes some of the most famous mountains and glaciers of Europe, such as Matterhorn. In fact, Matterhorn is visible almost everywhere in Zermatt which makes this village a rather special place.
Zermatt is one of the best ski resorts all over the world, where you can ski throughout the year. Not only are some of its ski runs available to visitors 12 months a year, but also it's one of the first resorts where the winter season starts as early as the end of October and lasts till the end of April. This makes it a very sought after place by skiers and winter sports enthusiast. Another interesting thing that can be done in Zermatt is travelling to Cervinia in the neighbouring Italian valley of Aosta, by a 6-seater chair lift. This is by far the most awesome way to cross an international border.
Besides, Zermatt is also well known for its valuable efforts for sustainability. Despite the fact that over 2 million annual visitors come to Zermatt, it's no car policy has kept the carbon footprint very low. As only battery-operated vehicles, car and buses, are allowed here, it has also kept the noise pollution in check. This is another reason to be careful while walking down a street in Zermatt as you might not hear the sound of an approaching vehicle. Besides vehicles, their policy on smart usage of resources like electricity and water is also commendable.
The Zermatt town in itself is very beautiful with typical swiss mountain chalets everywhere, so walk around in the town go to different view points to see and photograph the iconic Matterhorn. Here are some of the pictures of the town which will give you an idea what to expect when you are there.
2. Visit Gornergrat
Gornergrat is a 3089 m high rocky ridge which is home to Europe's highest railway station. The summit of Gornergrat offers stunning views of Matterhorn as well as Dufourspitze which is the highest Swiss peak, Gorner glacier which is the second-largest glacier in the Alps and another 29 mountains which are over a height of 4000 meters, making it a well-desired destination among visitors. You can also find Europe's highest hotel, a restaurant, an astronomical observatory and some shops over here.
Visitors from Zermatt can reach Gornergrat by Gornergrat Bahn, which was the first fully electrical cog railway in the world. This vertical ascent of 1469 m from Zermatt is completed in 33 minutes. The ride is full of breathtaking views and memorable moments.
The tickets to Gornergrat from Zermatt costs approx. 100€ return but there are also some discounts available during the off-season and for visitors taking the train in the afternoon after 3 pm. Moreover, if you have a swiss train pass you can get 50% discount on the tickets. The actual time tables and ticket prices can be found on Gornergrat Bahn.
My primary aim was to hike from Zermatt to Gornergrat which roughly takes 5 hours to complete. But I couldn't reach Zermatt in time and it was almost afternoon and I couldn't afford to lose any more time. So I decided to take the Gornergrat Bahn but instead of going all the way, I decided to get off at Riffelberg. I got the discounted afternoon ticket which was well worth to save some time and reach there before sunset.
I hiked the remaining distance to the Gornergrat and it took me approx 45 minutes. I was also carrying my backpack so it turned out to be a little difficult and made me breathless for some time. But in the end, it was well worth it.
From Gornergrat train station walk up to the panoramic viewpoint for stunning vistas of the surronding mountains.
3. Riffelsee Hike
Riffelsee is a magical lake located at a height of 2757 m, accessible by trail 21 of Zermatt hiking trails. This place is famous not only for its own magnificence but also for the fact that the reflection of Matterhorn in its waters creates a perfect image of peace, harmony and raw natural beauty. The image of Matterhorn combines with its reflection in the lake is perhaps one of the most famous photographs worldwide. Enthusiasts like myself, travel from all over the world to get a glimpse of the grand mountain and its aquatic counterpart.
The best condition to take a picture is if there is no wind and the water is still. Sunrise at Riffelsee is especially awaited moments for photographers.
The other motivation behind my visit was to spend a night of wild camping by the Riffelsee and experience the sunrise at Matterhorn. The camping was wonderful, once in a lifetime experience. This spot is normally very crowded by tourists throughout the day, but at night, it was so peaceful and silent that I could hear the music of a waterfall which was few miles away. And it was so peaceful and serene that I do not have words to explain that feeling.
The overall experience of wild camping was a good one as I slept very peacefully. The night was very cold but I had enough warm clothes with me to keep me comfortable. The next morning I was able to wake up before sunrise and was in a perfect position to absorb it in my eyes as well as the eyes of my camera.
When the first rays of light touch the Matterhorn peak, the peak glows as if it is made of gold, and then the light comes down gradually, making the whole mountain sparkle.
4. Best Hikes in Zermatt
There are literally hundreds of hiking trails present in and around Zermatt. This village is not known to be 'Gateway to Glacier Paradise' for no reason. These hiking trails vary in a range of aspects. There is a certain difficulty level associated to each hike. Then there are hikes which are categorized on the basis of the terrain etc. Therefore, it's something for everyone and every can have his own personal favourite hike in Zermatt.
Let me just mention the name of the few top hikes that I find interesting and definitely worth going.
- 360° Loop Gornergrat (Nr. 16)
- 5 Lakes Walk (Nr. 11)
- Adventure Trail Nr. 1)
- Arigscheis (Nr.411)
- Briethorn Ascent
- Chamios Trail (Nr. 5)
- Circular Hike to Suspension Bridge in Randa (Nr. 69)
- Climate Audio Trail
- Cross (Nr. 65)
- Crystal Trail (Nr.7)
More about each trail and other famous trails can be explored at the official web page of Zermatt Hiking.
i. 5 Lakes Walk (5-seenweg)
The Five Lakes Walk or 5-Seenweg is a famous hiking trail in Zermatt. It's also called as the trail number 11. It's an easy to medium trail with only a few sections being moderately tough.
As the name indicates, this path involves 5 lakes, namely Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grunsee, Moosjisee and Leisee. Among these 5, Stellisee, Grindjisee and Leisee lakes are especially known for the Matterhorn reflection whereas the other 2 still offer amazing views of the mountain. The overall track is 9.3 km long and it is comprised of rather varied terrain including gravel paths, narrow dirt tracks and some parts with protruding rocks etc.
Each lake is known for its own speciality. Leisee and Grunsee are also known to be good swimming lakes, whereas, you can find rare alpine flowers along the waters of Grindjisee.
ii. Zermatt to Riffelsee and Gornergrat Hike
- Distance: 11km (Gornergrat), 9.4km (Riffelsee)
- Elevation Gain: 1530m (Gornergrat) 1170m (Riffelsee)
- Difficulty Level: Strenuous
- Duration: 5 hours (Gornergrat) 4 hours (Riffelsee)
You can hike all the way from Zermatt to Gornergrat if you are fit and prepare for a long day. I had already done it a couple of times and the last time I was carrying my backpack with my tent etc. to sleep at Riffelsee which made is even harder. The path is marked but I would highly recommend reading the map before you start the hike and mark the points as there are many trails so you might end up taking a longer path. Download Maps.me app into your phone and offline maps which were very helpful. The path is fully marked all the way and if you memorize a few main points to look on the signposts whenever you are in doubt.
From Gornergrat expect approx. 4 hours to get back to the town. I will share some pictures below to give you an idea of what to expect
Where to Stay in Zermatt
Accommodation is never a problem at Zermatt. You can pick the accommodation that suits your budget from a number of options. There is a range of hotels, from luxury to pricy to medium to less expensive, with most of them promising the Matterhorn view and 'the factor' definitely has an impact on the price of the accommodation. The thing is that most of the things at Zermatt are relatively expensive. So is the accommodation; even a cheaper one. Therefore, if you can afford it, you must have the awesome Zermatt experience.
Then there are chalets that are available on rent. You can also rent an apartment depending on your stay and your budget.
If you are interested in camping in Zermatt, there is one camping site with good facilities near the train station and I have marked it on the above google map. I have stayed there once and can recommend.
Wild Camping at Riffelsee
But if you are a true enthusiast, like myself, whose main goal is to witness the sunrise at Matterhorn and you don't want to stay at an expensive Gornergrat Hotel, then you always have the option of camping. This is the ultimate experience when you are face to face with the raw beauty of nature and it's super economical. It is not legal as far as I know but I have already seen many people doing it so it is acceptable but never leave any trash behind and pack your tent before the tourists arrive.
During my last visit, I stayed the night in my camp near Riffelsee to get the first glimpse of sunshine, shimmering at the glowing peak and to capture its stunning image in the waters of the lake.