February 8, 2012

Zermatt: pretty - wealthy

Zermatt must be one of the prettiest alpine towns ever. But unfortunatly, also one of the most expensive (especially now that the Swiss franc is so strong compared to most currencies).

Normal cars are forbidden in Zermatt, and the narrow streets are covered with ice and snow. Only the special electric Zermatt vehicles run on these streets, which enables you to ski or sleigh ride through town.

Great amounts of snow this January.

The snow covered streets are lined by rustic wooden log houses and with tyrolean style houses.

Above this sweet alpine town, peaks the mighty Matterhorn, dividing Switzerland and Italy. Skiing in the surrounding mountains, with Matterhorn as a center piece, is nothing short of a winter fairytale.

We were lucky that it had snowed a lot in the weeks prior to our trip, and the conditions on the slopes were excellent. Unfortunatly, we experience some bad weather, with snow and fog, and low visibility forced us to adjust accordingly.

When white out strikes, my skiing abilities drop to the bottom. So, instead, we did the next best thing, and took refuge in the cozy mountain restaurants, enjoying apfel strudel, beers and Gluhwein.

Pit stop: Apfelstrudel and beer

Mountain lunch recommendation: Rösti potatoes with melted cheese and fried egg.
In general, food in Zermatt is excellent. The best mountains restaurants anywhere can be found right here and in the surrounding mountains. If you like traditional Swiss food of endless types of fondue and raclette dishes, this is the place to go. But this is also the place for great Italian and international food.

I would like to mention four restaurants:

In town: Restaurant Whymper-Stube; they serve tastefull traditional Swiss dishes, in a typical stube type of place, cozy, but nothing fancy. Very popular for dinner, so pre-book. We had raclette for starter, a cheece fondue with pears, and an excellent Cordon Bleu.
Outside Zum See restaurant
Natural wine cooler at Zum See

Our favorite place: Zum See. This not-to-be-missed mountain restaurant has a very warm and lively atmosphere and fantastic food. I have been to this place a coupple of times on a former trip as well, and it is famous among every one I know who's been to Zermatt. All dishes are great. Enjoy! We had a bottle of local white wine, which was very good: Chamoson 2010. Chardonnay. (I'm not usually a big fan of Chardonnays but this one came recommended, and was excellent).

Panoramic view from the restaurant at Trockner Steg

At the top: At Trockner Steg there is a modern panoramic Italian restaurant called ICE restaurant and pizzeria (there is also a self service cafeteria, which we didn't try). It is a bit expensive, but the view is worth it. I had a pizza with aubergine (egg plant) which was heavenly - the Chianti by the glass was also great...

Lunch at the Enzian restaurant in Findeln
Another mountain restaurant: Enzian, right behind the church in Findeln is a cozy log cabin restaurant which served an excellent Rösti with melted cheese and fried egg. In my opinion, Rösti and melted swiss cheese is the perfect lunch dish to enjoy in the mountains during winter. And in this part of the alps it is served everywhere.  At Findeln there is also a famous restaurant called Chez Vrony. We tried to get a table but it was too busy. It smelled great, though.

The Champagne bar by the piste

Train ride to the top
In Zermatt you can ride the world highest altitude train from Zermatt town all the way to Gornergrat at 3000 m. You bring your skis of course, and ski all the way back to town. The train is part of the lift system.

The two times I've been to Zermatt I have tried to find cheap but cozy accomodation in this very expensive place.
This time we stayed at the Touring Hotel. For the price we paid (approx. 140 euro per night) this is not good value for money at any other place but Zermatt, Switzerland. The staff was very warm and friendly, but we had a small room on the top floor where the bathroom sink was placed in the bed room, which was inconvenient. Very clean. Great breakfast. Nice bed with Norwgeian "dyne" (blanket/cover). Great location, with walking distance to both ski lift areas and to the town center. You can ski right back to the hotel. The common sauna area was very simple and cold (not the sauna, but the surrounding area).
The first time, I stayed at Hotel Holliday. It was nice and clean. The rooms were nicer than in hotel Touring, but the location was not as good.
I would have liked to stay at the hotel next door to ours, hotel Ambiance. Maybe next time... http://www.hotelambiance.ch/de/

Getting there
We flew to Geneva airport. The train leaves directly from the airport. You have to switch trains in Visp. The train trip takes almost 4 hours. Bring food and wine for the train. There is nothing to be bought on board.
Travelling along the Geneva lake (between Geneva and Montreux) is very nice. I think I want to visit Montreux in the summer and stroll by the lake. This could be a nice stop over on an interrail vacation.