by Terri Cook and Lon Abbott Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Zermatt, a car-free resort town at the foot of the Matterhorn, can be reached from major international airports in Geneva, Zürich or Milan. All three airports offer nonstop flights from several North American cities and have numerous rental-car agencies. Switzerland has four official languages, of which German and French are the most commonly used, but road signs are easily followed by English speakers, making it easy to navigate around the country. However, private cars are not allowed in Zermatt, so you might instead want to take one of the Swiss Rail Network’s clean and reliable trains to Zermatt, a 3.5-hour trip from Zürich or a four-hour trip from Geneva. If you do drive, you must park in a garage in Täsch, 5 kilometers north of the resort town, and take a train or taxi into town. The village itself is quite walkable; a 10-minute stroll will get you across town.
The lack of vehicles makes strolling the town a pleasant experience, but if walking isn’t an option, you can also cycle, take an electric taxi or bus, or hire a horse-drawn carriage. If you plan on taking several cable-car rides, it’s worthwhile buying the Peak Pass, which entitles you to unlimited use of all Zermatt mountain lifts as well as the train between Zermatt and Täsch, for a specified number of days. This option offers much more flexibility to explore the Zermatt Valley.
Several steep hiking trails lead from Zermatt up to the Rothorn, but if the 1,500 meters of vertical rise sounds daunting, you can opt to be whisked up the mountain in three steps: first by the Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular railway, then by the gondola to Blauherd, and, finally, by the cable car up to the Rothorn.
If you want to hire a guide to climb the Breithorn, Matterhorn or another peak, we recommend the Zermatt Alpin Center. If you don’t want to pack, or don’t own, technical climbing gear, you can rent everything you’ll need from one of Zermatt’s many mountain shops.
Accommodations in Switzerland, and especially in Zermatt, run the gamut from five-star resorts to quaint bed-and-breakfasts. Because lodging tends to be expensive, private apartments, which frequently include cooking facilities, are often a better value. Booking.com offers hundreds of reviewer-rated options in the resort town. To save money, we pitched a tent at Camping Täsch and “commuted” by train each day into town. Zermatt is a gourmand’s paradise, home to many award-winning chefs who cook up delicious versions of almost any international or Swiss dish, including the Swiss specialty raclette, a mouthwatering cheese fondue.
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