Ah, Zermatt: An Elegant Stay in the Shadow of the Matterhorn

If you get the chance to book a mountain view room or suite at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, grab it, because when they say “view,” they’re not kidding. First-time guests may be surprised by the proximity of this universal symbol of Switzerland; the famous pyramidal-shaped colossus looms at nearly 15,000 feet, its four steep faces sliced raw by glaciers over millions of years.

Since 1879, travelers have been able to appreciate this awesome spectacle — said to be the most photographed mountain in the world — from the gracious Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, a historic Belle Époque property adorned with floral balconies. And, getting there via the superb and efficient Swiss Travel System is a breeze. Guests are greeted on arrival at Zermatt train station by an electric vehicle or a horse-drawn carriage to make their way along Bahnhofstrasse through the quaint flower box-laden, flag-adorned pedestrianized village.

Note: Luggage? Skis? No problem. Travelers on the Swiss Train System can arrange for door-to-door express same-day delivery of personal effects while they enjoy the ease of travel on famously smooth-running Swiss trains.

Good Morning, Zermatt

Rise early to catch Mother Nature’s special effects show as the sun’s rays illuminate the peak in brilliant red, orange, and gold a full two hours before sunlight reaches the valley floor.

Pick up a complimentary English language newspaper and treat yourself to an excellent buffet breakfast in the hotel’s Lusi Brasserie, with dozens of hot and cold choices — even unexpected sushi — in a serene setting (yes, more Matterhorn views) with a live pianist.

Then, bundle up and head out. Despite Zermatt‘s mile-high elevation in the valley, it may be comfortably sunny in the village and snowing above at nearly twice that elevation, even in the spring and fall. Pace yourself sensibly; it’s essential to be cautious at these sky-high elevations.

Alpine Adventures

Zermatt Gornergrat 

Surrounded by no fewer than 29 peaks towering above 13,000 feet, a ride up the Gornergrat Railway rewards with unparalleled views. This is the top (in both senses of the word) visitor destination in Switzerland. Wear both sunscreen and warm clothing — temperatures plummet with the ascent on the 125-year-old cog railway, Europe’s highest.

Zermatt-Matterhorn, also known as Matterhorn Ski Paradise, has 217 miles of ski slopes catering to skiers and snowboarders, and is a popular year-round destination for hiking, mountain biking, and climbing enthusiasts. 

It’s a 6-minute walk from the hotel to board Gornergrat across from Zermatt train station. Take a seat on the right-hand side for the best Matterhorn views all the way up. See the Gorner glacier, third-longest in the Alps. Exactly 33 minutes later, arrive at the summit where 3100 Kulmhotel is the place to get warm over a good lunch. Wander around “ZOOOM The Matterhorn” (admission included) to learn all about Matterhorn climbing history plus a 3D cinema and a virtual paragliding flight.   

Switzerland – Italy Alpine Crossing 

Place your feet in two countries at once. Since July 2023, the journey between Switzerland and Italy is a cable car connection across the border at more than 12,740 feet above sea level.

Stepping into Italy at the Swiss border atop the Matterhorn glacier in late summer

This remarkable feat of engineering connects the Klein Matterhorn and Testa Grigia, offering travelers a new and unique experience. Operating July through October, the state-of-the-art ride features a rotating cabin so passengers can take in the whole view without leaving your seat. Not for the faint of heart — although Lilly loves it — Matterhorn Alpine Crossing is the world’s highest elevation cable car crossing.

Matterhorn Glacier Palace

Hungry? En Güete is Europe’s highest mountain restaurant at astonishing altitude of 12,740 feet, with stunning panoramic views. While you’re up there where the air is thin, check out Matterhorn Glacier Palace for a once-in-a-lifetime (truly frozen) experience. Carved into a tunnel 50 feet below the surface, walk along the floor of a real crevasse where you can touch the glacier’s walls and grab selfies among the ice sculptures.

Down to Earth

Take the train back down to the Furi stop just above Zermatt. From there, it’s an easy 30-minute hike downhill through a pretty forest, over streams, and past grazing cows with big bells ringing on the way to a wonderful homemade meal at a picturesque chalet called Restaurant Zum See. On a sunny day, get a table and big sunbrella in the flower and herb garden where the warm hospitality and straight-on Matterhorn views cannot be beat.

Lunch at Restaurant ZumSee, above Zermatt, and the owners

Back at the Hotel

Vita Borni Alpine Spa has a large swimming pool, hot tub with Matterhorn views, Finnish sauna, steam baths, and even an ice grotto plus fitness room, relaxation room, couples spa, and a lawn for summer use. The exclusive product line from Matterhorn Swiss Mineral Cosmetics uses active ingredients with a high level of minerals and trace elements from the actual rock of the Matterhorn as well as alpine plants and pure glacier water.

On-property dining options at Grand Hotel Zermatterhof include Saycheese! (the perfect prompt for taking smiling selfies) where world-famous Swiss dishes are served, melted into tasty fondue and raclette made from local Valais cheeses.

A cozy fireside lounge and Stars Bar with live music are open from 5 p.m. to midnight. The classical setting of Alpine Gourmet Prato Borni boasts a Michelin Star for its local emphasis as well as critical accolades from reviewer Gault & Millau and a commendation for having one of the best wine lists in Switzerland.

If You Go

Visitors can travel throughout Switzerland on public transport with a discount, using Swiss Travel Pass

Pro Tip: Get the Swiss Travel Pass. Only for non-residents, it covers unlimited travel by train, bus and boat, including premium panoramic trains, plus public transport, in more than 90 Swiss towns and cities. Valid for your choice of 3, 4, 6, 8 or 15 consecutive days, there’s also a 50% discount on most mountain railways and free entry at more than 500 museums. Kids under the age of 6 travel free of charge and those under the age of 16 get 50% off, while travelers under the age of 25 get a 30% discount.

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Images: Author’s own and courtesy of Grand Hotel Zermatterhof