We continued our Italy/Switzerland visit by jumping on a train from Stresa, Italy, to Zermatt, Switzerland. Trains are the ideal way to visit both countries, especially Switzerland where many roads are closed during winter.
I’m pausing for a moment here to address trains in Switzerland:
There are so many options in Switzerland for passes. My advice is to study them carefully, especially if you will be in the country for several days. There is not a one-size-fits-all option. Thankfully, my husband took on this monumental research task. We ended up purchasing the Swiss Half-fare Pass and, later, the Berner-Oberland Pass and the Peak-to-Peak Pass in Zermatt. The half-fare pass was good for 30 days and we could use it to buy both the Berner-Oberland and Peak-to-Peak Passes that gave us “free” access to all forms of transportation in those areas. We found many websites and YouTube videos that explained the train systems in detail. One great thing is that the tickets are day specific, but not time specific. Also, passes and tickets, depending on the type you have, are good for gondolas.
And now for our trip to Zermatt, Switzerland, the first stop on our 10 day journey through Switzerland.
Our first stop was Zermatt which is most famous for the Matterhorn. We took the “regular” train. We did not take the scenic train routes; however, this train follows part of the same journey as the Glacier Express. Our train rolled along the tracks between high mountain peaks and along glacial rivers. We zoomed past centuries old bridges and buildings.
As we neared Zermatt, train stations began serving as gondola stations, also. We crept through narrow tunnels and enjoyed the change from Italian villas to Swiss chalets clinging to the mountainsides. Waterfalls poured majestically from the top of the mountains to the valley floors far below. Remnants of landslides warn travelers—or at least me—to be careful. Blacknose sheep grazed nonchalantly as our train zipped by. I imagined Heidi and her grandfather peeping out from behind the evergreen trees. (I know that the book was fiction and that Heidi didn’t even live in this area, but it’s my imagination!) The clouds kissed the ground and looked like smoke rising from the land.
The first thing we saw as we debarked from the train was a North Face store—just in case a visitor had only brought shorts and t-shirts to this colder climate. In fact, the main street was lined with outdoor supply stores to meet all your needs. Thankfully, we had come prepared!
We walked to our nearby hotel, the Schlosshotel Zermatt, where we stayed for two nights. The hotel is within easy walking distance to everything in the town. We arrived at 5:00 pm so we used the time until dinner to explore the town with our first stop being the Mauritius Church. Its cemetery contains almost 50 graves of those lost in the Matterhorn climb, including four members of the team of seven who were the first to climb the mountain. (The rope broke and these four plummeted to their deaths.) The fact that the majority seemed to have died on the way down struck us as odd. Was it the cold, tired, equipment malfunction? I’m not certain, but the cemetery was sobering. We were also fortunate to get a glimpse of the Matterhorn. We took copious amounts of pictures just in case the top didn’t appear again while we were visiting.
We had dinner at Restaurant Chez Max Julen, where we had excellent food and fantastic service. We watched our dinner being perfectly cooked on the open fire next to our table. We were served half, given time to eat that, and then they served the other half that they had kept warm! (Swiss wines are wonderful. We heard that, unfortunately, they don’t export many because they drink them all.)
The next morning we took the green line bus to the Matterhorn Glacier Station. (Note: There is a lot of traffic for a vehicle-less town. We even got stuck in a traffic jam of electric buses and horse-drawn carriages.) The Matterhorn Express took us up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the world’s highest cable car station, through a system of gondolas and stops. (I wish I had counted the number of gondolas we took over this trip, but I didn’t think of it until too late to remember all of them!)
The entire trip to the top of Klein Matterhorn took about 40 minutes over gorgeous gorges, through clouds, and by sun-kissed mountains. You can stop to hike, eat, or just look around at many of the stops. (Make certain that you take even warmer clothing to the top, since it grows colder the higher you go.)
Our destination was Glacier Palace, a manmade ice cave carved within the Klein Matterhorn Glacier. The cave contains breathtaking ice sculptures. We also viewed the skiing area that is open year-round. After the cold walk through the cave, we took a break for hot chocolate at the café and wandered to the summit for a look over the amazing beauty.
Ready for lunch, we started back down the mountain with a stop at the Furi station where we visited a small restaurant for a Swiss meal.
At the Trockener Steg station, we took a gondola to Schwarzsee where we had a short hike to the lake for more views of the Matterhorn before returning to Zermatt. [A few notes: 1) Go up to the top of Klein Matterhorn first because fog often rolls in later in the day. 2) “See” at the end of the word means “lake.” 3) If we had been at Schwarzsee at daybreak we might have been able to catch photos of the Matterhorn reflected on its surface. We are not morning people just for a photo op.]
We returned to Zermatt and then took the Gornergrat Bahn, a cogwheel train, to Gornergrat Mountain for more views of the Matterhorn. (There is a quicker route, but the gondola was closed for the season.) The fog at the top lifted momentarily for us to catch a glimpse, but the weather deteriorated rapidly so we cancelled our hike down and enjoyed the train ride both ways. We walked to the scenic Matterhorn Overlook before sunset to see the sinking sun rays cast their reflection on the Matterhorn.
We met many interesting people at the overlook and had a great time talking to them. We ate at the Swiss Chalet that evening and experienced one of the best cheese fondues that we had the entire stay in Switzerland.
The next day we walked to the Sunnegga-Rothorn Station where we boarded the funicular for a steep, tunnel-enclosed three-minute ride. Of course, from Sunnegga we took another gondola to Rothorn where we were met with thick fog—even the paragliders were discouraged and unable to fly. After looking at where the Matterhorn supposedly was, we took the gondola to Blauherd and hiked to Stellisee.
The two-mile loop hike is worth it for the views and great picnic area at the end. We took numerous pictures of the cows along the way—as if we had never seen cows before—and enjoyed listening to their musical cowbells. Blauherd also has a café and mountain carts, but we were heading to our next stop, Grindenwald, in the afternoon.
We could easily have spent more time hiking in Zermatt, but a full day and a half gave us a good overview of the opportunities. We were fortunate to see the Matterhorn multiple times, but no guarantees can be given since nature is in charge of the views!
And then…Off to Grindelwald!
Our next stops were Grindelwald and Bern--click here!
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