After our arrival in Zermatt around late midday we wanted to head off for a first hike to explore our immediate surroundings.
We decided to walk to Z'Mutt which is a pretty little hamlet with two restaurants for hikers. It is located at 1936 m south of Zermatt (1620 m).
Depending on your level of fitness you can choose between at least 3 possibilities to get to Z'Mutt.
The quickest and most direct way follows the valley and takes only about one hour (upwards), whereas longer versions lead on smaller paths along the mountains and offer panoramic views of Zermatt and the valley.
All possibilities are well signposted and you almost can't get lost. Upwards we chose a way along the smaller paths and downwards we went along the valley.
To find the start of the paths just go to the district Oberdorf at the southwestern end of Zermatt. Look for signs directing to Z'Mutt.
After our hike from Sunnegga paradise to Riffelalp (2200 m) we had two options to get back to Zermatt (1620 m).
Either take the Gornergrat railway or follow the Arvenweg (Swiss stone pine trail).
As the weather was fine and we were still in good shape we decided to follow the Arvenweg downwards.
The trail starts opposite to the Riffelalp station and leads in steep serpentines through a pine and larch forest downwards to Winkelmatten which is a district of Zermatt.
The trail is about 4,5 km long and the difference in altitude is more than 600 m. It took us 2 h to get to Zermatt as walking downwards on such a steep trail can be pretty exhausting.
The way is well signposted and has good vantage points for panoramic views of Zermatt.
Of course most people come to Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn mountain. Interesting enough with 4478 m in height it isn't Switzerland's highest mountain, which is the Monte Rosa (4634 m). Both mountains belong to the Pennine Alps.
The fascinating fact about the Matterhorn is that it doesn't belong to a mountain massif and is therefore clearly identifiable. The first ascent of the Matterhorn took place on the 14th July 1865 by a group led by Edward Whymper.
On clear days the Matterhorn can already be seen from Zermatt. Most hikes in the region offer panoramic views of the Matterhorn.
For more details please read my "Hike: Sunnegga Paradise to Riffelalp" tip.
As the weather was fine on our second day we decided for a longer hike. At first we took the funicular from Zermatt to Sunnegga Paradise (2288 m).
This was the starting point for a hike along the lakes Leisee and Grindjisee to the lake Grünsee (2300 m).
From there we went via Riffelboden (2348 m) to the Riffelalp (2200 m) where we took a rest in the Restaurant Alphitta.
During this walk the Matterhorn and the surrounding mountains are almost always visible. Apart from that, the Gornergrat railway and the famous Riffelalp tram can be seen on this walk.
This part of the hike took us about 3,5 h, including many photo stops. Please read "Hike: Riffelalp to Zermatt (Winkelmatten)" about how to get back to Zermatt
The Alp regions offer a wide range of wildlife and native flora. On our hikes we saw quite a few interesting animals, flowers and plants.
Among the animals was the "Valais Blackneck Goat" which is mainly located in the Canton of Valais.
It is usually long haired and has a typical black forequarter and white hindquarter.
Besides many other colourful flowers, we saw several "Silver thistles" (Carlina acaulis). It is a proteced alpine plant which can be found in regions of central and southern Europe.
I have a crush on the Matterhorn. Ever since my Grandmother visited Switzerland 30 years ago and bought me back a small music box with a picture of the Matterhorn on top I have been smitten. So I was pretty excited to finally be seeing her 'in the flesh'.
The mountain is 4478 metres high, and while not the highest peak in the Alps, it is the most distinctive and well known. It is located on the border of Switzerland and Italy. It has four faces, and these are so steep that only small patches of snow and ice can cling to them. There is a glacier at the base of each face.
The first successful ascent of the mountain was in 1865, and people have been climbing it every since, some more successfully than others. Each year several climbers will die in their attempt to conquer the Matterhorn. You can read about them in Zermatt's cemetery.
Fondest memory: Not sure what happened to that music box my Grandmother bought me, but while I was in Zermatt I saw the exact same one! Of course I had to buy it, and now I can once more listen to the tune of Edelweiss and admire the mighty Matterhorn.
Skiing, what an unusual experience in summer.
Zermatt and Saas-Fee will offer you the largest summer snow sports area in Europe. Both totalise about 40 kilometres of slopes depending on the snow conditions.
Attracive snow parks are also available on both site with a superpipe, halfpipe,
with kikkers, jumps and rails. A real delight for snowboarders and freeskiers.
You will be able to see some national and international ski teams for a training session.
Summer ski area are continuously improved as for proof Zermatt Bergbahnen and our former Swiss Ski Champion Pirmin Zubbriggen, which owned and managed a 4* hotel in Saas Almagell, inaugurated the Furggsattel chairlift in 2003 (the longest on an Alpine glacier).
Go skiing the morning for best snow conditions and before the snow will
become too slushy = time for après-ski… so head to the chill zone with music and couches, perfect place to relax.
Fondest memory: A Superb Swiss Sunny Snowy Beach on The Alps...
Favorite thing: It’s worth noting that the Matterhorn clouds over pretty quickly. It seemed crystal clear when we set off on our trip but within an hour or so little of it was visible even though we had great views of the surrounding mountains. We got some nice shots from the Monte Rosa aspect of the Matterhorn. You will need to take walking boots and pick a totally clear and still day. Allow plenty of time.
Each year I notice improvements on my favorite Swiss ski area, which make more attractive this snowy paradise.
I think it is important to have a quick outlook over planned projects about the ski area.
Good news for 2006/07:
Furi-Riffelberg cable car link in time for winter.
A new 8-seat cable car will be built for service between Furi and Riffelberg. It will run from Furi via Schweigmatten up to Riffelberg (where it joins the Gifthittli chairlift). The cable car is scheduled to open in time for winter 2006. So the Matterhorn ski area will be directly linked to the Gornergrat ski area.
Since the merger in 2002 up to the end of 2005, Zermatt Bergbahnen AG has already invested more than CHF 130 million. These are the most important investments:
- 8-seat cable car Matterhorn-Express (Zermatt - Furi - SchwarzSee)
- 6-seat chair lift with hoods Furggsattel Gletscherbahn (the world longest chairlift on a glacier)
- 6-seat chair lift with hoods Gifthittli chair lift
- Extension to Gandegg skilift
- Sunnegga - Blauherd Combi cableway (8-seat cable cars and 6-seat chair lifts)
- Elevator from Riedweg to the Sunneggabahn tunnel
Snow making systems are continously improved and extented to guarantee enough snow at the beggining of the Winter ski season (end of November).
The following are planned over the next few years:
- 4-seat chair lift Sunnegga - Findeln - Breitenboden (season 2006/07)
- 4-seat chair lift Gant - Rosenritz (season 2007/08)
Long-term important cableway projects:
- 8-seat cable car Matterhorn-Express extension from Schwarzsee to Trockener Steg
- New development at Stockhorn
- 4-seat chair lift at Hörnli
- Infrastructure extension at Klein Matterhorn
Wow enough to do and ride for the future ;-)
Fondest memory: The excellent and confortable ski cableways systems with a high debit (no queue or less) and plenty of large slopes and endless snow powder fields...
Edelweiss is probably the best known flower on the Alps. As you will discover during your Alpine tour, many others are perfectly adapted to this hostile environment.
Be aware that many of Alpine flowers are rare and protected by Swiss law, so respect the nature.
Plants have deployed many inventive resources to survive at these high altitudes.
The bright colours of the mountain meadow flowers are not there by chance, they are vital to their survival and reproduction. In the first place, the pigments protect them from the intensive ultra violet rays found at high altitude. Secondly, weather conditions often prevent insects from flying, so the plants cannot afford to waste a moment of precious pollination time. The colours attract the insects without which they could not reproduce.
As glaciers melt, they leave behind unstable, stony ground, with no water and no nutrients. And yet within just a few years, specially adapted plants manage to colonise this apparently hostile terrain. Mosses move in first, producing a thin layer of humus when they die, which gives a chance to another species to take root. The greatest problem for these pioneers is not so much the lack of soil as the constantly moving ground: even the tiniest plants anchor themselves with roots that can be a meter long, and their underground shoots are always ready to put out new sprouts if they find themselves buried by rolling stones.
Plants growing on rock faces have developed various strategies to deal with water shortage. The poor soil is unable to retain moisture, and the sun beating down on the cliffs soon removes what is left. Strong winds, common at high altitude, would dry out the leaves of normal plants. But the ones here have developed different coping strategies. Some are covered in hairs, which deflect part of the sun's rays, and also form a layer of air which traps moisture, while others have a waxy coating.
Fondest memory: Alpine Flora
Around Zermatt you could admire many 4000m peaks. If you go to the Gornergrat you will discover the highest Swiss peak:
la Pointe Dufour (Dufourspitze) with its 4'634m which is part of the Monte Rosa.
At its base, two glaciers, the Grenzgletscher and Gornesgletcher, are joining to offer you an impressive view on this iced sea. Where you could guess on its surface some tiny alpinists conquering these surroundings peaks...
If somebody whistle for you on the Alps, don't worry it is certainly a marmot. You will able to observe some typical Alpine fauna during your stay as marmots, ibex, chamois, mountain hares, white fieldmouses, hawks, eagles,…
More about the marmots, which eat the different types of grass growing at this altitude in the mat-like vegetation and alpine meadows. They hibernate in winter in their tunnelled burrows, living on the fat reserves they have accumulated during the summer. The dry leaves they collect to line their nests make their homes extremely cosy. Marmots are solitary animals and emit a short, piercing alarm call (danger on the ground) or a long drawn-out call (danger from above). The golden eagle is their greatest enemy.
Another Alpine athlete, the chamois can run along a 60° steep rockface, jump down easily from a height of 8 metres and overcome an altitude of 1,000 metres in 15 minutes, a trained person would take 3 hours to do the same thing.
Lately we have a polemic especially about the reintroduction of the wolf (and soon bear?) in our Swiss Alpine region due to repetitive attacks against local sheep herds. So do not be surprise to met some around, although you will be very lucky ;-)
Fondest memory: Alpine fauna
A marmot is a furry rodent that you may be lucky to spot whilst exploring the mountains around Zermatt. Wikipedia describes a marmot as a "large ground squirrel", and I thought they looked like a cross between a beaver and a groundhog. Marmots usually live in burrows, and hibernate during the winter months.
One good place to try some marmot spotting is at Sunnegga Paradise, where they have a 'Marmot observation post'. When we visited we were lucky to see one of these cute fellows sitting on a rock in the sun, munching on his lunch - some sort of green vegetation.
For more information on marmots you can take a 5 minute cable car ride from Sunnegga Paradise to Blauherd. Once there you can then follow the 'Marmot Trail' back to Sunnegga and learn about the marmot and its habits along the way.
Fondest memory: Our best marmot spotting was when we were on the cogwheel train to Gornergrat, and we were lucky to see a few of these critters enjoying the sunny day in the meadows.
The Matterhorn is the emblem of Zermatt and its shape could have inspired our Swiss chocolate master for the creation of the Toblerone.
Although different versions exist of where the unique shape of Toblerone originated from, I find this one the more tatsy ;-)
More info on Choco paradise
Fondest memory: Just taste it...
Thanks to these webcams, you will be able to observe the Matterhorn under all the angles…
Useful if you want to know the current weather conditions. I particularly appreciate to use it in winter for snow conditions (or waiting queue length at the ski lifts) and decide if I will ski there at the next week-end.
The Rothorn webcam is a good indicator with the snow level on the outdoor bar roof, but take in count the wind possibility…
So just take a live virtual tour around the Matterhorn and its surroundings. Watch out Big Brother is watching you ;-)
Fondest memory: The Matterhorn and surroundings...