A Trip to Zermatt, Switzerland

by  Jim Sherman | Feb 2, 2011
Zermatt / anshar73/iStock

When a few friends of mine suggested a trip to Zermatt, I readily agreed as it's not often one has the chance to ski in Europe, and I had wanted to do such a trip for the past 10 years. It's a big trip and rather far to go for skiing (compared to Colorado or Utah) and, while I do like skiing, I'm not a fanatic. So I wanted to make sure we picked just the right town in the European Alps. How can one choose from so many options? (You can start with our Top 10 Après-Ski Scenes and Top 10 Ski Resorts for Nonskiers – it’s no surprise that Zermatt makes both lists.)

Interestingly, one of the key considerations in today's world of global warming is where to go for guaranteed snow. I’ve heard stories about long-time European ski resorts without adequate snow. The worst would be to travel from America only to find poor conditions. So we chose the destination that surely couldn't miss on the snow front and a town that would evoke maximum old world charm – Zermatt, Switzerland.

It proved to be the perfect choice.

The trip began with an overnight flight to Geneva (not Zurich). People often forget that notable spots such as Zermatt and St. Moritz are close to the Italian border in the south of Switzerland.

From the Geneva airport, it's then necessary to take a 3.5-hour train ride to Zermatt, changing trains in Visp. It's very easy since the frequently running train also leaves right from the Geneva airport – no need to go into the city. I admit, though, traveling for a few hours more after an overnight flight is taxing. Tip:  Grab a snack for the train. Oddly there is no snack car on the train to Zermatt.

The connecting train from Visp then chugs up the Alps, and from the train car one begins to see how awesome these vertiginous mountains are. The wooden houses and wine vineyards dotting the landscape give the place a sense of long history.

Soon one sees, emerging in the distance, the Matterhorn. This majestic mountain peak, covered in snow, is, of course, iconic. It is indeed impressive.

The train stops right in Zermatt town center and there are little golf cart-like taxis to whisk you to your hotel. No cars are allowed in town, which adds to the exceptional charm of Zermatt, in addition to the little wooden structures, boutiques, and more luxury watch shops than one can possibly imagine. It's easy to walk all about town, as nothing is very far.

I stayed at the Hotel Post (www.hotelpost.ch); it’s centrally located, boasts a contemporary design, and offers good value in what is clearly an expensive town. The one drawback with The Post is noise at night. It happens to boast a very popular mix of small bars and clubs on the first and basement floors. For those on the second or third floor, you can hear some bar noise late at night. Ask for the 4th floor for quiet.

All in all, though, the Post is very comfortable and a perfect location. At about 420 Swiss francs (about $460) per night, it's a "smart luxury" pick, given that other luxury options run at least $700/night. Zermatt is not cheap, and it ranks high on the cost index similar to Aspen or Vail.

Another good hotel option is the Hotel Cervo (www.cervo.ch). It's new and outstanding – contemporary with classic ski chalet touches; elegant without being stuffy. It also offers a nice ski in/out option. The après-ski scene is lively here as the hotel sits near the end of a ski run. The rooms, beautifully designed, boast terraces with some of the most impressive mountain views imaginable. And the restaurant is cozy and striking, with excellent traditional Swiss (with modern twists) cuisine. The Cervo, however, is a good bit pricier than the Post.

On the Old World, classic side are the Mont Cervin Palace (www.seilerhotels.ch/mont-cervin-palace) and the Zermatterhof Hotel (www.zermatterhof.ch). Both are traditional, older "grand dames.” However, while these hotels are centrally located and have rich history, one runs the risk of "classic" bordering on "fusty" or "tired." I'm sure the Mont Cervin Palace was "the" place to stay in 1850, but it does need a tasteful update. In my view, the Zermatterhoff is ideal for the older monied set who don't mind a dated decor.

In addition to The Cervo and The Post, I'd suggest Firefly (www.firefly-zermatt.ch) and the Mirabeau Hotel & Residence (www.hotel-mirabeau.ch). Firefly offers contemporary spacious apartments, in-room breakfasts, a beautiful wellness center (with three saunas – steam, dry, and Finnish), and a cozy bar/lounge. For some reason it lacks a Jacuzzi though. It's a 7-minute walk to the main street of town. Mirabeau is a smart option as well. It’s more traditional, but beautiful, and it boasts a great bar and restaurant.

Hotel rates peak around Christmas and New Year’s, while January (the “middle season”) sees fewer visitors so prices are a bit less. February and March are high season. Alas, many hotels require a 7-night stay, but call the hotels as they do make exceptions depending on the week.

For general trip-planning information, see our Switzerland Travel Guide.

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