Indagare editorial director Annie Fitzsimmons shares her favorite spots under the shadow of the Matterhorn.
The first thing you notice upon arrival to Zermatt, Switzerland is how utterly charming it is, a dreamy Alpine ski village come to life. Most visitors arrive by train, as it’s technically a car-free village. Zermatt voted to ban most cars in 1966, making it a leader in sustainability long before most citizens and their governments cared. That said, there are still vehicles zooming around: small, boxy electric cars in a design unique to Zermatt and limited by law to around 500. They cost, on average, 100,000 Swiss francs.
I am married to a Swiss and have been lucky enough to travel to Switzerland more than 40 times now. I always recommend Zermatt for a first-time visitor if there's time for only one ski town, but it delivers whether it’s your first or fifteenth visit, and whether it is summer or winter.
The mighty Matterhorn can be “shy,” say the locals–and this is the expectation to set for yourself before any visit. If you’re looking up at a gray, swirling mass of clouds covering the mountain, thinking of it as “shy” does take away the sting of not seeing it. I recommend at least three nights here, as you have a better chance of the mountain revealing itself.
When it does, it’s hard to look away. The rocky peak is completely mesmerizing, sharply jutting up into the sky, a wise and prophetic spirit, a reminder of how small we are.
As for hotels, I have a soft spot for the grand Mont Cervin Palace, in a Matterhorn-view room, as it has the most incredible spa and indoor pool, team, restaurants and seasonal kid’s club, which is currently being refurbished. A new favorite is the Schweizerhof, recently completely renovated and part of the same hotel group as the Mont Cervin. It is ideally located on the main street three minutes from the train station, and nightly rates come in lower than the Mont Cervin. There is a wonderfully cozy fondue restaurant, the Cheese Factory, with wooden beams and pots of cheese emblazoned with the Swiss flag. It also has an extended summer season compared to its sister property, opening at the beginning of May and closing at the beginning of November.
Below are some of my long-time favorites from many trips to this iconic mountain town.
Zermatt, like many mountain resorts in Switzerland, comes to life in mid-December through April for winter and again in the middle of June for summer. The Schweizerhof and some other hotels are extending their seasons based on demand, but the traditional advice has been to avoid November and May (traditionally known as “Mud May”) and head to the Swiss cities instead during those months. If you go in May, I would look at the second half and into early June. The peak for the most beautiful and colorful wildflowers is normally mid-June to mid-August.
How to Get There
While most people arrive by train from the international airports in Zurich or Geneva, the cinematic arrival is via the famous Glacier Express, an eight-hour journey from St. Moritz that crosses 291 bridges and some of Switzerland’s most dramatic landscapes and landmarks, including the arches of the Landwasser Viaduct. Book Excellence Class seats for a guaranteed window seat, a five-course lunch with wine, tea and snacks, and concierge service.
You can also arrive by Air Zermatt helicopter.
What to See
The Matterhorn Museum is a nice stop on a rainy day. It pays homage to the intrepid hikers and the tragic first conquest of the mountain in 1865, which subsequently helped launch Zermatt as a tourist destination thanks to the press coverage. But the real beauty is in the mountains, and in après-ski or après-hike experiences.
There are three main cable cars that allow you to access the mountain hikes and experiences above the town of Zermatt: the Sunnegga, the Gornergrat, and Furi, which leads up to Glacier Paradise. Glacier Paradise, a mountain station at 12,700 feet up, feels like another world even in the summer–it’s so high up that there is always ice and snow, and you can see three countries, 14 glaciers and many high-peaked beauties.
- The best view and most iconic lunch spot in Zermatt. If you have one day and one meal, this is the one. In the summer, take the cable car up to Sunnegga and walk down to Chez Vrony. You can then walk all the way back down to Zermatt on a pine-scented trail, which takes about 90 minutes. In the winter, Chez Vrony is ski-in/ski-out.
Three other mountain restaurants to know as you plan hiking or ski days include Paradies, Findlerhof and Alphitta.
MEALS IN TOWN
Myoko has the best sushi and Japanese food in town and will move to the Schweizerhof hotel this year, reopening in December.
Da Nico is my favorite restaurant in the center of Zermatt for Italian and pizza. Book ahead.
Restaurant Julen at Hotel Julen is the place to go if you only have one dinner in Zermatt. It’s dreamy and intimate, with crackling fires, hand-carved wooden chairs–and they serve high-quality Swiss specialties. Order the traditional Walliser Teller to start, with local meats and cheeses from the Valais region.
Papperla Pub, directly opposite Hotel Julen, is a classic spot for casual drinks and bites. It is owned by the Julen family, same owners as Restaurant Julen above.
Elsie's Bar has a view of the main church. If you can snag a seat here, you’ll want to stay for several hours to people watch.
Metzgerei Bayard is a butcher shop with a giant sausage on display outside the shopfront, which is unmissable on the main street. Stop here for an on-the-go meal of hefty wursts.
CAFÉS & BAKERIES
Petit Royal on the main street, Bahnhofstrasse, has coffee and light bites. A Swedish chef has now taken over and serves amazing cinnamon rolls if you get there early enough in the morning.
Bakery Fuchs has a few locations but I like the one on Getwingstrasse.
GROCERIES & SNACKS
Migros and Co-op are huge and very close to each other. Great to pick up snacks, Swiss chocolate and other necessities.
Zermatt is not really a shopping haven, though it is worth a couple of hours to wander and pop into the boutiques on Bahnhofstrasse. There are a number of luxury watch stores here, selling all of the top Swiss brands.
Look at Marcopolo for charming, well-made and inexpensive souvenirs; Bayard Sport and Bogner for luxury ski and mountain clothes; and Paper Moon for children’s clothes. Calida is a popular Swiss underwear brand with an outpost here.
A local friend tells me she’s excited about the new, bigger location on the main street of “high-end fashion shop Vietti” starting this winter.
Läderach, for chocolate, including my favorite chocolate-covered almond bark and chocolate Saint Bernards to give away. They have multiple locations now, including where I live in London as well as New York and Boston, but it's some of the best Swiss chocolate.
Contact Indagare or your trip designer to learn more about traveling to Zermatt or elsewhere in Switzerland.
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