The village of Zermatt is nestled in a deep valley and surrounded by some of Switzerland’s highest mountains.The tall pyramid-shaped Matterhorn stands silent watch over the village below, made famous after seven British climbers first ascended the deadly mountain in 1865. Zermatt is a car-free village and as we stepped off the train, horse drawn carriages and little electric taxis were awaiting to whisk the new arrivals off to their hotels. Most striking was despite the hustle and bustle in the main square, Zermatt was quiet and peaceful.
The main street, simply known as Main Street, runs through the village and is lined with restaurants, bakeries, and shops. With more than 360 kilometers of marked slopes in the Matterhorn Ski Paradise, the village was fairly quiet at our mid-day arrival. We took advantage of the few hours before we headed up the Gornergrat for our overnight igloo adventure to get to know Zermatt.
Just 40 years ago, transport in Zermatt was almost exclusively by horse drawn carriages. We opted to walk to stretch our legs, but there is something romantic about taking a trip through Zermatt in a horse drawn carriage (and perhaps back in time?).
Perhaps our favorite part of the village is the old town where old farm buildings built of logs called Gädini. The oldest surviving village center and some of the buildings are over 300 years old. Their sun-beaten wooden walls are made of larch wood and stand on stilts with round stone slabs on top to prevent rodents and insects from entering. The roofs of these typically Valais-style buildings are covered with shingles made of flat stone slabs. As we strolled around the remaining old part of the village, Fabiene from Zermatt Tourismus explained that people would live on the top and their sheep, pigs, and cows lived in the barn on the bottom. The heat from the livestock would rise, making the top a nice, cozy home.
Sadly, many of the Gädini fell into decline around the 1960s and their cultural heritage and value was not realized until many years later. Restoration projects have seen the outsides of the Gädini preserved in the traditional style and the insides have been modernized and converted into chic pubs and even holiday apartment rentals.
The village also has two curling rinks where curling teams from around the world come to train and the Horu-Trophy, one of the largest and best open air curling tournaments in Europe, takes place. We stop for a while and learn more about the sport while sipping on glühwein.
We stroll by Zermatt’s oldest hotel, the church, and the fountain dedicated to Ulrich Inderbinen, a famous Swiss mountain guide who had ascended the Matterhorn over 370 times and made his last ascent when he was 90. We learned a bit more about him on our visit to the Matterhorn Museum.
The village of Zermatt is an idyllic place to wander around and even though you’ve likely come for the world-class skiing or mountaineering, be sure to take time to explore the village.
After our night in the igloo village, the Sunstar Style Hotel Zermatt was a lovely (and warm!) place to call home. We loved that the rooms all have balconies overlooking the village. The hotel also has a health center with indoor pool, jacuzzi, steam bath, and sauna. A 4-course dinner is included with the half board option and the menu changes nightly. A lavish breakfast buffet is served in the restaurant each morning.
Know Before You Go
- Zermatt can be reached by car by driving to Täsch, 7 kilometers away, and taking the railway to Zermatt. The train takes 12 minutes and costs 16 CHF round trip. Check the timetable for departures.
- Zermatt can also be reached by air; fly to either Geneva or Zurich airports and then take the train.
- There are many restaurants in Zermatt; we recommend the Restaurant Grill at Hotel Walliserhof and Restuarant Stadel.
Thank you to Zermatt Tourimus for hosting us during our stay in Zermatt. As always, all opinions are entirely our own.