There is a village in Switzerland high up in the Alps, it’s called Zermatt. You can only get to this town through a cable car and vehicles (except electric and necessary ones) are prohibited. It is remote from the world and that’s what makes it so attractive to anyone trying to unplug, unwind and recharge.This is your quintessential Alpine village. A town that seems to, quite literally, rest in the heavens. Lying under the protection of great Alpine peaks, Zermatt is a quiet, simple sort of village. Many tourists know Zermatt because it is a well-known jumping off point for exploring the beloved Matterhorn! It is a hub of adventurous hikers, skiers, thrill seekers as well as relaxed tourists. When you think of Switzerland, it’s towns like this you probably picture in your head- wooden chalets with flower boxes, mountain peaks covered in snow, glaciers, Alpine cows grazing underneath the menacing shadow of a great peak. But Zermatt is so much more than just a stereotypical Alpine town.
We arrived in Zermatt during their annual Volksfest, a Swiss folk festival. The whole village was alive with Swiss flags everywhere and lots of beautiful red colors everywhere to celebrate. We came in August. As Zermatt is hidden away amongst the mountain peaks at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, it can still get pretty chilly even in August if the sun isn’t out. But, man, when that sun comes out it can really heat up. The Volksfest was a fantastic time to walkabout. Folk dancers, singers, craftsman and musicians were everywhere decked out in the their traditional Swiss attire- dirndls for the ladies and lederhosen for the men and everyone wearing their traditional wool hats. This part of Switzerland is heavily aligned with German culture so we saw many German elements laced into this colorful and enthusiastic folk festival. The best part- there were PLENTY of St. Bernard dogs walking around eager for pets and attention (which everyone happily and liberally gave). We learned that St. Bernard’s are still used to rescue hikers, skiers, etc who have become buried in the snow during an avalanche. We don’t deserve dogs, they do so much for us! The music filled the air with boisterous and merry sound- what a fun village! What a great welcome to this beautiful town! This is my first time in Zermatt. Last time I came to Switzerland we stayed in different Alpine villages and visited the famous Jungfrau peak as well as the Matterhorn. No matter which Alpine village you choose to explore, you won’t be disappointed and I had amazing experiences at every one of them. Every Alpine village shares a rustic charm, a passion for tradition, a love of the mountains and a warmth emanating from the people. And the views- can’t be beat!
Zermatt is most crowded with tourists in the winter, when people come from all over the world for winter sports. I can’t imagine how brave you have to be to ski, snowboard or snowshoe in the Alps but kudos to those people! I can’t even hack a bunny hill. In the summer, the town is filled with mostly people looking to hike or to explore the Matterhorn. You don’t need to be outdoorsy, though, to enjoy this town, there are tons of bars, fancy restaurants, prime shopping locations and places to enjoy a nice glass of wine with a gorgeous backdrop of the Alps to take in. If I’m going to compare Zermatt to the American version that some might be more familiar with, think of a place like Vail, Colorado. It’s more centered around people there to enjoy winter sports but there’s plenty more it offers beyond just skiing and such. Just as Vail is well known for it’s fancy, expensive shops, fine dining and finer living, Zermatt has this same atmosphere- a perfect mix of refinement and class combined with gusto and a love of nature and the mountain air. You find all types of people drawn to Zermatt. Whatever they’re here for, they all have one thing in common- they’re here to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and connect with those perfect mountain views. Whether outdoorsy or indoorsy- you can make this town work for you. However, I do recommend if you do come here to bring your hiking boots and a warm coat and go up into the mountains. Long hike or short hike- the Alps are sure to please. Just beware of altitude sickness if you’re not used to these heights, the air can be quite thin and you definitely will notice a difference. But for me, personally, there’s no reason to visit an Alpine village if you don’t plan on doing some hiking and exploring in the mountains! To me, you just have to get dirty, sweaty and trek up those rocky paths for the reward of a spectacular top-of-the-world mountain view.
We ran into quite a large snafu on the day we were to go up to the Matterhorn, this was one of my greatest regrets not just on this trip but on any trip anywhere. The weather up in the higher altitudes of the Alps can be pretty fickle and intense. The Matterhorn itself is over 14,000 feet above sea level (you are absolutely above the clouds in many ways!) Passing storms are common and that high up, are obviously very dangerous. So on THIS particular morning the railway up to the Matterhorn was forced to close due to inclement weather. We saw a video of what it looked like up there- it was all white and no visibility! Not good. A storm had (once again) halted our grand plans. Oh, Mother Nature! Why??!! But it happens! Because the Matterhorn was sacked with bad weather we were quickly figuring out a plan B. We HAD to go up to the Alps, you can’t come to Switzerland and miss out on that amazing experience! Luckily, we were still able to go up the railway up into the Alps to explore the Swiss peaks, just at a lower elevation (I believe we were at 12k feet?). So no Matterhorn but, YES, Alps! We took a fantastic railway ride up through the Alps climbing thousands of feet into the sky and above the treeline. The views were absolutely divine but it was drizzling a bit. But who cares?! This is going to be fantastic! Some daring hikers actually took the wet, chilly trek but with storms in the surrounding area, I definitely wouldn’t recommend that! It is definitely a goal of mine to do more extensive hiking in the Alps one day. I have hiked in the Alps (the longest hike was about 2-3 hours) before and it was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Depending on how you feel about hiking, the Alps is unbeatable with it’s variety of hiking options and it’s views cannot be beat. Think Julie Andrews spinning in a field of flowers with the Alps singing along with her in the movie, but it’s even more gorgeous than that scene in the film! Like 10x better!
We finally get to the top of the railway and the first thing I noticed is we were amongst the clouds, often times above them. You are actually IN the heavens! You can look down and see the weather beneath you, it’s amazing and inspiring. I absolutely am not ashamed to admit I shed happy tears. It was the most meditative moment in my life- just me, the clouds, the mountains and the glaciers. I forgot about the other people around me. I felt so in-tune with the natural world. It really puts our place in this world into true perspective. How small we are compared to the beauty this world holds but yet we are still a part of it and it is a part of us. I am one with that mountain. Depending on your belief system, for people like me, the same Creator who made awkward, quirky, insecure lil me also created that majestic peak and that perfect glacier that is still shaping our earth! It really is a spiritual experience in the Alps. I found myself just wandering around trying to get every view I could get. The panoramic view is unreal. I was beaming with joy. And then…. a long, rolling, guttural sound reverberates through the mountains. The echo was so intense the one thunder roll lasted for a couple minutes just bouncing off each peak and valley. Uh oh! The storm in the Matterhorn has caught up with us here! Thankfully, we had enjoyed 2 hours up here already so we got some quality time with the views still. Besides, it was pretty chilly and wet (not a great combo). We quickly ran to catch the next train down back to Zermatt before the storm slams us. We got on the train in perfect timing, as soon as the doors closed (I kid you not) the sky just unloaded thunder, lightening and rain. Hey, I guess there were SOME clouds above us after all. So it wasn’t the absolute ideal Alpine adventure, our time was limited by weather and we didn’t get to see all we wanted to but the time we DID have was magical, introspective and breathtaking! I was standing on top of the world, amongst the clouds, in the heavens, in a state of pure bliss and clarity. What more can you ask for? And not gonna life, experiencing a thunder storm in the Alps on a mountain peak is super badass and great memory to hold forever in my heart. I still can hear the rolling sound that seemed to build and grow, it was unlike anything I’d heard before.
Side note: Just to tell a story going much further back to my first visit to Switzerland. When we visited the Jungfrau (highly recommend you check it out, yes, it is very touristy but totally worth it and it’s a can’t miss!) I had the opportunity to ZIP LINE THROUGH THE ALPS! Yeah, you heard me! I zip lined along the Alps with a view of the Jungfrau. Unforgettable experience! I was scared beyond words because at the push off point you are looking down (to your death, you think in the moment). But once you’re floating in the air and you look around and all you see is the crystalline snow around you, the ominous glaciers and the majestic peaks right next to you- the fear is quickly replaced by absolute wonder and astonishment. I couldn’t even scream or speak, I just glided along the mountains in total, perfect silence 🙂 Mmmmm….. bliss!
Anyway… now that I added in that little tale from many years ago… I can tell you we made it back safely to Zermatt. Humbled, enlightened and inspired- somehow a fuller person than before.
I have to take a moment here to talk about the hotel we stayed at and give it a shout out. This hotel was by far my absolute favorite we stayed in during this trip, and we stayed at a lot of wonderful, beautiful places during in Switzerland. We stayed at the Alpenhof Hotel. I loved this place. It had a fantastic woodland/cabin/lodge vibe to it. I was absolutely drooling over the gorgeous wooden features throughout the place. I have a deep affinity for cabins and cabin/lodge style. I want a house that looks like it was built out of Lincoln logs. This hotel had that exact vibe and it was so warm, friendly and down-to-earth. It felt like home. And the room I stayed in… jeez I wanted to move in! Sign me a lease now, I’m staying! First of all it had one of those huge bathtubs which is always a selling point for me. It also had a super comfy bed, it was like sleeping on a cloud. But the BEST part? The view! We had a fantastic view from our huge private balcony of the village, the mountains and the river that glides (or roars sometimes) through the village. One of my favorite moments of this trip was when we went to a local wine shop down the road and picked up a few bottles (I got a bottle of the Fendant wine) and we sat out together (my dad having a cigar), enjoyed some wine and just savored the incredible view on the balcony. We sat out for hours. A simple moment yet so full of meaning- this is what life is about. Great company, meaningful conversation, good wine, alluring views and an ambiance of true happiness. Zermatt is a happy village, it reminds us to slow down and enjoy the world around us. It also reminds to go out and explore, enjoy what Nature has created. Zermatt is absolutely the perfect getaway spot. It’s a great spot for anyone who wants to recharge and reconnect with themselves, get back to what matters. If you’re looking to get away from your normal routine and slow down, relax, savor, enjoy and indulge in exquisite views- Zermatt is a wonderful choice! I definitely plan on coming back.