Zermatt – Switzerland
In 2015 this swish Swiss diva of mountain resorts revved up its legendary party spirit to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of its magic mountain.
Foreign visitors per year: 1.08 million
Language: German (the Swiss version that no one actually writes)
Unit of currency: Swiss franc (Sfr)
Cost index: cup of coffee/Walliser beer Sfr4/5 (US$4.51/5.65), hotel double/ dorm room Sfr130-800/40 (US$145- 900/$45), one-day ski pass Sfr75 (US$84.74), a glass of champagneat 3883m Sfrl5 (US$16.95)
Why go ASAP?
When it comes to hardcore attitude at altitude, Zermatt takes no prisoners. Since the end of the 19th century intrepid hikers, mountaineers and ski fiends have drooled like soppy, love-struck kittens over the god-of-a-mountain Matterhorn that rises above the town in spellbinding pyramidal perfection.
But never more so than in 2015, when this swish Swiss diva of mountain resorts revved up its legendary party spirit to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of its magic mountain. English mountaineer Edward Whymper triumphantly led his party of seven to the summit of the 4478m-high Matterhorn on 14 July 1865 – only for him and three others to crash 1200m to their deaths down the North Wall after their rope broke on the descent. The bittersweet tragedy ushered in the meteoric rise of Zermatt as one of the hottest high-altitude spots on earth.
Anniversary action included the July opening of Hornli Hut, a mountain hut perched with one finger to the gods at 3260m, at the base of the Matterhorn. Inside this brand-new building – architectural homage to the sun with all the sustainable-energy whistles and knobs on – world-class alpinists take refuge before dicing with death on the final iconic ascent up sheer rock and ice.
No sweat if you’re not superhuman or even a climber: nail-biting theatre recreating Whymper’s historic ascent (and disastrous descent) will take to the open-air stage in Zermatt town. The backdrop? Au naturel of course darling – and as effortlessly sensational as you would expect from this seductive natural beauty of a town: the mountain itself!
Festivals & Events:
Alpine hipsters, this is your chance to see how the big boys do it. Ski touring has never been so hot and even the world’s ski touring elite will break out in a sweat during Matterhorn Ultraks Skialp on 11 April. The summertime trail run of the two-part alpine race follows on 22 August.
Zermatt Unplugged from 14 to 18 April brings five days of unadulterated acoustic music into town.
A party like no other took over on 14 July 2015, the official day of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
Tickets for summer theatre performances of the first Matterhorn ascent.
Cars with combustion engines, last season’s skiwear (ie, any ski garment not sufficiently hip to double as streetwear).
Alpine action defines Zermatt. Give your ski legs a run for their money down the highest slopes in the Alps. Melt over Matterhorn views along ski-virgin blues, marvel at the mountain’s unfathomable trigonometry from long, scenic reds and scare yourself to death on knuckle-whitening blacks. Die-hards only please on Zermatt’s serial killer Triftji, one of the toughest mogul runs known to man.
Ride the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Europe’s highest cable car, up to 3883m and gawp at a top-of-the-beanstalk panorama of 14 glaciers and 38 mountain peaks over 4000m. Not bad, Zermatt, not bad at all.
Chase the sunrise or moonlight with old-fashioned finesse aboard Zermatt’s romantic, 19th-century cogwheel railway (another ‘Europe’s highest’ tick on the scoreboard) to Gornergrat. Try not to be struck dumb by the mind-blowing view when you alight at 3089m.
Even world darling Zermatt is not immune to glacial melt. If global warming continues apace, glaciers in Zermatt and the surrounding Valais region could shrink by up to 90% by 2100.
Classic restaurant experience:
It has been on the celebrity hobnobbing circuit for decades but remains as black-book chic as the day it debuted. But there again, what is there not to like about dining al fresco on organic air-dried meats at a century-old farmhouse, snug in a soft fleecy blanket amid full Dolby surround of soaring mountain peaks and the Matterhorn. Chez Vrony is the name.
Most bizarre sight:
Few museums in the world boast a tatty, broken old rope as their star attraction: Zermatt’s Matterhorn Museum does.