THERE IS SOMETHING SO ROMANTIC ABOUT THE TRAINS IN SWITZERLAND. As I travelled alongside the rivers in and out of the valleys and weaved around the mountains, I thought of how many different times I had visited Zermatt. This small Swiss town has been a second home to me throughout the last 15 years. Many times I’ve rented an apartment during training camp in preparation for another World Cup ski season. It was an absolute pleasure to return this time without one piece of Lycra in my bag. After travelling the world all those years, I could revisit this resort and see it through a completely new lens.
To say that Zermatt is posh is an understatement – but never mistake Zermatt for being pretentious. The town has such a beautiful balance of luxe and laid-backness. The kids play soccer in the street right next to talented alphorn musicians. There’s a chapel on the hill built almost 400 years ago, and the doors are open. There’s no tourist office, no fee, just a doorknob and candles to light at your leisure. The history in this town invites you in and feels so fully accessible. A graveyard in the town centre is beautifully kept and shares many stories of courage. Many of the stones are devoted to the men and women who attempted the Matterhorn summit (4,500 metres) as what would be their last badge of bravery.
The unique feel of Zermatt is partly attributable to the lack of vehicles in the streets. The town is car-free and quiet and seems to keep just the right pace. This completely eliminates the status symbol of pulling up in a jazzy whip. The train and parking lot are the closest arrival options, at which an electric car meets you for transport to your accommodation. In addition, the hospitality is genuine and the opportunities are endless. As Hotel Alpenhof puts it, “Everyone is VIP in Zermatt.”
With a bäckerei on every corner, fresh Swiss food on the mountainside and a bumping nightlife, Zermatt provides a dream destination. There are hundreds of restaurants, and the surrounding farmland makes for exquisite daily specials. Chez Vrony, owned by a man and his boss (ahem, wife), is a charming restaurant nestled on the side of the mountain. The owners are light-hearted and proud, personally serving each of their customers with food from their backyard. With fur on each chair and complimentary embroidered blankets, the restaurant exudes that comfortable Zermatt feel. As the honeymooners beside me kissed between photos of the Matterhorn, I thought about how to accurately share this moment. People speak of ambiance, lighting or full-bodied wine – this was a full-bodied experience I will never forget.
The Matterhorn will light the way
Skiing is a passion for so many of us. I have grown a tad picky over the years, but I can assure you that Zermatt is epic. Every trail is “the scenic route,” complete with your perfect Matterhorn backdrop for adventurous terrain and winter snow conditions. I was fortunate to take a few fast runs with Demian Franzen, a local who instructs skiing 300 days a year. Demian is a former World Cup racer who didn’t seem to mind having a Canuck chase him down the Swiss Alps. What a relief to finally experience what my rentals were capable of. My good friends at Stoked Zermatt outfitted me for the weekend with the right equipment depending on the day. I always recommend renting on ski trips so no day goes unused. There’s nothing worse than having the wrong tools for the job.
And since we’re talking about this dream job, I assure you, we worked. In every direction I looked, there was a new piste I had yet to experience. The heated gondola rides and chairlifts provide just enough rest to tackle the 200 kilometres of trails. And if it’s not rest you desire, I can promise you that après-ski is taken very seriously in these parts and begins earlier than anything I’ve experienced on Canadian soil or snow. Ski legs are one thing, but the liver is a whole other can of Spätzli. One evening, in the middle of getting low on the dance floor, I realized there was a man next to me in his ski boots getting equally as low. The Papperla Pub is another must-see.
Body, mind … and legs
Another activity they take seriously here is wellness. It is a Swiss standard to have a spa attached to the hotel. I am not talking about a small chlorine pool. I am talking about endless rooms infused with heat and eucalyptus, tea and towels, daybeds and silence. It is absolutely the norm to prioritize health and rest in the middle of the afternoon. It is absolutely their norm to leave bathing suits in the hotel room. You can literally shed all your worries and your clothes.
Zermatt deserves more than words on a page. It is a magical Swiss experience in a comfortable mountain town. The Matterhorn (also known as the Toblerone mountain) draws the tourists and is powerful to be around, but the town itself creates an aura of home no matter where you’ve come from.
Exploring Zermatt – Larisa’s tips
Zermatt is a whole-body experience, but here are some extra-special spots:
Snowboat Bar and Yacht Club – great food, fun atmosphere.
Vernissage Cinema – wine and dine at a beautiful theatre.
Chez Vrony – on-hill après-ski with a front row seat to the Matterhorn.
Brown Cow Pub – location, location, location. Pick up your rentals and a fresh Florentiner cookie across the street after a hearty Swiss meal.
St. Mauritius Church – if you’re lucky, you’ll see an authentic Alphorn performance right in front.
Elysian Collection – for the luxe-minded, these chalets are heavenly and, consequently, heavily priced. There’s a reason their motto is “anything is possible.”
Champagner Bar – located slopeside along your ski out. Why not make the legs a bit more wobbly?
– By Larisa Yurkiw. Photography by Paul Morrison