Friday, May 17, 2013

Zermatt and the Swiss Alps

I'm definitely a warm-weather-traveller. The cafes, strolling through the streets, and the atmosphere just seems to be better when there's warm sun on my face.  But, I've found an exception: the Swiss Alps!

This trip was a bucket list item for Jeffrey. Not that I wasn't excited, but skiing hasn't been my favorite hobby ever since I was old enough to realize falling hurts.  Needless to say, I underestimated just how much I would enjoy this trip - and now it's considered one of our favorites!

In late February, we flew to Zurich then took a train to Zermatt, an alpine village on the border of Switzerland and Italy.    The views were amazing from the train, when I could stay awake to take them in..   

We stayed in a modest hotel, but it really doesn't matter where you stay in the village.  The streets are car-free, restaurants and apres-ski bars are all within walking distance, and the best views are from the slopes anyway. Our favorite peak?  The Matterhorn, obviously!

Another great thing about Zermatt is that it gets an average of 300 days of sun per year.  Usually this would mean poor snow conditions, but Zermatt experienced record snowfall the weeks leading up to our trip -  it seemed like the clouds parted just for us!  We took full advantage our first day by taking Gornegrat cogwheel train up the mountain.  We were early birds compared to the Europeans, so it felt like we had the whole mountain to ourselves. 

Of course, with this many runs spread across multiple peaks, it never actually felt crowded.  I had researched the runs (called "pistes") and learned that Zermatt is considered a haven for intermediate skiers.  Most of the runs are red (intermediate) with a few nice blues (easy) and blacks mixed in.  The yellow pistes are un-groomed... we avoided these.  My favorite area was between Gornegrate and Rothorn because there was so much variety in the runs. We almost never went down the mountain in the same way twice.  

We also took the series of lifts, gondolas, and cable cars to the very top - the Matterhornglacier Paradise - 3,900 meters above sea level.  We were literally skiing above the clouds!  From here, we skied across the border into Italy, had a delightful lunch of pasta and wine, then skied back into Switzerland.

Speaking of food, we didn't have one bad meal during our entire holiday.  We indulged in quite a range of culinary treats - soups, lamb, curries, ribs, wine, truffles and fondue - just to name a few.  Though expensive, the food really was quality and you can't beat those views.

We were wiped out by mid-afternoon so after a quick stop at apres-ski (our favorite had live music playing American rock-n-roll), we would rest and then explore the village.  I had read some reviews that described Zermatt as the Manhattan of the Alps... I disagree.  Yes, there are new developments, but Zermatt has definitely held on to its charm.  There are even old areas of the village that still have structures that were built over 300 years ago.  In the winter, livestock would stay on the first floor help heat the upper floors - whatever works I guess!

We wanted to do as much sightseeing as we could, so we scheduled our return flight late in the evening and took an early train out of Zermatt so we could stop in Lucerne for the afternoon.  This was my second time to Lucerne, and I had to assure Jeffrey that there were mountains beyond the lake...  We enjoyed our time in this pretty city, but we definitely want to come back (and explore more of Switzerland) in the summer!

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