I DROOLED over the charming landscape, turquoise lake water and the unspoilt beauty of Switzerland. With my Swiss Travel Pass, I was quite swept away by its geography.
Lying in the shadows of the Alpine peaks is a quiet, sparsely- populated yet romantic town. Tucked away in the canton (state) of Valais, part of the district of Visp, Zermatt is a car-free zone only accessible either by train or by helicopter. The picturesque countryside, people say, has the purest air to breathe.
The biggest magnet for attracting tourists is adventure. Thrill-seekers are drawn here for climbing, hiking and skiing at any time of year. However, it can get isolated if the weather turns bad, inadvertently trapping visitors in ski resorts.
Peace and quiet
Leaving the train station behind, I walked the length of the main avenue, Bahnhofstrasse, flecked with boutique shops, fab watch stores and the not-so cheap sidewalk cafés, trendy bars and chic restaurants. In the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, I followed the delightful scent of something grilled. Generally speaking, dining on some really good food anywhere in Switzerland means spending a fortune... I swigged my beer and chilled out of doors.
The most eye-catching marmot fountain stopped me in my tracks. I took advantage of it. For one thing, the water was free and tasted like Evian. Filling up an empty bottle direct from nature’s spring is my pleasurable hurrah in Europe.
There was no wrong turn while wandering along small cobbled streets. The only way I knew how to walk was without any sense of fear, exploring with nowhere in particular to be. Although small, with around 6,000 local residents mostly speaking German, the town had interesting curiosities. I never had to walk far to take awesome photos.
The rustic Church of St. Mauritius, often the first stop for travellers, is at the heart of the village. The church’s clock tower commands attention not because it dominates the entire valley, but because of the hourly harmony of its tolling bells. The churchyard is the garden of remembrance for mountaineers who fell to their deaths in the Alpine region. It blends with the landscape like a well-kept yard next to the narrow, babbling Matter Vispa River that flows through the town.
Standing tall next to the church is the Gemeindehaus, German for “town hall.” Providing some respite for tourists, the stairs of this meeting house, on closer look, exhibits an alpine horn or alphorn. The wooden wind instrument of over three meters in length is common in the Swiss Alps.
Something hard to miss in the immediate vicinity is the glass building of the underground Matterhorn Museum. Its peculiar structure looks like an iceberg projecting from the ground. Beneath the floor is a village of old houses and the heritage of the alpine explorers, a stark contrast to the modern square on the surface.
From a distance
Straddling near the Swiss-Italian border, the most recognizable apex of the Matterhorn is never too far away. For a close-up view of the iconic summit (the one on the Toblerone logo), Europe’s highest cog railway climbs 33 minutes to a far-flung train station. Perched on a mountaintop, Gornergrat will make sure you see everything – the incredible panorama of Switzerland’s highest point, Dufourspitze (4,634 meters) and 29 mountains of over four thousand meters in the Alps.
Fascinating as it is, the powerful landscape turns more and more gorgeous everywhere you look. Even at night, under the bright stars, the panorama has the power to enthral. Those who stay in luxe comfort at Europe’s highest altitude Kulmhotel Gornergrat (3,120 meters) will certainly cherish the worth of an epic holiday within a holiday.
Recently, Zermatt’s gondola station scaled new heights as the highest cable car station in Europe. Terrifying for those without a head for heights, it is not for the faint of heart, but for intrepid adventurers instead. The adrenaline-pumping thrill from a scenic valley to a wide snowscape (or vice versa) is the definition of spectacular.
Meanwhile, cost is not the most appealing thing when it comes to accommodation. Hotels of repellent fees are all over town. Design your own trip without feeling the pinch in your budget by searching and comparing rates. The best chalets are on the idyllic hills of Steinmattstrasse, far from the madding crowd, overlooking the uber-luxurious hotel apartments, private residential buildings and other quaint country wooden houses below.
After a busy day of exploring, I retired at Le Petit Hotel, next to Ski Lift Zermatt, for a much-needed rest. Curling up in my bed, the window opened to the raw beauty of nature, the cold air filled my lungs. The bright lights of the valley looked very enchanting against the woods. For such beautiful scenery, what was not to love?
The next day, I woke up to a frosty morning, too early for Glacier Express (GE).
Zermatt is the starting point of the panoramic GE. Defining standards that sets luxury apart, GE allows you to watch the beauty of the world go by. Through rocky ravines, winding viaducts and dark tunnels, the red train snakes up to remote bucolic areas speckled with wildflowers, across forested highlands and rolling hills, along lakes, rivers and waterfalls.
On the train, looking out of the window, I felt the entire experience was surreal... Swiss nature was full of color, you’d think it was not real.