THE MAJESTIC MATTERHORN: Former World Cup skier experiences the posh life in Zermatt, Switzerland, under the shadow of the ‘Toblerone Mountain’
Story by Larisa Yurkiw. Photography by Paul Morrison
There is something so romantic about the trains in Switzerland. As I traveled 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. I rented an apartment many different times during training camps in preparation for another World Cup ski season. It was an absolute pleasure (not business) to return without one piece of Lycra in my bag. After traveling the world all those years, revisiting this resort had a completely new lens this time around.
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 just next to a few talented Alphorn musicians. There’s a chapel on the hill built almost 400 years ago with the doors open. No tourism office, no fee, just a doorknob and candles to light at your leisure. The history in this town invites you in being so fully accessible. A graveyard in the town centre is beautifully kept and shares many stories of courage. Much 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 very unique feel of Zermatt is partly due to the lack of vehicles in the streets. The town is car-free and quiet and seems to keep the people at just the right pace. It also completely eliminates the status symbol of pulling up in a jazzy whip. The train or parking lot are the closest options at which point an electric car helps you 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 backerei 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 lighthearted, proud and personally serving each of their customers with food from their backyard. Indeed, there is fur on each chair and complimentary embroidered blankets, but the restaurant exudes the same 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. My taste has grown a tad picky over the years but I can assure you, 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/year. Demian was 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. 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 km’s 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, 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. Another must-see … Papperla Pub.
Body, mind … and legs
Another activity they take seriously is wellness. It is a Swiss staple 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 wear.
Zermatt deserves more than words on a page. It is a magical Swiss experience in a comfortable mountain town. The Toblerone (Matterhorn) draws the tourists and is powerful to be around, but the town itself single-handedly 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?