Living in Central Europe provides appealing access to some of the world’s top ski destinations. There are countless regional spots and many compelling, world-famous resorts. This winter, my husband and I planned a trip to Zermatt with his cousin Scott, who visited from the U.S. and endured hours of planes, trains and automobiles to enjoy a few days of idyllic skiing.
Zermatt is a German-speaking resort town in the Swiss Alps, 10 km from the Italian border. The village lies on the valley floor at the foot of the Matterhorn, 1,620 meters above sea level, and is surrounded some of the highest mountains in Europe.
The village has three main streets and is chock-full of chalets, half-timbered houses and twisting alleyways. The train station and church anchor the main stretch, which is wall-to-wall shops and restaurants. Most of the shops sell sporting equipment and souvenirs. Most of the restaurant serve traditional Swiss and German food – lots of meat, rösti, fondue, flammekueche – but there are some sushi restaurants, a number of Italian spots and some pub grub.
To prevent air pollution, Zermatt is car-free. Pedestrians have to be careful of the silent electric taxis and buses zooming around at breakneck speeds.
Until the 19th century, Zermatt was an isolated rural village with few inhabitants who spent their days tending to their animals and farming limited crops. In the mid-19th century, tourists began to flock to the tiny area, inspired by British mountaineer Edward Whymper’s conquest of the Matterhorn.
During the Belle Époque, Zermatt was transformed into a mountaineering and tourist destination as luxury hotels were built to accommodate wealthy foreigners. Still, Zermatt’s remoteness and difficult accessibility kept it quiet for long after explorers and tourists began visiting the Alps.
Today, there are about 6,000 residents. During peak tourist season, the population bloats to around 30,000 as over a million tourists visit Zermatt annually. Impressively, there are enough restaurants and serene mountain real estate for everyone.
The area famously has over 300 days of sunshine a year. I believe it, since we enjoyed seven glorious, sunny days in a row!