I LOVED Zermatt the first time I saw it during a one-day stopover almost 30 years ago. I continued to love it every year for ten years when my husband and I celebrated his birthday with a ski-week vacation every mid-January.
We saw its fortunes rise and fall and rise again and with it the opening and closing and opening again of shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and luxury villas. The last few years, as foreign money rolled in, it was hard to view an unobstructed skyline free of construction cranes.
It was worrying, but somehow through it all, the village maintained its charm and authenticity even as free green spaces were eaten up, prices climbed, and the slopes became more crowded (especially with the new ski lifts).
So what would we find — or not, I wondered, after a five year absence devoted to the needs of a house and garden and two adorable cats that were unable to handle our absence for more than a few hours at a time.
Good to be back — and reassured
Happily, we found that many of our favorite destinations not only still existed but appear to be doing very well: Hotel Chesa Valese, newly-renovated but still charmingly traditional with a family feeling and a warm welcome; the atmospheric Schäferstube for the best lamb dishes in Zermatt; and Elsie’s Bar, a cozy, wood-panelled bar where tourists mix with locals for wine, whiskey, and my favorite Irish coffee in the village.
We also found the gourmet restaurant, the Corbeau d’Or, where we celebrated my husband’s birthday for the first time in Zermatt some 15 years ago, to be just as top-notch in its food and service as it was back then.
Food and drink aside, Zermatt would not be as rewarding to visit without the presence of its churches and cemetaries and its monuments to lives lost on surrounding peaks. The Matterhorn Museum presents the history of Zermatt village and its stories of triumph and tragedy on the Matterhorn with simplicity and sympathy.
The Matterhorn — now you see it, now you don’t
Mid-January makes for a wonderful time to visit as families are heading back home after the school break thus making for shorter line-ups, the weather is still crisp and usually snowy (though there have been some bare years in the past ten), and Christmas decorations remain in place to give public and private facades that extra bit of color and cheer.
Even though we no longer ski, long walks in our favorite spots along mountain walking trails or residential paths in Winkelmatten and Oberdorf more than make up for it. Along the way we invariably come across the rugged weather- and sun-stained wood homes/barns of Zermatt’s earliest farming families. Their age and sturdiness seem to defy the onslaught of the new, as if challenging all the glass and chrome that’s so prevalent now to a test of durability and longevity.
Then there’s the Matterhorn (or le Cervin, or Cervinia, depending on which part of Switzerland you come from), that most magnetic piece of rock. It’s always there (though sometimes it’s hidden by snow or mist, as it was for the entirety of our visit) beckoning, threatening and mesmerizing us.
I took my Canon EOS 100D along with me and though I don’t own a tripod for ultra-crisp nighttime shots (above), I managed to get a few as the sun set that I think capture just a little of what makes Zermatt a place that we love to get back to, time and time again. Hope you enjoy them.