Skiing in style

From snowy thrills to so­phis­ti­ca­tion off the slopes, there’s plenty to tempt ski­iers to Zer­matt – Mary No­vakovich falls for Switzerland’s most fa­mous moun­tain once more

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - EDITED BY CATHY WIN­STON cwin­ston@thejc.com

If ever any­thing de­serves the ti­tle “magic moun­tain”, it’s the Mat­ter­horn. Its crooked peak — look­ing as if a drunken gi­ant has given it a squeeze — caught the early evening light as we pulled into Zer­matt’s train sta­tion, and I was in­stantly un­der its spell, just as I had been nine years ago when I first clapped eyes on it.

It was the Mat­ter­horn that put Zer­matt on the map, partly thanks to its in­fa­mous con­quest by Ed­ward Whym­per in 1865. Since then, this for­merly hum­ble farm­ing village has been trans­formed into one of the world’s most de­sir­able ski des­ti­na­tions.

Just a stroll down the main Bahn­hof­s­trasse tells you you’ve landed some­where spe­cial: a pleas­ing com­bi­na­tion of el­e­gant 19th cen­tury ho­tels, cosy restaurants, chic bou­tiques and fairy lights twin­kling every­where.

Zer­matt’s Alpine charm is more than matched by its huge and var­ied skiing area — all 200 kilo­me­tres of it. As I hadn’t vis­ited since 2008, and my hus­band had never been to Zer­matt, our first morn­ing was spent skiing the wide, well-groomed blue runs of Gorner­grat with our in­struc­tor from the Swiss Ski & Snow­board School, long enough to get our ski legs back.

And it didn’t take long for my hus­band to be­come as trans­fixed by the scenery as I was, and un­der­stand why I’d been rav­ing about Zer­matt all this time. Part of the fun is choos­ing how you want to go up the moun­tain. Shall we take one of Europe’s high­est cog rail­ways up to Gorner­grat and sur­round our­selves with skyscrap­ing peaks? Or per­haps hop on the Sun­negga fu­nic­u­lar and ski the shel­tered blue runs where high-al­ti­tude restaurants come with sublime views of Zer­matt’s em­blem­atic moun­tain. The Findler­hof, at the end of a tor­tur­ous path, is worth ev­ery ounce of ef­fort.

Then there’s Mat­ter­horn Glacier Par­adise, one of the few glaciers that’s

ski­able year-round in Europe. This sec­tor brings you clos­est to the Mat­ter­horn, and also gives you the chance to ski over into the neigh­bour­ing re­sort of Cervinia in Italy. Al­though if you want to cross the Ital­ian bor­der, you don’t even have to go that far: the chair­lift from Trock­ener Steg drops you off on Ital­ian soil, which some­how adds an­other thrill to the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing on the glacier.

The thrills don’t end there. Take the ca­ble car from Trock­ener Steg — the high­est in Europe — to ar­rive at Klein Mat­ter­horn at a breath­tak­ing 3,883 me­tres. It re­ally does take your breath away, as the high al­ti­tude thins the air to the point where you feel a lit­tle woozy.

To catch your breath again, take a short break in the cin­ema lounge, where you can watch short films on the Mat­ter­horn from the co­coon­ing com­fort of a heated pod-like seat. Then step into the Glacier Palace, an en­chant­ing and some­what bizarre grotto with ice sculp­tures and even an ice slide.

Once you’ve ac­cli­ma­tised your­self, head up to the 360-de­gree view­ing plat­form for heady views of the moun­tains and Zer­matt far be­low.

When bad weather plays havoc with vis­i­bil­ity, it’s also a good al­ter­na­tive to fling­ing your­self down a slope when you can’t quite see where you’re go­ing. I found my­self at Klein Mat­ter­horn in howl­ing winds and spit­ting snow; a slow am­ble through the Glacier Palace was an ex­cel­lent way to pass the time un­til the weather calmed down a bit.

At which point, I could ski back down the gen­tle red runs of Trock­ener Steg, all the while gaw­ping at the Mat­ter­horn once more.

We were stay­ing at Moun­tain Par­adise, a tra­di­tional three-star ho­tel just a few min­utes’ walk from the Mat­ter­horn

Ex­press ca­ble car that’s the most pop­u­lar way up the moun­tain. Our room faced south, giv­ing us full view of the Mat­ter­horn it­self. Not a bad sight to wake up to.

The Bri­tish cou­ple who run Mat­ter­horn Chalets, Ed Man­nix and his wife Suzanne, set up their busi­ness in

Zer­matt a few years ago af­ter fall­ing un­der the spell of the moun­tain too. And while the fo­cus of their busi­ness is lux­ury chalets, they also or­gan­ise Zer­matt hol­i­days with more af­ford­able op­tions such as Moun­tain Par­adise.

Both were full of in­for­ma­tion about the town, while I was awed to find out that Ed had climbed the Mat­ter­horn sev­eral times.

Down in the town, we ex­plored Hin­ter­dorf, the old­est part of Zer­matt, where weath­ered, black­ened barns and chalets date from the 15th cen­tury. The climbers’ ceme­tery, just be­yond, was a poignant sight — a re­minder that about 500 peo­ple have lost their lives try­ing to con­quer the Mat­ter­horn over the past 150 years.

Some of their sto­ries — in­clud­ing the 1865 as­cent — are told in com­pelling de­tail in the Mat­ter­horn Mu­seum. Be­neath an in­con­gru­ous blue glass dome is an un­ex­pect­edly fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ter­ranean world that re-cre­ates Zer­matt of old and shows how it be­came the cos­mopoli­tan, buzzing place it is now.

We had an­other sur­prise in store: lunch at Restau­rant Alm, a short walk from the Furri ca­ble car, the first stop on the Mat­ter­horn Ex­press bub­ble. We weren’t at high al­ti­tude but I still wasn’t ex­pect­ing a trout pond be­side the restau­rant, from which my lunch orig­i­nated be­fore ap­pear­ing ex­pertly grilled on my plate.

Out­side, peo­ple were sledg­ing and skiing down the nar­row path that sep­a­rated the restau­rant from its outdoor bar, which was al­ready gear­ing up for the après-ski crowd. Dogs (in­clud­ing Ed and Suzanne’s adorable spaniel) were catch­ing snow­balls and bound­ing about in the snow.

It was an­other, more re­laxed side to Zer­matt, away from the Swiss watch shops and Miche­lin-starred restaurants, and cer­tainly just as magical.

PHOTO: ADAM BATTERBEE

The Moun­tain Par­adise ho­tel

PHOTO: SWITZERLAND TOURISM

The magical Mat­ter­horn makes Zer­matt some­where spe­cial

PHOTO: ADAM BATTERBEE

Sou­venirs for ev­ery bud­get away from the slopes

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