Text: Keir Plaice | Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith | Video: My Media Sydney
Seeing the Matterhorn in person is a sublime experience, no matter how familiar it may be from chocolate packets and advertisements. Even to the people of Zermatt, the pristine village on its lower slopes, the beautiful mountain remains astonishing.
It was the last of the great Alpine summits to be reached, when in 1865, the Englishman Edward Whymper and his team first managed to scale its crooked pinnacle. Ever since, climbers have flocked to Zermatt to follow in their footsteps, even though four of that original team died in a fall on their way down from their conquest. The town became the early epicentre of international mountaineering, and people from all over the world still make the trek up the valley to Zermatt, with hopes of standing atop what is surely one of the world’s most striking peaks.
For those who prefer their thrills on two wheels, Zermatt also offers unforgettable mountain biking. The trains, chairlifts, and gondolas that serve skiers in the winter are outfitted to carry bikes and are open throughout the year. Take the railway to the top of the Gornergrat, which is the highest open-air train track in Europe. From its uppermost station, at 3,090 metres, there’s an incredibly long descent ahead of you, with views out over the edge of the ridge onto the massive Gorner glacier, and the Matterhorn looming in front of you. The tarn a short downhill from the station provides a spectacular vantage, especially if you make a dawn raid or are there around sunset. Then, there’s a rocky drop through the high alpine. It’s likely to be chilly, so make sure you pack layers.
For lunch, the slopes above Zermatt are home to some of the finest mountain restaurants in the world. Eating a gourmet meal at a picnic table in the sunshine after a heady run down the slopes, surrounded by high mountains, is utterly satisfying. And there are dozens of places where you can do just that, and the food is almost invariably outstanding. You’ll probably be tempted to spend the rest of the afternoon lounging on the patio with a beer or four, but take it easy. There is plenty more great riding to be had.
The Sunnegga Flow Trail lies just below the tree line and is a real playground. You won’t be able to wipe the grin off your face after hitting its jumps and ripping down its berms. It’s a trail anyone can ride, but stop for a bit to watch the locals ‘get sendy’. Their courage and skill can be breathtaking.
The Hobbit Trail is accessed from the Schwarzee cable car station, which is where climbers begin their final push to the top of the mountain. From there, it drops through a huge lumpy field dotted with rocks. The run down is about as close as you can get to mogul skiing on a mountain bike, with no end to the number of lines you can take.
Back in Zermatt, you’ll find everything you could want from a Swiss Alpine village. A glacier-fed river lined with wooden chalets and hotels runs through the centre of town. There’s a stylish shopping street with restaurants and boutiques that runs towards the mountain from the train station at the base of the village. To protect air quality, cars have not been permitted in Zermatt since 1966, but there are locally-made electric buses to whizz people and goods around town. Most hotels have one and offer a shuttle service. Unless you splurge on a flight, the train is the only way to access Zermatt. With a car, it’s best to park at Täsch and take the cog railway up with your luggage. The Swiss train system provides regular service.
Besides biking, there’s plenty more to do around Zermatt too.
The Matterhorn museum, where you can learn about Zermatt’s mountaineering heritage, is recommended.
Likewise, the cable car to the 3,883-metre summit of the Klein Matterhorn – it’s the highest in Europe and provides access to the Theodul Glacier, where you can ski 365 days a year. The best downhillers in the world often use its slopes for their summer training. From the viewing platform, you can see most of the highest mountains in the Alps, including Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso.
A quintessential Swiss Alpine village, Zermatt is the gateway to the iconic and awe-inspiring Matterhorn.
Surrounded by 38 peaks, the village has easy access to overwhelming natural scenery. A popular destination year-round, it offers outstanding mountain bike trails for riders of every skill-level, ranging from flowy to technical.
Find out more about riding in Zermatt here.
During our time in Zermatt, we stayed at the Hotel Alpenblick, 3920 Zermatt.
For a full listing of bike-friendly hotels in the village, visit here.
Although Zermatt has access to a diverse network of mountain bike trails, we can recommend the following:
If you’re in need of mechanical assistance or would like to rent a bike in Zermatt, visit Slalom Sport.