by Bob Bestor

In Zermatt, where the big show is the Matterhorn, we return to a favorite restaurant and find some surprisingly affordable accommodations.

Walking north from the rail station up Bahnhofstrasse, Zermatt seems little more than a commerce-happy resort full of blond women in fur coats, sunburnt skiers clomping along in their boots and shops where $10,000 gets you a decent watch. Then suddenly there's the Matterhorn. Though not especially lofty - at 4478 meters/14,692 ft. there are nine higher peaks in the Zermatt area alone - and nowadays eminently climbable, one immediately is aware that this is a special kind of hill.

It makes touristy Zermatt worth visiting if only to sit and gaze at this most distinctive of mountains. Its unmistakable pyramid shape is visible from a good percentage of the town's several thousand hotel rooms and watching the sun set behind it never fails to thrill.

In 1857, when the Matterhorn was still considered unscalable, a group of Italian mountain guides became the first to give it a go.

They didn't make it, however, and for the next eight years numerous other ascents failed via the Lion Ridge and the Hörnli Ridge. Then, on July 14, 1865, a team of seven mountaineers, led by Englishman Edward Whymper, reached the summit only a few hundred meters ahead of an Italian team climbing from the Italian side. But tragedy quickly followed triumph; during the descent a rope parted and four members of the Whymper party fell 4,000 feet to their deaths.

England's Lucy Walker was the first woman to climb the Matterhorn, reaching the top via the Hörnli Ridge on July 22nd, 1871. The North Face of the mountain was not climbed until 1931.

These days the Matterhorn is like an old riding horse with a mean streak; day after day it placidly allows climber after climber to scale its summit. Then, one makes just the tiniest mistake, the mountain gets spooked, and somebody gets thrown. Though a more popular climbing goal than ever, the Matterhorn is no less perilous. Every morning at about 4 a.m. - at least during summer - several groups set off for the top. Most make it, but every year several climbers die trying.

Local mountaineering history is documented in the town's Alpine Museum which is open four hours each day in summer and from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in winter. One room is dedicated to that historic but disastrous first ascent.

In the local cemetery are graves of mountaineers who did not survive their day on the Matterhorn.

If you don't plan to climb it, the best Matterhorn views are via the cog railway up the Gornergrat, with some three million passengers annually, Europe's most popular mountain railway. Sit on the right side on your way up.

Others say the Klein Matterhorn, at 3,820 meters the highest cable station in Europe, is the best way to see the famous mountain. It is also the more exciting ride.

The Gornergrat roundtrip fare - 63 Sfr. ($43) - is discounted 25% to Swiss Pass holders but not at all to Eurailpass holders. The Klein Matterhorn ride, a series of four cable cars, costs 56 Sfr. ($38), less the 25% discount if you have the Swiss Pass.

For nonskiers and hikers, Zermatt is a two-day town. Take half a day to explore the village, half a day for the Gornergrat, half a day for the Klein Matterhorn and half a day just looking at the mountain.

Skiers, hikers and climbers will probably find a week's stay more to their liking and may want to take advantage of the many package deals available through the Zermatt Tourist Office.

Zermatt, as you probably know, allows no automobiles. The closest parking place is Tasch where, for from 3 to 10 Sfr. per day, you leave your car in a huge open lot and take the approximately 11-minute train ride to Zermatt (14.40 Sfr./$10 roundtrip, free to Swiss Pass holders only).

Being car-free makes Zermatt quieter and cleaner, but not entirely safe. Electric taxis and hotel shuttles whiz up and down the narrow streets, all the while emitting a disconcerting whine. As sailors on carrier flight decks are advised, keep your head on a swivel.

Bear in mind that this is an extremely popular and expensive resort that is often fully booked. Expect to pay top dollar, especially in high season. Hotel rates at other times, however, are often discounted by as much as 40%

Hotels

(Unless otherwise noted, all rates are for rooms with private bath and include breakfast. Hotels are listed in most expensive to least expensive order.)

Alex Schlosshotel Tenne

Art Nouveau meets Valasian farm rustic in this four-star property whose somewhat exhausting interior decor teeters between kitsch and authentic charm. The latest renovation was done in 1992 so let's call it "90s Swiss country rococo."

In the main public room, ornate marble columns define a small, granite dance floor and sunlight filters though gently arched Tiffany-style windows. Over all is a high, open ceiling of dark, almost black, beams.

The reception area's much lower ceiling consists of large rectangular, painted white wood panels inset with brightly colored frescoes. Of course, the place is littered with precious antiques, chandeliers, carved statuary and expensive rugs.

Each room is done in a different style and a few are extraordinary. Number 410, a junior suite, is one of them. It shows off its rough, rustic wooden walls and rock fireplace with contemporary halogen lighting. The contrast is most vivid in the bathroom where ancient, darkened beams hang above gleaming, modern fixtures.

All rooms have a Jacuzzi tub, most have a balcony and in the old part of the hotel every room has a fireplace.

The hotels "Vitalcenter" is equipped with whirlpool, steambath, bio-sauna and Finnish sauna, solarium, and fitness room.

Though understated the Tenne is not, its luxury is undeniable and little expense was spared in choosing furnishings or materials.

• Daily Rates: All rates include breakfast and four-course dinner. Singles 140 to 250 Sfr. ($38-$79), doubles 280 to 500 Sfr. ($192-$342).
Contact: Hotel Alex Schlosshotel Tenne CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/967 18 01, fax +41/027/967 18 03. Proprietor: Sonja Perren
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 10/20

Mirabeau

(Editor's Choice)

Each element of the four-star Mirabeau's physical plant, from interior design to building materials and furnishings, has obviously been seen to by someone with a good eye, good taste and a fat wallet. Attention has been paid to even the tiniest detail. The resulting overall impression is of quiet and efficient traditional elegance and a place where the difficult is made to appear easy.

Guest rooms are more straightforward and perhaps less creative in design and layout than at the Alex Schlosshotel Tenne, but the level of comfort and luxury is on a par.

The Mirabeau is the choice for "foodies." Its restaurant, Le Courbeau d'Or, gets two chef's toques and a 16 of 20 score in the Gault Millau guide for Switzerland. With bed and breakfast prices only 25 Sfr. ($17) per person less than the half-board rates, guests can hardly pass up dinner in the hotel. In winter, half-board guests are sometimes served a special Valasian dinner and on Friday nights in summer there is an outdoor buffet.

Among the Mirabeau's facilities are an indoor swimming pool, tennis court, sauna and fitness room.

Located in a quiet neighborhood, but only a short walk from the busy commercial center, the Mirabeau is one of those smooth-running places that operate under the watchful eye of a highly professional husband and wife team. Though architecturally less splashy than the Alex Schlosshotel, the Mirabeau's restaurant and warmer welcome make it our top choice among the properties reviewed here.

• Daily Rates: All rates include breakfast and dinner. Singles 133 to 240 Sfr. ($91-$164), doubles 258 to 512 Sfr. ($177-$351).
Specials: "Guided Walks Weeks" is a seven-night package offered in June and September by the Mirabeau and priced at 1,150 Sfr. ($788) per person. Each week features half and full day walks including an excursion to the hotel's mountain hut. Other packages also available.
Contact: Hotel Mirabeau CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/966 26 60, fax +41/027/966 26 65. Email: mirabeau.zer-matt @reconline.ch. Closed most of May and October. Proprietor: Sepp und Rose Julen.
Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 11/20

Butterfly Hotel Zermatt

Located on a back street, on the west edge of the commercial center, the Butterfly is a homey sort of place that makes English-only speakers feel at home. Views of the Matterhorn from most rooms in this hotel, however, are partial at best.

Accommodations are straightforward and typical three-star quality. Rooms are equipped with such basic amenities as satellite TV, clock radio, minibar, hair dryer, direct-dial phone and luggage stand. All have a balcony.

There is a sauna, steambath, solarium and fitness room.

The guests-only restaurant does not allow smoking.

• Daily Rates: All rates include breakfast and dinner. Singles 100 to 180 Sfr. ($68-$123), doubles 200 to 360 ($137-$247).
Contact: Butterfly Hotel Zermatt CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/966 4166, fax 027/966 4165. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 8/20

Darioli

The three-star Darioli is a relatively small (40 beds) hotel on the touristy main street (Bahnhofstrasse) set among the many t-shirt and souvenir shops. For years it has catered to English-speaking guests and has many regular visitors in that category.

Our very small room, without Matterhorn view, was sufficient for a short stay and the owner, Marie-Therese Darioli, was reasonably cordial.

The hotel is designated "garni" (no restaurant) but the excellent Lé Gitan is located on the ground floor as is the adjacent Zermatterstübli.

This serviceable, well-maintained hotel offers above average value though some may prefer a more serene location.

• Daily Rates: Singles 55 to 115 Sfr. ($38-$79), doubles 120 to 220 Sfr. ($82-$151).
Contact: Hotel Darioli CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/967 27 48, Fax 967 12 37.
Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 12/20

Dufour

(Editor's Choice)

Located on the opposite (east) side of the river from the shopping district, this two-star property offers surprisingly high levels of comfort and convenience for the price. It is the best value we saw in Zermatt.

We found guest room quality in Dufour's recently refurbished section above those in many three-star properties. Each has a heated towel rack in the bathroom, satellite TV, hair dryer, direct dial phone and minibar. There is no lift, however.

Room Number three is a small double with a large balcony and good Matterhorn view. Number four is bigger and has the same view. A room with separate sitting area and a nice bathroom enhanced by a large, clear-glass skylight in the slanting ceiling is Number 11; no Matterhorn view, however.

The Dufour offers no spa or fitness facilities, though guests have use of the indoor pool at the nearby Parkhotel Beau-Site.

• Daily Rates: Singles 55 to 95 Sfr. ($38-$65), doubles 110 to 180 Sfr. ($75-$123).
Contact: Hotel Dufour CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/966 2400 48, Fax 966 2401. Proprietor: Fam. Andenmatten-Julen
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 14/20

Cima Garni

Another two-star, the 25-bed Cima, is a good choice for budget-conscious travelers, though not quite so comfortable or as good a value as the Dufour.

Pluses are a cheery breakfast room with a fine view of the Matterhorn and simple but clean guest rooms, some also with Matterhorn view.

We like the Cima for its friendly welcome, pleasant location and views.

• Daily Rates: Singles 60 to 80 Sfr. ($41-$55), doubles 100 to 140 Sfr. ($68-$96).
Contact: Hotel Cima Garni, CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/967 2337, fax 967 5539. Proprietor: Anne-Marie Perren
Rating: Quality 9/20, Value 12/20

Apartments, Chalets

Those who will commit to a week in Zermatt can save substantially by booking one of the town's more than 1500 chalets or flats. Contact the Zermatt Tourist Office giving exact dates (from Saturday to Saturday) and the number of persons in your party.

Several Zermatt apartments have Internet sites with photos, prices and other data. Here is a sampling:

Haus Dianthus

Maria Machold-Lauber, tel: 0041 (0)27 967 17 13, fax: 0041 (0)27 967 43 30, URL: http://www.holidaynet.ch/9603/homepage.htm.

Three-room apartments for 4-5 persons, double-bedroom, large living room with two divan beds, bath-WC, kitchen, balcony. All have radio, TV and telephone. Utensils and linens provided.

Per Day Apartment Price: summer 75-90 Sfr. ($51-$62), winter Sfr. 150-170 Sfr. ($103-$116).

Haus Don Bosco

Familie Taugwalder-Lauber, tel. +41/027/967 2793, fax +41/027/967 5560, URL: http://www.holidaynet. ch/donbosco/.

Per Person/Per Day Prices: winter 31-55 Sfr. ($21-$38), summer 35-45 Sfr. ($24-$31).

Haus Baccara, Castello & Cristallo

Familie Peter und Dorli Herrmann-Graven, tel. +41/027/967 32 75, fax +41/033/744 36 20, Web: urlaub-zermatt.ch/home.html

Per Person/Per Day Prices: shoulder season 26-41 Sfr. ($18-$28), summer 30-48 Sfr. ($21-$33), winter 45-65 Sfr. ($31-$46).

Zermatt Holidays

Imboden & Co., P O Box 3920, CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/968 11 30, fax : +41/027/968 11 32, e-mail: zermatt.appartements@reconline. ch, URL: http://www2.cyber.ch/zermatt/eindex.html.

This company offers new chalets built in traditional Valais style, all with Matterhorn-view balconies.

Per Person/Per Day Prices: May- Nov. from 49 Sfr. ($34), Dec.-April from 69 Sfr. ($47).

Zermatt Information

Population: 4896

Altitude: 1620 meters, 5,315 feet

Travel Time from Airports

Zürich
train: 5 hours
car: 4.5 hours

Geneva
train: 4 hours
car: 3.5 hours

Basel
train: 5 hours
car: 4 hours

Tourist Office

Bahnhofplatz, CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/967 0181, fax +41/027/967 0185, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Open 7 days.

Climbing the Matterhorn

Must be in excellent physical condition and have appropriate equipment (can be rented locally). Guides recommended for even experienced climbers. Guide may require trial climb on a lesser peak prior to Matterhorn ascent. Spend the night at the Hörnli mountain-hut and begin the climb next morning at about 4 a.m. Climb takes 4-5 hours; same for the descent. Food taken consists of dried fruits, chocolate, tea. Carry glucose to prevent exhaustion. Best time is mid-July to mid- September. Often there are more climbers than can be allowed on the mountain and some are turned back. Rescue insurance is required. The rule is one guide per person on the Matterhorn. Expect to pay about 700 Sfr. ($480) per day for a guide. Less dangerous guided excursions are also available for glacier crossings. Contact: Mountain Guides Office, +41/027/967 2460, open July through Sept. 30.

October 1997