Zermatt has got the lot: fantastic skiing, unrivalled mountain restaurants, horse-drawn sleighs, and the perfect, Toblerone-shaped Matterhorn. You don’t need to bother with anywhere else
There are a bewildering array of ski resorts to choose between, but I can make your selection easy: if you want the ultimate resort, the resort that has everything you could possibly want of a ski resort, then go to Zermatt, the King of Switzerland.
Zermatt has really got the lot. For starters, it’s high – with the highest skiable area in the Alps, in fact, soaring to over 3800m – so it is snow-sure. Just in case it doesn’t snow in time for your visit, a colossal 63% of the pistes have snowmaking machines, which guarantee snow and also make for nicely groomed runs.
It also has a fabulous ski area. There are 320km of wonderfully varied slopes that offer excellent skiing to intermediates and beyond. Signature runs include the number 69 – you can’t get much closer to the Matterhorn than this (you almost feel you can reach out and touch it) - or the number 14/15, a gloriously long piste right at the end of the ski area. There are also some stunning itinerary pistes, former black runs that aren’t groomed and provide challenging bumps, moguls and tree skiing, in the Triftji area.
But there is so much more than this. Zermatt is also a charming old mountain village, whose streets are lined with smart shops, fun bars, historic hotels and well-priced restaurants. You can also gawp at the floor-length fur-coated crowd and the occasional celebrity. On a recent visit I saw Sir Bob Geldof, Sir Richard Branson and Sarah Ferguson plus families, while Robbie Williams is known to jet in each winter, despite being resident in LA.
The town is also completely car free, with electric taxis buzzing around and the only other mode of transport being traditional horse-drawn sleighs, invariably carrying the rich and famous from A to B. At the same time, Italy is just the other side of the Matterhorn. Buy a ski pass that includes Cervinia, and hop over for lunch at one of their restaurants for a change. This dual-country appeal of a ski resort is rare.
But I’m sort of saving the best till last. The après scene in Zermatt is fabulous, with something for everyone – from raucous slopeside huts where the beer is free-flowing and you can dance from teatime onwards, to more sophisticated wine bars in town. Check out the Hennu Stall on the run down from Furi, which has live bands to seduce you in for a beer and a bop. Or pose at the chic Champagne Bar on the home-run down from Sunnegga. Just don’t ski too fast or you will miss it.
Later on, visit Vernissage below the cinema in town, opposite the ice rink - an ice-cool hang-out for the uber trendy. Or squeeze in to the teeny-tiny Little Bar on the main street – a narrow basement bar that can fit no more than around 10 people at one time. Elsie’s Bar is a pricey but fun oysters-and-caviar joint near the church in the centre, or try the swish Scottish-themed Montrose Bar in the historic Hotel Monte Rosa, the hotel from where Edward Whymper set off in 1865 to become the first to climb the Matterhorn.
Then, oh yes, there are the mountain restaurants. Many resorts have to make do with over-lit, over-priced, soulless cafeterias and pizzerias, but Zermatt has just about the very best selection of tremendous eateries at altitude. Check out Robbie’s own favourite, Chez Vrony, in Findeln – choose a fine day and sit out on the terrace, wrapped up in a stylish Vrony blanket, gawping in wonder at the views of the Matterhorn, and slurping on their delicious, rightly famous curry soup. Or book a table at the cosy nearby Findlerhof, otherwise known as Franz & Heidi’s, where dishes such as a dreamily creamy mushroom risotto and fresh pasta with scampi delight. And don’t miss the tiramisu. Alternatively, enjoy the warm welcome, lively après scene and fabulous apricot tart at Restaurant Blatten on the number 2 run down from Sunnegga, or the famous millefeuille at the charmingly wooden Zum See (but book ahead). For a more remote, less fine dining experience, check out the Gandegghutte, a mountain hut which involves a rather thigh-burning pole off the main Gandegghutte number 74 piste but is well worth the detour. Snuggly sheepskin rugs on wooden benches and steaming bowls of cheesy Swiss creations make the trip worth it.
And although there are some self-service mountain restaurants in Zermatt, don’t be seduced: for very little more, in the finer establishments, you can eat so much better. If you need help, then elicit the services of the Gourmet Ski Guide, a charming fellow called Donald who will ski you round the resort and escort you to the tiny, hidden-away, best-kept-secret restaurants.
Perhaps best of all in Zermatt, however, is the scenery. Throughout the ski area, the views are breathtaking and spectacular. You can see 29 peaks over 4000m from the resort. And, of course, most spectacular of all, there is the fabulous Toblerone-shaped Matterhorn, at a giddy 4478m. This dominates the town and never fails to impress, whatever the weather conditions or the angle it is viewed from.
Zermatt is, put simply, a must-ski-before-you-die resort. Go soon, and see if you don’t agree with me.