In a green valley enclosed between steep mountainsides, the climbing and winter sports capital of the Valais region is also one of Switzerland’s great international resorts. Zermatt is dominated by the definitive mountain, the huge and gracefully curved Matterhorn, making almost any angle a postcard view. You can’t drive to Zermatt. The closest you can get by automobile is a large carpark about five kilometers from the village, to which there are shuttles by electric vehicles. Trains from Brig deposit passengers right in the village; from there, a rack railroad, funicular, and cableways lift visitors to an endless series of panoramic alpine views as well as skiing and hiking trails. Zermatt is famous for its magnificent long ski runs, with terrain for all skill levels, but it also offers outdoor sports for other seasons. There is a mountain trail for cyclists from the Winkelmatten up to the Furi, and the Zermatt Alpin Center offers expert guides for climbers year-round. Hotels, fine restaurants, and luxury spas abound in Zermatt, but summer or winter, it’s the mountains that are still the prime tourist attraction.
Without the sharp pyramid of the Matterhorn rising as a dramatic backdrop, Zermatt would be another pretty little Swiss village instead of a world-famous symbol of the Alps and of Switzerland itself. Along with making Zermatt the Swiss poster child, the mountain defines the town and gives it a year-round appeal that no other ski resort can match. The 4,478-meter peak was first climbed in 1865 by a British team of five and two Swiss guides. Although a few thousand people master it each year, it should still only be attempted by well-experienced climbers.