Since watching The Night Manager on the BBC last year, I became obsessed with wanting to see the Matterhorn mountain which is in the first episode. It looked magical and completely unreal to me. I’ve never skied, never will, which is why Switzerland hasn’t really ever been on my radar. Plus I heard it’s expensive. I’ve been to Base Camp Everest, slept in a campervan at the bottom of Mt Cook in New Zealand and hiked up Snowdon but that’s as far as my mountain experience goes. Then the Matterhorn came into my life and summer arrived and after a bit of research found it’s a great time for hiking. Flights booked, hotels booked. I’m here!
From London you can fly into Geneva or Zurich. The trains to Zermatt where the Matterhorn towers over the town takes around 4 hours each. As I wasn’t planning on hanging around in either, desperate to spend as much as the weekend as possible staring at the Toblerone mountain (now you know which one I mean!), Geneva came up cheapest with British Airways. Geneva is possibly my most favourite airport now, simply for the reason that at passport control they were playing Harry Styles “Sign of the Times” (I’m not a fan, but do love that song). It was just so very bizarre queuing up to be vetted by Swiss border control, being nervous (always am) and Harry Styles is playing…… Heathrow take note!
Public transport in Geneva can be free as a tourist. At airport arrivals in the baggage hall there are ticket machines before the exit which you can get a free transfer ticket which lasts for 80 minutes. Then my hotel gave me a free transport card when I checked in. Public transport is simple to use. I arrived at 11pm and with very easy instructions from my hotel I hopped on a train from the airport – takes 6 whole minutes to get to the centre of Geneva, then popped onto a tram which was very clearly signposted from the station and then a short walk. I was only at my hotel for 8 hours…. maybe I should have just stayed at the airport, but I wanted to see the Jet d’Eau in the morning before I headed off to Zermatt. I would most definitely recommend my hotel – Home Swiss Hotel. Brand new, very modern and loved the Swiss colour scheme.
In the morning, a quick pit stop as planned at the Jet d’Eau (the big fountain in the middle of lake) and off to the train station for my Matterhorn adventure. Now I’ve toyed with whether to mention this but I think it’s important. I felt really safe in the city late at night on public transport and walking the streets at midnight, yet at 8am I took the road that follows the river into town and it was lined with men. Selling drugs? Pimps? Who knows, but every corner I reached I started to realise that this isn’t normal and it wasn’t just guys maybe waiting for a lift. Never would have thought!
The train take 4 hours to Zermatt and boy is it scenic journey. As you would imagine the system is very efficient, clean, big huge wide windows to enjoy the panoramic views and very busy! Trains leave Geneva (or Geneva Airport) every half hour. Take a train bound for Brig and get off at Visp for a connecting train to Zermatt. There are several tickets you can purchase to made things a little less expensive. As I was only going to Zermatt and back I opted for the Swiss Transfer Ticket. This allowed me a return trip for 149 CHF. If you’re visiting a couple of places there are a few choices of passes and they get you 50% off the trains up the mountain in Zermatt which I did not realise would be so pricey (the transfer ticket DOES NOT get you 50% off). All your train ticket needs and timetables can be found online and tickets can be printed out but make sure you do so at least 5 days in advance.
Zermatt is a small town in the valley. It is car free, so you have to take the train in from Tasch at least if you do drive in Switzerland. There are electric cabs and buses driving round the “roads” and most hotels offer a pick up service but it is a small enough town to walk easily. I stayed at Hotel Welschen which is a short walk from the train station (a little up hill which gives great views across the town and the mountain) and directly above the Sunnegga funicular. The Sunnegga takes you up through a mountain in 4.5 minutes. From there you can take a cable car further to Blauherd which is where I started the Five Lakes hike or you can take another cable car from Blauherd up to Rothorn where you can do more challenging hikes from here. Sorry digressed! I loved the Welschen. My room was just a small single, decked out like a wooden cabin. Very comfy and roomy for what I needed. There is a garden and breakfast room that has magnificent views over Zermatt town and the Matterhorn towering above (and where I’m currently writing from…..)
I didn’t have much of a plan except to do the Five Lakes hike and stare at the Matterhorn for two days. First thing I found out was that the trains / cable cars / electrified cog trains are expensive. VERY expensive. I was so busy leading up to this holiday I just didn’t even think about researching the prices. After a stop at the Tourist Office they matched all the various train prices to my needs. It’s definitely worth buying tickets in advance from here, the following morning when I was eager to start my journey for the hike there was a huge queue at the Sunnegga but I got to by pass it. It’s worth researching in advance, or if you have a Swiss Travel Pass this will help cutting costs.
I took the electrified cog wheel railway up to Gornergrat which is at 3,089m high on my first afternoon. I got a cheap(er) afternoon ticket (only available from the Gornergrat train station – opposite the main train station), valid from 15:34 for 56 CHF (it’s normally 94 CHF – that’s about £75! £75!). It takes 33 minutes to reach the top where you get a great panoramic view of the Matterhorn and the other 29 peaks but it was very cloudy when I was there and unfortunately this was the only time I could go up. The weather is so unpredictable up in the mountains, but it was still breathtaking. I took the next train down one stop to Rotenboden to walk over to the Riffelsee lake. I already knew that with the cloud it wasn’t going to be a good photo opportunity but again the scenery is enough to warrant a stop here whilst waiting for the next train back down to Zermatt or you can hike down to the next stop(s). Be on the look out for marmots – they remind me of groundhogs, but a lot cuddlier. I saw one and tried not to shout “MARMOT” at the top of my voice like an excited child. That sadly was the only one I saw but plenty of burrows on my walks.
The Five Lakes Walk though was my ultimate highlight. My photos don’t do it justice, the views were magnificent. The morning started with the Matterhorn being covered in cloud at the top, so I waited an extra hour before I set off. I got a combi ticket from the Tourist Information Centre the day before which was 39 CHF, this got me a return from Zermatt to Sunnegga on the funicular, plus a single journey to Blauherd. The walk is 9.3 kms, starts at Blauherd cable car station and is all downhill, except the journey to the final lake – Leisee – which is up hill, ending back at Sunnegga. OR you can extend it and carry on back down to Zermatt by foot. I came across people at the lakes and sometimes encountered walkers on the way (mainly passing me, or one couple saying follow her she has a map *gulp*), but for a lot of the time it was just me, walking, taking in the views. The five lakes are Stellisee (the one that all promo shots are from, with the reflection of the Matterhorn in it – didn’t work for me ha), Grindjisee, Grunsee, Moosjisee (my absolute favourite) and Leisee which is popular with families. It’s supposed to take 2.5 hours……. 4 hours later I arrived back at Sunnegga. I did stop to snack at all of the lakes and of course, take a hundred photos at each and there was no need to rush amongst all of that beauty.
Food wise – it’s expensive. As is everything. Just don’t convert to GBP in your head and enjoy the weekend…… Fondue is the thing to have, but travelling solo and not being able to eat that much melted cheese I had to go rogue instead. I started off at the bakery for a spinach and cheese quiche slice, bought cherries and a toblerone from the local supermarket for snacks on the hike (would have been cheaper to buy the toblerone from home!). Stopped for pizza and apfelsaft on the first night (£20) at Pizzeria Ristorante Molino. A salad bar bowl, apple strudel and a sprite at Sunnegga (£17) after my hike. Then the most glorious vegan summer salad and a lime and soda (£25) from Snowboat – definitely photograph worthy!
I’m heading back to Geneva Airport this afternoon, but first I’m going to pop to the Alpine Museum, pay my respects at the Alpine Cemetery and take one final look at the mighty Matterhorn. I hope it’s not for the last time – it really was magical!