Hello everyone and welcome to the Meet the Locals series on Lost in Switzerland. In this episode, I’m talking to Gabriela. She’s a good friend of mine who I met at university, like Tobi, Andrea and Yannic.
Gabriela is originally from the Canton of Aargau. When I met her, she lived in Zurich but right after we graduated, she moved next to Switzerland’s most famous mountain. She’s lived in Zermatt for over four years now and she knows the place like the back of her hand.
Thank you for letting me ask you a few questions, Gabriela. I’m sure you have a lot of insider information about Zermatt. First up, please tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do and what have you been up to lately?
Hey everyone, my name is Gabriela. I’m 30 years old and I feel very fortunate to have lived in Zermatt for over four years now. I still love living in this mountain town.
I’m currently working as an urban planner in a Zermatt-based company. Our focus lies in developing mountain bike destinations in the Valais area. This job is perfect for me because mountain biking is one of my favourite hobbies during summer. The endless opportunities to explore all the trails in this area never cease to fascinate me.
I love being outside and exploring the alpine region of Zermatt with my friends. Be that by hiking, skiing, climbing or mountain biking.
Sounds like a pretty acceptable spot to live in. But how did you end up in Zermatt in the first place? What do you love about it and why have you never left?
Back in 2013, when I was still working for the Department of City Planning in Zurich, I suddenly felt the urge to spend a couple of weeks up in the mountains. I needed a break from my busy city life.
That’s when I took a temporary job at 2’883 metres above sea level, at the Monte Rosa Hut. I spent all of summer 2013 up there, working as an allrounder. Despite the long and intense hours, I almost immediately fell in love with my team, the breathtaking views, the mountains, the glacier and the people of the Canton of Valais.
I couldn’t see myself heading back to Zurich anytime soon. So I extended my contract for another season. That’s when I also got a job offer as an urban planner in Zermatt. An offer I couldn’t resist.
I love living in this car-free town surrounded by soaring mountains. Zermatt is a dream for everyone who loves the outdoors. The seemingly endless possibilities to dive headfirst from one adventure into another made it impossible for me to leave. Also, seeing the Matterhorn on a daily basis has its perks, too.
Of course, the Matterhorn… The main reason why people visit Zermatt. I keep seeing those stunning pictures you take of it. Can you give us your favourite spots to snap a photo of Switzerland’s most famous mountain?
The views from the Gornergrat or the Klein Matterhorn are beyond impressive. You get to see the Matterhorn as well as the surrounding peaks and glaciers from the perfect angle.
A trip up there doesn’t come cheap, though. Prices vary by season but even if you have a Half Fare Card or a Swiss Travel Pass, you still pay between 40-60 CHF for a return trip. And that’s half already 50% off.
So as an alternative, you can head to the valley station of the Sunnegga – Rothorn railway and catch the funicular for 13 CHF one way at the end of the tunnel. Once you’re at the top, you're at the ideal starting point of the popular Five Lakes hike (see futher down for more information).
The Weiler Findeln is another place I love going to. It comes with a handful of cosy restaurants and spectacular views of the Matterhorn. The Findeln is very easy on the wallet and lies within walking distance of Zermatt.
Those are some great tips to snap a photo or two of the Matterhorn. But I’m sure there are loads of other things to do and see in the area. Can you tell us about other places that people can visit once they’ve exhausted their enthusiasm for the Matterhorn?
Oh yes, there’s so much more to discover. But where do I start…? 🙂
- The Five Lakes hike, which starts at Sunnegga, is a great walk. Especially during summer, the lakes make for a great spot to take a refreshing dip. It’s an easy walk and suitable for less experienced hikers. It takes around 2.5 hours to complete. Click here for a detailed guide of this hike.
- For those looking for peace and quiet, I recommend hiking into the verlorene Tal, or the Hidden Valley. This hike also starts at Sunnegga. According to the Zermatt website, the valley is a little tricky to spot and only good map-readers will find the way. It’s about 250 metres long and no marked trails lead there.
- Another place worth visiting is the Hörnlihütte. You can reach this Matterhorn Basecamp by catching the gondola to Schwarzsee and following the marked trail. Sturdy shoes are a must for this one. Don’t attempt this in flipflops or worn out sneakers.
- For the more experienced mountaineers, climbing the Breithorn might be an interesting challenge. Its peak lies at 4’164 meters above sea level and offers spectacular views. Since you’ll be crossing a glacier on this hike, I recommend joining a local mountain guide. Click here for a detailed guide of this hike.
- If you’re looking for some serious glacier trekking, climbing up to the Monte Rosa Hut is an unforgettable trip. In case you’re spending the night up there, make sure you reserve your spot before you set off. Like the hike to the Breithorn, this excursion requires a guide. The Alpine Centre in Zermatt can sort you out. And by the way, rental places all over Zermatt can supply you with sturdy climbing boots, climbing irons, ice picks and everything else for your trip up into the mountains.
(Note Seraina: As you will quickly find out by browsing the Alpine Centre Zermatt website, joining a guided tour can be way out of your budget. But if you’re after some serious action that includes crossing glaciers, leaving marked trails, advanced climbing or general off the beaten track adventures, there’s no way around hiring a guide.
Avalanches and fast weather changes happen on a regular basis and setting off on your own is a very bad idea. I trust Gabriela’s judgment here. She’s seen people get caught in avalanches and she knows what its like to have a helicopter come to the rescue. While mountains are beautiful, they’re also rough, unpredictable and brutal at times. Summer and winter. Don’t be deceived by the pretty views and don’t underestimate the dangers they bear.)
- Another hike I love is the one to the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge above Randa. Setting off for the 6-7 hour hike in Zermatt, follow the Europaweg until you reach Täsch. From there, keep steering towards Randa to admire the impressive bridge. In case you’re feeling lazy, you can always catch the train from Zermatt to Randa.
- Apart from all the hikes, Zermatt is also great for mountain biking. The area offers trails for beginners, intermediate and advanced bikers. In the biking scene, Zermatt is still an insider tip. The huge network of single tracks make it a haven for bike lovers. Local bike shops like Slalom Sport and Bayard Sport rent out anything you need for your adventure on the trails. If you’re after a guided bike tour, join one of the professional guides at Zermatt Bike School. Or, if you prefer tackling the trails on your own, grab one of the helpful Supertrail maps from the local tourism information.
Wow, seems like you’ve given us a week’s worth of stuff to do! Out of all the activities in Zermatt, is there anything you can’t get enough of? Are there any walks you can recommend to a visitor who hasn’t climbed as many crazy mountains as you have?
There are easily accessible spots all across the Canton of Valais that don’t require any special gear. But since the Valais is an alpine area, I still suggest bringing sturdy shoes, warm clothes and enough food with you, wherever you go.
- One of my favourite places is the Moosalp. You can reach it by public transport from Visp. From the Moosalp, there’s a short hike straight to the Bonigersee and the Breitmattensee. Those are two beautiful lakes I love visiting.
- For those who prefer slightly longer and more alpine walks, I suggest going to Moosalp and climbing the Augstbordhorn. Its peak towers at 2’971 meters above sea level.
- For the culinary hikers, stopping at the old restaurant at Moosalp is a must. Their Cremeschnitte (number 20 in this post) are the best in the world. Or, if you’re out there during the colder months, consider treating yourself to a tasty and smelly Raclette.
- The Gibidumsee is a wonderful mountain lake I love visiting. When you’re in Visp, catch the Postauto to Visperterminen, Europe’s highest vineyard. Next, hop on the chair lift to Giw, follow the hiking trail to the Gibidumsee and go for a swim. Once you’re ready to move on, follow the hiking trail past the broadcasting station to Rohrberg and back down to Visp.
Ok, this has definitely given me itchy feet! 🙂 Unfortunately, Zermatt isn’t exactly famous for being easy on the wallet. And I think a lot of backpackers might reconsider visiting Zermatt because of that. If someone on a tight budget wanted to visit anyway, what’s your advice in terms of accommodation?
You’re right. Zermatt is pretty expensive. Even for Swiss standards. But of course, there are budget options to spend a night up here, too.
One place I can recommend is the Hotel Bahnhof, which is right behind the train station. Despite its central location, it’s a pleasantly quiet place since Zermatt is car-free. The hotel’s standard is fairly basic but it's clean and homely. I love its informal vibe as well as the friendly and helpful staff. Aside from the classic two and four-bed rooms, the Hotel Bahnhof also has two dorms where every bed has its own niche to give you some privacy.
The hotel also comes with a fully equipped kitchen. With supermarkets like Coop and Denner as well as a bakery just around the corner, the kitchen is perfect to whip up a cheap dinner after a day out hiking. Or to prepare your picnic for the day.
Just outside the hotel, along the Bahnhofstrasse, there are several restaurants selling all sorts of dishes and local specialities. They don’t come too cheap but a Raclette or Fondue is a must if your budget allows.
Another budget place to spend a night in Zermatt is at the HI Hostel. A night including breakfast is around 36 CHF for members.
(Note Seraina: The only time I ever visited Zermatt, I stayed at Hotel Bahnhof. I agree with everything Gabriela said about this place. I loved it and I think I payed around 42 CHF for a night. Which is a lot of money but, believe it or not, pretty good value for Zermatt.)
So I guess we’re covered for things to do during the day and for places to spend the night. Now, for the time in between: where would you send people to catch a beer after a day out in the wilderness?
There are lots of places I like going. PapperlaPup, Gee's or Pöstli are great for grabbing a couple of beers. But for a big night out, head to the Broken or Schneewittli, which are famous for their parties.
Now with winter coming up, Zermatt will soon be bursting with people looking for some fun in the snow. But unfortunately, Zermatt is the most expensive area to ski in Switzerland. And that’s saying something since skiing isn't cheap anywhere in Switzerland. If someone was visiting in winter and wanted to have some snow action, what alternatives would you give them?
Zermatt is also a hiking destination during winter. There are several winter hiking trails, signed out as Winterwanderweg.
If these trails are too boring for you, rent a pair of snowshoes or go ski trekking. But as soon as you leave the marked trails, I recommend joining a guided tour. Not only can local guides lead you to the most beautiful spots, they also know how to evaluate the current weather situation and avalanche risk.
If you’re an experienced ski trekker, a tour at the Via Ferrata Traversata might be for you.
You can also rent toboggans and race down the slopes. This is great fun and makes for an adrenaline packed afternoon. Rental costs are around 10 CHF per day. Prices vary so shopping around for the best offer might pay off.
Speaking of money… Since my blog is about visiting Switzerland on a budget, I have to ask this one. What’s your number one money-saving tip for someone who’s never been to Switzerland?
- Eating out in general is very expensive in Switzerland. So if you’d like to do your wallet a favour, head to the supermarked, stock up on supplies and find a cosy place for your picnic. This will save you a ton of money.
- Single public transport rides add up so if you use public transport on a regular basis, investing in a Swiss Travel Pass might end up cheaper for you than paying for every single ticket.
Thanks for pointing that out, Gabriela. I actually wrote an ultimate guide about using public transport here. Now, before we wrap this up, do you have any last words for my readers?
Even though Zermatt is one of the most expensive destinations in Switzerland, it’s absolutely worth paying a visit. You won’t regret it.
I’m definitely going to second that. I’m almost ashamed to say it took me 25 years before I ever visited Zermatt. Thank you so much for sharing your passion for the outdoors and your adopted home with us, Gabriela. I’m sure people are plotting their visit to Zermatt now. I know I am.