I guess it is how things go, but after a very dry winter in the Alps, it has been raining most of the summer. It makes for incredibly green mountains and happy gardens, but sometimes it is hard to motivate for a full day outside. A change of location always helps with the motivation, especially when that place is Zermatt.
Hiking in Zermatt, you are never far from a mountain hut or refuge, a warm cup of tea or cold beer, depending on your preference, or maybe the time of day. The steep climb out of town to Trift was something we had only done on skis, descending from the Äschhorn. Steep doesn’t really do it justice – the first stop along the hike, the Hotel Edelweiss, looms 1000 feet high above Zermatt, as though it is directly above. The trail begins in town as a paved path, and there are times you think you must be on a private walk, and then you pass back through time: to cobblestones, stairs reinforced with rock and wood, and then onto a trail built centuries ago to access the high alpine grazing pastures some 1200 meters above town. The hotel Trift is a perfect spot for lunch or to spend the night en route to bigger peaks. Our friend and mountain guide in the winter, Hugo Biner and his family (descendants of the original owners in the late 1800’s) run the hotel, and it is by far the warmest and friendliest mountain hotel in the Valais. After a warm up in Trift we headed back out into the cool weather and invigorating rain, climbing towards the Höh-Balmen and a dramatic head-on view of the north face of the Matterhorn.
It never did quite clear, but the misty ambiance and little glimpses of the surrounding peaks and glaciers, incredibly blue amidst the grey light were maybe even more spectacular than in perfect weather. The descent back into Zermatt surrounded by a herd of black-nose sheep, a rare old breed native to the Valais, made for a full on “Sound of Music” moment.
Just as I was claiming that bad weather made for more spectacular scenery, we awoke to a perfect blue sky the following morning. Slightly groggy after a few too many digestifs with Barbara and Sasha Darioli, the owners of le Gitane grill, a small locals’ spot in the center of the village. We decided to get the blood flowing and head for a long lunch in the sun in the hamlet of Findeln,up the opposite side of the valley and claiming the iconic postcard view of the north-east ridge of the Matterhorn. The hiking trails and paths in Zermatt are absolutely perfect, manicured, and sometimes wide enough that you can walk hand-in-hand. We pass people of all ages: children that have hiked farther than some adults are capable of, and elderly couples with their walking sticks and tweed hiking knickers that refuse to slow down. Our destination was Restaurant Findlerhof, Franz and Heidi’s small restaurant with the best view in the valley, and some the most incredible on-mountain food in the world. I chose a grilled lamb loin salad with fresh baby greens grown in the FIndlerhof garden patch, cooked to perfection, though it could have been well-done, with views like this it wouldn’t have mattered. The owners were doing the rounds, greeting and talking up guests in at least 4 different languages, remarking how good it is to see you again.
After lunch, we descended towards Furi, walking through the summer farming villages and past families barbecuing and enjoying the glorious day. After a couple of hours, we decided that lunch had been more than worked off, and it was time to start thinking about where to enjoy an afternoon beer and watch the sun go down. Off to Blatten! Another locally-run restaurant and landmark, (sometimes they seem endless here). The terrace is filled with long wooden tables and you sit where ever you can find space, next to local herdsmen in their felt caps or finely-dressed French women sipping rosé - anything goes here, because it is all about enjoying the here and now. As the sun dips behind the Matterhorn, it’s time to make our final descent back to town, but not before a few kisses from the proprietors, the Taugwalders. If you didn’t know, you might think they were guests at the restaurant, sharing wine with different tables, laughs and smiles, it appears that Leander and Simone live their perfect life, can you really call this work? The hospitality in Zermatt is second to none, and everywhere you go, you are met with warm welcomes and kisses on the cheek. Sometimes I am not really sure if they truly remember me, but what does it matter, they have made me feel special, like a local, welcome in this fairytale village. And isn’t that the way we all want to feel on holiday?