Zermatt deserves its reptutation as one of the most iconic ski towns in the Alps - particuarly for foodies...
Traffic-free, and dominated by the broken tooth of the Matterhorn, Zermatt ski holidays offer bags of atmosphere, and the world's best mountain restaurants. But if you come to Zermatt expecting an integrated, intermediate-friendly ski area like the Three Valleys, you may end up disappointed.
Resort height: 1,620m
Zermatt's lift pass gives you access not only to 183km of pistes spread out over two sides of the valley, but a further 130km of groomed ski trails across the border in the Italian resort of Cervinia. In truth, most skiers will enjoy the Italian skiing more. Over there, the skiing area is more compact, and the pistes at just the right pitch for enthusiastic intermediates. One, known as “Red 7” which is 8km long and drops through 1,400 vertical metres, is a real honey. Lots of experienced skiers think it's the best red in the Alps: ski it once, and you'll probably agree.
Back over in Switzerland, the skiing pleasure in Zermatt comes principally from the high-mountain atmosphere, and the sense you get of ranging across such a vast and magnificent valley. The best pistes in Zermatt are mostly in the Schwarzee sector, just beneath the glacier, and the best off-piste on the open slopes beneath the Stockhorn and Hohtalli (hire a guide to show you the routes - this is one of Zermatt's avalanche hot-spots). If you've got money to burn, there's also sensational heli-skiing up on the nearby Monte Rosa massif.
It will take you three to four hours to reach Zermatt from either Zurich or Geneva airports...
The rail journey up into the resort is part of the pleasure of coming to Zermatt. However, if you want to get there quickly, some tour operators fly into the smaller airport at Sion, which cuts transfer times dramatically.
Zermatt is a great choice for both intermediate and expert skiers and snowboarders...
There are better resorts in the Alps for beginners, though.
The dramatic scenery in car-free Zermatt is bound to please, as is the wide range of après-ski bars...
There are pockets of partying scattered throughout Zermatt - notably in the bars of the Post hotel and the Papperla pub. But what Zermatt does best is quieter and more sophisticated après-ski, courtesy of the cool and arty Vernissage bar and Josef's Wine Lounge in the Mirabeau Hotel. If you haven't already stuffed yourself at lunch, there are plenty of places for a posh dinner too: for example Chez Heini, which serves superb lamb.
Zermatt's lift system is designed for summer visitors as much as skiers, and there's a lot of fun to be had riding the cable cars and cog railway up onto the mountainsides above town. There, provided you're prepared (and equipped) to do a bit of walking, you'll be able to meet friends at restaurants with stellar reputations.
Cost of living 7/10
The nice thing about Zermatt is that it can be as cheap or as dear as you like. There's a great youth hostel in town, as well as some budget hotels by the railway station, alongside some of skiing's most luxurious accommodation. To keep costs down, you'll have to keep out of the mountain restaurants however, which is half the point of being here.
Attractiveness of the resort 9/10
The valley in which Zermatt is set is rather dark and sunless in mid-winter: but there's no arguing with the Matterhorn. You'll never tire of looking at it. And once you get up on the ski slopes you'll realise that it's only part of the visual splendour. Meanwhile, Zermatt itself is definitely a town rather than a village, though it is car-free and very peaceful during daylight hours.