Best for: The ultimate Alpine-postcard experience
If you want to experience every positive Alpine cliché in a singular hit, it’s hard to beat Zermatt. The chalets festooned with planters, the horse-drawn carriages, the preposterously scenic little Gornergrat train… all of it overlooked by the Matterhorn, one of the planet’s most majestically carved slabs of rock. If you ask most skiers to name the prettiest retreat on Earth, this car-free town is going to be part of the conversation – if not the end of it.
The skiing here is world-class, too. The 120 or so miles of pistes are dominated by long, cruising red runs, flanked by easily accessible off-piste ones, and with lifts going higher than 10,000ft, the snow stays fresh well into the spring. You can easily ski into Italy, where the slopes of Cervinia and Valtournenche tend to be quieter than in Zermatt.
Hotels here run the gamut, from grand dames like the Wes Anderson-worthy Zermatterhof to more funky, modern offerings such as the glass-fronted Backstage Hotel Vernissage, the work of charismatic local architect Heinz Julen. The new Schweizerhof Hotel is a mix of the two: an old Zermatt classic given an breezy, angular makeover by French hotelier Michel Reybier, who is also responsible for the big-name Hotel Monte Rosa and Mont Cervin Palace.
The food is considered some of the best in the Alps, especially up in the mountains, where you can find wild Alaskan salmon (Othmars), local game (Les Marmottes) or deer carpaccio with foie gras at the exquisitely rustic Chez Vrony, with its terrace looking out at the Matterhorn. In peak season, many of Zermatt’s hotels and chalets demand you stay at least a week. If that’s a problem, it’s very much of the first-world variety.
Insider’s tip If Chez Vrony is too busy, there’s normally room at the even more rustic Findlerhof, half a mile down the mountain. Many locals prefer it, anyway, for owner Franz’s excellent wine list and standout dishes including a five-hour braised lamb shank.
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