Zermatt- Awesome Holiday Prize

Magical Holiday to Zermatt, Switzerland

I have just come back from the most magical holiday to Zermatt, Switzerland, which I won from Switzerland Tourism and Zermatt Tourism in their 2016 Advent Competition. It was a comp I entered on Christmas Day 2016 and I found out I had won at the beginning of January 2017. I have impatiently waited all year, and finally, just before Christmas 2017, we were off!

This has got to be the best prize I have won. We had a 7 night trip for 2 people, with flights, 1st class rail transfers, half-board accommodation, 7 days full VIP lift passes and a VIP Gondola Champagne Gondola Experience.

AWESOME! Thank you so much!

Greg and Amanda in front of the Matterhorn

Greg and Amanda in front of the Matterhorn

SWISS Air Travel

SWISS is definitely one of my favourite airlines to travel with. You have wide, spacious leather seats and plenty of room. We had over wings seats, which meant we had even more legroom. We had a morning flight from Manchester and were fed with croissants and hot drinks on the way out and then sandwiches in the evening return flight. Delicious Swiss chocolate is also given out on every flight. I always find staff helpful and polite.

We had a 23kg luggage allowance. If you are transporting ski equipment, then this is free with SWISS. You even have covered steps to keep you dry in the rain.

SWISS with Covered Steps to keep you dry

SWISS with Covered Steps to keep you dry

SWISS Travel Pass

I love Switzerland because everything functions! Things run on time. There is an integrated transport system and everything links with everything else. If, for any reason, trains are running late, the connecting trains and buses will often wait for the delayed trains to arrive.

The Swiss Travel Pass takes you from border arrival point to the resort and back. Normally you can only buy it as a foreigner and you have to buy to buy it before you get to Switzerland.

We settled ourselves in the first class carriage of the Intercity Train and set off for Zermatt. The weather was not brilliant, so we could not see very much of the stunning scenery on the journey. At Visp, we changed trains and caught the famous Glacier Express, that runs from St Moritz right across the country to Zermatt, for the final leg of the journey.

1st class Swiss Rail Travel

1st class Swiss Rail Travel

The train is mostly single track and climbed up through the Valley to Zermatt. It was only when we came back down, that I realized how much we had actually climbed to get to Zermatt.

 

On The Way from Visp to Zermatt ©2017 Amanda Goldston

On The Way from Visp to Zermatt ©2017 Amanda Goldston

 

Greg and Amanda beside the Glacier Express

Greg and Amanda beside the Glacier Express in Zermatt

Hotel Butterfly (Best Western)

We stayed in the gorgeous Hotel Butterfly, which is a Best Western Hotel. The hotel is located about 5 minutes walk from the train station, although we could have had hotel’s electric taxi come to pick us up. We had a large, corner room with a balcony on the 4th floor. We were at the front of the hotel, facing the mountains.

View from the Room in Hotel Butterfly

View from the Room in Hotel Butterfly

 

The room was equipped with a kettle and tea and coffee making facilities as well as a large bathroom. It was quiet and peaceful, which was lovely. The water is fresh and clean and can be drunk straight from the tap.

Butterfly Hotel Bedroom, Zermatt

Butterfly Hotel Bedroom, Zermatt

 

Bathroom in the Butterfly Hotel, Zermatt

Bathroom in the Butterfly Hotel, Zermatt

The hotel uses rather curious plug sockets. We were expecting them to be a standard 2 pin North European plug, as we have seen elsewhere in Switzerland, but they are not. They are a 3 pin plug. Fortunately the hotel reception was able to lend us an adaptor, so I could have my cup of tea and plug in my gadgets.

Plug sockets

Plug sockets

 

3 pin plug in Zermatt

3 pin plug in Zermatt

The hotel itself has a sauna and steam room, which we used every day. Bathrobes and slippers are provided for guests. Staff are multi-lingual and everyone was very helpful and friendly. There is an open fire in the reception are, which was lit on the last day we were there.

Every afternoon, there is free afternoon tea and cakes for the guests of the hotel, which was most welcome on several days.

Afternoon Tea in the Butterfly Hotel, Zermatt

Afternoon Tea in the Butterfly Hotel, Zermatt

The Manager, Frank, is extremely passionate that everyone should have a really awesome experience, whilst staying in his hotel. He frequently came round in the evenings to talk to guests at dinner, to find out about their experiences of the day and to see if he could offer any other suggestions.

Frank’s motto was “Creating Future Memories” and I love that. We certainly created plenty of “Future Memories” which we have stacked up ready for our next trips.

For our half-board, we had a very generous buffet breakfast every day. Dinner consisted of a gorgeous 5 course meal. The cooking and waiting staff are all Italian and the food is delicious, fresh Italian style food. It is made with locally-sourced ingredients as far as possible and all freshly-prepared every day. It is simple, yet delicious. I left the dinner table most evenings feeling very full!

If you book half board in the Butterfly Hotel and then decide to eat out in Zermatt village, they will give you a credit off your bill, which is a very generous offer.

Zermatt

Zermatt is a lovely village, located at the end of a valley, at the foot of the famous Matterhorn Mountain, close to the Italian border. Zermatt has been a thriving tourist town since 1865, when Edward Whymper led the expedition that first conquered the Matterhorn. Zermatt is a mixture of very old buildings and quite modern hotels and shops. All the building work has been very sympathetically done and the old and new blend together very well.

Zermatt Old and New

Zermatt Old and New

Zermatt is a car free town, however there are plenty of little electric taxis and buses to take you from place to place. Every hotel has its own little electric vehicle if you need to give anywhere. The only exception to this is the 5 star ZermatterHof Hotel, which has its own horse-drawn carriage with liveried horsemen to provide the transport.

ZermattHof Horse and Carriage

ZermatterHof Horse and Carriage

Zermatt is not huge. At one end, near the train station, is the entrance to the Gonergrat cog railway and, at the other end, is the main ski lift, with regular buses between the two.

There was snow there on the ground in Zermatt when we got there, so everything looked very Christmas-y.

It only snowed on the Monday morning, however everything was covered in snow, which made our pre-Christmas week extra magical!

Although there was snow on the ground, the pavements and rods were not particularly slippery. All the shopkeepers clear the snow from in front of their shops. The local council scrape the top layer of snow off the roads and then take it and dump the snow in the river – which has got to be the ultimate in recycling!

Zermatt has a plenty of cafes and bars, as well as a good selection of shops. There are several gift shops, as well as shops selling outdoor clothing and ski equipment.  Although we were there right before Christmas, the shops were decorated for Christmas, but it was very tasteful and not over-the-top.

There were a couple of well-stocked supermarkets, selling everything you could think of.

The Tourist Information Office is located in the main square near the train station and the girls in there are extremely helpful.

Zermatt Museum

The Zermatt Museum in the centre of the village is really interesting. It tells the story of the bitter-sweet day of 14th July 1865, which was the day of the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn. Success was tinged with tragedy as the rope broke on the way down and four of those first climbers fell to their deaths. There has been 150 years of rumours and controversy over exactly what happened. To this day, the mystery has not been solved. Interestingly, the body of one of the climbers has never been found.

We spent a good couple of hours wandering around the museum and reading the displays and listening to the interactive stories. Fascinating stuff!

Zermatt and Swiss Chocolate

No visit to a Swiss Village would be complete without checking out the Swiss Chocolate on offer and I felt I had to make this part of my mission for this holiday.

The Migros supermarket had quite a selection of chocolate, including some lovely white Frey chocolate. Otherwise there were three main places selling chocolate – Läderach, Lindt and a local shop called Biner.

The Läderach shop is one of the first you see when you get off the train, as it is right on the main square. It is a shop that shouts “expensive” before you get anywhere near it. This a not a brand I had heard of before, so we went to investigate. There were plenty of hand-made truffles on chocolates on display, as well as large slabs of chocolate. There was nothing to sample and the staff were not very friendly. We eventually bought a box of truffles, although we had no real idea what we were buying. Pricing was not very clear.

Laderach Chocolate, Zermatt

Laderach Chocolate, Zermatt

The little Biner shop was a mixture of cakes and chocolate. Again, there was nothing to try or sample, so we did not really know what we were buying. We eventually bought two little boxes of Matterhorn shaped chocolates. We did not feel very welcome there and we did not even get a receipt with the purchase.

Biner Chocolate Shop, Zermatt

Biner Chocolate Shop, Zermatt

 

Swiss Chocolate Collection

Our Swiss Chocolate Collection

Lindt Chocolate and Cafes

We found the Lindt shop conveniently located in the centre of the village and this was a completely different buying experience. The woman in the shop greeted us with a big smile as we walked into the shop and offered us Lindor chocolate balls to try. That was a good start. The products were well laid out and clearly priced. There was a large self-surface area, which, to be fair, was not possible in the other shops as the chocolates were not wrapped.

Lindt Chocolate Shop, Zermatt

Lindt Chocolate Shop, Zermatt

We wanted to get some milk and white chocolate balls for our daughter, because she loves them and they are on available in Lindt shops in the UK. I asked the shop assistant how much the bags held and she gleefully told me about 500g! Yes, that was a bit of an under-estimation, as the bag eventually held 1.066 kg!

The lady sealed the bag up for us and then popped an extra couple of Lindt balls in the bag as a Thank You for our purchase. It was Service with a Huge Smile every time we went in there, regardless of the time of day. Needless to say, we spent more money in that shop than we did in any of the other chocolate shops!

The Lindt philosophy of making customers feel very special was repeated in the Sprungli (of Lindt and Sprungli) café in Zurich airport. We picked out our cakes as we came into the café. These were promptly brought over to us with our hot chocolates and whipped cream. There was also an extra little chocolate with our drinks and a special little truffle as an extra little Christmas Gift. Lindt certainly know how to make customers feel special and wanted.

I have to say though, I came very close to being “chocolated – out” with all that rich cake, hot chocolate and cream. That is not a state that I thought actually existed! I was almost at the point of leaving a bit on my plate – which would never have done! I blame it on the fact that I was full of lurgy cold at the time!

Chocolate Cake at the Sprungli Cafe Zurich Airport

Chocolate Cake at the Sprungli Cafe Zurich Airport

Full marks to Lindt for customer service experience!

VIP Lift Passes

We had 7 day full international VIP ski lift passes, which allowed us unlimited use of all the lifts and trains, and also allowed us to go over the border into Italy. Unfortunately we were not skiing. Zermatt has some nursery slopes, but the majority of the slopes are geared towards Intermediate to advanced skiers. We had had lessons in the run up to the holiday, but, unfortunately were not at a level where we could comfortably ski.

We need to go back to Zermatt another time when we can ski, as the runs looked fabulous and there were a couple of viewpoints that we could not get to unless we had skis.

We rode up and down the mountains in all the gondolas and cable cars to our heart’s content.

The lift passes also allowed us entry to the Glacier Palace, which is located at the Klein Matterhorn as 3883 metres above sea-level.

In search of Fine Cake

As well as hunting down the best chocolate experiences in Zermatt, I was also determined to find the best Mountain Coffee and Cake. We travelled up and down the various gondolas, lifts and trains in Zermatt to the viewpoints, so that we could take stunning photographs of the mountain views, but also so that we could sample the Swiss cakes.

I was pleased by the standard of cakes on offer in the mountain restaurants. The best one was probably the Restaurant at the top of the Rothorn, which has won an award for food.

Cake at the Rothorn Restaurant, Zermatt

Cake at the Rothorn Restaurant, Zermatt

 

Rothorn Restaurant Zermatt

Rothorn Restaurant Zermatt

We did not eat any other food up there, other than cakes, as we had promised ourselves that we would not eat too much between the large buffet breakfast and 5 course dinner.

Stunning Mountain Views

Gornergrat

We were very spoilt for stunning mountain views.

We went up to Gornergrat several times. Zermatt village is at a height of 1600 metres above sea –level. The Kulm Hotel and Observatory at Gornergrat sits at almost 3100 metres above sea-level. It is accessed by the world’s highest cog railway. It has been bringing visitors up from Zermatt since 1898 and is a spectacular ride up through the mountains, including tunnels, bridges and a quite spectacular vertical climb.

Klum Hotel Gonergrat and Matterhorn

Klum Hotel Gonergrat and Matterhorn

There is an observation platform up behind the hotel, which offers some spectacular views across the Alps. You can see 29 peaks that are over 4000 metres in height, including Monta Rosa, DofourSpitze and, of course, the Matterhorn itself.

We were up here at different times of day, including two evenings when we were there for sunset. On the first occasion, the sky was quite clear, so there was not a great deal in way of natural lightshow, as the sun disappeared behind the Matterhorn. On the second occasion, there was more cloud, which meant that there was quite a spectacular display of colours as the sun danced between mountain peaks and banks of clouds.

Sunset from Gonergrat ©2017 Amanda Goldston

Sunset from Gonergrat ©2017 Amanda Goldston

There is a restaurant in the hotel, as well as a self-service cafeteria. Food can be eaten outside on the sun-terrace. In keeping with all Swiss restaurants, they provide blankets for you to sit on whilst you are outside in the cold.

Gornergrat restaurant had its own collection of very well-fed crows, who were determined to inch closer and closer to see what food they could steal!

The Gornergrat railway runs until 8pm in the Winter, so you can eat up at the restaurant if you wish, or stay up there until the sun has gone down. The ski runs shut around 4pm – 5pm as it is starting to get dark.

There is a display here of Matterhorn Mountains made of chocolate. They are 4479 grams of chocolate, which is the same height as the Matterhorn.

Matterhorn Chocolate Mountain

Matterhorn Chocolate Mountain

They can be purchased, although I am not at all sure how I would have got nearly 5kg of chocolate mountain back home without it breaking to bits. Maybe the idea is to eat it whilst you are still in Switzerland!!

Klein Matterhorn Viewpoint

On the other side of the valley is the Klein Matterhorn and the fabulous viewpoint at the highest point. It is reached by cable car that goes from Trockener Steg (2939 metres above sea level) directly up over the glacier to the station and viewpoint at 3883 Metres above sea level, so it goes up nearly 1000 metres in the 10 minute journey.

There is an observation platform here and you are as close to the Matterhorn as you can get without attempting to climb any part of it.

It was fabulous up here, even if it was rather windy. Temperatures were as low as -23 degrees Centigrade (-9.4 Fahrenheit) and I really felt the cold up there, especially the first time. It is very noticeable that the altitude has increased significantly, and thus the air has become much thinner. There were numerous signs everywhere reminding people to walk slowly and take deep breaths as this is a high altitude mountain area.

Glacier Paradise Matterhorn 3883 m

Glacier Paradise Matterhorn 3883 m

From the top you could see right over the glacier. I was quite fascinated by the glacier, especially the way the snow lay on the ice and the way in which the ice had obviously cracked and moved.

Border with Italy

From here you can clearly see the border with Italy. I had hoped that we might be able to walk to it or at least that it would be quite easily accessible, but unfortunately it is not, unless you have skis. From the very top, you can ski down over into Italy and then come back via a quite convoluted series of lifts. It is a shame as our lift passes allowed us to do it.

Italian Border in the Distance

Italian Border in the Distance

There is a rather nice café here, with stunning views right down over the valleys. Toilets are 2 CHF, although you get that money refunded if you buy something in the café. Apparently the money funds a recycling system, so it is put to good use.

Glacier Paradise

From the café, you can down in the lift to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. This goes right underneath the glacier and is really fascinating. There are a series of ice sculptures on display there, as well as a large throne to have your photo taken as the Ice King or Ice Queen.

Jade Dragon Ice Carving, Glacier Paradise, Klein Matterhorn, ©2017 Amanda Goldston

Jade Dragon Ice Carving, Glacier Paradise, Klein Matterhorn, ©2017 Amanda Goldston

 

Amanda Queen of the Ice Palace

Amanda Queen of the Ice Palace

 

Greg King of the Ice Palace, Klein Matterhorn

Greg King of the Ice Palace, Klein Matterhorn

There is also a mini toboggan run inside the Ice Palace, but unfortunately it was not open when we were there.

There is some fascinating information about the Glacier, how it is formed and how it is moving.

Entry to the Glacier Palace is free with certain types of lift passes.

New Gondola and Virtual Reality Experience

Back down at Trockener Steg, there is a fascinating exhibition of the new 3S Cube Gondola system, which is due to open in the Winter of 2018/19. It will be an actual gondola system, rather than the single lift each way that is currently there. It will be able to carry 28 passengers in each car and will carry up to 2000 passengers per hour up the mountain to Kleiner Matterhorn. It will run alongside the existing system.

It is a fascinating system and it quite a feat of construction engineering, which has been running over the last few summers.

There is a 360 degree Virtual Reality Experience, which shows you exactly what the trip up the mountain will look like, from one end to the other. I stood there in the exhibition hall, with the goggles on, having to hold onto the table for stability, turning myself round in circles, gasping WOW! at every breath.

I am very much looking forward to visiting again when it is open.

VIP Gondola Experience

Trockener Steg (2939 m) is also home to the VIP Gondola and the Champagne Experience. We had this experience as part of our prize and it was awesome. It came down to us at the Zermatt Lift station and arrived fully equipped with a large bottle of Moet and Chandon champagne.

The seats are padded and the gondola is decked out as a luxurious ride for 4 people. You can even have a choice of music. There is a strap across the door to make sure that no-one attempts to get in at any of the stops.

The Luxury VIP Gondola

The Luxury VIP Gondola

It takes approximately 20 minutes to go from Zermatt, at 1600 m, to Trockener Steg at 2939 metres. In that time, Greg and I guzzled half a bottle of champagne each. So, this was 2pm in the afternoon. Apart from some chocolate, I had not eaten since breakfast time, we went up 1400 metres in 20 minutes and I downed a fair bit of champagne. We got progressively merrier as we went up and toasted everyone we saw. I got to the top and, I have to admit, I felt distinctly merry – and rather unstable on my feet (rather drunk, in other words!).

Cheers in the VIP Gondola

Cheers in the VIP Gondola

From there, we decided we would go up the other side of the valley to Gonergrat, so I went up another 200 metres in height!

It was a fabulous experience – really worth it. Pure, indulgent luxury!

I am not sure how much the Gondola is used as we had not seen it all week, even though we had ridden up and down on that stretch of gondolas several times.

Rothorn and Sunnegga

One of the other points we went to was Rothorn (3108m). For us, this was about viewpoints and fine cake, as we were not skiing. The first time we went up there, we could not see very much, so we went up there a couple of times.

The first leg of the journey to Sunnegga is fascinating. We walked in a tunnel into the mountain at ground level in Zermatt and boarded the train. The train went direcly up inside the mountain and emerged at Sunnegga at the top. This was a fascinating journey.

It was a shame we were not able to ski as there were several places we could not get to, although there were lifts to them.

Apparently there are some fantastic walks and lakeside views from here in the summertime, which we can access as walkers, so we definitely need to come back again for another visit.

Walk from Sunnegga to Zermatt

On one bright, sunny day we decided to walk down from Sunnegga (2288m) to Zermatt village (1620m). It was a lovely walk, through some spectacular scenery and past several well-located restaurants on the route.

The hardest part was probably getting ourselves on the correct path, right at the start, without getting run over by skiers on the nursery slopes near Sunnegga. The first part of the path was not very well made and was quite tricky to walk on. Once we were sure we were on the right path, it improved considerably and was a very pleasant walk down through the woods and the valley.

Walking in the Mountains coming down to Zermatt

Walking in the Mountains coming down from Sunnegga  to Zermatt

I had taken both of my walking poles and was very glad that I had done that. Greg had his monopod pole, which doubles up as a tripod, so he was not quite so stable on his feet. The lower part of the path came close to the Gonergrat railway at the bottom, although we were not near the stop and then went through the woods, parallel to village, before finally dropping down hundreds of steps into the village.

I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, although my calves were complaining a bit as we had descended over 600 metres, without any “up” parts to balance them out. Still a good soak in the steam room and sauna put them right.

Mountain Contemplation near Zermatt,

Mountain Contemplation near Zermatt,

The walk was about 6km (4 miles) and it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It took us about 2 and ½ hours to do. We were quite impressed with ourselves with this, as the Swiss signs had indicated that it should take about 2 hours. We are always a bit wary of those, as they tend to be geared towards young, fit people who are walking at a rapid pace and not really at people who are meandering along and stopping to take photographs every two minutes.

Fabulous Zermatt

It was a fabulous holiday and I am really grateful to Switzerland Tourism for picking me as the winner of this awesome competition. I am also really grateful to Magalie and all the team at Zermatt Tourism for organising everything for us. We had a wonderful time and will definitely be coming back again for more of Frank’s (Manager of Butterfly Hotel) “Future Memories”.

Thank you to everyone who made this amazing holiday possible for us.

I look forward to seeing you all again very soon.

Amanda and Greg Goldston

#InLOVEWithSwitzerland

 I will be back to the Matterhorn

I will be back to the Matterhorn!

©2018 Amanda Goldston

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