Postcards from Zermatt, the village with the chocolate mountain





There are five sounds that really belong to Zermatt and its verdant surroundings: the strong rumble of the river, the chirping of crickets, the hum of electric mini vans, the rustle of the silver-coloured paper of Toblerone packages and most importantly the joyous waus and aahs as the visitors and hikers finally see the mighty Matterhorn after the train ride from Täsch or Visp.



Ah, Zermatt, you are beautiful, a great base camp and starting point for countless hikes on the surrounding mountains, and really expensive. And I don’t just mean Switzerland expensive but an upscale touristic little village amid the mountains kind of expensive. The municipality of Zermatt is located in the canton of Valais. The undisputable star of the place is the majestic and beautiful Matterhorn. And I bet the mountain knows this: during our visit it often veiled its peak in fog and clouds and revealed all of its stunning beauty only on carefully chosen occasions. Luckily one of these moments was when we were enjoying the delicious and plentiful breakfast at the Hotel Ambiance before our hike of the day. But Matterhorn is not the only star on stage: there are altogether 38 four thousand-metre mountains in the area (!)


Zermatt is a great destination choice for those who love to hike (there is a 400 km network of hiking trails), mountain bike, enjoy the outdoors, breathe in the clean and crisp mountain air, marvel at the magnificent views and take a zillion photos. And if you’re looking for a luxury spa experience, you’ll very likely find that too, based on the number of spa hotels in the village.


A word about the hiking: it was no easy peasy light day stroll but really a proper workout with steep ascents in stony terrain. Add a clear blue sky, lovely sunrays, butterflies, the sight of chubby marmots, a piece of rich apple strudel and you will get hooked quicker than you can say One more piece of Toblerone please. I purely loved every minute of it. There’s something magical and purifying about being up in the heights, the sweat running down your back and your head being cleared from everything futile.


I’ll share my Zermatt favourites:

The relaxing heat of the sauna after a long and physical hiking day and sliding into the jacuzzi on the terrace with Matterhorn standing in the background. Bless the nice young lady at the reception who prepared this for us. Warm thoughts to her and the experience.

The gorgeous panoramic hike to Riffelsee: the hike itself was beautiful and it culminated in seeing the reflection of Matterhorn from the mountain lake and of course in taking the must-do chocolate-mountain top photos (a few practice shots were needed here). Indeed, the famous chocolate bar has received it’s shape from the majestic mountain. About the hiking routes: take a compact route map with you either from your accommodation or the tourist info. The routes and their difficulty levels are marked there. The signs along the routes were not as clear as I would have expected, so it’s good to have the map as well.


The luscious piece of Italy in Zermatt: the restaurant Chalet da Giuseppe (Vispastrasse 26, Zermatt 3920). Fireworks for the palate. Try the creamy burrata, the rich truffle soup and nonna’s ravioli. An extra mentioning goes to the warm atmosphere and the singing owner. Note: the door is quite heavy, so pull hard enough. Whatever you do, don’t walk away from this Italian taste adventure.


The hike to and across the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. The length of the bridge is 500 metres and it hangs 85 metres above the ground. It was a thrill and there’s no way I could have pulled out my camera when I was half way through it. Luckily the other one of us was more daring. The hike is a circular tour which starts from the village of Randa and takes a bit less than 3 hours. An adrenaline rush guaranteed.

The most delicious hit-the-spot pitstop including a club sandwich and a glass of prosecco (and Zermatt Bier for Mr. O) at the sun terrace of the Bar 2’222 m at the Riffelalp resort.

And as the final point, waking up one morning, opening the balcony door and discovering that this hazy mist had covered the village. It was almost like stepping into a cloud: foggy and a bit surreal.

Zermatt is a gorgeous nature paradise for hiking lovers, a strong suggestion. A happy place.

The Green Dream: an Idyllic Hike in Merano 2000


A green so strong and bright it almost hurts your eyes. The hike I wrote about last time was a proper climb and a sweaty workout. This one is more about idyllic meadows, birds singing, cows grazing on the green hills and alpine huts with domestic animals: a family hiking route, one could say. The Dolomites on the background make the hike spectacular, so rest assured, this is no regular Sunday stroll (unless you live up there of course, you lucky one).


So, we started the hike at the parking area of the Hafling Dorf, in Avelengo Paese, in South Tyrol (in Northern Italy). We did the route number 2 (which then changed to 2A): it is a loop trail and marked with a red line signifying an easy trail (leicht). And that it was: pleasant, beautiful, green and panoramic.



The time estimate for the hike given in the signposts was four and a half hours. It took us six hours to finish it. I don’t want to believe it was the two delicious apple strudels that weighed us down; we stopped many times for pictures and had two refreshing breaks at the huts. We were in absolutely no hurry but it’s good to reserve enough time for the trek before the sun starts to set. The huts on this route are Wurzeralm, Vöraner Alm and Leadner Alm. Once again, I cannot but help to wonder at the wide selection they have, from a wide selection of sausages and other local delicacies to homemade bread and sweet pastries.


This map will be of use to you if you decide to head up there. As you can see from the map, there are so many trails ranging from easy and short walks to more demanding summit treks. To me this place is a hiker’s paradise. A strong recommendation to all you travel, nature and outdoor activities enthusiasts out there!


Reaching New Altitudes: Discovering Merano 2000


I’ve had this dream of hiking in the Alps for quite some time: something of a mixture of the magnificent views  from the Sound of Music and an active and sweaty sports holiday. The dream came true in August. We spent our holiday in Northern Italy, in Trento, and did day trips in different directions. One destination was the summit Merano 2000. My highlights and tips, here you go:


So what is it about?
Merano 2000 is a hiking and recreational area with numerous panoramic hiking trails. A cable car (Via Val di Nova) will take you up to the summit in seven minutes. Quite a quick ride from the ground level to the mountains. There is a wide range of routes (altogether 19 of them) from a brisk stroll along a gravel path to more demanding vertical rises towards the mountain peaks. The place also has tens of kilometers of mountain biking trails.


Why go?
Because: the views, the workout and the views. And the bonus reason: the delicious apple strudel bigger than your head. The views to the Dolomites (which is an UNESCO World Heritage site) are stunning.

 


How?
The trekking trails are clearly signposted all the way. We did the hike from Piffing to the Kuhleiten hut. It consisted of the following parts: first an easy trail along a gravel path (trail number 3). Then a more demanding ascent marked as only for experts (oops): we did some improvising here and took a little shortcut – we ended up almost crawling on all fours up the hill. The rest of the way we then decided to follow the marked path, which was a moderately heavy trail. I’d say that the more arduous paths require a good physique and that the given time estimates in the wooden signs are  mostly accurate.


For whom?
For so many: for those who enjoy the outdoors, gorgeous scenery, being active and summer adventures. For couples, entire families with children, for all ages really. All in all, it is an excellent outdoor holiday option for those, who relax best by staying in motion.

Timewise
Note, that during the high season the last cable car heads back down at 6 o’clock pm, which is relatively early as there would be daylight still for a few more hours. On Fridays, the ropeway operates until 9 o’clock pm.


The biggest surprise?
What surprised me was the big number of (a total of 19) Hütten (mountain huts) and the wide selection they had: you can try the traditional treats of the local gastronomy, for example a Gulaschsuppe, Käseknödel or then my favourite, Südtiroler Apfelstrudel. A piece of warm apple pie with whipped cream (how else) tastes close to heavenly in the refreshing mountain air. The language used is German and the prices are very reasonable. A strong recommendation to these refreshing and tasty oases. Some of the huts even have an Übernachtungsmöglichkeit (gotta love German), that is, the possibility for overnight accommodation.


How much?
The cable car ride cost 27 Euros for two people (round trip): this was the happy hour price (valid from 2 o’clock onwards), the normal price being 20 euros per person. The snacks in the huts were affordable.


What to remember?
First, sunscreen. Take it from someone whose lips were peeling for several days after the holiday: remember to put sunblock on your lips as well. Other necessities: comfortable and sturdy shoes, a hat, a water bottle and a camera to capture all that beauty. And also a sweater with long sleeves: it is quite chilly and windy high up there (says someone who insisted on enjoying her espresso in a sports tank top, and in goose bumps).



I am a girl who loves to be by the water (sea, lakes, ponds, waterfalls, any water source really) but now the mountains definitely have a strong hold of me. When and where to next, those are the questions once again.

Have fun, viel Spaß, up there!