Destination Guide to Zermatt Switzerland

Written by Cordy Lewis 22 February 2024

Last modified on 13 April 2024
The glorious Matterhorn, Zermatt The glorious Matterhorn, Zermatt

Zermatt; the perfect playground for anyone who has an interest in the outdoors, food, photography, wildlife and so much more! Located at the southern end of Switzerland Zermatt is in the Visp Valley which forms part of the Valais Canton.  The village itself is at an altitude of 1620 metres (5,314ft) and is surrounded by awe inspiring mountains.   

At Tracks and Trails we run a variety of hiking holidays which take in the wonders of the Matterhorn whilst being able to walk on tracks steeped in history. Read on to find out more about the history, flora and fauna and, of course, the hiking around Zermatt.

The History of Zermatt

Zermatt was traditionally a farming community and was only brought into the spotlight in the mid 19th century after Edward Whymper became the first person to complete the ascent of the Matterhorn.  The farming heritage is still evident in the high pastures; just a short walk out of the village itself will take you back in time where traditional farming techniques are still used.

This link to their farming heritage is celebrated throughout the summer season with the daily goat parade. Watch as the goats parade through the village every day during the summer and hear the bells ring as they move by; it is quite a spectacle to be part of. 


                                                                                               Zermatt's photogenic 'Blackneck' goats

People travelled around Zermatt on horse and cart until the 1970's; this was because the use of fossil fuelled vehicles was banned in the 1960's.  Subsequent referendums in the 70's and 80's upheld this notion and so Zermatt remains a car free village.  Something to remember as you wander around the village, the electric vehicles are silent! 

How do you get around Zermatt I hear you ask?  Well, it has a network of electric vehicles including bikes, buses and taxi's, (the taxis look a little like an old fashioned milk cart), to help you get around and, you can often see tourists enjoying a horse drawn carriage experience through the main parts of the village.

If you're travelling from further afield then there is a great train network to help you reach Zermatt itself. Alternatively, you can travel to Täsch by car and park in one of the many car parks there before taking the train the last 3 miles to Zermatt itself.

Want to find out more about the history then head to the Matterhorn Museum where you can learn about how Zermatt transformed from a village of mountain farmers to the world famous mountain resort it is today.  Here you can also find items used in the first ascent of the Matterhorn.

The Matterhorn

If, like me, you're interested in etymology the name 'Zermatt' has evolved from the original 'Zur Matte' and derives from the German word 'Matten' meaning grassy alpine meadows.  Leading nicely to the meaning of the word 'Matterhorn' which is the peak of the meadows.

The world famous Matterhorn, also known as the "Jewel of the Swiss Alps' sits at 4478 metres (14,692ft) and it's well know for its iconic, near symmetrical, pyramid shape which for many years was the logo of the Toblerone bar. The mountain sits at the west of the canton Valais between Zermatt and the Italian resort of Breuil-Cervinia.

Edward Whymper, the son of a British wood engraver, travelled to the Alps in search of inspiration for illustrations requested by his publisher.  Whilst in the Alps he discovered mountaineering and went in pursuit of being the first to ascend many mountains.  After several failed attempts to summit the Matterhorn in July 1865 he finally achieved this remarkable goal. 

Fascinatingly Whymper returned home and continued in the family business whilst taking every opportunity to continue his travels and mountaineering achievements in the Alps.

The Matterhorn remains one of the most iconic peaks for mountaineers to summit both in winter and summer.  There are between 2500-3000 ascents of the Matterhorn in a year with the most common ascent is via the Hörnli route.  

The route takes you to the Hörnli hut where you will stay overnight; here you may see tourists as the track is well maintained and people enjoy the opportunity to walk to the hut for lunch.  Anyone ascending the Matterhorn will start very early the morning, before dawn, and will climb 1200m (3937 ft) to the summit; this is a highly technical mountaineering alpine ascent which most people undertake with an experienced mountain guide.

For those who reach the summit they will be rewarded with incredible views and be exhilarated by the exposure of the ridge!  The descent is completed on the same day.

                                                                   An illustration by Edward Whymper depicting his successful summit bid 

Gateway to major hiking routes

But it’s not all about the Matterhorn!! Zermatt has thirty-eight 4000m (13,120ft) peaks in the surrounding area and over 400km (250 miles) of hiking trails to choose from.  

Walkers Haute Route - Chamonix to Zermatt

This famous route links the mountaineering capitals of Chamonix, France and Zermatt, Switzerland. The Haute Route is for experienced hill walkers and gives you the opportunity to take in both Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe, and the Matterhorn.   

The full Haute Route takes 10 days to complete and covers approximately 150km (94 miles). The trail stays high in the mountains, crosses passes at nearly 3000m (9840ft)  - making this high mountain trek a true 'wilderness' adventure. Tracks and Trails offer a guided Walkers Haute Route culminating in an overnight stay in the famous Zermatt.

                                                                             Stunning conditions on the Walkers Haute Route

Walkers Haute Route Highlights

This is the best of the Walkers Haute route cherry picked to take in the iconic Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. Here you will walk below ten of the twelve highest peaks and enjoy snow capped mountains and surround yourself in the outstanding landscape.  This holiday starts in Chamonix, France and finishes in the picturesque village of Zermatt, Switzerland, where you get to enjoy two nights. 

The Walkers Haute Route highlights takes all the best bits of the classic trail with a few transfers added in to ensure you can still complete the most dramatic traverses in a shorter period of time.  The trail reaches a maximum altitude of 2921m (9580ft) and incorporates two nights in a mountain hut which is an experience in itself!

If you'd like to see more about this holiday then take a look here.


                                                                           Lac du Louvie - I can see a coffee stop ahead!!

Tour De Monte Rosa

The Tour De Monte Rosa is a challenging walk that covers 162km through the Italian and Swiss Alps and takes 9 days to complete.  Walk through the pine forests, on the ancient paths and take in the hidden valleys whilst also enjoying mountain views of the spectacular Dufourspitze, the iconic Matterhorn, and the jagged Weisshorn.

Since the 13th century the Tour de Monte Rosa would have been completed by a mule and its handler as a trade route; I always find it fascinating when walking to understand the origins and need for these routes.  Having walked sections of this route with school groups it is a delight to develop their understanding of the historical importance and the interest this sparks in them is so much more than in the classroom.

Tracks and trails offer a guided holiday of the Tour du Monte Rosa; if you fancy a challenge then why not take a look.

                                     High mountain huts provide a welcome rest - we recommend the apple strudel with vanilla sauce

Flora and Fauna

It is impossible to tell you about these routes without touching on the stunning flora and fauna you will experience. A short distance on a chairlift and you can walk in the stunning flower meadows around Zermatt.  This was a day trip we used to take the students on when they wanted to spend some time making their own illustrations or capture the views with their camera!  

                                                          A stunning spot to sit and take in the view and perhaps create your own drawing

Edelwiess, gentian and alpine rose are potentially the best known alpine flowers, however, Zermatt has a least seven endemic species; including snow génépy, alpine mountain gold and lower lamb's lettuce.  Having a good app on your phone will help you identify some of these alpine flowers and you maybe lucky to and see and endemic one!

Like the flora the ability to see the animals of the area is really accessible; hop on the Matterhorn Express Gondola and as soon as you disembark you will hear the high pitched whistle of a marmot.  If it is a sunny day you may even be lucky enough to see one basking on a rock.

                                                                    A marmot enjoying the sun, they love to soak up the rays!

The Alpine Chamois migrate over large distances and descend to the lower levels in the winter months to find food.  The Alpine Ibex on the other hand climbs the steep slopes to where the snow falls off the surface to reveal food.  The Ibex is the larger cousin of the chamois but don't let the size fool you; these animals are nimble and can balance on a slope you would think is impossible!


Zermatt is particularly famous for the ability to ski and snowboard all year round.  It is Europe's highest ski resort at 3883m (12,739 ft) meaning the snow stays on the slopes all year round.  Whilst there are some blue (easy) graded runs I would say this resort is more suited to those who are intermediate or expert.

Food and Drink

Whilst in Zermatt why not take the opportunity to try out the local food; I find this is best served in a mountain hut overlooking the route you have just completed!  A classic hut meal consists of three courses and can be a hearty soup, followed by a tasty meat stew with potatoes, and perhaps an apple strudel to round it off.  You can also partake in a special hut coffee which is a spirit layered with coffee and then cream.

Raclette historically originated in the Valais and if you haven't tried this I would absolutely recommend it as it is the cheese lovers dream!  This dish is traditionally served with potatoes, cured meat, cornichons and pickled onions and can be accompanied by tea or a Valais wine.


                                        A traditional raclette - a hearty mountain meal of cheese, potatoes, gherkins, and dried meats

Interested in joining us?

Keep up to date with Tracks and Trails through our newsletter, click here to sign up. For more information about our cross-country skiing trips, either bespoke or Scheduled Departures, speak to one of our expert team by calling +44 (0) 20 8144 64442 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. In addition to cross-country skiing we offer snowshoeing, and in summer hiking and trail running.