A Scenic Ride Past The Matterhorn In Zermatt, Switzerland
By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com Travel Blogger
The bucket list of things to do in Zermatt includes boarding this old-fashioned cog train and taking it to a lookout peak in the Swiss Alps known as Gornergrat.
From there, you can get great views – and selfies! – of the Matterhorn, have lunch with some excellent Swiss wine high in the sky, or hike back down to town where you can stop along the way at other restaurants for food, wine and schnapps.
But as is the case with many things in Switzerland, a big part of the thrill is not just the destination, but the journey. And it begins with the cog railway.
The Cog Railway Scenic Journey
The cog railway is a train that uses cog wheels to climb steep grades. And getting to the Gornergrat is a steep grade – a vertical climb of nearly 1,500 meters (that’s 5,000 feet) to a soaring height of 3,089 meters (10,135.5 feet) from the village of Zermatt.
Along the way, the scenery is spectacular. It crosses bridges, goes through a tunnel, provides for dramatic views of steep V-shaped valleys and past mountain lakes and ski runs. The train lets this all in with huge windows, the top of which is open for unobstructed photos.
The train curls up the mountain, almost as if it is intentionally building the drama of its arrival at the peak.
It cuts back and forth in a series of slow S-turns, takes a wide sweep of a ski run, makes two brief stops at lookouts and gives a peek at Europe’s highest-altitude hotel, the Kulm Gornergrat which, at 3,100 meters, you had better hope they don’t run out of wine if you stay there because it’s a long way down to the store.
After 33 thrilling minutes, it pulls to a final stop and there it is, a lookout pointing straight at the Matterhorn, beyond an imposing-looking valley.
Just up from this spot is an observation deck and a restaurant that provides sweeping views of this entire section of the Alps.
Once you decide to depart – after you reach up on your tip-toes to grab your breath that the view took away – you can take the railway back to town.
Or you can do as the Swiss do and hike your way back to Zermatt.
This is not as challenging as it may seem. At least in the spring, summer and fall. In the winter you ski down, of course!
In fact, the hike is quite enjoyable because in the way of the Swiss, you do it at a leisurely pace.
You stop frequently to admire the views, walk up to one of the ponds to catch the mirrored reflection of the Matterhorn in the water, hear the “clank, clank, clank” of the farmers’ cow bells in the distance – in case you doubted it to this point, this really hits home that you are the Swiss Alps – and perhaps do like PubClub.com and scamper off the trail to get up close to grazing black-and-white sheep that are so unusual they look like creatures in the Star Wars movies.
At any time, you can peel off the trail and take the railway back to town by catching it at one of its stops.
A far better choice is to pull up to the occasional restaurant and sit down for a Swiss-style lunch.
And a Swiss-style lunch means not just fruit, cheeses and dried meat, but glasses of the delicate and tasty Swiss wine. Here, you must mirror the pace of the Swiss, which is to say you must take at least two hours to have lunch. Remember it’s the experience that counts as much as the journey.
Then you finish things off with the unofficial drink of Switzerland, schnapps (don’t shoot it like tequila, tho; like most things in this county it is to be savored).
And then, if you are feeling fine from the wine and schnapps, you can take the railway back to town.
The entire journey, when done the proper Swiss way, will take up much of the day. PubClub.com recommends starting out mid-morning at about 10, and timing it to have lunch on your way down the mountain.
In keeping with national policy of making everything you ride in Switzerland ridiculously easy to access, the cog railway starts out from a station right by the main street in Zermatt. You can be there in 30 seconds from a shop, restaurant or bar.
The price to the top is 42 Swiss Francs one way, 84 R/T. Trains depart Zermatt approximately every half hour from 7 a.m., until almost 10 p.m.