Mountain Walking in Zermatt
Rothorn above Zermatt: Alpine Walks in a Summer Paradise
For me, walking in the mountains around Zermatt was like taking a shortcut to paradise. If you have spent time in the Swiss Alps - or anywhere in the Alps - you know it will be lovely, but you really can't imagine just how breathtaking until you are there, standing on a flower-covered mountain side, gazing in awe at the panorama around you.
Zermatt is a high-altitude Swiss alpine town, which lies close to Switzerland's border with Italy. Although not the easiest place to reach, it has been a magnet for climbers and tourists for well over 150 years. Not least because it is home to the famous Matterhorn mountain which has fascinated mountain climbers since Victorian times.
Although the little farming village has grown into a sizeable (but car-free) resort packed with hotels and accommodation, shops, supermarkets and eating places, it still has some of its original charm. More importantly, this development has had only a small impact on the magnificent mountain scenery, which remains largely unspoiled even with the railways and cable cars that will whisk you up to the heights.
Walk for just a few minutes away from the mountain restaurant, and you can find yourself in perfect piece, surrounded by all the wonders of alpine nature.
Even if Zermatt is not on your itinerary for next Summer, I hope you will join me on a virtual nature walk through some of the loveliest Alpine scenery.
All photos copyright of the author.
Walking in the Rothorn area
Zermatt - Sunnegga - Blauherd - Unterrothorn
Zermatt itself is situated at 1 mile (1605m) above sea level - just like Denver, Colorado. So even when lying in your hotel bed, you will be pretty high up! And from here, for as long as you are in the Zermatt area, you can only go higher.
The easiest way to get straight up into the mountain scenery is by funicular. The station is close to the river at the northern (lower) side of the town. The funicular is ideal if you prefer to walk down rather than up, or just want to do some mountain walking higher up above the tree line.
The first stop is Sunnegga (2288m or approx 1.4 miles above sea level). There is a mountain restaurant here with lovely views, and the surrounding terrain is long grass with lots of pretty Alpine flowers.
From Sunnegga, you can take the cable car to Blauherd (2578m / 1.6 miles), and either stop there or continue by cable car to Unterrothorn. If you get out at Blauherd, you'll find it a little more barren than Sunnegga with a lot of rocky ground.
Unterrothorn is 3103m (almost 2 miles!) high. Although we were there in the hottest summer on record, even then there were still pockets of snow to be seen in shaded spots. This tends to be as high as tourists generally go, although serious hikers could be seen setting out for Oberrothorn at 3415m (2.12 miles). Even in Summer you will need the proper equipment and know-how to tackle this route, which can only be tackled on foot.
Sunnegga to Zermatt
This can either be the first or the final leg of your walk, or it could simply be an introductory walk while you get used to the altitude. (If you are not used to it, you may find the air thin and tire easily at first.)
I did this route downhill, on the way back to Zermatt, so just reverse it if you need to.
From sunny Sunnegga, the path takes you alongside meadows grazed by cows (you'll hear their cowbells even if you don't see them!) and through little Findeln at 2051m with its traditional rustic chalets.
As you continue your descent, you will reach the treeline. From this point, the walk is in woodland, which is particularly pleasant on a hot day as it will give you some shade. However, be sure to take your photos before this point.
Woodcarving near Sunnegga
Blauherd to Sunnegga
This was a route that we did on our final day - the day we saw a marmot!
Rather than going direct from Blauherd to Sunnegga, we first went uphill and then looped back around. The highlight of this walk, apart from meeting a marmot of course, was the wonderful view down to the Mosjesee (pictured).
We saw many pretty flowers too, and walked alongside a mountain stream for a while. I think it was somewhere around here that I found the rock that looked just like a mini Matterhorn.
Blauherd was also the spot from which I took a shortcut down to Zermatt on another day - by tandem paraglide! This involved being strapped to a Swiss man and a large piece of fabric, and running off the mountainside. An unforgettable experience.
Unterrothorn is a wonderful spot but it is one that almost defies description. Here you will have a panoramic view of many of the great peaks of the Alps of over 4000m (almost 2.5 miles) in height. This includes the Matterhorn (4478m), the Dom (4545m), the Weisshorn (4505m) and many, many more. No matter where you turn, you will see snow-capped peaks on every side.
On the day we visited, there were only a handful of tourists enjoying this awe-inspiring view as the distant bells of Zermatt carried on the pure mountain air.
The silence was suddenly broken by a strange noise. At first we were mystified by this odd sound, but soon all became clear as a party of mountain sheep came into view. This odd little hiking party had been driven upwards by the unusual heat, to seek out the coolest spots of the peak. As they climbed in their thick woolly coats, their leader bleated like a Sergeant-Major to keep them all in line!
Sometimes words are not enough.... - The beauty of the Zermatt-Rothorn trip in a video
Words and static images can only go so far. Which is why I was thrilled to find this incredible video from StuartDutchman. If you have 5 minutes to spare you will be well rewarded - it shows just about everything I've described on this page.
Have you visited Zermatt or been walking in the Swiss Alps? Or is it on your list of places to visit? I'd love to hear from you.