Now any sport where you can stop and enjoy a lunch of sauteed fresh foie gras, crunchy on the outside and creamy in the centre to start, fresh winter truffles bought to the table by a smiling waitress who shaves them so they fall like snow over a bowl of hot buttered homemade tagliatelle pasta and then a hot plum tart served with the whitest, creamiest, cream you have ever tasted, all while enjoying the most stunning alpine views and a bottle of the local gamay is certainly my kind of sport.
Zermatt, located in a deep valley enclosed between steeply scarped mountains dominated by the huge and gracefully proportioned pyramid of the Matterhorn, is our favourite ski village. Its unbeatable combination of excellent slopes, reliable snow, stunning scenery, Alpine charm and of course great mountain restaurants keep us coming back as often as we can. Life in Zermatt dates back to the Roman times, when it was an access point over the Alps between Rome and Gaul. The locals continued in this quiet part of the world as a simple farming village until the mid 19th century when tourism started with the village surgeon opening a hotel for the mountain climbers that had started frequenting the valley. The original hotel, now called the Hotel Monte Rosa is still trading and is a boutique five star property with a great little ‘stubli’ bar in the cellar serving one of the villages best fondues.
The village, as wonderful to visit in summer as winter, is car free, which adds to the old world feel. A promenade down the main street or exploring the tiny cobbled or snow covered alleyways is always a joy and very much like stepping back in time. While the village is ‘chocolate box picture’ pretty and charming the real stars of Zermatt are the amazing mountains and the restaurants located in them.
Zermatt is encircled by a ring of the highest mountains in Europe which leads to having some of the best ski runs in the world, some up to 17 km in length. Dotted around the mountains at every turn are cosy huts serving lovingly prepared local cuisine. Our favourites are “Zum See” for the truffled pasta and best vanilla slice you could imagine. “Chez Vrony” for its quirky design, warm salads, variations on roesti and great wine list. “Findlerhof” for its foie gras dishes and its spaghetti with mussels and of course “Fluhalp” located in an isolated position away from the lifts and with stunning views of the mountains, great little wine list and some of the best renditions of local classic dishes. We usually time our morning coffee and schnapps break to arrive at Fluhalp around 11:00am as the days baked apple tart is coming out of the oven, with its crisp pastry, just cooked apples and meltingly soft almond, hazelnut custard just holding it together ....well you have to have something to keep you going until lunch time.
As if the mountain restaurants are not enough, the village is littered with cosy romantic restaurants from simple cafes to avant garde degustation only affairs. We tend to keep it local and simple with one of our favourites being the ‘Schaferstubli’. Located in the cellar of the Hotel Julen, it posses a rustic charm with a warm and homey ambience. Lamb is the speciality of the house and just to show they are serious they use lamb only produced in the valley on their own farm and what great lamb it is, whether eaten as a grilled rack on their open wood fire or enjoyed as fondue. Of course Zermatt is ‘Raclette’ country, the traditional Swiss dish of melted raclette cheese served with small local potatoes and pickles. Our favourite place to enjoy this wonderful dish is Restaurant Stockhorn.
I could go on for pages describing the local cheeses, mountain herbs, the creamiest organic yoghurt, artisan breads, air cured meats, wild strawberries and so on, but you should really go and see for yourself. No wonder skiing is my favourite sport.