Switzerland is a beautiful country to visit any time of year, but I find it particularly magical in the Winter. In Zermatt, Switzerland, the dream of a White Christmas becomes a reality! Zermatt is a town nestled deep in the Alps at an elevation of 5,310 feet. Rising all around it are some of Europe’s highest mountains including Monte Rosa (15,203 feet) and the famous Matterhorn (14,692 feet). Accessible only by train, electric taxi, or helicopter, Zermatt has a population of just under 6,000 people. We recently spent three days there as part of our Second Annual Great European Holiday. On our first day we planned to go up to Gornergrat Station for some hiking and to take a tour to look at Valais Black Nose Sheep.
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Day 1 – Gornergrat Railway and Valais Black Nose Sheep
Day 1 – Gornergrat and Valais Black Nose Sheep
ARRiving in Zermatt, Switzerland
We arrived by train from Zurich and took one of the electric taxis to the Hotel Bristol. There are no combustible engines in Zermatt so all transportation in the valley is electric. Taxis look like miniature buses, can seat up to seven people, have space for a lot of luggage, and roof racks for ski storage. There are also public buses that go to all the main points around the village.
We picked the Hotel Bristol because it has rooms with a view of the Matterhorn. If you are going to stay in Zermatt, you want a room with a view and the hotel offered spectacular views. It also had nice, modern, en-suite rooms and a simply gorgeous buffet breakfast. The hotel was also fairly conveniently located just above the main street and near a bus route. Click here for more information about the Hotel Bristol.
The Matterhorn is the 10th highest mountain in Switzerland and sits on the border between Italy and Switzerland. It was one of the last alpine peaks to be summited. In fact, the first expedition to successfully summit the mountain ended in disaster with most of the team dying. Since then it has been climbed by thousands of people. You can read more about climbing the Matterhorn here. The profile of the peak is very distinctive and I find it particularly beautiful when the rising sun sets it a-glow.
After settling into our hotel, we headed toward the Gornergrat Railway station next to the main train station. Our plan was to take the train up through the mountains to Gornergrat Station at 10,135 feet (3,089 meters). This railway is the second highest railway in Europe after the Jungfrau which is also in Switzerland. En route to the station, we saw the train heading up through the village at a steep angle.
Once on the train we headed up and out of the village and deep into the Alps. We passed through evergreen forests and a series of tunnels io our way to the top.
About three-quarters of the way up we stopped briefly at Riffelberg Station. This station is a popular stop for skiers and has a restaurant and a hotel. In the summer it is possible to hike down to this station from the top.
A few minutes later we finally arrived at Gornergrat Station and exited through the turnstiles and out onto the snow packed earth. Now walking in the snow is fun, but it can be stressful, especially if there is a lot of ice. I always wear micro crampons over my boots whenever I go winter trekking to avoid this issue. With my boots spiked and a sturdy pair of trekking sticks in hand it is possible to go almost anywhere snow and ice-covered without fear of slipping.
From the Gornergrat Station we headed down a trail in the direction of the previous stop – Rotenboden. After a short while the Matterhorn came into view and we decided to explore the nearby snow field. Walking around the snow-covered outcroppings as evening approached was magical and an unforgettable experience! We headed back to the station in time to catch the last train back down to the village.
Valais Black Nose Sheep
Once back in village we made our way to the Hotel Julen for a tour of the Julen Family Farm. Several electric taxis took our tour group out of Zermatt along slippery and narrow roads up to the sheepfold. The journey was harrowing as it was now dark and the road was dodgy – winding its way next to a semi-frozen river and up some very steep sections.
The Valais Black Nose Sheep are some of the cutest sheep in existence in my opinion. They are all white with the exception of their nose and ears and tips of their feet. During the summer months they can be hard to find as they spend their days roaming the hills and valleys surrounding Zermatt. Some herders move their flocks to warmer climates during the winter. The Julen Family keep them at a heated sheepfold just outside of Zermatt and it is possible to take a tour and see the sheep up close.
In addition to seeing the black nose sheep, we visited the dairy barn to see their cows. Cheese and other farm-fresh produce was also served. Of course, seeing the sheep up close was the highlight of the trip!
Dinner at Alteste Wirtschaft
Exhausted after a long day out we stopped at a rustic restaurant near our hotel for a late dinner. Alteste Wirtschaft is one of my favorite restaurants in Zermatt. It is inexpensive and serves Swiss cuisine in a lively and quaint atmosphere. I generally try to sit upstairs as the second floor is filled with antiques and provides a more cozy environment. We had bratwurst and rosti and left completely satisfied.
After such a long day we headed straight to bed in preparation for an early rise the next day.
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