One amazing day exploring the Matterhorn and Swiss Alps.

Smack in the middle of the Alps, Switzerland tops the charts in a number of European records. The most peaks over 4000 metres, the highest railway, the biggest glacier and cable cars that seemingly defy gravity. It’s certainly no mistake that Switzerland has become a world-famous destination for snow-seekers. With the world-renowned Matterhorn towering above Zermatt like a proud Toblerone, it’s also one of the best places on the planet for a summer getaway. Recently, we had an amazing day exploring the Matterhorn and breathtaking views around Zermatt. Both the easy way: a deluxe ride up in their impressive cable cars; and the hard: a strenuous, and at times – for me at least – hairy walk to Hörnlihütte.

The day began in Zermatt, that picture perfect village near the Italian border that is the jewel in the Swiss crown and features in our top places to visit in the Alps. Packed with quaint wooden houses, and a law forbidding cars, it feels more like a theme park than a real place. Nonetheless, it’s a perfect base to soak up some spectacular Swiss views. From the centre of town, we took the cable car that whisks you up to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. If there’s one thing Switzerland does well (and there’s plenty more) it’s cable cars. These engineering feats have even the most ardent traveller oohing and aahing at every dramatic ascent. Then giggling with nervous excitement as the car negotiates the towers, causing it to wobble. I admit that I almost clutched the lady beside me in an anxious reflex.

THE INCREDIBLE MATTERHORN GLACIER PARADISE

The first stop on the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cable car is the small hamlet of Furi. At 1,867m it was once a place where farming families came to live during summer. Now it’s a family playground full of cute little cafe’s sprawled up a grassy green hill overlooking Zermatt. We chose to continue on today, Furi we saved for a great lunch at a later point. Onwards we progressed to the next cable car – Trockener Steg – the next leg of our voyage. Sitting pretty at 2,939 m, Trockener Steg is a key stop off point for skiers and snowboarders with a fantastic opportunity to eyeball the face of the Matterhorn. After a quick look around and some great shots of the surrounds, we headed up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. The next and highest cable car in Europe at 3,883 metres.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the views up here. To the east Breithorn’s snowcapped peak towered above us. We could easily make out the fearless mountain climbers standing like specs on the top after their 4164-metre ascent to the summit. Breithorn is considered one of the easiest routes for scaling a 4000+ metre mountain anywhere. To the west the Matterhorn stands proud, that familiar pyramid structure piercing the skyline like a giant Toblerone. We were lucky enough be there on a crystal clear morning. Everywhere we looked, rock and ice pushed upwards into the sky and the snow-capped glory of Mont Blanc glowed in the distance.

After ogling the impressive views and strolling about on the ice, we continued our day exploring the Matterhorn by taking the cable car to Schwarzsee. At 2,582 metres, this is the starting point for the ascent up the Matterhorn. It offers stunning views over the village of Zermatt, neatly tucked into the valley below, as well as the opportunity for beautiful reflection shots in Schwarzsee’s well-positioned lake.

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EXPLORING THE MATTERHORN ON THE HÖRNLIHÜTTE WALK

The climb to the top of Matterhorn requires a longe, screw carabiners, harness, crampons, ice axes and two days. The walk to Hörnlihütte – the basecamp for the ascent to the summit – requires good shoes, a pre-walk coffee, and a good head for heights. You also only need about two hours. We took the easier option and after a coffee at the hut at Schwarzsee, followed the well-signed path which started us on one of the most memorable walks we have done anywhere.

The walk is relatively strenuous, but impressive by any standards the entire way up. There are places with open grilled metal walkways suspended over absolutely nothing and a few areas of spine-tingling exposed paths. I don’t have the best head for heights, so I spent a lot of time clutching the steel handrails for dear life, not daring to look at the amazing views below me. But after calming myself, and acknowledging the fact that the rails were not going anywhere, I realised I was actually having an amazing time.

After two hours of hard work, with a sigh of relief and a pant of exhaustion, we reached the top, thoroughly impressed with ourselves and Switzerland. The hut itself is perched on a shoulder of the Matterhorn with the face of the mountain towering above us. The food is delicious, hot and just what you need after the walk. A well-deserved beer was enjoyed as we looked on curiously as the brave (or perhaps mad) climbers arrived to start exploring the Matterhorn the right way – by actually climbing to the top.

A RACE TO THE BOTTOM

You often hear how the weather can change quickly in the mountains, but the change on this day seemed nothing short of ridiculous. After walking up in beautiful, clear sunshine, by the time we finished lunch, dark brooding clouds began making their way towards us; wind whistled over the mountains with impending ferocity. What was going to be a slow amble back, turned into a slightly panicked scramble down the mountain. Gone were the vertigo nerves I had on the way up. Now I was bouncing along those exposed paths, determined to get back before this storm swept us off the mountain like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Packed with nothing but a flimsy raincoat and a half eaten apple, plans were forming in my head of how I was going to survive stranded on the mountain all night. By the time I had my plans in place, we were back at Schwarzsee. The sun was out and the clouds had gone. I figured we earned ourselves a break, so instead of walking down to Zermatt we hauled ourselves back into the cable car, where I finished my apple.

We rounded off the day exploring the Matterhorn with a well-deserved drink on the main street of Zermatt at Unique Hotel Post, an American Bar where we sat outside and watched other equally weary walkers file by. It was a fantastic day. I had conquered my fear of heights, dined with experienced mountaineers and escaped a mountain storm at 3000 metres, I felt like a true adrenaline junkie. Now, where are those slippers?

Interested in more great walking in Europe?  Read about hire car mishaps among fantastic scenery at Tre Cime in the Dolomites. With views to rival the Swiss Alps, the big drawcard of the Dolomites is that they have mountains you can walk the top of.  For a walking holiday, it’s hard to go past the beautiful mountain views,  picturesque alpine meadows, and fantastic rifugios of the Italian Dolomites. See the full itinerary below.

For another great hiking adventure in Switzerland, Ebenalp offers spectacular views and boasts what could possibly be Switzerland’s most colourful village.

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