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While definitely a big deal production and requiring advance planning and a decent amount of money, Zermatt is lots of fun and has the best skiing terrain we’ve found in Switzerland. It’s pretty busy year round – we found lots of crowds, and good hiking, during the ‘slow season’ of late fall.

Slope Eating (make early reservations): 

  • ***Bontadini: loved this. On the Italian side, excellent food.
  • ***Chez Vrony: also loved. Slightly more touristy, but an older/more charming building, traditional Swiss/French food.
  • *Othmar’s Skihütte: not amazing. Good views, we had the rosti and it was on the low side of average.
  • Stafelalp: we haven’t tried the food yet, just drinks, but this is a lovely spot in the sun that is clearly popular (and in one of our favorite parts of the mountain to ski).

In town eating/drinking (also make early reservations):

  • **Ferdinand by Cervo is one of several restaurants in the Cervo family (Cervo being a very high end hotel). While I didn’t expect there to be grades of fondue places, this is really one of the best, fine dining with interesting variations of the dish, excellent service, and a beautiful setting. It’s quite expensive.
  • ***Le Gitan: nice, just off the main drag. High end, good food, good service, weird 1970s Spanish interior that kind of works. 
  • ***Hexen Bar: good for a reasonably quiet but festive apre cocktail. Lots of wood, clean interior, feels pretty local, where the old folks hang out.
  • *Rua Thai: in the Albana Real Hotel (downstairs), this is an absurdly expensive place with surly staff. The room is cute (perhaps was seafood themed at one point?), but the food is just okay and it’s not worth it.
  • Stockhorn by the Rex and **Weinzeit – a wine bar are the upper and lower levels of a cozy, friendly meat-centric dining experience. We had the tasting menu with natural wine pairings downstairs. Friendly staff, food was okay, wines were okay. Not a knock-out experience but enjoyable.
  • **Walliserkanne: while this place is decidedly touristy, it serves food all afternoon (most downtown locations don’t), and the food is better than you’d expect. Pizza, pasta, standard Swiss fare.

Hotels: 

Hotels have been a struggle for us in the area – plan on limited value for the often jaw-dropping prices. We’re still searching for the ideal place.

  • *Boutique Hotel Albana Real – Restaurants & Spa: the rooms are perfectly acceptable but everything else runs towards annoying and frustrating. The main public lounge space allows smoking (?!), the staff are uniformly surly and unhelpful, and restaurants are very overpriced. The spa is in the basement and a bit claustrophobic.
  • *Christiania Hotels & Spa: big, dated, impersonal. Didn’t love.
  • *Matthiol Serviced Apartments: an attempt to try an apartment. Nothing really to complain about, just fairly generic.
  • **Riffelhaus 1853: good (if not great) restaurant, with classic Alpine-lodge style. Excellent Matterhorn view. It’s formal enough that I’d find eating here in my ski boots a bit off, more for the day you take off from the slopes. Can be rather isolated, accessible by gondola and cog railway during the day and not at night. The interiors look dated (more camp than hotel), and the spa, while okay, isn’t quite living up to the hype online. We enjoyed our meal but wouldn’t make a point of staying here.
    • Note for hikers: you can almost walk down from Riffelhaus to Zermatt – there are year-round paths one stop up, and one one stop down on the train. Views are great and the terrain is well-maintained. 
  • **Unique Hotel Post: a good choice. The location is excellent, everything is very hip and ‘designery.’ There are four restaurants and four nightclubs, but for all that it’s very quiet, rooms are spacious, staff is professional and well-trained. Very good breakfast. The spa is small, one hammam and one sauna. On the food – everything is fine, if not a destination if you’re staying somewhere else. The burger place is just okay, traditional pub food. Above it there’s a bar with an extensive, expensive drink menu. The pizza place is also okay. 
  • Places on our list to try: Hotel Firefly, Hotel Coeur des Alpes, 22 Summits Boutique Hotel, @Paradise (near Chez Vrony on the slopes), Hotel Daniela, Hotel Allalin, Hotel Berghof Zermatt, The Omnia, Backstage Hotel, Chalet Nepomuk, La Ginabelle, Hotel Focus, Beausite, Monte Rosa
  • Other places we’ve evaluated and ruled out: Hotel Sonne 
  • [haven’t stayed] The Cervo: a friend did a thorough reconnaissance of the spa and public areas, and voted this place off the list. It’s a convenient ski-in, ski-out location, and the restaurants are worth visiting (see above). The spa was a bit awkward, and didn’t solve well for public/private areas. It’s trying too hard to get the rich young crowd. 

Articles:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/05/travel/what-to-do-36-hours-in-zermatt.html

Grächen

Grächen is a mid-sized town on the way to Zermatt. It’s hyper-local, extreme Valais, a little rough around the edges. It’s the starting point for quite a few hikes, and has amazing views over the valley and glacier. The area is known for good, sunny weather and being particularly child-friendly (there’s a big wild west park, a ski lift, a rope course). We visited for a Bisse hike, too early in the season (wait till June), but found a second, and rather lovely bisse trail along the Bineri/Drieri lines. Almost flat, shaded, easy and pleasant two hour loop.

Lunch at the *Walliserstube was fine, big menu and surly service.

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