Joan Larsen’s Secret Wonders: The Lofty World Above Zermatt

Posted on February 17, 2016


By Joan Larsen


Is it really possible to fall in love with a mountainous landscape so incredibly beautiful, with people so wonderfully warm and caring that we found ourselves pulled into this world – the wondrous world of Switzerland and Zermatt – again and again throughout our married lives?

After a lifetime of travel, we still go back to Zermatt.   

Zermatt, with its mountain panoramas in every direction, its glorious view of our favorite mountain, the Matterhorn, fills us again with youth and new life. And so we return. Irresistible.  


3zermattThere are no cars allowed in the alpine village of Zermatt. Instead there are walking paths upward – giving us picture-postcard perfect views of chalets, with red geraniums flowing over window boxes, and down comforters set out on railings to catch the sun.

The local families, dressed in authentic and charming Swiss dress, could pass us by easily, and yet they greeted us warmly. Small children shook our hands, becoming our best friends in minutes. Never had we been so enamored. The world we now know must have passed them by.

This is a world that has touched our hearts from our first look, never losing its hold on us. I believe all who have ever been to Zermatt would feel the same.


This year, the highlight of our Zermatt experience was that “once-in-a-lifetime” on Europe’s highest open-air cog railway to the summit of the Gornergrat, a peak well over 10,000 feet up. At its summit, you will find Europe’s highest altitude hotel: the 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat. . . and yes, it is worth spending the night up there!!

You must go – and go early in the day as we do . . . but be sure to pick a clear day when the Matterhorn is in its unobstructed glory. The only time we sprinted that morning was to beat the others who may know that being on the right side of the very last car of the cog railway train would provide the best views of the cars ahead of us constantly curving on an increasingly vertical climb upward.


7-zermattWe passed through a series of short, curved tunnels to gain height with such imposing mountain landscape, stopping at idyllic hamlets along the way that have wonderful views of the valley below. Above, we have always seen snow at this altitude . . . and this day we spotted wild animals we had never seen: wild ibex nibbling at whatever greenery they could find.



We didn’t want the rail journey to end. As we stepped off the train though, the destination was stunning. The panorama before our eyes had to be among the finest in the world. Around us was Switzerland’s second largest glacier – a sight to be seen and remembered. We stood at this deck on what seemed the top of the world, seeing Switzerland’s highest peak, as well as a total of 29 mountains over 4000 meters. And, of course, the crowning glory of it all – the Matterhorn. To us, a stay at Kulm Hotel Gornergrat was a “must”. Stay the night if you can. . . and visit the astronomical observatory, stretch out on the sun terrace, or do as we did and try a few high altitude hiking trails stretching from the terrace – if only for a short distance.


The cog railway would stop on the way down at various stations, allowing those who thought the hiking trail down would be – well, as my husband called it: “invigorating”. I will admit to you that it sorely tested his stamina. It is a long way down. (A warning: wearing NIKES just doesn’t do it either!!)

Over the years, we have tried what are called “the world’s best rail journeys” of which Zermatt’s cog railway is one. If you are looking for high excitement, a train that has you leaning out to see dramatic bridges, tunnels, going by forests of larch and Swiss stone pine, getting surprise shots of rocky ravines and high mountain lakes, and all too soon dropping you off on this “top of the world” hotel for the night, you are not going to be disappointed.

This is Zermatt – – as seen from the top!


My father considered a walk among the mountains

The equivalent of churchgoing.

Aldous Huxley



JoanAvatar2Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”