Hello lovely readers!
If you’ve been keeping up with me as I rehash my (now 4-month old) adventures in Belgium, you will remember me saying that my brother was currently studying abroad in Switzerland. Like me, he chose to go to Virginia Tech, and the program he was apart of featured two weeks in the lovely town of Riva San Vitale, where Virginia Tech’s Steger Center is located. However, before joining his class, he and two other friends decided to spend a few days hiking some trails in the Swiss Alps. As a Communications major, he is very used to writing, although as he mentions, he usually writes about sports, as he one day hopes to be a sports broadcaster. You can check out his blog and podcasts at his website Foul Ball Area. He wrote the article below specifically for my blog because I wanted to feature not only a place that I have not been or written about, but do so from somebody else’s perspective and writing style. I hope you enjoy what he has to say about Zermatt, and as always, keep following along for more of my own adventures!
Most of the writing that I have done over the past few years has revolved around sports, but traveling is another topic that I am passionate about, so we’ll see how this article goes. Bear with me for a few paragraphs and hopefully you’ll learn something about one of the places I’ve visited over the past two and a half weeks.
When I signed up for this study abroad trip, I knew I would want to travel around Europe either before or after our program. Fortunately, the two other guys on the trip wanted to travel before the program started as well, and are fans of hiking. We started researching some places to hike around Switzerland and decided on Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn. My grandma warned me numerous times before I left not to climb the Matterhorn, which there was no chance of us doing since none of us have any real mountain climbing experience.
I arrived in Zermatt a few hours before either of my companions did, so I had some free time to explore the town. It’s a small mountain town tucked away in the Alps and largely oriented towards tourists. The first place I went to after getting off the train was an Italian restaurant, where I ordered a desperately-needed pizza and beer. I quickly realized how expensive Switzerland was going to be when my lunch bill came out to roughly 30 francs.
After lunch I headed to the hostel we had booked, the Matterhorn Hostel. It’s a pretty fitting name, considering you can see the majestic peak from right outside the hostel. This was my first experience staying in a hostel, so it was interesting sharing a room with other travelers. Over the few days we were there, however, we got to know a few of them.
On Thursday morning we had all arrived in Zermatt and were ready to set out on our first hiking adventure. One of the other guests at our hostel – one of the few Americans – had recommended a hike to a place called Trift. He pointed out a building halfway up a mountain and said that’s where the hike would take us. We thought there was no way we would make it up there, and we were almost right.
We started out hiking through some fields and were startled by the bells on some sheep grazing in the pastures. If you picture Switzerland as a Ricola advertisement, you’re spot on. Once we made it past the fields, we entered the woods and the difficult part of the hike began. We started making our way uphill on an incredibly steep trail. After roughly 45 minutes we reached the building that we had gazed upon from below, which turned out to be a restaurant and hotel. After stopping for a short break to enjoy the view and wonder how they had built this hotel so high in the mountains, we continued on.
After looking at our map, we realized this building was only halfway to the end of the trail. We continued on, trekking up the mountain through a valley, with a river on one side and all kinds of exotic flowers on the other. Along the way up we encountered a mountain goat and a few marmots.
After about another hour of hiking, we reached Trift, which is another hotel in the mountains. It was closed at the time, probably because we were there during the low season. We spent a few minutes at the top and took some pictures before heading back down.
On our second full day in Zermatt, we decided to tackle the Matterhorn, or at least half of it. An Australian staying in our hostel had recommended the Matterhorn Trail, which would take us to a small lake at the base of the mountain. Since we were all tired from the previous day’s hike, we decided to take the gondola up the mountain and hike back down, only to find out the gondolas were running only partially up the mountain.
After disembarking from the cable car, we began our trek up. This trail started out as a paved one, which eventually turned into gravel. Along the way, we met a couple from Visp, who informed up that Visp actually means Very Important Swiss People. We were exhausted at this point, but they told us that our destination was only half an hour away, so we continued on. Thirty minutes passed and we weren’t quite sure if we had reached the end of our hike, but we found a bench and there was a great view of the Matterhorn, so we stopped. Taking in the view and snapping a few pictures, we decided this hike was better than yesterday’s. We could see the hut where climbers sleep the night before they begin their ascent, and that was still a two-hour hike from where we were. The beauty of this mountain could not be compared to anything I had ever seen before, and I was awe-struck in its presence.
Friday night was our last night in Zermatt, so we decided to go out for a drink. We asked a worker in a clothing store for recommendations and she suggested we go to the Cinebar, which is apparently one of the liveliest places in town. Around 10:30 we checked it out and it was dead, maybe five people were in there. We headed back to the main street and stopped in a place called Gee’s, where we each had a beer. The singer in the bar was pretty good, so we requested “Enter Sandman,” which he played while giving a shout-out to “some university students from Virginia.”
Around the time we were about to leave, two guys from our hostel showed up and one of them bought us each a drink, some kind of gin and lime drink, which wasn’t too bad. After staying and chatting with our new friends for a while, we decided to head back to the hostel and prepare for our departure the next day.
Leaving Zermatt was tough to do; the town and surrounding mountains were beautiful and it was a hiker’s paradise. But we had to get to Riva San Vitale and get settled in at the Steger Center before classes started on Monday. As our train departed the station and the mountains faded off into the distance, I knew this was one town I’d love to come back to.