Tag Archives: Zermatt

Hotel Alex Zermatt

Routine and familiarity are comforting. I’ve been going to the same hotel, the Hotel Alex, in the Swiss Alps for 15 years. Same room, same friends, same everything. It’s a great place!

There is an order to the week. There are the owners that know us and greet us daily.  There is the bar and the dinners all set out every night. It is a fixed menu that is beautifully crafted by a fabulous chef. There are special dinner nights like fish night when there is a fabulous array of smoked delicacies (Eel is my favorite. All of my childhood years of jellied eels created this addiction).  Then there is cured meat night – a gourmands dream and as many types of mountain animals that your cholesterol can take! There’s raclette night when the owner of the hotel sweats over a raclette machine and serves grilled Swiss mountain cheese with potatoes and pickled onions. As much as you want. And these are just the appetizers! There’s always salad and always a fabulous dessert. Breakfasts are part of the extravaganza too. Yep, it’s a calorific buster off week. The skiing keeps the damage down but who is counting really?!

Apart from the food there’s this level of anticipation. Everyone looks at the map denoting ski runs open and weather reports from the top of the mountain. “What piste should I take today?” “Is Italy open?” They are always the same conversations. Reassuring. Then there’s the in-between time at the hotel. The spa and a swim before the dinner make it just a perfect week.

The people who work at the hotel are super nice. They get it. We’re all there to have a good time and escape. They smile and become part of the week.

The Hotel Alex is near to the main cog railway that takes you up the mountain and right by the main station that connects everyone to the real world down in the valley. It’s a bit like Brigadoon. For a week at least it works for me. More info on the Alex can be found on their website: Hotel Alex Zermatt. It is a surprisingly great deal and a fabulous four star hotel. Best in town. Best in show.

Brash Service, Great Food in Tuftern

I am not sure if Harvard Business School has visited them yet, but there are two brothers that have a restaurant on the side of a random ski slope in Zermatt. Restaurant Tufternalp has been there for years. They serve only minestrone soup and slabs of Swiss mountain cheese that the owner slices with a cheese knife that has specific measurements for slicing so as not to give too much or too little. In addition they serve small sausages of local mountain animals if you choose. The owner also has a rotary hand-cranked bread machine that slices bread into perfect slices. That’s it, that’s the deal. Nothing more. The business economics of this kitchen are remarkable. No waste, no excess that can’t be sold the next day, and no adventurism that could affect the profit and loss. Just simple.

But then there is the service. It’s basic- they don’t really care, they are just there and you are there. It’s simple fare. Take it or get back on your skis. There is no, “Hi, how’s everything? Can I help you?” Not even a moment of thanks. No smile or welcome. It’s almost his signature. You go there because there are no surprises. It’s cheese and sausage and soup. He will be gruff and miserable. I work with my brother. I don’t know you. Even though you visit here every year. Take it or leave it.

I think the guy, the miserable one, secretly drives a Ferrari and wears Armani suits and helicopters into the restaurant each morning just to go through his shtick. Maybe he is a comedian at night. I am not sure how it works on a spiritual level but he makes money, he has no extra costs and he sure doesn’t care if you like him or not. Catch him at the slopes at Tuftern. And say I sent you. He really doesn’t care!!


La Dolce Vita – Zermatt Style

Today was so cold and the temperature at the top of mountain minus 40 Celsius. The cable car stalled every five minutes because of the temperatures. But…the sun was out and with seven layers and a balaclava I was ready.

We were going to ski Italy today.

The amazing thing about Zermatt is that you get two countries, two huge mountains and therefore two cuisines. Two cultures and frankly extreme cultural differences. On the Swiss side, all the lunch places are privately owned. On the Italian side, it’s local government concessions. Even the toilets are terrible on the Italian side because they don’t care to spend the money. They just lease the premises every three years. But, hey, it’s la dolce vita so who can knock that?!  It’s rosti versus polenta. Let the games begin.

At nearly 13,000 feet, the Klein Matterhorn is the highest ski station in the Alps. It’s breathtaking. From there we took the one hour ski journey to Valtournenche, a town and commune in the Aosta Valley region of northwestern Italy. What a ride – 16 kilometers of winding ski terrain. It’s something everyone should try once in their life.

Lunch at the top of course would be polenta. The sun stayed on us all day and it was glorious.

The Top of the Matterhorn

In Zermatt there are three choices to climb the Matterhorn mountain: The beautiful Gornergrat Railway, the funicular, and the Matterhorn Express Gondola.

The Gornergrat Railway is walkable from our delightful hotel, Hotel Alex Zermatt. It’s a sightseeing journey all to itself; 20 minutes climbing through spectacular scenery en route to the top. Skiers, hikers, and sightseers all share the train.  It is literally, a trip, and worth taking.

Today however, we grabbed an electric taxi to the Matterhorn Express station as the temperatures were super crazy cold.  The top of the mountain is minus 15 Fahrenheit. They’re telling parents not to take the kids up. Cloud cover looked grim but we went for it.  And then the sun broke through at 9,000 feet. Skiing had near to perfect conditions but so cold at high altitudes.

Zermatt is a paradise of choice where everything is connected. It’s huge and connects to Cervinia in Italy. The Matterhorn follows us everywhere we go.  The sun stayed out all day. We skied all day. Old friends. Fun times!

Driving to Zermatt!

The drive from Venice along the highway to Milan is fairly dull. After Milan is where the sights get interesting.

We took the highway above Lake Maggiore which was super fast and delightful. Mountains beyond the lake and the Borromean islands in the background provided for a great backdrop to our car ride. Pushing through, we started our ascent to Simplon. What a lovely day it was with blue sky and more snow than I have seen for years.

The Simplon Pass is very unique. An ancient hospice still maintained by a religious order offers basic accommodation to the devoted and dedicated skiers and kite boarders who ply their tricks on this unique snow playground. There is a great place for lunch at the top as well. Views of the boarders and surroundings provide entertainment. The descent is hair raising though!

Journeys end along the valley following the Glacier Express. We end up in a giant car park where we dump the car and hop on the train. Täsch in Switzerland is our last stop with our car. The cog train takes us the rest of the way into a dead end in the mighty valley. It’s snowing hard.

Geneva to the alps

Every year I get to spend a ski week with some old friends of mine from Italy and England. We have skied lots of places including the Dolomites, Vail and St Moritz but we always keep coming back to Zermatt. The link from Geneva airport to Zermatt is always a pleasure. At the airport the train is literally by the arrivals hall. A quick walk and you are on the way. The train wanders around Lake Leman passing the magnificent Montreux, famous for its jazz festival, and Lausanne, home to FIFA, the centre of soccer decision making worldwide.

On the other side of the lake is Evian(water and a famous spa town) while the alps literally wrap around the lake. At Visp you have to change trains to connect with the cog railway that takes you to Zermatt. If you drive you have to park your car at Tasch in a huge underground car park. Either way you board the pretty red cog railway and begin the ascent to Zermatt. On this particular week, the snow was amazing. 3 metres either side of the track. Zermatt is at the end of the valley. At 1800 metres it is already high enough to invite fabulous snow. At the Alex hotel, where we have stayed for years, the total package is always half board. A huge breakfast and a fabulous dinner. Swimming pool and the usual sauna, steam stuff and you are in heaven.

The town has lots of glitzy hotels but the Alex is family run, utterly charming and the rooms are perfect. The price is good too. Once in the town, you buy your ski pass for both Zermatt and Cervinia. Why restrict yourself to just the swiss side? This is a huge mountain range and it boasts the highest elevation skiable in the alps at over 4000 metres and the longest run in europe at 16 kilometres from high on the Klein Matterhorn to the Italian town of Valtournenche. In other words the snow is reliable and the trails are endless. But thats another day.

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A tale of two countries

At Zermatt the skier is faced with the enviable dilemma of choosing between two huge mountain ranges that span Switzerland and Italy. At the Gornegrat on the Swiss side, you have the comfortable option of riding the cog railway to the top piste. The journey takes about 20 minutes and with the exception of the uncomfortable ski clothes and boots, you ride in relative luxury. Its a 3 minute walk from the hotel which is an added bonus. Over on this side, the food is good, lots of Rosti options(hash born potatoes with onions,lard and fried eggs), so good idea to go easy on breakfast as it will look awfully similar at 1.30 pm.

The runs are excellent and on a side note , the toilets are clean and super modern. Heated dryers for the hands that use the “dyson” technology and dry your hands in a matter of seconds.Good to know because your day can be spoiled by a bad day at the toilet. And on the other hand you can choose to ascend to Cervinia in Italy using a gondola and a cable car that takes you past the watershed and over a huge glacier that is skiable in the balmy summer months. Its more complicated and the queues for the cable car can be daunting but the journey is worthwhile if just for the incredible views of the Matterhorn and the chance to ski at 4000 metres. The pistes down to the Italian valley are more varied than the Swiss side and you literally have the chance to ski under the shadow of the Matterhorn.Food is good and a lot less expensive on this side. Lots of Polenta and wild mushrooms.And of course great espresso.

The only down side of the Italian side are the toilets. Hideous archaic and dirty. Who still would order new toilets that you cannot sit on? The Italians I am afraid to say. Replacing old “footprint” toilets with the “footprint” toilets is what has happened here. I am not sure if anyone who makes them has ever tried to squat with ski gear on one of these, but without offering too much detail, you can imagine the potential for a messy moment, not to mention the necessity of being an expert Yoga performer to perfect the ideal position. So, food great,coffee perfect and slopes beautiful, but….make sure you can do everything in your preparation to leverage full use of the Swiss side of the mountain before making the first descent into Italian waters. If not you may wonder at a desperate moment why you didn’t!

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