The Matterhorn is ever-present in good weather. One never tires of this view!
If you’re dreaming of an incredible Swiss ski experience, Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn, delivers. Insane mountain scenery paired with an old-style European village transport visitors to a winter paradise.
Winter and summer months alike, I always urge friends and family enjoying Swiss vacations to experience Zermatt, at least for a night or two. Located just a few hours via car or train from both Geneva and Zurich, Zermatt is surprisingly easy to access given the remote location.
As always, knowing tips and tricks ahead of time makes traveling with kids much easier. I’m running a series on our blog on essential need-to-know points for families at Europe’s top family ski resorts. I started with tips for visiting Grindelwald a few weeks ago — it’s time for another iconic ski area, Zermatt!
The biggest problem after reading this series will be deciding where to go …
Have lunch in Italy and dinner in Switzerland. How cool is that?
Zermatt is car-free which means the village is eco-friendly and much quieter than the average world-class ski resort. If you self-drive to the resort, you can only go as far as Tasch and then need to hop on the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway for a 20-minute ride to the village.
Unless you already own a car in Switzerland, there is really no reason to drive a vehicle, as the train system is unbelievably efficient. It’s expensive like most things in this country, although there are a number of passes with more attractive pricing available thorough the Swiss Travel System, including options where children under 16 travel for free with parents.
One of the main reasons families opt not to take the train on family ski vacations is the hassle of schlepping equipment, luggage, and children on and off crowded trains.
The good news is that there is a solution to this problem! I just tried Swiss Rail’s Fast Baggage program where you can drop your luggage off prior to travel (must be by 9a for same-day delivery) and pick it up at your destination.
In Zermatt, many of the hotels have their own free taxi service to/from the train station; in this case, the hotel can pick up your luggage for you and deliver it right to your room, this is a huge perk!
For those flying into Switzerland from abroad, there is also a Fly Rail Baggage program where you can check in luggage at the airport of departure and not pick it up until you reach the train station of your final destination (or in the case of Zermatt per the above caveat, you may be able to not have to deal with luggage again until check-in).
The big caveat is your luggage MUST arrive in the morning at the airport to make it the same day at your destination. Luggage arriving in the afternoon or evening will arrive two days later.
Arrive the old-fashioned way at the historic Mont Cervin Palace hotel
I’ve stayed at many accommodations now in Zermatt. I have a few favorites profiled in our Switzerland family hotel portfolio.
There are a few options we haven’t added to the portfolio yet that are wonderful for families. For a value-oriented 3-star, Hotel Alpenrose has one of the best Matterhorn views in town and is located right next to the gondola. Rooms are simple but spotless and comfortable.
Casa Vanessa is another favorite with apartment-style rooms in an unbeatable location. The quality and size of units vary greatly, but the hotel has nice service and breakfast.
I stayed at La Ginabelle recently. This 4-star has newly renovated rooms including family suites. Best of all, they have a free kids’ club that is open all day through dinner! We loved this amenity and found it to be a huge asset for parents that want some downtime.
I also adore the Zurbriggen. They offer primarily week-long stays in the winter, but these apartment-style hotel rooms are luxurious with incredible views.
For luxury fans, the Mont Cervin Palace is a huge treat! Gorgeous suites and family apartments are ideal with kids. They have one of the biggest and most appealing indoor pools I’ve ever seen anywhere, and a winter kids’ club for babies through age 8.
Stay tuned for complete reviews of these properties throughout the season.
Best burger in Switzerland is at Chez Vrony
Zermatt offers free ski passes to children 9 and under. You must have an ID with a birth date available at the ticket window.
Zermatt is vast but fairly easy to navigate. The Zermatt ski map shows an “L” in the parks designated for beginners.
The area called Sunnegga is a favorite for families as it is sunny and not as windy as some of the other parts of Zermatt. There is an area called Wolli Park optimized for first-time skiers (adults and kids).
Hot Tip: If you are skiing in Sunnegga with kids and they can take a chairlift and ski down a blue slope, be sure and hit my all-time favorite Swiss restaurant, Chez Vrony for lunch. Views and food are not to be believed. Adorable owners dash all thoughts of rude Swiss service. Reservations are essential!
Wolli, the beloved Zermatt mascot for kids
Like most Swiss ski resorts, there are several ski schools from which to choose in Zermatt. The largest is the official Ski and Snowboard School (known as the “red coats”). Word has it they have great instructors and offer an extensive dedicated children’s area called Snowli Kids Village.
On our last visit, we opted for the much smaller and more personalized British Summit Ski School. After comparative phone calls, I found that they were easier to deal with by a long shot and were very flexible around our needs. Most important, the kids in our group ranging from ages 4-10 loved their experience!
Hot Tip: There are no standalone group lessons offered on weekends. Group lessons in Zermatt are optimized for week-long stays. It’s best to find kids to create your own private group if you are there just for a quick getaway.
Despite Zermatt’s vast size, a massive amount of the terrain has guaranteed snow as they have extensive snow cannons around the area. The top of Zermatt is a glacier and skiable all year around.
One difference between Zermatt and other areas is that the bulk of the skiers are there on vacation and act accordingly. Long lunches and extended après ski time is to be expected.
You never know who may come to the rescue
Americans will notice the lack of visible ski patrol. The tourist board assured me they are there when needed, but they are not actively patrolling the slopes like they do in the US.
Be sure and always carry a ski map with emergency numbers. Zermatt has their own helicopter evacuation service called Air Zermatt. For an extra 4 CHF per day, skiers can take out insurance covering this service. Note, it only covers official Zermatt slopes (not closed or off-piste areas).
Should your plans include off-piste skiing, be sure and check with your own provider regarding evacuation coverage.
At the end of the day, winter in Zermatt is really about skiing. There are a few toboggan areas, but nothing extensive like you see at other resorts like Grindelwald.
There are a few snowshoe and hiking trails where you can trek to a glorious lunch spot. Recommended for non-ski days! In addition, there is a free ice skating rink in the center of town.
If you’re staying at a hotel that doesn’t offer a kids’ club (most don’t), there is a daycare center in town called Kinderparadies for ages 3 months an up.
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