Surrounded by the Matterhorn and other towering peaks, the town of Zermatt is justly famed throughout the world as one of the most incredible mountain towns and the birthplace of Alpinism. This winter sports wonderland is also home to fantastic dining experiences in every direction, which I had the chance to discover firsthand on a trip as a guest there earlier this year. After flying nonstop to Switzerland on Swiss International Air Lines, I arrived refreshed and excited to check out all that this amazing country has to offer.
While navigating by foot is a great way to go in Zermatt, you don’t have to be a mogul pro to strap on a pair of skis and take in the sites—even novices can easily get around and I highly recommend it, as the experience truly is best done as a skier. There’s a practical reason for this too: A lot of restaurants you simply can’t get to if you’re not on skis.
If you don’t ski, no worries. There’s an amazing gondola system, several of which are brand new, that will quickly whisk you to the top of the Alps. You can also visit without skis in the summer, which is a gorgeous time of year with full greenery on the mountain, but there’s nothing quite like the complete winter experience that a pair of skis affords. It gives you better access to the magnificent viewpoints and restaurants, and even makes it easy to dip over into Italy for lunch.
Perhaps due to its geographic isolation—it’s the last stop in the Matter Valley—Zermatt has its own distinct vibe and interpretation of Swiss cuisine. Local well-heeled residents expect the best and the restaurants serve it. I was fortunate to spend a few days sampling all forms of delicious, regional delicacies (some straight from the providers themselves) and excellent meals at restaurants around the region.
Fine dining, alpine classics, and international flair
With roughly 100 restaurants in the area, over half of which are on the mountain, you’ll find plentiful options for unbelievable dining experiences for every meal of the day. To really soak up the local flavor, head to the sunnier, south-facing slope of the mountain, where you’ll find the area that townspeople flock to for skiing and fueling up. There’s an abundance of family-owned places, some of them going back as far as four generations, offering more traditional raclettes and fondues, and there’s also huge diversity in the offerings.
In addition to several Japanese restaurants (Shogun and Myoko are two popular ones), there are a few Indian spots of note (Golden India draws raves) as the area attracts many Indian tourists. For those who favor fine dining, two Michelin-starred restaurants (Capri in the Mont Cervin Palace Hotel and the Backstage Hotel’s After Seven) are among the numerous other options with elevated fare. One standout example was the spectacular dinner I enjoyed at the restaurant Saveurs in the Hotel Schönegg, a Relais & Chateau property with beautiful views and an artfully plated four-course menu paired with excellent Swiss wines.
Fresh, local delicacies
The farm-to-table ethos is strong here with locally sourced Swiss-made products dominating hotel menus. The area’s sheep farmer provides much of the meats in town. And, of course, there are delicious cheeses from the region on offer. Early one morning, I visited the self-made cheesemakers behind Horu-Käserei.
Cheesemaking is a side hustle for Mirjam Gobba-Wyrsch, who’s a schoolteacher, and her husband Reto, a carpenter. They supply half of the hotels in Zermatt with Zermatter cheese. Approximately 24 cows produce all the milk for their mountain cheese, raclette, a wonderful herb cheese for breakfast buffets, and super-fresh yogurt. We met at 7 a.m., because at 8 a.m. she had to get to school. Race skis, of course, were hanging by the door.
On other mornings, breakfasts of Bircher muesli, made with dried fruit, honey, and rolled oats and served cold with fresh fruit, nuts, raisins, and dates (they call it “the original overnight oats”) were the perfect high-fiber way to sustain me for a day on or off the slopes. And there’s great coffee everywhere you go. The Swiss take a lot of pride in their coffees for good reason. The milk here is special—unpasteurized, healthy, and filling. Creamy and fresh, it tastes like an entirely different thing than the liquid we get out of grocery stores in the States.
Get adventurous and go off path
You’ll find great restaurants all over town and the mountain, including many that are tucked away but worth seeking out. One place I loved for lunch is the recently renovated Paradise. It’s not officially on or part of the mountain, so the owner—a former ski racer whose father was a prominent ski racer in Switzerland—goes in fall and starts making snow himself using their private snowmaker so they can build a trail to it.
I was thrilled with the selection of great salads when I dined there at about 48 hours into my trip and experiencing a bit of a raclette and fondue overload. I happily dug into a fresh and colorful beet salad, followed by a high-carb pasta veggie dish that, after a morning of skiing, was just what I needed to carry me through the rest of the active day.
The majesty of the Matterhorn
That afternoon, I continued to ski. It was a foggy day, but I kept my eyes open for a glimpse of the iconic Matterhorn, which rises 14,692 feet above sea level. Everybody in Zermatt is obsessed with seeing the Matterhorn—it’s the backdrop of every official photo, and the center of almost every conversation you’ll overhear. If the wind shifted at all, a piece would peek out and people would stop to snap pics. It seems to emerge right out of Zermatt; on a clear day, it’s a stunning, predominant feature.
It’s no wonder then that historically, it’s the birthplace of alpinism and the climbing culture, beginning when Brits came in the 1800s and started experiencing it along with Swiss and Italian guides. Check out the Matterhorn Museum – Zermatlantis to get a glimpse of how people lived in the 19th century and delve further into the area’s fascinating past, including a look at the broken rope from the first known ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, when four of the seven climbers lost their lives during the trek.
Where to après-ski
After a day of skiing, it’s time to take in the lively après-ski scene. Among the numerous options, I headed to Cervo, a mountain resort noted as one of the best places for après ski. It was a very international gathering with a British band playing, tour groups from India and Japan, and many local Swiss, all enjoying beer, champagne, and Aperol spritzes while fireplaces crackled. It’s a ski-in ski-out place, but still in town—a cool atmosphere worth checking out, and a perfect way to cap off a day on the slopes.