Zermatt is synonymous with the Matterhorn that overlooks the village — in the same way, Chamonix and Mont Blanc are eternally linked. Both are the top resort in their respective countries for mountaineering and its heritage. They also share the same attraction to tourists but that’s where the similarities end.
Zermatt is a car-free resort that is only accessible by train from the transit village of Tasch. Many visitors take the train from the valley floor at Brig, a scenic if expensive trip. Expensive is another word likely to be overused when talking about any Swiss resort but with Zermatt, it does feel like every activity is designed to extract the most money. The train from Tasch and back is 16 Swiss Francs, which is unavoidable and you still have to pay to park at Tasch or get the train from Brig. Then there is the Gornergrat train that takes you up to the glacier and the multitude of lifts whisk you up to the many other views of the Matterhorn. A return to the Matterhorn glacier is an eye-watering 115 Swiss Francs, which considering a return to the Aiguille du Midi (Chamonix) at the same time of year is nearly half the price - Chamonix is an easy winner.
Zermatt is a busy place at most times of the year, but in the peak summer and wintertime, the narrow pedestrian streets become crowded. There is a good selection of shops and restaurants and not all the accommodation is expensive. At the least the view of the Matterhorn is free.
The Matterhorn is a more difficult climb than Mont Blanc and it wasn’t for nearly 100 years after its summit was attained that the Matterhorn was climbed. On 14 July 1865, Edward Whymper led a seven-member team via the north wall to the top. A mixed bunch followed Whymper to the summit including Chamonix guide Michel Croz, the Reverend Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas, Douglas Robert Hadow as well as Zermatt mountain guiding father and son, Peter Taugwalder and Peter Taugwalder. The descent was a disaster - Croz, Hadow, Hudson and Douglas fell to their deaths over the north wall. Lord Francis Douglas was never found but the other bodies were recovered from the glacier. The deaths of some of Englands great and good caused some consternation and the increase in tourists to Zermatt led to the formation of the tourist association of Zermatt. The Mountaineers’ cemetery in Zermatt is home to both Michel Croz and the Taugwalders.
Zermatt’s ski area is linked with Breuil-Cervinia in Italy and includes the highest ski area in the Alps. The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is well above the tree line but does offer some summer skiing opportunities.
The Sunnegga cable car takes you to Rothorn via a couple of stops and offers views across the valley to the Matterhorn. From Sunnegga you can hike back down via the lake at Grünsee if you want to take that photo of the lake and the Matterhorn - it's around 3 hours to Zermatt. The Schwarzsee cable car is another starting point for higher hikes on the other side of the valley from Sunnegga and also a popular area for skiing in winter.
When you are not out enjoying the high alpine around Zermatt the village offers all the facilities you could require. A wide range of accommodation from luxury hotels to more attainable self-catering is available and supermarkets and shops are plentiful to supply you with everything you might need — at a slight premium than you will find out of the resort.
Zermatt is an attractive village with classic Swiss chalets and buildings with only a few more modern buildings creeping in. Even the McDonalds is hidden away behind an old chalet frontage. The car-free streets are mostly narrow and small electric shuttles are constantly buzzing around ferrying people from the train station. It’s classic managed Switzerland but after a week you might feel a bit contained unless you are in one of the luxury establishments, in which case I imagine you could stay for a considerable time.