Sunday, 27 September 2009
Zermatt (French: Praborgne) is a small town in the district of Visp in the German-speaking section of the canton of Valais in Switzerland. It is located at the northern base of the Matterhorn in the Pennine Alps, about 10 km (6 mi) from the border with Italy.
It takes between four and five hours to get from St. Gallen to Zermatt. It is possible to choose Glacier Express or a normal train. The Express is quite an interesting experience but do it once - you can admire almost the same views from the normal train and you don't have to make a reservation. This pays off, as you may get daily card (54CHF with Halbtax) and the whole Swiss teritory is yours. The reservation costs additional 30 CHF. The route may be attractive for newies in Switzerland but after some time you have seen most of these towns.
Zermatt has a permanent population of around 5,800 people, although the actual population varies considerably through the seasons as tourists come and go. The village is situated at the end of Mattertal, a north-facing valley, at an altitude of 1,620 m (5,315 ft). The valley is a dead end; although the border with Italy is close, it cannot be crossed by road, as it traverses a glacier at an altitude of over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). Zermatt is the starting point of the Patrouille des Glaciers and the Haute Route.
We have decided to choose half of the Glacier Express route. From Andermatt the train went forward in the Urserental valley passing the villages of Hospental (1,452 m/4,760 ft) and Realp (1,538 metres/5,050 feet). Then we entered the Furka Tunnel, leaving the old railway line which climbs the Furka Pass (operated today by the Furka Heritage Railway), to emerge in Oberwald (1,368 m/4,490 ft) in the Goms Valley, in the Canton of Valais. We then continued toward the city of Brig following the course of the Rhone and pass along the villages of Ulrichen (1,346 m/4,420 ft), Münster-Geschinen (1,359 m/4,460 ft) and Fiesch (1,049 m/3,440 ft).
From Brig (678 m/2,220 ft) the train continued to Visp (651 m/2,140 ft), then went through the valley of Mattertal and goes up, passing the villages of Stalden (799 m/2,620 ft), St. Niklaus (1,127 m/3,700 ft) and Randa (1,408 m/4,620 ft), where a spectacular debris avalanche completely disconnected the railway and road in 1991. Täsch (1,450 m/4,800 ft) is an important station as it is the end of the open road, therefore a terminal for motorists. After a steeper section the train finally arrived in Zermatt at 1,616 m (5,300 ft), after nearly 5 hours of our travel.