The Swiss Alps and the Matterhorn

The Alps are shared by five countries: Switzerland, France, Italy, Austria and Germany. Even though the Matterhorn is not the tallest peak in the Swiss Alps (that would be the Monte Rosa on the Swiss-Italian border), it is by far the most famous. The Matterhorn’s impressive summit sits 14,690 feet above sea level, which does make it one of the tallest peaks in the Pennine Alps. Situated on the border between Switzerland and Italy, the four faces of the Matterhorn make it easily recognizable.

The mountain gets its name from the German word Matte which means “meadow” and the German word Horn which means “peak.” The two most well known faces, the east and the north, are easily viewed from the village of Zermatt at the base of the mountain. Zermatt Switzerland has become a popular Swiss Alps ski resort because of its location at the foot of this famous peak. Hotels in Zermatt host visitors from around the world who come to enjoy the exceptional skiing conditions (both winter and summer) as well as the breathtaking views of the Matterhorn and the surrounding peaks. The Matterhorn has become an iconic symbol that has come to represent the Swiss Alps for most of the world.

Alpine climbers helped make Zermatt a popular tourist destination for Swiss Alps vacations. As early as the eighteenth century, people have traveled to the Swiss Alps in search of mountains to conquer. Even though it is hard to imagine today, the Matterhorn was not as well known as it is today until the first successful ascent in July 1865 that was led by Edward Whymper. Unfortunately, after reaching the summit, several climbers lost their life on the descent. Three of the four that lost their lives were buried in the Zermatt churchyard. Three days after Whymper’s group reach the summit, Jean-Antoine Carrel and Jean-Baptiste Bich ascended from the Italian side along an indirect route.

Today, the Tour of the Matterhorn takes hikers and climbers on a 10-day trek that is considered one of the most beautiful and spectacular hikes in the Swiss Alps. The path follows many ancient trails through meadows, Alpine forests and glacial crossings. Connecting six valleys and passing through three different cultural regions (German, French and Italian), the adventure is definitely worth the physical effort to see and experience such a vast and beautiful terrain.

After the first successful ascents, the construction of the railway between Zermatt and Visp began and finally linked the two villages in July 1891. Zermatt began to grow as a tourist destination. The addition of the Glacier Express panoramic train in 1930 connected Zermatt to St. Moritz making it even easier to reach Zermatt. Plans to connect the Swiss and Italian sides of the Matterhorn are planned for 2014. A cable car between Testa Grigia and Klein-Matterhorn is in the planning stages.

The Matterhorn Museum is one of the top Zermatt attractions for visitors to the village. There they learn about the history of the region as well as learn about alpine climbing and the formation of the Matterhorn. See actual objects preserved from the very first ascent as well as relive moments from the famous, and tragic, first ascent. It is a fascinating look at the history of the Matterhorn as well as a good introduction to Zermatt history. For information about the museum, visitors can inquire at their Zermatt accommodation. Most hotel staff can easily direct guests to the museum as well as provide information about hours and ticket prices.

Zermatt began as a simple Alpine village but grew into the thriving Swiss Alps ski resort that it is today in part because of the Matterhorn. Tourists, skiers and mountain climbers from around the world travel to Zermatt to see the majestic mountain and enjoy the outdoor activities, sports and entertainment that has made Zermatt a popular Swiss Alps ski resort. Even the trip to Zermatt is breathtaking as it can only be reached by train since the village does not allow cars within the city limits (only a few electric cars are permitted). Zermatt is an excellent location for both winter and summer skiing because of the easy access to the high peaks of the Alps surrounding the village.