The trip to Zermatt from Germany
As Zermatt is located at the very south of Switzerland at a height of more than 1600 m amidst the Alps, there is no spot in Germany from which it is easy and comfortable to get there; a one day excursion (departuring in the morning and returning in the evening) is practically impossible. The trip to the nice mountain city is always a day excursion at the same time that can be done in a quick and rational way, thus according to the motto: Main thing - to arrive quickly. But there are also some variants, as for example to make the trip to Zermatt to an unforgettable day excursion, thus, after the motto The way is the destination.
In the following, I mention some possibilities how to drive in a spectacular way across Switzerland to Zermatt and then, I will describe the route that most impressed me, explaining the highlights in detail.
The motorway: fast but boring
As a guy from Munich, who is in two hours at the border of Switzerland and/or as a guy from the Lake Constance, who gets quickly to Switzerland for shopping, it is, of course, easy for me to guess some spectacular, unforgettable and long lasting trips on the highway across Switzerland. But I am fully aware of the fact that someone that, after driving 500 km reaches Switzerland, only wants to get to the destination and does not want to leave the loved motorway.
Thus, those coming from the west, north or east of Germany driving in direction to Switzerland will arrive somewhen at Basel and can drive easily through from the motorway over Bern, Fribourg, Montreux at the Lake Geneva alongside the Rhône up to Martigny at the very south and finally up to Sierre. People from the south of Germany come in Bern across the same route by approaching somehow the motorway of Zurich. No matter from where one comes, a vignette is needed for the motorway.
The drive across Switzerland on the motorway is not spectacular and boring. Indeed, one can view some lakes and some peaks in the background, but joy or sensation is out of question. But the last bit on the motorway does awake the co-pilot from his nap, as now, one is amidst the mountains, can probably see the Mont Blanc and knows that one is very close to the destination.
From the end of the motorway in Sierre there are approximately 20 km to Visp. From there, there are long convoys driving up to the Nikolaital up to Zermatt.
Not neccessarily faster but therefore more interesting is the drive from Bern, taking the straight way to the south and driving in direction to Thun at the Lake Thun. From there, there is a highway of approximately 30 km to the south, until one is in Kandersteg surrounded by mountains and cannot continue. But, from Kandersteg, in approximately 15 minutes, an auto train drives underneath the mountains to Goppenstein, so that the Alps of Bern are practically passed under. From Goppenstein, there are only a few kilometres to Visp, from where it is getting down to the Mattertal. As already said, one does not save any time compared to the drive on the motorway, but it is possible to relax a little in the train and saves a few kilometres.
Without car: with the glacier express St. Moritz - Zermatt
As it is not allowed to drive a car in Zermatt, one could leave the car straight away in the garage and go by train to one's holiday destination, isn't it so? Everyone has surely alredy heard about the world famous glacier express, that goes from Davos/St. Moritz over Chur and Andermatt up to Brig and finally to Zermatt. It is probably one of the most spectacular long distance train journeys at all.
The whole stretch done by the glacier express is of nearly 300 km. Between St. Moritz and Zermatt, it takes approximately 8 hours. On this way, it gets 90 times dark, when the train drives through a tunnel. 290 times, one has a deep sight downwards, when the train crosses a bridge. The glacier express only deserved the first half of its name, as it is not fast at all. The modern and comfortable train wiggles at snails pace through the mountains and valleys, passing the glaciers and peaks.
The highlight of the stretch is, without doubt, the passing of the Oberalp Pass. On the same serpentines that are to be done by car at the pass heighted more than 2.000, the glacier express wiggles up the hill and back again. The views to the mountain world are breathtaking and unforgettable. Thanks to some extensive panorama windows that even arch to the train ceiling, one can really enjoy the views and make some good pictures.
The crowning of the train journey is, of course, the last bit, when the train goes up the Nikolaital up to the destination station Zermatt. The train journey that costs approximately 100 € is an absolute highlight, not only for train freaks but also for the nature lovers. Of course, one benefits a lot more of the train journey by not doing it at once, but making of it a holiday on its own, thus by getting repeatedely out of the train, staying over night and continuing another bit next day.
Seafaring from Zürich over Luzern up to Andermatt
From the Swiss metropolis Zürich to the nice little mountain city Andermatt, there are approximately 70 km air-line distance. On the motorway, one drives this stretch fluently over Lucerne in approximately one hour. But why should one abstain from the beautiful landscape? With the Zurich Lake, the Zug Lake, the Lake Lucerne and numerous other more little lakes, one passes some great lakes. The landscape is so nice that one could spend a complete holiday on each spot. But only by driving alongside the lake shore, the drive through Switzerland can be anjoyed that much that one fully forgets the time.
In fact, there are at the Zurich Lake, at the northern side of the Zug Lake and at the north and east side of the Lake Lucerne, some wonderful quaysides with a permanent view to the lake and the mountains behind it. But those who hope for some free accessible beaches, will mostly not find anything; with the exception of some lidos, these lakes do not offer many possibilities for bathing.
Those who have lots of time can afford themselves the trip to the peak of one of the famous mountains: at the Lake Zug, a gondola gets up to the 1039 m heighted Zugerberg. At the Lake Lucerne,.the local mountain is the Rigi with a breathtaking view, either to the Lake Lucerne as also to the Lake Zug. The actual highlight is, of course, the drive up to the 2120 m heighted Pilatus. Provided the weather is fine, the views are dazzling.
At the Lake Lucerne and at the Lake Zug, one can spend endless time, but also only passing it comfortably is enjoyable. Somewhen, one reaches the end of the Lake Urner southwards (south-eastern part of the Lake Lucerne), from where it goes straight away to the south in direction to Andermatt. One either drives on the motorway or on the highway nicely alongside the river. Near Andermatt, one reaches the Schöllenen Gorge. The Devil's Bridge of a length of 86 m is to be crossed while it is possible to watch the climbers at the rock face. It is fascinating to watch from the "old" Devil's Bridge the roaring and sputtering of the Reuss. The same named restaurant invites to stay in. A huge monument reminds on the French/Russian fights in the year 1799.
Alongside the Rhein from Chur to Andermatt
Contrary to the journey alongside the big lakes described above, the second route offers much different impressions of Switzerland and its landscape. It is of approximately 80 km from the city Chur in direction to the west up to Andermatt. The whole area is called Surselva, that means something like over the forest. The Surselva is a uniquely beautiful landscape, in which there are countless colourful mountain meadows, forests, lakes and, of course, mountains. The Rhine flows into the bottom of the valley; it is hard to believe that on this little river that it was at the beginning, further downstream, some big ship navigated and that this little mountain river disembogues in Rotterdam as a major river into the North Sea.
From Chur, one first drives on the motorway, then on a piece of a widely arranged road and finally on a little road that gets more and more narrow up the Surselva up to the Oberalp Pass - a fascinating journey. One travels through famous winter sports resorts as Flims and Laax, but also through numerous little and romantic mountain villages. One soon notices that here, Italian is spoken; in some villages, even the fourth national language of Switzerland, rhaeto-romanic, is spoken.
The journey in the Die Fahrt im Surselva is long extending; the Rhine gets more and more narrow, until it can be only calles a brook. Numerous hiking paths run at the right and at the left of the street down into the surrounding mountains. Every now and then, one sees a train of the glacier express bumbling through the valley. Finally, the 2044 m heighted Oberalp Pass is reached. Here, the motto is to pause, as the views down both of the valleys are gorgeous. Here, the motto is also to refelct for a short while, as in this area, the 1.300 m long Rhine arises. On the curt 400 km that it covers in Switzerland, it gathers two third of the Swiss water masses nimmt and carries it the remaining 900 km up to the North Sea.
From the Oberalp Pass, it goes down again in serpentines to Andermatt. Those who are lucky can have a race duell with the glacier express. There is nothing more fascinating than when the train repeatedely vanishes in a tunnel and suddenly reappears under oneself and one can manage to overtake it.
The little mountain village Andermatt
With a little more than 1.000 inhabitants, Andermatt is a tiny mountain village but plays an important role as a traffic junction. The motorway and the highway come from the north to the Lake Lucern. From the east, a road leads over the Oberalp Pass, from the west over the Furka Pass. To the south, it continues further in direction to Gotthard, one of the most driven roads of Switzerland. During the winter, there is only the north-south-connection, as the Oberalp Pass and the Fruka Pass are blocked; but the Furka Pass can be also underpinned with a car carrier. Finally, it is not to forget that the glacier express creeps from the Oberalp Pass in many turns down to Andermatt and/or creeps up in opposite direction.
Andermatt is a wonderful little mountain village. A narrow cobbled road leads through the middle of the place. One drives so close to the shops, that one could, without any problem, take a souvernir with the outstretched hand. In Andermatt one has the feeling to be in an endless shop paradise, although the place is so small. Andermatt is a nice place to have a little coffee break after a long drive.
Andermatt is not a big tourist place, but there are numerous possibilities for hiking in the surrounding mountains. Also in the winter time, Andermatt does not play a bigger role; but those who have their ski holidays in Andermatt will surely find a lot of snow and good pistes.
Spectacular pass journey from Andermatt to Visp
No matter over which stretch one gets to Andermatt, I only wish one thing to those who arrived here: to have arrived in the early morning, however they might have managed it. As, what comes now at the next bit of about 80 km to Visp, the entrance of the Nikolaital, is not to beat in grandiosity, diversity and permanent impression.
one first drives in direction to the Furka-Pass. In the place Realp, one gets unmissably animated to abstain from the following pass drive and to be transported by the car carrier underneath the mountain up to Oberwald instead. Those who are in a hurry and catch a train immediately save easily an hour, but what is missed by travelling by train underneath the mountain instead of driving it up painfully and then down again?
The valley is getting continuously more narrow and steep. It seems to be unbelievable that one somehow gets up the green mountain hills. Down at the valley, the train line, where an old steam engine transports the tourists, it gets continuously smaller, until it finally vanishes in the tunnel. On a well arranged road, the way continues in serpentines up to an altitude of 2431 m up to the Furka Pass. By the way, Furka means something like a fork. At the left of the pass there is the Blauberg, and the little Furkahorn at the right. In this moment, one left the canton Uri and enters the canton Wallis, to which also Zermatt belongs.
Be careful to look back: take a deep breath and then only gaze. The Urserental has a breath taking effect; one can hardly believe the impressive stretch one actually left behind. The view to the very back ends at the upper Oberalp Pass, that one passed maybe an hour ago. Then a view to another direction: the Finsteraarhorn mighty gleams in the proximity; and at the distance, the Weisshorn of the Zermatt valley is already greeting. The views from the Furka Pass are so gorgeous, that it is a good idea to have an extended snack break there, as in a short period of time, it will not be possible anymore to get such views as offered here.
One may spend a lot of time on the Furka-Pass, as the destination Zermatt is already visible from here, at least the peaks of Zermatt are. But as soon as the next bit is continued, the next highlight comes up, the Rhone-Glacier. The Rhone Glacier is a glacier to get your hands on, here, it is a must to do a stop. I was so fascinated by the glacier, that I dedicated a full page to it. One needs half an hour to a full hour to indulge oneself in the glacier and its glacial cave.
Thus, here is where the Rhône arises, that disembogues as a big river into the Mediterranean Sea by Marseille. Here, also the Rhonetal, in which one first has to manage to get down. At the right side, the Grimsel Pass and the Lake Grimsel invite to a further excursion, but the time is getting tight, as a lot is still to come. Somewhen arrived down, one reaches the place Gletsch. From here, one can nicely drive alongside the river, always downstream up to the next highlight.
One could think that now it is over with the spectacular impressions during the drive to Zermatt. Far from it! As on halfway we arrive at the place Fiesch, a hiking and skiing place where one could also spend a week vacation. We need approximately 2-3 hours to get up to the nearly 3.000 m heighted Eggishorn with the gondola. From Eggishorn, there is a great view to the big Aletsch Glacier. The trip with the gondola is expensive indeed, but the views that one has in a clear day, will not be forgotten in a lifetime. I also saw the Aletsch Glacier form the Jungfraujoch, but it is much more impressive from the Eggishorn, as it is possible to see it at nearly its full size. I also dedicaded a page to the Aletsch Glacier.
Finally, somewhen one arrives at Brig and ultimately at Visp, where it finally goes down to the looked-for tributary valley of the Rhônetals. The last kilometres can be quite boring, as in the cities, one only gets ahead in pace of traffic jam. But there are still 1,5 hours left until the arrival at Zermatt!
Driving up the Nikolaital from Visp to Zermatt
The place Visp forms the entrance into the Nikolaital, that is the biggest tributary valley at the left of the Rhône. A very well arranged road leads from Visp to Stalden that branches out to the right in direction to Zermatt, and to the left, in direction to Saas Fee. In Stalden, also both of the rivers Matter Vispa and Saaser Vispa band together to Vispa. On the way from Visp to Stalden, one ascends from 651 m to 799 m. Up to Zermatt, a further altitude difference of 800 m should follow.
The drive through the Nikolaital offers so many sightseeings, that one should actually stay over night once at each of the places. The drive begins in vineyards and ends at the bottom of the glacier, what's that? One has barely turned from Stalden in direction to Zermatt, when at the right side, a little village above on the mountain attracts one's attention. It is Embd, the steepest village of Switzerland. It is hard to believe that a village has been built at such a height, but the reason for this is very simple: the Nikolaital is a V-shaped valley, at the very bottom, the Vispa flows in a deep canyon, there is nothing to build or to cultivate. Not until further above, at the flat ridge, there are possibilities to build some houses ot to arrange some fields.
The following place St. Niklaus was once the most populated place in the valley; this is why the complete valley was named after it, Nikolaital. Each of the following places themselves are worth to visit; from each place there are hiking paths to the left and to the right side of the mountains. In the place Randa, a massive stone pit attracts one's attention: in the year 1991, this landslide spillaged the railway line and the road and this shows at what danger the inhabitants of the valley are exposed to.
But our destination is Täsch, the parking place of Zermatt. Zermatt itself is not accessible by car to the visitors; instead, one has to park the car permanently in Täsch and do the last kilometres by tram. Unfortunately, one is normally so tired after such a trip that one only does want to arrive at Zermatt. There is not a minute left for the nice place Täsch. But the numerous hotels and restaurants make one guess that also this place is, either in the summer or in the winter time, a great holiday place.
The last kilometres are done by aerial cableway from Täsch to Zermatt. This trip is wonderful and offers numerous views down to the deep valley canyon. It is nothing to see of Zermatt, thus, the tension increases up to the very last minute.
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Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz