A holiday to Zermatt is not complete without a trip up the famous rack and pinion railway from Zermatt village up all 3089m, to the top of Gornergrat Mountain. It is, in fact, one of the highest mountain train excursions you can do in the Swiss Alps.
Even more special is the Sunrise Excursion up the Gornergrat mountain! Though this trip is definitely not for you if you’re after a lie in…
Every summer from the beginning of July until the end of August, once a week, the Gornergrat organises this very special day out. Depending on the time of the sunrise, as this changes every week, your guide will meet you at the Gornergrat station and accompany you on the train journey past Findelbach, where you will see a beautiful gorge and thundering waterfall.
You will then travel up to Riffelalp the next stop, where the famous 5 * hotel is located, The Riffelalp hotel. Between Riffelalp and Riffelberg live a colony of marmots. These lovely furry mountain creatures are best spotted at dusk though and so are not present for the sunrise trip as they are still fast asleep in their mountain dens!
Riffelberg is where this summer guests have been able to see the open air theatre production of the story of the 1st Ascent of the Matterhorn, “The Matterhorn Story”. It tell the tragic story of the brave attempt by a very young British mountaineer called Edward Whymper and how he became the first person to climb the Matterhorn 150 years ago in 1865. At that time there was only 1 hotel in Zermatt and the world class resort of today was almost entirely unknown!
From Riffelberg the train continues up to Rotenboden the penultimate stop, where with your guide you disembark and set out on a short 15 minute walk downhill to the stunning Riffelsee (Riffel Lake). On a clear day you can see a perfect mirror reflection of the Matterhorn in the waters.
Once reaching the lake you are accompanied by local musicians from a tiny village in the Matter Valley just above Stalden who have become enthusiastic bag pipe players (although each of them are Swiss and one would perhaps expect the alphorn here, they thought they would try something different…) They entertain you while you wait for the sun to rise and turn the summit of the Matterhorn into a golden ball with beautiful hues of pink rays on all the surrounding mountains and turning the panorama in to a stunning picture perfect scene.
As the sun rises you really get to see the amazing mirror image over on to Riffelsee Lake which is great for some magical photography!
After the sun has completely risen we all walk back up to Rotenboden station and continue on the train to the top station of Gornergrat, to the Kulmhotel Gornergrat, where a hearty welcoming mountain breakfast awaits with lots of delicious local mountain cured meats and cheeses in the mountain restaurant.
After breakfast you can walk a further 10 minutes up to a viewing point where you will see 29 mountain peaks all over 4000 metres high. There is a lovely tiny chapel at the top and it’s a prime location for Ibex spotting too!
With your guide, you’ll then walk from the top all the way down to Riffelalp, which will take approximately 2 to 3 hrs for keen hikers or alternatively you can enjoy the leisurely rail journey back down to Zermatt stopping at every stop if you wish or heading straight back down in to Zermatt. The journey straight through will take you 30 minutes.
This is an unforgettable mountain excursion to be enjoyed next time you’re in Zermatt!
Liz and Mike Cakebread
1st September 2015.