Nickel & Diming in Swiss Land

Posted By: Neha Dixit                

This is how it happened for me…

It was love at first sight…

It was the countless flowers… the easy pace… the clean air… the open spaces…

Zermatt in springtime remains one of my favourite holiday destinations.

Zur matt literally means ‘in the meadow’, nestled in the Swiss German-speaking canton of Valais, Switzerland.

Switzerland is beautiful, peaceful, organised and very very expensive… so a luxurious holiday in Switzerland is really No Big Deal but to make it affordable? Let’s just say you have to extremely smart about it…

Zermatt did not appear on any map until 1495 & the first tourists travelled here in 1780… When it comes to tourism this village has come a loooong way in the past 150 years. Today much of the local economy depends on tourism. Home to less than 6000 residents, the village swells to 20,000 tourists during peak winter months…

So let’s try and plan a relatively cheap holiday in the in the southernmost health resort in Switzerland.

How to travel?

Tip number 1: When in Switzerland, travel like the Swiss- get yourself a Rail Pass from Zurich.

The little train with large windows will roll up the perfectly manicured hills, dotted with sheep, past waterfalls, through long tunnels & tiny villages. As the gauge gets narrower, the views become wider.

I was making my way to the biggest cliché of Switzerland – the Matterhorn…the Toblerone Mountain!

Here elevation increases, temperature reduces, and excitement simply multiplies.

Zermatt has always been a car free zone, but there are many ways of getting around town - you can get on a horse carriage, electric taxi, cycle, your own two feet, as long as there are no fumes given out.

No pun intended!

Where to stay?

The accommodation must be selected carefully, easy on the pocket and the environment. The town sprawls across a valley and you don’t want to save money on accommodation and trade for taxing walks or expensive taxis…

On a holiday in winter, you can ski for 10 kms, make you way to Italy for some piping hot pasta; but make sure you find a place where you can ski back to the doorstep.

I was staying at the edge of the village, a slightly tedious walk from the railway station, so 1 time taxi with luggage and you’ll be at the youth hostel. Set up in 1924, this place is home to 31000 like-minded travellers each year, who are surprisingly not all are backpackers and shockingly not all young.

The youth hostel organisation is a pioneer in sustainable tourism. Built entirely of natural materials, here all the heating whether for washing or insulation is done by solar panels.

Take a room where through the large window, the Matterhorn with its hooked peak, stands sentinel… and you can easily trick yourself into believing you’re staying at a luxury resort @ 45 euros a night.

What to see?

Now that I had seen it from a distance, I wanted to get as close as possible; like the 3 million pilgrims that pay homage to what is thought to be the most-photographed mountain in the world… After all, this peak is an icon for the Alps and Zermatt, the Mecca of Alpine ski & mountain sports…

In winter months, a sheet of snow hides the details and glugging of gluwine begins before midday.

But this is also one of the few places where you will find adventure enthusiasts through the year. I prefer the warmer months though, and you can still see snow at eye level if you take a trip up to any of the 5 peaks.

If you don’t feel like climbing, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, basically if you are just being lazy, then you can get on Europe’s highest mountain lift and reach Klein Matterhon to join the spectators.

But to get high, you have to pay a price, in the form of a ticket worth 88 francs.

Better dress warm, don’t want to catch a chill… after all you will be at an elevation of 12,780 feet above sea level.

Quick trivia: 90 million years ago the African continental plate slid over the European plate giving birth to this mountain.

When to go?

Spring time – the flowers are blooming, your bones don’t freeze, it’s not peak season so crowds are less and bargains are possible.

Every spring for the past 40 years performing groups from across Switzerland gather for what has become the largest cultural festival of the season…

The Zermatt Folklore festival is a feast for the senses in the every sense of the word. There are incredible sights, beautiful music, lovely flavour and ahh! The smells…

The town looks like you’ve just walked into a time machine… Church bells for alarm calls, Brandy-bearing St. Bernard’s, men with top hats, maidens in bonnets and horse drawn carriages - Zermatt is dressed up for the folklore festival…

I have a simple equation - Festivals & fairs = street food.

Simple tricks to search for the best option that fits my meagre budget & is a treat for my taste buds… follow the nose or go for the most crowded spot!

A bratwurst with fresh bakery bread and hot mustard for 6 euros, slices of tarts and pies for 2 to 3 euros… you can easily overeat for a meagre amount.

Each and every franc profit from the festival goes to help the youth of Zermatt in various projects. It’s definitely a fun way to raise funds…

Church bells again! We’re being summoned for the grand parade..

50 different folklore groups with more than 1200 dancers, yoddlers and musicians with their Alphorns fill the village to its brim. And suddenly this new place feels so familiar…

For me this is luxury, time is luxury, space is luxury, clean air & water is luxury, to travel to far and wide is luxury, the opportunity to make new friends is luxury… so would this be an expensive holiday – No, but a luxurious one – no doubt! Now that is a really Big Deal!!
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