Since 2013, the destination Zermatt – Matterhorn has been bestowed with the "Families are Welcome" award. So when Zermatt Tourism invited us to see for ourselves whether this award is well deserved, we packed up immediately and after 5 days the experience was far beyond our expectations!
Zermatt has been on my Swiss bucket list since before I moved to Switzerland so it’s incredible that we haven’t made the trip yet. I’ve been thinking about why that is and decided that it’s largely because we had always imagined it to be an expensive resort for serious skiers and frankly, we aren’t very good! Incidentally my defence for that is that for most of the last 6 years I have either been pregnant or with very small children in tow :-).
When the chance to visit came along we decided it would be a wonderful opportunity to discover what non-skiing activities there are to enjoy in Zermatt.
We set off on Tuesday afternoon and drove to Täsch where we parked the car. Zermatt is car-free so this is as far as you can go before taking the train up to the resort. With this in mind I packed the bare minimum and managed to squeeze absolutely everything including ski clothes, snow shoes and food for Elio into one large suitcase and one smaller one.
The trains from Täsch are well organised and frequent so we walked straight onto a carriage when we arrived. We kept Elio in the pushchair for this part of the journey and we saw you can also use trolleys for your luggage which makes it easier if you have a lot of baggage. The journey is about 12 minutes and really pretty through the snowy countryside.
When we arrived we were met by the electric taxi sent by the hotel to collect us and welcomed by the lovely Doris from Zermatt's Tourism Office before we drove the short journey to the hotel. She gave us the children's Wolli's Cards : children up to age nine receive a Wolli Card, which is valid for one year from the beginning of November to the end of October. With the Wolli Card, children travel free on all mountain lifts, stay overnight for free in many of the hotels and holiday apartments, don’t pay any holiday tax, and benefit from lots of other attractive offers. You can book it for free here.
Our home for the last few days has been La Ginabelle hotel **** who, together with Zermatt Tourism, invited us to visit for a few days to discover this wonderful place.
We got such a warm reception when we arrived, with welcome bags for the children which included activity books and treats. The hotel is really well organised and they really made the arrangements for our trip very easy so it was lovely to meet Marianne in person after all her help. We had a tour of the facilities which include a cosy piano bar, kids club, lovely restaurant and beautiful spa (more about that later).
It is usually a bit complicated for us to stay in hotels with all three children as it’s hard to find somewhere with sufficient space for all of us and our stuff, but at La Ginabelle we had the perfect solution...interconnecting rooms! They were both large and comfortable with sitting areas, balconies and plenty of storage space so we were able to spread out and get ourselves settled in before we headed to the restaurant for dinner.
We had a half board arrangement and were expecting a buffet meal but instead we were delighted to try a daily changing menu with 5 delicious courses. The service was impeccable and we ate extremely well (we are real foodies so this is an important factor in our holiday planning!). There was plenty of choice for the children who were given colouring equipment and lots of attention during the meal, despite some of their overexcited behaviour.
We slept really well and had to WAKE THE CHILDREN UP the following morning - I actually can’t think of a single other time that has happened! We had planned Jude’s first ski lesson for 12.30 so after a good breakfast (Jean enjoyed his English breakfast) we decided to go for a walk around the town to explore in the morning.
What a wonderful surprise to discover the pretty little streets of the town! The main shopping area is fairly compact but all around it are plenty of treasures to discover including an area where there remained lots of old barns and animal enclosure buildings from 17th century. These are impressive as they are raised from the ground perched on kind of large concrete mushrooms (not sure thats the technical term ;-)). It’s really an impressive feat of engineering and well worth exploring.
The views from the town are beautiful and we really loved the fact that it’s car free, it really made it feel like a break from the daily grind as we didn’t have to worry about parking and bundling everyone in and out of the car and I liked the feeling of being a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of life. It might be car free but there is still traffic in the form of electric buses and taxis so you have to keep your eyes open as it’s not always easy to hear them approaching.
At 12.30 we headed to Stoked Ski School to get ourselves organised for Jude’s first ski lesson. Rouven helped get Jude kitted out in boots, skis, helmet and goggles before we set off with instructor Max to reach the mountain. Max is a fellow Brit who has lived abroad since he was 9 so he was truly bilingual. Jude told us he would prefer to have the lesson in English so that’s what we did. We got a taxi from Stoked to the funicular train that would take us to Sunnegga which is a beautiful spot at 2,288m and home to Wolli's park where they have great facilities for young skiers.
Max was very friendly and had a great rapport with Jude who was surprisingly relaxed and unfazed by his first time on the snow in skis. They started very gently and our usually rather cautious Jude was reassured that Max stayed close to him and was there to catch him if he took a tumble. It was really incredible for us to see how quickly he found his confidence and it really boosted him that Max congratulated him and told him what a great job he was doing. It’s clear that Max is a great teacher and the method he used of making sure Jude was comfortable with each technique before moving on to the next worked really well.
We took Elio up with us in his pushchair which was fine as there was space in the lowest carriage of the funicular for him and lifts to take us to Wolli's Park. It was windy and cold up there so we were glad we wrapped everyone up well but after 20 minutes of watching Jude I took the smallest into the restaurant for a bite to eat . Alba somehow managed to fall asleep on my knee in the middle of the wind so we thought she might be more comfortable in the warm. The restaurant is self-service and a good place to refuel but we found the hot meals a bit pricey.
When Jude has finished he came back pink-cheeked and full of pride in himself. We were extremely happy parents and Jude felt a huge sense of achievement at completing the lesson which he spoke about a lot during the rest of the afternoon - he was even giving skiing tips to his clumsy parents!
That evening, Doris at Zermatt Tourism had suggested that we try the trip to see some black nosed sheep in a farm just outside the town and we jumped at the chance, so shortly before 17.30 the hotel taxi dropped us at the Hotel Julen from where we took another taxi up to the Tradition Julen sheep barn.
We shared a taxi with a nice American couple who expressed their excitement about visiting Switzerland and how lucky we are to live in such an amazing country. Again for this we took Elio in the pushchair which we folded up and stored in the back of the taxi and after a short introductory talk on arrival, the group was divided into those who preferred the tour in German and the English speakers. We were obviously in the second group (although we are now resolved to try and learn Swiss German :-)) and were fascinated to learn that the farm uses waste from the animals and the town (left over food for example) to produce electricity and that a number of homes in Zermatt were already running on this method. Amazing eh?
After the introduction, we headed up a very steep slope to the first enclosure - it was a nice workout for Jean with Elio in the pushchair but we made it! We started by seeing some of the older "teenage" sheep before moving into a large barn housing the smaller ones. This was easily our favourite part of the tour as the sheep came up to see us and seemed excited by the children’s attention, including Alba’s abundant kisses! We took Elio out of his pushchair and he surprised us by being happy to pat the sheep and let them nuzzle him. It was really heartwarming to see his reaction and to have felt that he was enjoying himself as we often worry that he gets a bit left out. Before moving on to see the cows we were invited to have a glass of wine and try some of the farm-produced meat and cheese as well a chance for the children to see one of the lambs up close which meant Jude could hold one, and Alba could more easily lavish the poor animal with kisses.
The cows were magnificent and we were lucky enough to see a newborn calf during our visit which was amazing and provoked lots of questions from Jude about how animals were born - a topic which was much more easily navigated after a glass of wine ;-)).
At the end of the tour we took a taxi back to the Hotel Julen. Of course, you can stay and eat at the hotel restaurant, but we had to feed Elio and get him organised for the night so we decided to walk back to La Ginabelle for our dinner.
The tour which costs chf20 and is free for children, is run every Wednesday and apparently in the summer months you can join a hike up to see the sheep in their pastures which must be a beautiful experience. It’s really a fun outing for all the family and we were still talking about it over dinner.
The following morning Jean woke me up at 6.30 to tell me there had been a large amount of snow overnight. I still get extremely excited about the snow so this was good motivation for us to get up and organised and again it was us who had to wake the children! We had decided to head out and do the Wolli's Treasure Hunt for children around the town so we wrapped up well and set off after a substantial breakfast.
We love a good treasure hunt and this one is lots of fun, starting at the train station and leading you in a circuit around the town where you find stickers placed in various businesses and landmarks to help you solve the puzzle which meant that at the end the children got a surprise. We took Elio in the pushchair and it was mostly accessible apart from 2 clues which were reached by steep hills made very slippery by the snow. We managed to pull some strings to get the clues as you need all of them to be able to crack the puzzle. It was a really good way to explore the town and learn a bit about the history as we went. It was snowing constantly so it really felt like a return to winter and a really magical kind of morning. The children were tired after our adventure so we decided to grab some sandwiches and eat in the hotel as we suspected their lethargy would descend into bad behaviour in a restaurant setting.
After everyone had had a rest, we took the children to the kids club in the hotel (yay!). This service is included in the price of your stay and available to children aged 2.5 years and over. We have never tried a kids club before as Alba has always been too young and we are always worried about whether they will be able to manage Elio, but we were quickly reassured when we met Linda who was extremely capable and friendly and we left feeling confident that Elio would be in safe hands.
Children happily deposited, we went for a short snowy walk on our own before heading back to the hotel spa. What a treat! Since we were there before all the skiers and day trippers returned, we had the place almost to ourselves so we could enjoy the jacuzzis, sauna, steam room and best of all, the indoor/outdoor pool, in peace. We LOVED this pool! It was still snowing and there is something fantastic about being outside in the cold air whilst enjoying the warm water and jacuzzi with snow on our faces and steam rising around us. There are many more facilities to explore including an adult only area which includes more steam rooms and treatment areas but we had promised ourselves a peaceful glass of wine in the bar before we collected the children.
Back at the kids club, the children had been painting eggs for Easter and were really excited to show us what they had been making. It was clear they had had a great time so, encouraged by this success, we made arrangements to leave them there for dinner the following evening so that Jean and I could go out to a restaurant on our own.
Our original plan was to stay 2 nights, but in the end we stayed for 4 as we just couldn’t bear to leave so soon. This decision saw me doing some emergency washing in the sink with shower gel as we were running out of clean clothes but it was well worth it!
We were so glad we stayed longer because on Friday morning we hit the jackpot when Jean pulled open the curtains at 6.30 to be greeted by full sunshine, clear skies and our first glimpse of the Matterhorn from our bedroom window. We were so excited as we had chosen this day for a rather special visit.
After breakfast we wrapped ourselves up warm and headed to the train which would take us to Gornergrat (3,089m) which is is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime with a view of 29 mountains. We paid a bit extra (CHF5/adult) to have priority boarding which meant we could get on the train a few minutes before everyone else since we had Elio in the pushchair and this enabled us to find a good place to install ourselves before the crowds of other people joined us (little tip: sit on the side of the train nearest the platform to have the best view). The train ride up to Gornergrat is the highest open air rail track in Europe and it was spectacular (20 or 33 minutes depending on whether it's a direct train or not). It was hard for Jean to stop himself from photographing absolutely everything but it was the perfect combination of beautiful scenery, glorious sunshine and glittering snow.
When we arrived at the top we took (or asked other unsuspecting visitors to take) some pictures of ourselves with the Matterhorn before we headed off to explore the higher panoramic viewing area. We got a few bemused looks from other tourists as we heaved up the steep, snowy path with Elio in the pushchair but it was well worth it with a 360 degree view of the mountains and valleys around us including the Pennine Alps and the Gorner Glacier. There is a hotel up there too and we stopped on the terrace for a delicious hot chocolate before we got ourselves organised for the return. Our priority pass didn’t do us much good here as everyone seemed to be free to get on the waiting train when they wanted but we found a good space and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying the same beautiful scenery passing by.
We opted to eat in our hotel room again at lunchtime before nap time, then we went for one last short walk around the town to see it in the sunshine before we took the children back to the kids club for the evening.
After we dropped them off we walked the short distance into town for a drink before heading up to Ferdinand restaurant for dinner. It was a steep walk up there which gave us a good appetite for dinner but it was a really nice restaurant with good food and perfect for a quiet dinner.
We were happy to see the children after our night out and to hear about their program at the club for the evening which included making and eating their own pizzas. They are keen chefs and really enjoyed this activity. After that they made Easter characters out of toilet roll holders. They were so proud to show us and were excited to tell us all about their evening which was a great success. Huge thank you to Linda for managing our tribe and keeping them all happy. We are real converts to the idea of a kids club now and will try and factor that into our future holidays - time on our own is very rare and it really gave us chance to recharge our batteries.
Usually at the end of one of our trips with the children, there is a small part of us that feels ready to get back home to all the equipment and stuff we think we need around us to make parenting easier, but that wasn't the case this time as we were so well looked after and were all really sad to say goodbye on Saturday morning. Everything about this little holiday has been perfect - from the weather to the beautiful scenery, the people we met to the activities we discovered, but we owe a special thank you to Doris for all her helpful advice and suggestions and to La Ginabelle hotel (Marianne and the Family Abgottspon-Schell) for their exceptional hospitality which enabled us to enjoy our visit to the maximum. The hotel, and indeed the town, is really a class act.
As testament to the fact that Zermatt is indeed a truly family friendly resort, Jude asked several times if we could move there permanently, but I think we'll have to settle for planning another trip in the summer - we've already got our sights set on a picnic by the lake in Leisee which is only accessible in the warmer months.
As a takeaway, we have learned that when we are planning this kind of trip, it's a really good idea to contact the tourist information to find out about local events such as the farm visit, which we might not have discovered if left to our own devices.
We are now officially and deeply in love Zermatt, we will be back!
Zermatt Tourism Bahnhofplatz 5 Tel: +41 27 966 81 00 firstname.lastname@example.org
Hôtel La Ginabelle Zermatt
Famille Abgottspon-Schell Vispastrasse 52 CH-3920 Zermatt
Tél: +41 27 966 50 00 Fax: +41 27 966 50 10 email@example.com
Stoked Snowsports School
Tel: +41 (0)27 967 70 20