The last time I visited Zermatt was five or six years ago. As we all know, the coronavirus has had a great impact on our movements over the last two years which partly contributed to this gap in my case. The Swiss Franc rate used to be a lot higher also - I remember it being almost double to what it is now - but I was keen to return to Zermatt and stumbled upon an apartment whose price I had to check with the proverbial toothcomb to make sure that I was reading it correctly so good was the price, especially for Zermatt.
I accept that putting together an independent package meant taking a little bit of a deep breath, committing to the apartment (whose cut-off for cancellation was a month before arrival) and non-refundable rail tickets and hoping that nothing scuppered my going. Nothing did.
It's odd because I am sure that I have been to Zermatt in May before but these days everything suggested that hiking routes in the area were only open from June or even July. Maybe this was Health and Safety, maybe it was memory failing me as I may have gone slightly later. Whatever, there was still snow lower down than later in the summer and several paths slightly higher up were still covered with quite deep snow in places. Paths in general tended to be open but there were some which were definitely closed and which meant a re-think on the hoof. The weather was quite glorious during the day with any rain coming in the late afternoon/early evening when I was safely ensconced in my apartment cooking my evening meal.
Flights were still being cancelled and my outbound and return were both cancelled at different times. The outbound changed about a month before so I took the opportunity of booking on the first flight of the day out and making use of the Swiss Railways Day Saver Pass (bought at the earliest opportunity, two months ahead, and which allowed travel all over Switzerland for CHF52, approximately £45).
I spent the first night at the Premier Inn near Heathrow's Terminal 5 and everything was comfortable (except possibly the checking in. Wondering why no-one seemed brave enough to use the check-in machines, I gave it my best and ended up confusing myself and joined the queue). A very early start the next morning ensued but all went well and indeed the British Airways flight I was on to Geneva took off and landed early.
It was nice therefore to take an earlier train and bus to a small town (maybe even a village) to Celigny, just outside Nyon, to visit again Richard Burton's grave as well as see his house and his favourite restaurant. Celigny seems typically French, unsurprisingly as it is in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. There are two cemeteries in Celigny and Burton, along with Where Eagles Dare author Alistair Maclean, are buried within a few yards of each other. I spent a pleasant hour in this quaint place before continuing my journey to Zermatt in glorious weather.
It was a treat to be back in Zermatt where the weather remained wonderful during the next four days albeit with some rain in the very late afternoon. It may be me but whenever I look at Zermatt weather forecasts, it always seems slightly worse than it actually turns out to be. Am I reading the snow forecast? Is it that mountain forecasts are more difficult to predict? Whatever, my three full days were lovely.
The Bolero Appartements where I stayed were wonderful. Google Earth has views of the rooms and I hoped, against hope as it turned out, that I might have a partial view of the Zermatt from my studio. Alas not, but it was a small point. My room had two pull-down beds, a toilet and cooking area and fridge. It was a decent size too and very comfortable. There is a spa which I used and which had the potential to soothe my aching limbs: whether it was the spa or my ageing well, I cannot be sure but there were surprisingly few, if any, aches or pains after eighteen hours of walking in three days.
My shopping sprees did not start especially promisingly. Having misread the price of the cheese, I asked the self-service cashier to cancel the purchase but it was not initially that straightforward although ultimately successful. I went on to the other supermarket, Migros, and coped better with their self-service machines until finding that cash was not accepted.
I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Zermatt but, in any event, I know my way around and do not get lost. Most paths, shall we say, were not closed so I had to assume that they were open unless a barrier blocked their way. It did happen - or maybe the path was blocked by snow - which meant a change of plan but, whatever, it was a treat to be back. My first day was spent in my favourite area near Schwarzsee on the right of the valley. I may not quite have made it there due to snow but nonetheless it was a lovely walk although a Japanese tourist, behind me and unbeknown to me, may have learnt some Anglo-Saxon whilst I was struggling with my camera. Hey ho, she spoke nicely to me afterwards.
The evening meals went well really. No fire alarms were started and I felt replete after my efforts. A £2 litre bottle of a variety of Swiss wines was surprisingly good and my days (and evenings) were busy.
I tried to walk towards Sunnegga on the second day and then take the high path upwards before descending upon Tasch, the last spot before Zermatt where drivers can leave their cars. It didn't work out that way as I had underestimated the anticipated time to reach Tufternalp, near Sunnegga, and was a little behind time as I had things to do in the late afternoon. That meant that snow around two-and-a-half feet high across a path convinced me to make a detour and take another route. It wasn't actually the snow which was the deterrent, more the prospect of the higher path offering the possibility of even more snow.
Celigny’s small church
Celigny’s Vieux Cimetiere (Old Cemetery) which contains the graves of Richard Burton (second on the left) and Alistair Maclean (further up on the right)
The excellent Bolero Appartements in Zermatt
The famous Matterhorn
Findeln, near Zermatt
A view of Zermatt
St. Peter’s, English Church in Zermatt
The older part of Zermatt
Zermatt’s main church with the Matterhorn in the background
Winkelmatten’s church, near Zermatt
Proof that I was back in Switzerland
Further proof – it is me underneath the hat...
A close-up of the Matterhorn
Zermatt’s main street

My revised route took me through the delightful hamlet of Findeln which offers fantastic views of the Matterhorn. Like many places in Switzerland, there is a tiny chapel but, sadly, it wasn't open. Findeln is a charming, rustic place and a few minutes down the path, after some other closed detours, I had no other option than to take the delightful flat path which led me back to the other end of Zermatt. A hard life.
Not for the first time in Switzerland, I left my walking stick in the Coop after further shopping but it was easy to collect it the following day. I did have a look in the cemetery also. Zermatt, and more pertinently the Matterhorn, is remembered for the July 1865 expedition which led to the Matterhorn being climbed for the first time. A successful ascent usually means a safe descent and tragically some members were lost on the way down. They are commemorated with plaques (in the road) outside the famous mountaineering hotel, the Monte Rosa which commemorates one of the 1865 expedition's leading members, Edward Whymper. Later, the famous English mountaineer, George Mallory, visited and climbed around Zermatt.
On my last day, I started off by going inside another small and delightful church in Winkelmatten, a small area near the valley station in Zermatt for Furi and onwards to other places including Schwarzsee. I walked upwards towards Gornergrat, on the left-hand side of the valley, further along from Sunnegga. I was impressed that I did not need to stop that much: maybe I have learnt not to tackle the uphill sections so quickly in hoping to get them out of the way as soon as possible. I reached Riffelalp before taking a fairly circuitous way back to Zermatt, again via Findeln and the flat path.
An early departure the following morning beckoned due to being rebooked on to an earlier flight. It all went pretty smoothly despite another wait for the baggage at Heathrow and quite a lengthy hand-luggage queue at Geneva. Plans are afoot to return to Zermatt next year...