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The Matterhorn is arguably the most famous mountain in the European Alps. Its reputation has international reach—it could also easily be in contention for the most famous mountain at Disneyland, along with Splash and Space. Meaning, the “peak in the meadows” in German, the Matterhorn sits in both Italy and Switzerland. In Italy, they call the Matterhorn “Monte Cervino.”
The Matterhorn has been standing for millions of years, which means the striking pyramid-shaped mountain predates the actual pyramids by several hundred eras. The peak emerged when plates from multiple continents crashed together, in a nearly unimaginable tectonic feat. Geologists theorize that the Matterhorn formed when the European continent plate converged with the African plate, in some phenomenal pangea-refuting surge.
The Matterhorn has four distinct faces, the north looking toward Zermatt, Switzerland and the south gazing down on Breuil-Cervinia, Italy. Read on for your comprehensive guide to planning a Matterhorn vacation.
Seeing the Matterhorn from the Swiss Side
As you might expect, being on the actual mountain isn’t necessarily the best way to see the Matterhorn. One of the celebrated views of the Matterhorn is from alpine lake Riffelsee. Not only does standing at the shore of the lake offer a panoramic view of the mountain, but the Matterhorn is perfectly reflected in Riffelsee. The Matterhorn’s lake reflection is up there with the Eiffel Tower, the cliffs of Cinque Terre, and the Grecian islands in terms of coveted European photo ops.
You’ll find Riffelsee on the way from Zermatt to Gornergrat, one of the highest Matterhorn lookout areas. You can take the Gornergrat Bahn train all the way from Zermatt to Gornergrat—to see the lake, get off at Rotenboden Station. The ride from Zermatt to Gornergrat takes about 30 minutes. And Gornergrat Bahn is actually the highest open-air rail in Europe. You can hike between Zermatt and Gornergrat conditions permitting, though it’s strenuous and the route down is steep and hard on the knees. Alternately, you can opt to just hike from Gornergrat to Riffelsee, which is a 30-minute downhill hike—the trail is clearly marked from Gornergrat.
You can instead take a cable car from Zermatt up to Rothorn, first passing Sunnegga and then Blauherd. If you’d prefer to break your cable car ride up with a hike, you can get from Sunnegga to Blauherd via the Five Lakes hike, which passes lakes Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjisee, and Leisee. The hike is about five miles and takes approximately three hours.
Seeing the Matterhorn from the Italian Side
On the Italian side, Monte Cervino is best experienced from one of the highest ski hubs in Europe: Breuil-Cervinia. Breuil-Cervinia as a town is home to luxury resorts with ski-in/ski-out accommodations and a ski season that goes all the way from October to the end of May. Located within the Aosta Valley, visiting Cervino typically requires renting a car. (Fear not, the driver’s side is on the left in Italy, and the views from the road are incredible.) If you can’t reserve a hotel room in Cervinia, you can also stay in the adjacent ski town, Valtournenche.
Where to Stay When Visiting the Matterhorn
From the luxury Matterhorn-view hotels to the après-ski-esque lodges in the surrounding towns, these are our favorite hotels that have a reputation for incomparable service and even better views.
Grand Hotel Zermatterhof is pure Zermatt luxury. While the rooms aren’t Matterhorn-facing, they curate a style that’s simultaneously cozy and elegant. The experience at Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, is one of the most luxurious you’ll find in Zermatt without feeling unnecessarily grandiose. Book the chalet suite and their Matterhorn Ski Weeks package in the winter.
Riffelhaus 1853 is a ski-in/ski-out resort and a spa that extends outdoors, where there’s a whirlpool with panoramic views of the Swiss Alps—including the Matterhorn. Book their junior suite, which also has a view of the Matterhorn. And dine at Riffelhaus 1853’s restaurant, which serves high-end Swiss mountain fare like dried beef unique the Valais region.
Hermitage Hotel & Spa is a Relais & Châteaux property within Breuil-Cervinia. Travelers can stay in a master suite with a balcony or terrace overlooking the mountains. But more importantly, Hermitage will arrange a heli-skiing experience on the Matterhorn (which, of course, you’ll call Monte Cervino while on the southern face).
3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat is all about the altitude. It’s claim to fame is sitting 3,100 meters above sea level (10,107 feet). And the hotel boasts the very best Matterhorn views. The sun terrace has a panoramic, unobstructed view of the mountain, and so many of the rooms offer Matterhorn views that the hotel calls them “your personal observation station.”
Getting to the Matterhorn
The best airports to fly into when traveling to Zermatt are Geneva, Zurich, Milan, or Sion. From any of the four airports, you can take a train to Täsch, and then shuttle from Täsch to Zermatt. Or you can rent a car—Sion is the closest, just a 90-minute drive, though it has the most limited flight selection. Geneva and Milan are both just under three hours driving, and Zurich is about four. For travelers who prefer not to rent a car, many of the luxe Zermatt hotels can provide a transfer from Geneva International Airport.
In terms of getting to Breuil-Cervinia, Geneva and Milan are also good airport options, as each less than three hours driving from the Italian side of the Matterhorn. However, the closest airport is Turin, an hour-and-a-half car ride. Most of the hotels in the area expect travelers to drive and are equipped with parking facilities.