Two almighty Swiss mountain resorts: Zermatt vs. Saas-Fee

Let's be honest: Zermatt and Saas-Fee are as close as it gets to heaven on earth. I recently had the privilege of visiting these two car-free mountain resorts, tucked at the bottom of neighbouring valleys in the Swiss canton of Valais, over consecutive weekends on the business of hotel reviewing (they'll be coming shortly). There's Zermatt, with its fairytale views across higgledy-piggledy 'Spycher' (wooden huts on stilts) and along the ice-blue Vispa river to the crooked spire of the Matterhorn and its changing moods. A hop, skip and a jump across the mountaintops, and you land in Saas-Fee. The so-called 'pearl of the Alps', it is nestled in a basin surrounded by 13 4,000-metre summits, which are separated by the icy tongues of multiple glaciers. It was early October and the weather, surprisingly good.
Zermatt called for walking: how can you wake up to the Matterhorn painted in shades of pink beyond the window and not want to edge closer to it? One walk took us up to Furi by cable car and down the Gorner Gorge on foot - it was pretty, with its steep gnarled walls and turquoise waters, but only in Switzerland would you have to pay CHF 5 per person to access a five-minute stretch of suspended walkways.

The next day, we glided up to the Sunnegga plateau (by funicular then gondola), which affords spectacular vistas across the Zermatt mountains and their most famous summit. From here, we followed the winding '5 Lakes Walk', descending around the glass-clear Stellisee, then the tarn-like Grindjisee, where pines cluster the shores, jostling for space, the Matterhorn piercing the sky behind them.

Then came the Grünsee, Moosjisee and Leisee, before we found ourselves in Findeln - a 'gourmet' hamlet above Zermatt. We settled down outside what looked like the kind of building you'd find high on an alm - simple and wooden, with tables looking out onto a magnificent panorama. But a small sign revealed it featured in the 'Gault Millau' guide - and the divine pumpkin soup we ordered was testament to this too - Restaurant Paradies, if anyone is interested in a delicious meal halfway up a mountain. Then again, in Zermatt that is widely known to be the order of the day.
The next weekend, we journeyed to Saas-Fee with Dad. There's an instantly welcoming air about Saas-Fee; it has a more lived-in feel than Zermatt, and far fewer tourists. It is impossible to take your eyes off the walls of snowy rock reaching for the sky all around, from the Michabel range to Piz Allalin and the Dom, at 4,545 metres the highest mountain in Switzerland. We journeyed up to the Fee Glacier, a feathery mass of ice clinging to the slopes. Here, we munched pork pie, a present from Dad from Newport Butcher's (the best there is, if you ever find yourself in East Yorkshire) while watching piste bashers set off to groom the summer skiing area. We then swapped the bright sunshine for the cold tunnels of the recently revamped Ice Pavilion. A warren carved into the glacier, it contains dates showing how old the ice is - some of it pre-dates Jesus, ice sculptures and an absolutely terrifying - but funny in hindsight; I screamed - simulation of an avalanche. Safely back in the village, we lunched at Hotel Mistral, close to the bottom of the lift. It does an excellent autumn platter, consisting of Spätzle, stewed pear, chestnuts, red cabbage and sprouts, and has the exuberantly friendly service I associate with Saas-Fee.
© Emmy in Switzerland | All rights reserved.
Blog Layout Created by pipdig