High and wild in Zermatt

High above the busy streets of Zermatt lies a forgotten world of gnarled tree trunks, unusual wildflowers and magnificent flanks of moraine.
The cloud descended in the night and the landscape around me is playing hide-and-seek behind wet, silvery wisps. As my feet roll over rocks and damp roots, birds perform in the treetops overhead. Flowers in a rainbow colour chart - among them saxifrage, common lady's mantle, thorny thistle, rock jasmine, carthusian pink, rosebay willowherb and Alpine aster - tangle along the sides of the path. Deeply toned Arolla pine trees with gnarled trunks that look taken from an Arthur Rackham illustration form looming figures. Occasionally, there's a window in the cloud and I can see the stilted 'mazots' (traditional wooden huts) on the opposite flank of the valley.

Somewhere behind me is Riffelalp Resort at 2,222m altitude above Zermatt and our base for the weekend. While Tim has opted for a wet morning of traversing the Gorner Gorge, I am following the 'Weg der Stille', a panoramic woodland path to the nearby Gruensee. I'm reminded of the Japanese tradition of 'shinrin-yoku', or forest bathing, as I meander along, lost in my thoughts and the sound of stillness broken occasionally by a waterfall or a brook.

It is one of the prettiest paths I have ever walked. Later that day, I descend to Zermatt to meet Tim, following a steep and lovely forest trail, equally peppered with flowers, until I reach the valley floor, cross a bridge over the gorge and eventually reach the busy village. We munch slices of chocolate and blueberry cake at Baeckerei Fuchs, a traditionally cosy cafe and Zermatt institution for its Matterhorn-shaped chocolates. Riffelalp is a charming spot to retreat to at the end of the day. Subtle-luxe chalet in style, it sits on a sun terrace that seems in touching distance of the Matterhorn and jangles with cow bells. Nothing beats being up in the mountains as darkness folds over the day.

The following day, we follow that lovely 'Weg der Stille' again, this time continuing beyond the Gruensee - a silver mirror rimmed by vast faces of moraine topped by glacier. The wildflowers are again mesmerising. Zermatt has a dry, sunny climate coupled with sandy and chalky soils that provide ideal conditions for Alpine plants and trees, and in the 18th century, British botanists described the region as having the most interesting flora in Switzerland. We see countless types as we climb via Moosjisee to Stellisee, where cottongrass dances on boulder-strewn meadows, and then down to the hamlet of Findeln for a Gault-Millau-rated lunch at Restaurant Paradies. Its sun terrace faces the Matterhorn, but in place of the mountain is a frothy cloud that mimics its shape - equally enchanting to watch blow around as we savour cheesy ravioli (Tim) and Asian-inspired quinoa salad (me).

On our final morning, we awaken to a riot of bells and watch from our balcony as the Riffelalp cows are herded to pastures new, their heads held proud. The sun is shining on the hillsides, lending the grass a velvet sheen. Riffelalp's panoramic outdoor pool beckons, but first there's just time for another jaunt along that wild, tangled path for a last hit of forest bathing and crisp Alpine air.
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