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Walks For Small Groups In the Shadow of The Matterhorn

Walks For Small Groups In the Shadow of The Matterhorn

 

TOURS

With scores of mountains, dozens of valleys, and over 500 miles of tracks, trails and paths in the mountains around Zermatt how do you know where to go? On which of the countless routes are you most likely to meet marmots and find edelweiss? Which paths have the finest views and fewest tourists? Where can you see the effects of climate change and learn how wildlife survives the harsh alpine winters? Why are Alpine flowers so brightly coloured?

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The cable cars and mountain railways mean that we do not need to start from Zermatt every day but can hitch a lift to higher altitude and enjoy a walk on more gentle slopes.

Walks are selected to suit your interests and matched to the season and the weather. The tours are not geography field trips but a little understanding of the mountains, climate and the natural environment will greatly enhance your appreciation of what we see.

Therefore topics that we can explore on our walks (to as great or limited extent as you wish) include:

  • Geology and the formation of the Alps and Matterhorn
  • Glaciation
  • Climate change – The Ice Age, The Little Ice Age and contemporary climatic change
  • Alpine flora and fauna

  

GLACIERS

Mighty as they may be glaciers are ephemeral features. The Gorner Glacier has had a rough time of things in the four decades that I have known it. It has shrunk dramatically in length and depth which, for a student of its works like myself, is tragic.

Some glaciologists believe Alpine glaciers today are a relic of the Little Ice Age from the seventeenth to early ninteenth centuries. One of the things we shall observe on our walks is evidence of glacial advances in the ice ages of earlier centuries and millenia. And I shall show you photographs and other evidence to illustrate how much bigger the glaciers were even 20 to 40 years ago. Geologically speaking it is not so long ago that Zermatt itself was buried deep under ice.

Some of the glacier gorges are stunning and you will have the opportunity to examine exquisite rock features carved by ice and water when they were still under the glaciers.

 

THE MOUNTAINS

The Matterhorn (Cervinia in Italian) although the most famous is not the highest mountain in the area. That honour belongs to the Monte Rosa. Altogether there are 41 peaks over 4,000m around Zermatt. Time does not normally allow us to climb any; we tend to stay in the high alpine pastures below the highest peaks admiring the views and soaking up the sun. We do not normally climb above 3,100m, high enough to feel the effects of the altitude and thin air.

The Alps are the result of the Alpine mountain building period which saw the collision of the African tectonic plate with the European plate. The complexity of the geological folding and faulting processes can be gauged from the fact that the rocks forming the upper part of the Matterhorn are of African origin


WILDLIFE

 The flora and fauna of the Zermatt valley and mountains are beautiful and fascinating. Of course neither plant nor animal life is particularly diverse at these altitudes owing to the harsh climate and terrain and the relatively short time that has elapsed since the whole lot was covered by ice.

But this gives us a fascinating insight into how plants establish themselves on bare rock and the process of colonisation whereby barren ground which only a few hardy pioneers can cling on to quickly becomes verdant meadow and woodland. Whatever the Alps may lack in species diversity they more than make up for in ingenious adaptations to the harsh environment and brilliant survival techniques.

 

FOOD AND WINE

Swiss food is simple, rich and plentiful. Quite a lot of it comes from cows. The cows graze upon the grass verdant from sun and rain and rainbows of Alpine flowers. Milk, cream, yoghurt, cheese and chocolate: they never tasted so good.

The canton of Valais is a major fruit producing area with a diverse array of apricots, plums, nectarines, peaches, cherries, apples and pears. A large proportion of the fruit and vegetables you will consume are locally and organically produced.

There are hundreds of Swiss cheeses, nearly all round but not all holey. Fondue is a great shared dish of melted cheese. Dip your speared bread in the pot and swirl it around for maximum cheese accumulation. Washed down with a crisp Fendant from Valais you’ll soon realise how great the simple Swiss things are.

Raclette is another cheese dish, originating in the canton of Valais. It could not be simpler: half a wheel of cheese held in front of a fire and the molten cheese slides over the baby potatoes and pickles on your plate.

Assiette Valaisianne is a selection of finely sliced dried beef, dried ham and dried sausage with cheese and bread. A fortifying and satisfying lunch.

Because of their small size and attention to quality Swiss farms produce the finest beef and pork. There are several grills in Zermatt where your joint will be done to perfection. In the autumn game makes a welcome appearance on menus while other forest products such as mushrooms and berries can be had year round.

If you are more inclined to healthy eating will find yourself in good company. Many Swiss despite (or because of) the rich fare on breakfast and dining tables across the country stick to healthier food. So for those who can resist the temptation of rich food you will find an excellent selection of non fattening dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Swiss wine wins few prizes. Partly, I suspect, because so little ever leaves the country. As with most Swiss agricultural enterprises the emphasis is on small scale, organic and quality. Swiss vineyards are amazingly diverse: a small vineyard may have several dozen types of grape (cépages) many of which are unique to Switzerland. There are dozens of little known white and red wines produced in small family and commune vineyards that have astonishing individuality and character. And centuries of cohabitation and refinement mean that Swiss wine matches Swiss dishes in a way that no other wine can.

 

SEASONS 

Spring is for the optimistic: the sight, sound and smells of nature reawakening from the winter is quite a marvel. A dazzling array of flowers fills the alpine meadows and the green grass grows before ones eyes. Average prices

Summer is for the cheerful: a time to appreciate nature at its busiest and the weather at its finest. The snow has melted on all but the highest peaks and cows are grazing in high alpine pastures. In the space of a short summer season of just a few months bees, butterflies and flowers have to cram in a complete life cycle before the snow and frost descend again. Slightly higher prices

Autumn is for the introspective: man and nature prepare for winter and months of snow and frost. But as the leaves on the larch and deciduous trees turn and with the sun hanging low in the sky the colours are more stunning than at any other time of year. Slightly lower prices