Until the mid 19th century Zermatt was a poor rural village whose inhabitants earned a scarce living working the land. Visitors were rare. Then the Alps were discovered by intrepid explorers and the upper classes, and one by one the mountains were climbed. In response to the influx of the first tourists, Dr Lauber, Zermatt’s village doctor, opened a small hotel in 1838. In 1865 the Matterhorn – believed unclimbable by many – was finally climbed. It was a triumph that turned to tragedy as four of the seven who reached the summit fell to their deaths on the descent. Only Edward Whymper and the two Zermatt guides: Peter Taugwalder, father and son, survived. It was the Matterhorn that made Zermatt famous and continues to drive its popularity and fame. Click here to read my post about Whymper, the Monte Rosa Hotel and the Matterhorn
Skiing tends to be a full-time occupation, if the weather is good. Resorts become dormitories from which people depart as soon as possible in the morning and return to in the late afternoon. Perhaps pausing, on the way down, for an après-ski drink before returning to their hotel or chalet for a relaxing bath, shower or swim in the hotel’s pool before dinner.
Hard-core skiers will see little of their resort, other than where they are staying, and a few bars along the way. All resorts have modernised and developed massively over the years, but they all have history, which is still evident if you take the time to wander down the back streets and narrow alleys: and Zermatt is no exception. It will be time well spent.
Down those back alleys you will find some of the original buildings – dwellings and hay barns (Stadels). Click here to see a previous post of a hay loft.
The timbers are weathered, the buildings lean, there’s hardly a straight line in sight. This is how it once was. This is the true Zermatt – a village that was hewn from the trees of the forest, whose inhabitants eked out a meagre existence in the shadows of the great mountains.