Travel Writing Awards Entry
By Matt Dean
The Matterhorn is an imposing 4,478metres of mountain which looks down over the Swiss village of Zermatt and the Italian village Cervinia. Responsible for taking several lives each year, (most notably in 1865 when the summit was first vanquished at the cost of four men amid tales of conspiracy) it’s the stuff of pure adventure.
A relaxing four hours of gliding along the misty waters of Lake Geneva and then winding up through the mountains, allows plenty of chances to take in the breathtaking countryside before arriving in Zermatt with precision timing.
An incredible view waits beyond the platforms of the station; The Matterhorn. This dominating rock, looms above Zermatt with its limbs of granite wrapped around the whole resort as if preventing it from slipping away.
If dirty, noisy cities are your thing then stay away. This town has a ban on all combustion engines allowing only horse drawn carriages or electro taxis. Although this is eerie at first, the city senses quickly adjust to the absolutely delightful lack of traffic noise and pollution as you travel through the idyllic Swiss wooden lodge architecture sat in this peaceful, snow covered dreamland.
The rock which forms the Matterhorn is of African descent, exposed 90million years ago when the African continental plate was forced up over the European plate. However, there is an altogether different kind of rock which dwells in this area and it also hails from far flung regions of the planet. Rock music.
The 5,500 locals of the village play host to 1.2million visitors a year, all here to ski and party. Such large amounts of party-goers need entertaining and so, a vast and varied live music community has developed in this hidden Swiss valley.
The dizzy heights of the music industry can be witnessed at the Fluhalp restaurant, 2,620 metres up Rothorn Mountain in the early afternoon. An underground train trip through the mountain on the innovative Sunnegga Express, a quick chairlift and then a high-speed ski down to this paradise reveals an incredible view from its sun-drenched wooden terrace.
Enjoy a Swiss mountain favourite of cheese fondue or potato and leek soup washed down with a hot chocolate whilst a talented trio create the soundtrack to this heaven with well crafted classics like the aptly titled ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Hotel California’ with harmonies to boot. As you gaze across at the majestic Matterhorn, you can be forgiven for thinking you are part of a travel advertisement. A quick pinch of the leg will bring you back to reality.
If you like your Après ski a little later, why not try the ‘Papperla Pub’ at 5pm. A traditional interior creates a warm, dark atmosphere, full of stories from today’s ski slope escapades. An international crowd clad in ski gear spill to the outside ‘snow bar’ for mulled wine and cinnamon shots.
A hi-tech stage set-up of electric drums, congas, keyboards and guitars holds residency here dealing with a history of modern rock/pop and a truly engaging impromptu element. Most requests are adhered to and many chords can be heard shouted across the stage as the band teach each other the tunes in order to satisfy the audience’s demand. Test tubes of fluorescent spirits are frequently thrown out from the stage as prizes for audience participation much to the crowd’s delight.
Worth noting is the downstairs club of the Papperla, which holds the big music party of the town, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Sunday’. End the week with a great gig involving a host of different musicians and described by locals as the ‘party of all parties’.
For a more sophisticated performance you could visit the exceptional Chez Heini restaurant. Enjoy a rack of lamb and a glass of wine by an open fire while the owner and resident crooner, Dan Daniell sings a selection of easy listening tracks, also available on a collection of his own CDs.
Another venue for those with expensive tastes is the Hotel Post’s very exclusive Pink Bar. Offering a blend of jazz, soul, R‘n’B and funk, this club employs a different international band each week throughout the season with regular appearances from the USA.
Having had your attire accepted by the doorman, you are free to enjoy the grandest of their five bars/restaurants and the high class musicians that perform here. The well dressed bands pay great attention to playing music as well rehearsed and performed as the original Stevie Wonder or Lionel Richie.
But make no mistake; the higher class of this audience does not mean a more subdued or sober reaction and the band will soon have you up dancing and singing like a12 year old at a Sugarbabes concert.
Grampie’s Bar is the Jekyll and Hyde of Zermatt. A peaceful café by day and a raucous bar at night. Nightly performances from local legend, Marco, never fail to entertain as he guides you through a seemingly endless list of hits from ‘Show me the way to Amarillo’ to ‘Don’t let the sun go down on me’. Described by locals as a mad midget, Marco’s energetic sets show us just what a man wearing a tie on his head can do with a grand piano, Hammond organ and four other keyboards. Do not visit Zermatt without seeing this act, placed somewhere between musical genius and a freak show.
A nightly show for the younger audience is the underground T-Bar club. A mismatch of modern neon lighting and industrial effect steel, mixed with ancient skiing memorabilia. The resident band is another line-up of the ‘Scenit Group’ who also grace the Papperla, Nelly’s, Hotel Pollux and Hennu Stall with their brand of loud, energetic and exciting hits sure to entertain and keep the dance floor busy.
So whether you want to relax 1.6 miles above sea level with a cocoa and some laidback sounds or dance the night away in the village to some rock ‘n’ roll, Zermatt is a ski resort worth investigating.