Switzerland Part 2- The Walk (Hike)

I had read that you can easily see the Matterhorn from almost anywhere in Zermatt… but apparently not in the midst of a blizzard. Nonetheless, we woke up bright and early in Zermatt hoping that we’d catch a glimpse of the elusive Matterhorn before breakfast and the inevitable start of the snow again. While brushing my teeth I stepped out onto the balcony of our room and caught a somewhat obscured glimpse of a large snow-topped mountain in the distance over the hotel roofs- I was immediately excited that this could be our first sight of the Matterhorn. Within a minute, Dan had joined me and we were standing on the deck chairs, squinting, while trying to make out what we thought was The Mountain. Unsure of what exactly we were looking at, the hope of even better views was enough to get us moving quickly down to breakfast before our hike.

Fueling up before the hike

Breakfast, and everything about our stay at the Hotel Jagerof, was phenomenal. The Swiss buffet had just what we needed ahead of our snowy hike from Zermatt to Furi, which we had come up with the night before as a back-up plan in case of uncooperative weather. Some of the more popular ways to see the Matterhorn involve taking a very expensive gondola or train ride to nearby vista points where, at around 13k feet, you can get more of an eye-level view of the uniquely shaped giant. We initially had our sights set on doing a hike around the Five Lakes, which supposedly also offers an incredible view + plenty of fresh Swiss air. Neither of these options were going to work for us on this day. A quick glance at the webcam at the top of the Glacier Paradise vista told us there was no view thanks to low clouds/ fog. With the onslaught of snow the day before, a long hike at a higher elevation also didn’t seem feasible. Fortunately, through his research, Dan had come up with an alternative hike to Furi, that while at a lower elevation, would still be an excellent way to see the area, as confirmed by the hotel receptionist. After just a few wrong turns in Zermatt, we started our ascent up a steep hill towards the first tiny mountain town.

Our “view” of the Matterhorn at the start of our hike

Even in the snow, the path was easy to follow given the yellow guide signs (see picture below), but it was a good thing we had trail shoes/ hiking boots and Dan’s hiking poles because the snow made it just a little slick. On our way to Furi, we passed through a few very small mountain “towns” that were completely deserted, which seemed fitting given that we had no other company on our hike- further evidence that we were visiting out of season. For the first hour, our view of Zermatt below and the surrounding mountains (not inclusive of the Matterhorn) was great, given that the snow hadn’t yet started. At one point though, the snow clouds moved in and shrouded us in an eerie fog that prevented us from seeing much of anything more than 25 ft. ahead of us.

We kept climbing up and following the markers until we reached our destination, the town of Furi, certainly an excellent stopping point for skiers and hikers alike. It also turned out to be a good time for us to stop for lunch, so we tracked down what appeared to be the one restaurant in town and settled into a cozy booth where the waitress recommended Jagertee (Jagermeister + tea) to go with our pasta lunch and peach keuken.

Jagertee with lunch in Furi

Fueled up, we started back down to Zermatt, this time taking the much easier road route until we reached a path that veered off the road but also had signs directing hikers back to Zermatt. We figured we’d give it a try. It turns out this path was actually taking us to the Findelbach Bridge which, along with being a pedestrian bridge, is also used by the Gornergrat Bahn train as a means of crossing the Findelbach River. We think this is the same route that the hotel receptionist had mentioned to us earlier that morning, but even if it wasn’t, it was still a unique and slightly nerve-racking view from the bridge crossing over the river, about 50m above a small gorge.

The bridge over Findelbach River- we were glad there was no train crossing the tracks to our right at the same time (still not the Matterhorn in the background)

On the other side of the bridge, as the sky started clearing and we could see Zermatt again, I knew we were coming to the end of our hike. Still a little disappointed that we had no conclusive evidence to support our theory that we had seen the Matterhorn from our balcony that morning, I started bothering Dan about delaying our departure from Zermatt and trying to take the train up to Glacier Point just in case the skies had cleared at a higher elevation. As we stopped to talk about whether the cost of the train justified the slim likelihood of us seeing anything from the panorama that day, we realized that the clouds were parting in the direction of the Matterhorn in the distance. This is when we started to get really excited, we couldn’t believe our luck! The clouds and fog were lifting and we were finally going to have a chance to see what we thought may be the Matterhorn. We grabbed our phones and camera and moved into the least obstructed spot on the trail that we could find and just started taking pictures in the general direction.

Thinking we’ve found the perfect spot to see the Matterhorn

Finally, we had as good of a view as we were going to get and I remember thinking how lucky we were to see it, but also that from this angle, it looked nothing like what I had seen pictures of, and in all honesty, it wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting. I didn’t say this out loud at the time because I had been wanting to see the Matterhorn for so long and in this moment, felt it was better to be positive and appreciative. I could tell that Dan was also questioning what we were looking at, but nonetheless, we both sat there for a little while taking a lot of pictures, saying “This has to be it, right?” until the clouds rolled back in and our view was obscured. As we walked back to Zermatt, we kept going back and forth on whether we believed we had actually seen the real deal, and by the time we made it back to the hotel, we were convinced we needed a second opinion. I decided I could get another perspective from the receptionist, who was different than the one we had spoken to that morning. She looked at the pictures on my camera and said “Yes, I think that’s it. It has to be… but I’ve never seen it from that angle before, where were you?” Feeling like our excitement was now justified, we headed to the station to board our train to Lucerne, the final leg of our trip. Travelling away from Zermatt and out of the mountains, we started doing our own research. If we were going to tell people we saw the Matterhorn, we wanted to be sure! Let’s just say, it’s a very good thing we are accountants and feel the need to be professionally skeptical. It didn’t take long for us to realize that what we had seen was NOT the Matterhorn, but rather a smaller peak that stands directly in front of the mountain when viewing it from Zermatt. If you look at the picture below and compare to a typical picture of the Matterhorn, you will probably wonder how we could possibly be confused.  Same here, it just took us a little longer to face the facts. Another big clue was when we learned, upon arriving at the train station, that both the gondola and train to the vista points were closed that day due to bad weather. The facts laid out in front of us, we had finally received the confirmation we had been looking for, it just wasn’t what we wanted to hear. We spent the 3 hour train ride to Lucerne laughing and in disbelief at our mix-up, but also glad we didn’t actually have a chance to mistakenly tell people we had seen it, and then proceed to show them fake pictures…

From this angle, the Matterhorn “deceiver” stands in front of the real deal, which is still completely covered in clouds

Lucerne was the final leg of our Switzerland trip and a great way to cap off a fall vacation. We arrived in Lucerne in the evening after dark so we were able to see the Chapel Bridge lit up and barely make out the lake on our chilly walk to our Airbnb. Dan picked out yet another fantastic dinner place that evening, Burgerstube, which despite what the name may imply to us Anglophones, did not actually serve burgers. The food and service were incredible, and while Switzerland is certainly not what I would consider to be budget-friendly, this meal and service were worth it!

Chapel bridge in Lucerne

Our Airbnb, while small, was situated in an excellent and central location, so the next morning, when I headed out for a run, I was immediately greeted with stunning views of the mountains surrounding the city. It wasn’t more than 2 blocks until I reached the path along Lake Lucerne and the views didn’t stop there. For two miles out, I was in awe of the scenery and friendly folks also running and walking along the shore.

My first glimpse of Mt. Pilatus over Lucerne

When I returned, I told Dan that I thought he was going to be pleasantly surprised by the views, which would serve as a good warm-up for our day’s activities- taking the train to the base of Mt. Pilatus, followed by the cogwheel train up and down the mountain, and then finally cruising back to Lucerne via a boat. It was a short train ride from the central Lucerne station to Alpnachstad where we hopped aboard the slow-moving, red cogwheel train to take us to the summit of Mt. Pilatus. Visitors can choose between taking the cogwheel, the steepest in the world, or the cable car, or a mix of both, but given that they depart from different sides of the mountain and we had planned a boat ride, we decided to go up and down both ways on the cogwheel.

Summiting Mt. Pilatus via the cogwheel

Not surprisingly, the views were incredible on the way up, but it was when we disembarked and walked out onto the summit terrace at 7k feet, that we were greeted with 360 degrees of mountains and lakes. It was ferociously windy, which I suppose is to be expected at the end of October on top of a mountain, and for the second time this trip, we were walking on snow and ice.

Our hiking boots came in handy yet again as I convinced Dan that we should do some exploring by walking down the side of the mountain, following a path of course, to get another unique perspective. Unfortunately, a lot of the hikes were already closed off due to the changing seasons, but we were reassured that we could handle our selected hike when a 7 year old boy sped ahead of us. The way down was cold and slippery, but from a lower vantage within the bowl-shaped area of the mountain, we were rewarded with an even more impressive panorama of the surrounding Alps. I’m not sure that I would ever get sick of the views here- the Alps are striking everywhere you look. Since I’ve run out of ways to describe them, I’ll let the pictures do the talking

We hiked back up, stopped for a light lunch, and checked out the view down to Lucerne from the other side (this is the way the cable car takes visitors up and down), before catching our assigned train back down. When you first arrive at the summit, they actually request that you select your train departure time, which we did so that we could make sure to catch the last boat back to Lucerne. We boarded our boat with a minute or two to spare and were on our way across the lake back to Lucerne. We bought our tickets on the boat and thankfully didn’t get suckered into upgrading to first class, because we had second class outdoor seating completely to ourselves! Maybe it was too cold for everyone else, but for two people from Wisconsin who had been smart enough to wear lots of layers, it wasn’t so bad. I can’t say for certain, but I am pretty sure we had the best views on the boat!

We arrived back in Lucerne only a little numb and decided that a happy-hour drink was just what we needed to warm back up. Dan came through with another well-selected establishment and the bartender quickly recommended a specialty when I requested suggestions for a warm drink. I think it was a concoction of tea, chai syrup, and booze, and it did the trick! After our pricey cogwheel train ride, we opted for a more low-key dinner establishment before crashing hard.

The Chapel Bridge at dusk

The next morning, I talked Dan into doing a run with me so he could experience the awe that I felt the previous day while running along the lake. We made a quick stop at the Lion Monument along the way, which is apparently an essential must-do in Lucerne. The sculpture, carved into a cliff-face, is of a dying lion, and is dedicated to the Swiss Guards who were killed defending the French King Louis XVI in 1792 during the French Revolution. It was worth a stop, but not requiring more than 10 minutes, especially when crowded with other tourists.

The Lion Monument and reflecting pool

After our run, we were off to the train station, but not before a very cheap (NOT!) 38 CHF / person breakfast buffet. The spread was expansive and the food was delicious, but it’s hard to justify paying about $40 /person for a buffet unless you are walking out with your pockets stuffed full of pastries. We skipped lunch that day to save some money and ate our stash of Toblerone and Choco-Bons on the train back to Lausanne. Back in Lausanne, we found Dan’s car where we had left it and in no time were on our way back to Belgium. It was a long drive, with the highlight being our stop in a small French town for a dinner of gyros. We were having trouble finding a place that was open when this place popped up with unexpectedly high ratings on Google. We decided to give it a try and it was a great decision, solidified by the continuous stream of locals coming to pick up their orders.

A cheap meal on the road was a fitting way to end our trip to Switzerland, where our week of touring wasn’t low-cost, but was, without a doubt, worth it. We are already talking about going back to Zermatt next year for another try at the Matterhorn, but I have a feeling there will be more visits to Switzerland in the future. It’s a beautiful, clean country, with friendly people and plenty of ways to stay busy outdoors that don’t require credit cards or Swiss francs.

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