I’m hoping it ticks the boxes for my four-year-old daughter Romi, too: I want her to feel like Heidi from the children’s novels by Johanna Spyri, running around the mountains, enjoying the spoils of her mother’s Alpine dream.
With a permanent population of 5,800, Zermatt has been combustion engine-free since the 1950s to prevent air pollution obscuring any view of the magnificent Matterhorn. The only way to get there is by train: if you have a car, park it in Täsch, 5km away (€14.25 per day; zermatt.ch) and get the shuttle train (€15 return; matterhorngotthardbahn.ch).
Romi and I take the train from Zurich — a three hour trip past stunning lakes and mountains — and arrive at Zermatt late in the afternoon. The resort lies at 1,600m above sea level in Switzerland’s Valais region at the foot of some of the country’s tallest peaks. The highest and largest summer skiing area in Europe, it boasts 25km of slopes and eight lifts that stay open throughout the season.
The owner of Hotel Bellerive, where we are staying, picks us up at the station in a mini electric car, one of hundreds that zip about the town. The journey takes us past beautiful shops and restaurants featuring wooden balconies, flower boxes and Swiss flags. Our own temporary home, with its quaint wood-panelled exterior, offers spectacular views of the Matterhorn, and while it is misty when we arrived, come morning, we awake to one of the world’s greatest vistas.
At 4,478m high, the Matterhorn is the jewel of the Alps. First ascended in 1865 by Englishman Edward Whymper, who lost four members of his team on their descent, it remains hugely popular among mountaineers, with up to 150 ascents a day during the climbing season — about 3,000 a year. I meet a guide with 100 ascents under his belt who insists the climb is “easy enough”, but I’m not so sure. Sadly, more than 500 climbers have perished on the Matterhorn since 1865 — including seven so far this season.
We don’t have long to linger at the view, however, since Romi’s own Heidi-esque Alpine adventure awaits. Awesome Summer Camp Zermatt (from €165 per day for over-fives, €74 per half-day for under-fives; awesomesummercampzermatt.com) offers a variety of sports, activities and excursions to impress kids aged 3-17. Even though we speak German, we opt for an English-speaking camp. Hannah Byron and Robbie Hussey, both accredited ski school and camp organisers, tailormake each course. With a strict staff-to-camper ratio of 1 to 5, they guarantee a safe and friendly environment for children, so, confident Romi is in great hands, I head off to catch the funicular to the Sunnegga Paradise ski area. At 2,288m above sea level, the views are so spectacular, they actually take my breath away.
As a busy single parent, the freedom to hike and ski while Romi is in camp is such a gift that I don’t dare dawdle — instead, I make my way to the next mountain station up — Blauherd at 2,571m — feeling relaxed and happy. Deciding I deserve a beer, I nip into the Sunnegga Buffet Bar, (mains from €13; restaurant-zermatt.ch), where I am serenaded by a band featuring a man playing an alphorn — the 2-4m-long wooden horn that has become a Swiss national symbol. In the meantime, Romi had gone ziplining, eaten lunch above Zermatt, and made new friends, whose parents I too befriend.