The bulk of our trip was spent in Zermatt and it was exactly as we had imagined. We wanted a snowy, Christmas-y vacation and that's what we got. It snowed nearly every day and was every bit the Winter Wonderland we were hoping for.
Our original reservation was at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, but after reading reviews of the Best Western Butterfly and seeing it was about a third of the price, we switched and I'm glad we did. It was great. Very cozy. Great food in the restaurant. A nice afternoon tea (which we drank wine at instead). Our room was very big and on the top floor. Nice balcony which we took advantage of. The only challenge was the slanted ceiling beams, which I had to crouch to pass under (and forgot to crouch at least a half dozen times). But no problem. We loved the room and the hotel. Would highly recommend it to anyone staying in Zermatt. Perfectly located near the train station, which we discovered after lugging our suitcases for about a quarter mile in the wrong direction. We did visit Zermatterhof for a meal and it's a beautiful hotel without a doubt, but the money we saved is nearly enough for another vacation. I was happy with our decision.
For our first full day we took the train to Gornergrat. It was a beautiful ride up the mountain and the view from the top was breathtaking. It was like stepping into a postcard. What I loved about it was that we were free to explore on our own once we got off the train. No park rangers, security guards or "off limits" signs. If I wanted to swan dive off the mountain, I was free to do so. Unlike the U.S. where everyone is overly protected from themselves.
It was a perfectly clear day and we took many pictures and enjoyed some wine outside with a Matterhorn view. Later in the afternoon, we took the train down the mountain one stop to Rotenboden and when we got off the train we were the only ones there! It was cool feeling to wander around the mountain with not another soul to be found. The day couldn't have been more perfect. Well, maybe if I saw an Ibex...but short of that just perfect.
Because of the windy weather, the mountains were closed for the next few days but that gave us the opportunity to explore the town. On those days, the lowest level of the Matterhorn cable car was operating so we took it to Furi. It was our first experience with the cable cars and my wife was very nervous despite the nearly parallel to the ground trip to the first stop, where we got off. In Furi, we went on a hike on a snowy path that I would've liked to have taken all they way back to the village. Unfortunately I didn't realize we were going the "long" way until we came upon a sign that said Zermatt was two hours away. Undeterred, we wanted to forge ahead, but the snow was picking up and we found the trail had been blocked by what appeared to be a little avalanche. We either had to climb over the mound of snow or double back. We doubled back, found a cute little restaurant for a snack and more wine, after which we walked back to town the "right" way just as it was getting dark.
On our second to last day in Zermatt, the top of the mountains opened again, however, it was still very windy. We jumped at the opportunity to visit the Glacier Paradise. What an experience! Having seen the lifts from down in the village, we knew they were high but really had no idea how vertical the climb was until we were on it. As we neared the top, the wind driven snow squalls made for quite an awe inspiring approach. It was so windy and cold at the top I could only stay on the outdoor observation deck for a couple minutes. Most people, including my wife, didn't even attempt it. After grabbing a snack and a nerve calming drink, we began to check out the ice sculptures which were very cool. However, 10 minutes in we were waved down by a park employee and told that the mountain was again closed and we had to head down. It was still about 90 minutes from normal closing time but I guess the winds had gotten too strong. As we boarded our car to head down, the attendant warned us that it would be a bumpy ride, but that we were safe. He was right. It was rough, due in no small part to the car stopping every two minutes and leaving us swinging in the wind a thousand feet up. Our car had eight people in it and there was no shortage of groans and/or nervous laughter as we swung in the wind just a few hundred feet from the top of the mountain, for what seemed like an eternity. Amazing view though.
It was a sad day when we had to leave. As soon as we arrived, we regretted booking only a week and our resolve to return was strengthened as our train pulled out of the station at weeks end. Definitely one of my favorite vacations to this point and I look forward to visiting again soon.