Tuesday, March 15, 2016

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO ZERMATT

Neil Bedford gives flying colours to Zermatt as ski destination - and reviews Riffelalp, Mont Cervin Palace, Monte Rosa and The Omnia. Each has its strong points and its special flavour...


Singing the praises

I was amazed by my first visit to Zermatt! Without doubt our favourite ski village. Beautiful town with the river running through it, noiseless car-free streets (mini electric taxis and horse and carriage only), and numerous restaurants, bars, cafes and shops that cater for the ski crowd and the fashionable fur wearing non-skiers!


Getting there

Get here by 3.30 - 4hr train, either from Z├╝rich or Geneva airport with 1 or 2 changes and the hotel will meet you at the station with an electric taxi (or picturesque horse & carriage). Or you can get here by 4 hr car journey and you will be met by the hotel electric taxi on the edge of the village for the final 5 mins.

Zermatt and the Matterhorn

The Zermatt ski area is vast and the three key areas are extremely well linked mostly by chair and  bubble lifts but also the cable car to the highest point and cute train to another area. My favourite area was actually the Italian slopes down to Cervinia (the famous 20 km run from Klein Matterhorn is one of  the world’s longest) which were quiet, bathed in sunshine and offered some outstanding friendly  little Italian bars and restaurants on the slopes with stupendous views and home cooked pasta.

The Swiss side it is more about slopeside fine dining of which there are many incredible choices but the best are Findlerhof, Chez Vrony and Zum See which you should absolutely reserve for lunch at some point in the trip. The area offers a long ski season due to the glacier and snow cannons so the vast majority of pistes are skiable at Festive even if off-piste might be limited.

Chez Vrony

Tips:

 If arranging lift pass in advance definitely include Italy.

 Consider  “First Track”. Get a 1 hr head start on everyone else and be first up the mountain.

 There’s also a unique possibility to once a month book moonlight skiing. In the evening you take the cabin up to Rothorn 3 103 m above sea level. Enjoy a cozy classic Swiss fondue evening and then ski down together in the light of the full moon.

Make a lunch reservation at Findlerhof or Chez Vrony. We found Findlerhof was an excellent and authentic choice.

Riffelalp

This is the ski in/ski out sister to Mont Cervin Palace. I was really impressed. While the hotel does not make your jaw drop on first impressions, it is the ideal place for those who want to be up early, ski all day and enjoy a real snowy mountain experience. Its isolation is the charm - with no other buildings nearby you are literally surrounded on all sides by snowy slopes and mountain peaks. Even to get here you need to take a 20 min train up 600 m from Zermatt and then jump on the back of the concierge’s snowmobile (or walk 10 mins) along a snowy forest road! I loved arriving like this but for those who like their hand held everywhere and VIP services throughout it might not be ideal. 

Riffelalp is directly on the piste.

From a practical point of view, it is fantastic having ski in / ski out because you can start at different times and easily meet once the laziest members of the group are ready to begin, break up the day at your own hotel, come and go easily (ie meet kids after ski lesson) or make an equipment change.
Classic Alpine charm is everywhere though some the bathrooms might feel a little old fashioned. In 2016 off season the hotel will do a full renovation of the 70 rooms so everything should feel fresh by 2016/17. 

The heated outdoor pool is simply stunning with unrivalled views of the Matterhorn. One sunny daytime terrace restaurant and two evening options plus the bar mean you do have a few choices but I think most vistors staying a week would venture down to Zermatt (especially if booked on half board as you have 11 restaurants to choose from in town). The 20 mins train to central Zermatt runs regularly until 1130 pm.

 Service was outstanding and all food really excellent.    

The ski shop (Bayard) on site is small so make sure you are in touch in advance so that the equipment needed can be brought up in time for arrival. Best to do the fitting the day of arrival so if anything needs changing then the Bayard team can bring it up first thing the next morning.

Ski straight out to the nearest lift some 5 mins away.

This is really the place where you should go for bigger rooms and suites. Space is essential when you have ski clothing and I think (maybe just me) you are more likely to do in-room dining on these trips after a full day on the slopes and a cheeky apres ski on the way back so suites with the extra space are so nice to have.


Tip:


Nostalgie rooms might feel old fashioned so try and book Chalet rooms.



Cozy room at Riffelaslp

Mont Cervin Place (MCP)  

Like Badrutt’s Palace it offers a sense of history and classic style…but Mont Cervin is relaxed and fun and also has contemporary and practical additions that blend seamlessly and help give a supremely comfortable experience. It is more like a resort and families will love it.

Almost all rooms from suite up have balconies. Matterhorn view is of course the ideal if you have the budget…but do consider that it is normally dark by 6 pm so almost as soon as you come back from the slopes the view will disappear.

A special arrival at MCP:


The dine-around offering is superb with a choice of 11 restaurants in town (and 3 at Riffelalp) to enjoy. For me the highlight was the 1* Michelin Capri Ristorante which is run by the same team as the cliffside restaurant at Capri Palace and was absolutely sensational.

My favorite was the restaurant 1818 with a very modern touch and stylish interior. Very nice menu combining the best from the Alps with fine dining new inspired way of cooking.

The vast spa (again mixed and nude in the sauna/steam area) is impressive and the main pool area (plus kids pool) is really good with heated outdoor pool, large indoor plus a few Jacuzzis and plenty of sunbeds to relax. 

The basement ski shop and ski room is the biggest I have seen. In the huge ski room area each hotel room has their own locker, and just next door a huge ski shop with all the latest equipment and clothing. 

You just need to take a lift from the ski room to the street where normally you have a taxi (you have to pay) waiting to take you to the lift. The service level for the ski rooms in Courchevel are head and shoulders above Zermatt, with a much greater degree of personal care and attention…but if you haven’t been to Courchevel you would think this is great.

Overall this is a very very safe option to book and should be enjoyed by all types of client that have the  money. For families it is supremely comfortably with movies-on-demand and very child friendly service.

Alpine contemporary junior suite

You essentially have 4 types of room: Under the Alpine category you have 2 types that can be assigned on arrival. Alpine contemporary – in the main building on all floors is clean and modern design with slick marble bathrooms incl. a futuristic button touch shower system I’ve not seen before. Alpine traditional – In the main building predominantly on 5th floor. The rooms themselves are arguably cosier and warmer however the bathrooms can feel a bit dated.

Alpine traditional suite
 Traditional Chalet  style is what the 40 rooms of Le Petit Cervin (now fully part of Mont Cervin Palace) are known as. These are great, cosier interiors than Alpine contemporary so you get the mountain feel but the bathrooms are contemporary so you have the comfort. It links to the MCP by underground tunnel past the ski room and spa. It can be booked privately for a group.


 Hotel Monte Rosa

This is another sister hotel to MCP and Riffelalp. It has very personal service and opened already 1853. The hotel has kept a lot of the originality of the building, with for example very low ceilings in some of the common spaces which create a unique spirit and you can still breathe the atmosphere of 150 years ago.




Many repeating guests prefer to book Monte Rosa, even though they easily can afford Mont Cervin.
The room product here is very similar to classic rooms in MCP and all rooms at Riffelalp, ie very traditional. 

The hotel is really cosy and you still have all the inclusions like the dine-around and access to MCP spa (2 mins walk down the main street). It is good value to stay in the heart of Zermatt and use the other amazing hotel restaurants and spa.

The Omnia

This is all about slick service, fashion, design…plus sensational views from its vantage point 50m above the village. In the heart of the village enter a secret cave cut in to the cliffs and take a glass elevator up to the hotel!



The indoor outdoor pool

Glass walls feature throughout to showcase the amazing views. Rooms with Matterhorn view are great as you also see the village below but all non-Matterhorn view rooms you still look directly over the village and other mountains which is almost as fantastic. And (unlike Riffelalp for example) you can still enjoy the view when it is dark as you see the village all lit up. From your balcony (which all rooms have) you can enjoy the complimentary bottle of bourbon, wrap yourself in a sheepskin blanket and experience the festive atmosphere below.

Rooms are minimalist with literally no piece of furniture present unless it is needed.
But instead you have a gorgeous 1920s chaise longue beside your floor to ceilings windows, a memory foam bed, incredible rain shower and very stylish and practical storage. Essentially all rooms are the same but for their size and whether they directly face the Matterhorn. 

The spa area is excellent, again everything set up to showcase the views and from the outdoor Jacuzzi these really are unbeatable as you look over the village and Matterhorn. The indoor/outdoor pool is small but beautiful and the steam and sauna set up again impressive. 

Picnic style

There is only one restaurant (plus a daytime terrace) but it is 2* Michelin and like the hotel itself the food has a very modern minimalist feel. Tables are set up as long picnic style sharing tables though there is one private booth (seats 4 adults).. I am not sure you would eat here more than a couple of times in a week but it is super easy to head down in to Zermatt. B’fast was small but again incredibly stylish and the a la carte items presented in line with the Michelin standards. It would not be the first place I would consider for families but if they are used to staying in design hotels it can work.