I once wrote that to qualify for ‘Most Beautiful Place I’ve Been‘, there should be no crowds, and it should feel like a small achievement to get there.
90% of Switzerland could be in contention for ‘world’s most beautiful place’ awards, and of course climbing to the summit of the Matterhorn is an achievement well out of my league. But thanks to the super-efficient Swiss tourism industry, getting to eye level with the bottom of the climb is easy. So of course there are crowds.
It’s still spectacular, though there’s another place nearby that meets all my ‘beautiful place’ criteria.
Switzerland is certainly beautifully organised for visitors. The Gornergrat train takes them on a beautiful short ride from Zermatt at 1600m up to a cafe and gift shop at 3090m. That saves anyone a long tough trek up from the village.
I was as excited as anyone to see the iconic peak, though I spent much of my hour
at Gornergrat taking group photos for young Koreans. When one group saw I could be trusted with a camera, I became the photo guy.
There are no cars in Zermatt itself. Visitors must park outside the village, take the train shuttle in to the station, then walk or take one of the little electric vehicles to their accommodation. I love this idea and it makes a walk around town (well, there’s really only one street) very pleasant.
Less appealing is the realisation that Zermatt exists only for tourism these days. Every shop is selling watches, outdoor gear or Swiss army knives.
After a fine meal in the hotel’s adjoining Restaurant 1818, I left Zermatt for a place I confess I’d never heard of before this trip…
While Zermatt has not only the Matterhorn, but top class skiing in winter (so I’m told, I’m not a skier myself these days), Kandersteg can offer family-friendly adventures and the International Scout Centre. Founder of the movement Lord Baden Powell spent some summers here and raised money from Swiss, British and Dutch governments to start a camp. Now it can house several hundred scouts. I haven’t seen so many woggles and badges since I attended the Pan-Pacific Jamboree in Dandenong circa 1965.
It gives the town a feeling of relaxed, unpretentious friendliness. And there’s no arguing with the scenery around it.
I could have walked up the hill, but my local Kendersteg guide Erna suggests the chairlift instead.
It means that anyone can reach the gorgeous lake known as the Oeschinensee. Those looking for further challenges can hike around it and up to the mountain huts that perch on crags high above. We satisfy honour by walking back down to Kandersteg.
There’s enough to see along the way.
Zermatt is famous and popular for a reason, but for selfish people like me who prefer to have great scenery to ourselves, the walking trails around Kandersteg are much less crowded. As well as the trip up to Oeschinensee, a day’s walk up the Gastern Valley is easy and nearly as spectacular.
Richard Tulloch was the guest of Switzerland Tourism and Swiss Historic Hotels.