The granite profile that launched a million postcards, the distinctive snaggletooth form of the awe-inspiring Matterhorn rears above the bustle of the popular resort town of Zermatt. Despite its contained size, traffic-free quaintness, and music-box chalets, Zermatt is all business: An international mix of intermediate and advanced skiers flock here for the wonderful ski runs. Its three ski areas go up to well over 9,600 feet, and the famous Kleine Matterhorn cable car offers the highest piste skiing in Europe: count on good snow and good skiing into spring and early summer. Zermatt is also the Alps’ biggest heli-skiing center: the most epic run is from Monte Rosa, at almost 15,000 feet, through remarkable glacier scenery. Zermatt is known as well for its large and varied array of restaurants in uniquely beautiful locations, and a very healthy apres-ski nightlife.
English explorer and mountaineer Edward Whymper was the first to scale the 14,685-foot Matterhorn (Mont Cervin to the French-speaking Swiss) in 1865, departing from Zermatt. You may not be following in his footsteps, but you can lodge in the same hotel he did: the Hotel Monte Rosa, considerably more luxurious today then when it opened in 1839. Then the town’s only inn, it accommodated the few British who were the first to “discover” Zermatt and the beauty of its environs. You’ll want a room with a view.