Southeast of Zurich in the upper Matteral Valley, the Zermatt area has 400km of marked hiking trails. In addition, during the winter, there are 45km of marked, prepared winter hiking routes. The mountains surrounding the town attract thousands of hikers each year since most routes return to the village. Make sure to check out the Gornerschlucht which is a small gorge of cascades which makes for an easy, scenic outing.
The car-free town of Zermatt is the perfect base for exploring these hiking trails. Zermatt is surrounded by 30+ mountains over 4,000m. This charming Swiss village at 1,620m elevation hosts over 2 million visitors each year, and very few of the tourists are from English-speaking countries (<4% US and <11% UK). While you may encounter very few Americans or English, everyone here seems to know alittle. But it is still recommended to know some German as well. The area is a mix of cultures with much French and Italian influence. You may start a conversation with a German greeting of guten tag, then here some French, and then end with an Italian ciao.
For dinner, try Whymper Stube or Schwyzer Stubli (traditional). If you are looking an amusing dinner, make sure to head over to Chez Heini, which is kind of a cult favorite due to its madcap décor and live entertainment from the chef.
For some nightlife, try the Pink Elephant, Grampis, Papperla Pub (younger crowd), Old Zermatt (older crowd), Elsies Bar, Panorama Bar on top of Nicoletta Hotel or Le Broken. After midnight, make sure to take in the dancing at Schneewittchen which is next to Papperla Pub at Bahnhofstrasse.
Tip: Dress warm since the daily average maximum temperature in July is 66F.
Basics: Credit cards are widely accepted at hotels and restaurants, and ATM machines are plentiful. You will find that many hotels have wifi available, though usually only in the lobbies. In town, there is good GSM mobile phone service and EDGE data service provided by Orange. As of February 2009, the dining was very expensive, and you will find many menus with the traditional Swiss dishes of Rosti and Fondue. Also, smoking is still permitted in restaurants and bars in Switzerland, and there are usually a lot of smokers.
To reach this area by train, plan to take one of the many international connections to Birg or Visp, which is south of Zurich or southeast of Bern. From Birg or Visp, transfer to the narrow-gauge Matterhorn Gotthard railway, which only leads to Zermatt. From the Zermatt Bahnhof, there are plenty of electric taxis or horse-drawn carriages to assist you to your final destination.
To reach this area by car, you will need to keep in mind that Zermatt is car-free. The closest parking is in the town of Tasch, which is 5km from Zermatt. The major roads in southern Switzerland and the Lotschberg Tunnel from the north all lead to the town of Visp. You may want to park in Visp and take the train into Zermatt. Otherwise, you can drive south from Visp to Tasch to park. From Visp or Tasch, take the narrow-gauge Matterhorn Gotthard railway, which only leads to Zermatt. From the Zermatt Bahnhof, there are plenty of electric taxis or horse-drawn carriages to assist you to your final destination. Note: there are 2,900 covered parking spaces in Tasch.
Overall, Zermatt is the 9th most popular hiking trail of all 15 hikes in Switzerland.