Matterhorn Mountain in Switzerland

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MATTERHORN MOUNTAIN

The legendary Matterhorn! Whether you are a mountain enthusiast or not – you might have heard about the Matterhorn Mountain. 

And whether you are just curious or are planning a trip to Switzerland, there is so much to know about the Matterhorn.

Switzerland in winter, Zermatt
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MATTERHORN INFORMATION

This post is solely dedicated to one of the most distinctive and famous mountains in the world. How tall is the Matterhorn? Can you climb it? How can you visit the Matterhorn? Why is it so iconic? Find out all this and much more.

MATTERHORN NAME

Let’s start with the first main clarification: the name of this Swiss-Italian mountain is Matterhorn in German, Cervino in Italian, and Cervin in French.

Since all of my experience is about Zermatt and Switzerland, I will always refer to it as the Matterhorn.

Matterhorn, in German, means more or less “the peak in the meadows”. Monte Cervino, in Italian, and Mont Cervin, in French, originally came from the Latin word “Silvanus” for “forest”, later misunderstood as the word “Cerf/Cervo” for “deer”

Getting up Gornergrat Mountain in Zermatt-2
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MATTERHORN FACTS

  • Elevation: 4478 meters (14692 foot)
  • In which country is the Matterhorn? The Matterhorn is located in two countries: on the border of Switzerland and Italy, in the Pennine Alps. 
  • The Swiss sides are the ones to the north, east, and west, while the south looks over Italy.
  • There is no cable car/funicular that gets you on top of the Matterhorn Mountain

HOW TO GET TO THE MATTERHORN IN SWITZERLAND

The nearest towns are the Swiss town of Zermatt to the northeast and the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia to the south.

Since I focus on Switzerland, I will focus on how to get to Zermatt. Zermatt is one of the best places to visit in Switzerland (and it is not only about the Matterhorn).

Zermatt is a village in the south of Switzerland at about 1600 meters above sea level. It is car-free, so if you travel by car, you will have to leave your car before the village (for example in Taesch) and then take a train to get to Zermatt.

In Zermatt, you only have small electric buses and cars that belong to the hotels, shops, or locals.

CAN I HIKE THE MATTERHORN?

Want to hike the Matterhorn yourself? Then you should be experienced in rock climbing and alpine hikes, and you should definitely hire a guide.

There are 4 ridges and 4 faces to choose from, with different levels of difficulties, and a time of ascent between 5 and 14 hours.

The Tour of the Matterhorn takes about 10 days and takes trekkers through 6 valleys and 3 different cultures: the German-speaking Swiss area of high Valais, the French-speaking Swiss area of centra Valais, and the Italian-French-speaking Aosta Valley in Italy.

The ancient paths cross alpine meadows, larch forests, balcony trails, and glaciers. This tour is considered one of the most beautiful of the Alps. 

Zermatt in winter Switzerland
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BEST VIEWS OF MATTERHORN MOUNTAIN

Unless you are a very experienced hiker, you cannot hike Matterhorn. And if you do not prepare and train to hike up Matterhorn, then you will have several other places to enjoy some fantastic views.

Here are some of the best places to see the Matterhorn Mountain

GORNERGRAT

One of the best and easiest places to enjoy views from the Matterhorn is the Gornergrat. The Gornergrat is a mountain viewpoint at 3089 meters of altitude: from there, the view of the Matterhorn is just stunning. 

Mountain Biking in Zermatt
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You can reach it easily with the cogwheel train departing from Zermatt at the Gornergrat train station. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes and you’ll enjoy the best views if you sit on the right side. At the top, you can escape the crowds by taking the hiking loop behind the restaurant.

RIFFELSEE LAKE

Another postcard view is at Riffelsee Lake, where the Matterhorn reflects in the lake. As you can imagine, it’s a wonderful stop for a picnic! It’s a 5-minute walk from the Rotenboden stop of the Gornergrat train, just one before the top. 

Riffelsee in Zermatt with Matterhorn
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If you are at Riffelsee Lake, you could hike 3 km on the Riffelseeweg trail to Riffelberg, another train stop. The Matterhorn is visible all the way! The trail can continue further until Riffelalp, but from there down to Zermatt the trail goes through the forest, hiding the view of the mountains.

If you are really into hiking, you can even start the trail at the top at Gornergrat and walk all the way down.

Of course, during the winter you can enjoy this area on skis, snowboards, or snowshoes.

MATTERHORN GLACIER PARADISE (KLEIN MATTERHORN)

The Klein Matterhorn peak is almost 4000 meters high and has the highest cable car station in Europe, at 3883 meters of altitude. It is also the highest mountain peak in Switzerland you can easily access via cable car/funicular 

Up there, the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is a complex that includes a 360° viewing platform, a cinema lounge to learn about the Matterhorn and the Alps, a restaurant and shop, the Glacier Palace full of ice crystals and sculptures.

From the viewing terrace, you can see 38 peaks above 4000 meters and 14 glaciers! Of course, you need a clear day. It really looks like paradise.

Sports enthusiasts will enjoy the ski slopes up at the top, and the hiking and biking trails below. 

To reach the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, you have to take 3 gondolas: start at the Zermatt Cable Car station to the Furi Zermatt cable car station, then to Trockener Steg, and finally to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. 

SCHWARZSEE

Besides the area of Gornergrat I mentioned, another place for hikes with wonderful views of the Matterhorn is the Schwarzsee Lake. 

This lake stands at 2583 meters, right at the feet of the Matterhorn. It’s very easy to access with the Matterhorn Express cable car (Zermatt – Furi Zermatt – Zermatt Schwarzsee). 

Walk around it and enjoy the panorama, with a cute little church on the side of the lake. 

Experienced hikers can take the Hörnli trail from Schwarzsee Lake until the famous Hörnlihutte (3260 m), the “Base Camp Matterhorn” hut for climbing the peak. 

This hike takes approximately 2 hours with more than 700 meters of gain in altitude over 4.3 kilometers. Definitely not a hike for beginners!

ROTHORN

Another excellent place for views you should also consider is Rothorn. Even though this peak is more distant from the Matterhorn, the scenery from there is just picture-perfect. 

The Rothorn refuge and cable car station, at 3103 meters, can be reached by cable car from Zermatt through the stations of Sunnegga and Blauherd. Depending on your fitness level, you can also hike some parts of it, up or down – but the trails are quite difficult. Beginners should take advantage of the gondolas and cable cars, and then explore the area surrounding the hut. 

BEST MATTERHORN VIEWS FOR WINTERSPORT LOVERS

Winter sports lovers will be interested in this information! The slopes with the best views of the Matterhorn are:

  • Rothorn – Sunegga: on pistes 7 and 11 you can enjoy the most photogenic side of Matterhorn
  • Tufternkumme: piste 15 shows views of the Matterhorn at the end
  • Hirli area: pistes 52 and 54 will get you as close to the Matterhorn as possible.
Zermatt is one best ski resorts in Switzerland
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MATTERHORN FUN FACTS

Now that you know all about how to admire the Matterhorn, here are some facts you may not know about Matterhorn. They might come in handy during a nice dinner or while riding the chairlift up to the slopes

  • With its 4478 meters above sea level, the Matterhorn is the 12th highest peak of the Alps. As a comparison, Mount Everest is 8848 meters above sea level.
  • Yes, the Matterhorn looks like the jagged tooth of a shark! But really, its shape is a pyramid with four faces, looking straight into the north, east, south, and west. Millions of years ago, it was much rounder, but the glacial erosion gave it its current look. Even though it is part of a ridge, it stands quite alone and separated from the other peaks.
  • The profile of the Matterhorn is so remarkable that at least 60 mountains around the world with similar shapes are named after it! 
  • Did you know that the Matterhorn is an African mountain? Yes, if we want to be very technical, that rock originated from the plate where now Africa stands, while the base and the surrounding mountains are made of the rock of the European plate. 
  • After many attempts on all sides of the peak, the first successful ascent by Edward Whymper on July 14th, 1865, on the Hörnli Ridge on the Swiss side, with experienced local guides and mountaineers, and three novice British climbers. Unfortunately, the three British gentlemen and a guide fell to their deaths during the descent; one of their bodies was never found. 
  • Despite its appearance, the Italian side is harder to climb than the Swiss side. However, just two days after the first ascent, competitor Jean-Antoine Carrel set off with a party of 3 and reached the top one day later. 
  • The first woman to climb the Matterhorn was British Lucy Walker in 1871, who reached the summit wearing a dress! A few weeks later, also her American rival Meta Breevort made it to the top.
  • How fast do you think is it possible to climb the Matterhorn? The record belongs to Spanish mountain runner Kilian Jornet, who reached the top from the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia in just 1 hour and 56 minutes! The whole round trip took 2 hours and 52 minutes. Also, Swiss climber Dani Arnold set the record time of 1 hour and 46 minutes in climbing the north face of Matterhorn in 2015.
  • Annually, 3000 people climb the Matterhorn successfully. Up to 150 climbers attempt each day during the summer!
  • Overcrowding has become an issue, to the point that the Hörnli hut, a popular stop to spend the night before starting the final climb in the early morning, became the first mountain shelter in Europe to limit beds.
  • The youngest person who climbed the Matterhorn was just 8 years old! I read an article that stated an 11-year-old was the youngest Matterhorn climber but that is the info I actually read at the Gornergrat. 
  • The oldest climber who successfully got to the summit was 89 years old!
  • Even a Pope climbed the Matterhorn: Pope Pius XI in 1889. He was not Pope yet: he was a 32-year old priest and professor.
  • In 1892 the Swiss Federal Assembly approved a proposal for cable car access – but after more than 68,000 people signed a petition against a cable car, the construction was prevented. The locals argued that “the peaks of the Alpine mountains are the ideological property of the entire Swiss population and hence are not for sale”. 
  • You can learn a lot about the Matterhorn at the Matterhorn Museum in Zermatt: some general history of the region, from alpinism to tourism, including objects belonging to the climbers of the first ascent – such as the hemp robe that broke during the descent.
  • Unfortunately, the Matterhorn is one of the deadliest mountains in the world. Several climbers die each year, and it is estimated that approximately 500 people died during the climb. However, most bodies are recovered, some quickly and some just years later. One of the bodies that has never been found belongs to one of the first climbers in 1865, Lord Francis Douglas. 
  • After the first ascent in 1865, the Matterhorn and Zermatt started to enjoy international popularity. Whymper wrote a book about his successful climb, “Scrambles Amongst the Alps”, published in 1871, and it became a worldwide bestseller. 
  • After Whymper´s book, Zermatt tourist office commissioned after what we would now call “advertisement”. The iconic Matterhorn poster, designed in 1908 by Emil Cardinaux, a leading poster artist of the time, can be considered the first modern poster. The striking shape of the peak against a pinkish sky and the dark slopes below is memorable, a combination of tourism, patriotism, and popular art. 
  • In the 1920s, Cardinaux made another design of the Matterhorn for the Swiss chocolate brand Toblerone! Even though the triangular shape of the popular chocolate bar is not inspired by the mountain, a picture of it appears on the packaging since the 1960s.
  • Nowadays, it is estimated that the Matterhorn is the most photographed mountain in the whole world.
  • Another consequence of the first ascent was a big increase in tourism. The construction of the railway to connect Zermatt to Visp started in 1888, with the first train running in 1891 and the whole line being electrified in 1930 – that’s also when the Glacier Express started running from Zermatt to Saint Moritz!
  • The management of the Zermatt Bergbahnen created a wonderful job called “the DreamWaker” to help those visitors so impressed with the stunning Matterhorn that they stop moving. Curious? Check it out here.

THE MATTERHORN MOUNTAIN IN SWITZERLAND

There is so much to know about the Matterhorn! This iconic mountain is definitely a must-visit in Switzerland. 

Though hiking up the Matterhorn might not be the easiest thing to do, there are plenty of ways to enjoy and admire the Matterhorn from the distance.

I hope this post was useful and you are ready to enjoy your visit to the Matterhorn.

READ MORE ABOUT SWITZERLAND:

Switzerland, Zermatt at sunset
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