The defining symbol of Switzerland and an absolute highlight for many, the pyramid-like Matterhorn ranks as one of the most photographed and photogenic mountains in the world, thanks to its proportional perfection and the dazzling changes wrought by light, shade and the passage of time.
The name Matterhorn means ‘meadow peak’ in German and the mountain is known as Le Cervin in French and Monte Cervino in Italian (it sits on the border of Switzerland and Italy). It is part of the Pennine Alps and stretches some 4478m (14,692ft) to its gloriously sharp summit, one of 38 peaks in the area that stand over 4000m (13.123ft). Klein Matterhorn (‘Little Matterhorn’) stands next to it.
One of the most challenging peaks to climb, hundreds of alpinists have died trying to ascend the Matterhorn, including four climbers who died while descending from the the first successful ascent in 1865 (they are buried in the town’s churchyard, along with numerous other climbers).
The best way to see the Matterhorn is to spend time in Zermatt. The tourist office there can help arrange any number of excellent tours and solo or guided treks that will allow you to feast your eyes on one of the country’s most stirring sights. If you’re truly short on time, simply ascend to Gornergrat straight from Zermatt for stellar views. The Matterhorn Museum is also worthwhile, with its nifty displays on the mountain’s history.
If you are ascending, the Cabane du Hörnli (Hörnli Hut; 3260m, 10,696ft), the starting point for many climbers of the Matterhorn, has re-opened and is better than ever.