Sometimes it happens that getting to our destination is half the fun. Well this certainly applies to the Riffelalp resort. We follow the sun by driving over the Furka Pass, famous for the stunning views and hair-raising car chases of James Bond. After a few hours driving through the beautiful peaks and valleys of central Switzerland, we park our car in the city of Täsch. From there the real adventure starts: we take the world-famous Glacier Express. This train connects the railway stations of the two major mountain resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz. The whole journey takes around 8 hours, but we are only on the train for the 15 minutes for our destination: Zermatt. Still, the girls are pressing their noses against the ceiling to floor windows to take in the view of the surrounding mountains and some very impressive waterfalls and bridge crossings. We are accompanied by a lot of fellow travellers geared up in their hiking attire ready to explore some of the mountain trails.
On our arrival in Zermatt we are greeted by a very friendly porter from the resort who escorts us to yet another train, the Gornergrat line that really takes us up in the mountains. It links Zermatt, situated at 1,604 m (5,262 ft) above sea level, to the summit of the Gornergrat at an altitude of 3,089 m (10,135 ft), which makes the Gornergrat Railway the second highest railway in Europe. “Mum and Dad, where are we going to? Another train, is the hotel really up here?” shrieks our youngest daughter full of excitement. Well, the Riffelalp resort is not all the way at the top, but it is at an altitude of 2222 m (7,290 ft). And the final stretch of this already epic journey we ride the highest-altitude tram. The driver tells us in winter guest are transported by snowmobile. Although we really enjoy the 5-minute ride in the lovely, somewhat rickety tram, we also envy the winter guest a little.
The moment we turn the last corner of the tram ride we see the first glimpse of the famous Matterhorn mountain and the resort in front, and it takes our breath away. It is one of the most scenic and delightful ways to arrive at a hotel. The Grand Hotel Riffelalp (it’s original name) celebrated its grand opening for summer tourism in 1884 and quickly became a playground for Europe’s high society. Today, Riffelalp Resort continues that great tradition with all the comforts of a modern 5-star hotel and we certainly notice that. From the moment we step off the tram the service is impeccable, informal and friendly - oozing Swiss charm. Information is plentiful on what to do in the resort and we are provided with maps of all the surrounding hiking trails and all other activities on offer.
We do not see our luggage again till we arrive in our rooms. Opening the door of our temporary home, our jaws collectively drop to the floor. The connecting rooms are out of this world with stunning views of the Matterhorn. The interior of the hotel and the rooms is a nice balance of high end quality without being stuffy or cheesy, and the rooms are finished to a very high standard with modern touches and fabrics and design that are also modern: a combination of traditional alpine style with contemporary fittings, furniture, lighting and upholstery. Everything you could possibly need is there: flexible reading lights above the bed; Bose DVD and sound system in the room and bathroom; jacuzzi bath tub and a great shower that was very powerful. The girls have their own room equally equipped and the two rooms share a decent size patio with lounge chairs and again, it almost gets boring, a magnificent view of the Matterhorn. Can you imagine? Waking up in the morning, preparing a fresh Espresso on your own machine and then opening the sliding door to breath in the frisk mountain air with such a view? Well we love it!
Before we get the chance to properly settle in our rooms, the girls dash out again. In front of the resort there is a big outdoor, grassy playground with two trampolines, a slide and fish pond, so they go. The hundreds of butterflies around the resort encourage them to undertake an impromptu miniature, nature trail walk. In winter this is also the beginning of the ski slope, literally just 50 meters from the entrance. Truly a ski in- ski out.
A little later we install ourselves on the sun-drenched patio that lies in front of the resort having a ‘sun-downer’. This could be a scene from a Bond movie which is not a bit exaggerated as the resort featured in the block buster Tv-series ‘The Night manager’, winning two Emmy Awards. This is what we call breath-taking, authentic Swiss Luxury in the mountains. A resort for people who want a quiet, peaceful, elegant experience, where guest come back year after year, still staying in a little "secret" in the mountains of Zermatt.
Of course, as one of us is an interior designer, we paid extra attention to the resorts interior. Recently refurbished, it is a designer’s delight. It is very well done, sprinkled with quirky elements. For example, you will find dozens of sheep in the lobby and hall. Don’t worry, the resort doesn’t double as a shepherd shed. These stuffed creatures in four colours: gold, silver, frosted white and brown and made from fur, wood and metal. They are true objects of art. Our girls love them as we do. Actually, they are a kind of resort mascots inspired by the black-nosed sheep that are being herded on the surrounding mountains in these warmer months.
The Riffelalp is a perfect place for families with children. Zermatt and the Riffelalp itself are completely car-free and the mountain slopes are gentle, so kids are free to roam and play without danger. Although if it is nightlife action you are after for, you’d better stay in town. Or just hop into town for a stroll, lunch or dinner. As mentioned it takes around 30 minutes to get down to Zermatt, the trains run from early morning to the evening. Zermatt is famed as a mountaineering and ski resort in the Swiss Alps. Until the mid-19th century, it was predominantly an agricultural community; the first and tragic ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 was followed by a rush on the mountains surrounding the village, leading to the construction of many tourist facilities.
There’s an overwhelming choice of restaurants in Zermatt, but we really recommend having at least one diner in the resort. The food is truly exceptional and some of the best we have had during our trip through Switzerland. It is all about the ingredients and what they do with them, plenty of good well executed classical cooking. Although the gourmet restaurant Alexandre is somewhat formal, the staff is very sweet to our girls providing them with colour books and crayons as well a kid’s menu. This is also the restaurant where we enjoy a generous breakfast spread including a chef preparing eggs any style.
The Ristorante Al Bosco is a more relaxed option, maybe better suited for families, offering typical Swiss dishes like cheese fondue and the likes. If you are a true foody, we recommend you ask for the ‘wine&dine package which include meals at all the resorts restaurants and selected partners in Zermatt’. While we enjoy our diner, the girls keep themselves occupied in the game room with table top football, table tennis, PlayStation and Wii. During the winter months there is also a professional child minder that takes care of the little ones. This is also the time for a third restaurant to open its doors: the Walliserkeller, offering regional cuisine from the open fire in an authentic setting.
And finally: the bar next to the lobby. This is a relaxing place to lounge in the afternoon or evening. We where lucky enough to be staying on the Swiss national day and were invited for a champagne toast and kids cocktails accompanied by hors d oeuvre. And this was accompanied by a pianist who broke our girls into laughter with his brilliant performance. The bar is the cosiest place to sit in during the evenings with live soothing music any day. For some quiet reading or a game of pool we recommend spending some time in the somewhat hidden billiard room. A really nice place to hold up during a hot day or a snow blizzard. And do not forget to surprise the family with a traditional evening of bowling at one of the two in-house bowling alleys. Great fun for everyone!
So, after all these culinary delights and in-house entertainment we are in need of some exercise. Well, no worries about that. Riffelalp lies smack in the middle of Zermatt’s hiking area. 400 km of trails await you. Short or long, easy or difficult, steep or flat – from here you have countless possibilities. From mid-June to end-July – the splendour of the wild flowers is most enchanting. Autumn offers clear days, white peaks and a magnificent play of colours. During these months the in-house mountain guide, Yann, will take you on a complimentary hike 3 days a week. One of the options is the ascent of the Breithorn, 4164m (13,661 ft). We take the train all the way to the top and trek to one of the glaciers. Something we highly recommend. On our way down we find out where the interior designer got his inspiration: lots of sheep can be found along our way. And how about throwing snow balls in Summer? Several trails are in place to choose from, great for family time and exploring the area with our girls. Do prepare yourselves before hiking: the Matterhorn is an isolated mountain. Because of its position on the main Alpine watershed and its great height, the Matterhorn and the region is exposed to rapid weather changes.
Mountain bikes with helmets and any climbing gear can be rented at the reception. Golf fans will appreciate the nine-hole course in Randa which is within easy reach of the resort. Paragliding and sightseeing by helicopter are also on the menu. In Winter, of course, everything is set up for winter sports. Downhill skiing, snowboarding, helicopter skiing and sledding. It is all on your doorstep and to make things even more convenient a sport shop is conveniently located in the building. Here you can rent skis, snowboards and other equipment.
After undertaking quite a few activities we also spent a lot of time at the hotel spa. Besides sauna, solarium, whirlpool, steam bath and several treatment rooms, it includes Europe’s highest outdoor swimming pool, heated to 35 degrees. So regardless the weather you can always swim outside and admire the scenery. Spoiler alert: again, the view of the Matterhorn is dazzling. If you still prefer something with a roof, you can opt for the somewhat larger indoor pool also located in the spa area.
We had an outstanding experience at this spectacular resort. The Riffelalp is certainly worthy of its inclusion as one of the Leading Hotels of the World collection. It meets all the requirements of a five-star property and is surrounded by the most spectacular views. We hope to be back in Winter!
# Riffelalp has a beautifully designed interior and the hotel is the perfect place to relax. Or take advantage of all the activities on offer and make it a family adventure.
# This is truly one of the best hotels we've ever stayed at, run like a swiss watch. The hiking trails around the hotel provide ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery. The hotel itself is spectacular, the staff is very friendly and attentive to the smallest details.
# The outdoor swimming pool has amazing views and don't forget to see the sunrise from your balcony. It is breath-taking! The grandeur of the Matterhorn is just overwhelming.
This destination can be booked through The Leading Hotels of the World.