Don’t try to find it on a map of Zermatt- Hotel Riffelhaus is high in the mountains. To get there, one takes the red train from Gornergrat Bahn, the highest cog railway in Europe. It’s a 23-minute surreal journey alongside the Matterhorn.
Some Swiss hotels are steeped in legend. Riffelhaus dates back to 1853, when three Zermatt locals, encouraged by the town priest and the beginnings of alpinism, set out to build an 18-bed guest house in the midst of the mountains, 2,582 m above sea level. The Gornergrat train didn’t exist then- all the materials had to be lugged up on men’s backs or by workhorses. Two years later, the Riffelhaus saw a team of climbers, led by Englishman Charles Hudson, set out to claim Switzerland’s highest peak, the Dufourspitze (4,635 m). And so the legend was born.
Hotel Riffelhaus has had the same owners since 1862 and has been renovated many times over the years, with the most recent refurbishment taking place in 2014. Today, the Riffelhaus boasts a pared-down yet inviting design featuring light pine in the bedrooms (with views of the Matterhorn), stone bathrooms, wellness facilities (sauna, steam room, relaxation room), a lounge and a welcoming après-ski bar. The setting embodies remote comfort in all of its glory.
However, the Riffelhaus is more than just a good bed for the night... It’s a great base, acting as one’s own HQ in the heart of the Alps. One can slip on one’s skis at the doorstep and not take them off until returning in the evening after a day of adventure. Families enjoy going up to the Gornergrat (3,090 m) to ski gently down the blue or red runs, while more advanced skiers can head over to the Stockhorn for an exhilarating free ride run over mogul fields. Others may prefer to settle down with a good book, sign up for a torch-lit descent, or careen down the sled runs at Rotenboden. Then when night comes, all that remains is silence; the stars, the moon and the soft sigh of the wind. A return to nature.