It all started with a promise. In December of last year, I was able to witness the „Ski Opening“ at the legendary Riffelalp Resort and asked my host Petra Gruber which season is the most beautiful up here at 2,222 meters. Without even thinking for a second, she said that it is definitely summer. „Then the meadows literally explode with mountain flowers and the cows graze directly in front of our front door. Mr Gebel, you just have to come back“. At the sight of the snow-covered winter landscape, I stop for a moment, slide a little to the right and look at the jagged contours of the Matterhorn. No, it simply can’t be nicer than this December afternoon, where the last skiers are driven into the warm hotel lobby with the setting sun. I definitely had to come back. And here I am.
The journey alone is an adventure in itself. You can park your car at the Welcome Parking in Täsch, where the friendly taxi driver lifts all your luggage into the large-capacity taxi in no time at all. Then a short message is sent to the Riffelalp-Zermatt train station team which is already waiting for me at the Gornergrat station. Twenty promising minutes in the rack railway follow before the train driver of the hotel’s own Riffelalp tram sets me on the shortest and highest tram ride in Europe. After 800 metres of tracks, he hands me off stylishly in front of the hotel lobby.
The Riffelalp Resort stands for living tradition and history, which goes back to 1884 and can be felt in every joint of this noble wooden building. From the reception, to the elegant Alexandre Restaurant, to the 65 rustic rooms. Every now and then a little alpine mountain chic creeps in, which shows up in wonderful accessories all over the place. Otherwise, the Riffelalp Resort remains true to itself and that’s a good thing. The rooms are equipped with opulent wooden ceilings, the huge bed decelerates with its soft feather cushions, the huge waterfall shower inspires in the bathroom and from the Récamiere, one does not only have a first-class view to the gigantic flatscreen, but also a sensational outlook to the Matterhorn that only gets better if one opens the balcony door.
The creative cuisine at 2,222 metres is the responsibility of Luigi Lafranco, who has finally come home to the Riffelalp Resort after stops in the Maldives, Ascona and Lugano. And he really doesn’t make it easy for me today, because there are Italian specialities in the Ristorante Al Bosco and Fine Dining in the Restaurant Alexandre, which is located in the main building. I decide on the Alexandre and am rewarded with a crunchy salad bar, a buttery tender beef fillet with herb crust and the final Riffelalptraum of apricots and almond sponge cake. Always in view: The mountain of the mountains, the Matterhorn, whose glaciers are bathed in a warm light by the setting sun.
„What does your climbing equipment look like?“ asks Chief Concierge Chantra Malorni on the eve of my ascent of the 4,164 metre high Breithorn and puts me in a subtle form of shock rigidity. „I thought it wouldn’t be so difficult…“ I stammer while he prays down the package insert of crampons, climbing rope, headgear and rucksack and reminds me involuntarily of my Kilimanjaro ascent. After hearing a fourfold „no“, he sees me stalking to the summit in jeans and flip-flops, so that I can calm him down a little with the reference to mountain boots, hiking trousers and windbreaker. „All right. The rest will be organized by our mountain guide Yann, who will be waiting for you at 8 am at the train station to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise”. And with these words he sends me into a sleepless night, where I already see myself dangling on a rope over a crevasse. I´m standing a little nervous at the train station Furi and look forward to the spectacular ride to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, which catapults me to the Klein Matterhorn at 3.883 meters altitude. The 25 gondolas with 28 seats each mark the highest 3S cable car in the world and offer dramatic views of the Breithorn and the Theodul glacier.
The ride could go on endlessly like this, but Yann, our mountain guide, already diligently distributes his crampons and shows how to tie them under the hiking boots. I watch in the sure belief that in case of emergency I will mess up the tying of the lines anyway. Then the time has come and we join the caravan of the Breithorn climbers, which first moves over a seemingly endless glacier field. Perhaps one should save the view to the summit for the way back, as the Breithorn shines with its huge snow hood quite ominously into the sky and sends a frosty gust of wind into the valley as a warning. Halfway along the way, we put on the crampons and walk up the mountain at an angle of 45 degrees, which works surprisingly well, until I suddenly stand in front of a crevasse that can only be passed through a narrow footbridge. „This is the worst summer yet. There is less and less snow up here“ Yann remarks and crosses the critical spot as if it was a pavement. Close your eyes, go on, until at some point the crampons slip off my shoes and I had to readjust them, because without them you´re lost up here. About 45 minutes we push ourselves bend by bend towards the summit until a gust of wind brushes me and I feel the abyss to my left hand. We stand on the summit of a four-thousand-metre peak and enjoy the panoramic view up to the Mont Blanc and the Bernina massif. This is great and although I feel a good grip under the iron, the depth attracts me magically, so that I am glad that after a few summit selfies we start the safe descent again. The tour takes about 3 hours and is an unbelievable experience for which you don’t need alpine experience.
For those who want to take it a little slower, I recommend the hike to the famous Riffelsee, which can be reached from the train station Rotenboden in about 10 minutes. And while the lake is still teeming with tourists, one is almost alone on the spectacular hike down to Riffelalp. All in all, one should plan two hours for this wonderful trail in order to be pampered stylishly in the wonderful outdoor pool of the Riffelalp Resort afterwards.
In the evening restaurant manager Alcindo welcomes us in the Alexandre, leads us to a table with a view of the cloudy Matterhorn and tells me about his home Lisbon, the beaches and Caipirinhas and the many beautiful years here at the Riffelalp Resort. „I am up here 7 months a year and enjoy every moment with such wonderful guests as you”. Indeed, the good Alcindo is very charming and so in the end it’s the people and long-time employees who make the Riffelalp such a special place that will always have its place in my heart.
This article was written at the invitation of the Riffelalp Resort 2222 m. Many thanks to Petra Gruber for the great organization and also to the Bergbahnen Zermatt for the trip to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. Last but not least: Merci Yann, for my first four-thousand-metre peak. I will never forget it.
Read also my article about the Grand Hotel National in Lucerne.