I have been going to the region of Wallis, the little town of Saas Grund, for more than 7 years. So last year I wanted to see more than the Saas valley. And what is the best option to go to? To the other side of the mountain - to Zermatt!
Beginning in Brig, it is an interesting old town. Not only because of its historical old town but also for the railways it’s a huge intersection point for many years now. Let’s begin with the Simplon line connecting Brig and the Rhone valley through the Simplon tunnel with Milan and in the other way with Bern and Basel. You can get two connections in the direction of Bern: The IC via Visp and the Lötschberg base tunnel and the RE "Lötschberger" via Kandersteg and the old Lötschberg route. I recommend taking the "Lötschberger" for the best views but I will write about that another time.
Brig is located at the begin of the Simplon pass to Italy and that is probably the reason for its location. It is as well located at the end of the valley of Wallis but at the same time the beginning of something great. What used to be called the ‘BVZ Zermatt-Bahn’ (Brig-Visp-Zermatt) is now called ‘Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn’. Their platforms at the station of Brig are strangely located in front of the building on the station forecourt. You can change here to the SBB trains on the main station. The reason for this unconventional layout probably is the different gauge of the SBB and MGB lines. Nowadays trains run further than Brig, in the direction of Göschenen/Disentis what makes a direct connection with Zermatt.
Visp is one of the towns in the valley of Wallis. Honestly? There isn’t very much here. But there are some good train connections from here. Thinking about the hour IC service to Bern – Zurich and 2 hour service to Bern – Basel trough the Lötschberg basetunnel. You can get a local train to Chur and St Moritz (Glacier Express route) and there is a good half hour connection with Montreux – Lausanne – Geneva (Airport). The station of Visp has seen a huge makeover in 2006 for the new incoming trains from Bern where the passengers directly can take the trains to Zermatt.
Stalden is a small village at an extreme angle of inclination. This is where the valleys of Saas and Zermatt and where the train splits with the bus to Saas. From here you can take one of the regional trains to Zermatt. Since Stalden is built on a slope the station is equipped with a section of rack rail like most of the trip to Zermatt. Rack railways or cog railways are used to operate on steep grades above 7% to a (normal) maximum of 25%. For this route you will only find 12.5% and I can promise you, that is steep.
Täsch is a very special station, it is also called the Matterhorn Terminal Täsch. Since Zermatt is a car free town, all cars have to be parked at Täsch and all visitors to Zermatt NEED to take the train! And I personally think that this is an awesome way for a town like Zermatt. They bought several shuttle trains with an extreme low floor. You get a trolley, pack your backs on it next to your car and ride them on the train with a step free access to the train. From here there is another 12 minutes ride to Zermatt and for the reason of the shuttle every 20 minutes there departs one from Täsch excluding the other regional trains to Brig. It can be said that this part of the rail is one of the busiest railways with single track. To find two trains behind each other on a passing track is a normal sight.
Zermatt is one of the a car free towns in Switzerland. Side note, there are indeed cars, but just small electric ones. They have done this to prevent air pollution, which could obscure the view of the Matterhorn. On a good summer day you have a prefect view on the Matterhorn from the town centre. The battery driven vehicles are only allowed for local commerce’s. They use them to transport all visitors from the train station to the hotels. Most hotels offer this and there are a lot of taxi companies. Beside that I recommend to walk. Not only for the reason of the beautiful town but as well the size of Zermatt.
The station is special for Zermatt. It has as function to protect passengers and rolling stock from snow. The first track is for the shuttle traffic to Täsch witch on both sides platforms for in and out bounding passengers. Track 3 and 5 have the regular traffic to Brig and the last track, 6 is used for cargo. Almost each day there will be a cargo train waiting, a little bit strange at first sight in a tourist station. When you walk out of the hall you will find all the electric cars and on the other side of the square there is the Gornergrat Bahn located.
Trip to Gornergrat
One retour ticket from Zermatt to the Gornergrat costs about 76 CHF, with a Swiss Travel Pass you get 50% discount (38 CHF) but with Interrail there isn’t a discount. There are 3 trains per hour running to the top of the Gornergrat. The trip to the top is taking about 45 minutes of your life and they are worth it. Make sure you take a seat on the right side of the train, and when there are places available get in the new trains since these are cleaner and more comfortable. They are mostly connected to each other.
The station of the Gornergrat is called the highest open-air railway station of Europe (3090m). It was opened in 1898 and was also the first electric rack railway to be built in Switzerland. Initially it only operated in summer, but year-round operation was started in 1941. The highest station of Europe is Jungfraujoch (3454m, but from 2350m underground) but the highest of the world is located in China, Tanggula. You’ve got a view of more than 20 four-thausand metre peaks, whose highest are Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Matterhorn, Dom and Weisshorn. Most noticeable is the Gornergrat Kulm Hotel completed on 1907 (including an observatory with telescope built in 1996). Getting a room in this hotel will cost you about CHF 250 but you will have probably the cleanest air of Switzerland and one of the best waking up views…
Review of the route from Visp/Brig to Zermatt
Keeping in mind that you travel 2770 altimeters in just about two hours, this is a wonderful route. Planning a round trip trough Switzerland route, most people come up to Zermatt with the Glacier Express. Not a bad choice if you travel with a Swiss Travel Pass or Interrail/Eurail, only a seat reservation for the Glacier-Express is required (CHF 17). For Interrail travellers, the route with the MGB up to Zermatt is free but have to pay the full price up to the Gornergrat.
If you are a rail or Switzerland-fan this is the ultimate way to get the best experience!
Updated: January 2018