A faithful avalanche, visionary ideas, and good timing. These are the ingredients of the fascinating story behind the Carina Zermatt Boutique Hotel.
In January 2018, when a group of architects found themselves stuck in Zermatt due to an avalanche, it must not have felt like destiny. But little did they know that despite the situation, the stars were aligned for them.
At the time, the architects were staying in a slightly dated pension that had recently been acquired by a new owner. The group used this forced extension of their architecture workshop to draw up some visionary ideas. Their innovative hotel concept was ultimately implemented, and the Carina Zermatt Boutique Hotel was born.
A winding hallway connects the off-street entrance with a rounded foyer. From here, an organically shaped, rounded staircase leads us into the reception area. We are greeted with the big smile of Charline, the Carina hostess. What a warm welcome!
The lobby is abuzz with other travelers, from vacationing couples to business types and other skiers. This space has a cosmopolitan vibe, and we are reminded of what we treasure about boutique hotels. Starting here in the lobby lounge with its fireplace and book collection, the Carina Zermatt has the architects’ passion written all over it.
A mountain lodge for design aficionados
Our third-floor corner room offers breathtaking views of the Matterhorn. Designated as Matterhorn Deluxe, it is the second most superior room class in this hotel with 85 beds. (The three penthouse suites on the top floor deserve the highest classification, each comfortably housing up to six guests.)
Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the room layout. Near the balcony by the large bay windows, there is a built-in lounge carpeted of fir wood, including a comfortable sofa bed. We will be spending considerable time hanging out there, just to marvel at the towering Matterhorn…
The location of the Carina offers a good vantage point of the Toblerone Mountain: while it is further away compared to other hotels, the entire mountain is visible - from base to peak.
The designers have clearly not cut any corners with the furnishing of the rooms. The materials feel solid and of the highest quality: from the mattress to the curtains, and from the see-through oak wood storage unit to the shower compartment.
The chic furniture is inspired by Scandinavian design, yet it has been tailored to the blueprint of each room and was locally produced. There are no edges, but curves and rounded shapes. Plenty of surfaces, shelves, and other nifty spaces show that the Carina is at the intersection of modern design and usability.
By focusing on essentials that travelers to Zermatt will need, and meanwhile providing these essentials in top-notch quality, the Carina decided against TV sets in the rooms. In this day and age, I feel that BYOD (bring your own device) is legitimate as long as the WiFi holds up. Personally, I no longer consider hotel TVs to be essential, and I hardly ever turn one on. And besides, a prime location such as Zermatt has more important things to be looking at…
On the ground floor, the Carina offers bunk beds in the typical style of mountaineering basecamps. Charline lets us peek inside one of these dorms with shared bathrooms and showers. Given that basecamp guests are privy to the use of the spa, the lounge, and the breakfast buffet with local products, this might be the most budget-friendly way of staying in Zermatt.
The Carina Zermatt staff is like family
Back in the lobby, Charline introduces the rest of the Carina staff. Hotel manager, Lucas, is originally Swedish and grew up in Geneva. He explains that around here, everyone is a multitasker. One moment, he might be interviewing someone for a vacant job only to set up a crib or talk to a supplier next.
Despite all the work, we like how the staff prioritizes their guests. Each one of them takes valuable time out of their day to chat with us and give us tips.
From Pavlina, a Czech native, we learn where to buy locally roasted coffee (Zermatt Rösterei). Charline shares her favorite Zermatt ski slope for a sunny morning (Rothorn to Fluhalp). And Manuel, a Portuguese whose parents have met in Zermatt, shows us to our table where he will be treating us the rest of the night…
Slow food is built into La Table du Carina
We have already heard a lot about Gaïa, the young Italian chef who runs the in-house La Table du Carina restaurant. So we are very pleased to finally meet her in person. Gaïa explains that she devises a fresh daily menu from the ingredients that are available at the moment.
Placing utmost importance on quality, seasonality, and technique, she turns even a stalk of leek into a memorable tasting experience. Her grilled leek from Piedmont with truffle is to write home about.
With roots on the island of Sicily, Gaïa has brought some lesser-known fruits and vegetables onto Zermatt’s culinary landscape. Take the Etna apple, an ancient fruit that thrives on the slopes of the volcano. One time, it appears fermented as a side dish. And the next evening, we get to enjoy it in the shape of an apple meringue served with double cream.
When preparing a menu with meat, Gaïa’s philosophy is to use the same animal throughout. For her pork belly main dish, she broils the carefully sliced hasselblack red potatoes in two kinds of pork lard.
Since she has started her tenure here, Gaïa has worked her way into the hearts and minds of Zermatt locals, food suppliers, and other chefs. Modest as she is, Gaïa has kept her quality high without bragging about it. Fortunately, some of her friends have secretly pitched Gaïa’s cuisine to a scout for Slow Food Switzerland. And to her great surprise, Gaïa was recently admitted into the Slow Food Cooks' Alliance.
We cannot wait to see how Gaïa and her sous-chef, Salvatore, take authentic Italian cuisine to the next level! One slow-food menu at a time…
The Carina Zermatt Boutique Hotel in a nutshell
A short walk from Zermatt’s Sunnegga funicular, the Carina Zermatt Boutique Hotel is ideal for outdoorsy travelers. While it is located in a neighborhood a bit outside of the center, the Carina allows for exploring right outside the door.
After returning from a day on Zermatt’s hiking paths or ski slopes, this modern mountain lodge offers all the amenities one could ask for: a ski room, a fine spa, a restaurant serving slow food, a bar with a natural wine selection, and a cozy lobby lounge with a self-service bar for complimentary tea, coffee, and fruits.
On departure day, we feel sad to say goodbye to our newfound family. The Carina Zermatt Boutique Hotel and its permanent residents (i.e. the staff) leave nothing to be desired!