Has it been three months already? It is hard to believe that the last time I visited the Valais, I came here to run the Matterhorn Ultraks and to help friends work on their chalet. I am riding the train from Visp up the Mattertal past St. Nikolaus, where the church steeple has been wrapped to look like a giant St. Nick. The first snow has already fallen as I am entering Winter Wonderland.
It is also Will's birthday. A group of his friends who helped on the chalet are journeying to Zermatt for a weekend of celebrating. And, what else, for skiing!
Will and Amanda moved to Switzerland five years ago with their jobs. To many Swiss, they may be considered the quintessential expats. However, I would consider them to be of the new wave of people settling in Switzerland. Gone are the short contract postings and the non-stop moving. Many of the highly qualified and skilled expats are settling in Switzerland, taking full advantage of the professional, cultural, and recreational offerings that this little Alpin Republic offers, and making a real home for themselves. Their children go to Swiss crèches and schools, and they speak the local language.
Like most Swiss, Amanda and Will love the mountains for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. About three years ago, they got the idea of purchasing a house on a Helvetic massif. Ever since, they have been looking for a place in the vicinity of Davos - without luck. Either the places were too expensive, or they would get snapped up by other buyers.
Then, in January 2013, Will stumbled upon a chalet in Zermatt while browsing the new online listings: Chalet Bergheim (Mountain Home). Built in 1931, the chalet’s most recent owner was a single mother living there with her daughter for the past twenty years. And Chalet Bergheim was calling Will.
A Little Luck, and a lot of Hustle
Realizing what he had just found, Will quickly emailed the listing to Amanda. After an honest discussion, they made contact with the chalet's seller in February in order to make an inquiry. By May, the mortgage had been settled and plans for the chalet were being drawn up. The idea was to create a home away from home that can be used by as many people as possible when they are not there.
Friends were allowed to contribute their ideas, from hot tubs to saunas - and more! Finally, in August, the keys were handed over and furniture started arriving, as did friends for weekends of cleaning, painting, and decorating.
Located about 1.1 km above Zermatt, the chalet lays right off a valley run piste. In the winter, it is a slight hike to reach the chalet, but it is completely doable. For those not wishing to lug their gear up in the winter, a helicopter will drop all your gear in front of the house. This weekend, we didn’t take advantage of the helicopter drop, but lugged our stuff up. A short elevator ride to Cervo hotel at the end of the piste and a 500 m walk and you’re at Chalet Bergheim.
There is also a set of stairs from town that make it easy enough to reach. Or you could do what two friends did and ski tour up with skins. Will and Amanda have a baby, and so did some guests... Everyone made it up quite comfortably! In the summer, an electric taxi will take you up there.
Regardless of how you get up there, though, the view from the chalet is one of the nicest in Zermatt with the Matterhorn in its full beauty.
A Labor of Love
The largest project in the house was the master bath. The complete bathroom was gutted, the ceiling was thus raised and a space for a jacuzzi bath with a view on to the Matterhorn was made. A large rain shower with a dry-stack cultured stone wall was also added. Will and Amanda sourced the faucets, tub and sinks themselves and with the wood and slate finishing, the chalet-feel is highlighted.
The tradesmen were all local from Zermatt. With the strong Valais dialect, and the fact that some of them were probably more fluent in Italian than German, Amanda and Will were constantly trying to overcome linguistic barriers.
For the workers, the early snow posed a bit of a problem. They had to either carry their tools and equipment up, or use a special electric push cart with snow treads. Not to neglect, there was also a bit of cultural and gender education that Amanda helped them with... At first, one of the workers would not do anything Amanda requested - until he had heard it from Will as well! By the end, though, he must have surely realized that a woman can know just as well as a man what needs to be done...
Since August, Amanda has stayed almost exclusively at the chalet. Will has been commuting between Zurich and Zermatt on weekends to give assistance where possible, and of course to spend time with his family. When I arrived on the first Thursday of December, another friend and I met Will and Amanda in town for lunch before heading up to the chalet.
It was the first time Amanda had left the chalet in three days, as the workmen, snow and the baby kept her seemingly trapped. However, Amanda assured me that Chalet Bergheim is a true labor of love and that they were almost ready for the grand opening. She was very excited about their first guests arriving at New Year. But even once the snow has melted, Will and Amanda are convinced that the chalet is the perfect place for summer vacationers looking to discover Zermatt's mountains on foot.
An Alpine Dream Home
Being back in the chalet four months after the initial visit, it was amazing how things had changed. Truly, the "labor of love" was not just a saying! The house was now furnished with brand new furniture - most of it made of solid wood.
Several helicopter drops were required to get the chalet ready before winter... My personal highlight is Will's Lady of the Lake, which is situated by the pond. But if you ask Will, he will surely name the campfire place and the balcony bench, which was made from a tree they had to cut to improve the view.
Once in the chalet, visitors will find themselves in a mountainous dream home. From the reclaimed wood clad interior, to the bespoke wooden furniture, and the teddy bears on the beds. The three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, and living-dining room are everything that a family or two could ask for.
The kitchen comes equipped with basic staples, including wine, and a fantastic recipe for a special cheese fondue — when in Zermatt after all.
While there is a television able to play all of the media on your Apple and Samsung devices, the nicer time is spent playing board games by the fireplace or making a camp fire outside with the majestic Matterhorn gracing the background.
Having been down at Chalet Bergheim three weekends over a span of four months, I must say that I am thoroughly impressed (and excited) to see what Amanda, Will, their friends, and a small collection of craftsmen have pulled off! Yet, despite the modernization, the chalet has retained its unique and quaint character which is neither snobby, nor shabby, but one that welcomes all guests.
To stay at Chalet Bergheim in Zermatt is to share in a dream, and hopefully create lasting memories for your family and friends to cherish for years and to always come back to.