Youth hostels: Chances are that you haven't thought about them in a while.
It is understandable, because like most of the writers at Newly Swissed, our statistics show that you might be a DINK (double income, no kids) and prefer to stay at boutique and designer hotels when you go traveling.
Or maybe you are a SITCOM (single income, two children, oppressive mortgage), a frugal traveler or maybe you place a higher value on adventure rather than the place where you spend the night. Whatever your case may be, Swiss Youth Hostels are not to be underestimated - or missed.
There are 52 unique hostels across Switzerland. My girlfriend and I have reserved a room at one of the most popular locations, the Zermatt Youth Hostel.
The walk from the Zermatt train station to the hostel is part of the experience. It gives you a sense of the size and amenities of this town. Upon our arrival, we are greeted by the hostel's manager, Christian, with a small apéro of Petite Arvine, a grape variety common to the Valais, and Swiss cheese.
The hostel's patio offers fantastic views of the Matterhorn. And like many of Switzerland's hostels, the Youth Hostel Zermatt has recently undergone a complete renovation.
We immediately notice how bright, spacious and well designed our room in one of the annex buildings is. There are closets and shelves, a bathroom with a shower and two very comfortable beds. The only thing yet to do is to put on the fitted sheets, covers and pillowcases. This takes less than five minutes, and you will rest assured that everything is clean.
An unforgettable mountain scooter adventure.
Soon after dropping our bags in the room, we are off for some downhill action. Here is an activity that I would never have signed up for, but I decided to go with the flow. We start by walking to the Sunnegga funicular station and zip up some 680 meters to 2288 meters above sea level. There, we take a few pictures of the Matterhorn in all its glory without a single cloud around it, and then get our mountain scooters.
The scooters are like kick-bikes with mountain bike wheels and shocks on the front - and a smaller wheel on the back. At first, we are a little apprehensive. You pick up speed quickly and tend to ride the breaks. After a little while, you get the hang of it and will confidently put both feet on the frame.
After about ten minutes, we stop at a restaurant with more spectacular views of the Matterhorn. I would like to think of myself as fit, but my thighs are already getting tight. (It's probably my lack of form.) After a glass of Rivella to take the edge off, we zip down the rest of the course.
Verdict: For 45 francs per adult, mountain scooters are a fun activity. If you hate speed, it might not be for you. But if you like skiing, biking fast or downhill mountain biking, you will be able to handle this. It is also appropriate for families.
Post mountain scooter drinks at CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort.
Having spent a little more than an hour on the activity and getting a bit of an adrenaline rush, we deserve a break and a drink. We take the elevator to the CERVO Zermatt for a drink on their patio and some truffle oil and parmesan fries. It is the first day of the season for this boutique hotel and Daniel Lauber, the owner, is greeting all the staff personally.
The youth hostel is an overall great value.
Zermatt is not exactly a place to get a bargain on meals. So at 17.50 francs per person, our dinner back at the youth hostel is a deal. It includes soup, salad, a main dish and even a dessert. It is self-service, cooked fresh and as long as you are finishing your plate, you will have a chance for seconds.
On the patio, we notice a guy cooking on a camping stove. Christian explains that some people are on very tight budgets, especially when they come from abroad. The hostel also has a microwave and a water cooker for guests to use, but the kitchen is for staff only. We all agree that the food tonight was an excellent value. (For those with a smaller appetite, there is a main dish for 12.50 francs.)
At dinner, we also notice the range of guests staying at the hostel. People from all over the world, and of all ages. It might be called a "youth hostel", but it is not just for the young. Much rather, this place allows you to feel young again... Almost as to confirm this, Christian tells us that they have a couple from Germany in their 80's who come every year for a month.
Paragliding over Zermatt
The next day awaits with yet another activity that was not on my bucket list. The idea of running off a mountain while essentially being strapped to a kite sounds a little scary. Yet, here we are. Up again with the Sunnegga funicular and then up some more to Blauherd (2571 meters).
It rained overnight and the fog is thick, ascending from the valley. For a moment, we hoped that it would dissipate, but we have to move down the hill some. There, our pilots carefully roll out the wings, then straighten the lines. We put on our harnesses and make sure everything is strapped tight. No one will be pulling an Icarus and fall from the skies today!
The fog still does not let up, and we have to move further down the mountain. And then, my pilot spots it: A window. Quickly we double-check the wing, the lines and the harness. Everything is looking good. "Run, run, run," my pilot said with a sense of urgency in his voice.
Then, without doing anything, I can feel my feet lift off the ground. We are airborne! Once you sit back, you start to relax. In fact, you start to love it. I ask my pilot to navigate all over the place so I can have a bird's-eye view of the places I have so often run and skied past.
Unfortunately, the thermals are not very good and the flight is quite short, perhaps 20 minutes. My pilot tells me that often, he stays up with people twice as long. For my first ride, it was perfect. I think I will do this again and I can highly recommend Air Taxi for your flights in Zermatt. For a cost of 150 francs per person, per flight, it might not be the cheapest adventure, but it is an experience that you will not forget. As a souvenir, you can also purchase a video clip and pictures of the flight.
How to spend a rainy afternoon in Zermatt.
Soon after our flight, the clouds roll in, as does the rain. What a shame, because Zermatt is less inviting in the rain. You can put on your rain gear and head out for a hike, or go to one of several hotel owned spas. You might also use it as a chance to find a café or restaurant, open a book and relax for a bit. After lunch at the hostel, we decide to pay a visit to the Paperlla Pub down the street.
One of the best rooms in Zermatt, hands down.
A tour of the hostel shows us the different accommodation possibilities: From bunk beds starting at as little as 36.50 francs to a private room with four beds costing up to 222 francs, the prices are very affordable.
Our advice: Book on the hostel website and avoid booking agents. And if you are lucky to get room #333, you will enjoy the best views of the Matterhorn! The Swiss Youth Hostels have the mandate to use Fairtrade and local produce in their kitchens. Renovated hostels are also designed to be more energy and resource efficient. This goes from cleaning supplies to food and the construction of the hostel. And the rooms are quiet, clean and private with the modern amenities one would expect from a budget hotel.
Via ferrata inside the Gornerschlucht.
Our last day in Zermatt starts a little foggy and cloudy, much like the day before. Our goal is to go to the Gornerschlucht (Gorner Gorge) for some via ferrata - repelling, climbing, and zip lining. Our mountain guide is none other than Bruno Jelk. (He is perhaps most famous for saving Richard Branson's son from the Matterhorn.)
Repelling into the gorge is an amazing feeling. The air is fresh, and the roar of the water below heightens your senses. It's important always to be attached to the steel cable with one carabiner. Because of the height, most of us are usually putting both on, just in case. We transverse the gorge at a slow, but steady pace.
My favorite sections are narrow bridges and the climbing. After nearly three hours in the canyon with the crashing sound of fast flowing water still in my head, we emerge onto a grassy field and arrive at a small grouping of houses. As the others depart back to Zermatt, my girlfriend and I stay for lunch at the Bergrestaurant Blatten.
With the sky now clearing and the sun shining down, it is the perfect way to end a weekend in Zermatt.