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Gornergrat Bahn, Zermatt

Gornergrat Bahn and Matterhorn

ABOVE: Two GGB cogwheel trains meet with the Matterhorn as a backdrop.

Gornergrat, above Zermatt, is Switzerland's highest open-air train station. The Gornergrat Bahn electric railway opened for business in 1898, hauling tourists from Zermatt to a scenic overlook 9.4 km (5.9 miles) away. The Gornergrat excursion hasn't changed significantly since Paul Guiton wrote his florid description in Switzerland: Western and Southern more than 70 years ago:

In the course of this winding ascent, that lasts about an hour, we see it [the Matterhorn] as a whole, take possession of it and study every detail of its structure....It is more than a mountain; it is no longer matter without expression, but rather a nobly sculptural work, the Titan Michelangelo dreamt of hewing from the rock itself, realised with stupendous variations of outline and masses. The proud peak seems conscious of its glory; it stands apart, as if in all the Alps there were none beside itself.

The panorama at the Gornergrat is of dazzling beauty. At the food of the ridge stretches the immense frozen river of the Gorner Glacier where the moraines have marked out thin grey tracks. And into this central valley great glaciers from the mountains have poured the floods of their snow-drifts into the chaos of their ice-blocks. Above, high in the heavens, there is an indescribable alignment of white domes, an architecture springing all divine from earth at the call of the Spirit.

Even if you're too modern and jaded to appreciate such hyperbolic prose, it's hard not to be impressed by the Gornergrat ridge and its surroundings, including the Matterhorn (see inset photo).

Michelin gives the Gornergrat three stars (its top rating), and the meter-gauge cogwheel railway is generally regarded as a "must-see" excursion for Zermatt visitors--or at least for those who can afford the steep fare. (If you're a skier, you can ride the GGB with your Zermatt lift pass.)

Practical details

The Gornergrat Railway's lower station is in Zermatt, next to the main Brig-Visp-Zermatt Railway station. As the unofficial route map shows, there are half a dozen stops between Zermatt and Gornergrat--including Riffelalp and Riffelboden, which give access to two mountain hotels.

Total travel time is 43 minutes, and trains depart two or three times an hour throughout the year. (The day's first train normally leaves Zermatt at 7:05 am, and the last return train leaves Gornergrat at 7:07 p.m. From late October through late November and again in early to late May, the first train departs Zermatt at 8:00 am and the last return train leaves Gornergrat at 5:07 pm.)

At the Gornergrat (GGB) station, you'll find a hotel, an astronomical observatory, and an aerial cablecar to the Hoht�lli, where you can connect to cablecars for the Stockhorn and Rote Nase. (The Hoht�lli and Stockhorn cablecars operate during the ski season and the summer tourist season, while the Rote Nase cablecar serves skiers from from the end of November to early May.)

GGB train

ABOVE: A GGB train hauls skiers to the slopes.

Web links


Gornergrat Bahn
Check winter and sumer timetables, view photos, read about the railroad's history, and more at the multilingual GGB Web site.


Riffelalp Resort
More than 40 years after the legendary Riffelalp Grand Hotel was destroyed by fire, a stunning new resort hotel was built with help from the Gornergrat railway (which hauled some 2,000 cars of construction materials up the mountain from Zermatt).

3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat
Come for the a meal, book one of the traditionally furnished bedrooms, or have a wedding for up to 100 guests with a view of the Matterhorn. The restaurants are open year-round, and the hotel operates most of the year.

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.

After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.

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