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It's worth the struggle to get to Zermatt, the Carless Gateway to the Matterhorn

No cars allowed in Zermatt, Switzerland.

If you want to see the Matterhorn, which is often called one of the wonders of the Western world, Zermatt, Switzerland is the place to stay.

We thought Zermatt would be an easy side trip en route from Italy to France.

But it wasn't until we began to carefully study road maps that we realized how hard Zermatt is to get to by car.

The first map showed no roads to Zermatt.

Then we consulted a Michelin map and found the last six miles of the road to Zermatt was a broken red line. "Road subject to restrictions," the map legend said.

Having experienced mountain driving, I was very uneasy about what that last portion would be like. Although the condition of the roads through the Alps is excellent, driving them is often an "Oh my gosh!" experience.

When we got to Tasch, where the dotted red line began on the map, we saw a huge parking lot full of cars. I told my husband maybe most people park and take a train or a shuttle to Zermatt to avoid the dotted red line road.

But he would not give in to my fears, and he headed up the one-lane path. I prayed that we would meet no oncoming traffic, because the road wouldn't be big enough for both of us. Within a few minutes, a service truck loomed in front of us. The driver leaned out his window and pointed to our windshield and said, "Sticker. Sticker!"

We decided you have to have a sticker to drive the road to Zermatt. We sheepishly backed up the quarter-mile we had come, deciding maybe we'd better try a different method.

The amazing thing is that no guidebook indicated that tourists can't drive to Zermatt. The only choice is parking and taking the train. But, once you figure things out, it's quite a nice arrangement because when you get to Zermatt there are no cars. It's a city of pedestrians and a few electric vehicles that shuttle people from the train station to their hotels.

Our hotel was the Mischabel, which our guidebook (Fodor's) said is the least expensive in Zermatt. It is perfect for families because it offers a meal plan (breakfast and dinner) with meal and room discounts for children. But the best part was that our third floor rooms had balconies that overlooked the Matterhorn.

"Though it has become an almost self-parodying icon, like the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building, its peculiar snaggle-tooth form, free on all sides of competition from other peaks, rears up over the village, larger than life and genuinely awe-inspiring," says Fodor's.

Even though the daytime temperatures were in the 70s and 80s, we saw people with ski equipment, taking ski lifts or the Gornergrat train to higher altitudes where there is snow year 'round. We took the Gornergrat and stopped at several areas above Zermatt. The trip offered us a wonderful day of hiking in the flower-covered slopes. Half the family was even daring enough to get to a glacier, where they gathered snow for a snowball fight in August.

For travelers who like spectacular scenery, friendly people, flowers in every window and extremely clean surroundings, Switzerland is a wonderful destination. Although Zermatt is harder to reach than most locations in Switzerland, we especially liked it because of its small size and lack of cars.

Most of the residents of Zermatt speak German plus English or French. The shopping was excellent (our children were enchanted with the Swatch store), but there were no bargains to be found - probably because transportation costs are so high!

Grace Housholder is author of The Funny Things Kids Say Will Brighten Any Day


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