It has snowed already in the Alps. Time to book a week at Chalet Banja, our favourite property in Switzerland’s most spectacular resort, Zermatt.
Zermatt, the village in a deep valley beneath the iconic Matterhorn, remains LUX’s favourite Alpine wintersports resort. St Moritz might have swankier shops, Courchevel may have a more conveniently laid-out lift system, Cortina d’Ampezzo may have a flash of Venetian style and Chamonix may offer vertiginous heli-skiing; but Zermatt has something nowhere else can offer.
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That something is a combination of a few pieces of magic. Beside the view of the Matterhorn, itself worth the journey, the ski areas above the resort – Rothorn, Gornergrat and the Klein Matterhorn-Schwarzsee zone – have an unmatched panorama of the Pennine Alps, the highest peaks in the Alps, arranged around Zermatt in a vast horseshoe. In no other area in the Alps do you ascend to a perilous high point above 3000m, stepping out into a subzero gale and fear-inducing view back down, only to realise you are yourself dwarfed by a whole new wall of mountains, some higher than 4500m, and none of them accessible by the lift system. It’s a different dimension.
As well as the views, and the skiing, which varies from quite tricky to OMG rated (unless you cruise into Italy for the day, which is a bit of light relief), there are mountain restaurants like Chez Vrony, Findlerhof and Blatten (and dozens more besides), which create a kind of Michelin-starred cosiness on the slopes.
And then there’s the resort itself. Zermatt allows no cars, which gives it a pleasing tranquillity. For some, it has sprawled a little too much across the valley in recent years.
Which brings us to the jewel in Zermatt’s crown. Technically, Chalet Banja is located in Winkelmatten, a little hamlet on a grassy knoll immediately on the south (Matterhorn) side of the village. Winkelmatten has its own chapel, playground, shop, and a couple of restaurants. Banja is built beautifully into a river embankment, and it has an uninterrupted view across a pine forest and the Schwarzsee hill to the Matterhorn.
From the road side, it appears as a low bungalow with a roof carefully created with local stone; the engineering feat of its construction means it is actually a four-storey house with the largest private pool (and gym) on its lower floor, three bedrooms, and a fabulous modern-Valais style kitchen, dining room and living room at its heart. Every floor has stunning views over the Matterhorn, and extensive wraparound balconies, and the construction was a labour of love by a local doctor who works elsewhere in Switzerland, and his wife.
Five minutes walk from the Matterhorn lift, Banja has a glorious sense of place, and of Zen. You could sit on the balcony, gaze at the Matterhorn, sip local Cornalin wine all day, and not ski at all; or you could spend your days haring off piste down from Rote Nase and Schwarzsee and come home for a dinner that would be both traditional and modern. All around, those giant peaks would sleep in their subzero coats. It has snowed already in the Swiss Alps; time to book.