Travel

This Adorable Swiss Town Looks Straight Out of a Dr. Seuss Book

Summer dreams just north of Italy.

sbk_20d pictures/Moment/Getty Images
sbk_20d pictures/Moment/Getty Images
sbk_20d pictures/Moment/Getty Images

When trying to picture an ideal mountain-town scene-villages full of matching wooden homes surrounded by dramatically jagged, claw-like peaks-nothing compares to Switzerland. And one of the country’s most epitomized towns, which is almost a caricature of itself it’s so darn cute, is Zermatt.

Looking like something Dr. Seuss dreamed up, this village located just north of the Swiss-Italian border has become a booming tourist destination. Zermatt has earned serious acclaim for its car-free streets, stellar Matterhorn views, and incredible mountain adventures no matter the season. And then there’s the cheese, of course-not just the Swiss kind with cartoonishly big holes, but tons of fondues and melty cheesy goodness galore.

While winter brings an abundance of skiers and snowboarders to the surrounding slopes, when the snow melts, Zermatt’s many hiking trails spring to life, providing visitors with an awe-inspiring array of lush valleys, rock faces, and alpine lakes to explore. Whether you’re planning on trekking dawn-to-dusk across the Valais countryside or just kicking back under the Matterhorn with a spritz in hand, it’s tough to find a more relaxing destination in all of the Alps. Here’s what to do while in Zermatt.

Tradition Julen
Tradition Julen
Tradition Julen

Eat gooey cheeses and hearty dishes

In spite of its small size, Zermatt is equipped with a king-sized food and drink scene, offering refreshing craft brews, international wines, and more melted cheese than you could possibly dream of scarfing down. For a crash course on the traditional cuisine of Valais-Zermatt’s home canton-a trip to the abundantly-charming Schäferstube is certainly in order. Housed within the storied Hotel Julen, this restaurant offers ample opportunity to try some of the region’s most flavorful dishes, with Valais rarebit, lamb fondue, and all-you-can-eat raclette all gracing the menu.

Elsie's Wine & Champagne Bar
Elsie’s Wine & Champagne Bar
Elsie’s Wine & Champagne Bar

Meanwhile, a haven for drink aficionados sits just down the road in the form of Restaurant Rosstall. Decadent Swiss classics abound here, ranging from truffle-loaded fondue to crispy Wienerschnitzel-but the real prize can be found on the inn’s beverage menu. During dinner, patrons can sample a wealth of whites and reds produced right here in Valais, or grab a crisp Zermatt Bier for a little taste of the local brewing scene.

And if you’re planning on keeping the train rolling after a few brews? Elsie’s Wine & Champagne Bar is a must-visit for a nightcap, equipped with an impressive array of digestifs served right in the centre of the village.

SilvanBachmann/RooM/Getty Images
SilvanBachmann/RooM/Getty Images
SilvanBachmann/RooM/Getty Images

Hike your way through the Swiss Alps

A veritable skiers’ paradise in the dead of winter, Zermatt’s landscape undergoes a dramatic shift during the warmer months with ample opportunity for outdoor adventure. For hardcore hikers, one of the area’s most conquer-worthy routes kicks off right in the heart of the village. Running 12.3 miles in total, the Hohbalm loop trail features some of the finest alpine scenery available in the region, with no shortage of challenging elevation fluctuations to keep things interesting along the way.

If the above hike sounds a little too ambitious, have no fear-there’s a far simpler route that offers fine dining as an added bonus. Beginning in the centre of Zermatt, participants can follow the Blatten hiking trail south, taking a leisurely uphill stroll for about 1.2 miles before arriving at the beloved Bergrestaurant Blatten. There’s ample space for outdoor dining around here, allowing diners to snap a perfect photo of their rösti with the Matterhorn serving as a stellar backdrop.

SCStock/Shutterstock
SCStock/Shutterstock
SCStock/Shutterstock

Soar to new heights on the Gornergrat Railway

There’s no shortage of spectacular mountain vistas to be found all throughout the Visp district, but if you’re hoping to capture a truly incredible perspective of the Matterhorn, there’s no beating Gornergrat. Fortunately, modern technology has eliminated the need for a multi-hour climb to its summit, with the Gornergrat Railway providing a comfortable 30-minute cruise to the top.

Serving as the tallest open-air cog railway in the entire continent, this marvel of mechanics climbs just under 5,000 feet as it winds its way up to Gornergrat, with stunning forest and lakeside views along the way. Upon arrival, visitors are welcome to bask in the panoramic views, grab an Hugo Spritz from Restaurant vis-à-vis, or scan the mountainside for native Valais ibex, a European wild goat that’s famed for its long curved horns.

THE OMNIA
THE OMNIA
THE OMNIA

Treat yourself to a lavish hotel stay

Zermatt’s stellar potential for skiing has ushered in a seriously lavish hospitality scene, and these resorts aren’t just in business when the snow is surging. There’s a wide array of options to choose from across town, but if you’re planning a splurge-worthy, once-in-a-lifetime trip, there’s just one place to keep in mind.

Known as The Omnia, this palatial property serves as the crown jewel of Zermatt accommodations, seamlessly blending top-of-the-line luxury with the rustic charm of an old-school alpine lodge. Amenities around here range from the property’s sun-soaked outdoor terrace to one of Zermatt’s coziest hangout spots-namely, the outdoor hot tub, which is perfectly positioned to give bathers a spectacular view of the entire village with the Matterhorn looming overhead. For a truly memorable stay, spring for the Omnia Tower Suite, a spacious abode that includes a massive Matterhorn-facing patio, a fully-functional fireplace, and a Swarovski Optik telescope that’s perfect for finding native Swiss wildlife in the distance.

If you’re planning a more budget-conscious trip, there’s a plethora of perfectly cozy accommodations that won’t break the bank. Just outside the train station, the Hotel Butterfly offers tasty Italian cuisine, afternoon tea, and an abundance of freshly-renovated bedrooms. Meanwhile the riverside Hotel Bristol is home to plush Matterhorn-facing suites and a spa complete with a traditional Finnish sauna.

Vasin Lee/Shutterstock
Vasin Lee/Shutterstock
Vasin Lee/Shutterstock

Explore Zermatt’s neighbouring villages

Though Zermatt is spectacularly beautiful on its own, it’s far from the only idyllic alpine village found within the region. In addition to abundant natural beauty, Switzerland is also blessed with a highly-useful rail system that provides quick and simple transport to a wealth of other Valais gems.

Located one hour north of Zermatt, the district capital of Visp may not be quite as picturesque as its neighbour, but there’s still a wealth of charming bars and restaurants to explore around town. If you’re in the mood for a little alpine bar crawl, Visper Pinta is a top spot located just outside the train station. Upon arrival, guests are welcome to snag a fresh local ale on draft, then follow it up with a pour of Valais schnapps. After a couple drinks, nearby Swiss-Thai is a top-tier spot for flavorful Southeast Asian dining, while Old Dublin offers a tiny slice of the Emerald Isle if you need a little change from the alpine scenery.

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Jared Ranahan is a freelance writer focusing on travel, wildlife, and food & beverage.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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