The Matterhorn is the ultimate symbol of Switzerland, marketed worldwide and recognized by everyone, including children – because of the Toblerone chocolate, of course. You can’t reach the Matterhorn Peak unless you are a climber, but you can easily conquer the Little Matterhorn (or Klein Matterhorn in German) with children. How? By riding the highest cable car in Europe.
The Klein Matterhorn is the younger brother of the Matterhorn, and from the top of its 3883 meters, you can enjoy spectacular views over several glaciers and as many as thirty-eight 4000+ meters peaks, in Switzerland, Italy, and France.
The best thing about it is that you can reach it without effort or climbing experience. Just a tip: given the altitude, if you intend to go with small children, ask your paediatrician for advice beforehand.
By cable car to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
So, how about the mountain lift to the Klein Matterhorn? You will need to take 3 different cable cars to get to the Klein Matterhorn. The first part takes place on the Zermatt-Furi 8-seater cable car, which reaches an altitude of 1864 meters.
In Furi we transferred to the Furi-Trockener Steg cable car, a massive gondola holding up to 150 people. Trockener Steg is located at an altitude of 2,939 meters and while you are there, before taking the last cable car to the Klein Matterhorn with children, I recommend you visit the InfoCube – 3S Bahn.
From Zermatt to Trockenr Steg
Theoretically there is a gondola all the way from Zermatt to Trockener Steg (without transferring in Furi) but when I tried to ask one of the attendants where I would find it, I made the mistake to ask about it in German. I immediately cursed myself because he answered me in the local dialect and I did not have a clue of what he had just said (and trust me, the Valaisan patois is next to impossible to understand – even for German native speakers).
I believe that he told me that it was not working because of the low turnout of visitors, but in all fairness – he could have told me that I had a pink unicorn behind my back – it would have made no difference!!!
Trockener Steg to Klein Matterhorn
From Trockener Steg you reach the 3883 meters of the Klein Matterhorn in under 9 minutes – riding the brand new 3S (three-cable system) cableway designed by the Italian Pininfarina.
I say brand new because it has been in operation since November 2018; it’s called Matterhorn Glacier Ride and it’s really luxurious (and comfortable). Each cabin boasts 28 leather seats and a 360° panorama over the Alps. Let me tell you… It’s like traveling on a Ferrari or a Lamborghini… spectacular!
Speaking of luxury: for an even more exclusive experience, you can choose the “Crystal ride” cabins, which are decorated with Swarovski crystals, however you need to make bookings in advance. The floor of these special cabins is made of laminated glass, though you may not notice it at first, because it’s opaque; however after a few minutes into the ascent, it becomes completely transparent.
Disclaimer: we did not test it – I suffer from vertigo and the idea makes me scared… needless to say, my son wasn’t happy.
On top of the Klein Matterhorn with children
So what can you do on the top of the Klein Matterhorn with children? Of course, you can ski, but that’s not why we went. This time we wanted to check out how this new “attraction” can cater to families, and I can tell you we were more than satisfied. And we found a lot of things:
- An observation platform
- The world’s highest glacier palace
- The Cinema Lounge
- Shopping and dining
The highest observation platform in Europe
As soon as we reached the upper station of the cable car, we saw a sign pointing to an elevator that would lead us to the highest observation platform in Europe, so we hastily made our way there. After leaving the elevator there’s a couple of flights of stairs – outside – so we immediately noticed two things: the air is thin and, on top of that, it is really “crisp”, too – well, at least it is not ice cold!
We looked around, expecting to enjoy the 360 degrees panorama and 38 Alpine peaks. As the day was partially cloudy and we did not manage to see them all, though I can’t tell you the exact number as we did not count them. Still, the views were a sight to behold.
We were impressed by how close the Breithorn, a nice 4000 peak (exactly 4164) is. From the Klein Matterhorn, it looks like an easy hike, but do not be fooled: there are crevasses to navigate, you need real mountaineering equipment and a guide, as well as a good level of fitness. There are guided tours, we later found out, but the minimum age is 12 years, yet we like to dream and maybe one day we’ll give it a try.
The Glacier Palace
A place not to miss on top of the Klein Matterhorn with children is the Glacier Palace of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. The glittering entrance is in front of the restaurant… but you’ll have to take a lift to get to the ice “building” as it was carved 15 meters down below, into the glacier.
As soon as you arrive you find yourself walking through a long tunnel with very smooth ice walls… so perfectly smooth that my son thought they were made of plastic. After a while a detour to the left, a sign informs you that you are about to enter a crevasse. That’s when he finally realized that the ice is real!
What is there to see? Beautiful sculptures made of ice, like wolves, marmots, eagles… of course, I am just mentioning those I liked most. There is also a large ice crystal with a seat right behind it covered in soft fur, perfect for a souvenir photo. My son’s commented that he felt like an ice wizard!
To our surprise, we also found a toboggan – obviously made of ice – which my son seemed at “too slow”. We don’t know if it’s true, as he says the same about all toboggans. Scattered here and there we saw tables with warm and inviting chairs; therefore with some advance planning, you could have a nice “arctic” picnic inside the glacier palace!!!
The Cinema Lounge
A high-altitude movie screening? Of course, on the Klein Matterhorn this is possible, too. Just enter the gallery of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cinema lounge and sit down. In front of the screen, placed in a semicircle, there are colorful egg-shaped seats. Some are single seats, others are suitable for couples.
The films are short, about 8 minutes each – and as far as I know there are 5 different ones. This is a detail that you really do not want to disclose to the kids unless you want to spend an hour of screen time! The short film we watched was the fauna in the area, entitled “Encounters in the Valais Alps; fauna“.
The protagonist is a photographer – but at first, it’s not evident. He looks like a hunter in a camouflage suit, hidden in the forest, waiting to shoot the animals of the local area. Then you notice that he is shooting the animals, but with a camera (a sigh of relief, here!): you can see all of them – and our favorites happened to be lynxes and marmots! But there were also eagles, deer, and wolves…
The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise restaurant
While you are busy enjoying the Klein Matterhorn with children, at some point I can assure you that your kids will be hungry. No problem: there is a restaurant – but before you get there, you will have to walk through the Peak Shop – a souvenir shop. A real must-see (and must-buy), of course!
Our opinions about the restaurant differ. Still, everyone enjoyed the design (truly attractive) and there’s a good variety of food to choose from: soups, rösti dishes, yogurts, cakes, and even burgers, including the fancy ones with the black charcoal bun. There are also chicken nuggets and French fries, as far as I remember.
Back to the restaurant and the different opinions: dad, who works in the tourism sector, would have preferred to be waited on tables in a real restaurant, and did not really fancy the idea of a self-service restaurant.
My son, who would usually find something appealing to eat anywhere – including fish reared in the sewage waters of Kolkata, in Calcutta, that day really wanted a hot dog (and they don’t make them) or a sandwich (they were all finished!). Moral of the story: no one ate lunch, but only some cake and coffee…
Our way back to Zermatt… short hike included
Did I tell you that I’m terrified of cable cars?! I like to keep my feet on the ground, literally. Fortunately, once we reached the cable car station in Furi, my husband and son decided they had had enough of being “hung up” in the air. They suggested we’d return to Zermatt on foot.
I asked the cable car operator for some info, and again I do it in German (I am hopeless, I never learn from my mistakes!); I thought that I understood that Zermatt would be a more 30 minutes walk away, along the road. The decision was soon made but after maybe 200 meters we came across a hiking sign: Zermatt 55 minutes.
We asked someone else, this time in English: it would be 1 hour and 30 minutes if we were to follow the road – or else 55 minutes if we followed the hiking trail. Well, we chose the trail!
What a glorious hike! We finished our day in a wonderful way, walking excellent trails and admiring enchanting places. We saw many traditional cottages and the meadows were still partially covered in snow; at the same time, we could see tiny white flowers here and there… Along the trails, straw had been placed on the snow – people would not slip, and in the steepest places they had even placed some ropes.
The walk was amazing – so beautiful that our little one ran it all the way down. Nevertheless, it took us a little longer than expected: we stopped to have a snowball fight, then we found a dog to cuddle and finally we started chatting with a Japanese couple and taking pictures with them – the classic photos with the Matterhorn in the background, as it had finally decided to peep out of the clouds.
How much does the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cost?
Let’s face it, riding a system of cable cars up to 3883 is not really cheap (for a reason!), but I must say that the prices are in line with other “emblazoned” cable cars – Swiss and non-Swiss (Titlis, Eggishorn, Aguille du Midi for example). So yes, the cost is high but it’s really worth every cent (or penny). Unless you go skiing, however, make sure you pick a sunny day. How? Check the webcam before heading up.
If you go to the Klein Matterhorn with children, remember that up to the age of 8.99 kids don’t pay, but you must show proof of identity. Children from 9 to 15.99 years travel free if they have a Junior travel card or the Grandchild travel card (if you don’t have one, buy it a the railway station!), otherwise, they will have to pay 50% of the fare.
Adults receive a 50% discount on SBB GA card, half-fare travel card, and Swiss Travel Pass. If you have none of the above, you will be entitled to a 5% discount if you book online. The Crystal ride is with surcharge. There is also the possibility to buy a discounted combo ticket called Peak2Peak which includes the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise and the train to the Gornergrad.
Matterhorn Zermatt Bergbahnen kindly offered us the ticket to the Klein Matterhorn and we were able to spend an unforgettable day in the mountains, even if the sky was partially cloudy. Thank you very much and Danke vielmals! Unfortunately, the Matterhorn was covered by clouds all day long, except for a few minutes in the afternoon, as we had almost reached Zermatt.
Future projects: the Alpine Crossing
What is planned in the future? Matterhorn Zermatt Bergbahnen has an ambitious project called Alpine Crossing: a cable car between the Klein Matterhorn in Switzerland and the Testa Grigia (3458 meters high) in Valle d’Aosta, Italy. In short, they are planning on building the highest transalpine connection. The opening is scheduled for 2021.
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