Sunday 16 January 2022 – La Minute Monocle


THE FASTEST WAY / Tyler Brule

east of the senses

Let’s start this Sunday with a deadline: Zermatt, Switzerland / The Omnia Hotel / Corner Suite. The sun is shining, the Matterhorn looks majestic and has full control over all the land it can see from its jagged crown, and in the streets below, the Alpine village comes to life. Long before electric vehicles and pedestrian zones became the fad of progressive city planners, Zermatt had already banned car traffic on its narrow streets and rolled out a fleet of boxy electric tuk-tuks. Today, they ferry visitors, residents and supplies along the compressed stretch of valley that makes Zermatt a hub for skiers, hikers and a growing list of year-round residents, who have been seduced by the unique sense of scale that makes it unique. compared to Gstaad, Klosters, St Moritz and Davos.

For the past 20 years as long as I have resided in Switzerland, Zermatt has been on my list for a weekend getaway, but somehow other destinations have always done burst into the frame and left the resort on a short list of places that never quite got to the booking stage. Thanks to the prompting and planning of my friend Marc, that all changed a few weeks ago when he suggested that a group of us go to Valais to enjoy a few days of food, sunshine and can -be a little ski. Was this really going to happen? Could staff shortages and virus outbreaks in classrooms thwart our well-tuned itinerary? And would the weather offer cloudless skies or would heavy snowfall block our journey? Coming Friday morning, everything seemed to fall into place. The official Swiss federal weather forecast was sunny and everyone was heading to Zermatt – some by road, some by rail. We opted for the full experience, starting our trip in St Moritz and taking the Glacier Express through the Top of Europe for a full eight hours of tasty bites, fine wines and mind-blowing engineering.

On our dinner stroll, the small restaurants and bars filled with ski instructors and residents felt pleasantly removed from the more affluent resort scenes elsewhere in Switzerland.

When we arrived in Zermatt we were immediately thrown away as we searched for our driver and toured the surrounding area. Retail, big brand and bank signs all pointed to Switzerland (Migros, UBS, Rolex, Patek and others), but there was something else to the urban mix that made it feel like we had been transported further than the south of the country. As we placed our bags in the back of one of the Alpine e-tuk-tuks, I spotted a branch of Japanese outdoor brand Montbell across the square and, in a flash, everything fell into place. Zermatt had the odd feeling of being a Japanese spa town more than a Swiss resort town.

As we turned outside the station and began the journey through the back streets, I was reminded of trips to Kyushu, small villages on the east coast of Honshu, and ryokans in and around Nagano. Was it the sun-scorched wooden buildings that made him feel Japanese? Or rather the scale of the place? Maybe it was the low lighting. At the Omnia we were greeted by Christian the general manager who really felt like we had stayed at a grand hotel in Tokyo, and on our walk for dinner the little restaurants and bars filled with monitors ski resorts and residents felt far removed from the scenes at more affluent resorts elsewhere in Switzerland. We dined at Carina (which could easily have passed for an Italian version of an izakaya) and when we returned to the hotel the town center was packed with young crowds scurrying between cavernous bars and cozy restaurants . The density, buzz and friendly atmosphere all brought to mind countless wonderful nights spent in various corners of Japan.

It will soon be two years since I last boarded a flight from Tokyo Narita, knowing the pandemic was spreading but confident that I would be back in Japan in months, not years. Zermatt has taken on the role of the surprising understudy as Japan contemplates reopening to the world. Although it may not have the deep, fluffy powder of Niseko, its human scale and intimacy are as good as any well-preserved Japanese hamlet and it’s not hard to trade a tonkotsu for a schnitzel.

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