Planning a ‘Runcation’: A Trail Running Vacation in Switzerland
We have been trail running in Switzerland several times as well as many trips to Europe to run in the Alps in Switzerland, France and Italy. Here is our guide to planning a trail running vacation in Switzerland – specifically, the Zermatt area, as Zermatt is the perfect hub to explore many beautiful trails, as well as a fun town to explore when you aren’t running. If you want to experience the steep mountain trails around the famous Matterhorn mountain, Zermatt is the place to go!
On our visits to the Swiss Alps, we have planned the timing so that we’re in Zermatt at the same time as a popular mountain running race, the Matterhorn Ultraks. This race showcases some of the best running trails in the surrounding valley, and is a great way to run around the Swiss Alps without having to plan your own route – as well as to experience the excitement of European mountain racing.
Best time to visit the Swiss Alps for a Trail Running Vacation
Similar to the French Alps (See: Chamonix) and the Italian Alps (See: Aosta Valley), the best time to take a trail running vacation in Switzerland is between June and September, during the summer and early Fall. Personally, I think September is a great time of year to visit the Alps for trail running, as although it can get wet, it is less busy as many people have already had their summer vacation, and hotel rates, etc, tend to be a little lower than peak July/August time.
Having said this, we were on a running vacation in Switzerland last August for the Matterhorn Ultraks race, and the weather was pretty perfect, aside from getting wet from ‘fuzzy’ rain when we were up at higher elevations. You can read our race reviews for the Ultraks 46k (Alastair) and the Ultraks 30k (me), by clicking these links.
UPDATE: we revisited Zermatt in 2019 to support the launch of the new ‘Skyrunning EXTREME‘ race and to both run the mountain edition 33k race!
Summer Weather and Temperature in the Swiss Alps / Zermatt Area
Zermatt itself sits at around 5,300ft / 1,600 metres above sea level, so the air is very fresh and it can be cooler than at lower elevations nearby (and warmer than further up in the mountains).
Average temperatures between June and September range from 55-77 Fahrenheit (12-25 Celsius) in the town, but can always be warmer/colder – you’re in the mountains, always a little unpredictable, so don’t forget all your mountain running clothing and emergency kit for this trail running vacation.
For more on what to wear and take trail running, especially in the mountains, these guides may be helpful:
- The Ultimate Trail Running Gear Guide: What to Wear Trail Running
- Best Waterproof Running Jackets
- Best GPS Watches for Trail and Ultrarunning
- Best Trail Running Shoes: The Ultimate Guide
How to get to Zermatt and the Swiss Alps
Zermatt itself is a car-free town! There are vehicles there, but they are electric, like milk floats. It’s a great example of how towns could be car-free. No vehicular pollution = fresh, clean mountain air. Don’t let this put you off, though – Zermatt is easy to get to and it’s fantastic to be in a town with no pollution from vehicles – even if the electric vehicles are pretty fast and can sneak up on you!
The best way to arrive is by train, therefore, as you can’t drive up to Zermatt. When traveling from international destinations, the best airports to come into are Geneva or Zurich, and then travel by train from there to Zermatt. When visiting the Alps – whether in France or Switzerland, from the UK we preferred to to fly to Geneva, as you can get there from many UK regional airports. The last time we visited Switzerland for a trail running vacation, we traveled from the US and flew into Zurich with United.
Being Swiss, the trains are very efficient, clean, and speedy, although I was surprised that one of ours departed a couple of minutes behind schedule. The journey from Geneva airport is around 4 hours from the airport in total – so not as convenient as visiting Chamonix for a quick break, but still easy for a weekend adventure.
I would definitely recommend researching your flight and train timings, as the trains are less frequent in evenings and stop earlier than you may think. The route we chose from Geneva was: Geneva > Visp, then Visp > Zermatt, and cost around €80 each. To look up and book train tickets, the official Swiss rail website is SBB.
Where to stay in Zermatt for a Trail Running Vacation
You have a reasonable amount of choice in the town, especially if you don’t mind a little walk from the train station you’ll most likely arrive into.
When visiting for a race starting early in the morning, we prefer a nice hotel close to the center and within an easy walking distance to the start line. I always feel I deserve a comfortable room and bed after running a long mountain race, so don’t feel too bad about getting a very nice hotel for a couple of nights. Here are some highly-rated hotels that we suggest:
- Backstage Boutique Spa Hotel we have stayed here a couple of times, and recommend it for both location and quality. It also has an interesting spa that if you have time is a great way to relax after a long, hard run.
- Hotel Daniela
- Parkhotel Beau Site
For a list of other hotel and apartment options, here’s a summary of top-rated 2-4 star places to stay in Zermatt.
Another option, which we would probably do on our next visit, is to book an apartment or room with a kitchenette, so we can cook our own meals, although I find that this is usually better for stays of around a week or more, where you can save more on meals out over just being there a couple of nights.
Places to eat in Zermatt
Switzerland is an expensive place to visit, but I haven’t found it much more expensive than Chamonix, which is somewhat surprising. It worked out to the equivalent of coastal California pricing the last time we visited. The best value meal is (as usual) a pizza (good for carb-loading), and I would recommend booking any restaurant in advance, especially if you’re visiting on a busy weekend. We don’t tend to eat out for big meals, so here are some places we liked where you can order smaller plates or simple dishes:
- Brown Cow Pub
- Gee’s Bar and Brasserie
- Pizzeria Roma
How to get around Zermatt
You can walk everywhere in Zermatt – or run (after all, you’re visiting for a running vacation!). It’s great having a car-free town. If you need a lift, there are electric taxis and some hotels offer shuttle rides to/from the train station.
Some great Zermatt running trails
If you’re not visiting for a race, more to explore under your own steam, I would still recommend you check out the race routes, as they are all on walking trails that you can access at any time. Otherwise, pick up a walking map, and start out from town, or take the train up to Gornergrat Mountain (at its highest, just over 3,100 metres), for some breathtaking views and a great selection of trails.
Let us know in the comments section below if you’re planning a trail running vacation in Switzerland, or if you’ve visited and have any more top tips for people looking to go!