On the border between Switzerland and Italy sits one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. You probably recognise it from the popular chocolate bar Toblerone! But this mountain and the landscape surrounding will quickly become one of the most beautiful places you've ever seen.
The mountain's name is Matterhorn and in the Summer of 2015 I witnessed this majestic place for the first time.
After travelling around Switzerland with my brother for just over a week, we decided to head to Zermatt, a small town set in the shadow of the Matterhorn. It's about 4 hours from Geneva with a quick platform change in Visp.
The final hour from Visp to Zermatt squeezes through a valley with mountains towering above you on every side. As you come around the final bend you get your first view of what everyone has come to see and trust me, it's worth the wait. We knew we were in for something special from that moment.
After checking in to our hotel we got to planning a route to Lake Stellisee. The lake has been famed for it's stunning reflections of the mountain and if you google this place that's probably what you'll see. We woke up just before 4am the next morning to make it up to the lake in time for sunrise and to find out what all the fuss was about. After a steep 3 hour hike we reached the top and made ourselves comfortable before the sun started to rise about 30 minutes later.
It's hard to put into words how beautiful the morning became. The pictures say what I want to, but also struggle to do the moment justice.
As the sun rose just above the horizon it painted the Matterhorn red. We just sat and watched in awe as the light slowly crept down the mountain changing from red to orange to gold! We were fortunate enough to have little wind on the day and had a perfect reflection of this beautiful scene on the lake in front of us. More stunning than we ever expected.
It was perfect.
We spent the whole morning watching as the sun rose and continued to transform the landscape in front of us. It is literally like looking at a new mountain every hour. We were just staying for a couple of days but the Matterhorn will give you memories that last a lot longer than that. This wouldn't be the last time I saw this view. It couldn't be!
Two years later I found myself with another few days off from work and started to look around for somewhere to explore. Rome, Amsterdam... New York!? It's always difficult to decide on a new adventure! I started to look back through my Instagram to try and find moments that I would love to try and experience again. As I scrolled down to the Matterhorn memories of that 2015 sunrise started flooding back. I knew it was time for a reunion.
I checked the weather and saw that there was almost a metre of snow on the mountain! I didn't let it put me off! It was just an opportunity to see something completely different even though I would be in the same place.
I went online and ordered a 3 day, one country, Interrail pass, flights from Heathrow, and a winter sleeping bag! I'd decided that I needed to take my tent with me this time. I've learnt that the best way to catch the full beauty of a landscape is to sleep there! Set up camp before sunset, watch the stars in the dark of night and wake up in time for the sunrise. It's the perfect plan!
As soon as I arrived I hiked back up to Lake Stellisee to find a suitable spot to camp for two nights. You'll notice it looks a little different now! With the temperature still dropping to -8 the lake was completely frozen over and covered in a thick layer of snow. But I quickly realised that I'd stumbled upon an untouched winter wonderland. Two years ago there were countless people exploring and watching the same view. This time round I was setting up camp with just me and the Matterhorn for company and it stayed that way for every sunset and sunrise! Something about -8 and a metre of snow seemed to put people off!
As soon as the sun disappeared and the cold hit me, I understand why I was alone up there! I rushed in to the tent for the night and did my best to warm up before the first sunrise of the week. I just knew if I saw anything like we did last time it would be worth the journey and the freezing temperatures! So, with cold fingers and toes I fell asleep excited for what the week held.
Sunrise was at around 6:20am, so I got up at 5:20am. The trick is to always get up and hour before and stay an hour after to make sure you see the best of the sunrise/sunset. The scene transforms so much between those two hours, especially when you're in front of the Matterhorn.
All three of the photos above were taken at different points of the same sunrise and show the diversity that you'll see on any given morning. It's feels like the mountain was made for photos!
I spent the rest of the day exploring the snow covered lake and hills before crawling back into the tent for another freezing night under the stars.
Honestly, when it gets to around 3am and you're shivering inside your sleeping bag, you start to wonder who's idea it even was to be there! But then the clock hits 5:20am again and you unzip the door of your tent, welcomed by this view, and you're reminded that it's always worth it.
I watched the sun rise above the mountains behind me and sat eating breakfast as it warmed my tent and melted the ice that had covered the inside. This place had done it again already. Unforgettable moments.
Getting out of your comfort zone and doing something a little crazy is one of the best ways to have a great experience! I found that the uncomfortable nights and below freezing mornings just made me appreciate the landscape even more!
I packed up the tent and started to make my way a bit lower down the mountain after two stunning mornings in front of the mountain. I needed to thaw out!
I remembered two years ago when we were walking down that we wondered past an opening in the trees that had a beautiful view of Zermatt below. It had been on my mind for a long time to get photos of that view at night and I finally had the opportunity to make it happen.
It took about an hour before I reached the tree line and another hour before I got to the same opening in the trees. It was a real de ja vu moment as I looked out over Zermatt in the same spot I'd stood those two years ago.
I literally sat right there for hours watching the sun go down behind the mountain. Then, one by one, the brightest stars started to appear. The moment I had dreamed about was right in front of me. The city lights turned on as people made it back down from their day on the ski slopes. The sound of music echoed in the valley from the busy bars and restaurants that were starting to fill up. Then the lights started to dim once again as people called it a night. Then, silence. Eery but beautiful silence. The stars glistened above the Matterhorn. The whole of the valley seemed fast asleep except for one person standing at the foot of the cross watching the stars light up the night sky.