Zermatt is not just famous for the ultimate winter sports. It is also well known for its superlative cuisine in two countries, on the slopes on this side and the other side of the Matterhorn. A trip into the wealth of Italian meat and gourmet is an absolute dream. Many Zermatt winter sports enthusiasts don’t just make their choices based on the beautiful slopes on this side or the other side, but rather based on this or the other cuisine. Visitors can choose between cucina italiana or specifically cucina valdostana or Valais specialties. Cervina/Valtournenche offers precisely the kind of exotic dishes that Swiss guests adore. Often home cooking, served simple and warm, with a glass of fine wine and concluded with a mandatory grappa. You need time for this culinary experience and you need to leave the slopes for some time. And many make their first pit stop on the Testa.
The Rifugio delle Guide del Cervino at 3480 meters on Testa Grigia looks inconspicuous. A low rise building admist houses of indifferent beauty, with and without aerials. This is the meeting place for Val d’Aosta mountain guides, open 365 days a year and many hand drawn portraits show the ancestors and ancient ancestors of the charismatic mountain guides. Names like Gaspard, Carrel, Barmasse, Pession, Bich or Maquignaz are reminiscent of the pioneers of Alpine mountaineering. Three men manage the Rifugio, Laurent Nicoletta, Eric Windeler and Massimilano Pession from Cervinia and Valtournenche. They and their chef Antonello Felice have built up a lasting reputation amongst carnivores with their home made specialties. Exquisitely prepared, with portions weighing up to 300 grams of beef entrecote from Ireland or Argentina or delicious lamb cutlets too.
Rifugio is also the meeting places for piste basher or snowcat drivers from both countries, who take a short break here to have a chat and a cup of coffee. And athletes come here too after their strenuous training sessions. Many opponents meet up here and at the same time, friends, who contest Alpine skiing races such as Patrouille des Glaciers or Matterhorn Ultracks. Alpine climbers planning a future expedition to the Himalayas or to South America often hang out here too. They acclimatize their bodies sleeping in the dormitories to complete their essential altitude training.
The Rifugio is also the starting point of the ascent of the Matterhorn up the Lionsgrat ridge. Many choose the route from the cross because Hornligrat on the Zermatt side is overcrowded. The lodge can be reached by crossing the glacier and this is not an issued in winter for skiers crossing on the groomed slopes but in summer it is imperative that visitors are accompanied by a mountain guide. The Rifugio on the Testa Grigia was built in 1980 because the Theodul Lodge had burned down shortly before. This historic building directly on the Theodul Pass originally dates back to the 1928 and was rebuilt after the fire. The premises were renovated in 2011 and 2012 and here too the cuisine is regional. The accommodation provides the essentials for skiers and climbers, in the summer and winter seasons. The dining room alone is worth a visit, because the large window offers a unique and unusual view of the Matterhorn and the Grandes Murailles. Descents on skis in the moonlight are organized from this lodge for fans of romantic skiing.
Skiers from Zermatt always talk about how they always keep each other up to date about the time of the last cabin running from Cervinia to Testa Grigia. Because anyone who comes too late, has to stay in Italy. That in itself is not a bad thing because there is a wide selection of hotels and good restaurants. There are many restaurants that offer beautiful views with delicious meals. So if you are planning to stay in Zermatt to ski, eating on the other side may be a great idea.