A breeze dances across the sun-beaten terrace and lifts my napkin, leaving it suspended for a moment between the knobbly pyramid of the Matterhorn and my steaming bowl of pumpkin soup. I snatch it back and recline to enjoy the view over lunch.
The slopes above Zermatt, the southern Swiss resort at the foot of the Matterhorn, are wearing their prettiest Alpine cloak: the meadows are a kaleidoscope of bright flowers tumbling over the brow of the hill. The sky is untouched azure, but for a billowing cloud playing tag with the distinctive summit.
Horu, as the 14,690-foot Matterhorn is known locally, has been playing hide-and-seek since I set off two hours’ ago. It was a bright morning and I’d disembarked from the Blauherd cable car on a sunny shelf high above Zermatt into the crispest air and most almighty scenery I could imagine: a bracelet of summits above erratic-strewn terrain that could have been the wilds of Scotland.
I set off, so lost in the view that I almost tripped over the outstretched legs of a cheerful pair balanced on a boulder savouring a bottle of wine. “Prost!” they wished me, as I passed by, heading for Stellisee, the first of the lakes (pics 1 & 2) on the six-mile Five Lakes Walk.
Soon, it came into view. Shaped by the Findel glacier, which is now a sliver in the distance, it is wild-looking and, filled with melt water, is an icy shade of blue. I crouched down to snap a photo: across the mirror-like surface, the Matterhorn in its wispy mantle was framed by the cotton grass along the lakeshore.
The path continued, winding in a zigzag between boulders and grassland, before it dove into the shade of densely arranged pines and emerged on the banks of the Grindjisee (pic 3 & 5). It looked like the secret garden: the water was peacock blue, its edges decorated with wild flowers. The lake is within a nature reserve and alpine roses, gentians and even edelweiss can be identified here.
Through a gap in the trees, the Matterhorn prodded the sky like a gnarled finger. I clambered onto a ledge and pulled out my flask of tea, enjoying the warm sun and the sound of lapping water and bees collecting pollen. On the water, the reflection of the Matterhorn trembled, blurred, brightened and momentarily disappeared into the cloud.
“You can experience the real beauty and get the best views and photos of the Matterhorn from the Grindjisee,” Sandra Fuchs, who runs Zermatt bakery Bäckerei Fuchs with her husband Philipp, told me earlier, while I was foraging for walk supplies.
Among their bestsellers is a Matterhorn-shaped chocolate known as “Matterhörnli”, but I’d opted for a wedge of their award-winning Bergführerbrot (mountain guide bread), a fruit loaf-like blend of fresh apple, dried figs, raisins, almonds and Schnapps. It was just the kick I needed to urge me on my way to the next lake: Grünsee (pic 4).
True to its name, the water that emerged once the woodland gave way was aquamarine. It looked like a tarn in its rugged wilderness of Swiss stone pines and scree, its backdrop a wall of snow-dusted 4,000-metre summits, including the perfectly triangular Weisshorn and sheer Obergabelhorn.
Shortly afterwards, the distinctive yellow waymarkers guided me past Moosjisee, a reservoir that provides electricity for Zermatt, before pointing downhill towards civilisation. I soon reached the tumbledown hamlet of Findeln, where sun-scorched larch huts on stone slabs (to keep out vermin) cling to a broad sweep of hillside. Outside one property, a man was lazing on a deckchair – no reading material needed: he had a front-line view of the Matterhorn.
It would be rude not to enjoy a bit of the good life myself, I thought – which is how, with one lake still ahead of me, I found myself securing best-view seats outside a rustic-looking restaurant and ordering pumpkin soup.
Formerly a Maiensäss with the highest altitude rye field in the Alps, where families farmed during the summer, Findeln is now a world-famous gourmet hamlet with more Gault-Millau points than inhabitants. I tuck into my soup, and sure enough, it is as beautifully layered with thyme and cream as any I’ve ever tasted.
Beyond my bowl, the Matterhorn is winning its battle with the cloud, which is retreating in a silvery wisp over the horizon towards Italy. The sun feels tropical, and I’m not surprised to learn that Zermatt is the sunniest corner of Switzerland, according to meteorological data, with an average of 62 per cent sunny days per year.
I persuade myself to depart from the panoramic terrace with the promise of a paddle in the next and final lake – Leisee, which is apparently mild and offers bathing in the shadow of the Matterhorn. But first, I think I saw Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce on the menu…