Now that the snow has all but disappeared in Zermatt village, the hills are green and carpeted with flowers, threaded through with bursting waterfalls, and the sun and blue sky are a permanent fixture, the marmots have woken up and are out to play.
The end of the season is always charming, as you lather your face in factor 50, put on your widest skis, not for powder, but for end-of-day slush, and get up early to get first lifts to the highest point (3883m) of the resort. Under those lifts around the middle of April, dirty holes begin to appear in the melting snow, and if you are lucky, you see sleepy, confused, cuddly-looking animals emerge, blinking into the sunlight.
Marmots are strange creatures – part raccoon, part weasel and part bean bag. And they have a loud, high-pitched whistle to warn each other of predators. One long whistle for flying predators, and two short bursts for the four-legged, grounded variety. Silly really, since these creatures are the same colour as the stones they bask on, and very hard to spot unless they are moving. Their whistle does more to attract the attention of your otherwise blissfully unaware dog, who then thinks he is being called to play ‘chase’!
Zermatt must be one of the best places in the Alps to ‘Marmot spot’. The clean air, absence of petrol powered machines and rugged countryside create an ideal habitat. In summer the hillsides are simply alive with them: sunbathing on the rocks, or gamboling with their young. There is even an organized Marmot trail coming down from Blauherd to Findeln, with information points along the way, telling us about habitat, breeding, how they live and hibernation. If you don’t spot a Marmot here you simply are not trying. And the added luxury is that the path goes past our favourite restaurant, Chez Vrony….time for a little glass of wine, local fresh cheese ravioli and to soak up the sun on the terrace. Aaaaaah!