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Dining with the stars (or with the gods) on Gornergrat

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“Dining with the Stars” is one of the special experiences in Zermatt. But if at this point you imagine an exclusive dinner with celebs and starlets — sorry to disappoint, that’s not what this is about. But it is still divine…

SDining with the stars in Zermatt

Dining with the stars on Gornergrat

What this experience is about instead is astronomy and constellations! But first we need to take Europe’s second-highest mountain railway and clatter up to the top of Gornergrat.

Incidentally, the Gornergratbahn railway since January 1, 2017 is controlled from a Siemens data center in Wallisellen! It means that the computer remotely sets the railway shunts and signals and does so even as the trains depart, arrive, stop or pass each other in Zurich.

Crazy, huh?

Gornergratbahn railway with the Matterhorn

Gornergratbahn railway with Matterhorn in the background

Gornergratbahn railway line

Gornergratbahn railway line

Cogs in the Gornergratbahn railway track

Cogs in the Gornergratbahn railway track

But let’s head back up the mountain…

Greek mythology and the stars…

Once you arrive on top at 3,100 meters, on a given Thursday from January and March, Zermatt’s Peter Salzmann will point out the signs of the zodiac for you. He also will show you how to use a celestial chart to orient yourself and navigate by. Just make sure to hold it the right way…

Peter Salzmann explaining the zodiac signs

Peter Salzmann explaining the zodiac signs
We’ll get to Callisto, Artemis and Zeus in just a bit

While he instructs us, the Zermatt native star guide also regales us with legends from Greek mythology. It seems that the Greeks, still lacking TVs, spent a lot of time staring into the night sky. And over time — or thanks to the ouzo — they started to imagine seeing pictures in the heavens.

So, for example, we learn that Zeus father of the gods, fell in love with Callisto, one of the nymphs of Artemis, goddess of the hunt and nature. Callisto found his divine charms irresistible and she broke her vow of chastity. Well, admittedly, Zeus pulled a trick by assuming the form of Artemis so that he could approach Callisto unrecognized.

Sneaky…

Callisto consequently got pregnant and gave birth to a son named Arkas. When Hera, the goddess wife of Zeus, found out about his affair, she was incensed. So much so, that as punishment she changed Callisto into a bear and set her in the heavens as a constellation. Callisto still shines today as the Greater Bear (the “Big Dipper” forms part of it).

However, father Zeus did not want to leave his son Arkas on the planet. So, he turned him into Boötes (“Bearkeeper“) and hung him, too, up there  in the heavens as a constellation, where ever since he has been watching over his mother.

… or why we have a “Milky” Way

Salzmann never tires of bringing up other hair-raising myths. Without getting into too much detail, I would just like to point out that the color of the Milky Way has something to do with Hera’s spilled mother’s milk. It was our randy Zeus once more who, by placing Hercules, one of his numerous earthly offspring (this time Zeus had fallen for beautiful Alcmene), on Hera’s breast wanted to give his son divine powers.

I’m losing my thread here…

To make a long story short, Hera awakens suddenly with a start and her mother’s milk is spilled all over the “Milky Way.” And so, this is how it got to be white…

And if they haven’t passed away yet, all these characters continue to sparkle ever after in the present-day sky over Zermatt.

Table setting with zodiac signs

Table setting with zodiac signs and Greek myths

Between myths, we indulge ourselves to our heart’s content at the Fondue Chinoise buffet. But just as we’re ready for dessert, comes the call: outside, into the cold, to experience the unparalleled starry sky and the many constellations live!

Walter’s photographs for once did not turn out very sharp (grumble, grumble). Not sure if the cause was the Siberian cold, a shaky tripod, or the alcohol…

The Matterhorn seen from the Gornergrat

The Matterhorn seen from the Gornergrat – with a hefty shot of ouzo while focusing…

With temperatures hovering around – 15 degrees centigrade, you hardly dare let an “aaah” or an “oooh” steam from your lips, what with the air at 3,100 meters being so thin to start with. But when it came to Orion, I could not contain myself. After all, legend once again has it, Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes the messenger of the gods line up to glitter so elegantly that to my eyes they form the most beautiful constellation!

Orion am Sternenhimmel

Orion in the starry skies above the chalet

The Gornergrat observatory

The finishing highlight to our visit was a tour of the domed observatory, which dates from the 1950s. One of the astronomers showed us the giant telescopes. By now the observatory is no longer used for scientific research. Instead, it opens its doors to school children, university students and others; the idea is to inspire in visitors an interest in scientific research by letting them observe the fascinating night skies. Here, too, modern technological progress has made inroads: now the observations can be controlled via the Internet!

Telescope observatory

Steering the telescope

Regardless of whether it’s an interest in Greek myths and their zodiac signs or the Fondue Chinoise that draws you up to the top of Gornergrat: it’s all worth it!

The Thursday experience is available January to March and can be booked online here anytime. The cost is CHF 97.- per adult and youngsters aged 6-16 pay CHF 39.-

Our thanks go to…

Corinne Ulrich with Zermatt Tourism for inviting us on this adventure!
Many thanks also to star guide Peter Salzmann for the entertaining star lore!

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Katja is travelmemo.com’s destination research and booking expert. She always has the upper hand on itineraries and travel details.

When not on the road Katja is a corporate communications and events manager.

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