Destination Guide: ValaisSwitzerland Inspiration
‘Tis the Summer Season – A Guide to the Valais Region
Written by Anke Eberhardt // Photography: Johny Cook
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism and Valais Matterhorn Region
Describing Switzerland’s Valais Region is almost impossible without sounding cheesy. No filter needed: Valais is one of the most stunning Alpine areas in the world, surrounded on all sides by 4,000m peaks.
In wintertime, it offers incredible skiing. But the spectacular peaks do not only look good in white: in summer, the famous resorts turn into a sun-spoiled playground for all kinds of outdoor activities. With 300 days of sunshine per year (indeed: 3-0-0!), it is the perfect location for hikes, bike rides, and any other mountain sports. And there are many options for cooling off, too: either up high on the snowy glaciers, deep down in subterranean caves, or in one of the many mountain lakes.
The bad news: there are so many picturesque mountain villages that it’s almost impossible to decide where to set up base camp. The good news: as pretty much all of them are worth a visit, you simply need to decide which version of ‘insanely beautiful’ you feel like first. Sidetracked’s four Valais favourites are guaranteed to fulfil every mountaineer’s wish – and they are also close enough to each other to start an Alpine road trip.
Région Dents du Midi
Explore the World’s Biggest International Ski and Bike Resort
Some mountains just leave you speechless. And the Dents du Midi (the ‘Teeth of Noon’) is one such mountain. This iconic range is composed of seven distinct summits and reaches a height of 3,257m, making it the highest mountain between Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc. At its feet lies another superlative: Les Portes du Soleil, the world’s largest international ski area, with over 600km of slopes. But ‘The Doors of the Sun’ are also an incredible summer destination. It’s shared by Switzerland and France, and even though borders are often crossed without noticing – both parts are French-speaking – the Swiss charm is very distinct, and can be felt in culture and cuisine.
Nestled in the gorgeous Val d’Illiez, the Région Dents du Midi consists of six charming villages: Champéry, Champoussin, Les Crosets, Morgins, Troistorrents, and Val-d’Illiez. And even though they are the closest Swiss ski and bike destinations from Geneva Airport and Paris main train station, the locations feel remote, with an authentic mountain vibe and a breathtaking panorama – as well as some of the best food Switzerland puts on the plate. From local cheeses to beer to home-made berry pies, there are plenty of reasons to get hungry. Waiting to be discovered are 800km of hiking trails and 600km of mountain-bike trails – and there’s always a quaint restaurant with local specialities and a sunny terrace on the way.
Favourite Tours in the Région Dents du Midi
Hiking Tour of the Dents du Midi
The Dents du Midi are the region’s very own seven natural wonders. Circumnavigate the iconic mountain range in two, three or four days, while enjoying the stark contrasts between glacial peaks and verdant Alpine meadows. Well-trained athletes even run the 52km tour or climb the Dents du Midi’s highest peak, the Haute Cime at 3,257m. Either way, keep an eye out for wildlife: you might spot a local chamois, ibex, marmot, or ptarmigan.
E-bike Tour ‘Grand 8’ Around the Portes du Soleil
The ‘Grand 8’ (French term for roller-coaster) is a 40km route to the most beautiful places in the shape of a giant figure-of-eight. The terrain offers everything from smooth tarmac to rocky roads, and with the help of your battery (e-bikes are easy to rent in the villages) you can focus on the panorama – historic Alpine chalets and mountain lakes included.
Good to know: one hands-free bike pass allows bikers to access the hundreds of trails that criss-cross the area and its 12 resort villages. Even more to explore with The Muti Pass Portes du Soleil: your golden ticket to 60 free activities and 60 more discounted activities between June and November.
Where to Eat and Sleep in the Région Dents du Midi
Alpage de la Chaux, Morgins – Région Dents du Midi
Having lunch on the terrace at the Alpage de la Chaux is hard to beat. The historic wooden chalet, dating from 1871, is located high above the village of Morgins, where the cows graze and the marmots sing. Local meats and cheeses are beautifully arranged on wooden chopping boards and decorated with mountain flowers. It’s a place where time stands still.
Chez Gaby 1670, Champoussin – Région Dents du Midi
Waking up at Chez Gaby 1670, it feels like you’re part of the Dents du Midi, so close is the impressive mountain range. The panorama is also served for lunch and dinner; Valais platter, breads, and cheeses are all from the area, and in the evening the dishes are even more elaborate. Surrounded by an impressive collection of more than 190 cowbells!
Nendaz and Veysonnaz
Hike Along Ancient Water Trails
When it comes to skiing, Valais is well known for the 4 Vallées, Switzerland’s biggest ski resort. But you must have seen the views of the Rhône Valley, the Matterhorn, and Mont Blanc in summer, too! Right in the heart of the 4 Vallées, the villages of Nendaz and Veysonnaz are an insider’s tip on where to do that best. The area is a paradise for hikers, notably thanks to its unique network of bisses. Back in the old days, these small irrigation canals were dug into the ground, carved or suspended on the rock walls by farmers to water the crops and orchards. What once was smart agriculture is nowadays the perfect hiking terrain, as there are 98km of picture-perfect paths running along the bisses. As if made for mountain lovers, they are gently inclined and traverse varied sites with surprising views of the valleys.
Of course, there are all kinds of other mountain activities at your doorstep, too: cycling or trail running, more modern adventures like zip-lining, or more old-fashioned ones like testing your skills on an alphorn. And by doorstep, we means literally the step out of the hotel or apartment; the villages of Nendaz and Veysonnaz are located so high up in the mountains that you slip right out of bed into your outdoor gear.
Favourite Tours in Nendaz and Veysonnaz
3-4 Day Trekking Around the Val de Nendaz
This tour takes you even higher: spend your nights in Alpine huts situated in the middle of idyllic nature and walk from one gorgeous cabin to the next. A stress-free package available in July and August includes two to three dormitory bookings, transfers, and full board (without drinks) so you can simply focus on the view.
Tour du Mont-Fort
This mountain bike itinerary links three resorts: Nendaz, Verbier, and La Tzoumaz. Thanks to the many lifts, this tour takes in more than 3,000m of descent but barely 511m of uphill: what could be better? With rough Alpine descents and an unforgettable final downhill, this tour winding through the mountains is something special.
Where to Eat and Sleep in Nendaz and Veysonnaz
Les Bisses, Nendaz
It may look like a normal mountain hut, but this restaurant offers well-composed dishes that could make downtown city venues jealous. It is located in the heart of the bisses; when you hike along the water canals, make sure to stop by on the flowered terrace for some local cheeses or excellent game.
Hotel Magrappé, Veysonnaz
Located 10m (no typo) from the gondola in Veysonnaz, this hotel offers direct access to the mountain beauty around. Its style mingles Alpine tradition with a modern touch, and the sunny terrace is an invitation to try the local Raclette du Valais AOP.
Visit the Greatest Glacier in the Alps
When it comes to winter superlatives, Valais cannot only brag with gigantic ski resorts. It is also home of the largest glacier in the Alps. A mass of 10 billion tons of ice over a distance of 20km: the Great Aletsch Glacier flows all the way from the north faces of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau into the Valais. Thanks to the icy giant, the region was declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. And seeing it in real life is an experience for the books. Of course, in winter you can ski at the Aletsch Arena as well, but in summer, you can have both: the cooling glacier experience and the sunny climate to explore innumerable hikes or over 100km of mountain bike trails. The destination is also a mecca for paragliders and golfers. Fly above the glacier like an eagle or play the highest nine-hole golf course in Europe –Matterhorn view included.
The villages here are pleasing to the eye, too. Picturesque chalets, car-free roads, and a vibrant village centre, as well as an idyllic mountain lake: Bettmeralp makes you feel at home at 1,970m. The charming village can only be reached by cable car or aerial tramway, so it guarantees ultimate calm and fresh air. The Aletsch Arena also includes the villages Betten Dorf, Riederalp, Mörel-Filet, Lax, Fiesch, Fieschertal, and Fiescheralp – each more authentic and relaxed than the other. This combination of unspoiled nature and Swiss hospitality makes it a definite must-see.
Favourite Tours in the Aletsch Arena
Aletsch Glacier Hike
Discover the fascinating ice world under your own soles on a glacier hike. Local mountain guides take you along, in harness and ropes, to explore this natural wonder and explain its intricacies. The total approximate walking time of six hours includes two to three hours on the Aletsch Glacier – you could also enjoy a local speciality after the breathtaking glacier trek in one of the charming mountain huts.
Stoneman Glaciara Mountain Bike Tour
This is not a mountain bike trail, this is an experience of a lifetime: 127km and 4,700 spectacular metres of elevation gain with a route among glaciers, countless 4,000m peaks, and centuries-old mountain villages. Depending on your fitness, you can finish the race in one, two, or three days. But no matter how fast, with these views, everyone’s a winner.
Good to know: the Aletsch Explorer is your ticket to the cable cars in the whole Aletsch Arena and the local train route (Brig – Fiesch), offering quick access to trails and summits. Available as a one-day ticket and a multi-day ticket up to 21 days.
Where to Eat and Sleep in the Aletsch Arena
Who would have guessed that you could have a culinary revelation in a former tool shed? The Chüestall in Riederalp was once home to snow cats and cannons, but now the modern building is one of the most popular restaurants on the hill, with Raclette du Valais AOP, fondue, and an endless panorama.
Hotel Waldhaus, Bettmeralp
At Hotel Waldhaus you will wake up surrounded by trees and with fantastic views to the Matterhorn and other 4,000m peaks. Located next to the cable car mountain station of Bettmeralp, Hotel Waldhaus is very central but still very calm. Offering a romantic fireplace, cool hammocks, and an amazing hot pot on the roof top terrace: you’ll never want to leave.
Climb your First 4,000m Peak
No less than 18 4,000m peaks surround Saas-Fee/Saastal. And, without exaggeration, it even offers winter in summer! While other resorts are closed, you can still go skiing on the glacier at Mittelallalin – and go hiking in shorts the day after. With 350km of hiking trails, 70km of biking trails (including e-bike tours) and four via ferratas, the options are endless. Tackle your first 4,000m peak at the Allalinhorn, visit the 5,500m³ ice pavilion, see the imposing Fellbach waterfall – or feed the local marmots. No matter if you’re up for a challenge or a time-out, Saas-Fee / Saastal is the place for both.
As if painted by imagination, the picturesque villages of Saas-Fee, Saas-Grund, Saas-Almagell, and Saas-Balen exude a magical Alpine charm, matching the incredible high-mountain scenery. The wooden chalets and ancient huts on stilts have a unique authentic flair. And with Saas-Fee being car free, the mountain air seems to be even clearer. The valley is also home to some of the finest cuisine. Tradition is well preserved, like the génépi, an Alpine herbal liqueur that has been produced here for centuries. And more than 100 restaurants mix the tasty Valais specialties with modern influences to wow every hungry mountaineer.
Favourite Tours in Saas-Fee/Saastal
Almagell High-Altitude Hiking Trail
Above the treeline, the Almagell High-Altitude Trail offers spectacular views of the Mischabel Massif, which features some of the highest mountains in Switzerland. Look down at the turquoise waters of the Mattmark dam, the biggest earthen dam in Europe, have a delicious lunch at the rustic Almagelleralp, and enjoy the unique glacier landscape while soaking up the sun.
Jegihorn Via Ferrata
Located at a lofty 3,206m, the Jägihorn via ferrata is the highest in the Western Alps. Even though the panorama is dramatic, don’t forget to watch your step, as there are 400 pegs (steps and grips) and five ladders leading to the summit. This is a serious challenge, with some of the best climbing in the country.
Where to Eat and Sleep in the Saas Valley
Zer Schlucht, Saas-Fee
Tender pikeperch or mint lamb: no matter which delicacy you feel like, make sure to snatch a table at the big panorama windows at Zer Schlucht. Schlucht means canyon in German; the classy restaurant has a glass-edged floor and you’ll look down on the thunderous waters of the Fee Gorge while delicacies melt on your palate.
Elite Alpine Lodge, Saas-Fee
When travelling in a group, this modern lodge offers the individuality of a holiday apartment without missing the hotel’s comforts. With space for up to seven people and spacious living-dining rooms (some with fireplace), they are made for reminiscing about the daytime adventures – and in the morning there’s a huge breakfast buffet waiting.
Whether you’re seeking to explore the French-speaking part of Valais in the Région Dents du Midi, Nendaz and Veysonnaz, or the Swiss-German gems of the Aletsch Arena or Saas-Fee/Saastal, it’s time to discover the Swiss Alps in summer.
So many mountains, so many options: but planning a trip to Valais is a walk in the park – with the region’s own website. valais.ch/shop/en offers exclusive deals and packages. Hotels and apartments, guides and tickets are just a couple of clicks away.