Destination Guide: ValaisInspiration
Written by Alex Roddie // Photography by Rachel Keenan
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism
All too often, we must compromise when selecting a destination for our adventures. Good for the high peaks? There might not be much to do at lower elevations. But Valais requires little compromise – at any time of year.
The canton of Valais incorporates the rugged mountain landscapes on the north and south sides of the great Rhône Valley, which cuts through Switzerland from west to east. It’s a land of contrasts, but also of complementary factors: warm sunshine and glaciated peaks, deep history and a forward-looking modern edge, welcoming cosiness and contemporary style.
The culinary possibilities in this area are famous around the world. Regional specialities not to be missed include the Raclette du Valais AOP and the Valais Platter – and Valais is the largest wine-growing region in Switzerland too.
Most of all, it is a region of adventure. The mountains of the Valais are, justifiably, some of the most famous in the world. Valais has more mountains over 4,000m than any other part of the Alps – 45, in fact. The sport and culture of mountaineering developed here during the 19th century, and today it continues to be one of the best places in the world for alpinism both summer and winter.
With a wealth of active adventure options as well as cultural and culinary delights, the Valais region offers a bit of something for everyone – or a lot, actually!
Nendaz & Veysonnaz
Ideally located in the heart of the Valais, Nendaz & Veysonnaz offers breathtaking views of the Rhône Valley and is at the doorstep to the 4 Vallées, the biggest ski area in Switzerland. From the Mont-Fort (10,925 ft), accessible by mountain lift, the panoramic view of the Alps, and notably of the Matterhorn and the Mont-Blanc, is truly exceptional. The region’s network of bisses provides the perfect blueprint for lower-level walking adventures. These ancient waterways were constructed to divert water from rivers to irrigate crops and orchards. Small irrigation canals dug into the ground, carved, or suspended on rock walls, they are invariably bordered by paths. This offers an unusual way to explore the area, gaining perspectives on the surrounding landscape that would not be possible any other way.
Best things to do in the region
Nendaz Trekking (challenging)
This four-day tour around Nendaz & Veysonnaz is around 53km in length and makes use of the network of cabins that occupy prime positions up in the mountains. With views into the rocky cirques that carve deep into the heartland of the Valais, and ridges that soar high above gorges threaded with rivers that foam with glacial meltwater, this trail is an excellent way to explore the district.
With relatively short days averaging no more than six hours of hiking per day, and no technical difficulties to speak of, this tour is aimed at the average but physically fit hiker. It’s even suitable for families with active children. Depending on weather conditions, the trails are open from July to mid-September. The tour includes three nights in mountain huts with full pension.
Hike along the Bisse de Vex-Bisse Vieux (accessible)
For something a little more approachable, this day hike, 14.8km in length, provides a pleasant way to link Veysonnaz with Nendaz by linking two of the region’s bisses. Both are still in active use for watering crops on the otherwise dry hillsides. From Veysonnaz, the trail follows the Grand Bisse de Vex along the lower edge of spruce forest to Planchouet. At this hamlet, there are no fewer than three restaurants – a great place for a bite to eat, and a chapel among the trees makes an excellent photo opportunity. The trail then follows a road for about 15 minutes before joining the Bisse Vieux, which it follows downhill to Nendaz. This trail will take walkers up to four hours and is ideal for families.
At 3,328m, this is the highest mountain of the 4 Vallées, but it’s a highly accessible peak both summer and winter. The summit can be easily reached by cable car from Nendaz. Feeling more adventurous? Experienced mountaineers can make the climb directly (guide recommended). The view from the new panoramic platform will be worth it – it’s a genuinely exceptional vista overlooking many of the classic peaks of the Alps, especially the great chain of 4,000m peaks extending east to the Matterhorn, and in the other direction Mont Blanc’s dome of snow gleams white above all else. It’s also the start of the Mont4Zipline.
Tour of the Printse (Pro Rider)
Ever wanted to feel like a pro racer without actually taking part in a race? The Tour of the Printse follows the route of the Grand Raid BCVs, a famous bike race, from Nendaz to Les Collons via Veysonnaz. Hairpin bends, forestry tracks, and rustic hamlets lead to the Veysonnaz gondola, Thyon, and then pleasant mountain pastures back to Nendaz. With over 2,100m of ascent, this 46.2km route is a lung-buster of a trail and will challenge most riders. However, an Easy Rider version makes use of the ski lifts to reduce the challenge considerably.
Where to eat and sleep in Nendaz & Veysonnaz
La Taverne de l’Alpée
Local flavours in an authentic setting – what more could you ask for? La Taverne de l’Alpée offers a range of Swiss dishes, including fondues, röstis, cheese bakes, and buckwheat pancakes. A sunny terrace is the perfect place to enjoy your meal in the summer, and there are game specialities in the autumn.
Hotel Nendaz 4 Vallées & Spa
This superb 4-star hotel is renowned for its chic and contemporary Valaisian style – think gorgeous varnished wood, stone walls, and roaring fireplaces. It’s also known for its exceptional 2,200m2 spa. There are views out over the mountains and rooms start from CHF159.00.
Hotel Chalet Royal***
The Chalet Royal offers 56 beautiful rooms with a breathtaking panoramic view in the heart of the resort. It also features a spa, a conference room and an underground car park. Don’t miss the beautiful view over the Rhone Valley and the surrounding Alps.
Region Dents Du Midi
The Region Dents du Midi encompasses six charming villages perched high in the Swiss Alps near the south-eastern end of Lake Geneva. Les Portes du Soleil, the world’s largest international ski area, includes the villages of Champéry, Les Crosets, Champoussin, Morgins, Troistorrents, and Val-d’Illiez – all secluded within the spectacular valley of Val d’Illiez. This is a year-round mountain playground. Visiting in summer? 800km of trails for hiking and 600km for mountain biking are just outside your front door. Alpine restaurants and sunny terraces can be found at strategic intervals – no matter your preferred adventure or the time of year. A biker’s and hiker’s paradise.
Best things to do in the Region Dents Du Midi
A full day of guided mountain biking
The best of Valais on two wheels – doesn’t that sound good? Thanks to the region’s local bike guides, this is more accessible than you might think. Those new to the sport or seasoned riders alike can take advantage of expertly tuned advice and knowledge in Europe’s largest biking area. Setting off from one of the villages in Region Dents du Midi, you will explore the 12 resorts and five bikeparks between France and Switzerland. Best of all, your guide will do the planning and legwork for you. All you need to do is work your legs and enjoy the mountains.
The Smugglers’ Trail
Four different routes, each taking one to three hours to complete, help hikers to discover the legend of the ‘Contrabandiers’ of the Valais. Follow Séraphin the Smuggler down the Smugglers’ Trail and learn about his life – and secrets – in these mountains. The trails lead to one of the most important migratory bird-watching sites in the Alps, showcase the area’s geology, take you on a trip back in time to a traditional sawmill and chalets, and plunge deep into the forests of Barme.
Where to eat and sleep in the Region Dents Du Midi
La Croix-de-Culet restaurant
If you are looking for panoramic views while you dine, look no further than the Croix-de-Culet. Its location – at the Champéry-Planachaux cable car arrival station – could hardly be more convenient, and the views of the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches from its high-altitude terrace are remarkably extensive. A wide selection of seasonal dishes and local specialities are on offer too.
In Les Crosets, at the foot of the Portes du Soleil ski slopes, Hôtel L’Etable makes a compelling option for a mountain getaway. Views of the Dents du Midi are, of course, the centre stage here, but it certainly helps that the accommodation itself is tasteful and cosy. A calming wooden aesthetic combines with traditional home-made Swiss dishes in the restaurant. 17 elegant Alpine-style rooms are on offer and rates start from CHF195 per night.
Many regions can lay claim to being unique, but in the case of Saas-Fee/Saastal this is truly justified. What other Alpine valley is surrounded by 18 4,000m peaks and countless lower ones? There is almost too much to choose from – and certainly more than enough for a summer (or three) of adventure. This world-class mountain and glacier landscape is famous for Alpine climbing, biking, and hiking. Alpinists can test themselves on the icy summits of Strahlhorn or Alphubel, while hikers looking for something a little less extreme can take advantage of the endless trails criss-crossing the slopes and forests at lower elevations. Thanks to the SaastalCard, you can use the cable cars and PostBus in summer free of charge from your first overnight stay. Something else you might not expect: due to its southerly location, Saas-Fee/Saastal gets over 300 days of sunshine a year. So don’t forget your sun cream and sunglasses! And those looking for a cultural experience will find that tradition and authenticity meet in the car-free village of Saas-Fee.
Best things to do in the region
Gorge Alpine/Alpine Canyon
The Fee Gorge, carved out over millennia by glacial meltwater torrents, connects the villages of Saas-Fee and Saas-Grund. The descent of this gorge, which takes three to four hours, is a highlight adventure in the area – a truly magnificent tour over waterfalls, suspension bridges, ladders, and steel ropes. There is even a high-speed Tyrolean zip line!
Tip: Gorge Alpine/Alpine Canyon is also available at night! Ask for a raclette or fondue after the activity.
The glacier world Längfluh
Close-up views of the Fee Glacier can be enjoyed at the Längfluh viewpoint, close to the icebound extremity of the glacier directly above Saas-Fee. A cable car will take you from the village to the viewpoint in about 20 minutes, and a short hike of only 15 minutes more will bring you to the crystal blue waters of the glacier lakes. The 4,000m peaks of Allalinhorn and the Dom, the highest mountain in Switzerland entirely in Swiss territory, look particularly impressive from here. The mountain restaurant serving international and Swiss cuisine even has a suntrap of a terrace for enjoying those views.
Where to eat and sleep in Saas-Fee/Saastal
No fewer than 14 different fondues can be sampled at Vieux Chalet. A real treat for cheese lovers! How about a fondue with tomato, curry or pineapple, for example? The restaurant is cosy and intimate, with a rustic ambience that enhances the sophistication of the dishes. There’s even a fondue for dessert – a chocolate fondue with fresh fruit. Besides the fondue, there are other traditional dishes such as raclette or rösti.
Described by Architectural Digest as ‘A ski lodge of noble comfort’, this luxury boutique wellness hotel combines five-star luxury with the warmth and informality of a chalet. Multiple 4,000m peaks are visible in a single glance from The Capra’s spectacular natural setting. The earthy tones of this hotel’s suites stand in contrast to the blues and whites of the mountains. And with a restaurant that draws inspiration from the Alpine surroundings, the menu will have something to tempt everyone.
The best of nature and culture combine in Leukerbad. The region is known for its thermal spas, once believed to act as a remedy for many ailments; today they are more about relaxation than medicine, and provide the perfect way to slow down and take time out from a hectic world. Hot mountain water has been bubbling up to the surface here for millions of years. The surrounding communities of Albinen, Inden, and Varen offer a window into the past in the form of historic wooden buildings, ancient churches, and wine-making heritage – a tradition made possible thanks to the region’s extensive sunshine. And Leukerbad is, of course, surrounded by a wonderland of mountains and forests that just begs to be explored. The Pfyn-Finges Nature Park straddles the German-French language border. With habitat for the bearded vulture, as well as incredibly diverse ecosystems and cultural landscapes from vineyards all the way up to glacier and bare mountain peaks, this nature park in Central Valais is unusually distinctive – even by Swiss standards!
Best things to do in Leukerbad
Europe’s largest Alpine thermal spa here at Leukerbad includes no fewer than ten pools. With water varying from 28°C to 43°C, these pools offer waterfall showers, massage jets, whirlpools, and even a natural stone grotto. It’s a family-friendly area, too – children up to the age of eight are admitted free of charge, and there is a 100m-long water slide. It takes 40 years for the mountain water deep underground to be enriched with minerals, warmed to just the right temperature, and forced up to the surface.
Gemmi cable car
Every hike needs its starting location. The Gemmi Pass, at 2,270m above sea level and an airy 859m above Leukerbad, is the perfect place to begin a mountain wander – or just to take in the majestic views, either north to the Daubensee or south across the Rhône Valley deeper into the Valais. And alpinists on their way to Wildstrubel can take a ride on the Gemmi cable car to shorten their hike to the Lämmerenhütte. The cable car runs every 30 minutes.
Where to eat and sleep in Leukerbad
The Gemmi Lodge 2350 Panoramarestaurant
For something truly memorable, consider a stay at the Gemmi Lodge. Perched on the very edge of a cliff just above the Gemmi Pass, and right next to the cable car terminus, the views from this hotel right up in the heart of the mountains are unbeatable. Waking up to the sunrise in the mountains can be one of life’s great moments – and even better, perhaps, to do so in comfort. With a stylish, modern interior and a wealth of activities in easy reach, the Gemmi Lodge caters for the adventurous.
Looking for something closer to solid ground? Alpenblick boasts a sunny, quiet location near the Leukerbad Therme – and offers daily entry at the thermal spas and the Gemmi cable car. This makes it a natural choice for those who are after a bit of everything during their time in Leukerbad. Alpenblick’s restaurant offers a grill, regional specialities, and a half-board menu.
For information on Valais, visit www.visitvalais.ch
To book your next Valais trip, see www.visitvalais.ch/shop
Written by Alex Roddie // @alex_roddie
Photography by Rachel Keenan // @rachelkeenan9 with John Summerton // @johnsummerton & Matt Green // @mattgreen_sfm
Film by Summit Fever Media // @sfm_films
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism and Valais