We have visited the Swiss canton of Valais several times in the past, but during our five-week guidebook research trip we discovered some more highlights in Valais. After our return we thought about the best places, experiences, food, hikes, etc.
It was not easy to limit our number of Valais highlights, but finally we came up with the following list (in no particular order).
Black-nosed sheep and black-neck goats
Sheep are always cute as a rule. But the black-nosed sheep grazing on the high meadows of Valais (and some other mountainous regions in Switzerland) are particularly super-cute! Only their long fur is white, with the black nose and legs sticking out. They like to huddle together and seem to be always munching.
The black-neck goats have a similar black-and-white look with black fur in the front part and white in the back. Don’t they look as if they were wearing loose 1980s trousers?
Perfect views of Mount Matterhorn
The most famous mountain in the Valais was perhaps bound to make our list of highlights in Valais. We had visited the area before and seen the spectacular mountain briefly (most time there were clouds somewhere around the peak). But this time, we were lucky with the weather and had a clear view of the Matterhorn during our whole stay in the village of Zermatt at the foot of the mountain.
Equally fascinating was the ride with the ropeway up to the Matterhorn Glacier paradise at a height of 3.883 m. The ropeway cabin had a glass floor through which we could look down on the glacier from a short distance.
Hiking over the Gemmipass
Few mountain passes connect the Valais with the neighbouring canton of Bern. In mid-June, it was still rather early to cross from Leukerbad in Valais to Kandersteg in Bern via the Gemmi Pass. The mountain range towers high above Leukerbad and there was still a lot of snow. Nevertheless, the path over the high plateau was easy to walk and held spectacular views over snowy mountains.
Arriving in Kandersteg, we could take the next train through the Lötschental Tunnel back into the Rhone valley in Valais. From there a bus brought us back up to Leukerbad to soak in a hot spring.
Albrun Restaurant in the Binntal Valley
The Binntal (Valley) had been recommended to us for its remoteness and beauty. The road leads through a long, narrow, unlit stone tunnel that seems not broad enough for two cars to pass (actually it was!). The Binntal is especially famous for the rare minerals that can be found in a certain area. We spent a perfect hiking day walking along the mineral trail and to a clear mountain lake. And then, we got a table in the prized Albrun Restaurant in Binn. They had delicious local food – conveniently for vegetarians, traditional local food nearly everywhere involves more potatoes and veggies than meat. But we especially enjoyed the dessert plate that imitated the Binntal minerals and precious stones! The greenish pieces are sugar filled with absinth!
Bike tour in the Val d’Illiez
It was our first visit to the Val d’Illiez, in the French-speaking part of the Valais. Bordering on France around the towering “Dents du Midi” mountains, the area is very picturesque. Extremely alpine-looking rocky peaks start right above a friendly layer of alpine meadows.
Exploring that landscape on (E-) mountain bikes, we could admire the peaks and still roll along broad and easy trails. Along the way, there were a few Alpine huts and dairy farms for a break. A perfect day in the mountains!
Ropeways, railways, cable cars
All those steep mountains, and valleys only accessible through narrow gorges, have made travel in the Valais difficult for centuries. But from around 1900, engineers started to construct daring little cog railways climbing up the mountains. Some pass through tunnel after tunnel, or swerve around rocky precipices and lofty bridges. Funicular railways and Ropeways made even higher and steeper mountains accessible.
It was fun to sit in the panorama waggons of numerous tiny railways, climbing up into the valleys. We got used to the larger cabins of aerial tramways, where one cabin going up is balancing the other one going down. The smaller, circulating cabins of gondola lifts are easier to use, though, because they move continuously and without a timetable. Still, we like the open chairlifts most!
Traditional Cow Fighting
The Eringer breed of cows in the Val d’Herens are famous. Large, black milk cows with horns, they do what normal cows would do if they had not been calmed and domesticated over centuries. Eringer Cows spend the winter with a few other cows in their stable in the village. At the beginning of summer they go up to their Alp for grazing. There, they meet dozens of other cows to form a herd for the summer. And like wild animals in herds, they fight out the herd’s hierarchy for the summer.
We were extremely lucky to witness a cow fighting as late as June, at the Alpage Tortin in the Val d’Herens. There was an organised event around it, but the cows needed no prodding or incitement. They stood around, ignored some cows, and started fighting others, for reasons known only to them.
A village at the far end of a not-so famous side valley of the Rhone Valley, Grimentz had almost escaped our attention. We took the swerving serpentines on a small mountain road into the Val d’Anniviers in a small window of left-over time. And were surprised by the cute little village, which became one of our highlights in Valais.
The centre of Grimentz is a wonderfully preserved mountain village of old wooden houses along a narrow winding road. Cars are not allowed in (would they even fit?). Strolling up and down the beautifully decorated village was great fun.
Alas, we didn’t have time to try the “rando fondue” they advertised: You can rent a camping fondue set (including cheese, bread, and wine) for a mountain hike! That would be fun – we have to try it next time!
Have you been to Valais in Switzerland?
What were your highlights?
NB: We wrote this post in relation to a guidebook research for a Valais travel guidebook in German. For the guidebook research, we received some sponsoring from tourism associations in Valais. However, writing a blog post at all was not part of the agreement. The food and drink in this post, we paid entirely ourselves.