Valais: Scenic walks, simple pleasures
VALAIS, Switzerland - Banks. Watches. Knives. Chocolates. These are all easy associations to make when you think of Switzerland, at least for a first time visitor like me.
The Swiss are known for their culture of efficiency and precision (how else could a country be known for making the world’s most expensive watches?), but I discovered something else about them while visiting Valais, one of the 26 Swiss cantons.
Switzerland is not a country that you simply see. Switzerland is a country that you smell in its crisp mountain air (most everything is sinfully clean), hear (you will hear the mountain spring flowing from the Alps), and even taste (you can drink water straight from the mountain spring and, yes, it tastes good).
Valais, home to the 10 highest (all over 4,000 meters) mountains in Switzerland, is nature’s bounty spread out before you, warmly welcoming you to enjoy its scenic nature trails and simple pleasures.
Taste classic cheese fondue in Sion
The drive to the capital of Valais from Geneva is a scenic one with the River Rhône on one side and mountains filled with vineyards that change hues depending on the season on the other.
Rising even higher than the mountainside are the Alps, which Switzerland shares with its neighbors France and Italy. During winter, visitors are enticed by the promise of being able to ski down the side of the Alps and cross Italy and France, all in one day.
Depending on when you go, the mountains of Valais will relax you with the lush greens of its summer, the fiery browns and oranges of its autumn, the pristine linen-white of its winter, and the delicate and luscious pink blossoms of its spring.
In the medieval town of Sion, you can enjoy another old-time favorite: cheese fondue — another thing the Swiss are famous for.
Feel the mountain breeze on the way up to Hotel Weisshorn, Val D’Anniviers
Hotel Weisshorn is the lone structure that rests on top of an altitude of 2,337 meters within the Val d'Anniviers, which the Swiss themselves describe as a “landscape of Alpine wilderness.” It is a mountain farming and agricultural region, and the silos and traditional mills (some of which can still be visited) are still scattered throughout the valley.
Legend has it that the Weisshorn was built by the British in 1882 because they wanted to ski and go mountain climbing. In fact, you will find hanging in the hotel vintage cartoons telling the story of what the Swiss then referred to as the hotel of the British or “hôtel des Brittaniques Anglais.”
The Weisshorn remains rooted in its 19thcentury origins, with bedroom accommodations (there are wash basins in each room) that would be considered modest today and a rustic country style kitchen where the day’s menu is written on a chalk board that the server will bring to each table to get your order.
It is the familiarity and sense of history — a sense of going back in time — that keep locals and tourists alike going back to the Weisshorn. Some hike for miles to eat there; they enjoy the view and leisurely hike of about 3 hours to get to the famed hôtel des Brittaniques — just enough time to stir up the appetite.
Take a hike in the nature trails of Dixence Dam (le barrage de la Grande Dixence)
The Swiss love to walk and hike. With nature majestically sprawled before them, being outdoors is very much a part of the culture and everyday life.
Dixence Dam is an ideal location for a leisurely stroll by Swiss standards.
Fed by water from 35 glaciers, Dixence Dam is the tallest gravity dam in the world, leveled with the highest mountains in Valais (for reference, it’s as tall as the Eiffel Tower) with a view of Lac des Dix and the valley below. The energy it produces represents a 5th of the electricity stored in Switzerland.
You can take a cable car to the high point and hike or walk through the Ibex Trail, the nature trail that circles Dixence. The entire trail will take about 4 hours to complete, but the caves, flowers, and gentle sound of flowing water break the monotony. On our visit, a marmot (similar to a squirrel) was putting on a performance of hide and seek for the children who were hiking with their parents.
Fly over the Alps
Take flight and settle among the clouds for a different view of the Alps. Charter a private plane at the Sion International Airport to circle the Alps and be enveloped in its misty clouds.
From this vantage point, make a game out of seeing the other gems of Sion and see if you can identify the Cathedral of Sion, the Hotel Weisshorn, or the Dixence. - Rappler.com
Once upon her life, Ana P. Santos was a banker. She decided to retire early and is now a journalist reporting on women’s sexual health rights. She is Rappler's Dash of SAS columnist and the host of our weekly Sex Talk hangout. Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos and on www.sexandsensibilities.com.