Valais – Summer Bliss

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Think of mountains, trains, watches, chocolates and cheese; Switzerland pops up into your noggin. The country with a magical appeal to nature lovers and adrenaline seekers is one of the smallest land-locked nations in Europe, where you can indulge into a Cultural fiesta (German,French and Italian), a blend of traditions all within a short span of traveling distance across breathtaking mountain scenery aboard the picture postcard Swiss Railway; otherwise, you will have to bear twice the cost of traveling to experiencing the European culture across the continent..

Flying on the Swiss International Air Lines, I am excited taking my first trip to continent Europe. In the air, I am enjoying every minute of the immaculate service on board the broad body Airbus A330-300, the plane touched down in Zurich – the international point of entry in Switzerland. Soon after landing, I plan my travel with a 4-Day Swiss Flexi Pass – an ultimate freedom to travel on trains, ships and buses. You can organize your travel at the Swiss Travel System desk at Zurich Airport.

From Zurich, I catch the train bound for French part of the canton of Valais, which lies in the Southwest of Switzerland. This short journey takes me to Sion – the capital of Valais. I continue my journey to Verbier via Martigny on the regional train: St. Bernard Express and then a short drive from Le Chable. Its mid-summer and in this time of the year, the valleys offer spectacular views of vineyards rolling down the lush slopes and the fields are lined   with groves of more than 30 varieties of apricots. Apple, raspberry, pears, prunes, strawberries and cherries also grow in abundance.

The beauty of nature lifted up my spirit and I felt as if I am reborn. After a delectable supper at restaurant L’ecurie, I slept on what’s coming up next. Early morning, after a hearty breakfast, I am fully energized for an adventure trip to Mont Fort (3,328 metres), the highest mountain in the 4-Vallees. Mont Matterhorn and Mont Blanc alongwith a cluster of high peaks seen from the viewing platform on Mount Fort is absolutely inspiring.

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Tracing our footsteps back to the cable car terminal, we walk past the Sculptor Park and whiz back to Verbier and drive by road to the Col du Grand Saint Bernard in Martigny. The vantage point by the Hospice atop the Pass at 2,469 metres affords an incredible view of the bowl like valley with a lake by the border post between Switzerland and Italy. The landmark is an interesting chapter in the history of this fascinating 9th century monastery that was converted into a hospice in around 1050 AD by Saint Bernard of Menthon.

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The Dogs of St. Bernard are native to this region and renowned the world over as mountain rescue dogs. The Barry foundation was established to ensure the survival of this breed, which was originally raised to guard the hospice.

I returned to Verbier and got a transfer to Champex Lac, a picturesque lake village fringed by pine forest. Within the vicinity of the lake, I visited the Swiss heritage Alpine Botanical Garden (1,500 metres).

 

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                Champex Lac                                       Edelweiss

The gardens exhibit an impressive collection of native flowers and plants and also from other continents. With more than three thousand species of plants, to name a very few that I can remember: Edelweiss – the national flower of Switzerland, alpine columbine, aster, gentianes, glacier warmwood, Hallers pasqueflower, lilies, Primroses, rhododendrons, roses, umbel pennycress. Here, the air smells sweet and divine, colorful butterflies prance from flower to flower, buzzing sound of friendly bees and dragonflies resonate howling wilderness in the atmosphere, as if a giant stage for Alice in Wonderland designed by nature.

DSC_3597The next morning, I reached Haute Nendaz. Nestled above the Rhone valley, the Country of Beisses – Nendaz makes it a picture perfect getaway for visitors to wander lush trails and go cycling along well marked routes. But before exploring nature on foot, I avail the opportunity of a one on one alphorn lesson with a professional teacher. She encouraged me and was patient as I bellowed a few  notes which may have sounded annoying, however my teacher was too kind to comment with a smile “Not bad for a first timer”.Nendaz has an extended system of irrigation. The path alongside the bisses takes you right into the depth of the valleys of green. You can wander off along various detours that will take you through the valleys and villages abound lofty mountains with a reward that you are at all times going along with the flow of water in the rivulets and channels.During our trek we take a break at a traditional Swiss garden restaurant for a delectable lunch.

Back to the Center and before retiring for the day, I experience fine dining at Mont Rouge – an elegant restaurant and here I savored regional and continental cuisines presented in absolute artistry.

The next morning I meet my local host at Tsablo Water Mill near the town center and we begin a Walking Tour of the Old Village. At the junction, we visit Saint Michel Chapel, which was constructed in 1499 and later, renovated into Baroque style in the 18th century. This historical monument of the Canton of Valais tells the history of Nendaz since time immemorial.

A cable car ride to the highs of Nendaz at Tracouet inspired me with an insight into lifestyle of the people having found a way to co-exist with nature in perfect harmony. On the top, I hike towards the tranquil Lake Tracouet with snow capped mountains in the distance – as if looking at a huge postcard. Cyclists zoom by well marked tracks and I see happy people smiling from ear to ear, engaged into fine moments of their lives. A winter wonderland, the 4Vallees, which includes Verbier and Nendaz forms the largest ski area in Switzerland.

Moving on, I arrive in Zermatt on the MG Bahn (Zermatt Train). Located in the German speaking part of central Valais, the mountain Resort is world famous for its picturesque Matterhorn peak (4,478 m/ 14,690 ft) – the symbol of Switzerland. Mark Twain was at awe as he witnessed the grandeur of the peak. He has given a beautiful account of it in his book ” A Tramp Abroad“. It is without a doubt that the magnificent peak enchants everyone that lays eyes on it and offers a unique experience to every individual nature lover.

Zermatt is a car-free mountain resort, except for green energy buggy to facilitate guests pick and drop service by hotels. Soon after check In at Hotel Walliserhoff – I am out for a walk, up the main strip that is queued up with hotels, restaurants and shopping stores like Tie Break, Alpine Photoshop and Wega Souvenirs – all well stocked with regional souvenirs, camera accessories and mountain travel gear.

Next morning, I follow thousands of tourists flocking towards the Gornergrat Bahn station to attend the annual Gornergrat Alphorn Festival. Onboard this unique cog wheel train, we depart for Gornergrat (3,135 metres).

It’s a spectacular sight: towering peaks look as though they are floating on huge white tufts of clouds in the blue sky, the air is filled with deep echoing notes emanating from the wooden alphorns. This unique stage on a rocky ridge, designed by nature, surrounds more than twenty 4000 meters Pennine peaks, including the highest Monte Rossa range (4,634 metres/ 15,203 ft) and the symbolic Matterhorn peak (4,478 metres).

DSC_4229Over 550 Alphorn players and more than 5000 visitors bear witness to the world’s longest playable alphorn measuring a whopping 47 metres – an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. After the festival, I had lunch at the Kulm Hotel 3100 – the highest hotel in Switzerland, while enjoying breathtaking landscape around me.

Back to Zermatt I treat myself at the Alex Hotel restaurant – a classic dining venue in Zermatt. And in good time, I found my comfort zone to spend the night at Hotel La Ginabelle, a beautiful abode by the river. My spacious, comfortable room with a balcony overlook the fantastic sight of the Matterhorn peak. in the vicinity i walked into Fuchs Bakery, which turned out to be the home of regional award winning bakery goodies. Over a cup of coffee I delighted into Matterhornli home made chocolate and other bakery products good enough to make you an addict.

Finally, I move on to Leukerbad, a place visited by Head of States and Hollywood A-Listers such as Al Pacino and Pink. Leukerbad has, by far, the largest reserves of thermal water in continent Europe with an imposing flow of 3.9 million liters a day and thus, the largest wellness resort in the Alps at an altitude of 1,402 metres.  While the thermal water can heal arthritis and stiffness of the joints; the minerals in the spring can help relax tense muscle and even counteract constipation.

Here, I settle down for a few days at one of the oldest and lovely wellness Hotel Regina Terme. Self catered accommodation included spacious room, a kitchenette and a large balcony to enjoy the view of the valley and the massive wall like mountain in the distance. Given with a choice of 30 thermal pools, I planned a comprehensive wellness package at the Regina Terme spa, Leukerbad Therme and Walliser Alpentherme & Spa – the latter is Europe’s largest and most luxurious high altitude alpine wellness, beauty and thermal spa.

Back at my hotel, friendly owners invited me over coffee, and before retiring into the night, I reminisce this far-fetched journey in the Valais region – the cherishing moments that I have spent here among wonderful people will linger till eternity.

It was time to move out of Valais and I interchange train to embark on one of the most unique railway journeys aboard the Glacier Express. The briskly moving train maneuvers from Zermatt, Visp, Brig, Chur and to its final destination – St. Moritz, the high end mountain resort that conceptualized winter sports in Switzerland.

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