We spent some time exploring Valais to see what it had to offer as a hiking destination
When you think of the Swiss canton of Valais, you’ll most likely picture the fantastic ski resorts the region plays host to. The region is, undoubtedly, a favourite for British tourists looking for a winter getaway but this same terrain and carefree accessibility, which makes the Swiss canton of Valais a top pick for winter sports aficionados, also makes it a perfect summer destination.
For those of us who love to lace up a pair of hiking boots in search of kilometre after kilometre of quiet trails, this region offers the perfect escape. Valais is home to a staggering 45 alpine summits above 4,000 metres, including Western Europe’s second highest peak – Monte Rosa. Combine these alpine beauties with cable car systems that make accessing high level traverses a breeze, and you’ve got one of the finest hiking destinations in the Alps.
We headed to three gems of Valais – Région Dents Du Midi, Nendaz and Aletsch Arena – and met up with local mountain guides, botanists and mountain leaders to discover their favourite spots for hiking in the canton.
First stop for us, during our visit, was the Région Dents du Midi – six resort-villages nestled away in their own private sections of the valley. We headed to Champéry, one of the oldest tourist destinations in all of Switzerland and host of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games (curling venue). The village is packed full of things to do; with spas, leisure centres, and some of the finest restaurants providing plenty of distractions when the hiking boots come off.
Région Dents du Midi is full of everything that a hiker needs to enjoy the mountains. 23 operating chairlifts to get you up into the alpine, alpine huts for your picturesque lunch stops, and, of course, over 800km of hiking routes to sink your teeth into.
Speaking of these hiking routes, the Mpora team met up with Nathalie Nemeth – a local mountain leader and botanist. Nathalie had planned to take us on the Croix du Culet hiking trail, which would lead us to the French – Swiss border of the Col de Cou pass.
Not only is the Col de Cou a visually stunning rest stop, it’s also packed full of real historical significance. Back in the Second World War, locals helped smuggle refugees across the border – along with resistance fighters and weapons. It remained in use by smugglers until the 1950s, where it was used as a route for sneaking in sugar, butter, tobacco and watches.
From the Col de Cou, we doubled back on ourselves and took a trip down the valley to the Galerie Défago – a path that cuts through the heart of the large cliff which overlooks the village of Champéry and serves up fantastic vistas down the valley.
Must–do walk in Région Dents du Midi: Croix de Culet over the Col de Cou Pass
While Nendaz may serve as a freeride skiing and snowboarding Mecca during the winter, the playful terrain becomes a fantastic playground for hikers once the mercury begins to rise and the trails are revealed beneath the snow.
Next up on on the locals front was Jean-Noël Glassey (aka Jackson), and his huge, extremely Swiss, St. Bernard – Kenzie. Jackson planned to take us for a walk amongst the artistry of the Valais forest. The ancient larch grows here, and is the only European conifer to grow fresh needles every year. The colour palette of this natural paradise would make Picasso envious.
If you arrive in spring, you’ll find pale green shoots complemented with golden pollen cones and red cone blossoms. When summer begins to take its grip, vibrant green cones and needles arrive. Then autumn rocks up and paints the mountainside gold – an epic contrast with the dark green of the pines. The trees here can reach an impressive size too, with one tree in the forest having a whopping circumference of 14.6 metres.
Must–do walk in Nendaz: The Larches of Balavaux
Approaching the German-speaking side of Valais, Aletsch Arena is tucked right in the eastern end of the canton. Like other high-alpine resorts such as Zermatt, Aletsch Arena is a car-free zone. This, as you can imagine, greatly enhances the intimacy you have with nature – no spluttering diesel engines to ruin the atmosphere, just you, your group, and the mountains. Aletsch Arena is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We met up with local mountain guide Martin Nellen, whose family has lived and farmed in the region for centuries. They don’t come much more knowledgable about the Aletsch Glacier than Martin. The glacier, which consists of 11 billion tonnes of ice and could supply a litre of water per day for every person on earth for four and a half years, snakes its way for 23km down from Jungfrau to Reiderhorn and is the longest glacier of the Alps.
The Moosfluh, Hohfluh, Bettmerhorn and Eggishorn viewpoints of Aletsch Arena are all perfectly situated to view the glacier from above. Martin took us up to the Moosfluh viewpoint before we started our descent down the steep slopes that have been carved out by the glacier.
Once down on the ice, we donned crampons, ice axes and ropes to explore the labyrinth of ice caves, crevasses and seracs that have been carved out by thousands of years of the glacier slowly creeping its way down the valley. It’s not until you’re on the ice that you understand the awe-inspiring size of the glacier, and can explore the connection we have as humans to this natural wonder. It’s an experience that really brings home how important it is for us to do everything we can to protect these natural beauties.
Must–do walk in Aletsch Arena: The Great Aletsch Glacier