Bramois and Tour de Romandie, Stage 4, Valais, Switzerland

I’m aware that not everyone likes cycling, or even maybe sport, but this post is not just about cycling – honest! Please read on…

As I mentioned in my post on Thursday, a stage of the Tour de Romandie professional cycle race came up our valley yesterday, so I just had to post a few pictures. Although the route had no loops as such, like Stage 1, as before I managed to find 4 different places to take pictures; two near Bramois, one in the village of Vex and the fourth on the final climb, around 6km (4 miles) from the finish.

Also as before, I got into position early so I had plenty of time to wander around the village of Bramois, taking a few photos to show you what a typical Swiss or Valaisan village looks like. As you will see, it’s a mix of the very old, the traditional and the new (with a most unusual house) and with excellent sports facilities. (Even the smallest villages in Switzerland seem to have fabulous football pitches and tennis courts – no wonder they punch above their weight on the world stage). I also discovered where all those hubcaps go to that you sometimes see lying by the side of the road…

As for the race, you have to feel for these Pro cyclists. The stage included 3 category 1 climbs and the weather was awful, with rain falling throughout the second half of the race and 2 of those climbs – the last being to over 2,000m (6,500ft) with winter snow still by the side of the road. Spare a thought then also for Geraint Thomas, who took the lead with only a few kilometres to go and was tracked by Michael Woods. In the sprint finish, Thomas, with freezing fingers and only a few yards to go to the line, lost his grip of the handlebars and crashed to the floor. He got up, climbed back on his bike and finished the race and remains in second place overall, having now been overtaken by Michael Woods, but the fall cost him vital seconds and the lead.

Saillon to Produit Walk, Valais, Switzerland

I had plenty of time to get into position for my previous post on the Tour de Romandie so, after parking in Saillon, I took the scenic route over the Farinet suspension bridge and down into Produit. I’d never been up the Tour Bayart in Saillon, so that just had to be done first (though the path to it was quite interesting – see pic 5). And, on the way to the bridge, I detoured to the smallest vineyard in the world, made up of just 3 vines, which is owned by the Dalai Lama. The whole site is a place for contemplation and several famous people have visited over the years. (See pic 14 for some examples).

I’d been over the Farinet footbridge once before and knew that there was a via ferrata (climbing route) which finished nearby. I paused on the bridge but could not see anything other than the large Dove of Peace stuck to the wall and a couple of arrows. It was only when I zoomed in on my photos did I see some of the metalwork which aids climbers up the sheer rockface. (See pics 26-28).

For those who may have missed my previous post on this area, the bridge is named after a certain Joseph-Samuel Farinet who, until his death in 1880, spent most of his life on the run, but he was a bit of a Robin Hood character. However, he didn’t stoop so low as to take from the rich, he simply created his own counterfeit money and gave it to the poor. Naturally he became a bit of a hero of the people in the Valais and his legend has grown, such that almost everything in the area seems to be named after him!

Tour de Romandie, Switzerland, Stage 1

Long time sufferers, I mean followers, may recall that I ‘covered’ a stage of the Tour de France waaaay back in 2016 and some images of the Prologue of the Tour de Romandie in 2017. Well, with things being as they are, I wasn’t sure whether the Tour de Romandie would go ahead this year. So imagine my surprise (and delight) to see that it was indeed on and that 2 stages of the race would be ‘just down the road’…

Stage 1, yesterday, ran from Aigle to Martigny, and included 4 loops between Fully and Saillon (which just happens to be where I was walking last week). Not only that but Stage 4, on Saturday, starts in Sion and takes in some of the route I cycled a few weeks ago, then comes up the Val d’Hérens, to St Martin, before dropping to the village of Praz Jean, which is less than 4 miles away from our chalet. Result!

In an attempt to get some decent pictures of the event, I decided to position myself part way up the 3rd category climb to the small village of Produit. It’s normally a very peaceful village and residents must have been a little surprised to be selected for this ‘circus’ to come to town. I say ‘circus’, but it’s quite a low key event compared to the Tour de France, though many of the best riders are present since it’s one of the UCI World Tour events.

For the first two loops I managed to pitch myself next to a group of people who were obviously big cycling fans and two of them were dressed in very impressive ‘King of the Mountains’ outfits, with white and red spots. With their clanging cow bells they were well received by everyone passing by, including the motorbike outriders and team entourages, who were tooting their appreciation. Word must have got back to the organisers as a TV reporter was soon on the scene to take a video and record an interview. (See pics 4, 14 and 18).

I also took a video so that you could get a feel for the atmosphere. I aim to please. 😊 For the third and fourth loops I moved further down the road to get a different aspect or backdrop to the photos.

When I got home, I wondered whether I’d appeared on the TV coverage. I admit that I’d donned a fluorescent orange tee shirt ‘just in case’ and in TV pics 29 and 30 you have a game of Where’s the wally? to play. (Videos and games – is there no end to the fun?) By the time the leaders came around for the fourth loop, the wind had got up and I had to put on my top, so the last TV image shows me a few seconds after taking pic 27.

For the record, the peloton eventually overhauled the breakaway group of six riders and the stage was won by Peter Sagan, (seen in pic 24), in a sprint finish. Rohan Dennis remains in overall lead, with his Ineos team mates, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte in 2nd and 3rd. (See pics 15 & 23).

Chemin du Vignoble Cycle Ride (Route 72), Valais, Switzerland

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Switzerland is criss-crossed by a huge network of numbered walking and cycling routes. Regional route no. 72 is a two stage cycle ride from Martigny to Leuk of around 82km (51 miles) and 1750m (5,740ft) of ascent. I dare say some people might be able to do that in a day but, Why rush? I say, especially when the vast majority of the route is clear of traffic and the views are, well, like below…

So it was that I decided to do just a short section of it above Sion, linking it up with the National Route 1 along the Rhone to make a somewhat less arduous and circular route of only 38.3 km (24 miles) and 830m (2,720ft) of ascent. A little bit of it overlapped with Route 140, so some of these images may look similar to my post of 2 weeks ago, but I’ve tried to find some different views, particularly of the individual snow-capped mountains (see pics 12-17).

I was also very pleased to see and to capture one of the many Queen of Spain Fritillaries, which seem to be fluttering around some of the vineyards. However, I’m afraid I cannot identify the two pink flowers in pics 7 & 8, which were also growing in between the rows of vines. So, if anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to comment.

For more information on the full 2 day Chemin du Vignoble route, please click here.

Châteaux de Sion et Environs, (Route 140), Valais, Switzerland

Most of the routes that I use are derived from the SwitzerlandMobility website, which is a fantastic resource (should you ever wish to explore this fine country). Not only does it show every single walking path or track, but it also includes cycling, mountain biking, roller blading and, would you believe, canoeing routes. It’s very easy to use – just zoom in to the region you’re interested in then select the appropriate type of exercise on the left and specify whether you’d like to view the National, Regional and/or Local routes. You can also draw and download your own routes, (as I do frequently), but this requires an annual subscription of around 35 Swiss francs (35 US dollars/£30). Well worth every cent, I’d say!

So, while searching for another new route to walk, I had a quick look at the cycling options and discovered this circular, regional route (no. 140) around the villages above Sion. At 42 km (or 26 miles), it didn’t seem to be too far, for a part-time cyclist like me, though it did have 950m of ascent. The altitude profile suggested that it would be done in 2 separate climbs, with a level-ish section in between, so I thought it might not be too difficult. It was only during the drive down to Sion with my bike in the back of the car that I realised it was the equivalent of cycling back up to Evolène from Sion. (My family and friends, who have visited us, will appreciate how big a climb that is!)

Anyway, all went well as you will see from the images below. Though, try as I might, I couldn’t get the Speed Checker by the side of the road to register anything, such was the incline (see pic 18). The first climb had an average incline of 8.5% over 4.5 km and, purely in the interests of producing this post of course, I did stop frequently to take a few photos. 😊

Lastly, I should also praise the Garmin Edge, which you can see in Pic 9. I’d only used it in the past to track where I’d been and this was the first time I’d downloaded a route to follow. For something so tiny it did an amazing job, giving an alarm around 150 metres before and then at any significant change in direction and also an alarm when I went slightly off the route, plus confirming when I was back on track. 👍👍

Bisse Neuf and Bisse de Varen Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

I can always rely on a Bisse (i.e. ancient watercourse and irrigation channel) as an option whenever there’s snow at the higher levels here in Evolène. This walk started and finished in the village of Venthône, in the French speaking part of Switzerland and, around half way, crossed the ‘border’ into the German speaking part. Many of he towns and villages in the area reflect this ‘split’ personality by having dual names – like Sierre/Siders, Salgesch/Salquenen and Loèche-les-Bains/Leukerbad.

Like many people I prefer to do circular routes so, to make the walk slightly more interesting, I made it into a sort of figure of 8, by returning along what the map says is the Mengis Wasserleitu. This appears to be a much smaller and lower version of the Grossi Wasserleitu (which is also called the Bisse de Varen).

Sadly though, apart from the last kilometre or so, the Bisses were devoid of ‘wasser’ and there were no precipitous drops or chains to hang onto to get the pulse racing. 🙁 Despite that, I did very much enjoy the walk and wandering around Venthône, where I especially liked the bronze statue outside the Chateau. (See pic 26).

Bella Lui Walk, Rhone Valley, Switzerland

We had a small amount of rain on Monday night which left a layer of snow down to around 2,300m or 7,500ft. With this in mind I scoured the map for something new and south facing, as the snow may well have melted away. I settled upon a walk above Crans-Montana to Bella Lui (at 2,548m or 8,360ft), with the possibility of carrying on to a peak called Tubang (at 2,826m or 9,272ft), if the snow conditions allowed. I also noticed that there was a return path from the Col de l’Arpochey, which sits between the two peaks, that would take me down to the Bisse de Ro and back to the parking area.

The map also showed that there was a ladder somewhere between the peaks, which I assumed would be to go up, but it turned out to be to descend. As you will see from some of the pictures below, there was quite a lot of snow still around and it was when I reached that ladder (pics 23 & 24) that I turned around and retraced my steps. I’d also spotted quite a lot of snow on the steep descent path (pics 21 & 22). After having had one fall this week, I wasn’t planning on having another!

The initial path was also interesting in that my GPS route took me up a mountain biking track. It wasn’t clear where the walker’s path was, but I have to say, those mountain bikers are brave souls! I tried to take a video on my way back down to show you how difficult the terrain was, but it didn’t work out very well. I did however manage to get a video of two parascenders (also in pic 18) taking off – which is at the end of this post.

The rather swanky resort of Crans-Montana couldn’t be more different to our, rather humble, little village. I only walked passed about 5 chalets and 3 of them are featured below.

Three Bisses walk from Mâche, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After our 4 day, Saas valley trek, which finished with a steep descent into Saas Grund, Pete’s knees and body were just about shot. But it’s amazing what a few beers, a fabulous meal and a good night’s sleep can do. 😊 So, for Pete’s last day, we decided to do one of the many bisse walks in the Valais.

After a quick search of the Bisse website, I discovered a circular walk quite nearby, which I’ve never done before. It actually took in three bisses and started in the village of Mâche. Two of them were dry, but the third did have quite a bit of water running along the channel. Along the route also, we discovered several wooden carvings and a number of items which must have been left by some school children. Perhaps the most surprising was a beautiful glass pendant which (as this is Switzerland) I would imagine has been there and will remain there for some time. There are quite a few good cycling routes around that area too, so I may have to get on my bike and check to see if it’s still there in a few weeks time.

Footnote (for anyone new to this site and, as the Bisse website explains):
“Bisses are historic irrigation channels of the Valais. A bisse is an open ditch delivering priceless water from mountain streams – often by daring routes – to arid pastures and fields, vineyards and orchards. Many bisses are still in use today and so are carefully maintained. Numerous trails accompany these historic watercourses, inviting visitors to varied hikes on historic trails.”

Saas Valley Walk, Day 1 of 4, Gspon to the Weissmies mountain hut, Valais, Switzerland

To set the scene… The plan for our 4 day walk was as follows:

  • Day 1: Gspon to the Weissmies hut
  • Day 2: Weissmies hut to the Berghotel at Almagelleralp, with an extension up to and back from the Almageller hut
  • Day 3: Almagelleralp to the Britannia hut
  • Day 4: Britannia hut to Saas Grund

After driving for just over an hour from our chalet to Stalden, which sits at the ‘confluence’ of the Saas and Matter valleys, (the latter being most famous for the Matterhorn), Pete and I bade farewell to my wife, Jude, and took the gondola lift up to Gspon. As an aside, we were squeezed in with about 7 other walkers and another 8 cyclists with their mountain bikes. So much for social distancing! But, thankfully, masks were compulsory (and a week later, I’m still feeling OK. 😊)

I’d read that Gspon was ‘famous’ for having the highest football pitch in Europe. It often hosts the European mountain village championships so, as keen football fans, Pete and I had to take a look. (For more info. please read here).

From Gspon the path undulated along the east side of the Saas valley, passing some tiny hamlets and a beautiful church at Finilu. Several rocks and boulder fields were safely negotiated before the final climb up to the mountain hut, where we had a room (normally sleeping up to 8 people) all to ourselves.

As you will see the weather was a little grey, but the sun did eventually come out and the small amount of rain, which was forecast for late afternoon, didn’t materialised until the evening. 👍