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. 👍

Pic d’Artsinol Walk – 2nd attempt

Almost a month ago I set off to walk to the top of the Pic d’Artsinol, but I was thwarted by too much snow. The weather since has not been particularly warm, but yesterday I decided that it was probably time to give it another go, especially with the chairlift from Lanna opening, which saved me around 700m or 2,300ft of climbing to Chemeuille. 😊

I was however a little hesitant as I drove the car the 1 mile/2 km or so to Lanna, as the peak was covered in cloud. But I hoped that the sun might burn that off and I’d have 360 degree views. Sadly that was not the case, though I did get a good view of the Dixence Dam, which I thought was at least a nice link to my last post. And the clouds did add a little atmosphere to some of the photos.

As you will see in pics 8 and 9, I was joined on the ascent by a very small butterfly (one of only four I saw all day, surprisingly enough, given the number of flowers around). It very cleverly landed on the strap of my camera, making it a little difficult to get a photo, until I realised I had my phone in my pocket. After what seemed like an age, fumbling to get it out, typing in the pin code and selecting the camera option, all without disturbing the butterfly, I managed to get quite a few (and surprisingly good) shots. My only doubt as to its identity as a Small Blue (male) is that my book seems to suggest the first 2 dots on the hind wing should be “equal or less than 90 degrees to the edge of the wing”. (Though it looks identical to a Small Blue photo on the author’s website). So, if there are any experts out there who agree or disagree, I’d like to hear from them.

Equally, if anyone can tell me what the flower is in pic 22, I’d be most grateful. It was at around 2,750m or 9,000ft.

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 2 of 2

We awoke to freezing cold mist. Even the bouquetins (Ibex) were looking for shelter. (See pic 1). And, I confess, the last 2 photos in my post yesterday were taken on the morning of Day 4, mainly because the evening before we were all glad to get out of the rain and into the warmth and comfort of the hut.

The four in the Elite group had done an extra bit at the beginning of Day 3 and so the rest of us waited nervously, and for what seemed like an age, for them to arrive as snow started to fall. Werner decided he’d go out and look for them and about 20 minutes later, they all arrived, but Guy was in a bad way – suffering from both exhaustion and hypothermia. He was almost incapable of speech and so was stripped where he stood, though he could barely stand. Thankfully after several hot cups of tea and a warm shower, he thawed out and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But as you will see below, the going was still not easy. At the higher altitudes it was more suitable for skiing than mountain biking. And, remember, this was during July.

The photos cover Day 4 from the Terri hut to Sedrun, via Campo Blenio, Luckmanierpass; Day 5 from Sedrun to the Grosse Scheidegg via Passo Maighels, Andermatt and the Furkapass (with a little help from a bus and train) and Day 6 from Grosse Scheidegg to Kandersteg. I offered to drive the minibus on Day 7 to Gstaad, so I have no pictures of that particular leg via Adelboden I’m afraid.

But, I have to say that, despite my inexperience and the obvious challenges posed, it was a fabulous trip!! So good in fact that I went with them the following year, from Orsières in Switzerland to Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean, all the way down the French/Italian alps ! Thankfully the weather was much, much better… Post to come in due course… 😊

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 1 of 2

When I first moved over to Switzerland in 2005, I thought I was reasonably fit and active. But I soon discovered that a lot of the people in the office were what some might consider to be absolutely bonkers. It seemed like everyone was either running or cycling or swimming or all three, you name it, someone was a keen whatever. And it wasn’t just a mere jog or a few lengths of the pool, they were fanatical. Triathlons and Ironman events were their ‘standard’ events.

It was hard not to get sucked into their enthusiasm. Every year there was a ‘Tour du Lac’ Cyclotour – a bike ride around not just any old lake, but Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva if you like). It’s only 176km/110 miles! Though it’s not a ‘race’ as such, more of a challenge to yourself. “We’ll all go round together” they said and, after buying a very expensive road bike and a few training sessions, a group of about 12 of us set off hoping to break 6 hours. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up with the best of them (who did break 6 hours) and I finished in around 6 hours 40 mins.

A 9 stage Corporate ‘Gigathlon’ relay event – involving mountain biking, running up a mountain (not only to reach the snow, but through some of it too), cross country skiing, ski touring, running and mountain biking back down again, a swim in a lake, a 17km road bike ride and a 10km run – “Let’s form a team” and that was from just within our office. I was due to run the last 10k leg but, at the last minute, due our mountain runner not liking to run in snow (who does?!) I had to swap and run up and down the mountain. As I said, bonkers!

My boss at the time, Gerard, always took a week or so off work every year to do what was termed ‘The Trans-Alp’. It was legendary and involved mountain biking from A to B over passes as high as nearly 3,000m/9,840ft – not to mention haring back down again. Never having done any mountain biking, I resisted the temptation – until they mentioned going across Switzerland, from Davos to Ollon (near Montreux). “What a great way to see some of Switzerland” I thought to myself. And with 14 takers, which would be split into 4 groups (the Elite, 2 Medium level and a Beginner…) I was in. (Another expensive bike had to be purchased of course!)

Gerard decided to do it with his son, Noe, so the 2 of them and a not so fit, Pascal, formed the Beginners group and I was teamed up with the 2 organisers, Alistair and Joern. They were both experienced bikers, so I thought I’d drawn the short straw, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Indeed, the three weaker groups mostly stuck together and we just let the Elite group do some extra sections while the rest of us hitched a lift in the back-up minibus. 😊

As you will see from the pictures below*, it proved to be quite challenging – though more due to the weather. And if you think this looks tough – wait until you see Part 2 tomorrow… 😉

*For the record and anyone interested in the detail of this crazy pursuit, these pictures cover Day 1 from Davos to Radons Savognin via the Scalettapass; Day 2 from Radons to Safien Platz via Pass da Schmorras and Day 3 from Safien Platz to the SAC Terri mountain hut via the Pass Diesrut.

In the first picture are (L to R) Pascal, Chicco, me, Martin, Gerard, Noe, Joern, Werner, Norbert, Guy, Alistair, Stevie, Nikolaus and Jan.

Swiss National Route 6, Villa to Zinal (Day 1 of 3)

Since returning from my walk with the boys on the Inn Way to Northumberland, I’ve had itchy feet.  Jude has also been encouraging me to take advantage of our time here in Switzerland (not to mention while I’m still physically able to do these walks).  So, after checking that the forecast was going to be ‘fine’ for the next 3 days, I set off to do 3 sections of the Swiss National Route 6, which runs from St Gingolph, on Lac Léman, to Chur in the east.  The route would take me from Villa to Zinal, then to Gruben in the Turtmanntal valley on Day 2 and then from there to St Niklaus in the Mattertal valley on Day 3, before catching the train and bus home.

I’ll admit that I cheated a bit and got Jude to drop me off at Villa.  Well, otherwise I would have had over 2,000m (6,500ft) to climb and strictly, Evolène is not on the route.  When I got out of the car, I noticed about a dozen other walkers, who all seemed to be preparing to set off up the same path.  I wondered who they might be (I thought I heard English voices) and I was to find out the following day…

Zinal is clearly more geared up for the winter ski season.  It’s quite a large village, but only 4 of the restaurants were open.  The rest were closed, including the one in the hotel where I was staying.  Upon arrival, after finding the front door to the restaurant and bar locked, I finally located the entrance door to the hotel and there to greet me was just a note and a key. (See pic 41).  I didn’t see anyone from the hotel until breakfast the next morning.  This may sound like poor customer service, but I think that you would probably only get this ‘trust’ in Switzerland.