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).

Lac Léman and Château de Chillon, Vaud, Switzerland

On Tuesday, Jude and I took a trip down to Switzerland’s largest lake, Lac Léman or Lake Geneva. We parked up in Villeneuve, which lies at the eastern end and walked along the lakeside towards Montreux. Along the way is one of Switzerland’s “Top 10” tourist sites, the Château de Chillon.

The site began as a Roman outpost, to guard the route through the alpine passes, but construction started in the 10th century. As you can imagine it has an interesting history and you can read all about it here.

Equally interesting are the legends which surround the small island seen in picture 4. Surprisingly (to me anyway) it’s the only natural island in the lake, Technically it’s called the Île de Peilz but, being British, I like the story about it being given as a gift to Queen Victoria when she visited the region. A tree was planted on the island and it’s known as Queen Victoria’s tree. For more legends and even a video of the tree please click here.

Note that the first two images below were taken near Ollon, on our way to the lake.

Snowy walk to Lac d’Arbey, (Walk 8), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The plan was to do this walk on Sunday but, on Friday, we awoke to perfectly blue skies, instead of the “very cloudy” day which was forecast. So I decided to go for it. The snow shoes were left at home, as I expected someone to have walked up there already – and so it proved. On the ascent there were clear boot marks, which I was extremely grateful for as that made the climb much, much easier. And on the descent I was lucky that the young lady, seen in picture 7, was snow-shoeing up the way that I would be coming down. She was obviously very fit as she was already resting by the cross (see pic 21) when I arrived. Both routes are pretty much the same distance from the left or right turn (see map) where picture 7 was taken.

I was also very impressed with the little person in picture 3. That track is very steep and he or she was making light of it. They obviously start them very young around here! 😊

Lacs de la Corne and de la Brèche Walk, Valais, Switzerland

Yesterday, Jude and I took advantage of what might be the last drop of Spring sunshine for a while, by driving down to the Rhone valley to do a bit of bird spotting. Our route took us through the woods around 2 small lakes and alongside quite a few holes of the Sierre Golf Course.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any decent shots of any of the birds but, for any enthusiasts out there, we spotted a few Goldeneyes, a pair of Mallards and a female Goosander on one of the lakes and 2 European Nuthatches, a (probably Great) Spotted Woodpecker, a Treecreeper, a Crow, a Robin and several Blue, Great and Long-tailed tits in the surrounding woods. Had I had a ‘fishing rod’ with me, I could have collected about 20 golf balls from the streams running between the course and the footpaths.

And, yes, that is a very hardy lady swimming in one of the lakes in picture 8. The air temperature couldn’t have been more than 13 degrees C (55 F) maximum, so I would imagine, after clear skies overnight, the water temperature was in single digits C (or somewhere between 32 and 48 F). We stopped nearby for lunch and saw her drying herself, like a cormorant, with arms out and facing the sun. Once dried and dressed she walked by and Jude asked her if she swam every day. She answered by saying that she tries to go in as often as she can, within the confines of her work schedule, which is about 2 or 3 times per week. Brrrr….!

Winter Walk, Arolla valley, Val, d’Hérens, Switzerland

Last week, Jude and I went for a drive up to Arolla to do a walk up the valley. We knew that heli-skiing (and heli-boarding) had become popular, but even we were surprised to see not one, but three helicopters waiting to take their clients high into the mountains. We were lucky in that 5 people arrived just as we got to the first one and soon they took off. (See pics 4 & 5). On our return another group arrived and a second (pic 7) soon disappeared over the horizon. As we made our way back through the woods, it seemed like only a matter of minutes had elapsed and the 5 in the first group came whizzing by, obviously eager to take off for at least a third time!

Bisse de Clavau, Valais, Switzerland

After several weeks of sub-zero temperatures and looking at snow and/or ice, it’s nice to go for a walk somewhere warmer and where things look a bit more normal… So, today, with a ‘big shop’ to do as well, Jude and I drove down to the Rhone valley, did our shopping and went for a short walk along the Bisse de Clavau, which runs along the vineyards, just above Sion..

As you will see, the skies were a little grey and not good for photography. Indeed I wasn’t going to post anything, but we saw and learnt a few interesting things:

Pic 1: The frost on the side window of our car was rather bizarre – one bit looked like a large spider had just been squashed on it and in a few other areas the ice looked like feathers… 🤔

Pic 4: There was a huge flock of what turned out to be Alpine Choughs taking off and landing in the vineyards. One minute they would all settle, then whoosh, they all took off again. I now learn that it’s called a Chattering or a Clattering of Choughs. Along the way we also saw 2 European Robins, a few Rock Buntings and a female Black Cap. (Photos far too distant and blurred to even consider posting…)

Pic 7: Wiki tells me that the yellow lichen on the branch of the tree, has a wide distribution and many common names such as common orange lichen, yellow scale, maritime sunburst lichen and shore lichen. I just liked the bright colour and the way some bits look like little suckers… (You may need to zoom in to see them).

Pic 9: The information board told us that the dry stone wall (at the top right of the photo) is the highest drystone wall in the world. Given that Sion is only about 500m (1,650ft) above sea level and therefore the wall no more than 800m (2,625ft), we doubt it’s the highest in terms of altitude, but it could well be the tallest. If so, not a lot of people know that! For those of you unfamiliar with drystone walling, I can highly recommend the Shire Guide to Drystone Walling by Lawrence Garner (who just happens to be my father-in-law!) It also features some of Jude’s photographs!

‘New’ website…

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was working on adding all 33 of the walks I had documented to this website and now I’m pleased to announce, IT’s FINISHED!! 😊 I had wondered about waiting until 5am on 4th March ’21 to ‘launch’ it, but I just couldn’t wait that long! (I hope you see what I did there).

I’ve updated the banner photos too, to have a little more variety and added a Contact menu option – just in case anyone would like to comment or request any more information. So, please feel free to have a browse around the pages under the “Walks in the Val d’Hérens” heading – at anytime and especially if you are stuck at home and self-isolating. Just select Easy, Medium or Challenging and then click on any of the walks summarised underneath the overview map… You’ll then find a map and a gallery of photos, as well as a route description should anyone visit this area to do any of the walks themselves.

Below are a few random photos taken from the associated galleries… (I should have done a quiz and asked which walk they belonged to… Too late now of course!) I hope it showcases what a wild and naturally beautiful part of the world the Val d’Hérens is!

Your comments and feedback (especially for any improvements) are always welcome of course. 😊