Trip to Bettmeralp, Valais, Switzerland

A few years ago now, Jude and I had promised ourselves that one day we would go skiing in Bettmeralp, or rather the AletschArena, as the lift system also links in with the Riederalp and Fiescheralp ski areas.  So, with some free time last week and the weather set fair, we did just that.

After several weeks of sunshine, we were pleasantly surprised at the depth and quality of the snow and the huge width of some of the ski pistes.  We were also very taken by a very picturesque Victorian style building, which turned out to be called Villa Cassel. (See pic 6).

Further research revealed that it was built for the German-English banker, Sir Ernest Cassell, who used it as a summer residence until the First World War.  Cassell had an interesting life.  He was born in Cologne and, at the age of 17, arrived penniless in the UK. However, he went on to become one of the richest men in Britain and was a good friend of King Edward VII, Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Winston Churchill.  He bred race horses and had a famous art collection.

The Villa itself could only be reached on foot or by mule.  But, when the inhabitants of the town said they were going to make a better road to his property, he answered: “If you do, I’m not coming here anymore.”

After the War, the Villa was used as a hotel, but was sold in 1970 and is now run as a nature conservation centre by Pro Natura, the oldest environmental organisation in Switzerland, who take care of about 700 nature reserves of various sizes throughout Switzerland.  I’m sure Ernest would have approved.

 

Fun in the snow

Firstly let me wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

My brother, Steve, has been visiting us this past week with his wife, Beverley, and their two sons, Gabriel and Sebastien.  Last Friday didn’t get off to a good start with snow falling all morning, but it did mean the boys could get to build a rather large (6ft/2m tall) snowman in the afternoon.  I say ‘boys’, but as you can see from the first few pictures, it was mainly Steve who built it, while Seb and Gabe did what brothers do – throw snowballs at each other.

From then on though it has been blue skies all the way and we’ve been out walking, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing.

With the sun shining brightly, as each day went by, the snowman started to tilt more and more.  Picture 29 below was taken on new year’s day (looking a bit how I felt!) and, even today, it’s still defying gravity by leaning at around 45 degrees.

Tour du Wildhorn, Switzerland (Day 2 of 4)

Although we had only 18km (11 miles) to cover, Pete and I knew that, with over 2,000m (6,500ft) of ascent, our second day would be the toughest (at least in terms of effort*).  Most people stop at Iffigenalp, but we chose to continue and do the Wildsrubelhutte variant.  So an early start was called for.

After a morning of lush green meadows, we had a short climb up to the Tungelpass and into the Iffigtal, passing the impossibly turquoise blue Iffigsee (pic 17).  We then stopped to catch our breath and a quick drink at Iffigenalp before setting off on the 1200m (almost 4,000 ft) climb to the hut.  As you can see from the pictures below, the terrain changes quite dramatically once you get above 2,500m (8,200 ft).  The only thing spoiling the views were the stanchions which supported two cable car lifts, which ran from Iffigenalp to the Wisshorelucke.  From what I heard, these were not for skiing as you might expect, but for use by the Swiss military.

*Days 3 and 4 would have their own challenges, but I’ll get on to them tomorrow… 😊

Again, Pete’s pictures are suitably watermarked.

Midsummer Festival, Evolène, Switzerland

Every year, on the 15th August, our village is host to one of the most traditional and colourful festivals.  Every other year, it is supplemented by the inclusion of the musicians and dancers from the Célébrations Interculturelles de la Montagne à Evolène (CIME), which takes place in the few days leading up to this and concludes with a final Gala evening performance.

The main event starts with a procession of vintage cars.  This is followed by people dressed in traditional costumes, demonstrating local dancing, music and crafts.  This year it was interspersed with performers from Russia, Armenia, Ecuador, Italy and Montenegro.

As you can see from the photos below (the best ones of which were taken by my wife Jude, as marked), everyone had a fabulous time.   And if you ever wondered where this utopia is that I live, but couldn’t be bothered to look it up, I’ve added a map at the end. 😊

 

Les Flantses Walk, Evolène, Val d’Hérens

While I was away in Krakow it snowed, as indeed it did the day I came back, so our little valley was completely white once more.   As ever though, it seems, the sun has been out since and doing its best to clear it all away again, particularly on the south facing slopes and this has led to the emergence of the first Spring flowers…  (My little Swiss Alpine Flora book has been gathering dust for 6 months, so it was good to get it out again. 🙂)

I decided to get some fresh air yesterday and took a short (maybe 3km / 2 miles) walk behind our chalet along the still partially covered paths and tracks in the area called Les Flantses, which lead up to the small hamlet of Volovron.  As you can see below, you don’t have to walk very far to get a good view of the valley and surrounding mountains.

 

Evolène

I received such positive feedback on the village photographs in my last post, (thank you Jet and M.Oniker), that I decided to take a few more pictures for you to enjoy.  But first, a little background…

Evolène is a village at around 1,380m (4,525ft) in the Val d’Hérens, which itself is in the southern part of the Valais canton of Switzerland.  The population of the whole commune (which includes the neighbouring villages of Les Haudères, Villa, La Sage, La Forclaz and Arolla) is only about 1,700.  Despite this relatively low number, we have 8 bar/restaurants in our village alone.  These survive due to the number of visitors that we get both during the winter, for skiing, and the summer for walking, cycling or mountaineering.  I read that 55% of the available light (i.e from when it appears from, or disappears, behind the mountains), is sunshine.  And with little wind and a fairly dry atmosphere, not to mention some beautiful scenery, you can see why it’s quite popular.

At the moment we have the annual Carnival, which this year runs from 6th January to 5th March, (this explains why some of the pictures still show what appear to be Christmas decorations) and in the summer from 10th to 15th August there will be the biannual, CIME mountain folklore festival.  More posts to come on these no doubt… 😄

Nordic skiing event, Evolène

I think it’s fair to say that there was a modest turnout for the 13th Edition of the Evolène Nordic Skiing event.  However, I’m sure every single one of them had a wonderful time.  After around 4″ to 5″ of overnight snow, the conditions were perfect underfoot, if not overhead, due to the grey skies.

There are junior events covering 1 to 2 kilometres, but the main, senior, events, for both the Classic and Skating styles, are 10k (6 miles) in length.  The course is 2 loops of 5k/3 miles and the Skating event started 5 minutes after the Classic, so the participants do get mixed up quite a bit.  I wasn’t even sure who had won, especially as the (apparent) winner of the Classic event didn’t seem to be out of breath when he crossed the finish line.

And, just in case you are wondering, yes, I have thought about entering, though purely to say that I did it.  However, it is a bit disconcerting when the winners have finished before some of the slower competitors (and that would be me) have even started the 2nd loop!

Winter walk to Lac d’Arbey

Although I’ve walked up to this little lake many times before, I’ve never done it in winter.  I had planned to get out my snowshoes, but the lock on the storage container at the back of the chalet (which gets no sun) was frozen solid.  Anyway, it didn’t matter as plenty of people had been up there before me, although their tracks had been covered by a light dusting of snow overnight.

My apologies again for so many photos, (and for the sun spots but, hey, who’s complaining about sunshine?) but I thought it might make you feel like you’d been on the walk yourself… Enjoy! 😁

 

Winter walk from Arolla to Les Haudères

After several more days of sub-zero temperatures in the Val d’Hérens (both during the day and overnight) the forecast for today was for up to 4 degrees C (39 F).  😅  So, to take advantage of this balmy weather, I decided to take the bus up to Arolla and walk back to Les Haudères.

Again I decided not to take the snow shoes, which was a big mistake, (some people never learn 🤭), as the snow was thigh deep in places and, even where people had gone before, it was much more difficult to wade through than I expected.   However, after one or two detours via the road (and a quick refreshment at La Gouille), the path thereafter became much easier and I soon made it to Les Haudères.

Note that the first 3 photos below were taken from the bus on the way up to Arolla.