Walk around Lac de Montsalvens, Gruyère, Switzerland

Like many of you no doubt, Jude and I have been longing to get away for a bit of a break. The hotels in Switzerland are still open and we took advantage of a special Dinner, Bed and Breakfast offer at a hotel in the small village of Charmey.

I think it’s fair to say that the Gruyère region is more ‘chocolate box’ pretty than the more rugged Alps of the Valais, as I hope these photos show.

Walk from La Luette to Sion, Valais, Switzerland

The weather has been pretty warm across most of Central Europe for the past week or so and a few of the butterflies have come out to play. I therefore decided to take a walk down the Val d’Hérens to see what I could find.

I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t see anything along the upper path leading to Ossona, as the temperature was still only 5 degrees C (41 F). After dropping down to the river, I took a detour to take some photos of the ancient Pont Riva footbridge and was bemoaning my luck, thinking it must still be too early, when not one but two Orange Tips came along at once. Conveniently they were a male and female and they stayed still long enough to get some reasonable pictures.

I then missed two Camberwell Beauties, something brown and a large orange one, but as I got nearer to the (much warmer) Rhone valley, a lot more butterflies and a skipper appeared. I was lucky to capture the Brimstone, as most of them seemed to be taking part in some sort of long distance flight race. And, I wasn’t expecting to see a Comma this early in the year, but I spotted at least 4 in my travels.

Also, it’s funny what you see in your photographs when you go through them. If you look closely at the Pasqueflower in picture 20, you will see a small green resident. And the Comma picture (no. 44) wasn’t my best, but it also had a small creature crawling up the branch, so I decided to include that one in the gallery.

Arolla to Lac Bleu (Walk 10) in the (deep) snow

I promised in my post on Monday that I would return to do this walk with my GPS. I knew that things would be ‘interesting’ when the GPS showed I was about 10 metres to the right of the road I was walking on to get to the start. A walk, of around 4km or 2.5 miles, which would take me no more than 1h 30 mins in the summer, turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Read on…

It wasn’t long before I reached the point where I turned around last time and I discovered that the path did a quick left-right zig-zag up the hill. So far, so good, but the way ahead still wasn’t crystal clear. I spent the next hour or so picking my way through the trees, often knee deep in snow, either just to the left or just to the right of the line shown on the GPS. If I was to the left, the route below and to the right often looked easier. Then I’d look up and the route above looked better. Never mind one zig-zag, I must have zig-zagged all the way along that first section.

I came across the open area where I was worried before about an avalanche. I decided to drop down to where the trees were only 10 to 15 metres apart. Big mistake. I took one step down and my leg disappeared into a huge hole. It was like stepping off a 3 foot wall (or rock probably). I was instantly thrown forward, down the slope and started to slide. The good news was that I was going head first and so I could see that I was heading for a small bush. I grabbed a branch and this arrested my slide. The bush, or at least what’s sticking out of the snow, can be seen just below the centre of picture 8, with the hole up to the right (below the middle one of the three trees top right).

Safely on the other side, the going got much easier as the snow had been cleared by the sun – but only for about 300 to 400 metres. My next challenge was a short section which was/is ‘protected’ by a metal chain. (They normally fix these where the ground goes away steeply, or straight down, to the side). The problem was that half of the chain was still under snow and I couldn’t get it out to hold onto. So I had to kick foot holds, VERY carefully over the top. (See pics 13 and 14).

And then it got worse…

I was back in the woods, zig-zagging up and down the slopes again and the snow got deeper and deeper. I reached a gully where I could see a bridge, slightly above, which I needed to cross, but the way around to it, looked too risky. So I climbed up through the trees, thinking it would be safer to make my way across and down to it. (You may have gathered by now that turning back was not really an option as I was much nearer to Lac Bleu than Arolla).

Then I heard voices, which turned out to be a some ski-tourers coming down the gully. A guide, 30 metres (or 100ft) below, was calling to his clients. I figured that if he could get there on skis, I could get across to the bridge – and so I dropped back down to where I’d started. But getting around to the bridge proved to be the hardest challenge of all.

I kid you not, the ‘slope’ of the snow must have been at least 60 or 70 degrees. So I was trying to climb up by kicking my feet into the snow, but as soon as I put my weight on my foot, it went back down to, more or less, where it started. It must have taken me about 20 minutes to cover just 25 metres. The snow was that deep it was over the top of the sides of the bridge. So I did, literally, go ‘over’ the bridge.

After more zig-zagging through the trees, I came to another gully. And the view back down to Satarma (pic 16) looked infinitely more appealing than another 20 minutes or more working my way around to what might have been a good path to Lac Bleu and then a descent to La Gouille and Satarma. So that’s what I did, I ‘walked’ (more like, stumbled) down the snowy slope, sometimes ankle deep, sometimes knee deep and more than once up to my thighs. Twice I got myself stuck, where I couldn’t move either leg, but luckily there was a branch nearby to help haul myself upright and out.

Five hours and 45 minutes after setting off, I arrived in Satarma. My feet were wet and soggy after all the snow that had melted into my boots. I took them off, wrung out the water from my socks and put them back on before trudging, disconsolately, back up the road to Arolla. I’ve never been so pleased and relieved to finish a walk.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I avoid snowy walks for the next few weeks…

Note that the last 3 photos below were taken on the way back to Evolène.

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 around Arolla, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

By stark contrast to the Spring-like conditions of my post yesterday, the situation up at the top end of our valley, in Arolla (@2,000m or 6,560ft) couldn’t be more different. The snow is still 60cm or 2ft deep in places and, on Sunday, the place was over-run with skiers getting their end of season fix.

My plan was to walk the last of my “Easy” walks (Walk 10) from Arolla to Lac Bleu, but I soon discovered that the path was hard to find. (Note to self – take the GPS next time!) Picture 4 below shows the signpost where I was due to turn left. I thought twice about it, but persevered. About 20 minutes later, having seen no way markers for the past 10 minutes, I gave up and came back to the same junction and went right.

This lower path was meant to be a snow-shoeing route but, again, I somehow managed to get off the official route and found myself facing a trudge across an open snow-field with a slope of at least 45 degrees from up left down to the right. Now, almost every week we hear of people dying in avalanches, so, with the sun blazing down, I wasn’t going to risk adding to that statistic and I made my way, very carefully, down to the road under the ‘cover’ of several bushes and trees.

“What now?” I thought to myself and, rather than walk back along the road, I headed across to the other side of the river and followed the snow-shoeing route, before taking a rather cheeky short cut across the cross-country piste back to Arolla. At least it gave me the chance to take some more photos for you. 😊

I shall return later this coming week, with GPS in hand, to complete Walk 10 (if I can).

Walk in the Pfyn-Finges Nature Reserve, Valais, Switzerland

On Friday Jude and I drove down to the Rhone valley to take a stroll around the Pfyn-Finges Nature Reserve. We’ve been there a few times before, most notably last year when we spotted oodles of wildlife – but then, that was in June. So we were not sure what to expect, though the sun was shining and the temperature was in the teens (55-60’s F).

As you will see below, there wasn’t a huge amount of variety, but there were loads of damselflies. Rather frustratingly, they remained just out of reach for me to get a good, crisp photograph to identify them for sure. But what the images lack in quality is made up for in quantity… 😉

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! 😊

Walk to La Sage, La Forclaz and Les Haudères from Evolène, (Walk 6), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

As expected, we did get some overnight snow, but it was only a very small amount down to around 1600m or 5,250ft. So, while the underfoot conditions were favourable, I decided to pick off another of my ‘Easy’ walks – no. 6 to Les Haudères, via the villages of La Sage and La Forclaz. (This leaves only walks 8 and 10 to do, if I can, before this ‘winter’ is over).

As you will see from the gallery below, the walk started brightly enough, but the clouds soon came along to make things a little tricky for my point and shoot camera. (I’ve had to lighten a couple of the images). But, I hope you enjoy the walk as much as I did. 😊

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….!

Sentier Du Cep à la Cime, Valais, Switzerland

Warning: Routes on maps and weather forecasts can be misleading…

Regarding the first point – when I looked at the map, this appeared to be just a ‘simple’ circular walk through the vineyards from and to St-Pierre-de-Clages. (Don’t ask me why they have the hyphens in there, but they do). The Swiss mobile app said it was ‘only’ 10km (6 miles) long, with 420m (1,378 ft) of ascent. But, in the event, it turned out to be an extremely varied walk with quite a stiff climb out of the valley.

On the second point – it was supposed to be wall to wall sunshine… Ever the optimist, I hoped the clouds would clear as the day progressed, but I was sadly disappointed. 🙁 My apologies therefore for the poor quality of the images below.

The walk did start through the vineyards, heading towards the huge rockface which looms over the valley. There I met a lady who asked me if I’d come to spot the birds. (Well, we were standing next to an information board showing the birds that we might see in the area). After explaining that I was just there to do this walk, she told me she was on the look out for a ‘bruant fou’ or rock bunting. There were 4 or 5 other ‘twitchers’ around too, with their long lenses and binoculars, (see pic 7). Though I couldn’t quite see why they were getting so excited about this little bird, which is quite common I’m sure. E.g. Jude and I saw them just a few weeks ago on our walk along the Bisse de Clavau. (The information board also suggested that they might be there all year round, however…)

After a short detour to explore the ‘tunnel’ seen in pics 3-7, the track/path began to rise up and above the village of Chamoson. Eventually it levelled off and I had an unexpected surprise when I discovered that the path ran alongside the Bisse de Poteu. (So that’s another bisse ticked off my list!)

From there the route dropped down to run alongside the River Losentse. Now I’d like to say that Swiss rivers are very pretty, but that is not often the case (in the Valais anyway). Indeed, following huge storms and mudslides in both 2018 and, especially, 2019, the Losentse has gouged out the hillside, creating what can only be described as a huge, grey mess. So it came as no surprise when the bridge, which I was supposed to cross, had disappeared completely. (See pic 20). There was an easy alternative down the left hand side of the river, but I was still half-heartedly wondering if I could get across to follow the official route, when I noticed the makeshift plank. (Again, see pic 20 if you haven’t already spotted it).

Once back on track, the route meandered down through Chamoson, where I took a quick peak inside the church, before descending through the vineyards to St-Pierre-de-Clages. All things considered it was an interesting walk, which I’ll have to repeat in the summer or autumn when the vines are fully grown and, preferably when the sun is shining!

In case you’ve been wondering, Du Cep à la Cime translates as From Vine to the Peak and is one of the official ‘local’ routes, no. 177 (more info. found here). There are information boards all the way along the route, giving details of e.g. the geology, the birds and, of course, wine production in the area.