On Valère, Sion's lower hill, the Église-Forteresse de Valèreis a striking example of sacred and secular power combined—reflective of the Church's heyday, when it often subjugated rather than served its parishioners. Built on Roman foundations, the massive stone walls enclose both the château and the 11th-century Église Notre-Dame de Valère (Church of Our Lady of Valère). This structure stands in a relatively raw form, rare in Switzerland, where monuments
are often restored to perfection. Over the engaging Romanesque carvings, 16th-century fresco fragments, and 17th-century stalls painted with scenes of the Passion, there sits a rare organ, its cabinet painted with two fine medieval Christian scenes. Dating from the 14th century, it's the oldest playable organ in the world, and an annual organ festival celebrates its musical virtues.
The château complex also houses the Musée Cantonal d'Histoire (History Museum), which displays a wide array of medieval sacristy chests and religious artifacts. Expanded exhibits trace daily life and advances in the canton from these early centuries to the present day, including soccer championships. Explanations are in three languages, including English, as are guided tours. To reach the Musée Cantonal d'Histoire, you'll have to trek up uneven stone walkways and steep staircases, but you won't regret it.
Rue des Châteaux 24, Sion, 1950, Switzerland