Valais

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  • 1. Col du Grand St-Bernard

    Breasting the formidable barrier of the Alps at 8,101 feet, this pass is the oldest and most famous of the great Alpine crossings, and the...

    Breasting the formidable barrier of the Alps at 8,101 feet, this pass is the oldest and most famous of the great Alpine crossings, and the first to join Rome and Byzantium to the wilds of the north. Used for centuries before the birth of Christ, it has witnessed an endless stream of emperors, knights, and simple travelers. Napoléon took an army of 40,000 across it en route to Marengo, where he defeated the Austrians in 1800.

    Valais, Switzerland
  • 2. Église-Forteresse de Valère

    On Valère, Sion's lower hill, the Église-Forteresse de Valère is a striking example of sacred and secular power combined—reflective of the church's heyday, when it...

    On Valère, Sion's lower hill, the Église-Forteresse de Valère is 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, is a rare organ, with a cabinet painted with two fine medieval Christian scenes. Dating from the 15th century, it's the oldest playable organ in the world (though it doesn't appear old, as it was restored in 2005), and an annual organ festival celebrates its musical virtues. The château complex also houses the Musée 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. Explanations are in three languages, including English. To reach the museum and church, you have to trek up uneven stone walkways and steep staircases, but you won't regret it.

    24 rue des Châteaux, Sion, Valais, 1950, Switzerland
    027-6064715

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Church free, guided tour SF4; museum SF12 (free 1st Sun. of month), Church and museum closed Mon. Oct.–May. No guided tours Mon.–Sat. Oct.–May
  • 3. Fondation Pierre Gianadda

    The Fondation Pierre Gianadda rises in bold geometric shapes around the Roman ruins on which it is built. Recent retrospectives have spotlighted works by Renoir...

    The Fondation Pierre Gianadda rises in bold geometric shapes around the Roman ruins on which it is built. Recent retrospectives have spotlighted works by Renoir and Monet. The Musée Gallo-Romain displays Celtic and Gallo-Roman relics excavated from a 1st-century temple—striking bronzes, statuary, pottery, and coins unearthed from a time when Celtic tribes ruled Switzerland. Descriptions are only in French and German. A marked path leads through the antique village, baths, drainage systems, and foundations to the fully restored 5,000-seat amphitheater, which dates from the 2nd century. In the gracefully landscaped garden surrounding the foundation, a wonderful Parc de Sculpture displays works by Rodin, Brancusi, Miró, Arman, Moore, Dubuffet, and Max Ernst. There's also a sizable Musée de l'Automobile, which contains some 50 antique cars, all in working order. They include an 1897 Benz, the Delaunay-Belleville of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, and a handful of Swiss-made models. You may also spot posters for concerts by international classical stars such as Cecilia Bartoli or Itzhak Perlman—the space doubles as a concert hall.

    59 rue du Forum, Martigny, Valais, 1920, Switzerland
    027-7223978

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: SF20
  • 4. Matterhorn

    At 14,685 feet, the Matterhorn's elegant snaggletooth form rears up over the village of Zermatt, larger than life and genuinely awe inspiring. As you weave...

    At 14,685 feet, the Matterhorn's elegant snaggletooth form rears up over the village of Zermatt, larger than life and genuinely awe inspiring. As you weave through crowds along Bahnhofstrasse, the town's main street, you're bombarded on all sides by Matterhorn images—on postcards, sweatshirts, calendars, beer steins, and candy wrappers—while the original, slightly obscured by resort buildings, occasionally peers down at you. In town, it's better seen from side streets and the windows of hotel rooms. Break past the shops and hotels onto the main road into the hills, and you'll reach a slightly elevated spot where you'll probably stop dead in your tracks. There it is, a twist of snowy rock blinding in the sun. Catch it in the very early morning to witness its rare alpenglühen, when the rising sun bathes it in fragile pink light. It was Edward Whymper's spectacular—and catastrophic—conquest of the Matterhorn, on July 14, 1865, that made Zermatt a household word. After reaching the mountain's summit, his climbing party began its descent, tying themselves together and moving one man at a time. One of the climbers slipped, dragging the others down with him. Though Whymper and one of his companions braced themselves to stop the fall, the rope between climbers snapped and four mountaineers fell nearly 4,000 feet to their deaths. One body was never recovered, but the others lie in modest graves behind the park near the village church, surrounded by scores of other failed mountaineers. In summer, the streets of Zermatt fill with sturdy, weathered climbers who continue to tackle the peaks, and climbers have mastered the Matterhorn thousands of times since Whymper's disastrous victory.

    Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland
  • 5. Walliser Alpentherme & Spa

    Sporting expansive Palladian windows set in marble, the Alpentherme looks like a temple perched on the hill. Annexes contain a beauty center, shopping arcade, and...

    Sporting expansive Palladian windows set in marble, the Alpentherme looks like a temple perched on the hill. Annexes contain a beauty center, shopping arcade, and bistro. The unique spa treatments here are the Roman-Irish bath, a two-hour succession of hot and cold soaks, vapor treatments, and a soap-brush massage; and the Valaisan sauna village, a course of steam rooms and saunas. Massage, herbal wraps, scrubs, and medical consultations are also on the menu. Children under eight are welcome with an adult at the pools for free, but they are not permitted in the sauna village or Roman-Irish baths.

    Dorfpl., Leukerbad, Valais, 3954, Switzerland
    027-4721010

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: SF25 for 3 hrs in thermal baths; SF40 for 5 hrs in baths and sauna; SF55 day pass for baths and sauna
  • 6. Abbaye de Saint-Maurice

    At the end of the 4th century, the first bishop of the Valais built a sanctuary over Maurice's tomb, and in 515 the Abbaye de...

    At the end of the 4th century, the first bishop of the Valais built a sanctuary over Maurice's tomb, and in 515 the Abbaye de Saint-Maurice was founded. Its treasury contains a stellar collection of religious offerings, with precious Romanesque and Gothic objects given in honor of the martyrs. Contemplate both sides of the stunning bronze doors with inscriptions honoring martyrs from around the world. Excavations near the baroque église abbatiale (abbey church) have revealed the foundations of the original building.

    19 av. d'Agaune, St-Maurice, Valais, 1890, Switzerland
    024-4851534

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Church free; guided tour 15 SF, Tuesday-Friday 10-5:30; Saturday-Sunday 1:30-5:30
  • 7. Château de Tourbillon

    Crowning Tourbillon, the higher of Sion's hills, the ruined château was built as a bishop's residence at the end of the 13th century and destroyed...

    Crowning Tourbillon, the higher of Sion's hills, the ruined château was built as a bishop's residence at the end of the 13th century and destroyed by fire in 1788. If you take the rugged hike up the steep hill, try to visit the tiny chapel with its ancient, layered frescoes.

    14 rue des Châteaux, Sion, Valais, 1950, Switzerland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed mid-Nov.–mid-Mar.
  • 8. Dom

    Saas-Fee is at the heart of a circle of mountains called the Mischabel, 13 of which tower more than 13,120 feet. Among them is the...

    Saas-Fee is at the heart of a circle of mountains called the Mischabel, 13 of which tower more than 13,120 feet. Among them is the Dom (14,908 feet), the highest mountain entirely on Swiss soil.

    Saas-Fee, Valais, Switzerland
  • 9. Eispavillon

    The Eispavillon combines fascinating construction with a dash of kitsch and lets you look beneath the frozen surface of the earth. More than 25 feet...

    The Eispavillon combines fascinating construction with a dash of kitsch and lets you look beneath the frozen surface of the earth. More than 25 feet below the ice pack, the cavernous facility provides an impressive view of the surreal, frozen environment inside glacial formations. Bring a coat or sweater—it's literally freezing down there. There are ice sculptures, exhibits on glaciology and crevasse rescue, and even a chapel-like room for meditation, concerts, and art shows. To reach the Eis Pavillon, take the Alpin Express or Felskinn cable car up to Felskinn before switching to the underground funicular—the world's highest (prepare yourself for a drastic change in altitude).

    Mittelallalin, Saas-Fee, Valais, 3906, Switzerland
    027-9581100

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: SF10
  • 10. Fee Glacier

    Saas-Fee lies in a deep valley that leaves no doubt about its source—it seems to pour from the vast, intimidating Fee Glacier. "Fee" can be...

    Saas-Fee lies in a deep valley that leaves no doubt about its source—it seems to pour from the vast, intimidating Fee Glacier. "Fee" can be translated as "fairy," and this primordial landscape could illustrate a fairy tale. See it up close by taking a gondola up to Spielboden and then a cable car to Längfluh, right on the glacier's edge, where there's a restaurant with magnificent glacial views.

    Saas-Fee, Valais, Switzerland
  • 11. Fiesch Cable Car

    If the day is clear, grab the chance for a spectacular ride to the top of one of the lofty peaks that shadow the roadway...

    If the day is clear, grab the chance for a spectacular ride to the top of one of the lofty peaks that shadow the roadway by taking the Fiesch cable car up to Eggishorn (9,413 feet). The panoramic views of Alps and glaciers leave most breathless. As the cable car rotates 360 degrees, you can tick off famous Bernese and Valaisan peaks from your to-see list. The Jungfrau, Eiger, Matterhorn, and Dom are clearly visible, as are peaks that lie across the border in Italy and France.

    Furkastr. 61, Valais, 3984, Switzerland
    027-9712700
  • 12. Fondation Barry du Grand-St-Bernard

    Storyboards and films at the Fondation Barry du Grand-St-Bernard praise the lifesaving work of a breed of dog that has come to symbolize the Alpine...

    Storyboards and films at the Fondation Barry du Grand-St-Bernard praise the lifesaving work of a breed of dog that has come to symbolize the Alpine zone straddling Switzerland and Italy. Several St. Bernard dogs (and puppies) live year-round at the foundation, which is in a restored arsenal adjacent to Martigny's Roman amphitheater. Visitors may encounter the dogs at Barryland, a grassy outdoor enclosure. Cuddly toy St. Bernards and other dog-themed gifts are sold in the shop. The famous St. Bernard dogs helped the monks find travelers lost in the snow for centuries. They supposedly came to Switzerland with silk caravans from Central Asia and were used by Romans as war dogs; today they're kept more for sentimental than functional reasons. The foundation is named after the most famous St. Bernard of them all: Barry, who saved more than 40 people in the 19th century and today stands stuffed in Bern's Naturhistorisches Museum (Museum of Natural History). Souvenir stands sell plush versions of St. Bernards, and there are a handful of dining options on either side of the pass.

    34 rue du Levant, Martigny, Valais, 1920, Switzerland
    027-7204920

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: SF12
  • 13. Fondation Pierre Arnaud

    This modern glass building highlighting contemporary Swiss art is just down the hill from Crans-Montana, in the village of Lens on Lake Louché. Exhibits, which...

    This modern glass building highlighting contemporary Swiss art is just down the hill from Crans-Montana, in the village of Lens on Lake Louché. Exhibits, which rotate every four months, include such themes as surrealism and non-Western art, divisionism, and realism.

    1, Rte. de Crans, Lens, Valais, 1978, Switzerland
    027-483-4610

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 12 SF, Late Dec.–early Oct., Tues.–Wed. and Fri.–Sun. 10–7, Thurs. 10–9, Closed mid-Oct.–late Dec.
  • 14. Gornergrat–Monte Rose Bahn

    Transportation Site (Airport, Bus, Ferry, Train)

    It's quite simple to gain the broader perspective of high altitudes without risking life or limb. A train trip on the Gornergrat Bahn functions...

    It's quite simple to gain the broader perspective of high altitudes without risking life or limb. A train trip on the Gornergrat Bahn functions as an excursion as well as a ski transport. Part of its rail system was completed in 1898, and it's the highest open-air rail system in Europe (the tracks to the Jungfraujoch, though higher, bore through the face of the Eiger). It connects out of the main Zermatt train station and heads sharply left, at a right angle to the track that brings you into town. Its stop at the Riffelberg, at 8,469 feet, presents wide-open views of the Matterhorn. Farther on, from Rotenboden, at 9,246 feet, a short downhill walk leads to the Riffelsee, which obligingly provides photographers a postcard-perfect reflection of the famous peak. At the end of the 9-km (5½-mile) line, the train stops at the summit station of Gornergrat, at 10,266 feet, and passengers pour onto the observation terraces to take in the majestic views of the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Gorner Glacier, and an expanse of peaks and glaciers. Make sure to bring warm clothes, sunglasses, and sturdy shoes, especially if you're planning to ski or hike down.

    Bahnhofpl. 7, Brig, Valais, 3900, Switzerland
    084-8642442

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 84 SF round-trip, 42 SF one way, Departures daily every 24 mins, approximately 8–7 in summer and 8–5 in winter; check online for the latest schedules, 94 SF round-trip, 47 SF one way
  • 15. Grimentz

    In summer, you can drive down a narrow forest road to Grimentz. With a population of 490, this ancient 13th-century village has preserved its weathered-wood...

    In summer, you can drive down a narrow forest road to Grimentz. With a population of 490, this ancient 13th-century village has preserved its weathered-wood houses and mazots in its tiny center. It is particularly known for its vin du glacier, or glacier wine, which is traditionally drunk directly from the barrel rather than bottled.

    Grimentz, Valais, Switzerland
  • 16. Hôtel de Ville

    The Town Hall has extraordinary historic roots: though it was built in the 1650s, it has transplanted stones in the entrance bearing Roman inscriptions, including...

    The Town Hall has extraordinary historic roots: though it was built in the 1650s, it has transplanted stones in the entrance bearing Roman inscriptions, including a Christian symbol from the year AD 377. The 17th-century doors are richly carved wood, and the tower displays an astronomical clock. The interior is accessible only on walking tours run by the tourism office.

    Rue de Conthey and Rue du Grand-Pont, Sion, Valais, 1950, Switzerland
  • 17. Isérables

    High up in the bluffs and valleys to the south of Sion are scores of isolated eagle's-nest towns, including Isérables. Set on a precarious slope...

    High up in the bluffs and valleys to the south of Sion are scores of isolated eagle's-nest towns, including Isérables. Set on a precarious slope that drops 3,280 feet into the lowlands, the town has narrow streets that weave between crooked old stone-shingle mazots. Since the arrival of the cable car, Isérables has prospered and modernized itself. Yet the inhabitants of this village still carry the curious nickname Bedjuis. Some say it's derived from "Bedouins" and that the people are descended from the Saracen hordes who, after the battle of Poitiers in 732 AD, overran some of the high Alpine valleys. Excursions to the sights and villages of this haute vallée (high valley) can be accomplished in a day, with a little time to hike and explore before returning to Sion.

    Valais, Switzerland
  • 18. Keller zur Grotte

    Just outside Leukerbad is this cozy winery with a tasting room where you can sample wonderful Humagne Rouges, Fendants, Walliser rosés, and Cornalins, among other...

    Just outside Leukerbad is this cozy winery with a tasting room where you can sample wonderful Humagne Rouges, Fendants, Walliser rosés, and Cornalins, among other unique Valais varietals. The town makes for a great half-day bike ride from Leukerbad, and it is downhill all the way. For those who don't want to climb up again, you can easily throw your bike on the bus as you head back uphill.

    Kegelpl. 7, Varen, Valais, 3953, Switzerland
    027-4733647

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun. and Mon.
  • 19. L'Hospice du Grand St-Bernard

    In operation since the Middle Ages, the monk-run L'Hospice du Grand St-Bernard has played host to kings, princes, and writers like Charles Dickens. Within these...

    In operation since the Middle Ages, the monk-run L'Hospice du Grand St-Bernard has played host to kings, princes, and writers like Charles Dickens. Within these walls you'll find cozy, inexpensive guest rooms and a stone dining hall where you can revive yourself with bowls of warm soup, slabs of creamy Bagnes cheese, honey-sweetened tea, and carafes of red Dôle wine produced in the Valais. The facility includes an excellent museum with exhibits about the history of the pass and the devoted monks of the Order of St. Augustine, who live here. Displays of church treasures—chalices, crosses, and altar clothes in gold, silver, and jewels—are on view in another wing. The bones in the crypt add a macabre touch. The fresco-bedecked baroque church remains open for daily prayers. 

    Col du Grand St-Bernard, Valais, Switzerland
    027-7871153

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Museum SF10, Closed mid-Oct.–May
  • 20. Lac Souterrain St-Léonard

    For an activity the whole family can enjoy, take a half-hour boat ride across the largest natural subterranean lake in Europe at 984 feet long,...

    For an activity the whole family can enjoy, take a half-hour boat ride across the largest natural subterranean lake in Europe at 984 feet long, where you can see strange rock formations and even fish under the crystal clear water. Bring an extra sweater, even in summer, as it gets chilly when you descend into the cave. Watch for monthly boat concerts on the lake, where the acoustics are exceptional.

    21 rue du Lac, Valais, 1958, Switzerland
    027-2032266

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: SF10, Closed mid-Nov.–mid-Mar.

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