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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 83 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

Discovering the many charms of canton Valais

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Hello Swiss travellers, welcome to episode 83 of the podcast.  I’m your host Carolyn and I’m so glad to have your company today.

If you’re listening to this podcast I guess there’s a fair chance you’re interested in visiting Switzerland. And if you’ve started looking for ideas on where to visit and what to see, the famous Alpine resort of Zermatt may well be one of the destinations that you have added to your itinerary.

But Zermatt is just one of many fabulous towns and villages in the canton of Valais that are worth visiting, as you’ll discover in today’s podcast.

I’ve travelled through the canton many times by both car and train, and I have been fortunate to visit Zermatt on a number of occasions but I’ll admit I haven’t explored Valais in great detail. And that definitely has to change!

There’s so much I learnt about Valais in my chat with Emilie Morard and Mario Braide from Valais Tourism that I’m itching to take a much deeper look.  

From spectacular landscapes to man-made attractions, cute animals to delicious food and wine, vibrant cities to charming villages, there is something to appeal to everyone in Valais.  Add in UNESCO World Heritage sites, hiking, winter sports, and festivals celebrating the customs of the canton, and you really do have the complete destination.

I know you’re going to find plenty of reasons to include some time in Valais in this episode.  But before we hear from Emilie and Mario, I’d like to say thank you, as always, to the folks from Switzerland Tourism for sponsoring the podcast.  You’ll find loads of information and inspiration for your Swiss trip planning on their website myswitzerland.com

If you need the train ride of a lifetime, you need Switzerland.



Hello, Mario and Emilie. Thank you very much for coming on to the podcast to tell us all about the Canton of Valais. Would you both like to introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about your background and the Canton that you promote?

Yeah. Hello, Carolyn. It’s a pleasure to be here with you and your podcast. I’m Mario and I’m responsible for the long haul markets for the Valais Matterhorn Region. Long haul markets means North America, Canada, and Asia, including Asia Pacific, means Australia and New Zealand as well. We are promoting the Valais within the international markets in Europe, and as I mentioned before, in the long haul markets. Emilie, she’s responsible for Europe. Would you like to introduce yourself, Emilie.

Thank you, Mario. Yes, it’s a real pleasure to be with you, Carolyn, today. I’m working now since 10 years with that company, promoting and selling the beautiful canton of Valais all over Europe together with team. I started as a market manager and since five years now, I’m leading the European team like Mario is doing for the long haul team. I was born and bred in Valais, pretty much for the background. I was lucky enough to leave and work the year in New York. Yeah, this is my background.

Fantastic. What about you, Mario? Are you born and bred in Valais?

No, originally I’m from the Graubunden area. I’m from Davos, born there. But just recently I became also Valaisan. I have the Valaisan citizenship now since this year.

Okay. You’re dedicated to that canton, obviously? Yeah, definitely.

I’m living 30 years now in the Valais, so it was about time, I would say.

I’m sure you regarded it as a local by now. Emilie, for those listeners who aren’t perhaps familiar with Valais, could you tell us whereabouts in Switzerland it actually is?

Valais is located southwest of Switzerland. So we’re really at the border of France and Italy, which is well, when you travel in the region, you will feel a bit the influence of both of the places because we have a strong culture there.

Great. So it’s in the south of Switzerland. Mario, what are some of the characteristics of the canton?

First of all, our beautiful landscape. For example, in Switzerland, we have in total 48 peaks, which are over 4,000 meters above sea level or 13,000 feet above sea level. 45 out of these 48 are located in the Valais. The Valais is also a bilingual canton region, so we speak French and some a German. It’s quite a special Swiss-German dialect, which people, for example, from the Zurich area, can hardly understand when we talk to each other.

Also agriculture is a big thing in our canton in our region. We are the biggest wine producer in Switzerland. One-third of the wine production of Switzerland comes from the Valais. We have over 60 different grapes. It’s quite hard to find Swiss wine abroad because we only export 1% of the total wine production. You need to come to Switzerland to taste the Valais wine. You need to come to us. Another special thing is the apricot. The apricot, which is the local fruit from the Valais, 80% of the apricot production in Switzerland is made in the Valais.

And then we have some special characteristics during our carnival season, the so-called Tschäggättä, which are active during carnival. Valaisan man wearing fur and carved wooden mask and scared people while running around through the villages, especially in the Lötschental, which is a part of the Valais.

What time of year does that take place?

This is usually around February. It depends. It’s always related to Easter, so it can be end of January, but can be also beginning of March, but usually it’s in February.

Okay, all right. Keep that in mind. Now, most people possibly know one of Valais’ famous landmarks, I guess you would call it, is the Matterhorn. And that’s one of the best and best-known and most photographed mountains in the world. But I think there are some other impressive natural and man-made landmarks and attractions in the Canton, too. Emilie, could you tell us about some of those?

Yeah, you name it, Carolyn. Valais is home of the Matterhorn. But as you see, we have plenty of man made attraction as well as natural beauty, because Valais is really a land of adventure, of landscape, of mountain, as Mario mentioned it already. So just to name a few of our natural heritage, we can mention the Great Aletsch Glacier, which is a UNESCO World heritage site and the longest ice floor in Europe, with its 20 kilometer long distance, are as for the man made attraction.

We have, for example, the Gornergrat bahn, which celebrated in 2023, it’s 125th year’s anniversary. And it’s cogwheel railway, by the way, takes you up to 3,100 above sea level and it will offer you the best photo spot for the Matterhorn you named before. There are just two options there. And if you want to beat world records, for example, you can go in Saas-Fee during your stay because there you will reach the highest revolving restaurant of the world. But to reach this point, you will have to take the highest underground funicular in the world. So once you’re in the top there, you will be able to enjoy a stunning view on 18 4,000 meter peaks.

And when the sky is really clear, you can see all the way through Milan. So this is quite something unique. And if we continue with masterpiece, we have the Grand Dixence Dam in the Val d’Hérémence. There you will tick the box of the highest gravity dam of the world. And what’s fantastic there is that you can visit the inside of the structure, you can learn about the history. And if you’re an adventure freak, there is even a 700-meter long zipline. So it’s up to you to choose where you put the adventure level.

That sounds like a lot of fun.

It is definitely, I can tell you.

Great. So there’s plenty of man-made and natural attractions that we can see. What about some of the towns and mountain villages that people should visit when they’re in the Canton? Mario, have you got a few favourites that you’d like to share?

Yeah. First of all, we have Brig, which is the historical and cultural centre of the German-speaking part of the Valais. Brig has a Mediterranean flavour and style with a car-free city centre. You have a main square like a piazza in Italy, where you can enjoy outdoor dining, bars, shopping, et cetera. You have a beautiful castle right in the city center, the Stockalper Palace. You can use Brig really as a hub to discover the region, to discover highlights mentioned before by Emilie, like the Matterhorn, the Aletsch Glacier, everything is nearby there. In the French-speaking part, we have Martigny, which is also the home of the famous Saint Bernard Dog.

Also, regarding culture, we have the Fondation de la Fondation Gianadda, which offers regular exhibitions of great artists just like Picasso, et cetera. It’s also a cultural hub there in the French-speaking part. Then talking about villages, car-free villages are one important point in our region. Also, if we talk about sustainability, we have the car-free villages of Riederalp and Bettmeralp based just at the Aletsch Glacier mentioned by Emilie before, the UNESCO World Heritage site. Also the glacier village, Saas-Fee, the highest revolving restaurant is car-free.

Even we have some hot spring, hot springs area in our region in the Valais, the most famous is probably, Leukerbad, which is the largest thermal water spa resort in the Alps. Talking again from the French-speaking part, we have Nendaz, for example, which is the home of the Alphorn, this very typical and traditional Swiss music instrument. You even can book some Alphorn classes there in Nendaz and try to play the Alphorn. Furthermore, this region around Nendaz and Veysonnaz is also very famous for its so-called bisses, which are water irrigation channels built in the past to water the land for the agriculture. Still in use, and you can do some beautiful and nice, easy hikes along those bisses, these water irrigation channels.

Wow. There’s really something for everyone, isn’t there?

Definitely.

Yeah, a wide variety. Now, we’ve mentioned Zermatt a couple of times, and we’ve had previous podcast episodes about Zermatt. I’ll link to those in the show notes if people haven’t heard those and want to go back and listen to them. But most of our listeners probably that Zermatt is a famous ski resort. But I think there’s probably quite a lot of other ski resorts in the canton, given how many high peaks there are. Emilie, are you a skier? And what are some of the best mountains that we should visit to try the snow sports?

Oh, yes, I’m definitely a skier, Carolyn. And I can tell you we have plenty of spots where you can go skiing. I’d rather mention maybe the number of kilometres of slopes we have than resorts, because I think it maybe speaks better to the people. We have over 2,000 kilometres of slopes split in between a lot of destinations. We count over 40, but there are a lot of different way to count the number of resorts. So let’s say it’s a lot of resorts. In Valais, you really find ski for everyone. We have, for example, the largest ski area, the Four Valleys, with over 400 kilometres of slopes. It’s a great place to start your ski safari, it is, sorry, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, or Thyon. Those are the villages that Mario mentioned before, and there you can really start your journey through the Four Valley. They’re a fantastic resort.

And if you think this is not enough, then you better head to the Region Dents du Midi  which is part of the Port du Soleil. This is the world largest ski area. It’s based on two countries, France and Switzerland, and you have over 600 kilometres of slopes. So the Swiss side is really made out of six very charming villages.

And more important to know is while you’re landing in Geneva, this is the closest destination from the airport. So it’s perfect for a short stay. If you have a long weekend, this is the location you might choose as being close for you. But if you’re looking for a destination where you can ski and relax, Mario mentioned it before, we have Leukerbad. This is a thermal destination, meaning you can, in one hand, ski during the day and enjoy relaxing after to be ready for the next skiing day. They have over 32 pools, which should make the options of taking it easy the day after quite a lot and quite large.

I guess soaking in the pools after your day on the slopes is something that a lot of people would look forward to.

Yeah, it’s perfect. And what’s most impressive is you’re in a pool and you’re surrounded by high mountain, so it makes the experience even more special.

Yeah, absolutely. And are there ski slopes in the canton suitable for everyone or only more experienced skiers?

No, we really have slopes for everyone. Maybe to mention one element is the fact we have a family welcome label destination. We have a six in the region. It means, the facilities not only for skiing, but as well for the activities and for the family around, it’s really meant to be. And as speaking of slopes and difficulty, we really have a grade of difficulty on the slopes, and we really have a good split in between black slopes, red slopes, blue slopes. And on top of that, for the people that want to go off the beaten tracks, we as well have what we call yellow tracks. This is ungroomed, but secured slopes. So you can go off this skiing carrying your material, but on an area that has been secured. So you see the variety of skiing is really for every member of the family, every level, sorry.

And if you’re a non-skier, you don’t have to forget that we have fantastic restaurant that can be reached with the cable cars. So if you’d rather take a trip with a bunch of friends or family that are non-skier. You can make a meeting point on the top at the restaurant. Some ski, some do snow shoeing. And everybody joins for a fantastic lunch in a terrace and enjoy a panoramic view. So yeah, quite a lot of options.

Yeah, sounds perfect. So non-skiers can just perhaps sit back and enjoy a hot chocolate or a gluhwine or something and watch their friends and whish down the slopes.

Absolutely, really. This is what I highly recommend. Even as a skier, take some time in a terrace. We have a Mediterranean climate. We have sun 300 days a year. So meaning the chances that you are skiing with the sun are quite high.

Yeah, fantastic. Mario, you mentioned before the Saint Bernard dogs, and they’re just one of the cute animals that are well-known from the Valais, the other being the black-nosed sheep that a lot of people have probably seen photos of on Instagram and other social media. What’s the history behind these two animals and where can we see them when we visit?

Yeah, the St. Bernard dog is originally from the St. Bernard Pass, we could say those are the way from the Valais from Switzerland to Italy. And the St. Bernard Dog, the breeding of the dog was originally up at St. Bernard Pass, and it was done by monks. There are still some monks left, but in these days only three, and they’re very, very old, so they’re not able anymore to do this breeding. A foundation was created to keep this breeding also in the region. It was moved down to Martigny in the city down in the valley. Besides the breeding, you have also a museum of the St. Bernard dogs, the so-called Barryland, where you can learn about the history of the St. Bernard dog, but you have also the living dogs in this museum. Usually twice a year, you have also the puppies for about six weeks in spring and autumn again. Then the museum is very, very busy with families and the kids because they just love these puppies. In summer, you still can do hiking with the St. Bernard dog up at St. Bernard Pass because the breeding, they bring up some of the dogs to St. Bernard Pass. They pass to summer up there and you can book some hiking with the dogs.

Sorry, the dogs were bred for rescuing people. Yeah, right.

In the past, it was for this, up at the St. Bernard Pass, when people were passing over in the old days, especially in winter, there was a lot of snow and there were no roads, no buses, whatever. They were hiking over the St. Bernard Pass, so they were a breed for the rescue. That’s correct, right.

Yeah.

You mentioned those are the black-nosed sheep, which is a very traditional special race from the Valais. You can meet those black-nosed sheep, especially at Gornergrat in Zermatt. When you go up to Gornergrat, there’s a special product we can say Meet the Sheep. Some of the sheeps up at Gornergrat, they’re GPS tracked, so you can follow them. You take out your cell phone, you get off the Gornergrat train, and then you can push the bottom of one sheep and it shows you the name and the age and the weight of the sheep, and you can look around. After a while, you can be sure that you will meet probably Rosie, which is five years old and has a weight of 30 kilos, and you can cuddle the sheep then.

Besides those animals, we have also a special cow race, the Herens, or Eringer, cow in German. Those are black cows. They are fighting cows. There are also some contests about it, but this is a natural instinct. They’re not forced to do this. This is a natural instinct because when the cows go up to the Alp in the beginning of the summer. They fight each other to see who’s the boss of the Alp this year. A fun fact, only women fight. The one who wins is the Queen of Switzerland.

Wow, there you go.

Last but not least, the marmot, especially in Saas-Fee. Right now, I’m in Saas-Fee, right now I’m in Saas-Fee, and in Saas-Fee, you can feed the marmot, which are usually very shy. But in Saas-Fee, you can go around and take some peanuts and some carrots, and you can feed the marmots. This is what I might going to do after this podcast. Go out to Saas-Fee and feed the marmots.

Okay, well, that’s a very unique experience. I’ve seen marmots from the Gornergrat train, but yeah, I haven’t been up that close to them. So that would be something quite special.

Right.

Emilie, are there any local culinary specialties or drinks that we should try? Mario mentioned earlier about the number of grapes and the canton is the biggest wine producing region in Switzerland. Is that the main culinary specialty?

No. Well, this is one of the culinary specialties, because as Mario mentioned before, we are the biggest wine growing region in Switzerland. And some of the grapes only grow in the region, like for example, the Petite Arvine, just to name one of them. And you have to come in the canton to make a tasting. And we have a perfect location for that. A great experience and a product you can book for that wine experience is in Les Celliers de Sion. It is a very modern wine park that has been created a couple of years ago now. And they’re really based on wine tourism, meaning that you can go in their fantastic building just to do wine tasting for an hour and a half. And then it goes together with a small introduction, a movie, and you taste your wine together with a Valais platter.

But if you have a bit more time and this is what I highly recommend, it’s really that you taste try one of their product in the vineyard because they’re really located at the footstep of the vineyard in Sion. And we spoke before about the bisses, the irrigation channel. Nendaz is of course very famous for the irrigation channel as they have a lot of network.

But we have irrigation channels all over Valais including in a vineyard, because we need the water to irrigate the vineyard as well. So they’re a product where you can hike along those channels in the vineyard and stop in cabins to do wine tasting and eat either we call it a Fondue bacchus, so it’s meat in wine or raclette, because raclette is another product that is famous in the Valais. This is the famous dish in the region. Raclette used to be created back in the days or invented in the region. And we do the raclette in a very special way in the region. We have half of a wheel that we put in an oven and it starts to melt a little bit. And then we scratch this half wheel, which makes the experience very special.

So when you do a wine tasting, I would add it on top, make your wine tasting and add it with a raclette because the match between raclette and wine is really perfect. And as we speak about the raclette, there is one experience and product that you can as well do in the region is hiking, and then you do the raclette at a fireplace with your guide, which makes the taste even more special. And this is something you can do in Nendaz.

And for the people that are more adventurous and love being in nature, we have some destinations like Saas-Fee and the Region Dent du Midi, that gives you the possibility to buy a raclette kit at the tourism board, and they give you an itinerary that you follow, and then you do your raclette in the nature on your own, which I think it’s fantastic. Those are two products and culinary specialties about the region. But we don’t have to forget the special Valais platter. So it’s a mix of different dried meat like cured ham that are all labelised, certified, and it goes together with a piece of raclette cheese that is not melted this time.

And another one that I’d like to mention maybe it’s the cholera. Yeah. Because cholera is a very special dish that is a mix in between vegetable, it’s a pie and it mixed vegetable and raclette cheese.

It’s not the same there, it’s not there.

There’s lots of raclette cheese in all.

Yeah, I know. We’re a home of Raclette. We’re home of Raclette. Whenever we get a chance, it’s either you take a piece of Raclette cheese, cold or a hot. But it’s a good mix, usually. But yeah, so the Cholera is a dish that you can even learn how to cook in the Aletsch region, or you just take the opportunity to make a try after a hiking day. And it’s really a fantastic dish now that the autumn comes.

Yeah, great. Obviously, with people wanting to get out and about and experience all these wonderful sights, why not accompany it with a glass of local wine and some raclette. So Mario, if people listening to this are keen to come to Valais and visit all these wonderful natural sights and taste all the delicious food and wine, if they’re traveling by public transport, as a lot of international tourists do, is it easy to get around the canton?

It is very easy. The public transport system in Switzerland is just great and comfortable and close to be perfect. You can travel around by train or our famous yellow postal buses all over the canton. In every village, you have connections, regular connections with the train or this postal bus. The easiest definitely, you buy a Swiss Travel Pass and then you’re flying to Zurich or Geneva, or another option is you fly into Milan, for example. You’re very close also to our region. Then you use the Swiss Travel Pass.

You don’t have to think about buying tickets because the Swiss Travel Pass includes all the trains, all the postal buses, even boats and most of the experiences. If you go up to discover, for example, the Matterhorn with the Gornergrat Railway, you have a 50% discount. Also if you go to Aletsch Glacier, you have a 50% discount. This is the best ticket you can buy when you travel Switzerland. Also an important fact is using the Swiss public transport system, you can be sure you’re going to be on time. This is Swiss quality. If the schedule tells you the train is leaving at 2:03, don’t think you can be at the station at 2:04 because the will be gone for sure.

So true. Of course, it’s sustainable too. That’s an added bonus.

Definitely, yeah. It’s very important in these days.

Absolutely. If you had a friend coming to visit you in Valais for the very first time, where would you take them and what would you do?

I would arrive in Valais even by hiking, not even taking the train or the car. I would hike over the Gemmi Pass from the Bernese Overland to Leukerbad. An easy three-hour hike. Then you’re at Gemmi Pass with a beautiful view. You enjoy some nice rosti, and then you go down to Leukerbad and you relax in the thermal water of Leukerbad. Afterwards, move to Brig, for example, as I mentioned before, you can use Brig as a hub to discover the region, then go up to Gornergrat to the best viewpoint of Matterhorn. You need to see the Matterhorn. It would be like going to Sydney and not visiting the opera.

You need to see the Matterhorn next day, move to Saas-Fee for a glacier hike, for example, a glacier walk, walk on a glacier once in a lifetime together with the mountain guides in Saas-Fee. On the way back, you can feed the marmots, as I mentioned before. It’s very important to view these cute animals. The other day, you go up to Aletsch Arena, you go to one of the viewpoints to see this Great Aletsch Glacier to be in the UNESCO World Heritage site. There, you can choose from different hikes.

If you just want to do two-hour easy hiking or up to five, six hours along the Aletsch Glacier, Matterhorn view included – a great experience. Then let’s move from the German part to the French-speaking part to the Swiss-French culture, wine and food, as explained by Emilie before, walk along one of the bisses in Nendaz, play the Alphorn, and visit another great product, the greatest underground lake in Sion, and then move on to Martigny. You need to see the St. Bernard dogs, of course. This is very important.

You end up just right before Lake Geneva in the Region Dents du Midi, where you can, beside the wine, we have also some local breweries. They brew beer. In Morgins, you have a local beer brewery. You should try the seven different beers of Dent du Midi, which are named by the peaks of the mountain range of Dent du Midi. Do this before you probably explore the Lake Geneva region in Montreux and visit the statue of Freddie Mercury in Montreux.

Sounds like the ideal itinerary, and I think you’d be a pretty good tour guide.

I would appreciate to join every tour coming to the Valais and showing around our beautiful landscape and experiences.

Yeah, I’m sure you enjoy showing your friends the beautiful region. Emilie, do you have any other tips for our listeners of things that they should not miss when they come to the Valais?

I have a lot of tips, but I think we’d focus just on a couple of them. My first tips, it would be recommend them to come over in autumn because we always pick summer, we always always pick winter, but the autumn with the months of September and October are fantastic. We are lucky enough to have a destination that have cable cars running until the end of October or for some of them even longer. So it gives the people to enjoy in first hand, the fantastic gastronomy we have at that time of the year, but as well to enjoy the climate because we can have a good 20 degrees until October, which is fantastic. So this would be my first tips and recommendation. Come over in autumn. This is a wonderful season.

And as a second tip, I’m really an adventure lover. So I would say to people, come over to hike and to challenge yourself as well. We have 800 kilometres of hiking trails. We have fantastic mountain bike trails and road cycling route. So the adventure really takes you out every corner and the Valais is a natural playground. So if you want to tick the box of your first 4,000 meter peaks, this is something you can do in the Saas-Fee.

If you want to walk on a glacier, you can go in the Aletsch region. If you want to do a wine tasting, we have Les Celliers de Sion. So really, those would be my tips. If you want to go in the nature, then come and visit us.

There really is something for everyone, as we mentioned before. Thank you both very much for coming on to the podcast to tell us all about Valais. If our listeners would like to know more information, what’s your web address where they can find further details.

It’s very easy. You go on visitvalais.ch, and you’ll find all the information.

Fantastic. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode, as well as I’ll mention all those main places that we’ve talked about today so people can easily find more information. Thank you again. I hope we’ve got plenty of people coming your way to visit very soon.

Yeah, we hope so. And if they want a book, we even have a shop, so they can as well find their experience directly and find their accommodation. So thank you for hosting us, and we look forward to welcome your listeners here in the region.

Wonderful. Thank you very much, Mario, too.

Thank you very much, Carolyn. It was a pleasure.

Okay. Thanks a lot.


Well, as you can see, the canton of Valais really does offer something for everyone.  And with 300 days of sunshine a year, good weather is almost guaranteed.

Another thing you’re guaranteed in Valais is spectacular scenery.  With 45 of Switzerland’s 48 4000-metre-high mountains located in Valais, there are snow-capped peaks everywhere you look.  

Valais is also the perfect destination to see glaciers, indulge in Swiss wine, or soak in a thermal bath.  With 32 different pools in Leukerbad, I could easily spend a few days there!

There’s so much waiting to be discovered in Valais and it’s definitely going to be a part of Switzerland that I explore more in the future.

Will Valais feature in your Swiss vacation?  I hope so.

If you’d like to learn more about any of the places we’ve chatted about today, take a look at the show notes for this episode at holidaystoswitzerland.com/episode83   Here you’ll find links to the Visit Valais website and our previous podcast episodes about Zermatt.  I’ll also include details about the Swiss Travel Pass, the all-in-one-ticket for Switzerland that Mario mentioned.

Thank you for joining me today. I hope you’ll join me again next time for more Switzerland travel tips and inspiration.

Until then, tschuss!

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.