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Home to rich Alpine culinary traditions, the Canton Valais also preserves an agriculture still based on family farming that has remained mostly unchanged over time. Countless tourist attractions and natural treasures include the largest Alpine glacier and the biggest baroque castle in the country, not to mention Europe’s highest vineyard.
It’s well worth taking the time to discover the many facets of this fascinating corner of Switzerland.
In collaboration with Valais Wallis Promotion, Slow Food Switzerland is working to define and propose nine Slow Food Travel destinations in the Canton of Valais over the next 3 years.
The first ones to go live, and which we present to you, are the Fully and Grand Entremont regions.
The Grand Entremont
A historic crossroads between the northern and southern Alps, the Grand Entremont region has been a favored place of transit since Roman times. Already millennia ago, Hannibal crossed here with his elephants, with Napoleon later following in his footsteps.
Today the Great St Bernard Pass continues to serve as a link between the Canton Valais and the Valle d’Aosta in Italy. Nestled at the feet of Mont Blanc and the Combins, its valleys preserve ancient agricultural traditions that are still very much alive today.
Every summer, livestock continue to be taken up to the many high-altitude pastures, where they are left to graze freely, and where cheeses are made following ancestral recipes. The homeland of raclette and the famed Alpine rescue dogs offers endless new experiences and sites of international interest to visitors who can take the time to discover it.
Spread across a granite slope, the fertile winemaking region of Fully is divided into seven lowland communes and eight low mountain villages. Below chestnut woods, the vine-planted terraces paint the hillsides with beautiful colors that change with the seasons.
This is the land of Petite Arvine, a grape variety that gives its best here in the exceptional climate, halfway between the lowlands and the mountains. This is an area that keeps a host of new delights in store for both residents and visitors.
Region Dents du Midi
Seven steep alpine peaks make up the Dents du Midi, facing the verdant Val d’Illiez and its rich pastures. Six villages dot this land, which is steeped in a cheese-making tradition that is still alive and well. Straddling the border between France (Haute-Savoie) and Switzerland, the Portes du Soleil offers a vast area of relaxation throughout the seasons, where you can enjoy delightful hikes as well as magnificent cycling and skiing routes.
Part of the region’s heritage, the Val d’Illiez Salée is a leavened pastry covered with a filling – sablé – which is made of butter, flour and cinnamon, while apples, pears, rhubarb or white wine may commonly be added to the basic recipe. This Ark of Taste product is served at breakfast for a trial by all Slow Food Travel stakeholders.
You may know the Village of Zermatt and his famous Matterhorn or the ski resort of Verbier. Well, Val d’Hérens is hidden right between these two famous tourist destinations. This secret valley, preserved from mass tourism, has a lot to offer to outdoor enthusiasts, contemplatives, nature lovers and epicureans people.
“Hérens” refers in the same time also to the name of the valley and the name of a very special breed of Alpine cow whose peculiarity is their combative instinct which pushes them to confront each other in impressive but harmless duels. No one knows if it is the cow which gave his name to the valley, or if it’s the opposite. What is certain is that the link between this territory, its residents, its visitors and the local agriculture is vital.
For generations, the local people have tamed the steep sides of this valley in order to provide for their needs through livestock farming, field crops or fruit trees. This invaluable know-how in the service of nature and taste has allowed them to maintain the meadows, the mountain pastures and the forests and thus to maintain a rich and varied landscape while developing agricultural products with subtle flavors
Local specialities include the use of milk and meat from local cow races (Hérens and its Evolénarde cousin) and the Tsarfion, an ancestral recipe based on cabbage and pork of St-Martin secretly transmitted from generation to generation.
Today, numerous offers allow everyone to explore the heights of the Val d’Hérens and discover its charms: cheese tasting, salted meats, seasonal fruits, wines or liqueurs, visits to the heart of the land, participation in cheese making… The passion of the territory is shared in a thousand ways!
Famous for being Switzerland’s sunniest city, Sierre is known as “the City of the Sun”. Thanks to its ideal climate and rich soils, the region boasts around 1,200 hectares of terraced vineyards, supported for centuries by dry-stone walls. Irrigation channels – known as “bisses” – bring precious glacier water to the vineyards where exceptional wines are produced. Local grape varieties include Cornalin, Humagne (red and white), Rèze, Durize and several other rare though tasteful vines. Winemaking is at the heart of the culture here: there is a wine museum, a wine trail, wine-related events, and much more to discover.
Sierre is a bilingual region situated at the foot of two popular mountain resort areas that are also renowned for their local products. The Crans-Montana area to the north is famous for its mountain cheeses and highly regarded restaurants. Val d’Anniviers to the south focuses on traditional products such as rye bread, glacier wine, whose casks are never completely emptied – each year new wine is added and the oldest drops can be over 125 years old! – as well as dried meat products. There you’ll also enjoy the Tsarkotet, a traditional dish based on calf’s feet.
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Gastronomic itineraries in Canton Valais
Wild plants and bread
In Sarreyer, a classic Swiss village perched on the southern slope of the Val de Bagnes, you’ll learn about how wild plants are harvested and processed and follow how bread is made, from the fields to the communal oven. Along the way you’ll visit a mill that uniquely combines a sawmill, a system for pressing fruit and a grindstone for grains, all powered by the same waterwheel.
Then at the local restaurant you’ll sample delicious dishes made entirely using regional products.
Discover the gastronomic heritage of Bruson, the world capital of raclette. Here you’ll learn the secrets of making quality cheese, from how the livestock are reared to the aging of the final product. And, of course, there will be plenty of time dedicated to the pleasures of tasting.
Water, cultivated plants and fondue
Close to Sembrancher you’ll visit the spring, whose water is renowned for its sensory qualities and health benefits, as well as admiring the fields planted with medicinal plants and aromatic herbs that are harvested and dried here to use in many popular local products, including cosmetics, sweets, and herbal teas.
At lunchtime, you can sample fondue from within a horse-drawn carriage while enjoying the passing villages and scenery.
From the shore of Lake Champex you can try your hand at catching brown trout, brook trout and lake trout, before sampling dishes that make the most of the local lake fish in one of the commune’s restaurants.
Many footpaths offering breathtaking scenery branch off from the main road between the Great St Bernard Pass and the floor of the Val de Bagnes. You can spend the night in mountain huts, chalets or campsites in the midst of ibex, chamois and marmot territory, where herds of cows and flocks of sheep are brought up to find the best pastures.
Itineraries are punctuated by visits to Alpine dairies where you can see how mountain cheeses are made following ancient tradition.
In Region Dents du Midi you may scroll the alpine farms and discover the diversity of local products on an e-bike tour.
In Le Châble, a hamlet outside Bagnes, the president of Slow Food Valais will offer a culinary tour of the products and traditional wisdom safeguarded thanks to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste project.
Then, in local towns like Bonatchiesse, Bourg-St-Pierre and Champex, you can discover the authentic flavors of the Canton Valais. It would be a shame to leave without a classic basket of typical local products.
Around Fully you will have the chance to taste refined wines made from particularly emblematic or rare varieties. Winemakers will welcome you to their wineries to show you how they work, sharing the long history of vine growing in the Valais region.
And much more…
Season after season, Slow Food Travel can’t wait to help you discover its regions from a local perspective.
For more information and individual or group bookings, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.slowfood-travel.ch