In Switzerland’s Mountain Meadows…with Views of the Imperial Crown Fourteeners

The Crans-Montana area of the Valais is home to the world-famous ski resort that overlooks a breathtaking ring of mountains. There’s also the hamlet of Colombire, whose restaurant and Eco-Museum showcase traditional foods and lifestyle from the days of cattle drives in the mountain pastures.

A mountain hut used by long-ago cowherds near Colombire.

(In summer, it’s hard to picture ski lifts, but you can ski to the restaurant and then continue down the slopes.)

My group lunched in the most stunning overlook possible, enjoying our hearty “Macaroni de Hameau” (a baked dish of alp cheese, cream, bacon and potatoes) with a fresh green salad and a crisp Valais wine.

Dining with a view of the Valais alps.

(The indoor restaurant is impressive too, with great views through the windows and a cozy roaring fire during winter.)

Alpine baked macaroni served at the Colombire restaurant

A Bit of Swiss Agricultural History

Fortified by lunch, our group learned about the Swiss life in the alpine meadows over hundreds—even thousands—of years. Guide Carolyne Renaud-A. Zufferey regaled us with family stories, local legends and history of the area.

First she took us on a tour of the Colombire mountain-pasture eco-museum. We learned how the cowherding families made spring-through-fall migrations with their livestock between valley villages, meadows and high-alp pastures.

There are several restored mayens, or meadow chalets, where the families lived in summer on display.

Hike along the “bisse,” irrigation canals through cow and goat pastures in Crans-Montana

Next, we hiked a portion of the Bisse du Tsittoret trail along an irrigation canal (called a bisse) built centuries ago.

What a sensory-stimulating hike on a sunny day! The smell of the firs, the trickle of water in the bisse, cow bells at a distance.

We wandered through forests, meadows, cow pastures, and ultimately to the Tieche Valley waterfall.

And, on the horizon was an unforgettable view of the Imperial Crown mountain range.

The Imperial Crown is formed by spectacular peaks: the Weisshorn (14,780 feet), the Zinalrothorn (13,848 ft.), the Obergabelhorn (13,330 ft.), the Cervin (14,688 ft.) and the Dent Blanche (14,297 ft.).

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For more information, visit Switzerland Tourism.

Read more about my travels in Switzerland:

A view of the Imperial Crown mountains from the “bisse” trail.

Swiss Farmer Grows Organic Herbs for Ricola

Another beautiful day in the Valais canton (like a state) of Switzerland—another glorious farm. This time it’s the herb farm of Maurice and Marie-Christine Masserey in the Venthône area.

Rows of sage growing at the Masserey farm in the Valais, Switzerland

Operated organically, without pesticides or herbicides) the alpine herb farm is located amid spectacular views. (Can it be possible that all Swiss farms are so picturesque?)

Friendly farm animals!

There, farmer Maurice, who’s fluent in English, will walk you through fields of sage, orange mint, peppermint, elderberry, lavender, thyme, verbena, rosemary and more.

He’ll explain their use in several Swiss products, especially Ricola, the famous maker of cough drops, candies and pastilles that are sold globally.

Ricola’s original formula is a blend of 13 medicinal herbs grown in Switzerland. The Massereys are among 100 independent farmers throughout Switzerland who are under contract to Ricola.

Another company that buys Masserey’s herbs is Bio Alp Tea, a mixture of herbs in a sweetened iced-tea base.

Eco-Friendly Operations

Maurice will also show visitors his solar-powered herb dryer, which uses renewable energy to quickly dry the aromatic herbs in a way that preserves as much of their essential oils as possible.

In addition, the farmwork is done mostly by hand, which greatly reduces fuel use and creates a cleaner product.

To reach the Massereys’ herb farm, which is certified-organic by Bio-Suisse (“organic” is called “bio” in Europe), you don’t need a car: Just take the train to Sierre, follow the red line painted on the sidewalk from the train station to the funicular, and ride the funicular to the Darnona stop. A short walk, and you’re there!

Maurice Masserey shows how the harvested sage is finished in the solar-powered herb dryer on his organic farm.

After you’ve learned about the herbs, you’re invited to the Masserey farmhouse, where you can sit looking over the Sierre valley with the high, jagged peaks of peaks such as the Weisshorn around you. And you can taste Bio Alp Tea, Ricola products, and even some of Masserey’s family wine—all the while pondering how people all over the world enjoy the herbal products grown on this, and other, Swiss farms.

You can book an herb farm tour online (the website is in French or German only) or contact Maurice, who speaks fluent English). Valais Agritourism also offers helpful info.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in Switzerland:

The Masserey farmhouse

Hiking the Valais Wine Trail (Salgesch to Sierre)

You don’t have to be a wine lover to enjoy a hike along the Valais Wine Trail, which links the winemaking villages of Salgesch and Sierre. (Although if you are, all the better!)

Switzerland’s Wine Country in the Valais is filled with terraced grapevines, old church spires, and medieval castles.

This magical footpath winds through vineyards for 6.5 km (about 4 miles) and offers exquisite views of the Valais’ Rhone Valley. (You can return by train to your point of departure.)

Open all year, this relatively easy (and educational!) trek links the wine museums in the village of Salgesch (Salquenen is its French name) and in the town of Sierre.

At times the views along the Wine Trail are quite wild.

Along the route are signs explaining the history of the region and the different kinds of grapes that grow there. (Alas, these signs are in French and German only. Brush up on your linguistic skills before you go!). There are also strategically located picnic spots and benches along the way.

I hiked the trail from Salgesch to Sierre, and here’s a tip for people with limited time: If you can’t do the whole trail, walk at least 10 minutes up the road from the Salgesch wine museum for spectacular views of the town’s church tower with the mountains in the background.

If you get thirsty, you can refill your water bottle at a pump along the trail.

Strolling Among Grapevines

At first, the road and then gravel or dirt trail leads steeply to the vineyards, then it follows the contours of the terrain and crosses the Raspille River, the demarcation line between the German- and French-speaking parts of this region. It then follows some ancient bisses (ancient irrigation canals), all the while opening up new and glorious vistas.

Vineyards in Valais, Switzerland

There’s one spot along the trail with signs labeling the various types of grapes—many of which I had never heard of, but which I later learned make excellent wines, including Cornalin, Petite Arvine and Humagne Blanche.

Signs explaining the characteristics of different grapes grown in the Valais.

Later, you pass through the village of Muraz where there’s a good restaurant if you want a meal or a glass of wine. Then, continue on to the town of Sierre, where the trail ends at another wine museum. Just a block away is the Château de Villa, a restaurant that specializes in raclette, a Swiss melted-cheese specialty.

The Château de Villa also has an extensive wine cellar and tasting room devoted to the vintages of the 400 winemakers in the Valais. You could wander for an hour or more inspecting its many bottles—and hopefully sampling a few.

Marche des Cépages

I want to mention an annual wine event that takes place in early September and centers on the Wine Trail. It’s called the Marche des Cépages (which translates roughly into “walking through different types of grapes”) and it attracts thousands of people who pay a fee to get a tasting wine glass. They then walk along the trail with their glass, stopping at tents along the way to sample wines from the very vineyards they’re wandering through.

In mid-September, the grapes were heavy on the vine in the Salgesch/Sierre wine country.

I was a week too late to do the Marche, but it sounds like a blast—especially after you’ve drunk a glass or two of wine. In fact, on any day, I’d highly recommend you pack along a bottle as you walk the Wine Trail.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

More info: Salgesch and Sierre are located in Switzerland’s Valais canton. For more info, visit MySwitzerland.com, Wines of Valais, Valais Tourism, Sierre/Salgesch Information.

Next: Eating raclette at the Chateau de Villa

Read more about my travels in Switzerland:

Swiss Wine Country: It’s Picturesque—and the Wine Is Superb!

Yes, Switzerland makes fantastic wine, and much of it is grown in the canton of Valais, which is part French speaking and part German speaking. Think steep terraces of grapevines with breathtaking views of the Alps. (A famous ski resort, Crans-Montana, is located just above the vineyards of the Rhone Valley.)

The village of Salgesch sits in the Valais Rhone Valley and is a Swiss winemaking center.

I spent several days in the picturesque winemaking village of Salgesch (its French name is Salquenen). This is my idea of the perfect European spot: though it has an Old World charm, it’s right on the uber-efficient train line.

Salgesch’s Hotel Arkanum

Wine-barrel room at Hotel Arkanum

Salgesch is also so small that you can get everywhere on foot—and it has excellent hotels and restaurants and is within a short distance of fun day trips.

My home base in Salgesch was the wine-themed Hotel Arkanum, right in the heart of the village, which, by the way, has more wine-tasting rooms/ cellars (called caves) than any other tiny town I’ve ever visited.

At Hotel Arkanum, I stayed in a squeaky-clean room with those famous Swiss featherbeds. You can also choose a more expensive wine-themed room: One has a bed built into an old grape press and in another you can sleep inside a huge wine barrel.

The Beauty of Salgesch

Known for its Pinot Noir, Salgesch has loads of charm, including the resonant church bells that ring the hour and sometimes serenade the village with more intricate bell ringing.

And there’s wine, wine everywhere—from the Bacchus statue outside the church to the hillsides terraced with vineyards. Limestone cliffs and jagged peaks surround the valley, which is one of Switzerland’s sunniest spots.

The wine museum in Salgesch displayed a scarecrow outside in honor of harvest season.

The wine museum has displays about the history of the town, and it’s where you start the Wine Trail to Sierre. (See my next post for more about this unforgettable hike.)

A stroll through town yields views of lots of medieval buildings.

An old house in the village

Cycling through Valais wine country is also a pleasant pastime, and on Sunday, the streets were filled with cyclists who no doubt stop at some of the “degustation” (tasting) rooms along the way.

Cycling through Swiss Wine Country is a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery.

And when you’re hungry and thirsty, Salgesch’s hotel restaurants serve impeccable food. Vinum Restaurant was a gourmet paradise. We started with a board of Valais dried meats (including air-dried beef, venison sausage, and local sausages) and a local alpine hard cheese that tasted a bit like parmesan. With this, we sampled a truly delightful Salgesch Petite Arvine wine (AOC Valais), a slightly fruity white wine.

Valais meats and cheeses with a Salgesch Petite Arvine wine at Hotel Vinum

Vinum serves only Salgesch wines, so I enjoyed a delicate but flavorful Pinot Noir with my lamb entrée served with sautéed thyme potatoes and a bateau de courgettes (a “boat” of zucchini and summer squash).

Another Salgesch restaurant of note was in the Hotel Rhone. Its quaint stübli style, decorated with farm tools, was currently showcasing seasonal venison dishes. I chose beef tournados with Pinot Noir sauce and rösti, a traditional Swiss potato dish baked or fried with butter and various other ingredients such as onions, cheese, apples or fresh herbs.

So why haven’t you heard of Switzerland’s wine? Because it’s produced on a small scale and the Swiss tend to drink it all themselves. Believe me, it’s a treat that’s worth the trip.

Info: Salgesch (Salquenen) is located in Switzerland’s Valais canton. For more info, visit MySwitzerland.com, Wines of Valais, Valais TourismSierre/Salgesch Information.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Coming next: The Salgesch-Sierre Wine Trail

Read more about my travels in Switzerland: