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.)
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
Coming next: The Salgesch-Sierre Wine Trail
Read more about my travels in Switzerland:
- Eating Raclette in a Swiss Castle
- Sleep in the Straw in Switzerland
- Switzerland’s Imperial Crown Mountains
- Adopt a Swiss Cow and Support Sustainable Dairies
- Swiss Farmer Grows Organic Herbs for Ricola
- Swiss Farms: The Source of the Cheese
- Hiking the Valais Wine Trail
- Cows on Parade: A Swiss Celebration