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 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: