About this Switzerland walking region
The Valais (Wallis in German) is the third-largest canton in Switzerland, stretching across the Rhône valley, from the glaciers of the central Alps to Lake Geneva. While around 20 per cent of the region is covered in glaciers, it rather paradoxically enjoys one of the best climates in the country, with low rainfall and exceptionally high levels of sunshine. The perfect blend for hiking in the Swiss Alps, including walking in Zermatt, or exploring the lesser-known corners of this enchanting region.
The Valais has a long and rich history, and many traditions live on to this day. Both French and German are spoken here – French in the west, German in the east – and in the south, the land borders on Italy. The cultural influences from these three countries give the Valais a unique character. The canton’s capital town of Sion is the only sizeable settlement – and it can provide an interesting excursion as part of your Switzerland walking holiday for its interesting sights and laid back ambiance.
The French-speaking Lower Valais boasts some of Europe’s finest outdoor recreation hotspots, including Verbier, Crans-Montana and Nendaz. The scenic Upper Valais – where German is spoken – is home to some of Switzerland’s highest peaks, perfect for walking in the Swiss Alps – including the incredible Matterhorn (4,478m/14,692ft). With a heady mix of alpine grandeur, famous resorts such as Zermatt and Saas-Fee and pretty, unspoilt villages, this region is quite simply a year-round adventure playground for lovers of the great outdoors. While many of the resorts are perhaps best known for their skiing, summer holidays are equally fabulous, as the melted snow reveals a landscape quite like no other.
Walking in Valais: Zermatt, Verbier, Saas-Fee…
Zermatt, Verbier and Crans-Montana are the three best-known resorts in Valais – yet the region as a whole remains relatively unknown to travellers. While few make the effort to explore the lesser-visited corners of the glacial Rhône valley, those who do are rewarded with some of the country’s finest walking, hiking and outdoor sports opportunities. The Valaisian Alps are beautiful whatever the season; but it’s summer when hiking takes centre stage. Summer holidays in Valais and Zermatt are a walker’s dream. The enticing, picture-perfect combination of flower-filled meadows, glassy lakes, virgin forests and towering, snow-capped peaks offers no less than 8,000 km (4,971 mi) of signposted paths – with routes to suit all abilities, from gentle valley strolls to more challenging mountain ascents. The best known peaks here include the Matterhorn, the Dents du Midi and the Monte Rosa (4,634m/15,203 ft) – the country’s highest mountain and second highest in all of Western Europe.