Valais - A Legendary Mountain World and Ancient Customs
The Matterhorn is calling! Valais impresses with its breathtaking mountain world consisting of fifty-four mountains of over 4,000 metres of height. In addition, the canton is a special highlight for connoisseurs of raclette and wine but it also fascinates lovers of culture with its ancient traditions and customs.
Geography - The world of the mountains
The Canton of Valais is located in the south-west of Switzerland and - like the Canton of Graubünden - it lies in the Alps. Valais has an area of 5,224 km² and 321,732 inhabitants. The canton comprises thirteen districts. Its capital is the town Sion in the district of the same name. Valais consists of the Rhône Valley, the Rhône glacier and the side valleys. In addition, a small part of the Lake Geneva Region belongs to Valais. The canton borders on the Bernese and Vaud Alps in the north as well as the Pennine Alps in the south. Its highest peak is the Monte Rosa, which is Switzerland's highest mountain with a height of 4,634 metres. The world-famous Matterhorn is also located in Valais and ranks sixth among the canton's highest mountains 4,478 metres of height. Furthermore, you find the three greatest alpine glaciers in the canton: the Aletsch Glacier, the Gorner Glacier and the Fiescher Glacier. Altogether there are over fifty-four mountains of over 4,000 metres of height in Valais. The climate is relatively dry (steppe climate) with little precipitation throughout the year. This weather is caused by the Alps, which surround the canton and hold back the air masses. There are cold winters, dry summers and about 300 sunny days per year.
Nature - A colourful flora and a distinct fauna
Due to the steppe climate, Valais is not only vegetated by vine but also by cactuses. The community of Naters has a saffron-growing area of 14,000 m², which is a unique phenomenon in the Alps. Valais is generally characterised by a distinct flora and fauna. Thanks to the dry height and the chalky mountains, there is a great variety of colourful alpine flowers. The region is populated by a special subspecies of the saw-wort and the meadow saxifrage, which normally only grow in the Engadin (in Graubünden). In addition, you find fragrant herbs, willowherbs, spring gentians, bell flowers, heartseases and Alpine forget-me-nots. Travellers who are interested in the canton's fauna can watch Alpine ibexes, marmots, partridges, deer and chamois here. A special highlight in Valais are the crystal clear lakes and the many thermal springs.
Culture - A region full of traditions and ancient customs
Valais is a German- and French-speaking canton, but a part of the population also speaks Italian, Rhaeto-Romanic and other languages. As other Alpine regions, Valais is affected by increasing immigration into the cities and towns on the Swiss Plateau. The canton is characterised by its traditions and customs, which vary considerably from village to village. Cow fighting, for example, is typical of Valais. Other important traditions are the Corpus Christi processions and the Shrovetide (Fastnachtszeit). During the latter you meet creatures like the Tschäggättä (disguised creatures with a mask) in the Lötschental or the Empaillés and Pelluches (other kinds of disguised creatures) in Evolène. Countless music festivals, Alpine festivals, village fairs and folklore events take place every weekend from May to October. Travellers who are interested in culture get their money's worth in Valais' countless museums, galleries and exhibitions. Particularly interesting examples are the Art Museum and the History Museum in Sion, the Matterhorn Museum in Zermatt, the Rainer Maria Rilke Foundation in Sierre and the Museum in the Stockalper Palace in Brig. In the Lötschentaler Museum, you learn about the stories and old customs of this alpine region. Lovers of culture will also enjoy the canton's many castles and fortresses.
Experience - Exquisite wine and delicious raclette
Regarding culinary delicacies, Valais is most of all known for its delicious wines and raclette. According to legend, the winegrower Léon from Valais invented the raclette when he melted a piece of cheese over the fire on a cold day and liked the result. Cheese itself has been eaten in Valais since the 4th century BC, melted cheese - Valais raclette (German: Walliser Raclette AOP) - since 1574. Besides the raclette, Valais is known for its wine because with a wine-growing area of 5,000 hectares, Valais is the most important wine-growing canton in Switzerland. Wine tourism is one of the most important tourist branches in Valais. You can explore the different wine-growing regions and taste the exquisite wines on the wine trail. Well-know types of grape are Petit Arvine, Cornalin and Chasselas. A must for all wine connoisseurs is the Vine and Wine Museum in Sierre. A great souvenir for friends and family is a bottle of the Valais pear eau-de-vie (a pear liqueur) or a vine stock.
Activities - A paradise for sporting and leisure activities
Thanks to the convenient position in the middle of the Alps and the heights of the mountains, Valais is a great destination for winter sports, even in summer - whether you want to go skiing, snowshoe hiking, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, snowboarding or winter hiking. In summer, visitors enjoy cycling as well as hiking, camping, golfing and skating in the mountains. The region's bicycle trails are very well developed and offer exciting tours to all cyclists. Particularly suited for family holidays are the different leisure parks, which promise adventure. No matter if you prefer the labyrinth, steam railway, toboggan run, rope park or water slide - there is no room for boredom. Climbers and mountaineers can go on guided ascents or climb one the many mountains at their own risk.
Holidaymakers can easily reach Valais from all points of the compass - either by train, by plane arriving at the airport in Sion (SIR) or by car on the well-developed streets and Alpine passes. Travellers are advised to go by car in summer and autumn because this way they gain a great insight into the canton's diverse landscape and culture.
Valais is a beautiful region which has a lot to offer to gourmets and active holidaymakers. However, lovers of nature and culture are also in good hands here. Thanks to the dry climate, this region is an attractive travel destination at all times of the year.