Thankfully, American travelers have moved beyond the European Grand Tour, where they were forced to dart through 10 countries in 17 days-the kind of travel travesty that spawned movies like If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium or European Vacation. Today, independent travelers are likely to spend more time in a more tightly-focused area, discovering the rich history, natural splendor, traditional cuisine, and local charms of one distinctive region.
Cultural regions in Europe
As other cultural regions in Europe suffocate under the swarm of mass tourism, the Swiss canton of Valais, with alpine reaches bisected by the Arbeiten in der Schweiz enormous Rhone Valley and ribbed by dozens of equally spectacular lateral glacial valleys, still has plenty of surprises to reveal to unhurried sojourners. And for independent travelers in search of untrammeled corners of Europe with distinctive appeal, Valais has every bit as much charisma and uniquely fascinating allure as Tuscany, Bavaria, or Normandy.
Valais is easily the most diverse and distinctive canton in Switzerland -historically, culturally, and scenically. It’s bordered on the south by Italy and the west by France, and bounded on all sides by the sunny southern Alps. The climate is dryer than the lush Bernese Oberland to the north, but still abundantly watered by heavy mountain snowfall and glaciers which produce pounding waterfalls in the higher valleys.
The Romans just didn’t get it
Their chief interest in the Valais was the direct route it offered from Italy to Northern Gaul. In passing they left a legacy of viniculture which flourishes on the sundrenched lower slopes of the valley. Traces of the Roman road over the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass remain today, as does a 2nd century amphitheater in Martigny, but the Romans left the exquisitely scenic alpine meadows and high passes largely untouched.
Architecture and cultural treasures
Valais’ variety of architecture and cultural treasures are outdone only by its natural wonders and scenic magnificence. The mountain peaks and ski resorts of Valais-the Matterhorn, Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Verbier-are iconic and need no introduction to most visitors. Valais has 47 of the Alps’ 4000 meter peaks and is the most glaciated canton in Switzerland. If you’re looking for the longest glaciers and some of the most spectacular glacial icefalls in Europe, you’ll find them in Valais, where showstoppers like the Aletsch Glacier, the Gorner Glacier, and the Moiry Icefall are surprisingly accessible to casual walkers.
But the natural wonders of Valais aren’t limited to the mountains. From the first wild cascades of the young Rhone to the still-chilly lapping of Lac Leman, the valley floor cradles astonishing diversity with marshes, ponds, willow forests, and alluvial rises. The Pfyn-Finges Regional Nature Park welcomes visitors into the largest von Deutschland in die Schweiz umziehen dry pine forest in Switzerland, where footpaths lead through moorland, and stands of poplar, oak, and white fir. This biodiverse paradise contains 185 species of nesting birds along with beavers, frogs, water snakes, and an astounding 26 species of dragonflies.
The Swiss regard Valais as possessing a mystical power- Kraftorte der Schweiz as it is known. These are power places-energetic sites that give off good vibes and have the ability to produce energy, well-being, and healthy benefits to those who visit. The Lotschen Valley to the north of the Rhone, the Binn Valley to the south, and the Aletsch Glacier all have been claimed as “places of light” and capable of radiating curative, life-enhancing forces. Whether you buy into the supernatural notion or just enjoy the super nature, there is little doubt that Valais has it all together.
Switzerland’s most culturally diverse
Switzerland’s most culturally diverse canton also dishes up some of its most memorable cuisine. And while Valais may not have the far-flung notoriety or culinary cachet of Lyon to the west or Tuscany to the south, it boasts an agricultural abundance with tender spring asparagus followed by orchards bursting with succulent plums, apricots, peaches, and pears. Artisan rye breads are favored at tables in homes and restaurants and regional specialties like alp cheese and air-cured meats reflect time-honored alpine traditions.