Exploring Switzerland’s Valais Region – Food, Wine & Nature Guide

Valais is just one of 26 cantons or regions in Switzerland. Small and mighty, the region has a varied mix of cultures, languages and activities. Whether you find yourself drawn to the majestic Alps and the crystal clear lakes, the rich variety of wines grown in the mountainous vineyards or the traditional Swiss cuisine, there’s very little you can’t do here.

Part of a group of 10 people, we set out to explore the beautiful region of Valais/Wallis. Beginning in Sierre, the perfect starting point for all activity in the region, we ventured to the Pfyn-Finges Regional National Park, journeying along a swerving road up the mountains, with every turn producing a more splendid view than the last.

Sierre is located in the French-speaking part of Valais and during our drive, we also spent time in the German-speaking part of the region, visiting the wine museum in Salgesch and the mountainous village of Erschmatt.

While in Erschmatt, we stopped for lunch in Restaurant Rogge Stube, enjoying a 3-course lunch with an incredible view of the mountains.

Following some gespacho and rye bread, we enjoyed a Seasonal Salad to start. Made with locally sourced apricots and cheese from the Alps, this was a large fresh and fruity dish, without being too filling.

For the main course, a Filet of Local Beef was paired with vegetables grown in the restaurant’s onsite vegetable garden. This dish was paired with a fruity red from the region.

Dessert at Restaurant Rogge Stube was a real winner. The Prunes were warm and sweet and contrasted beautifully with cooling Poppy Seed Ice-Cream.

After a highly satisfying meal, we braced our ears for the drive down from the mountains and onward to our next stop. Located just outside Leuk, Kasperskian Caviar produces premium Caviar with life, meaning that their sturgeon produce their caviar over many years, making the product sustainable in the long-term.

The company was set up in 2015 and with 1,000 fish in the building, they are gradually expanding their product, which is extracted from the fish by a Caviar master who ensures the fish return to the water as soon as possible.

As I enjoyed a sample of the Caviar with Champagne, Frédéric Cherpin from Kasperskian Caviar spoke to me about the product, describing it as “unique” and “exclusive”, that it’s a “niche product in a niche market”.

He added: “Many different elements are needed to make caviar with life. The fish can’t be under stress. They need proper food and the water must be of a certain quality.”

Valais has a number of wineries and wine events and we of course jumped at the chance to try some of the wines produced right here in the region.

At Cave du Rhodan, we met owner and award-winning winemaker Olivier Mounir. His grandfather began the winery 60 years ago and they grow 50 grape varieties on 38 small plots. Having many different plots allows for “more space to play with the different soils and grapes”.

Olivier believes that the key to a successful vineyard is “being creative with your choices”. He feels like “you have to have your philosophy and hope for the best” when sowing the seeds for future wines.

As we sampled some of his award-winning wine, he spoke with such passion, saying: “Wine is emotion and it is a personal thing. Of course you need some quality, but after that it’s personal and emotional, even the label.”

Following our jam-packed first day, we made our way to the 4-star Chandolin Boutique Hotel, which is located in the heart of one of Europe’s highest villages. At nearly 2,000 metres above sea level, you can see the mountain peaks from your bedroom window.

The hotel is modern and environmentally sustainable, all while retaining the traditional Swiss charm. I was staying in a deluxe room with classic wooden furniture, a perfect view of the Alps from my private balcony and a welcoming king sized bed.

While at Chandolin, we dined in our hotel’s restaurant while sampling wines expertly chosen by the hotel’s chief sommelier. The first course was a Sea Bream Capacho. An immensely colourful dish accompanied by caviar, fruit and some light floral touches, this dish was paired with a 2015 Petite Arvin.

While explaining his choice of wine pairings, he said: “The star must be the food, not the wine. The wine should match the food.”

Our second course was a succulent piece of Lamb with Polenta, paired with a Cornalin served from a Magnum. This particular wine had been aged in oak for 12 months. I turned to coffee while devouring the sweet and creamy Lemon Cream Dessert, with a perfectly crispy pastry.

Early the next morning, we set off for the mountainous region of Moiry to visit a cheese farmer living 2,400 metres above sea level. From this height, we had a perfect view of Lac de Moiry. The lake’s crystal clear water looks almost turquoise thanks to the minerals from the glacier.

It was so peaceful up there and you never realise how much you need a bit of quietness until you’re actually somewhere with no wifi or phone signal.

The cheese farmer, Isabella Oilnet, spends 3 months of the year living up on the mountain making cheese with little to no contact with the outside world.

She gets up at 4am every morning to milk the 120 cows before her husband takes the cows for the day. She then cleans every cheese already produced, making 7 new cheeses a day. The secluded area provided a great insight into life on the mountains and traditional cheese making.

While on the mountain, we sampled some of her Raclette, a creamy cheese with a strong flavour, it can be eaten melted or unmelted. Munching on cheese next to cows that produced it and the woman who made it was a unique experience, made all the more special given the majestic view of Lac de Moiry.

From cheese to bread, we journeyed down the mountain to the picturesque village of Grimentz, where we enjoyed a Traditional Meat and Cheese Plate and some warming vegetable soup, much needed after the cool mountain air.

Trying our hands at baking, we made a loaf of the region’s Traditional Rye Bread before heading back to our hotel in Chandolin for a second evening of superb dining.

Returning to Chandolin at sunset, I managed to catch the beautiful view from the balcony in my room. We ate in the hotel’s restaurant for a second night, with the chief sommelier back on hand to tell us all about the wine pairings.

Our first course was a Russian Borshch Soup with beetroot and a healthy portion of Goat’s Cheese. The cooling beetroot liquid was poured over the initial presentation, kicking our meal off with a burst of colourful flavours.

Our main course was a delicious cut of Trout Amandine with a creamy Lobster Sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed this main course, which satisfied all in our group.

The Apricot Meringue dessert was a real treat. Paired with Rosemary Ice-Cream and a fine dash of Bourbon Syrup, which made this a dessert worth talking about and set me up nicely for a soothing night’s sleep.

The next morning, we departed Chandolin and returned to Sierre to walk some of the popular Sierre to Salgesch wine trail. An annual event in its 27th year, this trail is all about eating Raclette and enjoying Swiss wine.

Unfortunately, our walk was cut short due to the onset of a rain that just wouldn’t let up. We took shelter in one of the vineyards, enjoying endless portions of deliciously creamy and melted cheese. If you have to be stuck in the rain, there’s no better way to enjoy it.

Always moving, we ventured back up the mountain into the German-speaking area of Saas-Fee. Arriving at the 5-star Ferienart Resort & Spa, I quickly warmed up thanks to the roaring fire in the hotel’s reception area.

Nestled beneath the dominating Alps, the hotel retains its historic designs with all modern amenities, including an impressive underground spa area. Rustic yet luxurious, the property continues to grow and expand as more people discover the beauty of Saas-Fee.

Interestingly, this hotel played host to legendary singer George Michael when Wham filmed their music video for Last Christmas in the 1980s. Saas-Fee was the perfect location to film as the resort village gets ample levels of snow year round, which also makes it a very popular ski resort.

One of the highlights of my time in Valais was our group cooking class with Chef Holger Schultheis, owner and chef at Restaurant Swiss Chalet in Saas-Fee.

Only too eager to take part, I was first put to work melting chocolate over the pan. When I’d proved my skills, I was moved to vegetable chopping, however my proudest moment came when I was allowed wrap the sweet plums in their delicate pastry.

A big fan of dessert, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed making the dessert, not just eating it (though that part was fun too). I found a new appreciation for the delicate touch needed when perfecting a pastry, even if my plum wrapping skills weren’t quite up to scratch.

I finished my time in the kitchen watching Holger finalise preparations for our 3-course meal, which we returned to eat later that evening. It was impressive to watch the chef in motion as he does all the cooking himself with no additional staff.

That night, I enjoyed my Beef Tartare with Caviar and a Vodka Yogurt Sauce, followed by Lamb Stroganoff and Sweet Plum Pastry, feeling proud that I had contributed to the meal in some small way.

On my last day in Switzerland, we walked along the Nostalgic Culinary Mile in Saas-Fee, letting our senses take the lead during this annual food festival.

There was a fabulous party atmosphere to be found, with musicians, the smell of melting cheese and fresh meat, not to mention the locals letting themselves go with booming laughter erupting from their traditional attire. Sampling everything from salmon to traditional desserts, this was a great final day in Valais.

Before departing for the airport, I managed to get some time on the Alps. Taking a cable car 2,500 metres up the mountain, I happily stood admiring the view.

While this is by no means the highest you can venture up this Alpine peak, any higher would have brought me into ski territory and I wasn’t dressed for that kind of cold.

While on the mountain, we came across the friendly Marmots who gave ample entertainment to all visitors – especially the chubby fellow who was only too happy to munch on the peanuts we provided.

Taking both mental and physical pictures of the spectacular panoramic view, I reluctantly climbed back down from the mountain and set off home.

Valais has now been engraved into my heart and I’ve already started planning my return trip to Switzerland, the most beautiful and untainted of countries.

Getting There

You can fly from Dublin to Zurich with Swiss Air and Aer Lingus. From Zurich, there are very regular train services to the south.

Once in Valais, the best way to see the region is to rent a car, however, the bus transport is very good, with bus stops going all the way up to the secluded villages of the mountain.

FEATURE BY SARAH GLASCOTT

Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.

Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.

Sarah Glascott Sarah Glascott

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