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The valley to Martigny is ancient, strategically important, and packed with easy sight-seeing.


Aigle

**Aigle Castle is an especially pretty little castle with a wine museum inside. Makes for a pretty walk, especially in the fall as the leaves change.

We have not yet made it to Fondation Hervé, a private collection of historic cars. Open from May to Octobre | Closed from November to April. Only for groups on request (Guided Visits).


Bex

***Le Saint Christophe: I think we drove past this place at least a hundred times before we finally stopped, and what a shame! It’s fabulous. It’s a very old roadhouse (17th century I believe?) on the old road, just next to the modern freeway. The food is wonderful, the service precise, the building cozy – it’s a destination built for a cold winter day. Restaurant is open Friday – Tuesday. We haven’t stayed here (rooms look perhaps less nice from the pictures), but check out the deals for meals+lodging+bains-de-lavey if you’re in the area.


Lac de Champex

About 20 minutes past Martigny up a steep and windy road. Ski area looks decent (haven’t tried), lake is tiny and beautiful.

***Hôtel/restaurant Au Vieux Champex: Photos online don’t do justice to the restaurant – wide and well executed Valais menu, cozy interior, nice staff.

***Alpin Flore-Alpe Botanical Garden: Three thousand plant varieties, including a large number of native flora, bloom in the 65,000-square-foot Flore-Alpe Botanical Garen overlooking Lake Champex and the snow-capped peaks of Les Combins. The garden is built around a 1930s wooden chalet that visitors can stay in and is also home to concerts and exhibitions in the summer. It’s wonderful, not very big but beautifully executed. Aim for June or July for peak blooms.


Lavey-les-Bains 

***Les Bains de Lavey: a large and rather nice (in a slightly dated way) spa complex. Multiple large, hot pools plus the usual assortment of saunas. Food at the complex is not particularly appealing. And you have to bring your own towls/robes. Can be booked for 3 hour visits ($28).

Leysin

Accessible by car or a historic cog railway from Aigle, Leysin is a sunny alpine resort village with a ski area and a long history of foreign visitors – first for TB Sanatoriums, and today for a prestigious assortment of schools (the American School, a hospitality school, and more). According to Wikipedia, 38% of the working adults in the area are teachers, and you definitely see the students everywhere – it feels like a mountain college campus. It’s fairly low, and we are waiting for a better snow year to try the ski area.

For hiking, it’s a pretty area with a grand view of Lac Leman. We made a 90 minute loop from Versmont to Prafandaz to Feyday – there’s a decent amount of uphill climbing, but it’s a well maintained road. **Chalet-Restaurant Prafandaz is a popular destination (reserve in advance), with a big sunny patio, limited menu largely featuring cheese, very friendly staff, and (my favorite) a cat!


Marécottes

Not far outside of Martigny but far above, Marécottes is a hidden ski area and popular zoo destination for children. We haven’t been to the zoo yet, but the skiing area is a hidden gem. Very steep, one chairlift + one poma lift. A steep narrow bowl surrounded by peaks, partially below tree line (unique for Switzerland). South facing. Reminds Galen of a small Squaw Valley. Lots of off-piste, short and accessible chutes. Good groomers with quite a bit of variety and terrain for such a small mountain. With new snow off-piste looks like it would be epic.

It’s also on the historic train line from Martigny to Chamonix, so relatively accessible for a rather remote place.


Martigny 

Not worth going out of your way to see this town, but check what’s showing at the Fondation – generally excellent, focused on a single artist.

  • ***Fondation Pierre Gianadda: An interesting place – a fantastic car collection in the basement. Go when the main gallery is featuring something you like. Permanent sculpture collection outside is really remarkable.
  • **Barry Land – Musee et Chiens du Saint Bernard: Pleasant, very kid friendly museum. Aside from seeing the dogs (who are very cute), the museum has a nice historical overview of the St. Bernard Pass.
  • **Gorges Du Trient: Classically charming. About a 10 minute stop, but worth it on the way to somewhere else. Just before Martigny. [note this is closed Nov-April]
  • ***Gorges du Durnand: Epic-level waterfalls with a hanging pathway. Steep, wet, wouldn’t be safe for children or pets. About 5 minutes past Martigny.
  • ***Caveau du Moulin Semblanet is excellent, very local. Historic building and artfully plated food.
  • **Kwong Ming Restaurant is quite decent Chinese food – the kind of place you’d go to regularly if it was in your neighborhood.

Port-Valais

  • ***Swiss Vapeur Park: This pretty charming, designed for the 1-5 year old set. Little trains you can ride.
  • ***Restaurant de l’Etoile is a hidden gem. In the middle of farms, it has an elegant covered patio and truly excellent food. 

Saint Maurice

  • ***Abbaye de Saint Maurice: Very, very good. As tours of churches go this is top notch, well curated, excellent archaeology site, important historically.

***Forteresse Historique de St-Maurice: A natural (and enhanced) cave that goes deep into the mountain. Pretty and just creepy enough, and lined with real/active military installations. Requires a fairly steep 10-minute walk to get to the cave. Would be good for younger children.

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