Basilique de Valère in Sion

Sion is the capital of Valais and quite striking as you approach it – it’s known for its stunning hilltop fortifications: the 13th-century **Tourbillon Castle ruins and the ***Basilique de Valère complex, with a basilica housing a playable organ over 500 years old. It’s one of Switzerland’s oldest cities, dating back 7,000 years. It’s surrounded by vineyards, and architecturally rich. If arriving by train, the prettier architecture is masked by quite a bit of bad choices made over the past fifty years, but continue towards the castle – it does get better.

The climb to **Tourbillon Castle is quite steep, but the effort offers amazing views in exchange (the castle itself is a ruin with little more than walls still standing). Built at the end of the 13th century, it’s newer than the basilica, and served as the residence of the bishops of Sion. It was burnt down in 1417, rebuilt some thirty years later, and in 1788 it was completely destroyed by another fire. The stones of the castle were used for some time for construction in the region before the ruins were reinforced in the 19th century to make it a historical monument. 

The fortified ***Basilique de Valère is a far more exciting stop. It’s not as big of a climb, but offers amazing views. The complex was largely built over the period of 1100-1450, has been recently restored, and is packed with gorgeous art (including murals dating from around 1435). We particularly liked the onsite Valais History Museum, which includes a creative range of artifacts covering the history of the region. There’s an excellent short video that shows the structure of the town and houses over thousands of years.

The ***Bisse de Clavau ends in Sion. it’s one of the easier Bisses, low effort on the logistics side (one bus, from Sion Gare to Icogne), and has a nice mix of wooded hillsides, one long cave, and lovely vineyard paths. Roughly 45 minutes before the end, there are two good dining options on the hillside – **Le Cube, which is a seasonal tasting room for Varone Winery, and La Guérite Brûlefer, which has a fuller menu (haven’t tried yet). Both are open April-Oct, Thurs-Sun, 10:30-6:30. We liked Le Cube, which has a great view, very friendly service, and wine tastings. Food was acceptable but not the primary reason to visit.


***Relais des Chasseurs is a fabulous find, perched in a truly ridiculous spot waaaaay up on the hill. The drive is somewhere between terrifying and the most fabulous route you have ever traveled. The food is outstanding. The owner grows his own wheat behind the cabin for his pie crust.


Across the valley from Sion, Nendaz is not as dramatic from a scenery perspective, but reasonably close and full of Bisse hikes. Haute-Nendaz is the start of #4 **Bisse Vieux and Bisse du Milieu. Watch carefully for the signs – they are there, and if you miss them very easy to get off course. Quiet and peaceful experience.