The Valais lies in the South-West of Switzerland, stretching for 150 km (93 miles) along the narrow ribbon of the Rhone Valley between the Rhone Glacier and Lake Geneva. The main tourist resorts and many small villages are in the side valleys to the north or the south. The Valais offers an amazing diversity of landscapes - within a few kilometers there are the highest glaciers and mountains of the Alps and almost subtropical places where even almond and pomegranate trees grow. The diversity of its landscape, flora and fauna, and culture is reflected in the wide range of the Valais' tourist offers: fashionable sports resorts, a water paradise for children, courses to make golfers' dreams come true, oases of well-being, and a Mecca for hikers during summer and winter months.
The Rhone River is like a blue ribbon, fed by numerous tributaries that emerge from steep valleys. In the Upper Valais the river is wild, in the Lower Valais, gentle. The Rhone flows past mountain villages of sun-scorched houses, past towns where ancient history and modern impulses combine, past orchards and vineyards, until, well tamed, it enters Lake Geneva. In short, the Valais is a landscape of opposites; of steep rock faces and soaring Alps; of German and French; of northern and Mediterranean flair. It is a region of 4,000 meter peaks, the twelve largest glaciers and a multitude of Alpine passes.
The Valais is best known for its Matterhorn - the world-famous Swiss pyramid, and a "must have seen" of every visitor to Switzerland. The Matterhorn is just one of 47 peaks over 4,000 meters high (13,120 ft asl) located in the Valais, and this popular tourism region features many more major attractions such as the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ice caverns, mountain rides to get visitors to the summits with breathtaking views of the Alps and surrounding countries, a wide variety of landscapes offering pleasures activities such as hiking, cycling, climbing, mule trekking or river rafting, delicious speciality wines and a rich gastronomy with local, traditional dishes.
Top class resorts, small mountain villages, and charming, ancient towns awaiting to be discovered are welcoming visitors from around the world - the most famous of all, Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn. Zermatt is a car-free village with chalets and old, half-timbered houses and cabins. Some 150 years ago, first visitors to Zermatt were mountaineers and collectors of healing mountain herb. Today, Zermatt is a world-class destination without having lost its authenicity, offering a variety of attractions and activities during summer and winter months, as well as high class services.
Other popular destinations and attractions of the Upper Valais, which is the German speaking part, are: the Aletsch Glacier Region, the UNESCO World Heritage Site with its terraced resorts of Riederalp, Bettmeralp, Fiesch and Fiescheralp, Naters-Blatten-Belalp and Mörel-Breiten; the town of Brig with its historic old quarter and the Stockalper Palace - situated at the foot of the Simplon Pass, Brig is an important junction and an ideal starting point for excursions; Goms, a serene, sunny high valley, which is famous for its authentic villages with wooden houses and whitewashed churches, and is a cross-country paradise in winter and a hiking region in summer; Grächen, a mountain village situated on a broad sun terrace high above the Zermatt valley, offers a particularly warm welcome to families with children featuring a lively programme for kids while the parents can relax in regal style; the thermal spa resort of Leukerbad with its 65 hot springs is a popular destination for wellness and sports enthusiasts; the Lötsch Valley, embedded in an imposing mountain landscape between the Valaisian and Bernese Alps is mostly undeveloped with still authentic villages, and therefore, attracts visitors who want to enjoy a vacation in pristine surroundings, far from the large tourism centers; and Saas Fee and the other villages of the Saas Valley with the highest mountains in Switzerland providing for enjoyable, family-oriented, sporting and adventurous holiday activities.
Sion (French) or Sitten (German), the bilingual capital of the Canton of Valais, is Switzerland's sunniest town and a center of wine-growing. This small town with a rich culture marks the border of the Upper an the Lower Valais, and thanks to its central location is an ideal starting point for exploring destinations further up and further down the Rhone Valley, as well as in the nearby side valleys. Other popular destinations of the Lower Valais, the French speaking part, include: Crans - Montana situated on the sun-drenched plateau high above the Rhone Valley, offers impressive views of the southern Alps including the peaks of the Matterhorn and the Mont Blanc, and is well known for a wide selection of shops and all kind of activities such as skiing during winter and golfing during summer; Le Bouveret, a charming village situated at the mouth of the Rhone where it feeds into Lake Geneva, is known for its beautiful beach and its amusement parks, the Aquaparc and the Swiss Vapeur Parc; Martigny, a small town located on the Rhone elbow is the hub of the pass routes across the Simplon, Great St. Bernard and Forclaz - its cultural heritage from the Celtic and Roman periods and Mediterranean flair and tasty gastronomy are its winning features; the Portes-du-Soleil region forming the border with France includes the Swiss mountain resorts of Champéry, Val-d'Illiez-Les Crosets-Champoussin, Morgins, and Torgon, is a paradise in summer for mountain biking, horse riding and hiking, and for skiing and snowboarding during winter months, since this is the largest linked international ski area in the world with 650 km (400 miles) of pistes; Verbier is a well known winter sports destination forming the "4 Vallées" ski region with the resorts of Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Thyon and La Tzoumaz and offering more than 400 km (250 miles) of pistes and some of the best off-piste skiing in Switzerland and the Alps, and during summer months the Verbier-St.Bernard region with 950 km (600 miles) of signposted trails is an eldorado for hikers and mountain bikers alike.
For a more detailed description of Zermatt and surrounding region, including a section with attractions and activities, and a list of recommended hotels, click here.