Valais, Switzerland: Exploring Swiss Wine Country

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Saillon vineyards high up on the mountain

We hopped on the train after a morning at the local farmers market in Ferney on a rainy Saturday. We were heading northish then eastish around the lake to the Valais canton — a valley framed by the Alps and punctuated by jagged mountains and occasional glimpses of some of the tallest white-capped mountains in the Alps. We were inspired by a Wall Street Journal article, which described a land of historic wine making as old as the Romans and Celts before them, and the need for alpine air.Our first stop was Martigny only because the super saver discounted special of 1/2 off our already 1/2 off fare cards got us that far. The first day we were greeted by a beautiful rugged valley with most of the tops of the mountains covered by thick white clouds. The valley itself is 50 kilometers of perfectly lined rows of grapes forming a patchwork of green square plots contoured into folds and wrinkles resembling a quilt of vineyards that’s been laid out over a rough surface.

We rented a small place from air-bnb always hoping for the best and this time we discovered it! The owner picked us up at the train station — A small women who looked like a decedent of Julius Ceasar himself: small, thin, with rigid features and short dark hair. She kindly drives us to the medieval city of Saillon, built on a hill overlooking the valley floor.

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Saillon; a medieval village on the hilltop

The turrets and the old stone walls that once protected the city have been converted into livable spaces and shops. Today, they offered cover from the temporary barrage of a summer rain storm. We ducked inside wine shops, cellars and restaurants in the old city to let the clouds pass.
We were introduced to our first Valasian wine experience with a taster of reds and whites at a wine bar housed inside the base of one of the old turrets . Because of the cooler weather here, the reds have a lighter flavor compared to the bold, jammy, baked fruit flavored wines that we’ve enjoyed from Languedoc, but enjoyable nonetheless.

After a lunch of bread, meats, olives and cheese bought that morning at the market and carried with us on the train, we were back out to explore for the afternoon, hiking along the town and vineyards before having a nice meal of fondue and steak with fireworks marking the independence day in Switzerland to greet us as we walked back to our apartment for the night .

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The weather had improved on Sunday by noon with a warm temperature and bright blue sky to play under. We took a bus to Sion with a very cheerful driver and then a train to Sierre zipping past apple and pear trees along the chalky blue/green Rhone river.

We walked from the train up the hill to the Villa for their great selection of local wines and shared a tasting of whites and reds finding a delicious pinot noir. After a similar lunch to the day before, we hiked up a road leading behind the city and up the mountain. Surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards and a view of the Matterhorn under a blue sky, it’s hard to imagine a place to better explore the various products that Switzerland offers.We made our way back down another hiking trail along a creek of run off from the rain yesterday or maybe snow melt and between vineyards.

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We climbed on our train and headed back the Geneva. Any observer staring out of the window during the 2 hour train ride that traces lake Geneva and passes Lussane, Morges, Montreaux, Nyon — cities that seem to mostly be separated by vineyards, orchards, occasionally corn, and empty fields with lazy sheep — would be convinced that the primary agriculture export is wine. A quick inspection of any local grocery store would reveal that names and brands change with each area and the product from these vineyards are seemingly only enjoyed locally.  As we’re heading back, we see that many people are still on the lake, enjoying as much of this beautiful day as they can. More and more people climb on as we get closer to the big cities of Lausanne and Geneva with sunburns from their day at the lake and I am thankful for our own souvenirs in the cardboard carrying case at our feet.

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