Exploring Val d'Anniviers

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Sunday 29 June 2014

Exploring Val d'Anniviers

Having made the decision last Monday evening to stay a little longer in the Val d'Anniviers to explore the valley around Grimentz using the awesome Liberte pass, coupled with Robin and Shirley's suggestions of walks and places to visit in the valley, we now we're finding it hard to leave.  Having initially planned to stay only a day or two, we  have soon come to reason this stunningly beautiful valley with incredible hiking possibilities, was just what we had been looking for when we set up from Holland in search of alpine wilderness.
Our quiet spot in the forest

The local tourist brochures describe this valley as a “treasure trove of leisure activities” which I think is a very fair description. And, in addition to getting to do those activities surrounded by magnificent snow covered peaks, the majority of them seem to be free when you pay your £1.60 (2.50CHF) per day tourist tax to get your 'Liberte' pass. The pass, which covers the entire valley including all the main villages of Chandolin, Grimentz / St-Jean, St Luc, Zinal, Ayer and Vissoie gives free use of local transport including buses and almost but one cable car (50% discount on that one though because it was only finished last winter), swimming pools, tennis, mini golf, a funicular railway, tours of the villages, Moiry Dam and Copper Mines....

Given all that is on offer we have found it hard to believe just how quiet it is here.  It's Sunday and we are still living at our quiet, free campsite (Ilot Bosquet) just outside of Grimentz having moved our motorhome about 10 metres all week (to get the slightly better view when the Swiss couple left on Wednesday) and during this time there have only been a handful of other campers come and go.  Speaking to the tourist information staff (who we are getting to know quite well, one even gave us a lift back to our motorhome last night after seeing us waiting at a bus stop) they say that there is a peak summer season but it only really lasts 4 weeks from mid-July to mid-August. Either side of that and you can generally expect peace, quiet and a very good value stay in the high alps. What more could we ask for?

Setting off from Zinal
Anyway, armed with our Liberte passes, our first excursion out of Grimentz last Tuesday took us to the nearby village of Zinal (1600m). It's only about 8km away but as the direct bus hadn't started running yet we had to head into Vissoie, change bus and then out to Zinal. This was no great hardship as the scenery was amazing and we could now enjoy the narrow roads with someone else driving and we also discovered the CarPostal buses offered free WiFi so we could catch up with home while we travelled. We set off from Zinal on a well marked trail toward the Cabine de Petit Mountet at 2142m, a walk which came highly recommended by Shirley and Robin the day before.

The way took us out of town through a flat valley with steep sided, forested walls that narrowed as the paths started to climb through the trees and along the river carrying the melting glacier water. The drizzle that had started that morning had stopped and the sun came out as we quickly gained height to look back down to Zinal already a couple of hundred metres below. In less than an hour we had lost sight of civilisation and were completely surrounded by the alpine forests we were climbing through. To our left was the huge bowl containing the Glacier de Moming beneath the 4221m Zinalrothorn and directly ahead the Glacier de Zinal with the peaks of Obergabelhorn and Dent Blanche.

Arriving at the Cabane du Petit Mountet, we decided to push on further and try another path back towards Zinal via the ski station Sorebois at 2441m. Initially the going was easy but soon the climbing began as we marched up a relentless ridge that took us well above the height of our destination to about 2600m. However, we were rewarded with a majestic view of the peaks, including the Weisshorn at 4506m and the Bishorn at 4153m. Unfortunately, after 2 hours of climbing we found our way blocked by a rockfall. As we deliberated how to proceed our minds were made up for us as more rocks fell down ahead of us – we were turning back. Retracing our steps back down though was no bad thing though as it meant we were facing the peaks and glaciers all over again. Instead of returning all the way to the Cabane, we turned off and took another route through a dense pine forest back towards the valley base.  

Walk Information:
Motorhome Base: Grimentz (or Zinal)
Start/ End Point: Zinal - Cabane du Petit Mountet (- Sorebois ski station blocked by rockfall so returned by the same route) - Zinal 
Time It Took Us: 2.5 hours one way to the hut
Level: Moderate
Map: LS 1327 'Evolene' 1:25,000 (see below)

Arriving back into Zinal after a lengthy walk our legs were tired but we felt energised.  Perusing the bus timetable we realised we had time to take a dip in the new swimming pool before our return bus left, again free courtesy of our Liberte card. Arriving in hiking gear, carrying our poles and dusty boots, we felt a little conspicuous but the hot shower felt amazing. The pool itself was like no other we'd seen. One entire wall of the pool was a window back over the peaks we'd just been walking over. The perfect way to unwind before our bus ride back to Grimentz.

Wednesday took us back through Vissoie on the free bus but this time onwards to the town of Chandolin at 1936m. Our target for the day was the peak of Illhorn at 2716m close to the foot of the valley and then to traverse to the famous Hotel Weisshorn. However, starting out we immediately felt the tiredness of the previous day in our legs and with the clouds drawing in (not wanting a repeat of the soaking we got at Moiry Barrage), reined in our plans. Reaching about 2500m the view opened up to the Rhone valley floor more than 2000m below, looking all the way back towards Martigny and Alps in France in the distance as well as opening up a view of the central Bernese Alps around Interlaken to the north of us. 

We then traversed to the Tsape ski station (another free chair lift on Liberte but which started running on Saturday) and onwards to the top of the funicular railway between Tignousa and St Luc where we took the steep and quick descending free ride (thanks to our pass again) down to St Luc below. Realising that the next bus to Vissoie was more than an hour and a half away we decided to walk down via the 'historic path' along traditional alpine houses and a waterfall with the sun shining and views over the entire Val d'Anniviers. Arriving at Vissoie we still had more than an hour until the bus to Grimentz, plenty of time for another free swim, this time in the outdoor pool at Vissoie! It was a little chilly so the dip was much shorter today, but the shower was just as welcome.

Walk Information:
Motorhome Base: Grimentz (or Chandolin)
Transport Used: Bus to Chandolin. Funicular from Tignousa to St-Luc.  Bus Vissoie to Grimentz.
Start/ End Point: Chandolin - Tignousa - St Luc - Vissoie
Time It Took Us: 4 hours
Level: Moderate
Map: LS 1327 'Vissoie' 1:25,000 (see below)

Laundry Day!
Thursday and Friday saw us resting up in Grimentz. After 5 days of hiking we decided Thursday was a good day to rest and tackle our mounting laundry pile. Again thanks to the incredibly friendly locals we easily found a washing machine courtesy of one of the apartment management companies and raced off 4 loads for less than £5. The weather was fantastic that day and although we were torn about missing a good day in the hills, we both enjoyed putting our feet up and enjoying our motorhome base. We also got to know a very friendly British couple, Glenn and Anne, who parked next to us and invited us in for a lovely chat on Wednesday night and which we returned the invitation on Thursday evening.

Friday was a less planned rest day as Esther came down with a nasty tummy bug on Thursday evening. After a restless night, we did attempt a bus ride to Zinal to try the cable car to Sorebois, on Glenn and Anne's recommendation, but after the first leg to Vissoie it was clear it was too much. After waiting in the sun for 2 hours for the next bus (slightly less pleasant wait for Esther) we finally got back to the motorhome and Esther spent the day in bed, while I read, got a fire going with the Kelly kettle and recuperated in the sun, hoping the next day would be better.

Still weak on Saturday morning, Esther again wanted to attempt to reach the cable car at Zinal. Reaching Zinal we seemed to encounter a massive group of Flemish pensioners all eager to take the same cable car as us. We later found out there was a tour group of 400 of them staying in Zinal! Fortunately the cable car operator offered to make 2 trips so by about 11am we were stood beneath the gathering clouds at Sorebois Ski Station at 2441m. Interestingly the path between here atnd Cabane du Petit Mountet we'd tried to take on Tuesday but were blocked by rocks was now officially marked as closed (Ferme). The view from this cable car station is majestic over the glaciers and the five 4000m peaks we'd hiked below on Tuesday.

After a sit down Esther said she felt ok to try walking a little so we started following the path to the peak - Corne de Sorebois at 2896m. The going was slow with frequent stops, with Esther saying she could definitely notice the oxygen difference at this altitude with her still not feeling so well, but somehow as we climbed and the view opened over the entire length of the Val d'Anniviers. Esther's strength increased and amazingly we made it to the peak where we were treated to views over the Moiry reservoir through the clouds. Sadly the rain was closing in fast so we couldn't stay too long before descending back to the cable car station, passing a group of elderly French gentlemen playing very loud French music from their from iphone, which was somewhat of a surprise!

Walk Information:
Motorhome Base: Grimentz (or Zinal)
Transport Used: Bus to Vissoie / Zinal.  Cable car to Ski Station Sorebois 2441m.
Start/ End Point: Ski Station Sorebois - Corne de Sorebois 2896m - Ski Staion Sorebois
Time It Took Us: approx 2 hours
Level: Easy / Moderate
Map: LS 1327 'Evolene' 1:25,000 (see below)

Somewhat frustratingly the sun soon returned to set up a beautiful afternoon, but we didn't mind too much as we headed back to the swimming pool in Zinal for another free swim, followed by our first round of free mini-golf this week (Esther won by two shots). Waiting for our bus home, Chantal from tourist information in Grimentz recognised us on her way back from a walk and drove us back to our motorhome. It's almost as though we're becoming locals.

Which brings us to today, Sunday. The skies have opened up today and the forecast is for rain, rain and more rain with a thunderstorm included as a bonus this evening so we are relaxing in the motorhome, catching up on our diary, pondering where to move on to next and playing some games. It's tempting to stay on longer and we both know we definitely want to come back again (despite the slightly hairy road to get up here!). The location is perfect, the people are really friendly, the walking trails and activities are extensive in the valley and we still can't believe the benefits of the Liberte card on offer to visitors.

9 Things to See and Do in Val d'Anniviers

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