Friday 20 May 2016

Sampling the Fantastic Scenery and Walking in the Pennine Alps

Switzerland, 16th – 19th May 2016

View up the valley from our parking spot at Zinal
Being in Switzerland, a new country complete with a “foreign” currency too, has been a refreshing change after over 6 months in France, Portugal and Spain over winter. As much as we enjoyed our time there it’s now familiar and easy territory to tour and we were ready for a change. We’ve spent the last few days in the Val d’Anniviers (Anniviers Valley) in the Swiss Pennine Alps getting some good walking in, including one particularly with amazing scenery surrounding us. Unfortunately much of the best walking areas at the higher altitudes are not accessible due to the amount of snow still around. The summer season starts in June which explains why it’s very quiet around here. The scenery’s amazing though and with there being other walks we are keen to do it’s going to be a must to come back to for a holiday to experience the place further.

View looking back at Zinal
At Zinal the temperature outside dropped to 6.5°C by bedtime so we put the heating on low overnight and were glad we did as the temperature display read 4°C at 8am so was likely to have been lower during the night. We got the walking boots and cold weather gear out, micro-fleeces, jackets, gloves, and woolly hats were all in use as we set off following one of the marked walking trails from next to where we were parked. The route followed the path of the river up the valley then started to climb the mountains to the western side. The scenery was stunning with views up the valley and surrounded by the snow-capped mountain peaks. It was up there with the best we’ve seen alongside the Rila Seven Lakes in Bulgaria and Verdon Gorge in France. We were amongst snow for the first time in a long while as there was snow on the ground close to the start and more as we got higher, in places we had to walk across a deep covering of it on the trail. Gaining about 500m in total, we got to the Cabane Petit Mountet at 2142m overlooking the bottom of the Glacier de Zinal. The cabin which serves food and drink to walkers in the main summer season wasn’t open yet but we stopped here at a picnic bench for a break and snacks we’d brought with us. As we got further into the walk we kept taking layers off and here in the sun we were down to just T-shirts on top.

The bottom of Glacier de Zinal
Some deep snow about!
To go back we started to take a more challenging alternative path down a snow covered ridge but ended up accidentally joining the main track down again. Back at the van we had a late lunch eating our last Spanish tortilla then as we were tired from the walking we put a film on, the first in ages, and had a relaxing evening settled in the same spot for a second night as it was very quiet here. We were joined by one French VW camper for the night.

The aire at Grimentz
The next morning we set off for Grimentz, calling at a small supermarket in Zinal for bread, milk and water. We were expecting higher prices than we’re used to but were shocked at the prices of fresh bread, 3.20 CHF (£2.30) for a baguette! We took the col (mountain pass) back the way we’d come in for a while before turning off onto a smaller rougher road to get to Grimentz, but it was very quiet so no problem. There’s an aire here with service point which we investigated first as we weren’t sure whether and how it would be paying at this point in the year. There is a pay machine next to the service point that said it was 15 CHF/day (shorter durations also possible) including use of the service point and electric, but a lot of signs around the area were covered with black bags, the exit barrier had been removed and the other car parking ticket machines around the village had “Parking Gratuit” notices attached to them so we weren’t sure what the situation was for the aire. We went into the tourist info office in the village to enquire but I didn’t get a completely clear answer. The lady initially said you pay at the machine but then when I mentioned the covered signs and no barrier she said if it’s closed you don’t pay, so we took this as the case. I asked about walking routes and got a free map showing the routes in the Anniviers and she marked an area that was closed due to too much snow.

The woodpecker - Anybody know what type it is?
We used the service point at the aire and parked up and plugged in to get an hour or two of free leccy while we had lunch and decided which walk to do. It turned out that the area that was closed was the main area for walks from here past the Barrage de Moiry which was featured in the MMM mag article we’ve got. We decided instead to head further back along the valley to another village to try there instead. After passing through St Luc we pulled into one of the chairlift parking areas just outside Chandolin that we’d found online (GPS: 46.24854 7.60339), where at just below 2000m we had more amazing views across the valley and at the mountains opposite which were at a similar height to us. With it getting on in the afternoon decided to do a shorter walk, then do a bigger one the next day. After a look at the weather forecast on an info board outside the tourist office we followed a path out of town aiming for a cabin but found an observatory tower instead which was a good viewpoint across the valley and out of the mouth of it. On the way back we heard a knocking-cum-rattling noise which we looked up to see was a woodpecker having a go at a telegraph pole!

View from the observatory tower
Amazing views from our parking spot at Chandolin
Back in the van it was hot while the sun was out, we had mojitos using some of our Barcardi acquired in Gibraltar and our mint plant from Spain that’s doing well. The temperature quickly chilled when the sun went behind the mountains. All the parking payment machines had notices on saying it was free for the summer rather than the usual 5 CHF/day but there was a no parking from 24:00-8:00 sign on the particular area of parking we were on. It was furthest from the road though and with there being no other motorhomes and hardly anybody else about we thought we’d be alright here so stayed put for the night.

In the morning we were choosing between two walks and decided if it was possible with the conditions we’d do the walk past three lakes and maybe up the Aiguille de Meiden mountain. With our lunch packed we set off calling into the tourist info to check on the status of the routes and one of the ladies looked very shocked about where we were considering walking. They said the whole area going into the mountains which is above about 2300m was not suitable due to snow. It seems the walk we’d done from Zinal was about the limit for this time of year (without being serious mountaineers with the right gear). They suggested alternatives and while we had the opportunity we got our proxy voting forms for the EU referendum printed off for us to post back to the UK.

For an alternative walk we took a lower route out of Chandolin and along forest tracks towards St Luc. We took a few minutes detour to investigate a point of interest signposted, a “Moulin”, which turned out to be a form of old water mill by a stream with some picnic benches so had our lunch stop here. The walk was mainly through woodland which was pleasant but not a patch on our walk further down the valley at Zinal. I spotted a group of four deer or chamois on the bank to one side of the path but wasn’t quick enough with the camera before they ran off. St Luc is a similar town to the other but with some larger buildings, a couple of hotels and looks like it is more holiday let chalets than residents, due to the funicular here.  After a wander around we took a higher path back which was hard work climbing uphill and there was more snow on the ground in places. We were down to our T-shirts and still got very hot and tired.

With rain and possible snow forecast for today we wanted to get out of the Val d’Anniviers last night while it was fine. When taking the Col d’Anniviers on our way in to Zinal the roads were no problem for driving. On the way out yesterday, it was more awkward going in this direction with the rock cliffs projecting up on our side of the road making space tighter and it was busier being around 5pm. We didn’t have far to travel to get to a freeparking spot by a lake at Sierre (GPS: 46.28601 7.53963) which was on top of the motorway! The autoroute here runs through tunnels underground, parts of which can be seen in a circular cut out dip in the park area next to the lake. It was busy when we arrived with a lot of young people running about playing games but quickly quietened off in the evening.

Swiss vineyards near the lake
Our parking spot on top of the autoroute
This morning it was sunny and warm outside in the high teens being back at lower altitude. We went for a walk around the lake, noticing some unusual bird-type noises coming from the rocks in the banks of the lake. We couldn’t see anything so assume there were ducks or similar nesting in the rocks. We navigated to the nearest supermarkets to do a bit of shopping but the Lidl parking was underground so we tried Denner instead. The prices seemed alright so we got what we needed, and bread was much more reasonable at 1.20 CHF, although baguettes were 2.20 CHF.

Jo had found some information online for a walk called the Torrent Neuf which looked good and the car parking near it is listed online as a tolerated spot and has a service point so we were heading there. Passing through Savièse we got to the large empty car park near Binii (GPS: 46.25671 7.34358, EuroRelais token Serv. pt.). Again we’ve got great views out across a valley with snowy mountain peaks in front of us. Jo’s done some cleaning up and written our diary log while I’ve typed this out. We’ve also had some entertainment this evening from a small helicopter landing at the other end of the car park then taking off passing within metres of the van, looping around the valley, then repeating this another two times. I got a video of the take off and pass by which will be uploaded when we get on some WiFi.

The helicopter after take off just before passing across the front of the van
Yet more stunning views from our overnight spot near Binii
We’re now going to do a bit of route planning for moving on from here. The weather’s looking good for tomorrow, sunny and about 20°C, so hopefully we’ll be doing the Torrent Neuf then start to head further north towards Interlaken.

- Matt


  1. Amazing pictures. We've travelled in Switzerland a number of times, but not in a motorhome or this early in the year. You've reminded me why we've loved it so much.

    1. Thank you. We love it too, visiting at this time of the year there are places we can't go but at the same time where we can it's very quiet and peaceful. Do you have any recommendations of places to see in the country, particularly towards the east?
      Thanks, Matt