It’s been a long time for many of us since we have been able to travel, and I know that many people are still wary of doing so. But now that I’ve been double jabbed it felt like the right time to start to do something that I love, and that’s travel and so that’s how I found myself one morning recently stood in a large queue at Heathrow Airport, my first trip abroad for almost two years.
I was off to experience the sense of space and fresh air of the Swiss Alps for a few days and hopefully put covid behind me, at least for a while. But how naïve of me to think that could happen – one thing I learnt and learnt very quickly is that we are all going to have to adapt and adjust and to live with the disease for sometime yet.
Things certainly won’t be the same for the immediate future and that included travel, but perhaps we just have to get on with it and accept the “new normal”.
So after a short flight to Geneva, and the courtesy of the ever efficient Swiss railway service I found myself on a lovely train journey along the shore of Lake Geneva heading for the popular alpine resort of Verbier.
Quite rightly famed for its skiing, Verbier is a place to see and be seen in the winter months frequently attracting royalty to its slopes as well as other high profile celebrities wanting to not only ski but also avail themselves of its famed apres ski culture. It is said that during a good season, the resort can attract up to 35,000 visitors at anyone time, a significant increase on its year round population of under 4,000 residents.
However, Verbier is not just about skiing, the resort has much more to offer, and in the summer months it is a completely different proposition. The ski lifts still run daily, but this time of year they are taking sightseers, walkers and mountain bikers to the summits and not the skiers. This means that the resort operates at a much more genteel pace, is less crowded, and is a much more laid back proposition – just right for a relaxing break taking in the fresh air and the fabulous scenery.
So what is there to do?
The short answer is plenty and you certainly won’t be spoilt for choice! The walks are breathtaking and with your VIP pass (VIP stands for the Verbier Infinite Playground Pass), issued free to you by your accommodation on check-in, you can take the ski lifts free of charge to the higher peaks where there are literally miles and miles of trails all marked out for you. You can take one ski lift up, take a leisurely walk to the next one, making sure that you stop for lunch or a hot chocolate at one of the mountain cabins whose terraces have spectacular views, and then take the next lift back down.
If you fancy more of a stroll than a bit of a hike, then take the lift from Verbier via the Ruinettes station and transfer to the La Chaux lift (both included free with your VIP Pass). From here you can enjoy the clear air and the fantastic views, whilst walking along a 3 kilometre trail that takes you along what must be one of the highest art installations in the world. Located at 2,300 metres above sea level the Verbier Sculpture Trail does just that, challenging you to view art in the open and art that is subject to the vagaries of the elements. It really is a thought provoking set of installations and well worth the effort to visit. The trail paths are flat and well constructed and are all wheelchair accessible. The trail ends back at the Ruinettes lift station where you just hop back on the lift for the journey back down to Verbier.
If walking on the higher peaks isn’t for you then you can stay closer to the town and perhaps take part in a half-day foraging hike. This is a great relaxing way to spend some time outdoors understanding what is growing in the hedgerows and learning what you can and can’t forage. You are guided by Cherrie, an experienced and fully qualified guide who also happens to be great entertainment – she will show you what you can eat and maybe even rustle up a few tasty treats for you along the way!
Verbier is the internationally known ski resort that attracts the publicity and the people to the area. But just a short distance away is the small village of Sarreyer and its well worth a visit. You can get there on the local bus (again free using your VIP Pass) and spend a morning strolling around its quite streets.
Sarreyer is the first slow food community in Switzerland. Slow food is a global, grassroots organisation that has a presence in over 150 countries around the world and its aim is to link the pleasure of food with a commitment to the community and the environment. It was founded in Italy in the 1980s and aims to defend regional traditions whilst at the same time promoting good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slower pace of life. Go to Sarreyer and you certainly get that!
Food and drink
It’s fair to say that when we think of Switzerland and food many of us will think of fondue and the melted cheese dish raclette. But Swiss food and drink has come a long way over recent years and Verbier is a good example of just that. 22 is a restaurant that has recently opened and is run by chef patron, Adam Bateman who trained under renowned Swiss chef, Anton Mossiman. It gets its name from the fact that it only has 22 covers and is run on the basis of a chef’s table – which essentially means that the chef cooks for you as you sit there, watch and chat with him.
The menu sources local produce as much as possible, is seasonal and incorporates many ingredients that have been foraged from the local countryside or the garden just outside the kitchen door! It’s best not to know what’s on the menu – just eat what’s put in front of you – truly delicious!
And if you want to sample some liquid refreshment then you could do worse than visit the town’s only brewery, V Bier – you can see where they got the name from – in the beautiful Vie Montagne Brasserie. As well as brewing beer on site using fresh crystal clear mountain water, they have a beautiful outdoor terrace with stunning views down across the valley – and by the way the beer is pretty good too. Brewery tours take place on a Friday and Saturday, including tasting, and are very enjoyable. You learn about the provenance of each beer and the source if the ingredients that go to make it – if you like your beers then it’s a great way to while away a couple of hours!
Where to stay?
The town has plenty of accommodation to offer. The Hotel de Verbier is where I stayed. This four star hotel is located right in the centre of the town, in fact you couldn’t get more central. It has recently reopened after a full refurbishment and with a bar/restaurant as well as a gym and spa on site it is a perfect place to stay whilst you explore the area.
So, have you got itchy feet? If you have you could do worse than a short break in a beautiful part of the Alps! What are you waiting for?
For more information about Verbier go to the Verbier Tourist Board website. The Hotel de Verbier costs from 186chfs/£149 per night per room on a B&B basis based on two people sharing. Visit the hotel website or call +41 27 564 40 00 for more information.
Swiss Airlines operates up to 180 weekly flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer) and Dublin from as little as £59 one-way. For more information go to the Swiss Airways website.
More information on 22 can be found here whilst further information on the Verbier VIP Pass can be found here. For more information on Cherries Walks click here and on V Bier brewery tours click here.