From the frosted slopes of Verbier to the intoxicating wines of Sion and Salgesch – the Swiss canton of Valais is a natural beauty.
Although united in matters of cantonal pride such as wine and cheese, the French- and German-speaking towns reveal idiosyncrasies: elegant Zermatt attracts champagnesipping dignitaries, while Martigny hides Henry Moore sculptures and Brig puts on a baroque show.
Caught between the pointy teeth of Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches is the town of Champéry. Follow signs to the easy 21/2-mile ramble along rock-hewn walkway the Galerie Défago, with eagle's-eye views (00 41 24 479 2020; champery.ch; 8am-noon and 2pm-6pm).
Everyone loves a St Bernard. Through Fondation Barry you can sign up to walk one of the doe-eyed creatures over the St Bernard Pass. These guided strolls are a great opportunity to take in the Alpine scenery (00 41 27 722 6542; fondation-barry.ch; £30).
The longest glacier in the Alps and a Unesco World Heritage site, the Aletsch covers 32 square miles. To the north rise the summits of Jungfrau, Eiger and Finsteraarhorn, to the south is the Aletschwald, one of Europe's highest pine forests (00 41 27 971 2700; eggishorn.ch; 8.15am-6.15pm Jun-mid-Oct, every 30 mins; £28).
As they arrive in Zermatt, visitors give whoops of joy at their first sight of the Matterhorn (4,478 metres). Take the cogwheel train to 3,090 metres Gornergrat, sit on the right-hand side and just gaze (two to three trains per hour; 45 minutes; £25).
Sion, the Valaisan capital, is ringed with vineyards. You can cycle through the vines and taste wine at the source on the gentle five-mile route along the Bisse de Clavau aqueduct from there to St-Léonard. Sion Roule lends free bikes (Place du Scex; 9am-7pm mid-May to mid-Sep; deposit £30).
Eat and drink
Mitchell's combines Nordic style with a laid-back vibe. Settle in for a traditional glass of glögg (mulled wine) and Scandinavian dishes such as smoked reindeer carpaccio with lingonberries (00 41 24 479 2010; champerymitchells. com; Champéry; lunch & dinner; mains £12-£26).
Martigny's La Vache Qui Vole (Flying Cow) is a theatrical gallery-style restaurant with cow kitsch: from the angelic bovine beauty suspended from the ceiling to cowbell lights. Salads, foie gras toast, risotto - it's all uniformly delicious (00 41 27 722 3833; lavachequivole.ch; Place Centrale 2b, Martigny; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; mains £12-£26).
Whymper Stube is named for explorer Edward Whymper, who made the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. It serves Zermatt's best fondue, such as one with pears and gorgonzola (00 41 27 967 2296; whymper-stube.ch; Bahnhofstrasse 80, Zermatt; lunch and dinner; mains £15-£26).
Inside the cosy L'Enclos de Valère , enjoy a taste of rural France, from garlic fish soup to venison with chestnut risotto (00 41 27 323 3230; enclosdevalere. ch; Rue des Châteaux 18, Sion; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat; mains £20-£30).
Set in a forest glade with dramatic mountain views, Fletschhorn is one of the Valais's top addresses. Dine on crispy, rosemary-infused suckling pig and roast pigeon with truffles (00 41 27 957 2131; fletschhorn.ch; Saas Fee; lunch and dinner; mains £40-£50, tasting menus from £115).
Snooze in a straw-filled barn, breakfast on bacon and eggs then canter off into the countryside around the Ranch. The owners arrange horse-riding and sell jam and juice made from their own produce (00 41 27 203 1313; ranch.ch; Route du Val d'Hérens, Sion; May-Oct; £16 per person).
Perched on the slopes of Chemin-Dessus, above Martigny, the historic Hôtel Beau Site exudes art-nouveau flair. Built in 1924, the tall, chalet-style building retains many original features, such as stained-glass windows and ceramic-tiled bathrooms (00 41 27 722 8164; chemin.ch; Chemin-Dessus; from £90).
At Münster, tightly packed chalets drop down the hill, a brook babbles through the village and travellers delight in the Hotel Croix d'Or et Poste. This traditional chalet is laden with flowers, and rooms are decorated with a granny's love of pastels, florals and frilly doilies (00 41 27 974 1515; hotel-postmuenster.ch; Münster; from £130).
The cute Hôtel Beau-Séjour is a mere ski-boot hop from Sleep the lifts in Champéry. The pine-furnished rooms are snug and the balconies afford beautiful mountain views. Nice touches include homemade cakes served by the log fire (00 41 24 479 5858; bo-sejour.com; Rue du Village 114, Champéry; from £160).
Above the clouds at 3,000 metres, Kulmhotel Gornergrat appeals to those who like the idea of an Alpine hut, but shiver at the thought of thin mattresses and icy water. Rooms with downy duvets afford views to Monte Rosa or Matterhorn. When the day trippers leave, you have the glowing peaks to yourself (00 41 27 966 6400; gornergrat-kulm.ch; Gornergrat, Zermatt; from £200).
When to go
September is grape harvest time around Sion and Salgesch, while June to August is best for walking, cycling and white-water rafting. Prime ski season falls between December and March.
How to go
EasyJet, BMI and Swiss fly to Geneva from London (from £56), Edinburgh (from £116) and Manchester (from £128). Express trains connect Geneva with Brig (£12). Alternatively, take the Eurostar from London St Pancras, then local trains to Geneva (£180; 9 hours; eurostar.com).
The article 'Mini guide to the Valais, Switzerland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.