by Isabel Conway –
From my sunshine dappled mountaintop perch in the four valleys of Switzerland’s Valois region I try to visualize winter. I think of the numbing cold, the torture of lugging skis around, slipping and sliding on icy paths, the uneasy expectation of arriving at the top of a cable car to face a ski slope fashioned on a wall.
Its high summer now in Switzerland where we are enjoying a gentler less high octane vibe, from yoga on the mountainside to e-biking – the latest craze for all in search of a helping hand up formidable hillsides. Some gentle hikes through pastures and forests with a guide to forage for wild plants that can be transformed into edible healthy grub also beckon.
The aim is to take a few days out, to relax and recharge the batteries, returning home rejuvenated and not in need of another holiday, the complaint of many a hard partying exhausted holidaymaker at the end of their eagerly anticipated break.
Here in the mountains around Verbier, dominated by Mont Fort, I enjoy Switzerland’s remarkably warm mid- July weather, hiking down from the top of the Gondola lift to an outdoor yoga class, looking out on an awesome mountain skyline from 2,345 metres.
Our yoga teacher explains that we must leave all our cares behind us in the valley while we connect with the elements up here where the air is thin and the views are epic. The silence is only occasionally broken by the whirr of a mountain biker, clad in body armour ,flying past across challenging terrain.
My fears of impossible contortions, strained muscles and zero benefit are unfounded. Instead we are introduced to a gentle relaxing session that leaves us all blissfully stretched and rejuvenated from a couple of days of hiking and E-biking.
More than 1,000 km of mountain tracks are accessible by E Bike, perfect for ordinary folk who can ascend high up to enjoy the panoramas of peaks with minimum effort. The trick lies in the lithium battery operated motor attached to the cross bar that takes over on the hills or whenever you want to rest your legs a bit.
In high summer Verbier is a quiet town of only several thousand inhabitants, unrecognisable from the busy ritzy winter time ski resort. The likes of Sarah Ferguson and James Blunt who have chalets here are usually only spotted when its snowy.
“Don’t listen to anyone saying that an E bike is the cheats way up the mountain,” says the bike shop manager Christophe, pointing out the two wheeler’s essentials – gears and brakes, all similar to a normal bike. One difference is the small digital screen showing the cycling mode from Eco (normal cycling) and sport (just a little assistance) to turbo (a serious uphill push) before we set off to Les Ruinettes, gateway to the mountains.
Think of summer in Switzerland and mountain pastures ablaze with wild flowers comes to mind. Wild plant foraging through the pastures has become a near obsession for some tourists and adventurous cooks. “Foraging keeps you in touch with nature, connecting you with history and an existence many of us today are disconnected from” says Cherries Ussher von Maur a Swiss American mountain guide who leads snow shoe walks in winter and also challenging Alpine treks.
Her ‘ Gourmet Gathering’ (www.cherrieswalks.com) tour is a 2 hour combination of stroll and educational forage above La Tzoumaz, viewing beautiful scenery along marked trails winding in and out of forests of pine, larch and Norwegian spruce.
Later we learn how to cook the edibles we foraged including stinging nettles, hog weed , yarrow and wild spinach into a ‘unusual’ ‘free’ lunch that’s a lot tastier than we anticipate on this ‘cooking weeds’ field trip.
Mont Fort is the highest accessible point of the four valleys. Don’t miss riding the cable car to the top for a view of distant Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. On the way down we expect to see Heidi at any moment crossing the pasture behind a herd of goats. A flavoursome lunch on that mountainside sun dappled terrace awaits. No manic snowboarder has taken me out. There’s zero chance of being lost in a blanket of fog or fear of an icy ridge. It all begs the question….…..who needs snow?.
Factfile: Getting there: Direct daily flights with Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com) and Swiss (www.swiss.com )from €61 one way – hand luggage only. Return rail transfers from the airport to Verbier with the Swiss Transfer ticket, 146 CHF (€132.41) adults and CHF 73 (€66.21) children. See www.myswitzerland.com
Accommodation: Isabel stayed at 3*Hotel Bristol in Verbier from 145 CHF (€131.50) per double room with breakfast. Verbieris Infinite Playground Pass is available to all guests paying tourist tax who stay a minimum of one night in the region. www.verbier.ch/vip-pass Benefits include free pedestrian access to mountain lifts and free Post bus travel,20 per cent off daily mountain lift rate for cyclists, free admission to sport centre, 30 per cent off golf green fee locally, free tourist office activities from guided hikes to a brunch at mountain pastures and other activities. VIP pass savings on ski lifts and Verbier village tour for 2 adults and 2 children is estimated at €125. For all information on Verbier and surroundings visit www.verbier.ch/en