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July 1st 2018

A weekend high up in the mountains

Saturday morning I left Leukerbad after the usual copious breakfast with Birchermüesli, freshly baked bread and a. o. black cherry jam and after a nice chat with the lady who owns Hotel Dala. My next destination was Hotel Weisshorn, above St. Luc in the Val d’Anniviers Valley. This is a long side valley of the Rhone valley, stretching from Sierre towards the south – into the direction of the high, well-known mountain tops of about 4.000m. A stay at this hotel was already on my list for a very long time: as I was so close by during this holiday, I could execute my plan. I had already been in this hotel once before: when I was in Montana (the neighbouring village of Crans above Sierre) for over 15 years ago, I saw every evening and night a bright light shining from the opposite side of the valley far away and high up in the mountains. That appeared to be Hotel Weisshorn, which I visited in the same holiday. Indeed by Postal car to St. Luc and then on foot the Climbing the steep mountain slope. I found that the surroundings and the atmosphere there had something special. That is why I took the opportunity and booked for two nights.

From Leuk I took the train for a short trip to Sierre, where I put my large rucksack into a locker and went on my way to the bus stop, carrying only a light traveling rucksack and a day rucksack. From the bus stop the Postal car took me and many other people to St. Luc. The journey took about 50 minutes: at first we drove through vineyards in the Rhône Valley.


Sierre: view on the vineyards with the Plateau of Crans-Montana in the background


Then the Postal car took a road that lead along deep ravines into the valley to St. Luc, where I walked through the village with its characteristic wooden houses to the funicular railway. St. Luc has profiled itself as “astronomical” village: there are many information panels (in French) with many interesting facts about astronomy through the centuries up to the most recent insights of nowadays. Near Tignousa, a restaurant above St. Luc, that can be reached by funicular railway, an observatory (the “Observatoire François-Xavier Bagnoud”) from where a “Chemin des Planètes” (the Planets’ Trail) starts, which ends about 1,5 km beyond Hotel Weisshorn. It is clear that French is the main language here, despite the touristic character of this area – especially in winter. The language boundary is formed by the river Raspille, that flows into the Rhône near Salgesch (between Leuk and Sierre). That’s why I am glad that I can also express myself in French – a lot of information (also in the internet) is only given in French…


St. Luc: with the funicular railway to Tignousa

Once at Tignousa scenery and views were overwhelming! On a mostly level road I walked in one-and-a-half hours to the Hotel. During that time I was enjoying the views. From the Postal car I had already spotted the Matterhorn with its top, strangely bent backwards. That close I have never been before: the last time, about 15 years ago, that in winter I travelled from Brig to Zermatt has not been very successful: upon arrival in Zermatt from a sunny Brig , the Matterhorn was hidden from view by fog. Zermatt itself I did not find very interesting.

Along the road statues are placed representing the planets. Some are standing further away from the road, others on a elevated spot. The designers placed the statues in a distance between them corresponding with the actual distances in our solar system…

Not only for those who are interested in astronomy this road is part of the Sierre-Zinal-Run – also called the Run of the Five 4000 – covering a distance of 31 kilometres. A sign alongside the road informs us that also for the average hiker it is still 2 kilometres to Hotel Weisshorn.


St. Luc: still two kilometres to the Hotel Weisshorn!

I covered those 2 kilometres swiftly: there was so much to see – those views! After less than half an hour, but including however a part at the end with a lot of steep climbing, the hotel came in sight.


St. Luc: Hotel Weisshorn comes in sight!

The hotel has been opened in 1882 – once inside it is as if one gets into a time machine in 2018 and steps out in the end of the 19th century! The hotel rooms are nicely decorated: everything is made of wood in an authentic state. There is no TV, no radio. On each floor there are two shower cabins and four sinks – the toilet is in the staircase between the floors. In the corridor the floorboards are cracking underneath the Persian rugs and on the dressers are put old water jugs and washing basins. It is quiet, it is pleasant. In the room there are a carafe and glasses with a note that the tap water is drinkable. The atmosphere is by no means obsolete; everything is very much in balance. However there are earthed sockets; a code for the internet is available in the restaurant. In the shower room a funny cartoon is displayed with a serious undertone: water pressure at 2.300 metres of altitude can sometimes a bit low, so to prevent a “panne sèche” (one has soaped himself completely and there is no water left…) one has to be economical with water. Taking a shower is actually meant to rinse salt and sweat off your body, an upgraded quick wash. One is also expected not to walk through the hotel on one’s dirty mountain walking shoes: therefor the well-known CROC sandals are put in a built-in cupboard in the corridor downstairs – I chose the lime green ones…

It was weekend and the hotel and also the terrace outside were buzzling with people. After I had unpacked my luggage (I was traveling light this time) and installed my internet connection, I had an Apfelschorle op the terrace and went for a short walk around and near the hotel. There is a recently restored alpine garden next to the hotel, where many alpine plants are growing, marked with labels. That is quite a help with the identification of the plants! The garden has been created in 19885 by the Swiss botanist Henry Correvon (1854 – 1939), who wished to introduce the alpine flora to the people, but also wanted her to grow in a natural habitat. Because this alpine garden was situated in a rather remote area, the maintenance was not quite satisfactory. Since 2015 it has been restored in its former splendour. Higher up the mountain it became clear how parsimonious the vegetation on this calcareous soil is and on this exposed area: only low-growing plants like bearberry and lichens with here and there a tiny pine that has grown crooked.


St. Luc: next to Hotel Weisshorn there is also an “alpine garden” from 1885

At half past seven the menu of the day was served in the dining room: the same meal for everyone and at the same time. The food was fine, on Saturday as well as on Sunday – the wine from the region also was exceptional: a Pinot gris from Sierre. It had a beautiful golden colour and in the finish a hint of apricot and mango. All this was combined with a marvellous view over the Rhône valley and the Bernese and Valaisan Alps. The Pinot noir from here is somewhat leaner compared to the full-bodied Pinot noir from Leuk – amazing: at such short a distance such a difference in taste!

One of the dishes was baked “sérac”, a kind of ricotta, boiled and acidified cheese whey, whereby the milk proteins that are still left in the whey coagulate to a almost fat free white cheese, which can be eaten fresh with salt and eventually herbs, but also baked. This sérac was made with the milk from the cows that are grazing on the alpine meadows along the Planets’ Trail. I had actually spotted a large herd of black cows – like black dots – and I had heard their bells as well.


Hotel Weisshorn: second course with baked “sérac”, a ricotta type fresh cheese

The light and the clouds that passed over the mountain tops were wonderful to watch. Everybody in the dining room, even while having lively conversations or enjoying dinner, stopped to have a glance outside or to take nice pictures. It was a special sight.


Hotel Weisshorn: beautiful play of light and shadow in the early evening

After dinner I noticed my fatigue and much earlier that usual I fell asleep like a log in my old-fashioned bed with woodcarvings and with a super comfortable matrass. Only early in the morning I woke up for the first time in complete silence. The sun just appeared above the mountain rim. Wonderful!

Sunday morning the sun was abundantly shining in a cloudless sky. At half past nine I started my round hike from the hotel to the Forcletta, a passage to the Turtmanntal near the Weisshorn.

The higher I went uphill the slopes, the more beautiful the views became. Also the abundance of the flowers was wonderful: just one colourful carpet. What an exuberance!


St. Luc: again many stemless gentians (Gentiana acaulis)

The silence was only broken by the sound of running water and now and then a bird. There were only hikers, except for some joggers, who were possibly in training for the Sierre-Zinal Run…


St. Luc: everywhere the mountain streams are roaring

On a somehow more level part between the alpine meadows a large barn was built with house made of stone and a wooden small chalet that really was balancing on the tip of a rock – but with a view on the famous mountains. On the barn door a laminated A4 sheet with the provisional ranking of the cows to be inspected on August 15th. There was also mentioned that a “Reine” (a Queen) has been chosen from both “les vâches blanches”(the white cows) and the “vâches d’Hérens”, the black cow breed from this region. The “combat des reines”(the Battle of the Queens”) is part of the folklore in the Canton of Valais: two cows will go up against each other by trying to push the other away with their heads (with horns!). The first one to give way has lost. Each year an official competition schedule is made by the studbook association of the Hérence breed!

Hérens koe uit Wallis1280px-Eringercow

Hérens cow from the Valais

Furthermore little was to be seen as to fauna: no chamois, no ibexes… Of course I spotted quite a lot of butterflies and “butterflies in process”: at many places I found webbings full with brown caterpillars, crawling in the sunlight. Besides human traces in the snow patches that still were quite frequent, I spotted the paw prints of an animal, which, – after research and further inquiries – did belong to a Murmeltier (Groundhog): the imprint of the large nails had become rather blurred. For us humans walking uphill in the snow does not cause much of a problem, but going downhill one has to dig the heels firmly into the snow in order not to slide away!

From the Alp Tsahelet (2.523m) it was a steep ascent to the Forcletta, but with wonderful views when I paused to catch my breath. The arrow of the sign to the Forcletta points indeed into the right direction, but also downwards, although in reality the road goes up – and it is steep, really steep! Arriving at the top there was a lot of wind, so the pullover with a hood was quite a necessity – not just a luxury.


Forcletta: halfway looking back towards the Pointes de Nava

At the top I noticed that here as well the language boundary played its role: all of a sudden the Forcletta was called Forclettapass! Actually it should be called the Furggiltipass. Now I had a nice view on the Weisshorn at the end of the Turtmanntal valley that a few days earlier I had seen, when I was hiking on the trail halfway the mountain slope above the Rhône valley. On the signs is indicated that from here one can follow the Panoramaweg Turtmanntal (the Panoramic Trail Turtmann valley) to Gruben, halfway the Turtmanntal valley. At this moment is not possible yet because of the thick layers of snow! I sat down in the sun and out of the wind on a nicely warmed flat stone: at 2.874 metres! On the map I saw that the Turtmann Spitze, that gives the valley its name is called Pointe de Tourtemagne (3.080m) in French and the Pointe de la Forcletta the Hirsihorn (3.076m) in German.

After a speedy descend to the stables with the ranking of the price winning cows pinned on the door I chose a different route to Hotel Weisshorn: to the east of the mountain chain with the sharp tops, with the appropriate name “Pointes de Nava”. In the beginning there still was a path, that at moments disappeared under a snow field, but more towards the valley no path could be found anymore, besides every now and then the wit-red-white markings on large boulders. The area looked quite abandoned but did not feel desolate. There were many streams, some small, others bigger, that found their way towards the valley. When I reached the broader road to the hotel the area gave the impression to consist of one large stone-covered field, which it was not in reality!

After a short time the Hotel Weisshorn came in sight again, with the terrace and the chilled Apfelschorle and this time also a piece of “gateau de myrtilles” (a blueberry pie). A nice finish to a wonderful hike and a very special weekend. The silence has been a bliss for mind and body. I will certainly be returning here again.


Hotel Weisshorn above St. Luc