Tailormade tour Glacier Express Excellence Class holiday Switzerland

5 nights/6 days

Geneva • Zermatt • Glacier Express • St Moritz • Zurich

The Glacier Express is one of Switzerland’s best loved iconic trains offering a journey through stunning Alpine landscapes from Zermatt to St Moritz. The Excellence Class service offers optimum comfort for just 20 travellers in two-seater lounge compartments with guaranteed window seats. Hand your luggage over to staff at the station who will take care of its transport whilst you relax and settle down with your welcome drink. The stunning scenery of the journey is accompanied by snacks and soft drinks throughout the day, an exquisite lunch with wine served at your table and a delicious afternoon tea with canapes prior to arrival at your destination.
Holiday price guide

Available year-round subject to the opening period of the hotels, from about £2,820 per person.

Luxury Swiss iconic rail holiday with Glacier Express Excellence Class

Highlights

Geneva • Zermatt • St Niklaus • Brig • Fiesch • Andermatt • Disentis • Chur • Thusis • Tiefencastel • Filisur • Bergun • Samedan • Celerina • St Moritz • Zurich

Day by day

Begin your Glacier Express Excellence Class holiday by travelling to Geneva, either by plane or train. There are regular direct flights from London Heathrow to Geneva although we can also offer flights from other airports. If travelling by train, you take a morning Eurostar from London to Paris and continue from here on the high-speed TGV service to Geneva. Spend the rest of your day exploring the city, home to fine watch-making, the headquarters of the UN, and the Jet d’Eau fountain. Wander around the Vielle-Villa, the largest Old Town in Switzerland, stopping at the St Pierre Cathedral. This evening choose to dine either at your luxury hotel or choose from one of the many restaurants in the city.

We recommend boarding the train to Zermatt in the mid-morning, after a leisurely breakfast at your hotel. Change trains at Visp and arrive into Zermatt around four hours after departure from Geneva. Your hotel in Zermatt will send a complimentary shuttle to collect you from the station, where you will stay for 2 nights. In an idyllic, car-free zone, known for its popular winter sports, Zermatt is a stunning place to start this memorable trip. A peaceful village in the summer months, Zermatt is a haven for gourmet food lovers, with the highest concentration of gourmet restaurants, serving very typically Swiss cuisine, on the Glacier Express route. Quaint boutique shops are also housed within the chalet houses in the village centre.

Take in the views of the icy Matterhorn and wander along some of the 400km of walking paths that vein the landscape around Zermatt, Tasch, and Randa. Perhaps even enjoy the sights from the smaller railways that can take you as high as 3000m above sea level. The Glacier Paradise cable car will take you up to Europe’s highest viewing platform, while the Gornegratbahn, the world’s highest open-air cog railway, take you from Zermatt station up to the Gornergrat where you can view the peaks of 38 surrounding mountains, including the Matterhorn. Consider visiting the famous Hornlihutte, where climbers have stayed for decades before advancing up the sides of the Matterhorn via the Hornli Ridge, the Zmutt Ridge, or through the north wall. To witness more of the sublime and intriguing history of the area, visit the Zermatlantis Matterhorn Museum, an archaeological site that has been faithfully recreated.

After your final night in Zermatt, catch the Glacier Express to St Moritz at 08:52 in the morning, with a view to arrive at around 17:03. From Zermatt, continue on to the first stop, in the peaceful and enchanting village of St Niklaus, punctuated by alpine chalets, rustic houses with peaked roofs, and a smattering of golden and green trees. Next, pass through Brig, home to the 17th century Stockalper Castle, which is the emblem of Upper Valais and the largest private building built in the 17th century in the country. If you have time to stop, enjoy the arcades, chambers, gardens, museum, chapel, halls, and views of the onion domes, monastery, and old town in this fantastic and striking building. Continue on through Fiesch and through the Furka tunnel of the Furka Steam Railway that links Realp to Oberwald. This 2 hour stretch weaves its way through the vast panoramas of the mountainsides, passing wooden chalets, the ice caves near the Rhone Glacier, old, wonky houses with moss-covered roofs and light stone walls, and the quaint river and bridge of Oberwald itself. Your next stop will be in Andermatt, nestled in the indomitable Gotthard Pass, initially avoided by the Romans, but conquered when the Scholenen Ravine, an important North-South connection, was established. Zig-zagging roads are dug into and supported above the craggy rocks, overlooking flat agricultural plains and clusters of white houses. To get from Andermatt to the next stop in Disentis, the Glacier Express takes you over the Oberalp Pass; a network of tunnels, viaducts, and winding roads and railway tracks. At its highest point, the Pass reaches 2044m above sea level, affording passengers in the panoramic carriages unforgettable, breath-taking views of undulating green countryside. Disentis itself sits in the upper half of the Anterior Rhine, the Surselva. A large Benedictine monastery crowns the town, which is dominated by snow-capped chalets, mountain views, and is distinctive due to its proximity to the source of the Rhine in Tomasee. From here, travel through the Ruinaulta, or Rhine Gorge, taking in one of the most picturesque landscapes in the Alps, which makes for a sensational experience. The winding river changes altitude beside the railway tracks, passing sheer white cliffs, hilltop towers, and slinking under arched viaducts. Next, you will pass through Chur, the oldest city in Switzerland and the lowest altitude stop on this route, affectionately named the ‘Alpine City.’ Twisting streets, historic buildings, restaurants, bars, museums, galleries, boutiques, and a pedestrianised Old Town provide days of cultural entertainment to those staying for longer, so you may wish to disembark for a night. You can also take the Dreibundenstein Panorama Path from Brambruesch to Dreibundenstein and Feldis if you wish to appreciate a selection of Alpine flora and more fantastic views. Nearby Heidiland was home to the eponymous character, and still retains its chocolate box feel, and the thermal waters springing from the earth in Bad Ragaz make this a very enjoyable spa destination. The waters reach their warmest, at 37 degrees, in the atmospheric Tamina Gorge. The Glacier Express will then take you through the Domleschg Region, the area with the most castles and palaces in Switzerland. Some areas of this lush region resemble fairytale English countryside, with paths sheltered by trees and shady groves. Next, pass through Thusis and Tiefencastel, the latter of which has ochre-fronted houses, stunning, narrow stone bridges, and is crowned by a solitary tower. From here, the Glacier Express traverses the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Bernina Railway Line. One of the highlights of this stretch is the curve of the Landwasser viaduct, built in 1901. This route takes you on through Filisur, gaining altitude via a series of loops, before entering the Albula Tunnel at 1789m above sea level and heading towards Bergun, where you may wish to stop to visit the Bergun Railway Village, home to the Albula Railway Museum and the Railway Adventure Trail. Otherwise, ensure you take in the sight of the crystal clear blue waters that run in the rivers. Gaining on its final destination, the Glacier Express then stops in Samedan and Celerina, home to the Cresta Run. Built in 1884, this is one of the St Moritz area’s most famous attributes. Then, hurtle on to St Moritz, one of the most famous Alpine resorts in the world. At 1856m above sea level, visitors are welcomed by stunning views across the lakes of the Upper Engadine Valley, and the refreshing dry, clear, Alpine climate. Arrive in St Moritz in the late afternoon where you will be met by a car transfer to take you to your hotel, where you stay for 2 nights.

At 1856m above sea level, visitors are welcomed by stunning views across the lakes of the Upper Engadine Valley, and the refreshing dry, clear, Alpine climate. Navigate the local peaks via railway, reaching the Piz Corvatsch, Chantarella, and Corviglia, where a cable car takes you up to Suvretta’s most famous viewing point. Enjoy the water sports at the sublime Lake Sils and Lake St Moritz, or the windy Lake Silvaplana. While staying in St Moritz, it is possible to use this opportunity to explore another of Switzerland’s most iconic rail journeys, the Bernina Express. In one of the distinctive red trains, with their tall, angular windows, and comfortable, airy interiors, the Bernina Express rail journey takes you from Chur, the oldest city in Switzerland, south through the winter resorts of Davos and St Moritz to Tirano on the Swiss-Italian border. En-route you pass the dramatic Ruinaulta, or Rhine Gorge, the castles and palaces of the Domleschg Region, and the Morteratsch Glacier, and travel over the Landwasser Viaduct and around the Montebello Curve.

We will arrange for a car to take you back to the train station in the morning. If you depart from St Moritz for Zurich in the mid-morning, you will arrive at around half one in the afternoon, which leaves plenty of time to enjoy a few hours in the city before catching a flight home. If you are catching the train home, you leave from your hotel earlier in the morning and may like to add additional nights in Zurich.

Best service I have had from a travel company. Itinerary put together was exactly right, all connections worked properly and loved the different types of hotel.
Mr I, April 2017

Holiday price guide From about £2,820 per person based on two people sharing a double room and including for second class rail travel.

Holiday Code CHBR04

Luxury Swiss iconic rail holiday with Glacier Express Excellence Class

Best service I have had from a travel company. Itinerary put together was exactly right, all connections worked properly and loved the different types of hotel.
Mr I, April 2017

Holiday price guide From about £2,820 per person based on two people sharing a double room and including for second class rail travel.

Holiday Code CHBR04

Our prices include ● Flights from UK to Geneva and back from Zurich OR rail travel London to Switzerland and back via Paris
● 4-day first class Swiss rail flex pass
● Excellence Class on the Glacier Express
● 1 night’s bed and breakfast in a Deluxe room with lake view at the Hotel Beau Rivage, Geneva
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Double room with Matterhorn view at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, Zermatt
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Large double room at the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, St Moritz
● Shuttle service in Zermatt
● Private transfers in St Moritz
● Concierge service and Expressions Holidays regional helpful hints

Our prices do not include ● Early check-in or late check-out at any hotels (although we can arrange this on request at additional cost)
● Any other services not mentioned above, such as transfers and meals except breakfast at hotels
● Personal holiday insurance. This is essential and cover should be in place from when you book the holiday.
● Local tourist tax, usually between Swiss Francs 1 and 3 per person per night, and payable locally to the hotel
● Transfers in Paris, if travelling by train from London to Switzerland
● Transfers in Geneva
● Travel on the Bernina Express from St Moritz
● A luggage transfer service is available within Switzerland – please contact us for further details

Best service I have had from a travel company. Itinerary put together was exactly right, all connections worked properly and loved the different types of hotel.
Mr I, April 2017

Holiday price guide From about £2,820 per person based on two people sharing a double room and including for second class rail travel.

Holiday Code CHBR04

Luxury Swiss iconic rail holiday with Glacier Express Excellence Class

Highlights of Grisons and the Engadine

Between the peaks, valleys, and lakes of Grisons and the Engadine, towns and villages with hidden cultural treasures abound. Some of the oldest settlements in Switzerland are located here, still with the same medieval atmosphere. One of the most iconic images associated with Grisons is Tarasp Castle, built in the 11th century, perched on its hundred-metre-high rock in the centre of its surrounding valley. To see more of traditional Engadine style, visit the ancient villages of Guarda, Ftan, and Sent. The village of Zernez is known as the ‘Gateway to the Swiss National Park,' which also extends south into Italy. The Inn Valley is the perfect place to admire your surroundings. 60km of hiking trails wind their way across the landscape between Maloja and Scuol, believed to be the most rewarding trails in Switzerland because of the high-altitude views. Between the months of May and September, the Inn Valley gorges are ideal for rafting, as their calm turquoise waters bustle white. The Bains Engadine in Scuol were the first Roman-Irish baths in Switzerland, now providing saunas and pools with a very impressive backdrop.

Cultural highlights of Grisons and the Engadine

The three main towns of interest are Chur, Davos, and St Moritz. Chur is the oldest city in Switzerland, affectionately named the ‘Alpine City.’ Twisting streets and historic buildings, restaurants, bars, museums, galleries, boutiques, and a pedestrianised Old Town mean the city is abounding in charming character. A farmer's market is held in the main square of the Old Town every Saturday morning between the months of May and October. High above the town stands the Bishop's Palace. Fortified walls surround the central courtyard, which holds the Cathedral of the Assumption, dating back over 800 years. Chur is also home to the region's three largest museums. Explore its history in the Rhaetian Museum, the works of prestigious local artists at the Museum of Fine Art, and the flora, wildlife, and geological history at the Graubunden Natural History Museum. The two most popular mountain peaks in the area around Chur are the Branbruesch and the Dreibundenstein, both accessible by cable car and hiking routes. Chur has the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in Switzerland, making it an excellent destination for gastronomists and those who enjoy sampling a range of delicacies in a new restaurant each night. The highest ‘town’ in the Alps, at 1560m above sea level, is Davos, another popular destination with winter sports enthusiasts. In the summer, however, the snow melts to reveal over 700km of hiking paths. These can be accessed via cable cars up to the Jakobshorn (2590m), the Weissflujoch (2844m), and the Rinerhorn (2490m). Horse-drawn carriages take you along the narrower valleys of Sertig, Dischma, and Fluela. At Davos Lake, visitors can take a refreshing swim or enjoy the sports available at the sailing and surfing area. Alternatively, visit the Zugenschlucht gorge to follow the geology trail, the rocky path of the river, or to visit the mining museum. For something even more unusual, spend an hour at the Monstein Brewery, the highest brewery in Europe, and the first in Switzerland to be opened for tastings and tours. St Moritz is perhaps the best-loved Alpine winter destination in Switzerland, and possibly Europe. At 1822m above sea level, visitors are welcomed first by views across the Upper Engadine Valley. The local peaks, including the Piz Corvatsch, Chantarella, and Corviglia can be reached via mountainside railway, and from Corviglia, you can take a cable car up to Suvretta's most famous viewing point. Though St Moritz is not a waterside village, the nearby Lake Sils and Lake Silvaplana are perfect for water sports, particularly the latter, which is known for being windy. The village of St Moritz itself is smattered with quaint cafes and stunning buildings with peaked roofs, and the central churches provide beautiful destinations after a morning of exploration on foot. Just outside St Moritz is Celerina, home to the Cresta Run, one of the area's most famous attributes. Celerina is also the first stop on the Glacier Express route from St Moritz to Zermatt: a journey of viaducts, steep inclines, spiralling declines, and some of Switzerland's most famous mountains.

Festivals in Grisons and the Engadine

In Switzerland there is only one nationally celebrated day, the Anniversary of the Founding of the Swiss Confederation on the 1st August, aside from Christmas, advent and New Year. Apart from these, festivals and holidays are determined by the canton and the town. The residents of Grisons see in the first day of March with Chalanda Marz, in which bells are rung to chase out the winter. In Disentis on July 11th, a religious procession takes place to honour Saint Placidus. In Pontresina, St Moritz, and across the canton, the BSI Engadine Festival brings the region to life with performances of classical music in August. The most unusual of the major festivals in Grisons and the Engadine may well be in Chur, at the Chur City Festival and Alpine Beard Festival in August. In the autumn, Chur Theatre performs a diverse international theatre and dance programme, and in August every two years open-air opera is performed at the Haldenstein Castle.

Gastronomy in Grisons and the Engadine

As Grisons is still comprised of three language areas (Italian, German, and Romansh), the cuisine remains eclectic and varied. Many ingredients, prominent in the Alpine terrain are recombined in new ways to create different, flavoursome dishes. Three popular dishes in particular are maluns, capuns, and pizokels. Maluns are made from boiled potatoes, which are then grated, rolled in flour, and then roasted in butter. Often eaten by farmers for breakfast, maluns are also popular snacks to accompany a cup of coffee or served with Alpine cheese at dinner. Capuns come in a range of varieties, but are always wrapped in savoy cabbage leaves, spinach leaves, or Swiss chard. Inside, they have some combination of dough, meat, fish, and vegetables. Pizokels are baked dishes of special dough and vegetables topped with cheese.

Luxury Swiss iconic rail holiday with Glacier Express Excellence Class

Highlights of Lake Geneva

Montreux, on the most eastern point of the lake is most famous for the Montreux Jazz Festival, which is held in international esteem. One of the most iconic sights, for both Switzerland and Montreux, is of Chillon Castle, jutting out on a rocky outcrop into the lake waters. This castle cannot be missed because of its fairy-tale beauty. You can also begin to explore the landscape around Montreux by rail. One railway takes you across Alpine meadows to Rochers-de-Naye at more than 2000m above sea level, from which you can sometimes see the Jet d'Eau in Geneva. The Swiss Chocolate Train, adorned with lavish Belle Epoque carriages, travels to the village of Gruyeres, where characterful old cobbled streets are lined with townhouses containing cafes and three museums. An imposing medieval castle sits at the top of the village. You can also reach the Maison Cailler on the Chocolate Train, where you learn about traditional Swiss chocolate-making and even make some of your own. The Vineyard Train (number S31) will take you through the 800 hectares that make up the Lavaux Terraced Vineyards from Vevey to Puidoux-Chexbres. The vineyards are the largest living cultural site in Switzerland and a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further west from the Lavaux Vineyards is Lausanne, home to the International Olympic Committee headquarters, but perhaps best known for simply being a particularly romantic and beautiful Swiss town. Gardens, promenades, and lakeside pathways ensure that your days here are as picturesque as they are cultural. At Lausanne's heart stands the Cathedral, believed to be one of Europe's most beautiful Gothic monuments. The purple and orange hues of its two main spires are visible throughout the town. It was originally built in the 12th and 13th centuries. In contrast with the Cathedral, immersed in the history of the cobbled Old Town, a new Olympic Museum has recently opened. Interactive displays illustrating the colourful history of the games are spread over three levels and include more than 1,000 objects and 150 screens. One of the highlights of the museum, however, is the Olympic Park. The artworks, sports sculptures, and beautiful patches of well-maintained nature provide a stunning setting for this modern cultural venture. From here, you can wander down the promenade at Ouchy, an area that is unrelentingly popular with residents. This promenade takes you to the Haldimand Tower, the Bellerive Swimming Pool, the Chateau d'Ouchy, and the port.

Cultural highlights of Lake Geneva

Any stay on Lake Geneva remains incomplete without a visit to the city that gives it its name. One of the key features of Geneva's cultural heritage is its place as the origin of fine watch-making. Workshops, boutiques, and museums all provide an insight into this prestigious craft. Even the Jet d'Eau fountain bears some connection, as it originally harnessed the power of the Rhone for the craftsmen of Geneva. Today, it acts as a captivating, animate monument to the skills, craft, and natural forces of the city. Geneva is also home to the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the UN. Guided tours take visitors through the building, which seems to blend geometric modern design with classical, palatial style. Geneva's Old Town, or Vieille-Villa, is the largest in Switzerland, laced with narrow alleyways and charming squares, and centred around the St Pierre Cathedral. 157 steps will take visitors to the top of the cathedral tower in order to appreciate the remarkable views over the fascinating jumble of unique townhouses. A very unique feature of Geneva is the Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais. This precise and beautiful clock has the longest second hand in the world. Visitors interested in Swiss art and modern culture should spend an afternoon in the Quartier des Bains, wandering around the MAMCO and the Centre d'Art Contemporain before enjoying dinner in a chic bistro. Mediterranean Carouge is Switzerland's gateway to the south, with abundant Sardinian style. Finish your exploration with one of the four world-exclusive museums: the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Le Musee International de la Reforme, the Patek Philippe Museum, and the Bodmer Foundation Library and Museum.

Festivals in Lake Geneva

Much of the canton of Geneva's culture is built around a celebration of its history and traditions. Perhaps one of the liveliest celebrations is the Oktoberfest, though many more unusual festivals prove equally enjoyable. In the first two weeks of February, the Antigel Festival brings a variable programme of music, dance, and other performances to the less likely stages. In March, the International Geneva Motor Show, largest of its kind in Europe, unveils a range of new innovative designs at the Palexpo Exhibition Centre. Similarly, in April you can visit the International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques, and Products in the same venue. On specific dates of the year, usually mid-May, a selection of museums stay open for the whole night, an event that is also celebrated in a number of bars. Also in May is a Day of Open Wineries, where upwards of 90 wineries open their doors for free to wine-touring visitors. A charge of 5CHF at one winery will enable you to taste wines at every other winery for no further charge. In June and July, parks, gardens, and secluded outdoor spots on the lake shores play host to a range of live music and DJ sets at the Ecoutes au Vert Festival. In the middle of June each year, Lake Geneva is transformed into the largest sailing regatta in Europe, with over 500 boats competing. Geneva's largest music festival is the Geneva Music Festival in late June, specialising in a range of musical genres, and accompanied by an array of food stalls. Impossible to forget is the Montreux Jazz Festival, founded in 1967, that brings an eclectic range of performances to the lakeside stages, not limited to Jazz. The Cine Transat, hosted in one of Geneva's parks, features a series of French and English films. The Prelude to the Geneva Festival and the Geneva Festival itself take place from the middle of July until the first week of August and are widely believed to be the highlight of summer in the region. Carnival rides, concerts, stalls with Swiss delicacies and street food, parades, and variety performances take over the lake shores, topped off with unique firework displays each and every night. The Festival de la Batie from the end of August to mid-September exhibits the works of many local artists from a range of disciplines in Batie Park. The Nuit des Bains sees several galleries in the Quartier des Bains open their doors for free. For a taste of Geneva's history, watch l'Escalade in the Old Town in the second week of December, which commemorates that defence of the city against the Duke of Savoy in 1602.

Gastronomy in Lake Geneva

With over 1,000 restaurants, Geneva is recognised as the capital of culinary delicacies in Switzerland. For decadent dining, choose one of the hotels that line the lake shores; for foreign cuisine, head to the Paquis district; for traditional Swiss dishes, dine in Geneva's Old Town; for Italian restaurants and French cafes, go to Eaux Vives; and for experimental, chic restaurants, eat in Carouge. Some ingredients to look out for in particular are cheeses from Gruyere, oil from Severy, charcuterie, perch, fera, char, and leeks. Vaud, the region in which Lake Geneva sits, is Switzerland's largest wine-growing region, and the most prominent grapes are Chasselas, Pinot Noir, and Gamay. You may also discover some Tartiflette, which originated over the French border in Haute-Savoie, made with Reblocohon cheese.

Luxury Swiss iconic rail holiday with Glacier Express Excellence Class

Highlights of Valais

During your stay in Valais, you will see lush meadows, rivers, and 4000m high mountain peaks topped with all-year ski slopes. Between these peaks, creaking, radiant-white glaciers mould to the gradients of the slopes and filter into the craggy valleys. The most famous mountain in Valais, and possibly the whole of Switzerland, is undoubtedly the Matterhorn. Its distinctive silhouette can be appreciated from miles around, but perhaps best from Zermatt. Take the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cable car from Zermatt up to 3883m, making it the highest cable car in Europe, to the Panoramic Platform to look out across the other neighbouring 4000m high mountains and glaciers. Before returning to ground level, admire the mesmerising ice sculptures hidden within the Glacier Palace, a series of stunningly carved ice tunnels. Zermatt is an Alpine village known for its winter sports, being as it is one of the most popular skiing destinations in Switzerland. In the summer, when some of the snow has melted, Zermatt is a peaceful community of chic bars and cafes and quaint and characterful chalets. It comes highly recommended to those who enjoy hiking, walking, or simply the sight of those dramatic Alpine panoramas outside your hotel window. Those looking to experience the undisrupted beauty of the landscape but without the strenuous exercise of the hiking routes may wish to take advantage of the excellent local railways and connections. The Gornergratbahn, for example, is Europe's highest cogwheel railway, and its characteristic red carriages take visitors up to stunning Gornergrat. From Zermatt you can also board the Glacier Express to St Moritz in Grisons, which is a continually popular and iconic route. In the north of the Canton of Valais is the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the European Alps and with the greatest volume. Reaching from the Bernese Oberland to the Rhone River, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a vast expanse of twisted, mottled ice which navigates sharp spikes of rock and thick clusters of pine forest. Between Bettmeralp and Riederalp, to the southeast of the Aletsch Glacier, is the Aletschji-Grunsee Suspension Bridge. Over 124m of thrilling high-altitude metal bridge hovers above the Massa Gorge, affording the brave and adventurous among us phenomenal, unparalleled views of the glacier. Northwest of Zermatt, towards Martigny, is Verbier, a luxurious ski resort known for attracting very elite clients. If you have the chance, it is worth spending a night here so as to take the first Medran cable car up to the summit of Mont Fort at 3329m to see the sun rise over the mountaintops. At Saas Fee, the Mittelallin funicular railway climbs underground to 3500m, where a revolving restaurant looks out across the Allalin Glacier and others that sit at 4000m.

Cultural highlights of Valais

Sion, in the northern half of Valais, is home to chateaux and palaces galore. Chateau de Tourbillon has a magnificent hilltop position looking down over the Rhone Valley. After a fire in the 18th century, mainly the brooding exterior walls remain, though the site offers a breath-taking, intriguing place for a walk. Opposite the Chateau de Tourbillon, on an equally majestic hill, is the Chateau de Valere. Originally started in the 11th century, the castle was built around an ancient basilica. Today, the castle church holds carved stalls, an apse with beautiful frescoes, and the oldest playable organ in the world, which dates from 1440. While visiting, take a tour around the castle museum, and, in the summer, enjoy one of the concerts held here. Another small castle in Sion houses the Musee d'Art, exhibiting works by artists such as Oskar Kokoschka, Caspar Wolf, and Ernest Bieler. For even more prestigious art collections, visit the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, which houses works by the likes of Van Gogh and Picasso, and the Fondation Pierre Arnaud, which is a strikingly modern building with a mirrored exterior and a dramatic mountainous location in Crans Montana.

Festivals in Valais

Popular destinations and cultural cities lend themselves to high profile celebrations and festivals, which crop up around Valais at various points in the year. In Sierre, the Marche des Cepages in early September sees residents and visitors walk through the vineyards around the town, while drinking the produce and socialising with the winegrowers themselves. From the middle of August to the middle of September, the Festival de Sion sees international classical artists perform at many local stages, violinists compete, and many smaller free-entry stages pop up. Two weeks at the end of July see Verbier truly live up to its sophisticated reputation with a classical music festival. During the summer months at the Chateau de Valere in Sion, in the evening the castle walls are lit up with colour as part of the fascinating sound-and-light show. Something more unique is the Foire au Lard in Martigny, otherwise known as the Bacon Fair. Held in December, this festival has been around since 1801. In Riederalp, an unusual but very traditional festival takes place, the Chuefladefascht. Local residents throughout history would smash up cow pats and spread it as fertiliser across their fields; now, the game is to strike as many with your weapon of choice as possible and pluck out tombola prizes written down on paper and hidden inside.

Gastronomy in Valais

Valais the largest wine-making region in Switzerland, with plenty of wineries and vineyards open for tastings and tours. Other speciality ingredients include the huge range of savoury spices that grow here, including saffron. These local spices ensure that every dish in Valais' many gourmet restaurants will be seasoned and spiced to perfection. As with much of Switzerland, a very popular dish is the raclette, made using the best Alpine cheeses. For a heartier, homelier meal, seek out a dish that utilises the rich flavour of the local chestnuts, or choose to begin your meal with some fresh rye bread.

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