Switzerland minus the snow is more cheesy than it sounds – but in a good way
One of Europe's most popular ski resorts transforms into a hiking playground during autumn. Here's how to enjoy it, says Priya Joshi
SITUATED in the canton of Valais in south-west Switzerland, mountain resort Verbier is best known as an exclusive winter destination for the super-rich, and a playground for extreme sports enthusiasts.
With its pristine white slopes and wooden chalets adorned with pretty window boxes, it's a Christmas card-worthy winter wonderland when blanketed in snow. But with picturesque landscapes and diverse terrain, Verbier is also worth visiting in the 'off season'.
The snow melts to reveal grassy mountains and glistening waterfalls, and ski slopes are transformed into stunning hiking trails. From e-biking to mountain-top yoga, there are multiple options for active pursuits – proving there's more to Verbier than ski and snow. Here are seven ways to spend an autumn break...
1. Take an e-bike into the hills
An e-bike ride presents a speedy way to experience the landscape. Hire a bike (adults CHF53.29/£45 per day) and board a cable car into the mountains. There are paths for cyclists of different capabilities, ranging from level terrain to jumps for the more experienced with a daring spirit.
Cycle from the La Chaux-Express gondola and follow the path towards the Cabane de Mont-Fort guest house in 40 minutes. The route is picturesque and peaceful, with just the occasional biker or hiker crossing your path. Natural streams and trickling waterfalls line the gravel route on a modern art trail, which features bronze sculptures by local artists, leading you through meadows and past grazing cows, into a more rocky, rugged terrain. Bar a few steep inclines, it's a leisurely ride.
2. Practise heavenly mountain-top yoga
At 2,103m, the Cabane Brunet mountain hut (CHF75/£61pp, per night, half board; cabanebrunet.ch) is an ideal base for enjoying the sunrise – especially with an early morning yoga session. WholeyCow (wholeycow.ch) – who have a yoga studio based in Bagnes – can arrange private sessions at the hut (CHF120/£98 for up to five people).
On a flat spot on the grass outside the Cabane that offers the best views of the mountains, instructor Svetlana Negashova guides us through a sequence of moves, as the fresh mountain air enlivens the skin and the senses. Watching the sun emerge above the dewy slopes is heavenly.
3. Hike your way to the top
Carpeted with purple fireweed in the summer, Verbier's alpine slopes boast 400km of diverse hiking trails. All of them are beautifully picturesque with snow-topped mountain peaks surrounded by neat fields and forests in every shade of green. The trails are signposted and you can also pick up handy maps from hotels and chalets.
From the Cabane Brunet, a gentle two-hour amble to the foot of the Petit Combin leads you along meandering crystal-clear streams and grassy knolls. Follow the distant ringing of bells into an alpine meadow, where a herd of cattle graze laconically in the sunlight.
4. Indulge in a high-altitude brunch
Having worked up an appetite after a morning hike, treat yourself with a brunch in a traditional mountain farmer's hut on the hiking route from Cabane Brunet to Mont Combin. Book in advance for the culinary experience in the farmer's own private hut (CHF25/£20pp; verbier.ch).
Farmer Marc Maret presents us with an array of cheeses, home-made jams and bread, some freshly drawn milk to sample – followed by locally produced Fendant du Valais, the best-known white wine from the region, and the perfect accompaniment to raclette.
After a leisurely lunch, there's time to sit back and watch marmots scurry in the distance, while listening to the sounds of an alpine horn player.
5. Make your own Swiss cheese
Discover the Swiss art of cheese-making at the family-run La Laiterie de Verbier in Verbier village (CHF25/£20pp with VIP pass or CHF50/£41pp without; verbier.ch).
Cheesemaker Marc Bubosson guides you through the process of making Bagnes tomme, a raclette cheese made with milk from cows grazing on 610m-high pastures. Matured for at least three months before it can be sold, it's highly prized.
Learn how to make your own wheel, a simple process that involves stirring the fresh milk in a copper cauldron as it's gently heated, and adding rennet, which thickens the cheese, ready to be drained and set.
A tour of the cheese factory reveals a vault filled with Bagnes tomme worth £500k. The smell is pungent, but worth it for the tasting session that follows; sampled with crackers and grapes, the milky, matured cheese is silky in texture, strong on the palate with an earthy flavour and endlessly moreish.
6. Forage for food in the forest
A certified Swiss mountain leader, Cherries Ussher von Maur runs her own nature walks company Cherries Walks (CHF350/£286 for a half day walk including lunch; cherrieswalks.com).
Strolling through the forest, she introduces us to the edible plant-life, demonstrating the right way to pick stinging nettles and how to squeeze the pulp from Swiss red berries to check which ones are safe to eat.
At La Maison de la Foret, a rustic cafe in the heart of the forest of La Tzoumaz on the Sentier des Sens hiking route, we chop, grate and grind our forest flowers and leaves, to conjure up some delectable concoctions for lunch – nettle couscous, pine tea, and rhubarb and berry jam.
7. Fly over Verbier in a cable car
Experience Verbier from a different vantage point with a cable car – the best way to take in the drama and majesty of the mountain range. There are 12 sectors operating in the summer from June 8 to October 26, with the standard cables running from between 8.30am and 5.30pm (CHF48/£49 for a one-day pass; verbier.ch).
Or wrap up warm and take the extra early morning cable from La Chaux to Mont Fort, which runs at 5.30am. It's a 10-minute ride, where you can enjoy fondue at 1,000m (CHF18/£15) in the small igloo cafe at the viewing point, as you watch the sun rise over Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
:: Rooms at Cabane de Mont-Fort (cabanemontfort.ch) cost from £62pp, per night, half board.
:: Ryanair fly to Basel and Turin; Aer Lingus flies to Geneva (both ex-Dublin)
:: The Swiss Transfer Ticket (sbb.ch) covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. Prices from £112.
:: The Verbier Infinite Playground (VIP) is presented at hotel check-in to guests staying a minimum of one night in the region and paying the tourist tax. Visit verbier.ch/en/vip-pass.
:: For more information about Verbier, visit verbier.ch