The hanging gardens of Verbier
Dawn breaks over the Val de Bagnes. The little chapel of Mauvoisin has the air of a mountain refuge, one of those precious shelters where the hearth is always warm on stormy nights. Its whitewashed walls are flushed bright red by the first rays of the rising sun. Turn to face the Haut Val de Bagnes nature park and watch in wonder as, beyond the morning mist, the lights of Verbier begin to flicker out. It’s time to set off on the narrow path that leads to the summit.
The morning air is crisp and dry, summer and winter alike, as you make your way over the rugged rocks which lead to the Mauvoisin dam. Mont-Gelé is several valleys away, and yet there she is standing tall, proudly surveying the Domaine du Valais. Her grand silhouette seems much less imposing from abroad the Attelas cable car…
Seen from the Lac de Mauvoisin, the summit forms a pair with Le Voisin, that forbidding granite façade criss-crossed by the boldest free riders. It’s no coincidence that Dominique Perret, considered the best off-piste skier of the century, set up home here in Verbier. The landscape is a succession of inaccessible crests and vertiginous slopes, a natural playground for adrenaline junkies.
After passing through the caves beneath the Mauvoisin dam and clambering up the ladders sealed into the rock face by mountain guides, you finally arrive at the Giétro shelter, last stop before the ascension to Grande Ashle. Up here the edelweiss are not just a cliché: there are so many that you could almost mistake them for banks of snow. These little white flowers are the emblem of Verbier, and you’ll find them everywhere: embroidered into the table cloths of restaurants, painted onto shop signs and adorning the wooden friezes which run around the farmer’s chalets. But it is up here amid the highest peaks, in the company of the ibex who wander the moraines and the mountaineers setting out to conquer the glaciers, that you truly appreciate the local fascination with this delicate little flower in the form of a snowflake.
The edelweiss serves as a welcome reminder that Verbier is first and foremost a paragon of untamed natural beauty, in spite of its well-manicured ski runs and vibrant nightlife. Though many of the old alpine farms are now plush chalets, those in the know still meet up at the Milk Bar. This Verbier institution, established in 1936, still evokes the spirit of the great outdoors, and the special warmth that can only be found in a bowl of steaming hot chocolate among friends. Snuggled up amid the solid pine décor, revel in the aromas of nutmeg and cinnamon as you listen to one of the owner’s many anecdotes; soaking up the spirit of a truly authentic mountain resort, the hallmark of Verbier.
When to go?
Few mountain resorts can truthfully boast that they have no off-season: but Verbier is one of them. In winter, Verbier is famous for its 27 ski slopes and maze of snow-shoe hiking trails. In summer, the unmistakable chords of Chopin’s Nocturnes ring out across the Val de Bagne during the Verbier Festival. Free-ride enthusiasts, meanwhile, flock to the Xtreme Verbier contest held in late March/early April.
How to get there?
Its little red and white wagons are unmistakable: for more than a century, the Saint-Bernard Express has been the quickest and safest way to reach Verbier. At the Le Châble station, hop into a cable car to cover the last few hundred meters separating you from the slopes.
Between the snow and the heavens
Take to the air and discover the adrenaline-soaked sport of speedflying, a cross between skiing and high-speed flight. Strap your skis on tight and take the plunge with Gaël, an experienced pilot and two-time Swiss national champion, for an introduction to this incredible activity. An exceptional opportunity to see the snowy peaks and the Bagnes Valley from another angle, a moment out of time and an exhilarating experience.
Leader of the pack
Holding the reins of a pack of huskies, dash through the frozen landscape. Lost amid the endless white, surrounded by glaciers and forests, stop off for an aperitif in the grandest of natural settings. A perfect opportunity to ask Olivia, our musher, everything you’ve ever wanted to know about sled dogs and the untamed natural beauty of these mountains, her lifelong passion.
Strap on your crampons and slip on your gloves as you set off to conquer the frozen falls of Bonatchiesse. Whether you’re a novice climber or an old hand, follow our professional guide up this shimmering frozen surface, picking your way among the crystalline fissures and surrealist forms naturally sculpted into the ice. A gourmet picnic awaits at the top, ready to be devoured as you marvel at the breathtaking view.
Our address book
Le Fer à cheval
An eclectic canteen
Just off the Place Centrale, this welcoming diner provides comfort and sustenance for hikers off to tackle the Haute Route as well as snowboarders freshly descended from the peaks. The clientele is eclectic but the atmosphere is warm and friendly, with oven-fired pizzas and home-made specialities that everyone can agree on.
Rue de Médran, Verbier
View of the slopes
Two chalets connected by three terraces that are always packed: people flock to Chez Dany for the atmosphere, but what keeps them coming back is the delicious duck breast cooked over hot stones.
10, Hameau de Clambin, Verdier
A name which conjures up images of Asian adventures and Indian cuisine: but don’t be fooled. In this high-altitude chalet, a magician-sculptor and his wife serve up traditional Swiss dishes which are famous throughout the region.
Les Planards, Verbier
The ultimate après-ski
Pub Mont-Fort is the ultimate after-ski bar. Snuggle up under the heaters out on the terrace, and gaze out over the valley as you warm yourself up with a Dark’n’Stormy, a devilish blend of rum and ginger beer.
10, Chemin de la Tinte, Verbier
Glamorous dress code
Since 1971, anyone who’s anyone in Verbier has put on their glad rags for an evening at the Farm Club. Strut down the red carpet which leads into this glitzy bar-club, and into a world where skiing gear is replaced by sequin gowns and three-piece suits.
55, rue de Verbier Station, Verbier
Le Off Piste
Sofas and cocktails
Whatever the season, the broad, comfy armchairs at Le Off Piste are filled with night owls waiting for the clubs to open. In summer, the terrace becomes a sandy beach complete with palms and olive trees.
Place Blanche, Verbier
Musée de Bagnes
Medieval surroundings, contemporary art
Its chalk-white silhouette appears to blend into the wintery surroundings. The former clergy house for the county of Bagnes, whose foundations date back to the 13th century, now hosts exhibitions of contemporary art in this elegant medieval setting.
13, chemin de l’Eglise, Le Châble
Laiterie de Lourtier
Step through the doors of the Lourtier dairy and discover one of the Alps’ best kept secrets, the cheese-making know-how which gives us Raclette du Valais AOC. Beneath the vaulted ceilings of the maturing cellars, the artisan cheesemakers explain the origins of the distinctive floral notes we associate with Raclette du Valais, made with milk from the Alpine meadows of Charmontagne.
351, route de Mauvoisin, Lourtier
That caramel aroma
Founded in 1936, this venerable Verbier institution is a gourmet’s paradise, serving grand cru hot chocolate in refined surroundings. Whatever brings you to Milk Bar for the first time – the vintage charm of the flower-strewn terrace, or the promise of home-made caramel crêpes – once you’ve experienced it you’re sure to come back.
2, rue de Médran, Verbier