Summer in the mountains: Get active in Verbier, Switzerland
If you are thinking about an outdoorsy holiday in Europe, Verbier in Switzerland is a great choice, as I recently discovered. It is a popular ski resort town in winter, especially among the rich and famous, but when the snow melts a wealth of walking and cycling trails, as well as a few more exciting activity options, are revealed in the beautiful mountains.
Wherever you go in the area of Val de Bagnes it is easy to be wowed by stunning high-rise peaks that give way to lush, green valleys. Magnificent rivers of chalky white water, waterfalls and picturesque blue-green lakes add to the Swiss picture-postcard experience.
All those chocolate box scenes of the Swiss Alps come to life, too, with colourful wildflowers in the pastures and cows with clanking bells around their necks.
Look a little harder and you will spot an array of wildlife, including birds of prey, marmots and chamois.
Outdoor activities to enjoy near Verbier
A clever incentive for staying in Verbier is the Verbier Infinite Playground (VIP) Pass. For every night that you stay (whether camping or 5-star hotel) in Verbier you have access to a range of free admissions and 50% discounts with the VIP pass.
It’s a clever scheme because it encourages people to stay a bit longer than they might and gives many local businesses extra trade, especially as some visitors might not thing to try some of the activities on offer.
The VIP Pass is financed with the tourist tax (CHF4 per night per adult) that the guests pay when they overnight in Verbier. Then hotels, apartments, etc pay back the tourism office the taxes that they received from their guests.
For example the VIP pass gives:
- Free admission to mountain lifts on foot
- 50% discount on mountain lifts for mountain bikers
- Free transport by postal bus
- More than 25 free activities or at reduced prices.
Hike in the mountains
Cost: Free, or get a group together and hire a guide.
VIP pass: Free buses and taxis to various routes.
Take a hike on one of many waymarked trails in the area. See my blog about a hut-to-hut hike in the Bagnes area. There are many, many other hiking options, too, with more than 400km of footpaths, most of them waymarked and well maintained and for every level of walker.
Tip 1: Hire a guide or take a map and do your own walk.
Tip 2: Many of the routes are perfect for trail runners, too.
Climb a Via Ferrata
Cost: CHF80 (50% off with the VIP pass) includes a guide and equipment.
The Via Ferrata, which comprises a series of rope bridges, carved steps and ladders over a total length of 600 metres, is located in the Mauvoisin Gorge, high above the River Dranse.
The route is divided into two sections: Saxifrage (quite difficult) and Tichodrome (difficult), which can be tackled one after the other, or independently of each another.
Unfortunately, I arrived too late to join this group activity but my new “Thrills” friends said it was a superb activity. They reported that is was challenging, exciting and very scenic.
Mountain biking high above Verbier
Cost: Various prices for bike hire and guiding.
The ski lifts become transport for walkers and mountain bikers in summer. The cabins on the Ruinettes gondola are fitted with double bike carriers to take riders from Verbier town high up the mountain. The gondola uplift takes walkers and riders to a height of 2200m.
Tip 1: 50% discount with the VIP pass for the Medran to Les Ruinettes gondola.
Tip 3: Phone ahead before your trip to ask the bike hire outlet to swap the brake levers from European to British. They are the opposite and it can be very confusing, and dangerous, to have the brake levers on the wrong side.
Tip 4: Hire a guide: We were lucky to have the expert guidance of Sylvain Haederli from the Verbier Bike School. A guide is well worth booking if you are unsure about your riding skills or where to go. See Verbier Bike School.
Tip 5: Look for wildlife: We spotted a marmot bouncing through the vegetation at the side of the trail. There are also birds of prey to see.
We throughly enjoyed a morning riding the high traverse trails above Verbier, on the pass “La Croix-de-Coeur”. The tracks are wide and almost flat on theLa Tzouma side with absolutely stunning views of the mountain area. There are 800km of mountain biking routes in Verbier, Val de Barnes and La Tzoumaz.
After a long traverse around the mountains and just as we were thinking there might not be anything too strenuous to mountain biking in Verbier (why on earth i thought this I have no idea!), we turned a corner around the back of a mountain and descended.
The descent on single track was fabulous and it was not too steep so it allowed me to take my hands off the brakes and use my limited skills to their full extent. Then, of course, we needed to go back uphill.
While we had made the initial big ascent by gondola, the next smaller ascent relied on our legs and pedalling. It wasn’t easy, especially with my breathing limited by the altitude, but I did manage to enjoy the ever widening views of the valley below as we climbed back up.
Again, we headed off for a descent on another singletrack and this time to reach our lunch stop in the mountain restaurant, La Marmotte.
The afternoon was spent at La Tzoumaz Bike Park, where there are seven downhill trails of varying degrees of difficulty, from the blue trail, Tsopu, to the competition trail. Don’t be fooled by the blue grading, however, as I would say it is more of a red graded route.
There is also easy blue trail (from the Verbier Bike Park) called Chotatai, on La Tzoumaz side.
The blue can be tackled in different stages and there were some chicken run options on easier, wider trails but I did manage to complete most of the blue run. I was at the edge of my comfort zone a lot of the time with dry, gritty trails and numerous berms to negotiate.
My friends on the trip, Dom and Jonathan, are far more skilled MTB’ers and they thought the blue singletrack was brilliant. They went down and then up on the gondola and down again some five or six times. Dom described the last run of the day as “crazy”. He added: “By this point we knew the trail quite well and we just went for it.”
Jonathan said: “It was superb. It was fast and exhilarating.”
Aerial walkway in Verbier
Cost: Adult, CHF 25; child CHF15. (50% discount with VIP pass)
A new treetop, high-ropes adventure course – Sentier Suspendu Verbier – has been built in a woodland clearing just above Verbier town at Medran. You can walk there.
It only opened this summer and will be available throughout the summer and into the winter if conditions allow (ie no ice and snow).
At first glance, the adventure course looked a bit tame. The initial stages take adventure fans on a series of three increasingly tall aerial obstacles surrounding a 12m tall wooden tower.
Dom, Jonathan, Sophie and I looked up at the obstacles and I am sure we all thought the same: “Yeh, well, great for kids but not sure about the challenges for adults.”
Everyone is kitted out with a climbing harness, a zipwire freewheel system and two carabiner clips – these attach you to the cables all along the course and a clever magnetic system means you can never be unclipped to the cable.
We had a safety briefing (not too long but perfectly judged to our ability) before we tried level two of the tower obstacle course. From the first obstacle, a series of logs held together above the ground by cables and chains, gave us a taste of what was to come. The obstacles were harder than they looked and we all went quiet as we got on with the task ahead.
I am not a fan of heights but I put these thoughts aside because I could see that the safety cable system was very robust. The obstacles have been very cleverly created and challenged your balance, core muscles and general fitness and flexibility.
Having completed the shorter level two course, mainly around the grounds of a small woodland clearing, we progressed to level 3.
This took us into the forest and on to a brilliant course of bridges, ladders, zip wires and inventive obstacles. I had not been sure at the start if I would enjoy being high above the ground on an aerial obstacle course but I throughly enjoyed myself.
I loved the zipwires and I liked the various physical challenges of different obstacles. All around me I could her my new friends variously swearing and whooping, depending on where they were in the course.
We all agreed at the end that it was a much more challenging undertaking that we had thought initially and that participants would require a fairly good level of fitness and flexibility to complete the course.
The aerial course is open to people aged seven and above, as long as they meet a height requirement.
See: Treetop aerial walkway.
Where to stay?
There are numerous choices of where to stay in Verbier, from campsites to five-star hotels. We stayed at three-star Hotel Farinet. It is a lovely hotel with well-appointed rooms in the centre of the mountain town. The hospitality and breakfasts were superb.
How to get to Verbier
I travelled by EasyJet from Edinburgh to Geneva. I then boarded the very slick Swiss train to Le Chable, changing at Martigny. See Swiss Railways. Le Chable to Verbier is a short taxi ride.
You can also choose a Swiss Transfer Ticket that covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. Priced from 154 CHF/£117 in second class.
Note: This was a press trip but all the views/opinions are my own.