13 Oct Exploring Nendaz, Switzerland: Hiking and Day Trips in the Swiss Alps
Nendaz, Switzerland. Most people have never heard of it. So why did we go there?
Well, for this leg of our Europe trip, we wanted to meet up with my parents in Switzerland, especially to see the Alps. Because of my comfort with the French language, I limited my accommodation search to the French-speaking side of the Swiss Alps, namely around Lake Geneva and the Valais region. When I learned of the many hiking trails around the small resort town of Nendaz and confirmed that it was just a simple bus ride away from the train station, we had our home base.
We arrived by train to the Sion station from separate directions – Jedd and I coming from France via Geneva, and my parents coming from Italy via Milan. I found our bus route from the train station ahead of time via Rome2Rio.com, so we just pulled some Swiss francs from the ATM at the train station, hopped on Postbus 362 which leaves at least once an hour, and paid 10 each to Nendaz Station-Poste. The climb up the winding mountain roads was a beautiful initiation to the area.
Although the Valais region has a great public transit network, it ended up being more affordable for the four of us to rent a car once we arrived. This allowed us to spend half a day in neighboring towns like Sion, Martigny, and Zermatt as well as one longer day trip to Spiez (near Interlaken) and Bern. Although we picked up the car in Sion, we were able to drop it off near the train station in Geneva, where we spent one night before flying on to our next respective destinations.
Navigating around Switzerland was not terribly difficult despite the many round-abouts, but we found that relying on road signage wasn’t quite enough to find our way around. Fortunately, Jedd’s T-Mobile service provides free data while abroad, and we were able to check directions on his smart phone. Rules of the road, especially speed limits, vary slightly from what we’re used to in the States, so it was very helpful to read about Swiss driving laws before venturing out.
Staying in Nendaz
Nendaz is a small ski resort town in the Alps, popular for both winter and summer activities. The rental options in Nendaz are abundant on sites like AirBnB and InterHome, although many of the hotels were closed when we went in October (their shoulder season). Accommodations are spread out quite a bit up and down the mountain, but I highly recommend staying in Haute (“high”) Nendaz not far from the Tourist Office in order to have easier access to restaurants, grocery stores, bus stops, and the ski lift.
A number of people warned us that Switzerland was very expensive but for some reason, that didn’t prevent us from “sticker shock” when seeing the prices of goods in the stores and restaurants. Because it was so expensive, we avoided eating dinners out (except to celebrate my Dad’s birthday), and instead took advantage of our condo’s kitchen. We did our grocery shopping in the Coop and Migros supermarkets, which were cheaper in the bigger towns down in the valley than they were up in the mountains. By the way, we also learned that many shops are closed on Sundays as well as for a 2-hour daily lunch break.
Hikes Around Nendaz
One of the reasons I chose this location was for the many walking routes and hikes that start from the center of Haute Nendaz. Although I found the hiking maps a bit tricky to follow, once we got started, the trails were usually well marked with yellow signs or painted diamonds.
Our first hike from Nendaz was the Bisse de Milieu to Vieux Bisse loop. The term “bisse” refers to an old waterway, and several of the trails in the region follow these streams in and out of small villages and farms, through the hills and forests.
One afternoon, we took the telecabine (ski lift), which was right next to our condo, up to Tracouet for another hike with panoramic views. Roundtrip on the lift was 16 francs per person and provided amazing views from a new perspective.
Walking around the residential parts of town in Nendaz was also enjoyable. On our last day, we took the opportunity to seek out some geocaches in the area to help us explore. They brought us to a panoramic overlook at a radio tower and along a quiet road with charming chalets.
Day Trips from Nendaz
Martigny is one of the larger, valley towns in the Valais region. We spent about half a day there, parking in an underground lot at the town center. Our original plan was simply to walk up to La Batiaz castle, which sits on a hill above the river. Once there, we discovered a 4 mile hiking trail through the vineyards that turned out to be a major highlight of our trip. We walked through rows of grapes for miles, ascending above the city, through a quaint little hamlet, and finally returning along the riverwalk at the valley floor.
Sion has a beautiful Old Town and two fortified castles, Valère with its basilica and Tourbillon, overlooking the city. We didn’t go into the museums, which are housed in the castles or nearby, but we loved walking around and exploring.
Zermatt and the Matterhorn
Zermatt is one of the more well-known destinations in the area and one of the reasons we chose to stay just a couple hours away in Nendaz. From this charming-though-touristy town, you can glimpse the famous Matterhorn. Vehicles are not allowed in Zermatt itself, so we drove to the train station in Tasch and took the 12-minute shuttle train ride for the last leg of the journey.
Once in Zermatt, we walked up the main road, Bahnhoff Strasse, and followed signs for the Matterhorn Trail up until we reached the tiny mountain village of Zmutt. It was a steady incline of moderate difficulty with several occasions to see the peak of the Matterhorn.
For our big travel day, we mapped out a 5-hour driving route that would take us into the Bernese Oberland. Many people know Interlaken but we actually went to the neighboring town of Spiez, a charming hillside town that borders Lake Thun.
In order to get there, we opted to take the car-transport train. Yes, it’s a train just for cars, and it goes straight through the mountains. So we drove to Goppenstein, maneuvered our car right onto a train and sat inside for 15 minutes while we passed through a mountain tunnel, ending up in Kandersteg. I must say that the mountain villages from Kandersteg on down toward Spiez were absolutely beautiful.
Once in Spiez, we parked at the train station and walked in a loop down to the marina, up through the medieval castle and the commercial district. We probably would have walked further down the coastline and taken the boat ferry back, but the weather was threatening rain so we spent some time in a nice bakery instead. Spiez was a really beautiful place- the parks down by the waterfront were especially well put-together. Unfortunately, at this point in the trip, the cord to charge our camera stopped working so we have very few pictures.
On our way to Bern, Switzerland’s capitol, we stopped for lunch at a nice, spacious park in Thun with a promenade bordering the lake. We then spent an hour or two exploring the interesting, picturesque corners of Bern. To be honest, I didn’t do any research on this city ahead of time and almost made the mistake of passing it by. But as soon as we drove in across the Aare River, I knew it would be worth exploring, which we did following my parents’ Rick Steves guide book.
The last night of our week in Switzerland was spent in Geneva- more on that later! All considered, we had an absolutely wonderful week enjoying the beauty of the Swiss Alps. It is truly a special place and probably one of my favorite destinations world-wide.
Have you been to the Swiss Alps? What were your favorite places that you recommend visiting?
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