What to do in Valais
The Valais, in southwestern Switzerland, counts the Valaisan as well as the Bernese Alps (shared with the Bernese Highlands region) among its impressive physical features. It's filled with 13,000-foot peaks, none more recognizable than the iconic, oft-photographed Matterhorn rising 14,693 feet above Zermatt. The Valais has many of Switzerland's top ski resorts, including four with the Families Welcome label. French is the predominant language, though German is spoken in the Upper Valais.
Sion is the oldest town in Switzerland. Chateau de Tourbillon, built in the 12th century, is an impressive ruin high on a hill with panoramic views over the Rhône Valley. If you visit in May, you can see what may be the area's oddest cultural event, championship cow fighting. The contests are all about who deserves to be herd leader and the cows rarely injure one another.
Brig is another town in which to discover history, especially at Stockalper Palace.
In Le Bouveret, it's all about water: water skiing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, kayaking, paddle boatingif you can do it on water you can probably do it here, where the Rhone flows into Lake Geneva. This town is also home to the Swiss Vapeur Parc with its famous miniature railway.
For families the must-see attraction in Zermatt is the Glacier Palace at Klein Matterhorn, some12,000 feet above sea level and almost 50 feet below the surface of the glacier. The grotto "rooms" are lit, music plays, there's an ice snack bar, and just getting up to the palaceapproximately 40 minutes via mountain train and the highest cableway in Europeis a grand adventure.
Leukerbad is home to the largest thermal resort in Europe. Burgerbad has ten pools with water of varying temperatures, a 230-foot slide, foot baths, and kids ages seven and younger not only have free admission to Burgerbad, they ski free in two of Leukerbad's ski areas, too. Husky-Wallis is a dogsledding outfitter that loves families and welcomes kids on its day rides and overnight trips. Adventurous families should try the fixed-rope climbing route.
At Bettmeralp there are summer children's programs for ages three to 15, and circus weeks when kids can "join the circus." In winter, parents taking turns caring for their children five and younger can share one ski pass. The resort has several "Discovery Paths" on which families can learn about marmots, the area's culture, or how to protect forests (free flyers at the tourist office). Among the family-friendly lodging is Hotel Desirée.
The resort of Crans-Montana has just about every activity a child would want, including tennis, golf, climbing, and mountain bike camps (ages vary from six or seven to 15). Families can sign up for guided walks in summer and check out the Fun Park in winter to go tubing, sledding, and tobogganing.
Saas-Fee offers car-free vacationing for familiesmotorized vehicles aren't allowed in the village. In summer there are Family Adventure Days, as well as four petting zoos, a 3.7-mile monster scooter trail, guided rock climbing, and horse-lovers can take an all-day horse trek (bring your own picnic lunch). In winter families can snuggle on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through a snowy forest. Ferienart Resort is one of the top family hotels in the region.
Tips: Leukerbad, Bettmeralp, Crans-Montana, and Saas-Fee all have the Swiss Families Welcome label, meaning they offer family amenities and services related to accommodations, entertainment, child-care, and more.
On Fridays July to mid-October there's a guided tour through Leukerbad's fixed-rope climbing route. Try it with the guides first, then you'll be ready to go on your own (not for very young children).
Recommended Side Trips: Geneva, Lausanne, Locano/Lake Maggiore, the Swiss Alps National Park.
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