Switzerland’s Valais Region is a Journey of the Heart
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Switzerland’s Valais Region is a Journey of the Heart

Staff Writer
Wine, cheese, chocolate, and more — Valais is sure to change you

Our perception had been clouded by the dog days of the Vegas summer, as suffocating heat held us hostage to air-conditioned confines. Roman philosopher Seneca once stated that “travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind,” and a change of place seemed like the perfect solution for mental and physical clarity. With an invitation to get to the heart of a new region, we gladly accepted our quest and began planning our trip to the Valais region of Switzerland. Pronounced ‘Wallis,’ the Valais is one of 26 cantons (regions) of Switzerland that stretches along Rhone River Valley; a year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts with spectacular skiing and excellent hiking but also a draw for culinarians where many Michelin-starred restaurants showcase some of the best in world haute cuisine. And let’s not forget about the wine! Home to the highest vineyards in Europe, the Valais is the largest wine-producing region, with 40 percent of the country’s production happening high in the Alps, where 50 official grape varietals are grown across 5, 000 hectares. We were ready to take off into an adventure for all the senses.

“Open heart and an open mind” was our mission statement as we boarded the comfortable and roomy Edelweiss flight, with the extended leg room and all the movies and beverages that we could enjoy in the nine-hour nonstop flight to Zurich. Starting off in the heat of a dusty desert afternoon where temperatures had been soaring into the triple digits had us longing for fresh mountain air and temperate weather. Switzerland offered the most dramatic change of pace from the parched brown environment, as we were ready for a needed  change of scenery after a long hot summer.

We landed in Zurich as the sun was setting and made our way to the labyrinth of train tracks that run beneath the busy airport. We found our connecting train and quickly settled in for the three-hour train trip across the silhouetted countryside as the undulating motion of the first class cabin lulled us into a meditative state about our first stop on our 11-day Valais journey: the tiny Alpine town of Brig. Weary from the long flight and added hours of train travel, we finally arrived at this tiny hamlet and meandered along the bumpy cobblestones as dim streetlights guided our way to the Hotel Ambassador. Hungry and tired, we hobbled up the stairs to the front desk of this welcoming four-star boutique hotel to quickly be escorted into the hotel’s Brasserie des Cheminots for the last dining service of the evening. Famished, we were grateful for this last-minute meal of sliced veal cosseted in rich brown gravy punctuated with earthy mushrooms, washed down with several glasses of refreshing Swiss beer. Satiated and ready to get a few hours of much-needed rest, we found our way to the clean and tidy room with a small balcony that opened up to the fresh mountain air and the gleaming moonlight that spread over the quiet alpine village and towering mountains. Morning came quickly, and we made our way to the small breakfast dining area already inundated by a large group of Asian travelers. We all politely weaved about the Swiss breakfast buffet of dried meat, cheeses, yogurt, muesli, scrambled eggs, and crusty loafs of local artisanal breads. Fed and rested, we were ready for our daily adventure that included a full schedule: a visit to the World Heritage Forum, a guided tour of town’s famous Stockalper palace, and some leisure time at a popular thermal resort.

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

Knowledge is power, and with that in mind we made our over to the World Nature Forum, which is noted as a study and congress center of the UNESCO World Heritage. It’s an interactive exhibit that highlights the ecological history of the Alps Jungfrau- Aletsch region. Recently opened in September 2016, this new ultra-modern forum afforded us an in-depth look at this region’s unique geological makeup with advanced technology that had us captivated from the moment we embarked upon our tour.  Not only where we educated about the region’s unique ecology, but we also learned of the brave men and women of the Jungrau-Aletsch, as several instillations compared the modern mountaineer versus the courageous mountain men of the early 1800s. Our final multimedia digital presentation had us in complete awe as a gigantic movie screen took us on a spectacular alpine butterfly’s journey through the Alps all in high definition and surround sound. The World Nature Forum was a superb way to begin our base of Alpine knowledge while instilling within us a vast appreciation for this pristine area of the world.

Walking across the bridge, we met our guide at the tourism office to learn more about this quaint mountain town. Romaine Nanchen, a lifetime resident of Brig, gave us a plethora of information as we walked along the cobblestone streets, noting that it was Kasper Stockalper who shaped the future of Brig through trading along the Simplon Pass.  After creating an economic trade monopoly, he went on to build an impressive palace known as the largest private construction project to take place in Switzerland in the late 1600s. Romaine pointed out the unique architectural aspects of the buildings, but one feature seemed to be a signature design aspect. “Stockapler, a Roman Catholic, was obsessed with the concept of threes: the sun, moon, and stars; the three kings of the bible; and the holy trinity,” said Romaine. “You will have representations of threes throughout the village and the palace.” We noticed that many of the historic buildings that were constructed by this founder had these iconic emblems imbedded in the infrastructure, including the top of his famous palace. We journeyed through the stately manicured grounds and the expansive courtyard surround by the two-story covered arcade to take a look within the palace walls.  Impressed by the well-kept pastoral murals, heavy wooden furniture, and artifacts dating back to the 1500s, we were equally amazed at prodigious authority that Stockapler held in making this an area of trade and commerce. With our history lesson over, we bid goodbye to our knowledgeable guide and made our way the nearby town of Brigerbad for a dip in the ancient thermal waters.

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

 

Brigerbad is a short bus ride from Brig and is the location of the new Brigerbad thermal spa and regional thermal resort.   Once we arrived at this oasis of well-being for the body and soul, we were anxious to relax and experience calcium-rich hot springs dating back to the Roman times. The resort began in the 1950s and has been updated as a modern thermal site offering stunning panoramic views of the Valais and Bernese Alps, along with its invigorating waters. This popular complex consists of seven unique bathing options, a full service spa, outdoor and indoor pools for all ages, and 400 camping sites, along with studios and bungalows for rent.  Entering into the warm thermal water along with the other enthusiastic water-goers, we relished the several hours of much-needed rejuvenation.  The afternoon water workout induced a hearty appetite, and we were ready for another good meal at Brasserie des Cheminots and some much-needed rest for another busy day ahead of us in the town of Sierre.

Making our way back to the train station, we caught our 20-minute ride to the town of Sierre to meet our guide, Evelyen Oberhummer, an expert on the Pfyn-Finges nature preserve. Heading up  to the gateway of this nature park in the Central Valais was a dizzy display of winding roads where each  hairpin turn brought another spectacular view. Having made our ascent, we stopped briefly to take a look at the stunning valley below and capture it with our clicking cameras. We hesitantly left for a luncheon at Restaurant Rogge Stube in the nearby town of Erschmatt, but we longed to stay and enjoy this unsullied nature spot.  Rogge Stube was a modern yet causal restaurant built within an old-school building that also doubles as the local bakery, with a full production facility located in the basement.  We began our meal with a salad of earthy local beets and apricots topped with shaved radish and pinion nuts and a slice of the traditional rye bread made at the in-house bakery. Dish after dish exuded influence with the best in regional ingredients.  Ready to embark on  a fascinating look at a no-kill caviar facility, we made our way to the Kasperskian Caviar Company, whose motto is “Caviar with Life.”

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

We finally met with our European tour members in the town of Luek, where we  learned more about Kasperskian facility that opened in 2015, one of the few no-kill processers of caviar. We were intrigued  by the unique harvesting method and what makes this caviar, made without any additives or preservatives, such a status food symbol.  “The caviar master massages the fish and extracts the egg sac, which takes about one minute, very fast, and then the fish goes back into the water as soon as possible,” said Frederic Cherpin, marketing and sales manager. “Everything is made to help the fish with the excellent food, pure water and expert treatment.” No photography was permitted as we made our way into the large industrial facility that held tanks of 1,000 swimming sturgeon of three different varieties in all phases of gestation. Captivated by the multitudes of well-maintained splashing fish, we quickly developed an appreciation for Kasperskian’s mission statement on creating a sustainable food product. When the female fish are mature, they yield the luxurious eggs that are then elegantly packaged and sold in many countries throughout the world. After the tour we had to try it ourselves both on our hand (traditional method) and on a piece of toast with, of course, a sparkling glass of champagne. The soft, dainty eggs lacked the brininess that we have experienced in traditional caviar, but we relished each tiny black pearly mound with its slightly nutty and delicate texture.  Finally, we raised a toast to the mighty sturgeon that brings forth the caviar with life.

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

Bubbles and caviar were consumed with great appreciation but it was now time to move on to our final stop in Salgesch at the Cave de  Rhodan cellar, the first winery in Switzerland to receive a gold medals for their renowned vino. Winemaker and owner Olivier Mounir greeted us with a speech on the background of his  family’s winemaking venture, beginning with his grandfather 60 years  ago. “We have 50 different varietals in this area, which I believe is a world record,” said  Mounir. “The reason why is that we have so many different soils; This area is very chalky soil, perfect for red wine, especially Pinot Noir but also Chasselas (a major white varietal) and Gamay and Dole, which is a pinot-gamay blend.” With many accolades in place for this family-owned business, including world-champion pinot noir Expovina 2014, we were excited to try a taste of the wine from this passionate winemaker. The 2014 petite Arvine was a refreshing white wine with hints of almond blossoms on the noise and citrus on palate and one of our favorites in the tasting lineup. After several more samples of both red and white varietals it was time to put the glasses down and press on..

After  two days of Alpine adventure and education, sustenance and a soft duvet were top priorities as we pulled into the Chandolin Boutique four-star hotel. This ultra-modern sustainable hotel embellished with natural elements of wood and stone and sophisticated modern design captured this pastoral setting with a stylish synergy. With jaw-dropping views of five towering peaks, including the storied Matterhorn, this place was indeed a feast for the eyes.  Our room of luxury linens, high-tech lighting and nature-infused elements relayed the message well as we gazed at the mountains range enveloped in dusky twilight. After settling in, we made our way to a specially prepared meal hosted by Sommelier Thomas Scheidt at Hotel’s Le Restaurant. Scheidt gave us an overview of some of the 400 vintages that he has showcased in his floor-to-ceiling glass cellar for all to appreciate. For our large group, Scheidt recommended Plant Robez from Lavaux Switzerland. “Pairing wine and food is what I enjoy to the  utmost,” said Scheidt. “Wine should elevate the meal, making it a memorable experience.” Memorable it did become, as dishes composed of flavorful and textural accents married well with each glass that was paired. A garnet borscht with bits of local goat cheese nestled artfully in the gleaming white bowl  awaited our eager palates. Accompanied by a dish of local trout with a brown butter sauce and the fini of local apricots cloaked in glistening meringue made the evening culinary program a lip- and tongue-friendly welcome. After our last sip of wine, we were looking forward to placing our contented bodies and minds to rest under the luxurious puffy white duvet.  

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

Early in the dusky morning, we embarked  on our trip to a town straight out of the children’s book ‘Heidi.’ When  imagining storybook images of Switzerland, we could not think of a better example than the village  of Grimentz, located in Val d’ Anniviers. Walking through the narrow streets lined with chalet-styled wooden homes embellished with hundreds of bright red and orange geraniums, we came to the Burgher House in the center of the village, dating to 1500s. “The geraniums are what Grimentz is known for,” said our guide, Benji Caloz. “There are heated competitions to see whose geranium display is the best in the village.”After admiring countless decorative uses of this well-loved pungent flower, we descended a wooden staircase into the Burgher wine cellar, where we were shown the white glacier wine aged in larchwood barrels. This was a specialty of the nomadic farmers centuries ago. How special was it? This glacier wine was reportedly only served if the bishop came to visit.

The fresh air and our village walkabout created quite an appetite, so we meandered in for lunch at Hotel et Restaurant de Moiry. After a plateful of dried meats and cheese and several glasses of refreshing Schneiderweiss beer, we strolled through this picturesque village once again and followed the enticing aromas to the village’s communal breadmaking house. It is here we jump in to our culinary time machine to learn the ancient art of making Grimentz rye bread.

Grimentz rye bread is a staple for the mountain residents and made with simple, hearty ingredients. Each village has  its own bread recipe and boasts that  its rye is the best. The Grimentz bread dough, unlike  that of its neighbors of Saint-Luc, does not contain potatoes but simple ingredients including rye flour, salt, and yeast. Grimentz rye bread lasts longer than white bread but becomes literally hard as a stone after three months. Residents in the past had to chop the bread with an axe and soften in up in soup just to make it edible. The breadmaking process is a great way to see, feel, smell, and taste the history of the region. Many locals still come to Grimentz to the chamber of pain (house of bread) to bake together during the holidays. Diving in hands-first, we kneaded , rolled, and then shaped a our dough into the traditional circular shape  before strategically placing it on the large wooden paddles. It was then eased into the glowing embers of the open brick wall oven.  Thirty minutes later, our bread came out piping hot and golden brown. No ax needed today, as we easily tore off pieces of our crusty golden loaf, and its nutty warm texture melted in our mouth.

Not far from the quaint village of Grimentz, we ventured high into the Alps to Moiry Dam, or Lac de Moiry, through winding alpine roads. Walking over the dam, we were awestruck by the turquoise-colored water of the lake,  which has a depth of 120 meters (390 feet). The unusual color is created by the Moiry Glacier, and the panoramic views of snowcapped mountains and sweeping green carpeted pastures are reflected  on its mirror surface. We heard bells in the distance. Could it be those famous Swiss cows just over the hill? Venturing up a mountain hiking trail, we saw a small building and barn and, yes, those renowned Swiss cows were having their mid-morning feed.  It was our lucky day, as the sound of those bells brought us not just to the cows but to the region’s alpine cheese maker, Isabella Oilnet. Along with her husband and young child,  Oilnet had chosen this obscure outpost high in the Alps to care for the cows and make the traditional Raclette cheese three months out of the year. Before we  were to observe her cheesemaking, she offered us some personal time with these friendly Swiss cows that act more like large dogs. Each of the 120 herd responds to an individual name and is identified with  a large, cumbersome-looking bell  around its soft neck. After our bonding experience with the cows, we were invited into a dimly lit building stacked with rows of the Raclette cheeses to see the daily ritual of washing and curing. Using a special machine,  Oilnet lifted each wheel, gently rotating the mechanical arm as it glided over the smooth pungent surface. “During the summer months, my husband lets the cows graze on the rich vegetation and in the aromatic meadows,” she explained. “I transform the milk into Morey cheese and even own a few cows myself.” Most of the resorts in the area feature this flavorful, aromatic Raclette du Valais AOP,  and it is served either melted over a wooded fire, or placed in a special Raclette machine, heated, and then scraped onto a plate and paired with briny pickels, pearl onions, and boiled potatoes. After tasting a variety of some very fresh cheeses, it was time to say au revoir to our new friends and depart for our resort in the village of Saas Fee, still higher up in the Alps.

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

The Swiss transportation system is known worldwide for its efficiency, and this trip was no exception. From train to bus, we arrived right on time at the Saas-Fee Busterminal.  Saas-Fee is a winter resort playground village that brings a plethora of ski enthusiasts annually to enjoy all it has to offer. Even though we arrived in the fall, the village was abuzz with visitors partaking in the pubs, restaurants, and hiking trails in and around the village.

A short walk from the Busterminal  was our home for the next few days, the five-star resort Hotel Ferienart Resort and Spa. Checking into the resort was stress-free, as we were offered seats in their plush lounge and enjoyed complimentary cheese and a libation of choice as  while awaiting our keys. The Ferienart is also known for being singer George Michael’s place of residence  while he filmed his video “Last Christmas.” We were excited to take a look at our suite, which was more than we expected. Large floor-to-ceiling doors opened to a patio overlooking the classic chalet-lined village. To our great pleasure, our suite came with a large tub complete with Jacuzzi jets, prominently placed in the middle of the room. After a relaxing spa bath, it was time to join a well-known Swiss chef in his kitchen  to hone our culinary skills and learn from a master.

Restaurant Swiss Chalet is a romantic, quaint, traditional dining venue tucked away just up the hill and off the main avenue of Saas-Fee.  At the helm is executive Chef Holger Schultheis, who is well respected in the Swiss culinary world. “I have worked in very big kitchens and had very large staffs on numerous occasions. Now, at this point in my career, I wanted a small kitchen and work mostly alone, with the menu changing daily. I am very happy here,”  Schultheis said with a smile.  After he motioned us to join him in the rather tiny kitchen, we found our assigned spots for prep duty and were given specific directions for our particular station. For the next three hours, we joined him side by side as we sliced, stirred, diced and received quite an education on using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. After our hard work, Chef Holger joined us as we took a seat at a table to enjoy the fruits of our labor paired with some lovely Valais region wines. Tired but very satisfied, we strolled back to our suite at Hotel Ferienart, enjoying the sparkling Milky Way overhead and breathing  in the fresh, cool Swiss alpine air.

One last day  remained for us to embrace the ambience of Saas-Fee, but first a breakfast of smoked salmon, capers and crème fraiche to fuel us for the eventful day ahead. The snow-capped mountains beckoned us, so with a few hours on our hands, we decided to go for a walkabout high in the Alps, and the best way to get there was by gondola. Walking through the quiet village, we came to a gondola station where we jumped on and watched the earth fade away as early-morning hikers looked like ants scurrying below. Looking back at the village of Saas-Fee, we could barely cover it with a thumb.

Disembarking from the gondola, we saw a sign where we could purchase food for the beloved marmots, large squirrels that reside in burrows  and dine on berries, flowers and, of course, an occasional tourist handout. After buying a bag of peanuts for the furry creatures, we observed several marmot families running in an out of the burrows in the rock outcroppings of the mountains. The younger marmots scurried about under the watchful eye of the parents, who were also keeping a close eye on us.  Cautiously, we approached a burrow, peanut in hand, and gingerly the timid marmot’s nose poked out of the darkness, and then one by one the family members followed, each receiving their own snack much to our delight as well as theirs.  Time was going by quickly as we enjoyed hiking amongst the marmots, but it was time to head back down to Saas-Fee, as we had a festival to attend.

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

Walking along the earthen path to the main street of Saas-Fee, we suddenly felt the air with excitement as we heard yodelers calling and accordion music playing while mouthwatering aromas drifted toward our curious noses. Rounding the corner, we saw a sea of white tents, as we were now in the midst of the Nostalgic Culinary Mile, the annual cultural food festival. This is the time  when Valais area locals don their traditional dress: men dressed as old-timey mountaineers, woman with tightly woven braids showing off their colorful long flowing skirts, and adorable children sporting neatly pressed lederhosen. Laughter, lively polka music, and tents filled with revelers drinking and heartily enjoying authentic Swiss food wine and spirits carried on all afternoon and well into the evening.  Aromas of veal, venison, elk, cheese, and fresh pastries combined for a complete culinary sensory experience. Swiss bands playing traditional music were found on every corner, as well as plenty of Swiss wine and even gin to keep everyone happy and hydrated. Wanting to jump right in, we just had to partake in all of the above in this culturally encompassing good time. The evening came and our time had come to a celebratory end in Saas-Fee as we gathered our bags for our final destination.

Arriving back in Sierre by train, we caught a Funicular (a tram built into the mountain)  that brought us into the mountain towns of Crans-Montana. After checking in to boutique Hotel du Lac and getting settled into our comfortable but tiny room, we headed off to explore. Meeting up with the knowledgeable Hugo Cousino, we took a drive high in the Alps for lunch at Restaurant Le Cave du Scex. This little venue situated on a small dirt road surrounded by pastures full of Swiss cows held spectacular mountain views and is a local favorite. Le Cave du Scex is only open in the summer months until the onset of snow, which can happen as early as late October.  Of course, a bottle of Valais wine got us started, followed by dishes featuring local produce, cheese, and meats. Our palates satisfied, we took a nearby hiking trail even higher up in the mountains to the small hamlet of Colombire. Here, we went back in time, seeing how generations of Swiss lived. The hamlet is an exact reconstruction on ancient foundations of their living area, furniture, and tools. For those more comfortable with modern conveniences, there is a fine-dining restaurant and traditional, romantic accommodations  year-round. If you’re into adventure and stay at the hamlet,you can hire a mountain guide and really experience the Swiss Alps the way you should. We returned to Crans-Montana and took a walkabout to see the villages firsthand.    

The two neighboring resorts of Crans and Montana are situated at an altitude of 1,500  meters on a sun-drenched plateau high above the Rhone Valley. Together they combine to offer one of the biggest holiday destinations in the Valais. From the villages one could not help but  be in awe of the impressive view of the chain of mountain peaks from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc.

So the big question is, idyllic mountain village or alpine town? Actually it’s both. Crans-Montana combines all the comforts of a modern holiday resort with an expansive natural landscape and panoramic views of the Valais Alps. The modern side of Crans-Montana offers the most extensive alpine shopping for miles around. It also boasts a renowned cultural and congress center, and a wide range of accommodations. With a reputation as a golfing mecca, Crans-Montana draws visitors from all over the world. If you enjoy the outdoors, why not commune with nature in this family-friendly resort, where you can enjoy five swimming lakes, walks through aromatic mountain forests along an extensive network of footpaths, and finish up your day with romantic fondue evenings in rustic inns. For skiers, there is none better. The ski slopes stretch from the high plateau up to the Plaine Morte Glacier at 3000  meters directly beyond the edge of the forest. The slopes are broad and open, ideal for beginners and deep-snow skiers. Advanced skiers will take the chairlift to La Toula to find a really challenging descent. Particularly popular are the broad carving slopes and the valley descent down the PisteNationale, which, at 12  kilometers,, is the longest in the region.

In these villages you can golf at the 18-hole Severiano Ballesteros and 9-hole Jack Nicklaus golf courses that offer panoramic views from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc. If you visit in September, book your ticket to the Omega European Masters, where the international golfing elite compete in the second-biggest tournament in Europe. There is also world-class shopping that features the most extensive alpine shoppers’ paradise for miles around. In the summer, enjoy PlaineMorte, a huge glacier stretching for 10 square  kilometers at an altitude of 3000  meters. A must-visit is the town of Sierre, which has the most hours of sunshine in Switzerland and is a popular nearby excursion with its beautiful old quarter and museums.

A steamy cup of café au lait was just what we needed to begin an early-morning exploration of the nearby boutique shops. The village of Crans was coming to life, and there was one shop that we were eagerly awaiting to enter. We had heard that one of the best chocolatiers in the country produces his sweet works of art from his shop just a few blocks away. Our pace quickened upon noticing the sign of David L’ Instant Chocolat. We had found it! Upon entering, our eyes darted around to all of the colorful chocolates, neatly packaged in David’s signature blue boxes. We were warmly welcomed by Helen, David’s wife and marketing manager,  who ushered us into the small kitchen abuzz with early-morning chocolate preparations. We were intrigued to meet this legendary chocolatier whose Swiss delights are sought by the most discriminating chocolate lovers.

 


Elaine and Scott Harris

David Pasquiet was bent over a spinning mixing bowl as his wife tapped him on the shoulder to announce our visit. With his thick French accent, he said, “I was very humbled. In January 2013, I participated in the Swiss Chocolate Masters and won  first place! This competition opened the doors of the world championships in Paris to represent Switzerland.”  Pasquiet has been honored as one of the premier Swiss chocolate masters. He has 35 varieties of Grand Cru tablets selected from the best cocoa beans on the planet, which he and Helen have  gone to great lengths in sourcing sustainably.  From sweetness to bitterness, from white chocolate  to dark, he has it all. We could not turn down the chance to taste his award-winning chocolates. For the rest of the morning we chatted with  Pasquiet and his wife, all the while sampling his signature artisanal marble-ooking chocolates. Treats of chocolate-dusted almonds, infused chocolates with hints of hazelnuts and oranges, and Grand Cru chocolates sublimated with a touch of salt or chili were offered to us, much to our great delight. After  a final exchange of mercis and au revoirs, Helen placed a lovely sample box into our hands for a snack as we strolled to our next destination.

Needing to quench a thirst, we took at seat a Brasserie La Marmotte,  which features a nice lineup of craft beers brewed in Crans-Montana. Relaxing the afternoon away with views of the Lac Grenon and Valais Alps and nicely brewed beer was a  good way to take it all in as the people of Crans-Montana meandered by our table. We finished our forthy ale, tipped our waiter, and headed back to the room to refresh ourselves for the evening ahead.

In Crans-Montana Michelin, stars shine bright, and we were fortunate enough to experience Michelin stars two nights in a row. Our first experience lead us to LeCrans Hotel & Spa, where the stately dining room  revealed a panoramic view of spectacular pink-hued mountains as the sun bowed behind the clouds. Taking a few minutes to learn  about the man behind this sought-after world-class dining destination was indeed a must. Chef Pierre Crepaud gave us an opportunity to  witness the life, the rigor, and the creativity of a brigade in the kitchen   before an exclusive and intimate dinner.

“I was 10 years old when I decided to become a cook,” Crepaud said. “I thought of dishes by contemplating the mountains, climbing them, picking wild  respberries, mushrooms, pine buds, hazelnuts or chestnuts. Today, at the LeMontBlanc, they have remained my greatest source of inspiration. In the summer, I gather wild plants in the alpine pastures: juniper, thyme, hyssop, absinthe, oxalis, genépi, cradle, and wild cumin. I am self-taught and passionate. I know their very diverse tastes that they bring in decoction, infusion, or simply laid on a dish. In the winter, the mountains are covered with snow; I work truffles, citrus fruits, spices, and old vegetables. Throughout the seasons, I like to create unusual and vegetable associations, to sublimate nature, by inspiring me on the steep paths of the alpine mountains.” 

Taking our seats, we began to  peruse  a menu that combines tradition and plenty of emphasis on local produce. The wine list is small but has  48 of the best white and red wines from the Valais region and  around the world. One part of the menu called Autumn’s reflections features “4 different spaces”: air, water, earth and fire; all the classical elements needed from a Michelin kitchen. The signature beginning was a slow-cooked organic egg, Agria potatoes mousse, and earthy fall truffle shavings. The chef’s favorite dish of wild turbot roasted in a saffron butter, artichokes and figs confit, Melissa potatoes, gnocchi, and a meat sauce was thoroughly seasoned and extremely well-executed.  We savored each expertly prepared dish, lingering over each flavorful forkful. For a sweet finish, the Le Mont Blanc “signature” dessert was a must. Under a rich, crunchy, meringue-tufted dome, fresh blackberry, marrons glace, and gruyere double cream assembled into an empire of taste and presentation. This indeed was a  fini to be remembered. Our Tesla and driver arrived to return us back to the hotel satisfied and enjoying the stars above and the Michelin star we just enjoyed.

Our visit to Crans-Montana had one more adventure, and this one was a dinner we would soon not forget. We were honored to be asked to dinner by Bruno Huggler, director of tourism of the Crans-Montana region. Our destination? Hostellerie du Pas de L-Ours and yet another Michelin star to enjoy. The restaurant is a favorite of the most fastidious gourmets in the world. The Bear, another gourmet restaurant, is also Michelin-starred. At the helm is executive Chef Franck Reynaud, who was  named French chef of the year by Gault & Millau 2018.

Chef Reynaud joined us at the table as we enjoyed Michelin artistry from the kitchen and got to know this very talented chef. As the dishes started to arrive at the table, we could certainly see he has not forgotten his Provençal roots. He knows the rhythm of seasons and flavors of local produce cooked with passion and delicacy.  We started with dishes  such as suckling lamb and sea bass, followed by earthy mushrooms atop venison a deeply flavored casserole enriched with fragrant white truffles of Alba.

 “I am a son and grandson of a pastry chef, hotel manager, and restaurant owner,” Reynaud said. “I spent lot of time in the laboratories and the kitchens from a young age. As I got older, I spent a few years by the sides of great chefs that allowed me to perfect my skills.”

In 1994, he opened the Hostellerie du pas de l’ours with his wife, and in 1996 he was entered  into the prestigious Relais & Châteaux guide and soon after obtained his first Michelin star. Dinner with two Michelin chefs was indeed a career milestone that we reflected on as we journeyed back from this world of heavenly cuisine in a heavenly place.

At the hotel, we reluctantly packed for our final train ride across the picturesque countryside to Zurich, where our Edelweiss Air flight would bring us to our home in Las Vegas. Traveling to the Valais indeed had  energized our spirits, as we were anxious to share our journey with others. The Valais regional marketing motto of “Engraved on my heart” echoed through our minds as the countryside whirred past our windows. Each phase of this Valais journey was now deeply etched into the creases of our  memories. We were forever changed by the beauty and synergy of a place that has learned to expertly weave together hospitality and natural resources, giving way to memories that will be cherished forever.  If you need a change of mind and heart, the Valais region of Switzerland is the place to plan your next adventure.

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