The Swiss Alps are bliss in summer: Dodge Verbier’s glitzy ski crowds on a reviving off-season hiking trip
- With the ‘chic, friendly and central’ Hotel de Verbier as her base, Kate Johnson explores Verbier’s ‘softer side’
- She heads on a flower foraging tour close to the Savoleyres peak and Marlene pass above Verbier
- The highlight of her trip is an e-biking adventure from the Mauvoisin Dam to a swish mountain hut restaurant
Cherries, a local botanist and our mountain guide, is full of foreboding.
‘It took me five years to have enough confidence to guide people on foraging tours because of the fear of them picking incorrect plants,’ she says. ‘I still worry.’
Don’t blame Cherries — with people such as me on one of her tours. I’m still unable to tell the difference between cow parsley (harmless) and hemlock (deadly).
Peaceful: Kate Johnson explores the mountains around the luxurious ski resort of Verbier in the summertime, when hotels are taking out-of-season guests. Pictured is Lac des Vaux, a lake that’s within hiking distance of the Alpine village
We’re sauntering the gentle hills close to the Savoleyres peak and Marlene pass above Verbier, stopping every now and again to smell the flowers, as Cherries points out plants I’ve walked past many times without knowing to what use they can be put.
The seeds of cow parsnip have the effect of ginseng (huge in the ‘wellness’ world) and meadowsweet is a herbal medicine with natural aspirin.
In a meadow, under the watchful gaze of a huge Herens cow which is wearing a bell around its neck, we stop for a breather.
While we’re faffing around getting water bottles out of backpack pockets, and checking phones (like teenagers), Cherries throws an immaculate tablecloth briskly on the ground, shares fresh, wild thyme-flavoured water, and melted chocolate from a mini-raclette griddle, for us to dip daisies and other flowers into.
This is a different side to Verbier. As a luxurious ski resort, its reputation is of a ‘playground of the rich and famous’ and one of the most expensive places to ski in the world.
Verbier, pictured, has a ‘softer side’ come summertime, says Kate. ‘The mood is less glitzy, the people more relaxed and nothing quite beats the endless expanse of snooker-table-green grass, dotted with firs and grazing cattle,’ she writes
But come the summer, it has a softer side. The hotels are taking out-of-season guests — we’re in the chic, friendly and central Hotel de Verbier, with a spa and terrific terrace restaurant.
The mountain lifts, designer boutiques and gift shops are also still open (Dolce & Gabbana-designed Smeg toaster anyone?) but, somehow, the mood is less glitzy, the people more relaxed and nothing quite beats the endless expanse of snooker-table-green grass, dotted with firs and grazing cattle.
I feel better for just admiring the view. It’s a huge dose of a ‘nature prescription’, the increasingly mainstream idea that being in the great outdoors has a beneficial effect on all aspects of health — and it works.
During the warmer months, the resort has filled its diary with events. This summer, between July 15 and 31, the hills will be alive with the sound of classical music, including string quartets, opera and legendary pianist Martha Argerich playing Beethoven (verbierfestival.com).
A VIP pass gives free or discounted access to activities, including a tour of the village of Sarreyer — all traditional wooden chalets and window boxes of red geraniums — which is pioneering the Swiss slow food movement. It started in Italy more than 30 years ago to promote local food and traditional cooking as an antidote to fast food.
The highlight of Kate’s trip is an e-biking adventure that starts at the Mauvoisin Dam, pictured. According to Kate, it’s ‘totally overwhelming at 820ft high (nearly eight times as tall as Buckingham Palace) and 1,706ft wide (about the length of five football pitches)’
Doubles B&B at Hotel de Verbier from £149 per night (hoteldeverbier.com). Heathrow to Geneva returns with Swiss Air from £94 (swiss.com). For more information, visit verbier.ch.
The tiny community here has beautifully restored a 19th-century mill, which is now in service making flour, pressing apples and sawing wood.
The local Cafe du Mont-Fort has reopened and serves up nettle soup (an acquired taste), absinthe from the local distillery (same) and homemade pasta.
The highlight is an e-biking adventure that forms part of the gastro tour. We start with the Mauvoisin Dam, built in the 1950s and totally overwhelming at 820ft high (nearly eight times as tall as Buckingham Palace) and 1,706ft wide (about the length of five football pitches).
It’s begging to feature in a preposterous opening sequence for the next James Bond movie.
We set off through tunnels and along paths, past waterfalls gushing into the Tiffany-blue water of the reservoir. The twisty climb holds (almost) no fear for us, and we have the place to ourselves.
Even if you feel e-biking is cheating (it isn’t), the surge of power means you can enjoy the view and see the cows waiting patiently to be milked, without overheating or gasping for breath. That’s worth the mockery from ‘real’ cyclists.
We eventually arrive at a swish mountain hut restaurant for a massive rosti in the sunshine, before miles of freewheeling home again, in the freshest air.
Verbier in summer is just what the doctor ordered. Just one question: how do I get this nature prescription on repeat?
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