travel

Adam Duxbury embraces his inner Julie Andrews as he explores the summer Swiss Alps

It has a reputation as a top winter ski destination but Verbier is looking to lure the summer crowds with a range of adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer in a breathtaking setting

2019-01-25

This article first appeared in Attitude 296 issue in June.

When Attitude was invited to visit the world-famous ski destination, Verbier, to see what it had to offer during the summer months, I was excited to find out what this lush part of the country was like when it isn’t buried under several feet of snow.

Getting to the village of Verbier from anywhere in the UK is relatively straightforward. Our press group flew from Gatwick to Geneva and then transferred by minibus.

A taxi would get you there in a couple of hours or you can take the train, change at Martigny for Le Châble, then take a taxi to Verbier. Whichever route you take, flying at 8am would see you breathing the sweet, fresh mountain air soon after lunch.

The trip had been organised by the Verbier Tourism board, who were keen to promote the area as an “infinite playground”, meaning there are a range of activities to enjoy all year round, not just during the ski season.

We’d been promised hiking, mountain climbing, zip-lining, E-biking, downhill mountain biking, foraging, and yoga, not to mention plenty of eating and drinking in-between — phew!

Fortunately, the group was split into two: those seeking “thrills” and those more interested in “chills.” I’m not the sportiest guy around, but I like to consider myself fairly adventurous, and certainly open to the idea of climbing a mountain or getting down and dirty on a bike trail.

So I opted for the thrill side of the trip (running through a meadow warbling songs from The Sound of Music counts as a thrill, too, even if that is Austria, right?) Whichever type of holiday appeals to you, arming yourself with the new Infinite Playground Pass will open up the extensive ski lift network so you can easily access all the best hiking and biking trails.

It will also get you into local museums, cheese tasting and discounts on things such as horse riding and guided tours of the village. Our first escapade saw us zip lining 120m across a gorge with a 30m drop to a rocky riverbed below.

While I couldn’t make out the skeletons of any former adventurers, it was still a pretty hair-raising (but exhilarating) way to kick off the trip.

Just before checking into our hotel we made a detour to the Mauvoisin Dam — the eighth highest dam in the world, fact fans — for some absolutely spectacular views down the valley.

Spectacular views are sort of a thing here, so you’ll be reaching for your phone a lot to take a photo. The village of Verbier itself is fairly big with some steep hills lined with lovely wooden chalets and a cluster of bars, upmarket shops and ski rental places.

There are plenty of hotel options, and while there was definitely still a buzz in the restaurants and the handful of bars, the area is geared towards the winter après-ski fun, so don’t expect wild nightlife in summer.

Verbier is definitely a playground for the wealthy. It has hosted members of the royal family and the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, while Richard Branson has a massive lair here.

You get the picture. In summer, however, prices do come down significantly, and the area attracts a varied crowd with a different set of activities on offer — as we were about to discover.

On the second day we were up early and off to climb Mont Fort, a snowspeckled peak sitting 3,328m (10,900ft) above sea level. There’s an easy way to get to the top via a cable car, but we hopped off at the base to try the new Via Cordata route, which mixes a bit of hiking, some mountaineering and more than a dash of rock climbing.

I was definitely glad I’d packed my sturdy hiking boots. The first part involved trekking across a small glacier to get to the base of the peak.

It was slightly surreal to be walking across the blue ice in a t-shirt, but with the sun blazing we were soon working up a sweat. When it was time to start climbing, we ascended in single file with our expert guide at the front, securely roped together like a train of wayward toddlers.

The route was pretty intense with some proper rock-climbing skills needed, but we felt very smug indeed when we reached the summit. We certainly felt we’d earned a good dinner that evening, and the panoramic view from the terrace restaurant at Chalet d’Adrien was amazing – as was the food.

The next morning brought eating of a very different kind, right in the heart of nature. We were taking a break from the thrills for a spot of foraging. Mind you, the threat of paralysis after eating something poisonous provided a “thrill” of sorts.

We didn’t need to worry, though, our brilliant guide — the magnificently named Cherries — was with us every step of the way as we gathered flowers, roots and seed pods before cooking up a (somewhat surprisingly) delicious lunch at a log cabin.

And everyone survived the night and lived to tell the tale. We continued communing with nature that afternoon with an outdoor yoga session on the mountainside.

Running through the poses on a wooden platform with stunning views all around was pretty special, and after our virtuous lunch I felt I was at least halfway to nirvana.

With the sun setting, we made our way back down the mountain in the cable car. It might sound a bit functional but the transportation was one of the highlights of the trip.

The lifts vary from tiny glass pods gliding over giddy heights to huge mobile platforms you can walk around inside. Jumping on a cable car gave us a welcome opportunity to rest our feet and reflect on the activities we’d just embarked upon.

For our final day there was only one main activity left to tackle. But with a full-on session of downhill mountain biking on one of the steepest courses in this part of Switzerland, we had definitely saved the best until last. When the snow recedes, more than 12km (7½ miles) of downhill trails are revealed, making up the seven tracks of the La Tzoumaz Bike Park.

There are varying degrees of difficulty on offer, but we all started on the beginner’s course because we were all, well, beginners. As we inched down the course on our super-light bikes, with their next-level suspension, we soon learned that the best way to enjoy yourself was to let go of the brakes and go with the flow.

By the end of the run we were flying over jumps and taking hairpin bends faster than the rush to the bar when last orders are called. By the second run down the track, I was already wondering how I could arrange my next downhill mountain biking trip, not something I ever expected I would find myself thinking.

As a refuge from the bustle of modern life, there was something enchanting about the combination of natural tranquility and the thrill of biking and climbing through this mountainous playground.

I left convinced that summer in the Alps is easily as much fun as a skiing trip — and Swiss meadows are better suited to yoga than Julie Andrews’ impersonations.

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