Skip the Matterhorn and go to Sierre instead

After last week’s hiatus on writing about our European summer (but seriously, have you read Lindy West’s Shrill already???), I’m back and ready for one final post about Switzerland.

For our last full weekend in Leysin, we decided to get out of town for a day. We still had one more “free” day left on our Eurail passes and we were trying to decide what to do. We had heard of a wine trail that led from Sierre to Salgesch and thought a walk through vineyards would be a lovely way to spend some time.

Pretty soon there was a whole group of us from Chandler’s grad program and our casual wine tasting turned into an action packed day – complete with a trip to Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn.

We were told that on Saturdays, many of the wine tasting caves close by 12:00 or 2:00 pm (not even open for dinner? Disappointing) so we decided to start the day in Sierre, hike up to Salgesch, and then take the train to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn in the evening.

Now, I do have to admit, these wine caves are fickle. Because we arrived in Sierre around 8:30, had a light breakfast, and then learned that the caves in town didn’t open until 10:00. Meaning some were only open for two to four hours.

We didn’t want to wait around for an hour, so we decided to start on our hike – there had to be plenty of wine along the way, right?

The hike got off to an incredibly breathtaking start:

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You could just imagine how good that wine was going to taste! Unfortunately, a quick stop in the Sierre tourist office informed us that while there are drinking caves on both sides of the hike, most of the vineyards along the trail don’t offer tastings.

That was ok, the hike was estimated at an hour’s time and then we’d be tasting away. And once again, the stunning views were plenty distracting:

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The thing was, one hour was slowly turning into two and there was still nothing other than grapes in sight. At one point, we were fairly certain they were even taunting us. Then, amazingly, around the next bend we saw winery with a sign advertising tastings.

The ten of us broke into cheers and made our way off the trail and over to it. Somewhere along the trail we had switched over from the French-speaking part of Switzerland into the German-speaking part. Luckily, one of our international teachers had taught in Germany a few years back.

She rang the buzzer and through the intercom was informed that yes, the owner was here, and yes, according to the hours listed the winery was open. However, as it was, he was upstairs and didn’t want to make his way downstairs. The winery would not be open today.

Dejected, and honestly, confused, we made our way back to the trail wine-less. Fast-forward twenty minutes and we had made our way to Salgesch and had found what we had spent the last three hours looking for: wine.

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Now, at this point in the story, you may be wondering why I’d even recommend Sierre/Salgesch. But honestly, the hike was incredible, and other than the German-speaking owner of one winery, we felt like most of the mistakes were our own.

For instance, even if a winery closes between 12:00 and 2:00 pm, why would it open before 10:00 am? Who needs to be drinking that early? And most of the vineyards we passed along the way merely grew the grapes, they weren’t set up as wineries to produce the wine.

Had we stuck to the original plan, we could have spent the next few hours traveling from winery to winery in Salgesch, moving on to restaurants (that served the same wine) after the wineries themselves closed.

However, that was not our day. After a relaxing (and free!) tasting, we were off for some lunch (and more wine) and then it was time to get back on that train to make it to Zermatt.

Now, the thing about Zermatt. It’s like a ski town on drugs. Everyone’s trying to sell you everything and it’s like an amusement park with mountains.

You can see the Matterhorn from the town, but there are also two “main” viewpoints. One you get to by taking a cogwheel train, the other a ski lift. Both cost approximately 100 Swiss Francs. But, if you have a day’s train pass, the cogwheel train is free.

Our plan was to get to Zermatt and hop on that cogwheel train. We didn’t want to take it to the top (Gornergrat) – photos made it look like a launch deck for a rocket. But instead, we planned on getting off at the Rotenboden stop and walking 10 minutes to Lake Riffelsee for views like these.

But, on a day that wasn’t quite working out as planned, I’m sure you can guess that that didn’t happen. We missed the cogwheel train by about three minutes. The next one would leave the following hour, but at that point we wouldn’t make the train we needed to catch in order to be in Aigle for when the last train left to go up the mountain into Leysin. Oh happy day.

Instead, we found a viewpoint in Zermatt (the town we were hoping to avoid!) and from the Kirchbrücke Bridge, we finally got our look at the Matterhorn:

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Most of the year, the mountain is at least partially obscured by clouds/condensation. This day was no different. You can stay in Zermatt the whole week and still not see the mountain in its entirety.

Standing there, staring at the mountain and wondering what constituted an obscene number of photos taken of the same thing, I realized that instead of the rush, we could simply have been sipping Swiss wine in Sierre or Salgesch. And that was exactly where I wanted to be:

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One thought on “Skip the Matterhorn and go to Sierre instead

  1. Pingback: Hiking in the Vineyards of Lavaux | Stand Where I Stood

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