Les 4 valleys represents the biggest ski area in Switzerland consisting of Nendaz, Verbier, Veysonnaz and Thyon and it is also the third biggest ski resort in Europe. Mont Fort is 3,300m. The area is of course well known for week long ski vacations but to my surprise when Swiss friends invited me to join them at short notice in Nendaz, it also makes for a very do-able impulsive long weekend break.
Somewhat with the benefit of hindsight I thought I’d describe the four criteria that made this such a good short trip with the intention that doing so would help me and others find their next short ski trip from London:
1. Inexpensive hassle free travel even if booked late. For a short ski trip you also don’t want to lose more than half a day in travel.
3. Wide variety of runs and interconnected areas
4. Great food on the slopes and in the resort and easy to get around on foot
Travel to the four valleys is easy. You can leave Friday afternoon, ski all day Saturday and Sunday and be back home by midnight on Sunday. The best way of getting there from the UK is by plane to Geneva and if you don’t want to rent a car, as I didn’t for a short trip, you can get a direct train from the the airport arrival terminal. Flights to Geneva are plentiful so are relatively inexpensive with a wide choice of times to suit. The trains run like clockwork every half an hour, which was a merciful relief after the nightmare strikes the UK has been subjected to on train and tube lines. Ticket and platform staff speak English, everything is well signposted, the trains are comfortable and the journey takes just two hours. The added bonus is how pretty the scenery is en route. Coming back I was was treated to this magnificent sunset over Lake Geneva just as we were entering Montreux, a city I’d always wanted to visit for the jazz festival and having seen how nice it is architecturally, am looking forward to that trip even more.
Not all of the four valleys are equally suited to arrival by public transport. My friends were already staying in Nendaz with a car and picked me up from Sion station for the 20 minute road transfer. But if I hadn’t been spoilt with great hospitality from my friends then I would probably go a little further to one of the other four valleys and settle on Verbier. You can get a cable car up to the village from the station. Accommodation and après ski are high quality and plentiful and you can comfortably get around without a car of your own.
The four valleys are very picturesque. From every run, the vista is is of mountain peaks that rise and fall in the distance, often against a blue sky though nowhere is this more apparent than from the viewing station (and highest fondu restaurant in the world) at the top of Mont Fort. From here you can see Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn as well as many other mountains.
Clouds often hang in comic speech bubble formations caused by the (warm) “hairdryer” wind (the local term for it)- with is similar to the effects caused in France by the Mistral.
Views in the towns are pretty too – I was lucky enough to wake up to this every morning in the apartment in Nendaz:
The four valleys offer a huge network of interconnected runs and you can buy lift passes for one, two , three or all four valleys. They’re not cheap (the Swiss franc is strong) but it is great fun being able to sk from valley to valley. We typically planned our routes from coffee stop to lunch stop (and you’ll see why it is worth the planning when you read the food section)! There are pistes for everyone – scary mogul fields (look at this yellow (maintained off piste) one called Plan de Fou that I’m still amazed i got down!) but also many easy reds too and lots of gentle connecting paths rom one resort to another that hug the side of the mountain and afford magnificent views across the Alps and down to the towns below.
Foodies will be in heaven. There are numerous charming old style wooden cafés and restaurants, some converted from former cow sheds, some available to stay at for mountaineers. Many are wooden and the James Blunt owned restaurant has sheepskin seat covers.
This was just the morning coffee break on the slopes at one of the former cowsheds – not even considered a main lunch stop and the pie was mouthwateringly good:
For lovers of cheese you are close to the area that Raceltte comes from, and as you’d expect of Switzerland, fondue and hot chocolate are also available everywhere. But for those that wish Swiss food went a little beyond meat and cheese, you’ll be pleased to find that this French speaking part of Switzerland has all of the gastronomie of France. Even the mountain restaurants have the most wonderful goat cheese salads, tuna tartare, foie gras, tartiflette, mouse au chocolate, cafe gourmand and so forth.
For some recommendations try La Cabane in Nendaz (top and bottom left photos) and Carrefour (right and bottom left photos), which is on the slopes as you ski into Verbier. The latter has spectacular views and great dining and atmosphere both indoors and outdoors with is sun kissed terrace.
One doesn’t see much Swiss wine outside of Switzerland as production volume is small and they don’t export it. However, over the last decade or so their techniques have become more sophisticated and the wine varietals used more varied and they have started to produce many interesting wines which can be sampled from the long restaurant wine lists. Some are insipid but if you tell the sommelier you’re looking for a fuller bodied wine – he’ll be sure to find you a Swiss one you’ll enjoy. Most of the mountain restaurants have good wine on their lists.
For an alternative to a coffee or chocolate chaud try an adorably named Shoomly floomy which is the Swiss German for Coffee with plum schnapps topped by whipped cream. At least I thought it was adorably named till I asked Mark for the correct spelling for my blog post and got “Schümlipflümli” which lacks the original cuteness don’t you think. So for me it will always be Shoomly Floomly even if it gets some odd looks from the Swiss and Germans!
There you have it: 4 reasons the 4 valleys has it all for a fantastic short trip: easy to travel to, beautiful, great skiing and perfect for the foodie! On that note I will sign off with an imaginary clink of glasses: Senti mes amis! Bon voyage for your next ski trip that I hope you feel inspired to book on the back of my lovely experience. And Mark and Jodi (and daughter Alexi) if you read this, thank you for a brilliant break and wonderful hospitality.