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Hiking Champéry, Valais, Switzerland

Champéry is a traditional Swiss village, overlooked by the formidable Dents du Midi, and makes a cosy base for alpine hiking, whatever your level of ability.

by Rupert Parker
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Galerie Defago

Situated at 1050m, at the foot of the Dents du Midi and the Dents Blanches, the resort of Champéry tumbles down the Val-d’Illiez in the Lower Valais. It’s managed to preserve much of its alpine charm – the main street is lined with traditional chalets with carved balconies, small shops, bars and restaurants.

There are over 800km of walks to choose from here, including a 40km trekking circuit around the Dents du Midi, taking three to four days to complete. Unfortunately, I’ve only a couple of days, but the weather is clear and sunny in late autumn, perfect for hiking.

DAY 1 Galerie Défago (8.3km, 3h)

Galerie Défago Path

Galerie Défago Path

It’s early afternoon when I arrive, but there’s still time to tackle this easy circular route. It starts at the station and descends to cross the Vièze River before climbing up the sheer cliff opposite. It looks impassable, but in 1860, a local businessman carved out a continuous path following a natural ledge, high above the valley below. This rock gallery has recently been extended to a total of 600m.

Of course, it’s narrow and there are points where I have to bend my head, ducking under the rock overhangs. Fortunately, a strong guide rail protects against the vertical drop, and there are spectacular views across to Champéry.

At the end of the gallery, I continue on the path, through Les Rives to Les Esserts. Here the path drops to the bottom of the valley, then climbs up to the village of Val-d’Illiez. I catch the train back to Champéry.

DAY 2 Champéry to Lac Vert (17km, 5h 30m)

Lac Vert

Lac Vert

I take the cable car up to Croix de Culet where there are stunning views of the Dents du Midi opposite. From the ski station, I descend slightly before climbing steadily northwards to reach a Col, The Port de l’Hiver. In front of me lies Lac Vert, nestling on a green plateau, and accessible by two gentle paths. On the lake shore all is calm and reflections of clouds add to its charm.

Portes du Soleil

Portes du Soleil

I make a circuit of the lake before climbing back to the Col and following the ridge to Portes du Soleil. From here, I loop round above the small resort of Les Crosets back to the cable car station. It would be easy to take the gondola down, but instead I choose a pleasant descent through lush meadows and pine forest before arriving back in Champéry. This is a pleasant walk, not too gruelling.

DAY 3 Loop from Champéry to Lacs d’Antème (16.2km, 7h)

Lacs d’Antème

Today is more challenging and involves climbing up to 1200m and then dropping steeply back down. I walk through the village to the Gran Paradis ski lift station. Here I leave the La Vièze River to follow a tributary, La Saufla, upstream to Roc Coupé, a huge boulder. It’s a bit of a slog but the track is good and the trees provide shade. From here I turn left crossing the mountain flank to the Lacs d’Antème at 2032m.

Above me are the serrated pinnacles of the Dents du Midi, with the highest, Haute Cime, flecked with snow. I reach the first of the lakes by a mountain hut, Cabane d’Antème, and pause for breath. The other lake is further on a separate path but I’ve run out of steam so give it a miss. It’s then a long steep descent to the Galerie Défago which I encountered on the first day. The vertiginous gallery, cut into the sheer cliffs, takes me all the way back to Champéry. It’s a terrific end to a fantastic walk.

Fact File

INFO: My Switzerland has information about the country.

Visit Valais has information about the region.

Region Dents du Midi has local information.

STAY: Hotel Suisse makes an excellent base in Champéry.

EAT: Restaurant At’Home is in the centre and has good Swiss food.

Restaurant Cantine de Barmaz is outside the village in a traditional setting and serves local specialities.

FLY: SWISS offers more than 160 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and London Gatwick (seasonal) to Zurich or Geneva. One way fares start from £76 to Zurich and £54 to Geneva including all taxes, fees and surcharges, one piece of checked and hand luggage. 

RAIL: The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities. The Swiss Travel Pass also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £186 for 3 days in second class.


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