Raclette, wine, saffron: just three reasons for any food lover to visit Valais, Switzerland. Influences from northern Italy and the historical Savoy region, the exceptional Alpine climate and the Rhône River combine to make this southern Swiss canton a luscious destination all year round. If you're planning a food-focused trip, here's what to keep in mind.

Raclette Cheese

A star product of Switzerland is, of course, cheese. Raclette, from the Bagnes Valley, is often enjoyed melted with boiled potatoes, pickled onions and gherkin, served with a great local white wine. Made from the milk of a local cow breed called Herens, this semi-hard cheese has to be conserved at least three months before being eaten. Eddy Baillifard is the most famous raclette cheesemaker. You can taste his creations at his Raclett’House Chez Eddy in Bruson, Bagnes. 

Route de Valbord 55, 1934 Bruson. +41 27 776 14 70; racletthouse.ch

 

Hunting Season

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Fall is hunting season, with deer a common target. Meat eaters combine venison with caramelized chestnuts, spaetzli noodles, red cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Red wine is the pairing here, like humagne rouge or cornalin (keep reading for more). Les Alpes in Orsières, a highly rated restaurant by the Gault & Millau guide, is a true destination for game food. Make reservations.

Sur la Place, 1937 Orsières. +41 27 783 11 01; lesalpes.jimdo.com 

 

Saffron

In the tiny Swiss-German village of Mund you'll find saffron, which can be harvested from October to November on 18,000 square meters of land. Saffron is the world's rarest and most expensive spice, so don't pass up the opportunity to savor it in one of the town's restaurants.

 

Williamine & Abricotine

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These liqueurs — Williamine is made from Williams pear; Abricotine, from apricot — are, together, Valais' best-kept secret and the pride of the canton. Both are about 40 percent alcohol, best enjoyed after a good and earthy meal (for a sweeter version, try moitié-moitié). And for a classic regional dessert order Valaisan sorbet, which consists of smooth sorbet swimming in liqueur. The brand to try is Morand; you'll find the distillery in the middle of Valais. 

Rue de Plaisance 2, 1920 Martigny. +41 27 722 20 36; morand.ch

 

Assiette Valaisanne (Valais Plate)

Apéro is the Swiss concept for an afterwork. It consists of a good regional wine such as gamay or fendant in combination with a mixed plate of regional snacks. Locals also enjoy it as a starter at a restaurant. This dish contains rye bread; beef dried with aromatic spices such as laurel, garlic, salt and pepper; and other local specialties like cheese and bacon. There isn’t a better place in Valais to buy it than at Cher-Mignon in Chermignon, close to Sion, the capital of the canton.

Route Cantonale 1, 3971 Chermignon. +41 27 483 33 74; cher-mignon.ch

 

Chestnuts


Once more, everything happens in fall in Valais. Chestnuts are known here as the "bread of the poor," and a festival in their honor is held every October in Fully. Also in fall there's a trail dedicated to this fruit. Eat chestnuts with game dishes or have them grilled as a takeaway snack on colder days.

 

Craft Beer

Being in the middle of the Alps, water in Valais is extremely pure. Since it's one of the main ingredients used in making a traditional beer, it was only a matter of time for the microbrewery trend to make its way to Valais, tempting residents to switch careers and try their hand at the craft. Among the best in the area are Brasserie de VollègesWhiteFrontier and Winslow

Brasserie de Vollèges, Chemin de la Laiterie, 1941 Vollèges. +41 79 542 24 39​; bieresvolleges.ch 
WhiteFrontier, Route du Levant 99, 1920 Martigny. +41 27 775 69 18; whitefrontier.ch
Winslow Brew Co., Route du Levant 167, 1920 Martigny.
+41 27 776 46 46​; winslowbrewco.com

 

Cressin Bread

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This dome-shaped local bread is ideal for a Sunday breakfast on a sunny terrace. Cressin has sugar on top and is baked with egg and often dusted with a bit of cinnamon. In many places it's enjoyed a few times a year, but in some areas (like Verbier) it's a weekly treat. The traditional baker Michellod owns various shops in the canton; this boulangerie's take on the cressin is always worth the trip. 

The Mareinda, Route de Verbier 132, 1936 Verbier. +41 27 771 25 73; boulangerie-michellod.com

 

White Wines

Ask an inhabitant of Valais about local wines and you'll quickly learn what makes them so special. Most Swiss wine regions produce just a few types of wine, but here you'll find about 50, most of them autochthon. Try the mineraly fendant (called chasselas in other parts of Switzerland); the "star wine" of petite arvine, originally from Valle d’Aosta, in Italy, which has a nice mix of acidity and body; amigne, mainly produced in Vetroz, a village in the middle of the canton. And last but not least is the Heida ice wine, from Visperterminen, one of the highest vineyards in Europe. If you're tempted to try them, head to the Fromatheque, in Martigny.

Route du Grand-Saint-Bernard 28, 1921 Martigny-Croix. +41 27 565 86 86; lafromatheque.ch

 

Red Wines

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As far as reds go, there are five types to try in Valais. The standard ones are gamay and pinot noir, both with roots in Burgundy. When blended together, the result is called dole. Syrah, as the Rhône​ star grape, is a bit spicier than its Côtes du Rhône version, but also with some potential to age. Cornalin is the "local outsider," originally from Valle d’Aosta, showcasing nice fruit and pairing well with game. Finally there is humagne rouge, a bit stronger than cornalin, very flavorful and unique. Drink them at Uncorked, where you'll enjoy an expansive view of the canton and the iconic Matterhorn from the wine bar's terrace.

Chalet Hotel Schönegg, Riedweg 35, 3920 Zermatt. +41 27 966 34 34; schonegg.ch


By Michael Fellay

Verbier-based traveler and foodie Michael Fellay is a wine lover, passionate for food discoveries and always keen on a good mezcal sour. When he’s not organizing trips for friends and visitors, he enjoys traveling, Italian food and reminiscing about the time he lived in Berlin.