Travel Guide Europe Switzerland Wallis

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Introduction

Wallis/Valais is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland, situated in the southwestern part of the country, around the valley of the Rhône from its headwaters to Lake Geneva, separating the Pennine Alps from the Bernese Alps. The canton is simultaneously one of the driest regions of Switzerland in its central Rhône valley and among the wettest, having large amounts of snow and rain up on the highest peaks found in Switzerland. The canton of Valais is widely known for the Matterhorn and resort towns such as Saas Fee, Verbier, and Zermatt. It is composed of 13 districts (hence the 13 stars on the flag) and its capital is Sion.

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Geography

The canton of Valais lies in the southwest of Switzerland. To its south lies Italy, to the southwest France. To the north the canton is bounded by the Swiss cantons of Vaud and Bern; the cantons of Uri and Ticino lie to its east.

The wide, glacial Rhône valley dominates the area. There are many side valleys which branch off the main valley. These vary from narrow and remote to reasonably populous and popular. At the head of the Mattertal valley lies Zermatt, a pretty tourist village dominated by views of the Matterhorn (4,478 metres). Fifty of the mountains exceed 4,000 metres with the highest, Monte Rosa, reaching 4,634 metres, and there are numerous glaciers including several of the largest in the Alps.

The Rhône drains almost the entire canton and flows in the main valley from east to west down to Martigny, then in a right angle north to its mouth in Lake Geneva. After the small town of Saint-Maurice, the north-eastern banks of the river belong to the canton of Vaud. However two areas are located on the south side of the Alps and are drained by the Po: the valley south of the Simplon Pass and the small area south of the Great St. Bernard Pass. The main valley is bounded by the Bernese Alps in the north and the Pennine Alps in the south. Other ranges situated partially in Valais are the Chablais Alps, the Mont Blanc Massif, the Urner Alps and the Lepontine Alps. Only about half of the total area is considered productive.

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Sights and Activities

Glacier Express

Glacier Express

Glacier Express

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The Glacier Express is one of the best trainrides in Europe and in fact anywhere on this planet. The route runs between St. Moritz in the southeast of the country and Zermatt more to the southwest of Switzerland. There are several stops on the way, including Davos, Chur, Brig and Visp. The total trip takes you through 91 tunnels, across 291 tunnels and over the 2,033-metre-high Oberalp Pass. It's a narrow gauge railway and is often considered to be one of the slowest express trains in the world, as the total trip takes around 7.5 hours for less than 300 kilometres in total. You can travel either 1st or 2nd class and there are several panorama cars and a restaurant car. The trip is very beautiful in winter, which, together with the summer high season, is a popular time. It's just as nice though in spring and fall, so if you want it to be a bit quieter, go during that time. There is just one daily train in winter and up to 4 in summer, one of which runs directly to Davos.

Matterhorn

Matterhorn Sunrise 2

Matterhorn Sunrise 2

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Although it is not the highest mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn is considered to be one of the landmarks on this mountain range. The distinct pyramid-like summit is its claim to fame. It is part of the Pennine Alps and it overlooks the towns of Zermatt (in Switzerland) and Cervinia (in Italy). However, it is the image from the north side that is most well-known to the world.

The Matterhorn is one of the hardest mountains to climb in the Alps because of its steep ascent and the weather conditions. In the last 150 years, over 500 climbers have lost their lives on this mountain. For tourists, it is probably better to enjoy the view from the top of the Gornergrat Railway that leads up to a height of 3,089 metres, or from the top of the Klein Matterhorn cable car lift at 3,820 metres. The cable car is the highest in Europe.

Monte Rosa

Along the Swiss Italian frontier between Zermatt and Alagna Valsesia lies a group of ice clad peaks containing the highest mountain in Switzerland and Europe's highest mountain hut. In fact the next 4 highest peaks in the Alps - after Mont Blanc - are situated here. The massif is known collectively as Monte Rosa though on some maps that name is given to the central peak of Signalkuppe - the 3rd highest of the group at 4,554 metres. The highest point is Dufourspitze at 4,634 metres which lies just to the North. The main features of Monte Rosa are the vast Gorner Glacier which sweeps down from the northern ice fields towards Zermatt and the 2,000 metres high East Face - the so called Mirror Wall - which towers above the Italian Macugnaga valley and is the highest mountain face in the Alps. Ascents of the Monte Rosa peaks can be made from both the Swiss and Italian sides with the easiest routes being uncomplicated for a mountain of this size, though all involve glacier crossings so should be done with a guide. The route to Signalkuppe topped by the Margherita Hut - Europe's highest - is long and without dfficulty while Dufourspitze is slightly more technical on account of rock sections to climb in the latter stages.

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Events and Festivals

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Weather

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Getting There

By Plane

A small airport is located at Sion.

By Train

There are three major rail tunnels at the Simplon (Simplon Tunnel), Lötschberg (Lötschberg Tunnel) and Furka (Furkatunnel).

By Car

There is a road tunnel at the Great St Bernard. Many of the road passes are well known, such as the Grimsel Pass. The longest land tunnel in the world, the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, is in operation since late 2007, connecting by rail the town of Frutigen in canton Bern, with the town of Visp in canton Valais/Wallis.

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Getting Around

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Eat

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Drink

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Sleep

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This is version 3. Last edited at 15:03 on Feb 2, 16 by Utrecht. 7 articles link to this page.

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