Watching the Queens in the Val d’Anniviers


The Val d’Anniviers first came to our attention when we were full timing in our motorhome. Esther and Dan in their blog talked about the way the local community had provided for motorhomes with well placed aires and parking and they enthused about the endless hiking opportunities.

Tragically Esther died in 2020 while solo hiking in the Pyrenees. You might remember the news story from those Covid days. The blog lives on as a sort of memorial and after re-reading the inspirational information I had no doubt that I wanted to visit.

The Val d’Anniviers was the next southern offshoot of the Rhone valley as we made our way eastwards. The local area has a good website, and a combination of this and P4N allowed us to identify a few places we would like to stay.

Getting to Chandolin

The first place on our list was Chandolin. One reason for picking this spot first was the weekend parade of the queens. I’d been wanting to catch some more cow parades and the village promised a parade of the queens of the herd with some celebratory food and wine. There was also a running event on for the same day so we were going to have plenty to entertain us.

The route up into the Val d’Anniviers is not for the faint hearted. A series of short switchbacks start the ascent into the valley and then the road clings to the eastern side of the valley, ascending gradually with a section of balcony roads more akin to the Gorge du Verdon than the Swiss alps. Tight bends and not-quite-wide-enough roads made us suck in our breath as we squeezed past large vehicles.

Balcony roads on the way into the valley

Finally we were in Vissoie, the transport hub of the valley. After initially missing the turn to St Luc we turned around and managed to get on track. In St Luc we had a close encounter with a bus on a sharp corner and had to take refuge in a car park while it stopped to pick up passengers.

Chandolin Aire

The road then had a further climb to the ski resort of Chandolin at 1900m. The motorhome area here is just before the village below the parking for the ski lift. It’s quite newly established and still being used as a bit of a builders yard, but it has modern services and is nice and flat with lovely views back down over the valley. We sorted out our services as soon as we arrived. A good job too as the fresh water on the second day was contaminated and had turned an odd orange colour.

Lined up to look at the views in Chandolin aire

We parked up and decided to hook up to the electricity as it was part of the ‘all-in’ services and the night was promising to be cool. Then it was off to the village to find out how to pay and check out the preparations for Saturday’s events.

The tourist office was already shut. We ended up visiting the following morning where I found out that we could pay our 15CHF for parking and pay the tourist tax all online via the website. By doing so we would get an email with a QR code to allow us to access the benefits of the guest card. Free transport throughout the valley and half price mountain lifts are the main benefits and definitely worth the extra 4 CHF per person.

Sunset over the mountains

Parade of the Queens and KMDC race

Our walk up to the village the following morning was also accompanied by runners of the Chandolin KMDC vertical 2km event. This is a run that challenges participants to ascend 2000 meters of trails from the valley floor to the summit of the Illhorn. Chandolin just past the halfway point (vertically) of the race and as we walked up the steep incline into the village we were being overtaken, and were overtaking, some of the participants. Cow bells were being rung in support and a loud speaker announced each runner and their time at that point. I felt as though I should be taking part, after all it was only 7.7km distance, easy!

After spending some time watching the runners (and walkers) we passed through the village, where the main street was closed and tables and food stalls were set out, to find the parade of the queens.  A little further down the hill were more food stalls and people milling around in anticipation. Cars periodically tried to make their way up to the village and were turned around or directed through to side streets.

Getting ready with the food and drink

Finally the sound of bells down the street and the cows arrived. These were not the soft eyed placid looking cows you might see on posters of Switzerland. These were the dark stocky Herens breed. A dual purpose meat and milk breed with stocky legs, a hefty set of shoulders and a wicked pair of horns. The same breed, I think, as the cows we saw fighting in the Aosta valley. They had been adorned with headdresses and belts but they didn’t stay on for long. Once the queens had been tethered in the field in front of us they had time to start picking fights with their neighbours.

Who’s herding who?

We got ourselves helpings of delicious melted raclette and beer (me) and coke (Paul) while we watched a few more cows being herded down the mountain. Leaflets on the tables listed the cows, their calves and their position on the leaderboard. We wondered exactly what the cows had done to earn the title of Queen and what sort of status it conferred on them and their owners. I was slightly disappointed that the farmers hadn’t dressed in traditional clothing but this is an event for the community, not for us tourists.

Queens all lined up

Cycling to the Hotel Weisshorn

The following morning we decided to get on our bikes and follow a trail from opposite the car park. It rose up through the forest where we saw lots of wildlife in the cool of the morning. Squirrels were everywhere, we could see the discarded husks of pine cones on the floor and hear them scampering through the trees, but they never stayed still enough for a photo. Deer leapt across the path in front of us. Multiple birds flitted through the trees and bigger raptors soared overhead. So far we’ve been disappointed with the wildlife in Switzerland but here it seemed to be everywhere.

The path joined up with mountain bike route 173 as we headed towards the observatory above St Luc. The observatory seemed like an interesting place to visit and it’s definitely worth checking out their timetable of events which includes solar observations as well as night sky events.

Near the observatory is a funicular that brings people up from the village below. Suddenly the path was busy with families on a day out. We soon found out why; there is an excellent children’s park up here with a space theme as well as a trail with sculptures of the solar system. A great Sunday activity.

We didn’t realise until we were on our way back that a couple of downhill trails leave from here too. If we had known we probably would have stopped here but instead we carried onwards and upwards with stunning views of glaciated mountains. The land around us changed from forest and pasture to moorland and rocky slopes. When we reached the peak above the Hotel Weisshorn we stopped for some snacks and watched other cyclists converging on the Hotel from different directions.

Viewpoint over the Hotel Weisshorn

We returned the way we came, mostly downhill so significantly faster than our ascent. The families, spread out across the path and chatting amongst themselves, made for frequent obstacles.

It hadn’t been a very long bike ride but it had got our hearts pumping before we moved onto our next location.

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