Planning a trip to Switzerland? Here’s why you need to put the Aletsch Arena in Switzerland on your list! I wish I could condense everything there is to do and see in Switzerland into just a couple of posts, but it’s nearly impossible.
The climate and sites of Switzerland are so varied, you really need a few weeks to experience just some of what Switzerland has to offer. (Disclosure: I was hosted by Valais-Wallis Tourism and the Panorama Restaurant, Bettmeralp).
Switzerland has 26 cantons. Just as the topography and geography of Switzerland varies, so does the food and language.
What language do they speak in Switzerland?
Getting to the Aletsch Region
The Aletsch region is located in southern Switzerland, and a short train ride from Domodossola, in northern Italy. In my last post, Christina and I were in Brig, in the Valais-Wallis region of Switzerland. Brig is a great place to stay if you’re planning on visiting the glacier, as it’s less than 20 minutes by train to the base of the Aletsch Arena. We met David, our guide at the Betten train station. From Betten we took a gondola to Bettmerlap which is about half-way to the Aletsch glacier.
Bettmerlap is everything you think of when you envision a quaint Swiss village. The wooden structures are built right up against the mountain, and each one had gardens and window boxes over-flowing with flowers.
During the ride up, I was reminded of one of my favorite childhood stories,
Heidi, the book suddenly all made sense as David described what life in these villages is like. Heidi and her grandfather lived off what was grown in the Alps during the summer and during the winter they lived off cheese, butter, and cured meats and sausages.
Bettmeralp is only accessible by cable car. That means that everything the village needs, everything, has to be transported up the mountain by cable car. This includes food, water, any sort of supplies, as well as any vehicles. The tiny, truck-like vehicles transport luggage, guests, food, and anything else to and from the cable car station around the village. The views from Bettmerlap are stunning. But we weren’t done yet. We had one more cable car to take to get to the top of the Aletsch Arena and Glacier when we would truly be on top of the world.
The Aletsch region is home to the largest glacier in the Alps
It’s also a Unesco World Heritage Site. Once we arrived on the top of Bettmerhorn we were blown away by the incredible views in every direction.
Although it was early summer, it was still a bit chilly (in the low 40s F.) While I could have used one more layer, we managed. It’s tricky packing for 3 weeks in a carry-on! The top of Bettmerhorn has a truly spiritual quality. Those of us who were there were speaking in hushed voices akin to a museum or church. A little further on and we came across a meditation spot complete with prayer flags and large stones for solitary prayer or meditation.I could have sat and enjoyed the peaceful view for hours. There was a pink tinge to the glacier which David told us was sand that had blown in from the Sahara desert. That was mind-blowing.
The fog that had threatened our view in the morning had disappeared as though on command and we could see hundreds of miles.
Sometimes there are things that are so awe-inspiring that words and even photos just don’t do them justice. This was one time that I just wanted to stop and record everything I saw not only in photos, but in memory as well.
Bettmeralp and Aletsch offer year-round activities
Of course Switzerland is well know for winter activities; skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and glacier walks.
The rest of the year Bettmeralp is popular for hiking, mountain biking, mountain climbing, para-sailing, and even golf in the summer.
We didn’t want to come down from the top of the mountain, but we still had more to do and eat. David took us to the Panorama-Restaurant where we would experience a dish unique to the Valais-Wallis region; cholera.
We were a bit chilly from the glacier, so we started with some hot Ovomaltine, (just like our American Ovaltine) to warm us up. We started our meal they way we started every meal we had in Switzerland, with a simple plate of locally cured meats and cheese, traditional rye bread and Swiss butter. This one was called the Valais platter.
We also had some delicious Valais wine. The Swiss produce surprisingly good wines!
So let’s go back a bit to Heidi. Remember they lived in grandfather’s hut all winter long and had to subsist on what they had grown or produced during the summer. Cholera is a dish similar to an American pot pie, except the filling consists of potatoes, leeks and cheese. It got it’s unique name from the disease. When a cholera outbreak happened in 1836, the locals stopped trade and stayed away from their neighbors in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. So families would use whatever they had grown or raised, such as, apples, leeks, potatoes and if one was lucky, there might be a bit of sausage or cured meat.
The cholera we had was filled with leeks, raclette and potatoes, and was very tasty indeed. Cholera is a dish that isn’t well known outside of the Valais-Wallis region. I imagine Heidi must have eaten a pie very similar to cholera.
After our filling and delicious meal, we were warm enough to continue exploring. We headed down to see the Hérens cows of Valais. The cattle provide meat and cheese to the locals, but they are also used for fighting. While it sounds a bit brutal, it’s a local event, similar to a county fair, with competitors coming from all over the region. What makes this cow fighting unique, is that only cows or heifers are used, no male cows participate. Why? Because the female cows will fight until one gives up, whereas the male cows fight to the death.
I hope you’re intrigued by all that the Valais-Wallis region of Switzerland has to offer and will consider adding both Bettmeralp and the Aletsch glacier to your next trip! You can read about Christina’s post on Brig and Aletsch glacier here.
For more photos and information on visiting Switzerland. You can visit these links.