Rhone Valley Attractions
The Rhône rises in the Bernese Oberland, flows through Swiss territory for 260km/162mi and then enters France, eventually reaching the Mediterranean after a total course of 810km/503mi.The best way of seeing the Rhône valley is to travel upstream. In this direction the route passes through a great variety of scenery, rising to a culmination in the majestic landscapes of the High Alps.The Rhône valley, which with its lateral valleys occupies the whole of the canton of Valais (German Wallis), is a longitudinal trough up to 3km/2mi wide between the steeply scarped southern slopes of the Bernese Alps, from which tumble a succession of short and swift mountain streams, and the main ridge of the Valais Alps, some 30-40km/19-25mi away, the deep side valleys of which originate for the most part on terraces above the Rhône valley. The valley floor, originally littered with rock debris, has mostly been brought into cultivation through the regulation of the river and is now covered with fields of maize and vegetables and fruit orchards. On the higher slopes and terraces, fields, forests and Alpine meadows. Irrigation is necessary due to the shortage of rain and is provided by a network of channels (bisses), mostly fed by glacier water.
Rhône Glacier (River)
The source of the Rhône is the Rhône glacier, which comes down from the Dammastock, near Andermatt. The river, also known as the Rotten in its passage through German-speaking territory, flows southwest along the southern margin of the Bernese Oberland, with the Valais Alps on its south side, draining both these massifs through tributaries on either bank. At Martigny it turns sharply northwest, almost at a right angle, and flows into Lake Geneva. After passing along the whole length of the lake it emerges again at Geneva, leaves Switzerland and in a few kilometers makes its way into the French Jura.
Rhône Valley Road - Driving Tour
The Rhône valley road runs northeast from the old town of Martigny, from which roads run south to the Great St Bernard and the Col de la Forclaz, and then up the left bank of the river, traversing a region of fruit orchards on the valley floor, flanked by rocky hillsides, and often passing between long rows of poplars. It then crosses to the right bank and continues to the old episcopal and cantonal capital of Sion, dominated by its two old castles, and the little town of Sierre, situated amid a jumble of hills created by a huge prehistoric landslide, in an area offering numerous attractive excursions. Beyond Sierre the road returns to the left bank and enters the German-speaking Upper Valais (Oberwallis), passing within sight of the interesting little towns of Leuk and Gampel on the sunny right bank. After passing through the picturesque little market town of Visp, where the road to Zermatt branches off, we soon come to the old town and road junction of Brig, where the towers of the Stockalperschloss form a distinctive landmark at the beginning of the road over the Simplon pass. The character of the landscape now gradually changes. Although there are still walnut-trees and chestnuts to give something of a southern air, the rock faces now come closer, wooded gorges and steeper gradients make it clear that we have entered the region of high mountains. Then through the Alpine region of Goms, and through Oberwald to Gletsch, with fantastic views of the famous Rhône glacier. From here there are magnificent passes over the Grimsel into the Bernese Oberland and over the Furka to the St Gotthard road.
Beyond Fiesch the Rhône Valley road leads through the thickly populated Goms valley, with its brown wooden houses and gleaming white churches, and after passing through Oberwald climbs up into the highest part of the valley, with the hotel complex of Gletsch, at the foot of the famous Rhône glacier.Seen longitudinally the Goms, whose name is derived from "Conches" (hollow, basin) is a series of steps. The wide glaciated basin of the Upper Goms valley slopes gradually, in contrast to the valley steps of Gletsch and Fiesch. The numerous side valleys formed during the Pleistocene period with the rivers subsequently eroding deeper into the valleys. Above Geschinen the subsoil of the wide plain consists of glacial debris from the Rhône. A series of alluvial deposits left by the streams from the side valleys adjoin the wide plain between Geschinen and Münster.Evidence of temporary settlements date back to the Stone and Bronze Age. The first permanent settlement is thought to have been in the early Iron Age (from the fifth C.) with large clearings being left by the Alemannic tribes in the eighth C. During the Middle Ages settlement spread from the valley floor to individual farms and hamlets on the upper slopes. The region flourished economically and culturally during the 16th C. with the cattle trade, traffic using the pass and high political office bringing prosperity. Many elaborately decorated churches and artistic craftwork are the result of the religious Baroque revival in the 17th-18th C.The traditional building, as elsewhere in the Inner Alps, is the Streuhof (barn). In contrast to the Mittelland, where living quarters, barn, threshing room and food store are all incorporated under one roof, the buildings here are single-purpose. The house is a high-walled block with a flat ridge roof. The oldest date from the Late Middle Ages and are colloquially referred to as "Heidenhäuser" ("Heathens' houses"). They are characterized by a ridge which holds together the grooved wall beams of the gable ends. In the 16th C. the wide "Renaissance houses" were built; in the 17th and 18th C. the multi-story "Baroque house". The traditional functional building is the grain store, a towering block supported by typical stone "Mäuserplatten" ("mouse dishes") built on top of a lower construction, which served different purposes and in the Upper Goms even consisted of two floors. There is also a smaller store, of similar design, which was used as a food store and meat drying room. Due to the importance of cattle-rearing the most commonly found functional building is the cow stall or "Gade", as it is known in the Goms. Above the lower floor is the hay loft.
Festival of the Future, Ernen
The Festival of the Future is an annual 10-day event in Ernen. The festival takes place in mid-August and includes almost nightly performances by a festival orchestra formed especially for these concerts. World famous musicians and conductors participate in the orchestra, which, contrary to its name, plays a wide variety of classical music. Some works by 20th century composers is included, including works by Messiaen and Bartók, but it is always intermingled with music by more traditional classical composers. All the performances take place in St George's Church and the Stockalperschloss.