After our first long hike of the season on the Jura Crest Trail it was time for us to return to our first love: our beautiful mountains and especially the Valais Alps. For this first alpine excursion of the season we chose the beautiful region of Champex.
We came to Champex in June 2020 and stayed there for 2 days. In this article we offer you a small glimpse of our favorites in the region as well as our suggestions of hikes to do from the lake of Champex.
Champex-Lake: a pretty resort in the Pays du Saint-Bernard
The small resort of Champex we had already heard about it many times and yet we had never been there before! My dad’s friend has a chalet there and for many years she had been telling us about her little corner of paradise but we had never taken the time to go there. This summer being 100% Swiss for us, it was the perfect opportunity to go there!
If Champex is well known it is especially for its magnificent little lake and its exceptional location at the foot of the Catogne and the Trient massif (a paradise for ski touring on the haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt). The village is also a stage of the well known and popular Tour du Mont Blanc! Located at 1500m altitude, this small resort has a little bit of everything from the perfect Swiss postcard…
The Champex Belvedere: An easy and spectacular hike!
For our first hike in Champex we opted for a short ascent to the Belvedere. Our initial idea was to go up to the Catogne, but from what we had heard there were still a few snow patches that were a little bit dangerous and above all the path is apparently pretty exposed. Not very comfortable exposed trails, I preferred to skip it for this time (Benoit will surely climb one day with a friend).
The Belvedere is of course not as high as the Catogne but if you want my opinion it already offers a great effort/view ratio 😉 From the village it took us just over an hour to reach the little chalet at the Belvedere. To go up we chose the most “direct” path in the forest on the right side of the lake (there is another path from the centre of the village, see map below).
From the Belvedere you have a bird’s eye view over the Champex lake but also over the Val Ferret and the Val d’Entremont.
But be warned, at the Belvedere one would think that the big mountain behind us would be the Catogne but in fact not at all! It’s the Bonhomme! The Catogne is hidden behind and we can’t see it.
For the descent we took the same path as on the outward journey until we reached the level of a small bench. Then, we turned left towards the Li Blanche and the chemin du Devin. This alternative has a gentler slope but above all it offers some nice views of this impressive ridge and the valley. This smooth limestone cliff was formed more than 150 million years ago and was “erected” like this when the Mont Blanc massif was formed!
The Champex belvedere is a very nice walk of barely half a day that we highly recommend!
Loop hike from the lake of Champex
- Distance: 7,3km
- Elevation change: 400m
- Duration: Count 2h30-3h to make the loop and enjoy the view at the top.
- Difficulty: Easy-Medium. It climbs steeply in places, but the path is very well made. If you don’t want to go up the steep path it is possible to go back and forth on the path that goes to the Li Blanche. (We took it on the way back. This path is a bit longer but the slope is much gentler).
Hiking from Champex to La Breya by the Trapper’s Trail
Once back at the lake after the belvedere we were not quite finished with elevation gains. 🙂 We took a short break and then continued in the direction of the Breya. This summit which dominates Champex is, in absolute terms, accessible by chairlift (winter and summer). But, if you know us a little bit, you will surely have guessed that we preferred to use our legs rather than sit on a chairlift 😉
There are several trails to hike up to La Breya. One passes through the Val d’Arpette (we’ll come back to it because that’s how we came down), a second goes up along the black ski slope under the chairlift and the third passes on the side of the Val Ferret. The latter is called the trapper’s path and it is the one that caught our attention. Intuitively we thought it was the one that would offer the most beautiful view as we climbed up the valley.
And it turns out this was an excellent choice! The hike will indeed have been magnificent! On the other hand we warn you, this trail will hurt your legs! 😉 800m of elevation gain over 2 kilometers that leaves relatively little suspense on the slope: it’s steep, or even very steep I should say! On the other hand, as expected, the views were really worth the effort.
At the top, we took advantage of the small restaurant to admire the view with a small Swiss Rivella. Fun fact… we never drink Rivella except when hiking. 😉
From La Breya we then followed the wide track that descends towards the Val d’Arpette.
The Val d’Arpette: a small unspoilt valley
When we hike dirt tracks are not usually our favourite terrain; we prefer small trails. When we started the descent towards the Val d’Arpette we are not going to lie to you, we were a bit disappointed to see that it was a wide track … But rest assured, the breathtaking scenery quickly reconciled us with the terrain. 🙂 It is, in theory, possible to leave the track in favor of a trail on the way down but if you want our opinion it’s almost a pity. In fact the path allows you to straight down but it also means that you don’t go to the end of the valley.
We preferred to stay on the track and thus go as far as possible (until the crossroads which would then allow us to reach the fenêtre d’Arpette). Once in the valley we follow the “Durnand d’Arpette” (the river) and we just enjoy the scenery! Pfiouuuuuu it’s beautiful!
Arrived at the Relais d’Arpette, we quickly settle in our room and then we went for a small aperitif on the terrace facing the Pointe des Ecandies and the Genepi (the mountain and not the digestif in cas you were wondering). To know more about the Relais d’Arpette keep reading a bit further…
The next morning we took the path along the river and followed the “bisse” to Champex. This section is simply magical and we really recommend you not to miss it if you come to the area! The walk can then end at the peat bog (or with a beer on a terrace on the lake, it’s up to you) 😉
If you’re not Swiss, chances are you might not know what a bisse is. In fact, a bisse is an irrigation canal in the mountains that used to bring water to cultivated areas (as in the photo opposite). Real “Valais specialities”, the bisses are generally exceptional places to go for a walk! The bisse de Champex bisse apparently dates back to the 15th century.
If you want to find ideas for Bisses in Valais, you can go and have a look at a site especially dedicated to them: les-bisses-du-valais.ch
Loop hike from Champex, night at the Relais d’Arpette.
- Distance: about 12km
- Elevation change: 840m (+ and – )
- Difficulty: Average. The ascent to La Breya by the trappers’ path is very steep. Possibility to take the chairlift or the other route under the chairlift. From La Breya on the way is easy..
- Accomodation: Relais d’Arpette. See their website
- A gentler alternative would be to make the return trip to the Val d’Arpette by following the bisse from Champex.
The relais d’Arpette: small oasis in the valley
We started planning our stay in Champex thanks to a nice email we received at the beginning of May. This email came from Bernd, the co-owner of the Relais d’Arpette. In his message he told us that he had just fulfilled an old dream and that he had taken over the Relais d’Arpette with his business partner Sam. Just before the beginning of the Covid crisis, these two friends made the crazy bet to take over this well known establishment in the region when neither of them had any experience in the hotel business and to develop it to become a meeting place for hikers and families.
Usually, hotel invitations often go to the trash in our mailbox… We don’t particularly like the idea of being invited to talk about a place afterwards. But this time, things were different. Their message and especially their approach of creating a meeting place for all budgets aroused our curiosity. After some research we were convinced that we would love the place and it was with great pleasure that we accepted his invitation. And of course we were not disappointed!
The relais d’Arpette is really a little gem just the way we like it! But before I tell you about the place, I wanted to tell you more about their launch… Bernd explained to us that at the beginning of the year he came to the valley for a ski touring outing. He saw a “for sale” sign on the hotel and his curiosity pushed him to go and have a coffee to know more… Nothing really predestined this teacher specialized in event management at the hospitality management school to become a hotel owner himself! 🙂 After his coffee he talked about the sale of the establishment to his friend Sam, butcher and manager of the St-Bernard butcher shop. A few days later, Sam called him back to tell him that he would be ready to go for it!
Not even 6 months after his ski touring outing, he resigned from his teaching job and here he sits at the front desk of “his hotel” with a wide smile on his face.
In other words, the Relais d’Arpette is now managed by a professional event manager and one of the best butchers in the region! A winning combo if you ask me 😉
As I said before, the idea of Bernd and his partner is that the Relais d’Arpette is a meeting place for everyone, regardless of budget. One can camp there for 13,5 CHF per person (with shower and toilets), sleep in the dormitory for 35CHF or in one of the comfortable rooms. When taking the half board the prices remain reasonable (70CHF in the dormitory, 91CHF in a double room with shared bathroom or 101CHF with private bathroom, price per person).. More info and bookings
The Val d’Arpette is a truly magical place and it is without the slightest hesitation that we recommend the Relais! The food is divin and what a joy to wake up in such a setting…
Thanks again to Bernd for his message and the invitation to spend the night at his place. We discovered a nice hotel where we will be happy to come back as the seasons change and see the landscapes evolve (I can’t help thinking that in autumn with the orange larch trees or in winter with the frozen river and the white landscapes, it must be magical!)
Going around the Champex lake
The next morning we set the alarm early and followed the pretty bisse that leaves Arpette to reach Champex. Arrived at the ski lifts we decided to go for a short walk around the lake and the marsh of Champex.
Le Marais is the wetland area that precedes the lake and it was definitely our little favourite! The water is crystal clear, there is a beautiful waterfall and a well maintened path. Once at the lake, we opted for a small walk around it. The walk takes a little less than 30 minutes and offers some nice viewpoints on the Grand Combin which is reflected in the lake. The tour of the lake is probably not the most “sportive” activity but it’s a good way to stretch your legs a little. 😉
Flore Alpe: The alpine garden in Champex
After our little walk around the lake and a coffee break on a terrace, we opted for a little detour towards the alpine garden of Champex. If you’ve been following us for a while, you may have noticed that we are not the most knowledgeable people on botany. Unable to recognize the slightest plant that goes beyond sunflowers and tulips, we are not really the “target audience” of the botanical gardens.
But during our visit to Champex we received many recommendations to go and see this place. Hmmm… As we are right in the middle of “the most beautiful season” for alpine flowers in June, we thought it would be a good opportunity to learn something new.
At the risk of disappointing you, we didn’t remember many names (even if we now know how to recognize the yellow gentian that is used to make the liquor #Priorities). But if we haven’t become botanical experts, we’ve had a lot of fun in this alpine garden. The place is simply SUPERB and deserves a look, whether you are passionate about plants or not!
The 6000m2 of land can be visited in an hour and you can meander through the almost 4000 species of plants and flowers that are present as well as the numerous water points. Admission costs 8 CHF and the garden is open from June to October between 10 am and 6 pm (note: June and July are clearly the best months to see the garden in bloom!). Note bis: If you want to learn more it is also possible to take a guided tour for 18 CHF per person (we didn’t do it… we were too afraid we wouldn’t really understand anything).
Fun fact: It is even possible to sleep in the magnificent chalet which is in the heart of the alpine garden! They offer double rooms as well as dormitories. We haven’t tested it, but no doubt the setting is rather nice. 😉 More information
The Durnand Gorges
Before going home we made one last scenic stop! Leaving Champex lake by car, we arrived about 15 minutes later at the Durnand gorges. You may already know Benoit’s passion for waterfalls… In other words, it was unthinkable not to stop there (and too bad for my vertigo I want to tell you!) 😉
The entrance to the gorges is via the restaurant which is located between the village of Vallettes and Champex, right at the level of one of the VERY numerous hairpin bends in the road. Once you have passed the gate, you come directly to a wooden footbridge that leads you into the gorge.
The crossing of the gorges is not very long (maybe 1km) but pfiouuuuuuuu it’s very impressive! We walk all the way on a large wooden footbridge with many stairs (330 steps to be precise). I will confess, I was not always comfortable with the void but sincerely I do not regret this little detour on our way back! But enough blah blah blah, let’s show you the pictures:
Once at the top of the gorge we return to the starting point by a small path in the forest. In all, the walk takes about 1 hour, going quietly and taking lots of pictures 😉 If you come to the area we really recommend you not to miss it! The Durnand gorges are not very well known and yet they have not much to envy to the famous Caminito del Rey in Spain if you want my humble opinion…
- Opening: The gorges are open from the end of May to the end of October. Every day from 9 am to 6 pm
- Price: 9 CHF per person, to be paid at the restaurant
- Distance and Duration: The loop is barely 1.5 km long and it takes 1 hour to complete.
- Vertigo: We’re not going to lie to ourselves, the walk is impressive! If you are very prone to vertigo, it may not be for you… But if like me you’re just “not very comfortable” it’s okay. The path and the stairs are very well done and “physically” there is absolutely no danger… It’s just the damn mind that can play tricks on us.
The Pass Saint Bernard: An excellent offer!
To conclude this article, we thought it might be relevant to mention Saint Bernard Pass. With their posters of a Saint-Bernard that tells us to take the pass everywhere, it’s hard to miss it 😉 We admit it, the ad made us smile every time we saw it. We didn’t take it but clearly it’s worth it if you come and spend several days in the area! Sold for 15 CHF per day, 29 CHF for 3 months or 139 CHF for a year, it becomes a real bargain extremely quickly. The pass includes 15 activities in the region such as the alpine garden, the Durnand gorges, the ski lifts (even in winter for those who take the annual pass!), public transport or the accro-branche or pedal boat on the Champex lake and as a bonus it also offers discounts for other activities in the region. See all activities
During our 2-day visit we went to the Alpine Garden (8 CHF) and the Durnand Gorge (9CHF), so much so that the day pass would have been almost worth it already (you have to add 5 CHF for the card). If you take even 1 bus or a chairlift in addition then it’s already worth it. 😉
For your information: the pass can be bought directly in the tourist offices of the region or at the ski lifts. It is however reserved for people staying in the region, so remember to have a confirmation of your accommodation booking with you (hotel, inn, camping, B&B: it doesn’t matter as long as you pay the tourist tax ;).
That’s it for this article on the Champex region. But beware, a little birdie tells me that we haven’t finished telling you about the land of the Saint Bernard this year… I hear that a great 7-day hike is being prepared for when the snow will have melted a bit in the high mountains of the Valais 😉 #StayTuned