If you have been following us for a while, you know that we have a soft spot for the Val d’Hérens in Valais. This valley which is located just above the city of Sion is very preserved… almost “out of time”. You can discover living alpine traditions, beautifully preserved villages, larch forests turning orange during fall season and of course breathtaking landscapes dominated by peaks over 4000m (Dent Blanche, Dent d’Hérens, Matterhorn).
Thanks to our friend Patricia, we discovered her adopted valley for the first time when we came back from our round the world trip after she invited us to come and hike the Val d’Hérens tour. We then came back several times to do different day hikes, especially in autumn when the forests turn orange. And this year, it is again her who played the matchmaker by recommending us a new experience: to test a hike with Céline, a mountain guide native of the Val d’Hérens.
So it’s true that we are used to hike on our own. But we thought that for once, it could be interesting to hike with someone like Céline who knows much more than us about the Val d’Hérens, its fauna, its flora… a great opportunity for us to learn new things and to share a moment with a local enthusiast.
Pralong at the base of the Grande Dixence dam to the Novelli mountain pasture
We met with Céline early in the morning at the parking lot of the Mandelon mountain pasture (which is not far from the hamlet of Pralong and the Grande Dixence dam in the municipality of Hérémence). The idea was to leave a car up there that we don’t need to go back down to the hamlet of Pralong at the end of the day. After getting to know each other quickly, we drive down to Pralong, at the foot of the Grande Dixence dam, to begin our hike of the day.
The program of the morning is quite simple: 1100m of ascent to reach the pass of la Meina. We follow the path which goes through the val des dix camping and which goes up in the forest. We arrive at a small forest clearing behind a chalet with a very beautiful view on the Grande Dixence dam. Céline uses this opportunity to give us some information about this impressive 285m high construction (which makes it the highest weight dam in the world). She also explains us that the building which is at the foot of the dam (which is a hotel today) used to accommodate the workers of the dam who gave it the nickname “the Ritz” 😉 . By the way, if you want more information about the dam and its history, have a look at the Grande Dixence website which is very well done.
We continue our hike through the forest towards the mountain pasture of Novelli. The advantage of walking with Céline, it is that we do not get bored one second while hiking. She is very knowledgeable about the flora of the mountains and each plant that we see is a pretext for a small anecdote or explanation (I’ll share an album of the observed flowers at the end of the blog post)… moreover she also organizes hikes to pick wild edible plants followed by an outside cooking workshop. It will be for the next time 😉 .
The first sunbeams begin to pierce through the larches or the spruces as we reach the Novelli mountain pasture after about 3kms of walk. The mountain pasture does not look very occupied but the view on the val des Dix is beautiful and we enjoy it to have a little break.
Novelli Remointze to la Meina pass
That’ s not it, but we did not yet hike half of the way until the pass 🙂 . We start again to gently get out of the forest above the mountain pasture. Céline explains us that with the global warming the tree line is higher than when she was young and it’s now around 2100m (even 2300m in some places). One more tangible sign that global warming is not a tale (for those who still doubt it) and that it is time to act.
We reach a small mayen with a metal roof. Céline tells us that it is the “Remointze” of Novelli; “Remointze” being the word in local dialect to designate a high mountain pasture. By the way, a little above us is a herd of Hérens cows, famous for their fighting instinct (Hérens cows naturally fight to establish a hierarchy in the herd).
As we have Winchy with us, we make a small detour to remain at good distance from the cows while hiking up. What a pleasure to walk in such a place! We have a spectacular view on all the val des Dix, the Grande Dixence dam and the surrounding summits, everything under a radiant sun… what else do we need? 😉
After almost 6kms of ascent, we finally reach the cross which marks the la Meina pass (2702m). I believe that after climbing all this we deserve a small picnic break… Moreover Céline shares with us a piece of Mandelon cheese, which gives us one more reason to stop fill up with cheese in the mountain pasture at the end of the hike.
La Meina pass is located just below the Artsinol peak, right between the Val des Dix and the Val d’Hérens. This means that from there you have a particularly nice view. On one side you have the val des Dix and the Grande Dixence dam, on the other side you have the rest of the Val d’Hérens but especially you can admire several emblematic 4000m peaks from Valais like the Dent Blanche (4358m), the Zinalrothorn (4221m), the Weisshorn (4505m)… not bad isn’t it? Behind the pass we can also see what is left of the Vouasson glacier just below the Vouasson peak and the Mont de l’Etoile. But as pictures speak louder than words, I let you enjoy these landscapes:
Hiking down to Chemeuille towards the mayens de Vendes
After recharging our batteries and enjoying the panorama, we start the descent towards Chemeuille. On this hillside, there are a few ski lifts of the Evolène reagion… as we go down, we can also see better and better the Dent Blanche but also the Matterhorn which appears on the right and which seems very small from here. It must be nice to ski here with such a panorama!
Along the path, we also find 2 small Edelweiss. Céline tells us that although the Edelweiss is one of the symbols of the Swiss Alps (we find it in particular on our 5 francs coin), it would be native of Asia in the Himalayas and on the high plateaus of Tibet. Funny, isn’t it?
For those of you who would not like to do a hike as long as this one. It is possible to take the mountain pastures shuttle bus every Tuesday from the end of June to mid-September. This shuttle drops off those who wish to hike in the morning at Lannaz (to go up to the Chemeuille mountain pasture with the chairlift) and picks them up again at the end of the afternoon at Mandelon (or vice versa). This allows you to do the hike from Chemeuille to Mandelon with a relaxed pace. More info on the link below
From the Chemeuille mountain pasture, the trail is “more or less flat” and follows along the Mandelon peak to the Vendes mayens. This part is like a balcony and offers magnificent views on all the villages of the Hérens valley below us (Les Haudères, La Sage, Evolène, Mase, Saint-Martin…).
When we arrive at the Vendes mayens, we fall on a magnificent martagon lily that Céline wanted to show us since the beginning of the hike. We learn then that as its flowers look down, the lily martagon can be pollinated only by insects with long horns able to hover.
We will take advantage of the shade of a chalet to make a small break while enjoying the view. Even if some of these mayens would clearly deserve a small renovation, we thought that it would be nevertheless nice to have a small home away from home around here 😉 .
Back to the Mandelon mountain pasture through Patricia’s “not so secret” lake
We already knew this part of the hike between mayens de Vende and Mandelon because our friend Patricia had already sent us hiking here in autumn. This path has a little specificity: there is a small gully where the Dent Blanche and the Matterhorn are reflected (besides, there probably aren’t many lakes where these two mountains are reflected). If you like photography or simply contemplative breaks, this place is clearly worth the detour (and if you want to see more info and pictures, have a look at Patricia’s blog post here. She writes about it much better than we do).
From the small lake we have only 45 minutes walk left to reach the Mandelon mountain pasture where a home made ice cream (or a craft beer) is waiting for us on the terrace of the bar. We did not forget the delicious Mandelon cheese tasted at noon either and we stop at the small cheese factory shop to fill up with cheeses for the days to come. The ideal way to end this wonderful day of hiking in the Val d’Hérens, isn’t it?
- Distance: 17kms
- Elevation: 1250m of d+, 6-700m of d-
- Difficulty: the hike is not technically difficult but you still have to climb 1100m to the la Meina pass
- Duration: 5-7h
- Start: Parking in front of the Val des Dix guesthouse in Pralong (we had left a car at the Mandelon mountain pasture to shorten the hike)
Hiking in the Val d’Hérens with a mountain guide
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, it was the first time we hiked with a mountain guide and we really enjoyed this experience. As for us, the added value of a mountain guide is not linked to the organizational/logistical side of the hike in itself (even if we know that this aspect also interests many people who do not necessarily want to take care of it). For us, we especially wanted to have someone with us who has better knowledge of the mountain than we do. Someone to whom we can ask our questions about the region, the fauna, the flora…
Besides, each guide has its own expertise and passions: for example, Céline knows a lot about the flora of the mountains because she used to pick edible plants and cook them. During the whole hike, we had a lot of explanations / anecdotes about the flowers and plants we met on our way… It was really great! By the way, I had promised you a small photos album of the flowers we saw on this hike (well, a part of the flowers 😉 ):
And since she is originally from and lives in the Val d’Hérens, she also knows the area like the back of her hand. It was really nice to have someone with us who could give us ideas for future hikes/visits in the area or give us explanations about local traditions.
In short, we really recommend you to hire Celine if:
- you want to discover the Val d’Hérens with a local.
- you want to learn a lot of new things about the fauna and flora of our mountains.
- you would like to go on a more challenging hike in complete safety (they can guide you up to difficulty levels of T3 or T4 depending on their qualifications)
- you want to spend a convivial moment in the mountains with other people without organizing anything (Céline organizes excursions on fixed dates)
- you want to discover the mountain from a new angle (for example, by trying a picking and cooking of edible plants or yoga in a hut after a hike)
For more information, we let you have a look at her website by clicking on the link below:
We hope you enjoyed this new hike in the Val d’Hérens and that we may have tempted you to try an excursion with a mountain guide in the future. See you soon!
Pin it on Pinterest
Note: This hike is the fruit of a partnership with Hérémence tourism. We warmly thank our friend Patricia for having introduced us to Céline and for making this great collaboration possible. We obviously remain totally free to express our opinions in the writing of this article.