Nettles, absinthe and slow food: Ski town Verbier is still sublime in summertime

The sun is beating down on the village of Sarreyer, close to Switzerland’s ski mecca of Verbier and I’m drinking Vincent Van Gogh’s favourite tipple – a 72% proof absinthe.

At 11am, I’m wondering if it’s too early to be hitting the hard stuff.

Then again, Sarreyer’s not a place to worry about time – it’s gone backwards already.

The village is home to the first Slow Food collective in Switzerland. The global grassroots movement, founded in Italy in the 1980s, aims to defend regional traditions and promote a slower pace of life.

So it’s down the hatch with the locally brewed ‘green fairy’ – a medicinal-tasting brew sweetened with a cube of sugar. Gulp!

I wonder whether it’s an acquired morning taste – or whether I should have opted for the ‘light’ 45% version – as I settle drowsily into my chair, ready for a meal billed as rustic and home-grown.


I feel woozy – but no urge to cut off my ear…

In this hillside village in the canton of Valais, itself full of farm buildings, artisans grow their own plants to make massage oils and supply the Edelweiss distillery – makers of the aforementioned absinthe and gin.

A mill dating back to 1837 has been restored, so families can grind their own flour and press apples into juice. The bread oven has been returned to use for pizza nights and master chocolatier Raphael Thoos sells sweet treats.


On the menu is nettle soup and pasta with wild garlic. It’s delicious – and the ideal food for this village of keen foragers to serve.

The tour continues with ointment maker Isabelle Gabioud, who leads us through her secret garden. ‘We want to keep alive the history of the village and I like to share my passion for plants,’ she says, as she points out which will lift moods and which might poison.

‘I never went to plant school but I’ve learned from mountain people who have lived here for years. Local people are happy to pass on their knowledge and recipes and I enjoy bringing them up to date.’

Wading through this field of flowers in the heat, it’s hard to square this destination with Verbier – famed as a chic ski resort that attracts 35,000 visitors at a time during winter.


Yet Sarreyer is a short bus ride away from the main tourist centre – a ride that’s free with the summer VIP (Verbier Infinite Playground) pass.

The ticket is issued free to anyone in local accommodation and offers bus use, ski lift access for hikers and free or discounted entry to 45 attractions.

Summer in Verbier is, of course, a different experience to winter. The ski lifts are still running for the mountain paths and stunning scenery but it’s less crowded and more laid-back.

I took a scenic e-bike ride from Mauvoisin dam to the renovated Chanrion hut in the mountains, followed a guide on a gourmet foraging tour and walked high into the mountains for a coffee.

But the biggest ‘thrillseeking’ in Verbier in summer is for foodies. The national dishes are available everywhere – raclette or fondue anyone?

La Nonna – attached to the Hôtel de Verbier – offers plates of burrata cheese and carpaccio beef.

And if you step past the secret ‘bookshelf’ doorway at restaurant 22, you’ll find Norwich-born Adam Bateman gunning for a Michelin star with his £75 tasting menu.

For liquid refreshment, a tour of the town’s micro-brewery, V Bier, goes down well. It’s hefty stuff – but next to my 72% wake-up drink, only light work.

B&B at four-star Hôtel de Verbier costs £149 per room a night. The Cabane de Chanrion hut offers 70 berths, with an overnight stay including evening meal and breakfast costing £70

Jenny flew with Swiss from London Heathrow to Geneva, then took a Swiss Transfer Ticket – a round-trip rail ticket from the airport or border to your destination – for £131 in second class or £211 first class

E is for electricity, not easy: Jenny goes on an e-bike adventure

Jenny took in the scenery on her e-bike (Picture: Jenny Forsyth)

My heart is banging, my lungs gasping as I pedal my electric bike. And now a
whining has begun – also me.

‘Is it far?’ I ask mountain cycle guide Lucca, who has barely broken a sweat. I’m trying for a mature version of, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ but he’s quick to
spot the petulant child within me.

‘Er, just around the back of this hill. Not too far,’ he says, gesturing at what looks like a mountain. ‘How many bars of battery have you got?’ he adds, looking concerned. ‘You’ve got eco, trail and boost gears to give you a hand but boost really tears through the battery. Try to stay in eco.’

I stand puffing for a couple more minutes before we press on, thinking – correctly as it turns out – he might be playing the difficulty down.

I’m on the e-bike route Le Barrage de Mauvoisin – a 20-mile round trip that takes you through the top of the Mauvoisin dam and along a picturesque
lakeside.

We’ve hired bikes for this day-long tour from Le Chable, a cable car ride from
Verbier. The big selling point for e-bikes in the Alps is you don’t have to be super-fit to reach heights that otherwise only mountain goats and Olympic athletes might reach.

I thought my stamina was good. But as we climb from the end of the lake to our final destination – the Chanrion mountain hut – I struggle.

I thought the ‘e’ in e-bike stood for easy. My 80-year-old dad tootles around on one, for heaven’s sake.

For the next hour, I’m pedalling, stopping, pedalling, stopping. Sod Lucca and his ‘eco’ – I’m in ‘boost’ most of the way.

Finally, I arrive at the Chanrion – my feeling of mutiny giving way to gratitude for the rosti lunch.

I’m envious of the hikers settling in to stay the night. But as with any form of
cycling, gravity is your friend. The trip down is a white-knuckle ride and at the
bottom there’s fuel left in the battery – it’s just my own that needs a top up.

An e-bike tour with Montagne Show costs £70

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