Verbier’s Infinite Playground, Switzerland

The Verbier Infinite Playground (VIP) Pass offers free entry to more than 25 of the mountain resort’s summer top activities. Rupert Parker gets to take part

Verbier Sign

Verbier Sign

Verbier

Verbier

Cheese Making Workshop

Cheese Making Workshop

Tomme Cheese Curds

Tomme Cheese Curds

Tomme Cheeses

Tomme Cheeses

Raclette Wheels

Raclette Wheels

Yoga

Yoga

Herens cattle

Herens cattle

Alp Horn on Sery Mountain Pasture

Alp Horn on Sery Mountain Pasture

Ebiking

Ebiking

Cabane Mont-Fort

Cabane Mont-Fort

Sunset at Cabane Mont-Fort

Sunset at Cabane Mont-Fort

Cabane Brunet

Cabane Brunet

Sunrise at Cabane Brunet

Sunrise at Cabane Brunet

Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc

Matterhorn

Matterhorn

Cherries von Maur

Cherries von Maur

Foraging

Foraging

Serac and Flowers

Serac and Flowers

More and more ski resorts are promoting their summer activities, perhaps worried by global warming and the later onset of winter. Verbier is no exception and with its VIP pass you can ride the mountain lifts and postal buses for free and get reduced prices on many activities.

Cheese Making Workshop

The day I arrive it’s raining heavily so it makes sense to retreat to the indoor workshop at La Laiterie de Verbier. Marc Dubosson is going to show me how to make traditional Tomme cheese so I put on my apron and take my place at my copper cooking pot. He fills it with that morning’s milk and I light the flame underneath and start heating it up to 35C. When it reaches temperature, I add a small glass of bacterial milk culture and then some rennet and stir. I then let it cool whilst Marc shows me the cellar.

As well as Tomme, it’s crammed full of wheels of Raclette, all maturing. He makes 18-2000 wheels a year, each costing around CHF100, and a quick calculation shows that there’s more than half a million francs worth stored here. Back upstairs, the cheese has formed a skin which I’m told to cut it small squares. I then heat it up again, stirring as I go, then drain off the whey and put the curds into a mould and press. This is then washed in salt and a couple of days later I pick up my cheese to take home.

Early Morning Yoga

I spend the night at Cabane Brunet, a mountain hut at 2103m eating even more cheese. The morning dawns bright and the rain has stopped so I get a one hour yoga session on the grass outside provided by Wholeycow Studio. I can’t quite make the stretches of Svetlana Negashova, the brilliant teacher, but nobody is paying too much attention and it’s an idyllic situation. Relaxation, at the end of the session, when the only sound is the rushing of the stream, is the highlight.

Tour of the Alpine Pasture

Above the Cabane is the alpine pasture of Sery and Marc Maret, my mountain guide, takes me up among the cows. These hardy Herens cattle are one of the smallest breeds in Europe and are well adapted to altitude. They’re black with a muscular body and relatively short legs and very quickly establish their place in the herd’s hierarchy by fighting each other. This has led to a tradition of organised cow fights throughout the canton, with the winner being crowned Queen.

As it’s late summer, the herd’s hierarchy has already been established and there’s no sign of combat. Instead we eat lunch alfresco at 2200m with cheeses made from their milk. As well as Tomme and Raclette, there’s also a fresh variety called Serac, a type of ricotta. Homemade apricot preserves and rye bread complement the cheese and it’s all washed down with local wine.

Sunrise at Mont-Fort

Later that afternoon I hire an Ebike in Verbier and take it up in the cable car to Les Ruinettes at 2200m. From here I follow a track through the outdoor sculpture park to Cabane Mont-Fort, perched precariously above the valley. There’s a tremendous sunset and it’s an early night as I have to be up at 4am. Next morning it’s dark as I ride the bike down to La Chaux, a slightly perilous descent with only my head torch to guide the way.

It’s also very cold, but the cable car takes me up to Mont-Fort at 3300m, then I climb to the summit on a roped path and wait. Of course I’m not alone, as there are quite a few people with the same idea of seeing the sunrise. As the light comes up there’s a 360° view of some of the most beautiful peaks of the Alps, including the Matterhorn, and Mont-Blanc. Unfortunately there’s some cloud so the sunrise is a bit of a let-down. The consolation is an excellent breakfast at the Igloo des Gentianes.

Wild Plant Foraging

I pick up my E-bike back at La Chaux and cycle across the side of the mountain before descending to La Tzoumaz. There I meet Cherries von Maur who tells me that we’re going to forage for our lunch. She steers me past plants that might have been watered by dogs, before pointing out wild spinach, also known as Good King Henry. Apparently it needs cooking three times, otherwise you risk kidney stones. Dandelion leaves are also edible but it’s late in the season so they’re too bitter to eat.

Instead we collect nettles, braving their sting by pinching the tops with our fingers, and various edible flowers including fireweed and clover. Berries are out in force including wild strawberries and raspberries, but the surprise are the clumps of red lingham berries, lying close to the ground. Add some wild rhubarb and we have our dessert.

At the Maison de la Forêt we chop the nettles into the couscous she’s prepared earlier. There’s also the Serac cheese to spread on local rye bread which we top with the flowers. The fruits go into a pot to make a delicious compote. Local wine completes a tasty lunch.

Géraldine Fasnacht

I have my final dinner at the Hotel La Cordée des Alpes with Verbier ambassador Géraldine Fasnacht. To say she’s an extreme athlete is rather underselling her achievements – at 21 she won the first of her three ski trophies at the Xtreme Verbier
competition. Now she’s taken up wingsuit flying and as well as jumping off the peaks around here, she’s also flown the Matterhorn. Her future projects include a training scheme for budding flyers – watching her video, I don’t think I’ll be joining her.

Factfile

Verbier has information about the destination.
The Verbier Infinite Playground (VIP) Pass offers free entry or discounts to more than 25 of Verbier’s top activities and attractions and is available to every guest staying a minimum of one night in the region and paying the tourist tax. Available 1 June – 27 October 2019.
E-Bikes rental from Backside costs from £45 per day adult and £20 for kids,

B&B accommodation at 4* Hotel La Cordée des Alpes is priced from £175 per superior room per night.
HB accommodation at Cabane de Mont Fort available from June to September is priced from £62 pp per night.
HB accommodation at Cabane Brunet mountain hut is priced from £62 pp per night.

SWISS operates up to 180 weekly flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer) and Dublin from as little as £52 one-way* (Economy Light fare only includes hand luggage).
The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. Prices are £112 in second class and £182 in first class.
The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities and also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £185 in second class.

My Switzerland has information about the country.

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