Rupert Parker takes part in a wine and food marathon through the Valais vineyards at the Marathon Des Saveurs
Sion, the capital of Valais, straddles the River Rhône, occupying the valley floor, and two 13th-century castles, Valere and Tourbillon, overlook the town. Vineyards, typical of the area, run up the steep slopes and along the terraces of the southeast-facing hillsides. The vines occupy the rockier slopes, facing the sun, where the topsoil is lighter.
Starting in 2019, after the harvest in October, they stage what they call a Marathon Des Saveurs. This involves an all-day hike through the vineyards, with five pit stops to sample two wines and taste a local dish. There are two routes, each running in opposite directions through the valley, and both start at the Place de la Planta in Sion.
The day dawns bright and sunny but not too hot, perfect for the Marathon Des Saveurs hike. Being Swiss, everything is extremely efficient, with start times staggered. I’ve been allocated the 9.20 slot and arrive at the Place de la Planta a few minutes beforehand. I collect the free water bottle and my wine glass and I’m all set. On the map, it looks easy but I have a sneaking feeling that we’ll be up and down on the steep vineyard slopes.
And I’m not wrong. First, it’s uphill on the road, before turning off and completing a half circuit around the scenic Lac du Mont d’Orge. Red signs ensure we can’t get lost and they lead to the first stop at Cave du Mont d’Orge. There’s already quite a crowd but wine and food are efficiently doled out at separate stalls. An Assiette Valaisanne, local cheese and sausage, works well with the two wines – a white Fendant Gran Cru Ville de Sion and a red Dole.
I linger for about thirty minutes before getting going on the Marathon Des Saveurs again. After a couple of glasses of wine, there’s now a general air of celebration. Some have even purchased extra bottles and are refilling their glasses and toasting as they walk. The views down the valley, back to Sion are spectacular, and the route takes us up and down and then up again.
The next stop is at Tour Lombarde in the village of Saint-Severin. Already, there are noticeably fewer people here and queues for wine are smaller. I’m served a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both grown locally. Cooks are stirring vast vats of Soupe de Courge, pumpkin soup, and with a few pieces of bread, a bowl is enough sustenance to fuel the third stage.
It’s an easy climb up through the vineyards. Even though the main harvest is over, there are still grapes on the vines and work is still ongoing. The signs lead downwards to the village of Ardon. Here they’re preparing Raclette, softening up the cheese on gas burners and then peeling hot strips onto paper plates. Small potatoes and pickled onions complete the dish. The accompanying wines are a white Paien and a red Gamay
From here it’s very serious uphill, right up the side of the valley, then following terraces through the vineyards and more climbing. I seem to be ahead of the pack as there are now fewer people, the others perhaps lingering to better enjoy the wines. This is definitely the most strenuous part of the Marathon Des Saveurs walk but make it to the fourth stop, just above Chamoson. There’s table service here with a hearty Croute aux Champignons, wild mushrooms on toast, almost a full meal. You still have to get your own wine, though, this time a white Johannisberg and a red Cornalin.
The Marathon Des Saveurs end is in sight as the railway line and the station lies below, not far. It’s downhill from here, through the outskirts of Chamoson to Saint-Pierre-de-Clages. I arrive at around 4pm, after around six and a half hours of walking. I’m tired but not exhausted and also not the first. Interestingly, even though I’ve downed eight glasses of wine during the day, I don’t feel the least bit drunk.
There’s no celebration, prize, or medal for completing the Marathon Des Saveurs, but just two more excellent wines, Petite Arvine and Humagne Rouge. After the final stage, it’s time for dessert – Tarte au Johannis, a sort of baked egg custard with Johannisberg wine. I forgo coffee and amble down to the station and catch the train back to Sion. This has been my first wine and food marathon and I hope not the last.
Tell Me More About The Marathon Des Saveurs
The next Marathons des Saveurs will take place on 22/10/2022
My Switzerland has information about the country.
Visit Valais has information about the region.
Sion Tourism has information about the town.
Hotel Elite makes a comfortable base in the centre.
Restaurant La Pinte Contheysanne serves good local food.
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