Le Grand Tour: Day 49 – Aigle To Sierre (81km)

CURRENT LOCATION: Hôtel de Ville, Sierre

On one level – the cycling level – it has been a pretty standard day. Dare I say boring? A flat ride, 90% off road on a good quality path beside the Rhône following the route of the EuroVelo 17 or, as it is known locally, national route 1. Sticking to just the cycling for a moment, I say ‘flat ride’… I knew I was heading uphill but couldn’t help feel that I was heading downhill. After the turn to cycle east following my brief pause in Martigny, the wind was behind me so this may have added to the sensation of cycling down a very gentle gradient but I think of more significance is the valley itself. I’ve experienced this before (although not that dubious ‘Electric Bray’ place on the west coast of Scotland where I was singularly unimpressed…) in northern Spain in 2019. There too I was cycling through a valley, knew I was cycling uphill beside a river heading in the opposite direction, but had a distinct feeling of going downhill all day. It’s the brain seeing something – the narrow valley with steep slopes on either side – and convincing the body that it is indeed what the brain sees, despite conclusive evidence to the contrary. Namely the GPS route profile:

The rest of the stuff was quite interesting… Setting off from the same spot as the Tour de France cyclists when they left Aigle back in July, heading south to Martigny and then east to Sierre via Sion. When you think of Switzerland, several clichés come to mind; chalets, snow, cheese, chocolate, watches, banking, cuckoo clocks… I wouldn’t have listed vineyards. Or, indeed, fruit farms or heavy industry. I found plenty of all three today. The entire length of the dog-legged valley from Lac Léman to Sierre (probably further) is a substantial wine producing region. Have you ever drunk Swiss wine? I don’t think I have. According to Wikipedia, 98% of Swiss wine is drunk locally and most of the remaining 2% is exported to Germany. The vineyards in the Valais / Wallis Valley are predominant on the northern south-facing slopes but are also there in number on the southern side of the valley as well. And many of them are in seemingly difficult if not impossible areas to access high above the settlements in the valley floor and the lower slopes. It’s difficult to imagine how they can make growing and harvesting the grapes in such difficult location profitable but they must do that as otherwise they’d give the land over to sheep or cows. 

The fruit farms are no less numerous but are positioned in the narrow plain of the valley in farm easier to access places; apples, pears, strawberries, tomatoes… those are just the ones I can remember / identify. In a place like Switzerland so much is going on in the valley bottom as everything is squeezed in so tightly. So beside the fruit farms are the motorway, the main / minor roads, the Rhône, the cycle path on the bank of the Rhône, electricity pylons, the elongated towns and villages and, of course, all the heavy industry that so often is hidden out of view. But it needs to go somewhere and if your country is made up almost entirely of pretty valleys, you’re going to have to use the pretty valleys… 

Martigny was quite swish, especially its school that appears in the video. An impressive black block of steel and glass. Sion, with its castle on the hill appeared to be somewhat less swish (although in fairness I didn’t go into the city centre) and Sierre, where I am now, somewhere between the two. 

In a few moments I’ll be heading off to my WarmShowers host. I’ve been promised a raclette party (to celebrate his father’s birthday rather than my arrival). Bearing in mind tomorrow is Sunday, I’ve stocked up in advance for tomorrow’s climb; bananas, apple, nuts and, err Toblerone… That should keep me going as I climb the 946m to Camping Brigga. I may need to restock for Monday but I’ll worry about that the day after tomorrow… I am both excited and a little nervous.


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