With over 400km of trails in the Val d’Anniviers, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding on where to run first. So to help you get the most out of your stay, we have produced a small selection of our favourite trail runs in the valley.
Ayer - Zinal (via the Balcony Trail)
For a run that has a bit of everything, we don’t think that you can go wrong with this one! Smooth dusty trails, big mountain views and a Victorian mountain hotel seemingly perched on top of the world. The trail also includes the most atmospheric section of the famous Sierre-Zinal race route; the balcony trail from the Hotel Weisshorn to Barneuza Alpage.
Our route starts in the prettiest village in the Val d’Anniviers (OK, we maybe biased on this one…), Ayer. A mountain village steeped in history with some of its chocolate box wooden chalets dating back to the 16th century. From here you ascend out of the village via the Route de Nava road for a short section before taking the Bisse de Roux up to the hamlet of Gillou. This part of the Valais region in Switzerland is full of “bisses”; agricultural channels dug into the ground (and sometimes cliffs) to guide the water from mountain streams around the mountain and provide water to the surrounding villages.
From Gillou, it is a short, steep kick up to the Hotel Weisshorn at 2339m; a perfect coffee stop to admire the views across the valley in the knowledge that most of the height gain has been done at this point. If you are peckish, don’t miss out on the myrtille tart. It’s delicious!
Now for the best part, the balcony trail which starts from the hotel and traverses the Pointes de Nava on smooth, almost manicured, single track across to Nava and Barneuza Alpages. Here you are likely to come across the beautiful black Val d’Herens cows which live up here throughout the summer.
Following the alpages, you will traverse a couple of kilometres of traversing under the dark summits of Les Diablons (look out for marmots!) before the trail drops steeply down to Zinal at the end of the valley.
TIP - Don’t fancy the climb out of Ayer? Jump on the funicular railway from St Luc and start your run from Tignousa. This takes the bite out of the ascent.
2. Cabane du Grand Mountet
If there was one run which was ever worth the effort, it is definitely this one. From the village of Zinal you are transported into the Himalayas to run amongst some of the highest peaks in the Alps. It is truly is one of the most spectacular trails to explore.
This run is pretty straightforward to navigate: you start in Zinal, run directly up to the end of the valley at the Cabane du Grand Mountet and return via the same route. The start point of this route is at the Plats de la Lé bus stop at the back end of Zinal. From here you have a nice 2-3 kilometres of flat trail, following the La Navisence river to warm up the legs.
The path then ascends slightly to the right, past the old copper mines and up to the little chapel of Le Vichiesso, where you will traverse above the impressive gorge below. Looking to the left the huge western faces of the Weisshorn (4505m) and Bishorn (4151m) mountains will reveal themselves, with the glacier sitting just below them.
From Le Vichiesso, the path descends back down to the river again where you need to cross the bridge and take the path off to the right towards the Cabane du Grand Mountet. Here you will start the big winding climb onto the high summer route underneath Le Besso, the distinctive twinned peak of the Val d’Anniviers.
After the steep climb, the trail traverses on some beautiful runnable single track which winds in and out of the mountain side to reveal the expansive frozen summits of the Grand Cornier (3961m), Dent Blanche (4357m) and the Pointe de Zinal (3790m). Further along the path, there is a long suspension bridge (this route is not one for those who struggle with heights) and a short easy scramble round the corner of the Besso south west ridge.
Beyond this point you are immersed in the high mountains, traversing a large boulder field around Le Mammouth to finish at the Cabane (2886m). Here you can take a moment (and a slice of apricot tart) to appreciate the perfect pyramid of the Obelgabelhorn (4063m) and its surrounding glaciers.
Then its back along the same route to civilisation and a very welcome beer in Zinal.
TIP - The Grand Mountet hut is open from the end of June until mid-September. Also remember take some warm clothes on this route as it can get chilly above 2000m, even in August.
3. Tour of the villages
This is a perfect route for your first day in the valley or if you would like to explore some of the local culture and history of the surrounding villages. It is also excellent on a rainy day as a lot of the route is well sheltered.
Starting in Ayer, descend down to the new suspension bridge which crosses the main river, La Navisence. The route kicks up steeply in the woods for a short distance before crossing the Roussons Alpage and continuing on some woodland trails towards Grimentz. At the point “Morasses d’en Haut” on the map, take a left up to the Zinal-Grimentz road and cross over to the trail, taking a right at the fork to follow the traverse across to Grimentz on the Ancien Bisse de Morasse.
The trail will bring you back out onto the road again, which takes you up to the picturesque village of Grimentz. Follow the flower-laden Rue du Village through the old village and past the Becs de Bosson hotel. After this take the Route de la Duit out of the village and onto the Route de Roua through the neighbouring alpine meadows and across to pretty St Jean. Look out for the numerous “Raccards” or larch barns which dot the route.
Descending through St Jean, you will pass the 17th century chapel of Sainte Jean Baptiste with the imposing Zinalrothorn firming an impressive backdrop. At the bottom, you will run onto the Route de Moulin road, continue on this road down to the river and past the Pont d’Anniviers campsite (a great spot for a drink in the sun) before crossing over the bridge and climbing briefly up to Mission.
Follow the Route de Moulin up to the main road and the Cholaïc restaurant (another great place for a drink), cross over and look out for a hidden footpath across the road which leads steeply up the hill (Route des Effinecs). Continue up the trail past the St Luc road and onto the Route de Nava. Follow this back down into Ayer.
TIP - Fancy exploring more villages? You can extend this loop to include Mayoux, Vissoie and Fang, all of which are connected by the local Postbus.
Navigation - We always recommend bringing a map if you are unsure of the area but to help with navigation you can use the free app; Swisstopo, which provides detailed maps of the local area in Switzerland, just like the ones we have included in this post.
This post is not meant to be used as a definitive or exclusive source of information. Anyone undertaking the runs listed on this post is solely responsible for his or her own safety, and should exercise good mountain judgment, undertake thorough route research, be physically and mentally ready for the challenges, properly equipped, and should be ready to turn back if conditions become more challenging.