Hiking events

Vacation in Switzerland: Dodge Verbier’s glitzy ski crowds on an off-season hike this summer

Cherries, a local botanist and our mountain guide, is full of apprehension.

“It took me five years to gain enough confidence in myself to lead people on foraging tours lest they pick the wrong plants,” she says. “I still worry.”

Don’t Blame Cherries – with people like me on one of her tours. I’m still unable to tell the difference between cow parsley (harmless) and hemlock (deadly).

Peaceful: Kate Johnson explores the mountains around the luxurious ski resort of Verbier in the summer, when the hotels welcome off-season guests. Pictured is Lac des Vaux, a lake within walking distance of the Alpine Village

We wander over the gentle hills near the Pic de Savoleyres and the Col Marlene above Verbier, stopping occasionally to smell the flowers, while Cherries points out plants that I have often walked past not knowing what they can do to serve.

Cow parsnip seeds have the effect of ginseng (huge in the “wellness” world) and meadowsweet is herbal medicine with natural aspirin.

In a meadow, under the attentive gaze of an enormous Hérens cow who wears a bell around her neck, we stop to take a breather.

While we scramble to get water bottles out of backpack pockets and check phones (like teenagers), Cherries briskly throws a pristine tablecloth on the floor, shares cool wild thyme-flavored water and melted chocolate in a mini raclette plate, for us to dip daisies and other flowers into.

It is another facet of Verbier. As a luxury ski resort, its reputation is that of a “playground for the rich and famous” and one of the most expensive places to ski in the world.

Verbier, pictured, has a “softer side” in summer, says Kate. “The vibe is less glitzy, the people more relaxed, and nothing beats the endless expanse of pool table green grass, dotted with fir trees and grazing cattle,” she wrote.

But when summer comes, it has a softer side. The hotels cater to out-of-season guests — we’re in the chic, friendly and central Hotel de Verbier, with a spa and terrific terrace restaurant.

It is another facet of Verbier. As a luxury ski resort, its reputation is that of a “playground for the rich and famous” and one of the most expensive places to ski in the world. But come summer, it’s got a softer side

Ski lifts, designer boutiques and gift shops are also always open (a Smeg toaster designed by Dolce & Gabbana, anyone?) green grass, dotted with fir trees and grazing cattle.

I feel better just admiring the view. It’s a huge dose of ‘nature’s prescription’, the increasingly common idea that being outdoors has a beneficial effect on all aspects of health – and it works.

During the warmer months, the resort filled its calendar with events. This summer, from July 15-31, the hills will come alive with classical music, including string quartets, opera and legendary pianist Martha Argerich playing Beethoven (verbierfestival.com).

A VIP pass gives free or discounted access to activities, including a visit to the village of Sarreyer – all traditional wooden chalets and planters of red geraniums – which is the pioneer of the Swiss slow food movement. It started in Italy over 30 years ago to promote local food and traditional cuisine as an antidote to fast food.

The highlight of Kate's trip is an e-bike adventure that begins at Mauvoisin Dam, pictured.  According to Kate, it's

The highlight of Kate’s trip is an e-bike adventure that begins at Mauvoisin Dam, pictured. According to Kate, it’s “totally overwhelming at 820 feet high (nearly eight times taller than Buckingham Palace) and 1,706 feet wide (about the length of five football fields)”

TRAVEL INFORMATION

Double B&B at the Hotel de Verbier from £149 a night (hoteldeverbier.com). Heathrow to Geneva returns with Swiss Air from £94 (swiss.com). For more information, go to verbier.ch.

The small community here has beautifully restored a 19th century mill, which is now in use making flour, pressing apples and sawing wood.

The local Café du Mont-Fort has reopened and serves nettle soup (an acquired taste), absinthe from the local distillery (ditto) and homemade pasta.

The highlight is an e-bike adventure that is part of the food tour. We start with the Mauvoisin Dam, built in the 1950s and totally overwhelming at 820 feet high (nearly eight times taller than Buckingham Palace) and 1,706 feet wide (about the length of five football pitches).

He’s begging to star in a nonsensical opening sequence for the next James Bond film.

We set off through tunnels and along trails, past waterfalls gushing into the Tiffany blue water of the reservoir. The winding climb does (almost) not scare us, and we have the place to ourselves.

Even if you think the e-bike is cheating (it’s not), the power boost means you can enjoy the view and see the cows patiently waiting to be milked, without overheating or running out of breath. It is worth the mockery of “real” cyclists.

We finally arrive at a swanky mountain hut restaurant for a huge rosti in the sun, before coasting miles home in the freshest air.

Verbier in summer is exactly what the doctor ordered. Just one question: how can I get this repeat nature prescription?