MARTIGNY, SWITZERLAND: Nestled just 21 miles south-southeast of Montreux, on the eastern edge of the Rhone Valley, is the capital of the French-speaking region of Martigny.
With its geographical location at the foot of the Swiss Alps where the junction of roads connect Italy, France and Switzerland, it is a skiers paradise.
Lesser known, however, is that Martigny is a year-round destination in which summer is chock-a-block with things to see and do for hikers and outdoor lovers.
With the discovery of numerous archaeological remains, Martigny has become a cultural showcase thanks in large part to its famed Pierre Gianadda Foundation museum as well as the restored Roman amphitheater where cow fights are held during early autumn each year.
Cow fights began in the 1920s in Martigny, and today crowds fill the streets and the Roman amphitheater for the event.
Each spring the winner of the cow battles, or Kuhkämpfe, is crowned Queen Cow of the village herds. The tournament is held after the cows return from the mountains for the winter.
The term “cow fights” is a bit misleading, because as a rule,the cows show little aggressiveness, even if their owners do. Much of the event consists of the cows grazing, drooling or try to find ways to get out of the arena.
The Queen Cow wins a flower garland which is placed between her horns and a large bell hangs from a decorated collar.
For the owners, the prize is quite valuable since the calf of a Queen Cow can sometimes fetch up to 10 times the price of a regular calf.
During the course of the event, refreshments such as wine and sausages are served, but, of course, never any beef.
The Gianadda Museum is constructed around the remains of a former Roman temple built on top of Roman ruins. Three times each year, the foundation hosts painting exhibitions featuring works by renowned masters. It addition, to its Gallo-Roman Museum, the Gianadda museum also features an outdoor sculpture park and a classic automobile collection.
More adventurous travelers will want to take a train to the outskirts of Martigny to begin a triple-treat adventure at the Trient Ravine with its other-worldly gorge.
Literally carved into the rock of the Mont Blanc massif by a wild mountain stream, the 650-foot ravine has a Journey to the Center of the Earth quality about it that is both eerie and fascinating.
Add in a nearly 400-foot high waterfall and the experience becomes even more interesting.
The front of the gorge is crossed by a bridge, where visitors can obtain information about the ravine’s geology and its unique habitat for flora and fauna.
`Following the visit to the Trient Ravine, take the Mont Blanc Express train for the next leg of this three-part adventure. Stage two involves Swiss transportation and engineering at its finest.
The train climbs steeply up into the Trient Valley towards Salvan, Les Marécottes, Le Châtelard and Chamonix where the 400-foot high “Pissevache” waterfall cascades into the Rhone Valley by the nearby road. Even the famous German writer Goethe was impressed enough to write about it in 1779.
At the end of ride, a three-stage lift system known as the “Vericalp” experience takes travelers to the Emosson Dam on the cusp of the Swiss border.
The Verticalp journey consists of a steep funicular, a panoramic train and a smaller funicular that climbs to the dam.
Because of an 87-degree incline, the bottom leg of the trip is the most impressive where the funicular climbs dramatically up the vertical rise above Chatelard. Here travelers disembark to take the second phase of the journey, a serpentine cliff hugging narrow gauge railway that is a masterpiece of engineering skill and design.
The final stage of the experience includes another small red box-like funicular that carries travelers to the top of the dam. At the summit, a cafe awaits where guests can relax and savor the breathtaking surroundings.
The stunningly beautiful views of Mont Blanc are a highlight which capture a top-of-the-world-edge-of-heaven experience that are impossible to describe in words or pictures.
The site operates from the end of May until the end of October and the journey takes just under an hour to complete. In July and August, the first funicular begins at 8:30 a.m. and runs every half-hour. It is recommended to be there at least 15 minutes before departure.
Rounding out the excursion is the Emosson Dam itself, which is has the appearance of a scaled down Hoover Dam. The hydroelectric dam is located in Switzerland after a border change was made so the work could be completed entirely in Swiss territory. Commissioned in 1975, the project was finished in 1983.
Situated in the Canton of Valais, on the left bank of the Rhône above Martigny, and fed by the waters of the Mont Blanc massif, the Émosson Dam is Switzerland’s third highest dam after the Grande Dixence and Mauvoisin Dams.
Two little known facts about Switzerland are that water is the country’s only natural resource and that every major city is situated on a lake or a river or both.
All of which goes to show that everywhere you turn in Switzerland is “gorge”-ous enough to make anyone exclaim “Well I’ll be dammed!”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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