MARTIGNY, SWITZERLAND, April 7, 2018: Martigny is best known by the Swiss for its numerous alpine ski slopes such as Verbier. Less appreciated however, is that it is also a marvelous region for summer activities.
Due to its perfect placement at a junction of roads connecting Italy, France and Switzerland, Martigny is the gateway to Aosta over the St. Bernard Pass into Italy and to Chamonix in France over the col de la Forclaz. As a result, Martigny is a perfect base for day trips throughout Switzerland and her two European neighbors.
Martigny and its magnificent water features
Martigny is located just 21 miles southeast of Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. It lies at the foot of the Swiss Alps on the eastern edge of the Rhone Valley. The Rhone River makes a ninety degree turn in Martigny to flow north toward the Lake of Geneva, while the Dranse River flows from the Valais Alps into the Rhone.
Therefore, at an elevation of just over 1,500-feet, water plays a major role in the life of the region as it does throughout the tiny landlocked nation of Switzerland.
Perhaps the most noteworthy attraction of Martigny is the Pierre Gianadda Foundation Museum which is actually five museums in one.
Roman treasures and the museum complex of Martigny
Ultimately, when the Romans departed the area they left many archaeological treasures in the city. Among them was the Roman amphitheater which was restored in 1978.
Perhaps the most noteworthy destination in today’s Martigny, however, is the Gianadda Museum complex. Its permanent exhibitions include the Automobile Museum, Gallo-Roman Museum, Louis and Evelyn Franck Collection, Sculpture Park, and Chagall Court.
In 1976, Leonard Gianadda began clearing land he owned to build a rental property. Subsequently, he discovered the ruins of an ancient Gallo-Roman temple on his property.
Sadly, soon after the Roman excavations, his brother Pierre died unexpectedly in a plane crash. But Leonard persevered. Subsequently, he began developing the museum that became Martigny’s most prized cultural attraction. Leonard named it in honor of his late sibling.
Art, sculpture, architecture, an automobile museum… and “Comptoir”
Outside, at the rear of the contemporary building, are the Sculpture Park, Chagall Court and the Szafran Pavillion. All are set among landscape architecture featuring fountains, hedges and works of art by 20th century artists.
Rounding out the eclectic collection of exhibitions in the interior is the Greco-Roman Museum, a two-level expanse that incorporates excavations that are the oldest of their kind in Switzerland. In addition, it contains an Automobile Museum featuring over 50 classic cars dating between 1897 and 1939 and space for temporary traveling exhibitions created from various private collections.
The richness of the displays and importance of the Giannada Museum to Martigny justifiably live up to the town nickname, which is the “Art City.”
Another plus: Each year in October at the local festival known as the “Comptoir” the amphitheater plays host to non-lethal cow fights that pit animal against animal rather than animals against humans.
Natural attractions in the Martigny area
Just outside the city-proper, there are other compelling natural and manmade attractions for visitors to experience before heading off to nearby France and Italy.
Among the natural wonders is the Trient Ravine with its impressive water landscape that was carved into the rock by a rushing mountain stream from the Mont Blanc massif.
The 655-foot ravine, a favorite spot for climbers, hikers and nature lovers, is like stepping into Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with its eerie canyon walls and wooden walkway that hugs the perimeter of the rock-face.
Over 600-feet above the canyon floor, a bridge spans the chiseled gorge with its source from the glacier above the town of Trient, near the border of France. The ravine created by the River Trient is at its most narrow, deep and beautiful at Vernayaz, near Martigny.
It’s an otherworldly atmosphere with a primeval sense of being at the beginning of creation.
At the summit, the Mont Blanc Express train climbs steeply into the Trient Valley past the cascading waters of the 375-foot “Pissevache” waterfall before arriving at Chamonix in France. Even the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was impressed enough to write about it in 1779.
The “Verticalp” experience
Not far from the Trient Ravine is the three stage lift system known as the “Verticalp” experience that takes visitors to the Emosson Dam. The combination funicular/train journey incorporates a panoramic train with one of the steepest funicular rides in the world that features an 87-degree incline.
The most impressive portion of the journey is the bottom leg where a funicular climbs almost vertically up the mountain high above the village of Chatelard.
Finally, when the Chatelard Funicular reaches its terminus, a tiny narrow gauge open-air train snakes along a mountainside filled with majestic views of Mont Blanc.
The final phase of the journey is a short ride in a bright red funicular that stops at the Emosson Dam and Reservoir which captures water from three glaciers.
Located on the left bank of the Rhone above Martigny and fed by water from the Mont Blanc massif, the Emosson Dam is the third highest in Switzerland.
Breathtaking scenery, beguiling transportation, a cavernous gorge, eclectic art, historic ruins, classic automobiles and the close proximity to Italy and France make Martigny an ideal location for travelers to spend some time in the Swiss canton of Valais.
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.