Winter weekend in the Aletsch Arena
Endless kilometres of pistes, culinary treats and the biggest glacier in the Alps.
Have you been to the Aletsch Arena? We hadn’t. But that all changed when we (Martina and Luca) took part in a competition run by Valais/Wallis Promotion, without expecting anything – and then won. We both love Valais, so for us, spending a weekend discovering the Aletsch Arena was like hitting the jackpot. The sunny plateau in Valais is home to the car-free holiday destinations of Fiescheralp, Bettmeralp and Riederalp, which are perched at around 2,000 metres above sea level. But the Aletsch Arena isn’t just a place for rest and relaxation – it also has plenty to offer sports fans, nature lovers and families. We’d like to share our highlights with you, so that you too can get a taste of “the most liberating natural experience in the Alps”.
From the Rhone Valley to 2,926 m.a.s.l.
We’re lucky enough to be spending an entire long ski weekend in the Aletsch Arena, which means travelling to Valais on the Friday morning. We leave the car behind in Fiesch and take the gondola up to Fiescheralp at 2,212 metres above sea level, where there’s still heaps of snow even in mid-March. It only takes around ten seconds to walk from the mountain station to Hotel Alpina, where we receive a warm welcome. After checking in, we make our way to Eggishorn. A gust of icy wind greets us as we get off the cable car – but that’s hardly surprising at nearly 3,000 metres in altitude. As we approach the Eggishorn panoramic viewing platform, though, we quickly forget about the cold. Our first breathtaking glimpse of the biggest glacier in the Alps is truly heart-warming. The Aletsch Glacier is 20 kilometres long and 800 metres thick, and covers a surface area of 79 square kilometres. The glacier is the centrepiece of the UNESCO Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch World Heritage Site. From our vantage point, we can see not only the Matterhorn, but also the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps.
Winter hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp
After enjoying the impressive views on Eggishorn, we take the cable car back to Fiescheralp. From there we start the five-kilometre hike to Bettmeralp – one of 30 winter hikes on offer in the Aletsch Arena. The trail is extremely well maintained and mostly flat, which means we can focus on the fresh mountain air and snow-white Alpine panorama. At the half-way point, we stop off at the Bättmerhitta mountain hut to enjoy home-made cheese spaetzle and what might just be the best mille-feuille in the Alps. We’ve heard that lots of people tackle the Fiescheralp-Bettmeralp hiking trail just to have a taste of this delicacy. Once we’ve finished our food, we set off for Bettmeralp again, stopping to visit the idyllic chapel of Maria zum Schnee (Mary of the Snows) on our way through the charming Valais village. We make our way back to Fiescheralp via cable-car, train and gondola and look back on our day while enjoying a delicious four-course meal at the Hotel Alpina.
Feel Free – the freedom of the Alps
Early on Saturday morning, we practically glide from our bed onto our skis and snowboard. Thanks to its location directly by the pistes, the Hotel Alpina is very much a ski-in/ski-out establishment. Getting from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp and Riederalp is a dream. There are 104 kilometres of pistes and 35 lifts connecting the three localities. The wide pistes, mostly red and blue, are brilliant for carving. We’re filled with an overwhelming sense of freedom and want to make the most of the ski area and the views.
For lunch, we head to the Bettmerhorn Panorama Restaurant and take in the epic views of the four-thousand-metre peaks while enjoying a Goms speciality known as “Cholera”. Though it doesn’t sound too appetising, it’s a delicious treat that’s not to be missed if you are in Valais. We then ski and snowboard our way to more viewing points, including Hohfluh and Moosfluh, and are once again treated to a view of the Great Aletsch Glacier. The snow isn’t slushy despite the sunny weather, so we keep skiing for as long as the lifts are running. Thanks to the altitude, which ranges from 1,925 to 2,869 metres, you’re guaranteed perfect conditions from December right through to April.
After an eventful day, we unwind with a sauna visit while looking forward to another dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.
In Pietro’s gourmet kitchen on Riederfurka
On Sunday, we spend another day in the ski area, surrounded by an impressive Valais mountain panorama. We download the Skiline app so that we can take part in the Glacier Challenge. While skiing and snowboarding, we tackle more than 4,000 metres in altitude difference, taking photos at various viewing points and collecting badges throughout the Aletsch Arena. It's guaranteed fun, whatever your age.
We’ve worked up an appetite after all those downhill runs, so we head to Riederfurka, where the grand finale of our Aletsch weekend awaits. Self-taught cook and head chef Pietro Catalano welcomes us there with an amuse-bouche. Since 2021, Pietro has been in charge of Restaurant Riederfurka, which has 13 Gault-Millau points. He treats us to a backstage tour of his kingdom, explaining his creations and experiments before wowing us with specially made coloured gnocchi, tagliolini al tartufo and a dessert shaped like the Aletsch Arena. A visit to the “Chef’s Table” with Pietro and his team is a must for all gourmets.
To sum it all up
Aletsch Arena’s brand promise of being “the most liberating natural experience in the Alps” really hits the nail on the head. Skiing and snowboarding across the 100 kilometres of pistes in Fiescheralp, Bettmeralp and Riederalp truly makes you feel free as a bird. And then there are the views. Our hearts skipped a beat every time the greatest glacier in the Alps popped into view, or we caught another glimpse of the Matterhorn, the Dom, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, or yet another of the forty 4,000-metre peaks. That - along with the hospitality and culinary treats in store throughout the ski area - make the Aletsch Arena the perfect winter destination. Which means we’ll definitely be making a return visit. See you soon in the Aletsch Arena!
Publication : April 2022
Text and images : Martina Carlen and Luca Körber