The larches of Balavaux
A walk among the largest and oldest larch trees of Europe. Other highlights: a scenic gondola ride, the mountaintop “Black Lake”, forest trails and the pretty Bisse de Saxon irrigation channel.
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The larch is the artist of the Valais forests, adding magnificent touches of colour throughout the seasons. This is the only European conifer to grow new needles every year – and the cycle of colours is enchanting. The pale green shoots, golden pollen cones and red cone blossoms of spring give way in summer to lush green cones and needles. In autumn, the needles change colour again, turning swathes of mountainside to gold – in glorious contrast with the dark green of the pines. Normally, the trees grow tall and slender in stands within the forests, but given plenty of sunshine and space – as at the alpine pastures of Balavaux – they mature to become solitary giants. Here, walkers find ancient, gnarled specimens that seem to have come out of a fairy tale. There are more than 250 trees here, aged from about 300 to nearly 1,000 years old. One veteran has a circumference of 14.6 metres, and may well be the largest in Europe. The outing begins with a gondola ride from Nendaz to Tracouet (2,200 m), a summit offering panoramic views of the whole Rhône valley. Close by, the Lac Noir (“Black Lake”) provides a pretty backdrop for an international alphorn festival every year. Highlights include competitions, processions and group performances featuring more than 150 players in costume on the shores of the lake. From here, the trail loops around to the sunny, south-facing slopes of Balavaux – about half an hour’s walk – before leading down among the larches to the Bisse de Saxon irrigation channel. Created in the mid-19th century, this is the longest in Valais, known as the “King of bisses”. The trail follows the bisse upstream before dropping down through forest and pasture back to the resort. Highlights Tracouet – scenic gondola ride up, panoramic summit, pretty lake, restaurant with sunny terrace, playground Alpage de Balavaux – fairy-tale larch trees up to 1,000 years old Two atmospheric mountain restaurants en route with panoramic terraces Bisse de Saxon – path along historical irrigation channel through the forest