The Longest Day

Thunderstorms have continued into the night and, now at 8.00am, there is quite a deluge in Villars. Rain had eased but hadn’t stopped by the time we reached Martigny and its Roman remains but had cleared on arrival at Sion, which is, apparently, ruled by an oligarchy (the bourgeoisie).

Sion, a wine growing area (photo above) in the Rhone valley, goes back to Roman times. Later it was ruled by the bishops (who supplied the Pope with the first Swiss Guards). Later again, the local merchants got a say in civic affairs. Signs of the rule of the Bishops remain on two hills overlooking the town.

We have been following in the footsteps of Hannibal and Napoleon and now SM announces an unrelated surprise for us in the small town of Raron. The church, St Michael’s on the Rock, towers over the town but churchgoers must walk up to it.

In the late 60s, attendances in this strongly religious area began to drop off, parishioners finding it easier to drive to nearby churches. All this was related to us as we approached the rock.

A few of us thought the surprise might be a lift to the top. But it is much more: another church built inside the Rock, St Michael's in the Rock (photo). For this was the novel solution thought up by the parish council after many frustrating meetings.

Now we climb up towards Zermatt (1600m plus). The bus has to park about 2 miles out and local mini-buses take over and, just at the edge of the town, we are transferred to eco friendly electric taxis, the only people transport allowed. All proceeds quickly and soon we are installed in the Alpen Rosen Hotel.

Luckily, we get a balcony facing the Matterhorn (photo above), which soon begins to lose most of the light cloud surrounding its peak and shortly about 95 per cent of the peak itself is visible, though the picture is a varying one.

The town has one main street and SM takes us on an orientation walk, points out a few items of interest (including places to eat, the graves of the mountaineers, the statue of Whymper, credited with the first climb of the Matterhorn, even though they were eight in the party, which met tragedy on the descent).

Dinner tonight in the hotel is billed as a highlight meal and doesn’t disappoint. It is my first experience of the Swiss dish Raclette. Melted cheese is dropped on to a small plate, already populated with a few small potatoes, a gherkin and a piece of tomato. You can get a refill as soon as you finish. If you get too much cheese in one go, it will harden before you can eat it.

The dessert is very small but packs a punch. Apricots are in season and they are served with an “abricotine”, a spirit (with a kick) made from the fruit. It goes down well as the longest day of the year comes to a close.