A couple of images of old rustic stables scattered on steep pastures were enough. I fell in love with Vals as soon as it came up in my pre-travel research of Switzerland. “This is where we’re going!” I announced to my husband. He just rolled his eyes, frustrated over my fixation with a place I never knew existed but all of a sudden had to visit. In the end, he enjoyed it as much as I did and here’s why:
1000 inhabitants, 1000 tourist beds, 1000 cows.
Yes, it is a popular tourist destination. But Vals still feels like a real-life village, not some picture-postcard illusion of it:
- Notice boards speak of vibrant community life.
- Local people don’t look fed-up with foreigners and kindly greet everyone passing by.
- Echoes of cowbells from pastures high above the village lull you to sleep at night.
- The best souvenir you can get in the village is a yoghurt jar from the local dairy. Including incredibly creamy yoghurt, of course, but this you won’t be able to bring home.
All the houses are covered with rocks. By law.
What used to be the cheapest, readily available building material, is a precious sign of respect for tradition today. The only building in the whole village that is not covered with rocks seems to be the church. I didn’t dare to ask about the cost of a rock roof but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Switzerland.
People are very much attached to their roots.
We were lucky to be around in time for the weekly free guided walk around the village. Listening to a true Valser in his seventies tell us stories about the place was a great way to learn about local culture and traditions. One thing was evident. People are notably proud of their little corner of Graubuenden. They are returning home even after they have moved away if only to continue playing in the local marching band.
16 active farms and millions of funds to keep them working.
When you see the steep pastures surrounding the village you realize that life was never easy for the local people. Sustaining their families in this harsh landscape required lots of physical work, that nobody would be willing to put in today.
To keep the remaining farms working the canton government is investing millions to pave the old cart-tracks. Today, the farmers can work their land high above the valley with the help of modern technology. An investment that at first glance seems out of proportion. But it means so much more than only keeping those 16 farms alive. And putting a price on something like that in a country as rich as Switzerland would be short-sighted.
A pipeline transports the milk from high Alpine pastures to the village.
After experiencing all this attachment to tradition, hearing about this invention startled me. As a consequence, the cheese produced at the village diary is not “Alpine cheese”. Branded as the less prestigious “mountain cheese” it tastes the same with a much friendlier price tag.
The cable car is free. Every day of the year.
Things don’t come cheap in Switzerland. So not having to pay for a ride up to Gadastatt mountain pasture at 1810 m above sea level was a nice surprise. The top station is a great starting point for several hikes in one of the most breath-taking landscapes I’ve ever seen.
You have to see it to believe it.
I could go on for hours but there is no way to describe the overwhelming beauty of Vals and the mountains surrounding it. You have to experience it yourself and I want to leave some room for surprise.