In a xylophone-to-gong transition, the soothing loveliness of vineyards in the west gives way to austere beauty in the east of Valais. Bijou villages of wood chalets stand in collective awe of the drum-roll setting of vertiginous ravines, spiky 4000m pinnacles and monstrous glaciers.
You can almost sense the anticipation on the train from Täsch: couples gaze wistfully out of the window, kids fidget and stuff in Toblerone, folk rummage for their cameras. And then, as they arrive in Zermatt, all give little whoops of joy at the pop-up book effect of the one-of-a-kind Matterhorn (4478m).
French-speaking Sion is bewitching. Deceptively modern and industrial from afar, this small town that rises abruptly out of the built-up floor of the Rhône valley is deliciously gourmet, with memorable dining addresses and a surrounding ring of vine-terraced hills criss-crossed with ancient irrigation channels known as bisses.
Ritzy Verbier is the diamond of the Valaisian Alps: small, stratospherically expensive and cut at all the right angles to make it sparkle in the eyes of accomplished skiers and piste-bashing stars. Yet despite its ritzy packaging, Verbier is that rare beast of a resort – all things to all people.
Hemmed in by a magnificent amphitheatre of 13 implacable peaks over 4000m and backed by the threatening tongues of nine glaciers, this village looks positively feeble in the revealing light of summer. Until 1951, only a mule trail led to this isolated outpost and locals scraped a living from farming.
Once the stomping ground of Romans in search of wine and sunshine en route to Italy, small-town Martigny is Valais’ oldest town. Look beyond its concrete high-rises to enjoy a world-class art gallery, Roman amphitheatre and a posse of droopy St Bernard dogs to romp up the surrounding mountains with.
Bidding Brig farewell, you enter another world. As you approach the source of the mighty Rhône and gain altitude, the deep valley narrows and the verdure of pine-clad mountainsides and south-facing vineyards that defines the west of the canton switches to rugged wilderness.
From the medieval hillside hamlet of Leuk, a mountain road zig-zags up 14km in spectacular style past breathtakingly sheer chasms and wooded crags to Leukerbad. Gazing up to an amphitheatre of towering rock turrets and canyon-like spires, Europe’s largest thermal spa resort is pure drama.
Crans-Montana has been on the map ever since Dr Théodore Stéphani took a lungful of crisp Alpine air in 1896 and declared it splendid for his tuberculosis patients. Full of sparkling cheer in winter, the modern sprawling resort embracing a string of lakes is now the much-loved haunt of luminaries like Roger Moore and the nouveaux riche.
Bettmeralp & Riederalp
This twinset of family-friendly car-free hamlets, accessible only by cable car, is the stuff of Swiss Alpine dreams. Paved with snow December to March, kids are pulled around on traditional wooden Davos sledges and skis are the best way to go to the local supermarket.
Val Ferret & Val d'Entremont
Emblazoned with its canine mascot, the St Bernard Express train from Martigny to Orsières branches south at Sembrancher, chugging down along the Val d’Entremont through classic Alpine scenery to the Italian border. Orsières, just off the Italy-bound N21, marks the beginning of pine-brushed Val Ferret.
Stuck between the pointy jaws of Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches, this tiny ski resort (1055m) is squirreled away in the vast ski area Portes du Soleil – heaven for backcountry skiers and snowboarders, with 650km of downhill runs and the French ski resorts of Morzine and Avoriaz a lift ride away.
As dreamy as a Turner watercolour in the golden autumn light, the winegrowing hamlet of Salgesch produced the first-ever Swiss grand cru in 1988. Blessed with chalky soil and plenty of sunshine, Salgesch yields spicy Pinot noirs, fruity dôles and mineral Fendants. Many cellars are open for tastings.