No Snow, No Problem. The Off-Season Guide to Verbier, Switzerland
The appeal of Verbier doesn't melt away with the snow. The high-end ski village offers outdoor activities, delicious restaurants, and a surprisingly impressive wine region all year long.
VERBIER, Switzerland — The ski season may have come to a close, but chic Verbier in the Swiss Alps is a year-round destination that loses none of its charm with the change of seasons. Yes, the skiing can last until the end of April, a period gloriously devoid of tourists, but there are plenty of snow-free outdoor activities, as well as an impressive collection of all-season bars, breweries, and restaurants, not to mention seriously world-class events.
Where to Eat
Let’s start with the food, one of the main reasons I travel. Verbier sits in the Canton of Valais, a region that cultivates remarkable products like white asparagus, tomatoes, red and green peppers, pears, saffron, and lamb. These native, high-quality, raw materials inspired the W Verbier to host its annual Haute Cuisine event, which attracts an impressive group of Michelin-starred chefs for four days of interactive cooking classes and themed dinners. I was in Verbier as a guest of the hotel, and this year, there were seventeen stars among the ten chefs in attendance.
Elsewhere in town, Le Sonalon, with a breathtaking terrace over fields of wildflowers and views for days, serves the kind of dishes Switzerland is famous for, like traditional assiette valaisanne, a Swiss version of the charcuterie board featuring local cheeses, dry meats, and authentic rye bread. Le Sonalon also serves fish like trout and féra (in the trout family), freshly caught from the area's many streams and lakes.
La Marmotte is another great option for traditional food and panoramic views. In the spring and summertime, you can hike to this mountain restaurant and treat yourself to a fondue lunch. La Ferme du Soleil is a family-run farmhouse restaurant and a favorite of locals. Expect organic meats and cheeses from the farm.
What to Drink
The Canton of Valais is also an amazing wine region. (I know what you’re thinking, but Switzerland really does make excellent wines. They just drink it themselves instead of exporting it.) Many wine experts claim the altitude serves the aging process. Whatever the reason, spring was a perfect time to sip refreshing Benoît Dorsaz Petite Arvine, a prototypical Valaisan white and the much-awarded red Valais Mundi Electus, a blend of seven Swiss grape varieties. When you’re in the mood to explore, the wine shop and casual tasting room Vinabagnes has a nice set of outdoor tables for day drinking.
The Swiss Alps also have a fair share of craft breweries. Verbier recently introduced its first artisan brewery, Vie Montagne, which uses fresh mountain water to brew stouts, pilsners, and IPAs. Open year-round except for a small break between May and June, it also has a casual dining room and an excellent members-only fine dining room upstairs (which is sometimes open to non-members). The chef uses local ingredients in a nouveau way. Which means you won’t find fondue, but will find a fluffy cheese soufflé made with local cow cheeses and sprinkled with the zest of a lime.
What to Do
This is the Swiss Alps: You don’t have to go far to find nature options galore. Kirstie Swinnerton, Editor of Verbier Life magazine recommends hiking the Sentier des Chamois. “It’s challenging, but well worth the effort. It’s also possible to stay overnight at Cabane de Louvie, which overlooks a beautiful high altitude lake.” You could also take a stroll along the Bisse du Levron, historic irrigation channels dating back to the 13th century, or venture out over a glacier on Cabane FXB Panossière, one of the highest suspension bridges in Europe.
Verbier hosts a handful of cultural events throughout the year: July and August brings Verbier Festival, a renowned classical music festival. Also in August is Grand Raid, the world’s longest mountain bike race, 125 kilometers from Verbier to Grimentz. Rocklette is an outdoor rock music festival for “lovers of rock, cheese, and mountains.”
But for something uniquely — and superlatively — Swiss, come for the cow fights, which run from March through August (download the schedule here). As Swinnerton told me, “Each spring, the region’s bold and beautiful Hérens cows emerge from the winter sheltering of their warm sheds and once again bring life to fields and mountain pastures.” The cows naturally fight without any provocation "in order to establish the hierarchy within the herd. The local community comes to see which cow will become queen.” Does it get more quirky Swiss than this?
Where to Stay
W Verbier, the first Alpine outpost of the in-your-face brand with a playful approach to luxury, operates year-round. With pops of neon against a palette of neutrals and exposed wood, guest rooms are sleek, spacious, and contemporary with playful nods to the Swiss surroundings rather than going full-on Swiss kitsch (Think: a coffee table book on the history of Helvetica and a modern electric fireplace over antlers and wood-burning fires). Taking advantage of the epic location, rooms are augmented with massive picture windows and chalet-style, wood-beamed balconies that show off that endless mountainscape. In warmer months, the après-ski bar W Off Piste morphs into a beach bar packed with feel-good summer vibes, with sand, volleyball, palm trees, deck chairs, and seasonal bites and brews.
Another hotel option for off-season Verbier is the chic boutique Hotel Farinet. With just 20 rooms open to guests during certain weeks in the spring and summer, this hotel is one of the oldest in town, though it's sporting a recent facelift. Some of the rooms have stand-alone soaking tubs (perfect for some post-hiking relaxation) and the penthouse suite grants you a private sauna.
Plan Your Trip
How to Get There
Verbier is about a two-hour scenic train ride from Geneva airport. Because the train station is in the airport, this option is budget-friendly and painless.
Good to Know
Some year-round restaurants (like Vie Montagne) take a small break in May (at the end of ski season) and re-open in June.
Beginning in June, ski lifts are open on the weekends. They’re useful for accessing higher hikes and mountain bike routes. From July, they’re open every day. Pick up a Verbier Infinite Playground pass from your hotel for free lift access. Some hiking and biking trails at the higher altitudes are only accessible when the snow melts, which varies depending on the year. If you have any questions, you can check in with the Verbier tourist office.
“Don’t be put off with the perception that Switzerland is super expensive,” advises Swinnerton. Verbier.ch is a good resource for hotel deals and out-of-season prices.
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