Walking along the Bisse through the Ayent vineyards
Link to detailed route page and map click on route title
- Distance 13.681 km
- Time 3 h 40 min
- Speed 4.0 km/h
- Min altitude 496.000 m
- Peak 1,036.000 m
- Climb 374.000 m
- Descent 914.000 m
As I mentioned in my post Sion Castles, we saw a ‘new’ Bisse on our ride yesterday and thought it would be the perfect time to hike it with the wine harvest in full swing. After a bit of research found that it was called the Bisse de Clavau, it was built around 1450 and overlooks the Rhône Valley between St Léonard and Sion. The Bissse is still in active use, irrigating the Ayent, Grimisuat and Sion terraced vineyards. There were numerous information boards along its length which gave fascinating insights into the:
- Construction of a hydro electric power station at the turn of the C19, including diverting water through a 900m tunnel to funnel it to the power station.
- The geological formation of the gorge and the Valais valley as the glaciers retreated.
- The construction of the terraces which, I think, were initially used for food before being replanted with vines.
- different types of local grape varietals and so on.
Although my French is limited we were able to make out a broad sense of the info-boards and it enriched our hike.
Back to which, as this is a one way hike, after a coffee and croissants at Migros (great value) we got a bus from Sion Station to Icogne. The trail took us down (about 350m) through pastureland (where we saw some domesticated deer grazing) and mixed forest to a bridge crossing of La Liène at the head of the gorge (about 700m altitude).
After we passed a small dam where water is diverted to the Beulet power plant the path follows the route of the old Bisse (not in use along this section) along the sides of the Liène gorge with magnificent plunging views of the river and cliffs opposite. There is a short tunnel we had to go through – unlit and I had forgotten our torch, but Mike pointed out we had a light on the phone – very helpful. That was fun. Note, the small dam is where the old Bisse used to start from until the stone bridge used as an aqueduct collapsed I913.
Once we reached the end of the gorge at the old power plant the Bisse was back in commission and the path contoured round the vineyards, crossing our cycle trail of yesterday. Unfortunately the clouds had closed in so our views were not quite as spectacular – but just gives us another reason to come back and do the hike again. One thing which is striking in this area are the steeply terraced vineyards separated by drystone walls providing a beautiful patchwork view down into the valley.
We enjoyed sampling some of the grapes. Stopped off for coffee and pear/nut tart at la Guérite Brûlefer bar overlooking Sion. https://famillerouvinez.com/en/estates/bonvin/#history We had a charming waiter who explained that the harvest starts on the lower slopes first and that the grapes are planted at different altitudes with (Gamay, Fendant / Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernay Sauvignon) planted in ascending order. Rates for pickers are circa 25chf ph. No wonder skilled decorators are expensive!
From here it was a short walk back down into Sion, through the old town below the Cathedral and back to our car. Another excellent day and a hike I would happily share with visitors given it was so varied and interesting, as well as largely flat or downhill!