Four days at Salgesch – hiking in and around the vineyards

In September 2020, I stayed four days at Salgesch. With a friend, we had booked a studio in the beautiful BnB Vino Veritas.

Source: Google Maps

Let us start by exploring the village centre of Salgesch and walking above Salgesch along the Suone (water channel) to the Raspille canyon.

Salgesch – the centre

Salgesch is surrounded by vineyards that form kind of an amphitheatre above the village.

Some vineyards are very steep.

The centre of Salgesch is pretty with houses typical of the Valais…

… such as the wine museum.

In the 13th century, Saint John’s association (also called the Order of Malta) founded a hospital at Salgesch. Presumably due to that, the main church is dedicated to John the Baptist.

John the Baptist appears on the stained windows. Here, he is dressed in his fur coat and accompanied by the Agnus Dei.

The benches demonstrate that Salgesch is connected with vines.

The bakery and many vineyards at Salgesch are owned by families with the name “Mathier”. Old family traditions. Also “my” winegrower is called Mathier. He sells all the traditional wines of the Valais such as Petite Arvine, Amigne, Heida (white) or Cornalin, Humagne Rouge (red) as well as the “usual” grapes Chasselas (called Fendant here), Sylvaner (called Johannisberg here), Gamay (the Beaujolais grape), Pinot Noir (the Burgundy grape, often blended with Gamay, which is called Dôle) or Shiraz (the Côte du Rhone grape). We will benefit from tasting their wines.

Along the Suone above the vineyards to the creek La Raspille

When walking uphill through the vineyards towards Varon, we enjoy the widening view. Through the vines, we can see the Rhone valley with Salgesch below us.

We catch the Mengis Suone, which is a water channel that is fed from the Raspille; now it is without water.

Such water channels are in use in the whole Valais. They are called “Suonen” in the German speaking Upper Valais and “bisses” in the French speaking Middle and Lower Valais. It is assumed that building these water channels goes back to the 14th century, when cattle breeding came up that required pasture land providing hay as winter forage (see Gilbert A. Rouvinez, p. 5).

The canyon of the Raspille is the language border between German (Upper Valais) and French (Lower and Middle Valais).

On the French speaking side we follow the water channel that leads to Sierre.

Panels explain the geology, biology and culture. On the French speaking side of the Raspille, the text comes first in French and then in German. One panel clarifies the reason for the large barren area above Salgesch, called “Blatta”, which is bordered by steep rocks on the top. In the last Ice Age, the Rhone valley was filled with ice. When the glacier retreated, this slope became unstable. It ended with a huge landslide that broke off from the rocks and slid down over the “Blatta” to create small hills in the valley that are good for winegrowing.

From below, we can see two lines of trees on the “Blatta”; they indicate, where the water channels are: The Menings Wasserleitu (the “small” lower channel) and the Grossi Wasserleitu (the “large” upper channel).

Where the Raspille reaches the bottom of the Rhone valley, water erosion created spectacular pyramids.

The water cemented the pebbles and chalk rocks from the landslide, some parts more, some parts less; the harder parts resisted the subsequent erosion and remained as pyramids.

The pyramids gave their name to one range of wines of our wine grower Mathier: “Les Pyramides”. We learnt that, when degusting at their winery.

The chapel Maria of Seven Sorrows (Kapelle Maria Sieben Schmerzen)

On a small hill, the chapel Maria of Seven Sorrows guards over Salgesch.

The small and steep Way of the Cross winds up to the chapel. It is not possible to get there by car.

The chapel is closed…

… and we enjoy the view of the Rhone valley with the Pfynwald from here.

Post Scriptum: Why is the canton Valais called “Valais” and why is it bi-lingual?

Back at home, I wonder, why the Valais is called “Valais” and why it is bi-lingual with French spoken in the Lower and Middle Valley up to the Raspille/Pfynwald, while in the Upper Valais, the people speak German. They are difficult to understand by us whom they call “Üsserschwiizer” or “Outer Swiss people”. Here is a short summary of what I found.

After 1000 B.C, Celts immigrated to the secluded Rhone valley and called it just “valley” (Nant in the Celtic language). The Rhone valley is indeed secluded, surrounded by rough mountains in the north, east and south. The Rhone valley only opens to the Lake of Geneva in the west. The Romans conquered the area in 57 B.C. and named it “Vallis” (=”valley” in Latin). They Romanized the Celts, and until the eight century, their variety of the Latin language evolved to something called Franco-Provencal (also “patois” which translates to “dialect”). In the 6th century, the Burgundians and later the Francs conquered the Valais, while north from here, Alemannic tribes slowly migrated into the Bernese Alps.

Until the 9th/10th century, Franco-Provençal was spoken in the Lower, Middle AND Upper Valais. Village names in the Upper Valais tell us about that: “Geschinen” comes from “Casina”, and “Gestelen” originates from “Castiglione” (Meyer, p.3).  In the 9/10th century, the Alemannic tribes from the Bernese Alps immigrated into the Upper Valais, probably using the Lötschenpass, the Gemmipass and the Grimselpass. They “imported” the Alemannic Dialect, as it was spoken in the Bernese Alps. Now I understand, why I hear similarities between the dialects of the Bernese Alps and the Valais (which I both do not always understand easily).

Around the year 1000, the king of High Burgundy handed over the Upper and Middle Valais to the bishop of Sitten/Sion, and at about the same time, the Savoyards conquered the Lower Valais along with some places in the other parts of the Valais. They strived to subdue the whole Rhone valley or Valais. However, they met resistance. In the 14th century, the Alemannic people from the Upper Valais were inspired by the will of freedom of the original Swiss cantons, and they took over the lead to fight against the Savoys. The Alemannic speaking Upper Valais conquered the Middle Valais up to Sitten. The bishop had to give special rights to the German speaking people from the Upper Valais for supporting him against Savoy.

In 1475, an army from the Upper Valais, assisted by the original Swiss cantons (“Eidgenossen”), defeated the Savoys near Sitten. The French speaking Lower Valais became a subdued area of the Upper Valley (“Untertanengebiet”; many original cantons had such subdued zones). The German language was now the ruling language in the Valais, while the French language had the stigma of being related with the enemy, Savoy. The prevalence of the German language lasted until 1798.

In 1798, inspired by the French Revolution, the French speaking people from the Lower and Middle Valais demanded their rights and the German speaking people granted them more rights, however, too late. Napoleon conquered the Valais and made it a French province in 1802; in 1810 it became the Département du Simplon. Now, under Napoleon, the French language dominated.

In 1815, during the Congress of Vienna, the Valais joined Switzerland. From now on French and German formally had equal rights, which was confirmed in 1844, when French and German became both approved national languages in Switzerland. However, the majority of people living in the new canton Valais spoke French and therefore French dominated over the German language. With the construction of the Lötschberg tunnel in 1913, the Upper Valais moved “closer” to German speaking Bern which gave the German speaking people of the Valais more self-confidence again.

Since the 1960’s, the tensions between the language groups have decreased and cross-language communication has improved.

Sources:
Gilbert A. Rouvinez, “Balades le long des BISSES du VALAIS”, 180 Editions 2020.
Jean-Pierre Meyer, “Zur Geschichte des Sprachverlaufs im Wallis”, PDF o Jahrgang
André Beerli, “La Suisse Inconnue: Valais”, TCS Suisse et Shell Switzerland, without date
Further reading: Excellent blog by the Freizeitfreunde.