You know the old travel cliché: if you want to know where to visit, buy a guidebook; if you want to know what’s worth visiting, ask a local. Well, we believe the same applies to skiing, only more so. Think about it: even the best-drawn piste maps struggle to show how mountains fit together, and they often miss out off-piste valleys, where the best powder is to be found, altogether.
TripAdvisor restaurant guides can’t really be trusted, and as useful as they are, Google Maps’ knife and fork symbols can’t ever capture a café’s vibe, or tell you if there’s a cool cover band playing in a particular bar, on a particular night. With that in mind, when we set about compiling a guide to the highlights of Switzerland’s Valais region, we thought we’d go straight to the source. We asked four locals, from a variety of different backgrounds, to tell us what they love most about four of the region’s most storied resorts. Here we focus on the Region Dents du Midi, and its six charming villages...
Skiing in the Region Dents du Midi
If you’ve been to the Portes du Soleil, you’ve very likely skied this region, maybe without appreciating its distinct character as the Swiss sector within the wider cross-border PdS ski domain with its 600km of pistes. The Region Dents du Midi encompasses 6 charming villages nestled in the spectacular Val d’Illiez, including the ski villages of Champéry, Morgins, Les Crosets and Champoussin. The Dents du Midi themselves are the seven peaks of the mountain range that forms the backdrop to a skiing holiday here.
At the area’s outside edge, Champéry is one of the oldest tourist places in Switzerland and combines charm and authenticity with its chalets lining a picturesque village street bustling with shops and places to eat. Les Crosets is very much the nerve centre of the Swiss side, with great connections; Champoussin is ideal for beginners, with gentle slopes, while Morgins marks the link between the Swiss and French terrain.
Whisper it… but the Swiss side is often quieter, more relaxed and more fun to ski!
Introducing Lara Berra, Region Dents du Midi
There was never any doubt that Lara Berra would grow up to be a brilliant skier. She was born to skiing royalty (her father Christophe was on the Swiss national team, and her sister Camillia represented the country in slopestyle at the Sochi 2014 Olympics) and grew up in the town of Champéry. Like her sister, who followed the freestyle skiing circuit around the world, Lara travelled a lot in her 20s. In the end, however, they both decided there was no place quite like home. She and Camillia returned to Champéry to settle down, and took over the running of the family business, The Hotel Suisse, a few years ago. Here, she explains what brought her back, and why the village is so special.
Obviously you grew up in the Region Dents du Midi. What are your earliest memories? My first memories are basically just being outside all the time. No matter the weather, my parents would take us out skiing, biking, hiking, whatever...we would even ski to school. It’s a really safe place too, so when you’re old enough you can do these things by yourself, and you can just walk everywhere.
What’s one thing you’ve only come to appreciate after living here for years? We’re really close to Geneva, and Lausanne, so people can live here and work there, which makes it more diverse. It means that it feels more like a real place, not just a tourist village. In Champéry, it sort of feels like we’re one big family, but one which welcomes lots of outsiders every year. And of course, even though it’s a small village, we still have access to this huge ski area, the Portes du Soleil, with 600km of pistes.
As well as being part of the Champéry family, you work with your actual family too, what’s that like? Well, my sister is my best friend—we tell each other everything all the time. She’s always been the competitive one though! When she started doing slopestyle and hitting the jumps and stuff we were a bit scared. We would stand at the side of the park and my mum would be like: ‘oh just be careful, please’ [laughs]. But of course, she ended up in the Olympics, and we’re just so proud of her. We’re lucky, because we’re a really close family.
Are there any downsides to it? The only thing is that out of me and my sister, the two hotel directors, I’m the one who lives the closest to the hotel. So if something goes wrong, I’m usually the one who gets called first. [laughs]
Apart from your hotel, where’s the best place in the Region Dents du Midi for visitors to experience that welcoming atmosphere? A great après spot, perhaps? For après, there are two great choices. I like to stop at The Red, which is at the top of the main cable car. They have a really nice selection of music and you get the best view around here. It’s a 360 degree view on the mountains, with the Dents du Midi right in front of you. If it’s a bit less sunny, I would come down here to Champéry, to Le Bar des Guides, which is more like a small pub. When it’s busy, it can be elbow to elbow, really crowded, but that gives it a great atmosphere. It’s actually the bar attached to our hotel, so I don’t know if I should promote our own bar, but it genuinely is the place where all the locals go [laughs]. It’s really good fun.
Where’s your favourite place to ski when the snow is good in the Region Dents du Midi? There are two places that I really like. The first one is Morgins. There are really nice runs through the forests, and it’s pretty safe, even if it’s snowing heavily. Then there’s another one here on the Champéry side called Grand Paradis—it’s the big run that runs to the village, that’s great with fresh snow on it too.
Region Dents du Midi in numbers
Ski area: 600km
Altitude range: 930m - 2,277m
Resort height: 1,050m
Where to stay in the Region Dents du Midi
The Hotel Suisse, run by Lara and her Olympian sister Camillia, combines traditional Swiss charm with modern service. A standout hotel.
Where to eat in the Region Dents du Midi
“My favourite mountain restaurant is definitely Chez Coquoz,” recommends Lara. “It’s a family-owned restaurant and they’ve been there for years. Their terrace is amazing, it’s in the sun the whole day, protected from the wind, and the menu is a mix between really fancy food, and traditional Swiss stuff, which they do really well too.”
Buvette Chez Yoyo and Jibi, Les Croset
This traditional ‘canteen’ has a typical Valais charm and makes a great pit-stop.
Great for après-ski with friends or family, with a children's corner is available for parents to fully enjoy the aperitif, table football, darts and billiards for older children, the restaurant here offers a regularly updated seasonal bistro menu, while the beer cellar has more than 70 beers to try.
Must-do’s in the Region Dents du Midi
If you’re up for a challenge, The Swiss Wall, off the Pas de Chavanette, is known as one of the steepest and most difficult descents in the world with up to 76% gradient! It extends over 1 km and its field of moguls are famously as big as VW Beetles!
If the park is your thing, then hit the Superpark, located in the heart of the Swiss sector, accessible in a few minutes by the cable car from Champéry or the Crosets chairlift from Les Crosets.
For all-round joy, the Grand Paradis run on the Champéry side is hard to beat. You can even try paragliding down from the Croix-de-Culet!
Try your hand at Déval’kart and hurtle down the mountain in a specially-designed 4x4 go-cart. One for the thrill-seekers!
Take part in the Foilleuse Vertical Challenge, a ski touring race that takes place on 29th December 2023 on the legendary Montée de la Foilleuse.
Party at the Rock the Pistes Festival, on 17th - 23rd March 2024 and end the season in style.
We were hosted by Valais/Wallis Promotion and the Switzerland Tourist Board. Go to regiondentsdumidi.ch for more information about this fantastic ski area and for great offers, visit the Valais Online Shop.