It’s been almost 3 years since we moved to this Alpine region of Switzerland and started calling it home. Since moving here, we’ve discovered endless family destinations in our bilingual region called Valais (in French) or Wallis (in German). One of the first discoveries we made were the network of trails that follow what are called “Bisse” (in French) or “Suonen” (in German). Here I share the article I wrote for the online magazine NewlySwissed about these extra-ordinary man-made irrigation networks in the Swiss Alps.
Water for Wine
Best for hikers with an appetite for Swiss history and no fear of heights, the historic Suonen irrigation trails in the southern region of Valais is a perfect destination. Home of the largest wine region in Switzerland, the Valais offers endless vineyards to choose from.
It should come to no surprise that hikes in the hillsides of Valais are popular among tourists and locals alike. Ranging from family friendly routes to bewildering cliffside trails, here one can find numerous trails following the Suonen or Bisses, the historic irrigation channels of the valley.
What are they exactly why are they here?
A couple of factors make up the climate of the Valais. First of all, it has a special geography. The Valais is dominated by the wide Rhône valley which in turn is surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Bernese Alps in the north and Valais Alps in the south.
The Rhône valley is known to be the driest in Switzerland but simultaneously has the wettest mountains enclosing it.
Because of this unique geography, the people of the Valais have developed an extraordinary means of guiding the water from the higher and wetter mountain regions to the lower and dryer vineyards and orchards. These constructions date back as early as the 12th century.