Communes of Ardet
The commune is composed of 11 villages, none of which, in fact, is called Ayent: Anzère, Argnou, Blignou, Botyre, Fortunau, La Maya, La Place-Villa, Luc, Saxonne, Signèse and St-Romain.
The commune of Ayent stretches from the Rhone plain to the Bernese Alps, right over to Wildhorn (altitude of 3248 m). All the different altitudes and vegetation characteristic of the sunny side of the main Valais valley can be found on this territory some 20 kilometres in length, that is to say villages on small terraces at an altitude of around 1000 m; then above these villages, at an altitude of 1500-1600 m, in a mountainous area partly covered with forest, ancient “mayens” dwellings browned by the sun; then higher up, starting at 2000 m, Alpine pastures. Perched at an altitude of 1500 m, on a plain formerly covered by pastures, the Anzère resort looks down over the Rhone valley. Its panoramic view stretches from Birtschhorn in the Mont-Blanc massif, with twelve summits rising up to more than 4000 m. Anzère is a medium-sized, welcoming and hospitable resort.
The heart of the resort is really unique: a pedestrian area where shops, restaurants, terraces, areas of play and relaxation, and a Spa and Wellness centre form a continuous shopping mall. In winter, once a week on the square, traditional hot wine is prepared in an immense cauldron and offered to all visitors to the village. An ideal opportunity to get to know people, and forges ties with the village inhabitants. In winter, the resort offers visitors 58 km of ski runs of all levels. In summer some are converted into mountain bike trails (4 different circuits, 40 km of marked trails), whilst numerous hiking trails take you through meadows, forests and alpine pastures, along by Ayent bisse irrigation canal to Rawyl Pass, Wildhorn Glacier, Zeuzier Dam or Les Audannes mountain hut, at an altitude of 2508 m.
Located between Anzère and Grimisuat, at mid-altitude (1,150 m), the commune of Arbaz has the same healthy, sunny climate (perched on the Adret mountain slope, facing due south), and a magnificent unimpeded view over the Rhone valley and the Valais Alps. You will be charmed by the friendliness and calm that reigns in this small village of one thousand inhabitants, which has conserved its old dwellings with their special style. It the paradise of contemplatives, whether they prefer dreaming during long walks through larch forests or along the bisses irrigation canals, as they fish with a line and rod from the banks of one of the commune’s two lakes, or star-gaze. Indeed, Les Creusets observatory is located between Arbaz and Anzère at an altitude of 1400. This observatory belongs to the Société astronomique du Valais romand and is managed by a team of voluntary workers who regularly organise visits for the general public and audiovisual presentations. In return for a reasonably priced subscription fee, those interested can have access to its equipment (two 20 cm telescopes, a large 40 cm telescope, a high resolution camera and five terminals for astrophotography).
Those in good physical shape will find things to do to fill their days. Arbaz has a rock face of excellent quality dolomitic limestone rising to a height of 40 meters, accessible very early in the year until the start of winter. With its three sectors with 42 routes, Arbaz cliff is ideal for beginners and experienced climbers. Arbaz also has tennis courts and numerous mountain bike trails.
A little below Arbaz, at an altitude of between 600 and 1000 m, to the west, you will find Grimisuat. This commune is in an intermediary location, between plain and mountain, near the town and its amenities (Sion with its shopping facilities and cantonal administration is just 10 min. away), but in a protected, peaceful environment. It is an ideal residential area and Valais inhabitants realised this - its population has practically tripled since the 1970s. The commune has currently 3,000 inhabitants, shared between the village of Champlan, on the lower plain, and the main village on the second plain, linked by the villa zone of Coméraz.
To the east of the village of Grimisuat, the construction of a new zone of detached houses is planned for end 2011. These recent constructions will not let you forget the ancient roots of Grimisuat, to which bear witness the Christa castle dating back to 1200, and the 117-hectare vineyard in terraces at mid-slope, surrounding Champlain and its neighbouring hamlets. In this residential setting, the focus is on quality of life, physical development (Vita trails, children’s playground, lake for fishing, summer pool, tennis court, two gymnasiums, etc.) and cultural development (traditional folk music and choral associations, people’s university, library, leisure activity library, theatre company, etc.). There is everything to incite you to come and take part in village life. A number of painters, sculptors and musicians have settled in the commune to take advantage of the atmosphere encouraging creation.
By going a little further west we come to the commune of Savièse, located on a plain overlooking Sion. It consists ofs six villages (St-Germain, the main village, in the centre, Drône to the east, Granois and Chandolin to the west, Roumaz and Ormône to the south) and a few hamlets nestling in vineyards and unspoilt nature. The reputed Savièse vineyard stretches over close to 300 hectares on a sunny mountain slope fed by the wild water of the Tsanfleuron glacier, patiently channelled into an irrigation system in the 15th century. Fendant, Pinot, Petite Arvine, Muscat and many other wines are produced from the grapes that are grown here. They can be tasted in the commune’s cellar and, of course, in the village bars and restaurants.
The welcome in these bars and restaurants, as in the hotels and guest houses, is simple but cordial and authentic, just like the unspoilt nature that stretches to the limits of the commune. To visitors, this nature offers all the pleasures of gentle tourism. They can discover Sanetsch on foot, to the outward reach of the Tsanfleuron ice, on one of the most imposing karst sites in Europe; they can go along by the bisse irrigation system of Torrent-Neuf that clings to the side of steep rock walls; or take the paths through forests and vineyards to visit the ruins of Savoy castle, the summer residence of the Sion bishops. During these walks, visitors will not fail to be surprised by the special light that bathes this splendid natural landscape, a light that makes the vegetation shimmy and the running water shimmer. Since the end of the 19th century, it has appealed to many artists who have set up their easels here. The works of the painters of this Savièse School are displayed at the Maison de la Culture and the Maison de Commune of St-Germain.
If now we go down to the plain, returning to the east, we arrive at the last leg of this walk in central Valais, St-Léonard. It is still a wine-growing commune. With a vineyard of some 100 hectares, covering the entire mountain slope to the edge of the forests, St-Léonard is one of the five Valais communes that can boast a Grand Cru selection, an appellation awarded by an independent commission. The vines cultivated and harvested in this region are enjoyed in village bars and restaurants, and wine cellars. In St-Léonard, art occupies a special place.
The church in the old village, Sonvillaz, has been transformed into a magnificent gallery that welcomes local and regional artists all year round. Once a year, for three weeks, a renowned artist is invited to create an event here: an exhibition, practical work, conferences, discussions of all types, He may even go to meet the public to get people to enter his world, to explain his creative approach and his artistic sensitivity. But it is for another work of art, entirely shaped by nature, that many travellers primarily come to visit St-Léonard, that is to say its underground lake discovered in 1943, the largest navigable lake of its kind in Europe (more than 300 metres long, 20 meters wide and an average of 10 metres high). This grotto, like a natural cathedral sculpted in gypsum, has truly amazing ferruginous decorations. Each year, 80,000 visitors come to admire them, in an unreal half-light, as they slide slowly over the calm water on boats carrying some fifteen passengers.