Melting glaciers, sweeter grapes, and fewer mushrooms: the consequences of a heating planet are especially apparent in the southern Switzerland region of Valais.
In an ambitious mission, two renowned organizations have teamed up to preserve the flavors and ingredients of the world. It would be a shame if authentic foods such as Graubünden Dried Beef or Montreux Black Cherry go extinct.
Making a difference through food
Meet the Slow Food Ark of Taste. The aptly named preservation program was created in 1996. It now catalogs more than 6100 foods from across the globe, including 77 from Switzerland. Think of rare alpine herbs, teas, breads, sausages, grape varieties, or cheese.
Every year, Slow Food promotes a particular theme as part of its Food for Change initiative. This helps to draw attention to certain members of the proverbial ark. In 2023, the organization is showcasing locally-produced wine and cheese.
That’s a perfect theme for Switzerland, given the country’s abundance of both. We are lucky enough to eat our way through the Food for Change campaign, thanks to Relais & Châteaux.
As a global network with top-notch hotels and restaurants in 65 countries, Relais & Châteaux realized that it could make a tremendous positive impact. Many hotel managers and chefs have already committed to sustainable practices. And there is a thirst to do more.
In Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the prestigious organization with roots in southern France counts two dozen members. We have previously indulged in the restaurants and beds of several Swiss Relais & Châteaux hotels.
This time around, we are invited to taste the culinary heritage of Valais by visiting three more Relais & Châteaux hotels. The journey takes us to the Walliserhof Grand Hotel in Saas-Fee, Chalet Schönegg in Zermatt, and Chalet d'Adrian in Verbier.
In each house, the resident chef offers his own interpretation of the Food for Change theme, treating us with delicious wines and mouth-watering cheeses.
Walliserhof Grand Hotel in Saas-Fee for glamour and gusto
The Walliserhof Grand Hotel Saas-Fee is a beacon of luxury in this remote valley. Over four decades ago, George Michael and his WHAM! band members graced the hotel, giving the music video of "Last Christmas" its picturesque backdrop.
Fast forward to the present: the hotel has transformed and is sporting a modern interior design, yet without compromising the features of an alpine lodge.
We've once stayed in a modern suite in the pool house during a ski weekend. But this time around, we get to experience the nostalgia of yesteryear: the hotel hands us the keys to the George Michael penthouse!
This memorabilia-laden attic suite has a free-standing bathtub, skylights, and a fireplace. Also, a long balcony with sweeping views of the Fee Glacier. (This is the same glacier we’ve seen up close during a glacier hike.)
Down at the hotel’s restaurant, the young and talented Chef Michael Wirkes plays a role in the Food for Change campaign. He stays true to the tastes of Valais: his menu has an appetizer of Swiss trout with mountain thyme sorbet, braised fennel, and apricot.
The Fendant white wine soup adds yet another local touch. But our favorite is the heavenly dessert shaped like a honeycomb. It's a concoction of pear, Valais honey, and buckwheat. What a feast for the eyes - and a treat for the palate!
Chalet Schönegg for a glimpse into Zermatt's legacy
In the neighboring Matter valley lies Chalet Schönegg, the first and only Relais & Châteaux hotel in Zermatt. The hotel is perched at an elevated position above the town. But there is no need to wear hiking boots: from deep inside the mountain below, a 90-meter-long elevator whisks us straight to the lobby.
Chalet Schönegg is run in the third generation by Anna and Sebastian Metry, two siblings deeply rooted in Zermatt. Their grandfather had opened no less than five hotels that he passed down to his four children - the parents of today’s hotel directors.
"We want to continue impressing with our wine selection, including our own vines," says Sebastian. True to his ambition, we enjoy a wine and dried meat tasting on the hotel's glass-shielded Infinity Terrace.
We marvel at the legendary Matterhorn with a glass of Humange white. And we realize this hotel's innate connection with the Food for Change initiative. The local Humange grape variety is a Slow Food Ark of Taste member.
Our experience is completed with a four-course dinner at the in-house Restaurant Saveurs. Head Chef Reinhold Wrobel combines Raron perch tartar with parsley root and elderberries. And the rest is history...
Chalet d'Adrien in Verbier for mountain charm
On our last day, we transfer to another Valais valley. While Saas-Fee and Zermatt are German-speaking, Verbier is located in the French-speaking part of the canton.
The sun-kissed town is famous for its chalet architecture. And in front of us stands Chalet d'Adrien, the epitome of a Relais & Châteaux property. Its owners designed it from the ground up, with every nook reflecting their passion for hospitality.
We immediately feel at home amid the traditional woodwork and warm hospitality. Built in 2001, the boutique hotel is rather timeless: it looks and feels like a classic chalet from another century.
Wrapped in cozy mountain chalet charm, Chalet d’Adrien features all the modern amenities that a 21st-century globetrotter would expect: spacious suites with tartan upholstery, large windowpanes and terraces, and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The Five-Course Slow Food for Change Dinner
Arguably, the highlight of our media trip is the five-course dinner at Chalet d'Adrien. Five renowned Relais & Châteaux chefs with a total of 4 Michelin stars and 85 Gault & Million points are collaborating on a feast for these lucky bloggers.
Highlighting this year’s theme, each chef has curated a unique wine and cheese pairing from their region. Here are the chefs involved in the Slow Food for Change dinner:
|Chef Name||Hotel Name||Michelin Stars||Gault & Millau Points|
|Sebastiano Lombardi||Le Chalet d’Adrien, Verbier||1||16|
|Stéphane Décotterd||Maison Décotterd, Glion||1||18|
|Christian Moreschi||Villa Principe Leopoldo, Lugano||1||16|
|Stefan Lünse||Lenkerhof gourmet spa resort, Lenk im Simmental||-||17|
|Franck Reynaud||L’Hostellerie du Pas de l’Ours & Aïda Hotel & Spa, Crans-Montana||1||18|
Sebastiano Lombardi dazzles with his char accompanied by fermented Ehringer sour milk.
Stéphane Décotterd teases our taste buds with his combination of parsley root and autumn truffles in an Etivaz emulsion.
We are happy to reconnect with Christian Moreschi from Villa Principe Leopoldo. He presents a meticulous course of potato gnocchi and Ticino ricotta cheese. It's a first for us to try black garlic - especially in combination with citrus fruits.
Stefan Lünse slowly roasted a local mountain pig. The result is a perfect pork belly dish with apple and potato, topped with savory Simmental cheese.
The dessert dish comes as quite a surprise for our taste buds. After this cheese-heavy menu, we probably expected a sorbet, something to refresh our palate.
Instead, Franck Reynaud tosses a culinary curveball: sheep ziger cheese covered with cream and bits of dried bacon, plum, and raspberries.
A select Valais wine courtesy of the sommelier of Chalet d'Adrien complements each course. As is common in this part of Switzerland, there is always traditional Valais rye bread at hand - a Slow Food Ark of Taste protectee itself.
Our culinary journey to three Valais valleys, each with a distinct hotel, has painted an impressive picture. We confirm that Slow Food and Relais & Châteaux truly champion culinary traditions and sustainability through the "Food for Change" campaign.