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Sion, Switzerland

Notre-Dame-de-Valère, Sion

ABOVE: Church of Notre-Dame-de-Valère.

The 2,000-year-old town of Sion is the capital of Valais, or Wallis, a canton that is roughly 3/4 French-speaking and lies along the Rhône River between Lake Geneva and the Furka Pass. Although Valais has been part of the Swiss Confederation only since 1815, Sion has had a Catholic bishop since the 4th Century and enjoyed near-sovereign status during the Middle Ages.

Today, Sion is more of an administrative and market center than a tourist magnet--a role that makes it all the more appealing to visitors who want to sample the "real Switzerland." Yet it does have its share of tourist attractions, most notably the fortress of Château de Tourbillon and an 11th-Century church, Notre-Dame-de-Valère (see photo).

The château and church are built on a pair of steep hills that rise dramatically from the plain along the river Rhône. The château is little more than a ruin with a view, but the Valère church is still going strong after more than 800 years. It also has what is claimed to be the world's oldest functioning organ, along with a cantonal museum that houses prehistoric objects, Roman artworks, furniture from the days when Sion's bishops lived and ruled like princes, and examples of local crafts.

Other attractions in Sion:

Sion has a Natural History Museum with recently discovered dinosaur fossils, a Museum of Art, a Museum of Antiquities, and a cathedral (Notre-Dame-de-Glarier). Allow time  for a visit to the Maison Supersaxo (east of the Place de la Planta), where you can get a taste of 16th Century luxury living.

Getting to the sights

Sion is located on Switzerland's east-west railway line between Montreux and Brig. If you don't care to spend the night in Sion, you can have lunch and see the sights in a few hours before resuming your train journey.

From the railroad station, head up the Avenue de la Gare, which is perpendicular to the station and leads to the town center. A short walk will bring you to the Place da la Planta, which has the Palais du Gouvernment (the cantonal capital) and other buildings of interest. Walk to the far end of the square and head right, past the Palais, where you'll see the church of St. Théodule. The cathedral is just beyond on a square of its own.

When you've explored the town center and are ready to see Notre-Dame-de-Valère, follow the Rue des Châteaux, which heads roughly east from the St. Théodule Church and the Hôtel de Ville or City Hall. You'll pass the art museum in the Château de la Majorie and curve right toward the hill, passing the All Saints Chapel (Tous-les-Saints) along the way. From there, you can't miss the Valère Church, which sits 395 feet (120 meters) above the town on a steep hill.

If you have time, you can detour to the even more imposing hill of the Château de Tourbillon. From the ruins, you'll get a nice view of the town and Valère.

By car: Park in the center of town and walk, or drive to the parking lot at the end of the Rue des Châteaux.

Sion Web links

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