Canton Valais. Sion – castles and bisse canals

Last Updated on 07/10/2023

The canton Valais consists almost entirely of the Rhone valley from its source from the glacier of the same name to Lake Geneva. Already at the beginning of its journey, it is a very powerful river, and its valley is deep and rather wide. The further and higher you drive into it, the less greenery, more stones and wilder. But before Sion, the area is fertile enough to grow a lot of fruit and grapes.

Sion (Sitten) – the capital of the canton of Valais and a fairly large city.

Lake Geneva
South of Lake Neuchâtel map
Around Lake Neuchâtel – what to see: Neuchatel, Biel, Murten
Neuchatel Lake. 1. Estavayer
Vallorbe Caves

How to get to Sion

From Montreux to Sion 60 km – approx. 40 minutes on the autobahn.
By train, about the same, without transfers. A discount card for transport and attractions for a different number of days is called the Easy Card.


Canals of Valais – a unique irrigation system on the rocks

You are amazed at the perseverance and hard work of the locals. Every piece of land on steep slopes is used, moreover, irrigated.

From the 14th century, local residents created and maintained an irrigation system: ponds and lakes were arranged in the mountains, water was drained from them along wooden and stone gutters. Sometimes bridges were built for the gutters, sometimes they were suspended over the abyss. There are photographs of people standing over the abyss, who are inspecting the gutters. By typing bisse valaisans in Google pictures, you can see old and new photos of the trails.

Now these man-made canals, which are called bisse, are also used for tourism purposes: as trails for hikers. There are many routes of varying length and difficulty along the canals. For example, the stunning Bisse de Saviese.

The most picturesque are located higher in the mountains, but you can easily get out of Sion to some of the canals. On the map of the city, which is given out for free in the information, just three of them are indicated. On this site you can choose the right route for you:

A short walk along the bisse de Montorge

As the bisse available to us, I first chose Bisse Clavau as the closest to the center of Sion. But its nearest end to the city does not have parking, so we drove to Montorge lake and ruins – there I was sure of parking.

We were not interested in the ruins of the castle, but were interested in Bisse de Montorge, which was described as simple and accessible for children. I would say that a narrow path at a height of two meters without a fence is not accessible to all children. Of course, you are unlikely to break your head, but very likely some others protruding parts of the body.

Sion bisse
Sion castles

After photographing the stunning views as far as the bright sun would allow, we turned back so we didn’t have to climb too far up the mountain.

I don’t know if they have this every year or not, but there are a lot of grapes.


Apples are ok too.


And now let’s go to the city and climb one of those fortresses that rise so picturesquely on the rocks (Spoiler: the children, as the most intelligent, categorically refused to climb the left of them, so I had to limit ourselves to the right one).

A little history

Sion is an ancient settlement, the oldest of the Alps. More than 8 thousand years ago people already lived here. Numerous finds date back to 4500 BC when the population increased. The name of the city is traced back to the Celtic tribe Seduner. Not so long ago, a huge Celtic necropolis with 200 graves was discovered.

In 15 BC The Romans conquered Valais. Sion had a lager. It is believed that the name of the Valere hill comes from the name of the mother of the Roman chief Valeria, who mourned her grandson there.

Since 580, Sion has been the seat of the bishopric of Valais. Under the bishops, the inhabitants of the city enjoyed relative independence in administration. But they, unlike other large cities in Switzerland, could not subjugate the surrounding lands.

Only in 1815 the canton became part of Switzerland.

Sion attractions

Sion itself deserves attention no less than the canals: three picturesque fortresses on the hills and a not very big old town. There are other entertainments in it, but there is not enough time for them as part of a day trip.

A few words about the name. Sion is the French name of the city, Sitten is the German one. But more often they use the French name. The population of the city is predominantly French-speaking, but speaking German was not a problem (here I finally felt like a man after Lake Geneva and Annecy).

The city is not too picturesque, unpretentious.

17th century town hall with astronomical clock.

Sion castles

We start to rise.

Visible fortress Majorie – now a museum of art. The fortress was built in the 14th century and was the residence of the bishops until the fire of 1788.

Sion castles / Sitten Burgen
Sion castles / Sitten Burgen

Behind it is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame du Glarier. After the fires in the 15th century, the cathedral was also rebuilt, but the Romanesque tower was preserved from the previous building.

Sion castles / Sitten Burgen

The fortress Tourbillon, the one on the left and above, was built in the 13th-14th centuries, served as a summer residence until the fire of the 18th century, and before that it successfully withstood sieges. But the fire and the lack of funds for repair turned out to be worse than the sieges – in the 19th century the fortress was in ruins and the inhabitants decided to restore it (not without thinking about the tourist attraction).

Sitten Burgen / Sion castles

On the hill Montorge opposite – the ruins of the fortress of the 13th century. There we walked along the bisse. These ruins are quite ruinous.

Sion / Sitten
Sion / Sitten

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We climbed to the church-fortress of Notre-Dame de Valere.

The donjon of the fortress is the bell tower of the basilica. The pilgrimage church, which has the status of a minor basilica (an honorary status in the Catholic Church), was built in the 12th century (high Romanesque) and the 13th century (Gothic). Pilgrims come to the statue of Our Lady with Christ. Here is also the oldest working organ in the world (15th century). In the buildings at the foot of the church is a historical museum.


Let’s go around a bit. From the Valere hill, the Tourbillon fortress did not become lower and the desire to climb there did not increase.

Sion / Sitten

Upstream the Rhone

Sion / Sitten
Sion / Sitten

Church and fortress from highway.


What else is there in Sion

Alaïa Bay – wave pool for surfing.

underground lake Lac souterrain St. Leonard. Link

Domaine des Iles – lake, rope park

All sights of the canton on the map
Other posts about region – #French Switzerland

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