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Crans Montana

Two villages joined in an enviable view of the Rhône valley

Crans and Montana are two separate villages that have grown beyond their borders to become one but have managed to retain their distinct characters. Crans Montana sits 1,500 metres above the Rhône valley in one of the sunniest parts of Switzerland. A popular destination in winter, it's less busy in summer but still attracts a varied selection of visitors. In summer Crans Montana is famous for its sunny aspect and golf courses but also offers many lakes and trails.

It's a long climb away from the valley floor that starts at Sierre and meanders through the vineyards of Valais before ascending through small hamlets that blend into each other. The vineyards give way to pastures before entering the coniferous surroundings at the base of Crans. Climbing higher still through Crans to Montana, ski lifts are all that's left to take you from 1,500 metres to the Plaine Morte Glacier at 3,000 metres.

The two villages have a different vibe - Crans is dominated by golf courses and luxury boutiques with Montana serving the more basic needs. Montana is the older of the two, with the first hotels built here in 1892. A handy free bus service links the villages and their satellite areas, many of which are a steep walk away from the centres.

The ski slopes stretch from the Plaine Morte Glacier down through the tree-line and beyond. The pistes are broad and open, more advanced skiers will need to explore further afield to find challenging terrain. In winter the golf courses transform into cross-country ski trails. In summer Crans Montana is all about golf. The 18-hole Severiano Ballesteros Golf Course sits on a high plateau and must have one of the best views of any course - international tournaments take place here every summer. Hiking is also popular but a lot of trails on the pistes are wide and better suited to vehicles.

The best hikes often head away from Crans Montana, including the many bisses trails that follow these old irrigation channels. Mountain biking is available from the two-stage Cry d'Er cable car. From the top, there are two downhill tracks. The red-graded Mont Lachaux is the better ride with some very scenic sections to distract you from the trail ahead. The more difficult black-graded track starts a ride away from the lift station and is shorter than the red and less thrilling. There is nothing really for beginners at Crans, unless you like gravel roads. If you want to enjoy some singletrack, it runs away from the resort towards other villages and down to the valley floor. Crans Montana has a selection of lakes with a wake park at Etang Long near the golf course. Lake Moubra is surrounded by camping and sports activities.

For the urban cultured, the Vision Arts festival runs annually with painting taking place all over the resort and into the mountains. If you miss it, that's ok as the paintings remain around for years - most pieces are painted on the municipal buildings, ski stations and the like. Crans Montana is different from other Swiss resorts - it could be like Gstaad or Saas Fee or St Moritz, but with events like the Visions Arts and the World Enduro mountain biking, there is a less stuffy, more relaxed feel than in other places.

Further reading

Crans Montana
Crans Montana Golf
Crans Montana Concours d'elegance
Crans Montana mountain biking