A Birthday Overnight in Verbier

Leslie and Arnaud at the top of one of the Verbier ski slopes. Verbier, Switzerland, December 2018.

Leslie and Arnaud at the top of one of the Verbier ski slopes. Verbier, Switzerland, December 2018.

Birthdays that happen on weekend beg for trips, don’t they? Not taking a trip when a birthday falls on a Saturday or Sunday (or, heck, Friday or Monday, for that matter), almost feels like a waste.

For my 2018 birthday weekend, when the 16th landed on a Sunday, Arnaud planned a trip to Verbier, Switzerland, for an overnight stay. He picked up a rental car on Saturday morning and we headed out, stopping along the way in Martigny, because I’d seen via Atlas Obscura that we could visit a museum of the dogs of the Saint Bernard Pass.


Proof of the petting. Barryland in Martigny, Switzerland, December 2018.

Proof of the petting. Barryland in Martigny, Switzerland, December 2018.

I wouldn’t have had nearly as much interest in a Saint Bernard museum if it didn’t feature in-the-flesh Saint Bernards. (It does.) And I still wouldn’t have had as much interest if you couldn’t pet the Saint Bernards. (As you see here, you can.)

The Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland, for which the dogs are named and from whence they developed into the breed we know today, had a key role in the middle ages as a pilgrimage path (and one of the few routes across Switzerland) from Canterbury, England, to Rome, Italy. People bred and trained the dogs to rescue stranded travelers in the snowy mountain passes of the region.

Long before the dogs, which first show up in documentation in the late 1600s, the Celts used the Great Saint Bernard Pass to invade Italy in 390 BCE and classical authors referenced it starting in the 1st century BCE. Julius Caesar tried to seize the pass during his reign, Caesar Augustus managed to do what his adoptive father failed to achieve, and much later, in May 1800, Caesar’s great admirer Napoleon Bonaparte used the Saint Bernard Pass to defeat the Austrians at the Battle of Montebello and the Battle of Marengo. (See the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David for pseudodocumentation—though I hear that the white horse in the artwork replaced a mule in the actuality.)

Enough with the history, what about the dogs?

Though the museum may feel like an afterthought when you visit to see the pooches, I recommend strolling through the historical exhibit. The museum even has an English-language guidebook that you can borrow from the front desk (as all the exhibits are in French). Though I studied a great deal of history, I had forgotten much of the importance of this area of Europe and how much had happened here across so many slices of time, from religion to warfare (and the many intersections of the two).

Besides, you can only pet dogs at designated hours, so you’ll likely have to wait a bit until the dog-petting point, anyway. You may as well learn a few things while you do.

As for the petting, Barryland takes caring for the dogs seriously, so don’t expect a great deal of dog time or interaction. However, I hear that you can visit in other seasons and have more intensive dog experiences, including chances to walk them (in April and May).

Paragliding with Verbier Summits

Barryland came as an afterthought, as a happenstance finding when researching the drive to Verbier. The real reason we headed to Verbier for an overnight? To try paragliding, something we’d talked about as a fun possible hobby when living in a mountainous country.

Proof that Leslie paraglided. Verbier, Switzerland, December 2018.

Proof that Leslie paraglided. Verbier, Switzerland, December 2018.

Though I didn’t believe I had any expectations for the paragliding experience going into it, I suppose I did. I figured I’d need to take a leap off a cliff. I assumed I’d need a paragliding lesson before takeoff.

Relief: No boring lesson required. My tandem partner gave me a few words of basic instruction on not hindering take-off while he strapped me into the harness. And though some paragliding likely involves stepping off cliffs, this paragliding experience involved long-stride running down a steep ski slope until the wind caught the sail and we took air. (I make this sound far simpler than the reality from the tandem guide’s perspective, surely.)

Additional expectations: I’d feel a little scared during the paragliding experience. (I didn’t.) I’d plummet to earth relatively quickly. (It took at least half an hour.) Not complaining. On either count.

Credit the skill of my tandem guide, but I felt like we were floating gently and without any buffeting whatsoever over a winter wonderland, skiers gliding below us, until the white transitioned to green upon nearing the valley.

However, I did feel motion sick. Pretty badly motion sick. And I didn’t expect it. Perhaps I should have, as I have a weak stomach for motion, yet I hadn’t even considered motion sickness until it came upon me as I dangled in the air. Given that I couldn’t manage to overcome the queasy feeling until several hours thereafter, I don’t think paragliding will turn into a hobby of mine.

Le Chalet d’Adrian

I didn’t take photos of Le Chalet d’Adrian; I need to get back into the documentation mindframe as I kick this website back into high gear. However, the hotel delivers on its advertising promises. What you’ll see on its website far better represents its offerings than any amateur photography I can manage.

The hotel aims for an upscale chalet feel, with heavy wood paneling and wood accents and fireplaces in the main common areas. The spa has massages and facials and the rest, but we didn’t try them; we did give the sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, and indoor pool a few rounds, though. Recommended!

Also recommended: Dinner in the hotel restaurant. However, do note that the restaurant serves fondue as a specialty (at least in winter), which means the entire hotel smells like fart in the evenings. (Sorry. “Intestinal gas” reads even nastier than “fart.”)

You may not notice the smell if you don’t leave for an after-dinner walk in the snow (like we did) and return with fresh air in your nostrils. No wonder the hotel had scented oils in the hallways during the daytime.

No, We Didn’t Ski in Verbier

Arnaud had talked about skiing in Switzerland since long before we arrived in Switzerland. And though I know he wanted to ski in Verbier, he didn’t want to usurp my birthday weekend with an activity that didn’t interest me. (No, I don’t like skiing. Yes, I’ve tried it.)

Because mentioning a trip to Verbier begged the skiing question, I had to preemptively answer it. Don’t worry, though: We will head back at some point to give Arnaud a go at the Verbier slopes.