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Nendaz, the land of the bisses

The Bisses are an important piece of the history and culture of an entire civilisation.

Nendaz has a unique network of "bisses". 98km of hikes along "8 bisses" of which 6 have water flowing within their banks. The bisses are walkable from spring to autumn and are also accessible to children, their parents as well as their grandparents. Nendaz enjoys the largest network in Europe and the bisses are terraced at an altitude of between 800m and 2,200m.

Aware of having a true local treasure, Nendaz keeps one of them open throughout the winter : the bisse du Milieu. Thanks to a preparation flattening the snow, it remains accessible on foot all the way to the Bleusy in all seasons. The entirety of its track is, however, open to all amateurs of snowshoe hiking.

 

What is a bisse? What is it used for?

Dug into the ground, carved into or suspeded from the rock face, like scars loaded with memories, they symbolise the people of the Nendaz' combat to have control over water.

The bisses were born from the peasants' determination to escape the consequences of drought and instead, the water was collected from rivers, primarily the Printse, and artificially diverted to water their crops.

The paths that run alongside these Bisses have the advantage of being slightly inclined, passing through very varied locations and always providing surprising detours through the valleys, villages and mountains. Hence the reason why these little trails, without any traffic, constitute very pleasant walks and allow you to discover one of the most picturesque aspects of our region.


Definition in the Swiss-French Dictionary

“Irrigation canal, dug into the ground and the rock or made out of wooden planks supported by beams fixed to the rocks on the slopes of mountains, serving to transport water from the melting glaciers in the valleys to diverse cultivated areas of land (prairies, fields, vineyards, orchards, gardens…). The administration, exploitation and management of the Bisses is under the responsibility of syndicates or sometimes communes.”

"Dictionnaire suisse romand" (Swiss-French Dictionary) published in 1997 by Éditions Zoé, Geneva

“The ground, thirsty from its age-old dehydration on its sunny land calls the water from the Bisses. This call is heard from above; the snow from the snow banks and the glaciers bleeds for the vines”

J. Follonier et al., Vins du Valais, 1977, p.94...


“The history of our Bisses are a poignant reminder of the battle for water that was never as bitter or spirited anywhere else other than the centre of the canton. Our Bisses represent the oldest work of art in the rural genius of Switzerland […]. The oldest Bisses date back to the 12th and 13th century.”

Nouvelliste et Feuille d'Avis du Valais, 26 mars 1982, p.34...

 

Codes of conduct along the bisses

The bisses are fragile and demand a lot of maintenance. Whilst walking along a bisse, don’t forget it is private property and not public property. All damage may result in endangering its survival. Here are some rules to respect during your walk:

  • Do not damage the bank, water flooding can be costly
  • Do not throw anything into the water and do not obstruct the flow of the water
  • Do not ride your mountain bike along the bisse, this is forbidden
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