Ruins of Chateau de Tourbillon in Switzerland

Castle Buffs Will Love Chateau de Tourbillon & Valere in Sion

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The town of Sion is located in the Valais, the southern sun-belt of Switzerland. Despite its small size, this charming little community of about 35,000 is home to not one, but three castles: Chateau de Tourbillon, Chateau de la Majorie, and Chateau de Valere. And to think we stumbled upon it entirely by accident!

The day we ended up exploring Sion, we actually set out on a road trip to Italy. Our rough plan was to spend a leisurely day driving south from our house in Fribourg, then east over Simplon Pass, which is supposed to be one of the most scenic mountain passes in Switzerland. When the weather dawned bright and sunny one morning, we set out to find the pass – and Italy.

Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to leave Switzerland without passing something new begging to be explored. This was the case while driving through the Valais. We were pretty floored to see not one but two massive castles perched on dualing hilltops. How could we not stop and explore? All thoughts of Italy went out the window.

Castle buffs will love this little town. You’ll have so much fun whiling away the better part of the day exploring these medieval beauties.

Explore the village of Sion, Switzerland with its 3 medieval castles: Chateau de Tourbillon, Chateau de Valere, and Chateau de la Majorie. Click to Tweet
Chateau de Tourbillon and Valere from courtyard of Majorie Castle, one of three castles in Sion, Switzerland
From the courtyard of Majorie Castle, Tourbillon Castle is visible top left on the hill. The Valere Castle complex is up on the right.

Language Tip: Château is French for castle or manor house. Châteaux is plural, meaning castles.

Château de la Majorie – Majorie Castle

Château de la Majorie, or Majorie Castle, dates from the 13th-century. The castle was once the home of the local bishop.

In 1947 it was largely converted into an art museum: Le Musée d’art du Valais, or the Valais Museum of Art. Art fans might want to pop in to the museum for a bit.

Castle buffs will want to head straight for the other two castles: Tourbillon and Valerie.

Either way, you’ll likely pass Majorie Castle since there are very few paths – by car or by foot – that lead to the other castles.

Majorie Castle, one of the three castles in Sion, Switzerland
Of the three castles in Sion, this is the one where we spent the least time.

Château de Valère – Valere Castle

Dating from the 11th-13th century, the Château de Valère has the most to actually see during a visit.

The castle is in good condition and has several noteworthy attractions.

Hikers who make the short trek up the hill can explore All Saints’ Chapel just below the castle, the much larger Basilique de Valère (Valere Basilica) on top, and quaint, narrow cobblestone streets with really cute low arched doorways. 

If you’re visiting on your own and not as part of a guided tour, visiting both the castle and basilica are free.

Valere Castle in Sion, Switzerland
Valere Castle and the much smaller All Saints’ Chapel are visible from Tourbillon Castle.
All Saints Chapel at Valere Castle, Switzerland
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Ramparts of Chateau de Valere castle in Sion, Switzerland
The trail to Chateau de Valere passes beneath the ramparts of the castle.
Castle path at Valere in Sion, Switzerland
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Organ from 1435 inside Valere Basilica in Sion, Switzerland

Inside the Basilique de Valère, the organ dates from 1435. It’s the oldest playable pipe organ in the world.

Château de Tourbillon – Tourbillon Castle

The third castle, Chateau de Tourbillon, is another 13th-century castle. It was once a summer home for the religious elite in Sion. 

Unlike Valere, Tourbillon Castle is in ruins, destroyed by a fire in 1788. Though a slender watchtower and some of the inner walls survived, what mostly remains of the massive castle is just a shell.

That said, it’s an impressive shell! 

Access to the hilltop monster requires a bit of hiking, but it’s not particularly far or strenuous.

Once on top, the views of the surrounding Alps, the town of Sion, and the adjacent Valere Castle are outstanding.

Ruins of Chateau de Tourbillon in Switzerland
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Travis in the arched gate of the outer walls of Chateau de Tourbillon in Sion, Switzerland
Tourbillon Castle is accessible by a short but steep trail that passes through one section of the castle wall.
Hikers enjoy views of the Alps at Chateau de Tourbillon in Sion, Switzerland
Hikers enjoy the spectacular alpine views from Chateau de Tourbillon.
Valere Castle from Chateau de Tourbillon castle in Switzerland
Backlit by the sun, Valere Castle is visible on its adjacent hilltop from Tourbillon Castle.

Scenic Drive From the Valais to Chamonix, France

If you have access to a car and are feeling adventurous after visiting the castles in Sion, the resort town of Chamonix, France is just one incredibly scenic drive away.

When we finally left Sion, we only had a couple of hours of daylight left, but we decided to keep on driving. Backtracking a few miles to the Swiss town of Martigny, we headed up over the mountain pass into France.

As soon as we turned onto the Rte de la Forclaz in Martigny, our road became a narrow two-lane road with hairpin turns and patches of ice and snow.

We were in heaven, but I would only recommend the drive in summer or for folks who’re accustomed to driving rural, winding highways in the snow.

Rte de Forclaz in the snow on the way to Chamonix, France from Martigny, Switzerland
From Martigny in Switzerland, the Rte de la Forclaz winds up into the mountains before crossing into France.
Valais, Switzerland in winter from a high alpine road
Stopping at a pull-out, a superb view of the Valais in Switzerland is spread out far below.

After miles of twisty icy roads and beautiful snowy mountain scenery, we passed through a tunnel and suddenly, voilà, we were in France!

Sadly, Customs wasn’t there to greet us.

We expected a friendly welcome. Balloons. Some sort of fanfare.

Perhaps they went for a coffee run.

Luckily, the mountains just kept getting bigger, craggier, and more beautiful, so we quickly forgot this oversight.

Tunnel through the Alps from Switzerland to France
Europe excels at boring tunnels through the Alps for highways.

Be prepared if you drive this route, especially in winter when the peaks are decked in snow.

My mouth literally dropped when we came around a corner and were confronted with a line of peaks that form part of the Mont Blanc massif.

Aiguille Verte (Green Needle), Aiguille de Dru, and Argentiere Glacier, the flat line of snow and ice to the far left, dominate the landscape.

The Needles in the French Alps
Glacier d’Argentière, Aiguille Verte, and Aiguille de Dru are visible from the main highway.

By the time we arrived in Chamonix, it was nearly dark.

After poking around in town for a bit, we discovered a mouth-watering bakery and attempted to buy some pastries and cappuccinos. Unfortunately we only had Swiss francs with us and the shop only accepted cash.

Such a rookie mistake, leaving home without euros!

Our dejection quickly faded as we retraced our route back through the jagged peaks, back over the Col des Montets mountain pass.

During the drive home, all we could think about was returning to do more exploring. The only hurdle is managing to make it out of Switzerland.

Looking for other bucket-list worthy experiences in Switzerland?

Know Before You Go
  • Incredibly, Sion actually has a fourth castle, Château Montorge.
  • The castles are dog friendly as long as they’re on leash. We visited with our dog and even took her into the Basilique de Valere, the church at Valere Castle, with permission from a clergyman on site.
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