If we wanted to virtually disappear from the face of the earth for a week or so it might be to the little hamlet of Evolène, about a 25-minute drive into the mountains above Sion.

There, among the wooden, weathered, brown/black Valasian houses, we would find a simple hotel or pension or perhaps rent a small chalet. Days we would walk the easier mountain trails and evenings eat hearty mountain food and drink Valasian wine alongside grizzled locals at one of the town's cheery inns.

In the heat of summer, the weather will be warm but not oppressive during the day and cool at night, sometimes chilly. In spring and fall, days will be cool and nights cold. In winter, of course, we'll expect to find roofs and streets piled high with snow.

The phrase "a village where time has stood still" is a travel-writing cliché usually applied to places where tens of millions of marks, francs or schillings have been spent on restoration. But in Evolène it really applies. This little village of 600 souls probably looks and lives very much today as it did 50 years ago. A different dialect is spoken and there are no designer shops or Michelin-starred restaurants and a bare minimum of places sell Evolène mugs and tee-shirts.

Throughout the summer, women wear traditional garb and there are enough old characters hanging around to let you know there's something going on here besides tourism.

Of course there are tourists - hikers and climbers in summer and skiers in winter - but this is a different breed of Swiss mountain town from the likes of Zermatt and Grindelwald.

It is also less expensive. The top hotel in town charges about $80 for its best room, you can rent an apartment for as little as $160 per week and a small beer is less than $2.

Bed & Board in Evolène

Hotel prices shown below are for rooms with private bath and include breakfast. Rooms without bath will be less.

Hotel Hermitage

Evolène's best accommodations are at the wonderfully rustic Hotel Hermitage, where the Queen of Holland once stayed during the war.

The interior is wood paneled walls and ceilings, slate entryways, parquet floors, oriental rugs, stuffed birds and game and plenty of antique knickknacks. The best place to be in the house is the inviting living room/sun room with its paneled walls and ceiling and expanses of windows on three sides.

Guestrooms, though in no sense luxurious, are comfortable and cozy. Ask for Number 16 under the eaves. There are no in-room telephones and the hotel does not have a restaurant though raclette and fondue are sometimes served to guests on winter evenings.

• Daily Rates: Singles 55 to 65 Sfr. ($34-$41), doubles 110 to 120 Sfr. ($69-$75).
Contact: Hotel Hermitage, CH-1983 Evolène, tel. +41/027/2831232, fax 283 3212. Prop: Family Gaspoz-Chevrier.
Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 15/20

Hotel Eden

This hotel, which in terms of cleanliness and charm is almost on a par with the Hermitage, offers only two rooms with full bath and you will have to carry your bags up three floors to get to them.

The Eden's most pleasant features are a large deck with fine mountain views and a garden where guest barbecues are sometimes held.

Cozy, pine-paneled guestroom Number 11 has low ceilings and a mountain view.

• Daily Rates: Singles 55 to 65 Sfr. ($34-$41), doubles 110 to 120 Sfr. ($69-$75). Closed November through December 15.
Contact: Hotel Eden, CH-1983 Evolène, tel. +41/027/831112, fax 833 212. Prop: Family Maria-Thrse Gaudin.
Rating: Quality 9/20, Value 14/20

Pension d'Evolène

An old-fashioned inn with a few simple rooms to rent, none with private bath. The café-bar is a hangout for locals and the restaurant is probably the best in town.

Just off the café is the small slightly more formal dining room. Cowbells and rustic wood cabinets adorn the walls. There are green and white table cloths, cloth napkins and candles on each table.

Food, for the most part, is well-prepared country fare.

As usual in this sort of restaurant, we began with the mixed salad which turned out to be a refreshing blend of beets, corn, carrots, shredded lettuce and endive topped with a dollop of just-right dressing.

We batted .667 with the hefty entrées: four lamb chops with garlic sauce (28 Sfr./$18) were perfectly cooked; pork chops Forestiere (21 Sfr. $13) came with the usual rich sauce and, the disappointment, Escalope Grillee (25 Sfr./$16), was one big veal steak served sauceless. Too dry.

A bottle of Dôle, Des Monts from Grilliar (27 Sfr. /$17) went down easily.

One couldn't argue with dessert:; fresh warm raspberries and blackberries, some wild, with ice cream.

Dinner for three was about $90.

• Daily Rates: Singles 38 Sfr. ($24), doubles 76 Sfr. ($48). Seven day packages with dinner and breakfast are 340 Sfr. ($213).
Contact: Pension d'Evolène, CH-1983, tel. +41/027/83 11 51.
Rest. Rating: Quality 9/20, Value 10/20

Chez Raymonde Aux Vieus Mazots

The "old barn," a little spot on the main street, is another place where locals go for a beer, a glass of wine and perhaps some air-dried beef or fondue. There is a small bar at which men stand but women do not.

Chez Raymonde Aux Vieus Mazots, CH-1983 Evolène.

August 1997