HIKING along bisses is a journey back in time in the Swiss Alps.

Just outside the train station in the Swiss town of Sion, a yellow signpost points hikers in two main directions with no fewer than 16 routes to choose from.

As you cross the medieval downtown, keeping the Valere Basilica and the Tourbillion Castle on the right, aim for the Valaisanne Brewery.

If you can resist the brewery's new tap room and its outdoor tables, be sure to duck as you scramble a staircase and through the tunnel of holly and its busy bees and onto the Bisse de Clavau and 500 years of history.

Now you can relax. The babbling flow of water soothes the soul, and the Valais sun warms the body. the Bisse de Clavau was built in 1453 to irrigate the terraced vineyards in the region, which is the driest and hottest in all of Switzerland.

A bisse [rhymes with peace] is a narrow [two to six foot wide] canal that brings water from high altitude rivers across mountains to irrigate pastures and vineyards.

From the 11th to the early 20th century, about 300 bisses [stretching about 1200 miles in all] were dug by hand, primarily in the  Valais canton, which is bisected by the Rhone River Valley.

Centuries ago workers dug up the channels, flinging the mud and debris next to the canals, this forming a berm that was used as an elevated walkway.

To this day, 80 percent of all pastures and vineyards in Valais are irrigated with water from the bisses, while the paths that run alongside them are excellent for walking or trail running.

Along the  Bisse de Clavau, Europe's tallest drystone walls support the often parched soil. Thirsty walkers can find refreshment at one of the local wine bars, called guerites, since outbuildings vintners used to store tools and take shelter.

Located near the start of trail, the Guerite Bruler has a terrace with stunning views that pair perfectly with crisp white wine.

The Bisse de Clavau arcs across the vineyards for about five miles. Some times the bisse is a simple channel, or it can be metal aqueduct when crossing the undulating tarrain. Sometimes the bisse disappears into pipes underground or flows into tunnels in the rock.

Then the scenery changes. The rock wall gets taller, and the path gets narrower. The Lienne Gorge is uphead. After a brief tunnel [lighted, thankfully], the bisse goes underground, leaving hikers with choice of two other bisses that are far more spectacular : the grand Bisse de Lens or the Bisse de Sillonin. [Or the town of St. Leonard is a 15-minute walk, with train service back to Sion].

Much father upstream lies the Grand Bisse d'Ayent. In September, the new 100 Swiss franc bill introduced features an image of the suspended wooden bisse clinging to the overhanging rock face at Torrent-Croix.

''The history of Valais has been written by the bisses,'' said Gatan Morard, director of the Bisse Museum in nearby Botyre. ''The bisses just don;t carry water; they carry entire history of Valais. They illustrate man's ingenious ability to master an unruly environment.''

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research and writings on Tourism and Hiking , continues. The World Students Society thanks author Andrew Brenner.


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