SION (pronounced see-ohh), known as Sitten in German, is the capital of Canton Valais, an alluring and attractive town of just 27 000, with an exceptionally long history: archeological evidence points to the site having been inhabited during Neolithic times. What attracted settlement, no doubt, was the incongruous presence, on the otherwise pancake-flat valley floor, of two jutting rocky hills visible from afar. The medieval castles, Valère and Tourbillon, now adorn the crests of both. They’re an odd and slightly sinister sight, which matches the belief seemingly held around the country that people from Sion – named Sédunois after the town’s Latin name Sedunum, meaning Place of Castles – are themselves a bit odd, impenetrably taciturn and clannish.
For the entire decade of the 1990s, the municipality and the people made extraordinary efforts to attract the Winter Olympics to Sion, stressing the presence nearby of well-equipped Verbier, Crans-Montana and Zermatt – and yet they were rejected, both for the 2002 and (amidst great controversy) the 2006 games, the latter awarded by the IOC without much clarity of purpose to Turin. For now, the Sédunois have lapsed into a shocked and sulky silence, while the town itself remains refreshingly down-to-earth after the grinding glitz of the big resorts.