Château de Tourbillon (tel. 027/606-47-45) is perched on a steep rock on a hill overlooking the northern periphery of the town. It's the broodingly impressive ruin of a medieval stronghold built by a 13th-century bishop to defend Sion against the House of Savoy. Destroyed by a fire in 1788, it has never been reconstructed, but you can still make out the remains of a keep, watchtower, and chapel. There's a panoramic view of the Rhône Valley from its base, which sits at an elevation of 645m (2,116 ft.). Admission is free.
Atop the town's other steep hill are the deeply weathered walls of an unusual Gothic church, the Eglise-Fortresse de Valère (also known as the Château de Valère), whose foundations were built as a fortress by the ancient Romans. In much better shape than the previously mentioned castle, the three-aisle basilica dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. It contains 17th-century choir stalls and what has been called "the oldest playable organ in the world," dating from the 14th century.
Valère Museum, in the Eglise-Fortresse de Valère (tel. 027/606-47-10), is in the former residence of the cathedral chapter and is now the cantonal museum of history and ethnography. It contains fine works of medieval religious art, ancient arms and armor, uniforms, Roman and Gothic chests, and interesting ethnological collections. Both the museum and the fortified church that contains it are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to noon and 2 to 6pm (to 5pm Oct-Apr). Admission to both the church and museum costs 7F for adults and 5.50F for children 12 and under. A family pass costs 16F. Note: There's a steep uphill climb between the parking lot and the church.
Back in town, the Hôtel de Ville (town hall), rue du Grand-Pont, whose inner chambers cannot be visited, has a facade embellished with 17th-century doors and columns. The foundations were laid by the ancient Romans in A.D. 377. On Sion's main street, rue du Grand-Pont, is an astronomical clock.
Northeast of the Hôtel de Ville is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Glarier, 13, rue de la Cathédrale (tel. 027/322-80-66). It was reconstructed in the 15th century, although the original Romanesque belfry remains, dating from the 11th and 13th centuries. Inside, look for the triptych in gilded wood, called The Tree of Jesse.
Although Sion has the monuments mentioned above, you can connect more intimately with regional life by taking an organized wine-tasting excursion. A long marked footpath, the most impressive walk in the area, is called le chemin du vignoble, and it passes through vineyards on the outskirts of the city. Our favorite vintner is the Varone Vineyard, a centre de dégustation at 61, rue de la Blancherie (tel. 027/203-56-83; www.varone.ch), across the river. It is open Monday from 2 to 6:30pm, Tuesday to Friday 10am to noon and 2 to 6:30pm, and Saturday 10am to noon and 2 to 5pm. Before beginning your hike, pick up the makings of a picnic at Co-op City, place du Midi, right off avenue de la Gare.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.