Grotte aux Fées

Fairy Cave - Grotte aux Fées de St-Maurice - Grotte de St-Martin no.1


Useful Information

Location: Saint-Maurice, Valais Suisse.
About 300 m north of Saint Maurice and 28 km west of Sion. Cave car park at the entrance to Saint-Maurice, on the cantonal road. Ascent 160 m, 30 minutes walk.
(46.223573, 7.001258)
Open: 15-MAR to JUN daily 10-17.
JUL to AUG daily 10-18.
SEP to 15-NOV daily 10-17.
Last admission 30 minutes before closing.
[2021]
Fee: Adults CHF 10, Children (4-14) CHF 7 Student CHF 9, Apprentice CHF 9.
Guide CHF 30.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Speleologyriver cave.
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=3,630 m, VR=249 m, T=10 °C (air), T=9 °C (water), A=580 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided, D=60 min, L=504 m, VR=17 m. V=3,000/a [1868] V=25,000/a [2011]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Grotte aux Fées, Sonia and Olivier Crittin-Reynard, CH-1890 St-Maurice, Tel: +41-24-485-1045, Cell: +41-76-345-1045, Fax: +41-24-485-1045. E-mail: contact
Office du Tourisme, Avenue des Terreaux 1, Case postale 110, 1890 St-Maurice, Tel: +41-24-485-40-40. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1820 Dean Bridel publishes a short description of the cave in one of his works and he already mentions the presence of “stagnant air” in the back gallery.
1831 expedition by Haller and Ott explores 600m.
1863 Chanoine Gard develops the cave as a show cave, builds a path and a pavilion and renames it Grotte aux Fées.
1864 scientific study by Professor F-A. Forel.
1865 Chanoine Gard entrusts the management of the cave to the congregation of the Sisters of St-Maurice.
1868 more than 3000 visitors counted.
1897 E-A. Martel visits the cave, and determines the flow of the river with a dye tracing experiment.
1901 second visit of E-A. Martel together with H. Schardt.
17-JAN-1925 additional exploration extended the cave from the top of the waterfall.
1929 a team explores the new passages.
1935-1936 connected to Fort du Scex.
1941-1946 connected to Fort de Cindey.
26-FEB-1956 survey by an SSS-Valais team.
1994 entrance area renovated and improved.
2010 Grotte aux Fées and Grotte de St-Martin connected by the Groupe Speleologique Rhodanien.

Description

As the name of the cave promises, Grotte aux Fées means fairy cave, you will find a fairy well inside, and the legend tells that everyboby who puts his left hand in the well will be granted a wish. However, it seems this is only the modern touristic interpretation. Nevertheless, there are several legends told at the cave, like this ones:

Long time ago, a good fairy named Frisette (little curl), lived in the cave entrance. Her duty was to protect the noble family Duin, which lived in castle Duin above the village of Bex. There also was an evil witch living at Diablerets, called Turlure.

After her cave was destroyed by a collapse, Turlure asked if she could live in the cave of Frisette for some time. Frisette welcomed her with open arms, but she demanded from her not to harm anybody in the area. But one day, Turlure found the two young children of the Duin castle playing at the shore of the Rhone river and drowned them.

Frisette saved the children with her magic wand. Angry as she was, she struck Turlure who fell into the floods and drowned. But now she was so sad about having killed herself, that she broke her wand and left the area forever.

At the same time, a dragon haunted the cave. Being the only one of its species here, it was bored and decided to leave the area. When it arrived at the cascade of the cave, it stayed a few days on the small balcony above and rested. Then it continued, but the cave is rather narrow and so its skin left markings on the wall. Finally, it met the wicked fairy who petrified it inside the cave where it can be seen until today.

Local legends.

There are numerous Grotte aux Fées in Switzerland and France, which is problematic because of frequent mix-ups. So it is better to call the cave by its full name, Grotte aux Fées de St-Maurice.

To visit the cave, park at the level of the Rhone river, at the northern end of St-Maurice. It is the joint car park of the show cave, the Restaurant Grotte aux Fées, the Fort du Cindey, and the Château de Saint-Maurice. From here it's an ascent of 160m to the cave entrance on a trails with many serpentines. Halfway up at the Fortifications Dufour, a historic tower, the path splits: on the left, you reach the main entrance directly, while on the right, the path makes a small detour. A tufa waterfall is formed by the river coming out of the cave. The place offers also a great view over the Rhone valley. The distance is not big, but the height difference is rather strenuous, and we doubt that the 10 minutes they give on their website for the walk to the cave is realistic. Most people will need about half an hour for the way.

The cave was known at least since Roman times. It was called Trou des Fayes for many centuries, which means Hole of the Sheep in the local dialect, because it was used as a sheepfold. It was also used as a hideout in times of danger, according to local lure they were chased by the "barbarians" who raged in the region. In the 17th century, the town of Bex forbade its inhabitants to go to the "Fountain of the Fairies" and make a wish there. The first cave description was published by Dean Bridel in 1820 a short description of the cave in one of his works. He was the first to mention the presence of “stagnant air” in the back gallery. The expedition by Haller and Ott explores 600m in 1831. It is obviously not the first expedition, but the first which is documented.

Some guidebooks mention the discovery of the cave in 1863 by Chanoine Gard, professor at the college of the royal Abbey of Saint-Maurice. According to some descriptions the cave was blocked by landslides, which is most likely not correct, it was not blocked in 1831, only 30 years earlier. Probably this was just a misinterpretation, because Chanoine Gard actually organized of major clearing of the cave. The path to the cave entrance and a rustic pavilion, where visitors could quench their thirst, were built. Even the name was changed to Grotte aux Fées, to make it better known. You could interpret this as development as a show cave, it was the first show cave opened to the public in Switzerland. He was a practical man and decided to use the cave to earn money to finance the orphanage for young girls of Vérolliez of which he was the founder. When the development was completed in 1865, he entrusted its management to the congregation of the Sisters of St-Maurice, an Augustinian monastery.

At the same time Professor F-A. Forel made a scientific study of the cave. He later sent the results to E-A. Martel, who visited the cave in 1897 for the first time. He determined the flow of the river with a dye tracing experiment. A second visit in 1901, together with H. Schardt was less successful. He tried to identify the end of the gallery with "extinguishing gas", but without success.

François Maret was caretaker of the cave for 40 years and even lived here. Maret had the idea that there must be more passages at the top of the waterfall. His successor was Augustin Jacquemin, and he told him about his ides. Jacquemin tried to climb the waterfall, but soon realized that he could not do it alone, so he teamed up with Denis Fournier. They finally reached the top of the cascades in 1925 and the rest of the cave was discovered. The new passages were explored in 1929 by a new team. Members were Jacquemin, Fournier, A. Virieux, F-L. Blanc, a reporter for the Gazette de Lausanne, and Gos, a mountaineer and photographer.

Quite unique is that the cave was integrated into a military fort. Between 1935 and 1936 The cave was connected to Fort du Scex. Then between 1941 and 1946 it was connected to Fort de Cindey. Together they formed the fortifications of Fortress Saint-Maurice and the cave provided an underground connection between the two fortifications.

The cave was finally fully surveyed by the SSS-Valais in 1956. There were no more caving trips for almost thirty years. Between 1995 and 2010 there were various attempts by the Groupe Speleo Lausanne (GSL), the Spéléo Club des Préalpes Fribourgeoises (SCPF), and the Groupe de Spéléologie Rhodanien (GSR). Finally, in 2010 the cave was connected to the nearby cave Grotte de St-Martin no.1 by the GSR. As a result the combined cave system is now twice as long.

The tour follows the main passage for 500 m. At the end of the passage, the water originating from the glacier Dents du Midi falls down a 77 m high waterfall into a subterranean lake. This is the highest underground waterfall in a show cave in the world. Form here the visitors return to the entrance on the same path. The tours were guided most of the time, but a few years ago this was changed to self-guided tours. 15 educational posts were placed along the trail. Guided tours require reservation and cost an additional fee.