Soigneur Travel: Switzerland
What is your favourite cycling destination? Chances are it’s the Dolomites or the French Alps. Mallorca maybe… It might also be the Pyrenees, if not Tuscany. But Switzerland? It is known for chocolate, the Matterhorn, Swiss army knives, and banks. Cycling—not so much. There are several reasons for that, the main one being that none of the grand tours or major classics take place in Heidi’s homeland. Few pages of pro cycling’s history were written in Switzerland, and that is reflected in its reputation amongst roadies.
Nevertheless, Switzerland has a lot to offer to cyclists. First of all, its roads. Swiss perfection does not only apply to watches—the country’s roads are as smooth and orderly as they come. It’s almost as if potholes were banned by law, and there is almost always a quiet (and of course well-surfaced) farm lane nearby, so you can avoid busy roads, which is a luxury these days.
And then there are the Alps. Swiss climbs might not have been glorified by the Tour or the Giro, but they are as good—if not better—than France’s or Italy’s cols. The cobbled road up the Tremola is unique. The Furka might be the most Instagrammable pass in the world: you can fit its countless switchbacks and those of the Grimselpass into one frame. Ever heard of the Sanetsch? It is as hard and beautiful as the Stelvio—without the traffic. There are 17 passes above 2000 meters in Switzerland, each offering a tough challenge and incredible views over snowy peaks as rewards.
But there is more to Switzerland than big mountains. There is plenty of water, which only means one thing for cyclists: flat riding around lakes and along rivers. You can cruise along the Rhone from Brig to Lake Geneva on an almost uninterrupted 120-kilometre bike path. In winter, head to Ticino in the southern, Italian-speaking part of the country to ride in the sun around Lago di Lugano and drink great espressos.
Switzerland has something for everyone. Add it to your bucket list.
TIPS & HOTSPOTS
Ride | SwitzerlandMobility
Switzerland is criss-crossed with a network of national, regional, and local bike routes. Designed for cycle tourists, they are perfect for roadies looking for quiet roads and the occasional gravel section to spice up their experience. Look for red signs on the road and plan your rides with SwitzerlandMobility, which has an excellent app.
Eat | Cheese
Emmental, Gruyère, Sbrinz, Appenzell… and so many others. Switzerland boasts 450 different types of cheese with traditions going back several centuries. For an authentic Swiss experience, visit the L’Etivaz cheese cellar on your way to the Col des Mosses in the Alpes Vaudoises.
Ride | The roads of the Tour de France
From time to time, the Tour de France visits its neighbour Switzerland. In 2016, the peloton rode from Bern to Finhaut-Emosson in the canton of Valais. The stage concluded with a summit finish at the spectacular Emosson dam. Every year in September, the road is closed to traffic for the Désalpe Reichenbach, a charity event organised by local pro Sébastien Reichenbach, Thibaut Pinot’s trusted domestique at Groupama-FDJ.
How to get around | Public transportation
The Swiss public transport network is the best way to travel in Switzerland. It is possible to go anywhere by train, boat, or bus. Cyclists can take their bikes with them most of the time, making it easy to move between regions or ride from A to B. Swiss public transportation is always on time; it’s a matter of national pride.
Watch | Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse
Switzerland has two events on the UCI WorldTour calendar. In early May, the Tour de Romandie takes place in the French-speaking part of the country. In June, the Tour de Suisse visits the whole country and serves as a last test before the Tour de France for many riders. Both events are an excellent opportunities to watch the stars of the peloton and to sample the riding in different Swiss regions.
Eat | Vélo Café Interlaken
Switzerland does not have a strong coffee culture (yet), but there are welcome exceptions. On your way back from the mighty Grosse Scheidegg, one of the country’s most stunning climbs, stop at the Vélo-Café in Interlaken to enjoy a dirty chai latte or a home brewed cold drip with banana bread, unless you’re tempted by a chilli cottage cheese and fresh raspberry avocado toast.
Ride | Gravel
Gravel is also a thing in Switzerland: there are many unpaved farm lanes in the countryside and the mountains are littered with dirt roads. The region of Graubünden created two multi-day tours around the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein valleys that offer a truly off-the-beaten-path experience. Just make sure you pack your smallest possible gears; the Alps are steep.
Ride | Coffee at the UCI
Looking for a short getaway or a first alpine cycling experience? From the vineyards of the Chablais to the base of the glacier in Les Diablerets, the four-day Tour des Alpes Vaudoises combines challenging mountain passes with easy riding in the Rhone Valley, all on roads with little traffic. The region is also home to the headquarters of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), a futuristic building that includes an indoor velodrome and a café.
Watch | 2020 UCI World Road Championships
The 2020 World Road Championships will take place between the cities of Aigle and Martigny in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The circuit features a 3.8-km climb with an average gradient of 11%—sprinters will not compete for the rainbow jersey this time. There is also great riding in the area with the climb to Finhaut-Emosson, the Col du Sanetsch, and the Alpes Vaudoises all nearby.
Ride | The Col du Sanetsch Is this the most beautiful climb you’ve never heard of? It starts in the vineyards of sunny Valais and ends at the bottom of a glacier, 1700m higher. There is no road on the other side, just a big cliff. But you can make it a loop by taking a cable car down to Gsteig and adding Col du Pillon and Col de la Croix to get back to the Rhone valley. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Stay | Swiss Bike Hotels
Safe bike storage, a cleaning station, tool kit, laundry service, late check out, detailed information on bike routes in the area: Swiss Bike Hotels offer everything cyclists might need. There are 92 of them spread throughout every one of Switzerland’s regions.
Ride | The Gotthard Challenge
This is a classic ride in the Swiss Alps: start in Andermatt, climb the Furkapass, descend into the Goms valley, continue with the Nufenenpass into Ticino, have an espresso in Airolo and finish with the Tremola which features five kilometres of cobbled switchbacks. 106km and 3090m of climbing.
Weather | When to ride in the Swiss Alps
May: the lower elevations are starting to melt. Meanwhile, up high, people are still skiing.
June: the high passes are becoming snow free, allowing cyclists to begin their year.
July–September: summer in the Alps! Charge! Unless it rains…
October: Maybe the best time of the year. Everyone has gone home. The mountains are mostly empty. The air is crystal clear, and the larches are turning gold. Or… it’s miserably cold. Fall is the time for locals to enjoy their home mountains, or a gamble for the visitor.
Meteoswiss is the best place to check the weather.