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Cheese, chocolate, cuckoo clocks and cycle routes
In the early 1990s we often holidayed in Brissago, Southern Switzerland. On the first occasion we threw the bikes in the back of the car, just in case. We spent much of our holiday walking, but after research observing the traffic on the busy road through Brissago whilst sitting on cafe terraces drinking cappuccinos, we decided to risk a trip into Italy and climb 500m to the head of the Centovalli valley. This offered a descent of 32km into Ascona where we could return to Brissago by ship. We were not particularly fit and neither of us realised how much panting and perspiration we would need. However at the top, exhilaration took over as we zoomed through the hairpins, past the vertical drops into the river far below and across the border into Switzerland. Fortunately the border guards were used to cyclists and waved us through. We slept well that night.
Two years later we cycled from Heidelberg to Brissago. We followed the River Neckar along the northern and eastern boundary of the Black Forest through Stuttgart to drop towards Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance and cycled through Lindau, Bregenz and Chur. Then we started to climb into the Alps following the young Rhine and scaled the San Bernardino Pass beyond Splügen, then dropped into Bellinzona and Locarno. Older passes like the San Bernardino Pass, built for horse drawn traffic, long but not steep are easy. We could cycle uphill wearing a smile and an attitude of moral superiority to confuse car drivers.
The next time, we took folding bikes and took to popping them onto public transport to save climbing passes to enjoy whooshing down the hills. We noticed the completed excellent Veloland Schweiz (Cycling in Switzerland Foundation) sign–posting/way–marking.
We bought a copy of the German language guide to first three of the nine Swiss national cycle routes. We noticed public transport backup on many routes, so that when the going got tough, the not–so–tough could take the easy way out. Our first trip along a national route was planned, but which one?
Route 1 (Rhone) started with a climb up into the high Alps over the Furka Pass followed by a long drop along the Rhone Valley to reach Geneva.
Route 3 (North-South) a short but steep climb over the Jura from Basle, followed by Lucerne, before the climb over the Gotthard Pass into Ticino. Both of these routes meant that we needed to cross Switzerland to get home afterwards.
However we could easily reach the start of Route 2 (Rhine) high in the Alps. The 600m climb over the Oberalp Pass is easy. Chur is wonderful. We could then cycle along one of our own favourite stretches: following the Rhine past Liechtenstein to Lake Constance, to visit Austro-Hungarian Bregenz, Lindau, Friedrichshafen with its Zeppelin Museum, Konstanz, Stein am Rhein, and the Roman city of Kaiseraugst to end in Basle. It is only three hours home by train from Basle.
Over the years we explored all nine of the Swiss national routes:
Route 4 (Alpine Panorama) starts in the northeast on Lake Constance and ends in the southwest by Lake Geneva. It is a route for the iron thighed hill climber, or dare we say it, planners armed with a railway and bus timetable.
Families will enjoy Route 5 (Mittelland), flatter trip starting on Lake Constance and running roughly southwest to Lake Geneva along the Aare Valley with great views of the mountains.
Route 6 (Graubünden) Graubünden in the southeast of Switzerland offers fit cyclists the chance to test their mettle in magnificent scenery and visit a largely unknown part of Switzerland with excellent connections into the Tyrol and northern Italy.
Route 7 (Jura) offers quiet byways through Jura pastureland with inventive cattle grids along the French border across the northwest of the country ending on Lake Geneva. There are unparalleled views of the Alpine chain from the tops across to the south.
Route 8 (Aare) starts in Gletsch south of the Grimsel Pass. A 6km/400m climb is followed by a 32km drop into Meiringen – Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty and delicious meringues. After Meiringen the route is largely flat through Interlaken and Bern then east to reach the Rhine near Waldshut.
Route 9 (Lakes) crosses Switzerland from southwest to northeast between Lake Geneva and Lake Constance via Lakes Thun, Brienz, Lucerne, Zugersee, Zürichsee, Walensee. There are climbs in between, so this route is more attractive for the energetic.
Our memories are of towering peaks and clean comfortable lodgings plus interesting encounters with local people, not to mention the cows… We can thoroughly recommend cycling in Switzerland for the young, sporting and adventurous of every age and fitness.
Routes based on those above are discussed in our recent Cicerone book Cycle Touring in Switzerland. The routes described range from easy trips for families to those only suitable for the very fit.
Regards, Judith and Neil Forsyth