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Dieser Reisebericht liegt an:

Nord-Süd-Route route-03
Nord-Süd-Route
Basel–Chiasso
Zur Route
Alpenpanorama-Route route-04
Alpenpanorama-Route
St. Margrethen–Aigle
Zur Route
Aare-Route route-08
Aare-Route
Oberwald (Gletsch)–Koblenz
Zur Route
Rhone-Route route-01
Rhone-Route
Andermatt–Genève (Chancy)
Zur Route
Seen-Route route-09
Seen-Route
Montreux–Rorschach
Zur Route
Mittelland-Route route-05
Mittelland-Route
Romanshorn–Lausanne
Zur Route
Cycling Through Three Cultures in One Small Country

Cycling Through Three Cultures in One Small Country

Our goal was to experience three cultures in one small country. That's one example that makes Switzerland so unique. We began in French speaking Geneva, then to the Murtensee where we passed into German Switzerland. Bern, Interlaken, across the Vierwaldstättersee and up the St Gotthard Pass.
August 4 to August 21, 2003

Can a group of average, middle-aged cycle tourers make a go of it in… Switzerland?

A three-week journey in the land of glaciers, mountain goats, and alpine passes? You bet! Well, admittedly we had some help. The website Cycling-in-Switzerland directs readers to the excellent "Veloland Schweiz" series of cycling maps. All nine of the Swiss National Cycle Routes are represented in these detailed maps which include elevation gain for each map section. They were indispensable in helping us decide where to go and how to get there. The narrative for the maps is written in French or German, but the maps transcend any language barrier.

We also took advantage of the bike friendly and efficient Swiss rail system to ease us through the difficult parts. We even jumped on an alpine paddle-wheel steamer to cross a lake that provided one of the most scenic two hour boat rides we've ever experienced. Eight bikes? No problem, just roll 'em on deck and enjoy the ride! At one point we stowed the bikes in Interlaken and spent two days hiking and riding cable cars in the mountains of the (2) Jungfrau Region.

Our goal was to experience three cultures in one small country. That's one example that makes Switzerland so unique. We began in French speaking Geneva and traveled north to Lac de Neuchâtel, then to the Murtensee where we passed into German Switzerland. Bern, Interlaken, across the Vierwaldstättersee, Urnersee, and up the St Gotthard Pass.

Then down the southern side of the Alps and it was Ciao! Benvenuto! And the beautiful castles and plazas of Bellinzona. We wished one of us could speak Italian. From Locarno we cycled up the Centovalli and crossed the border into the "real" Italy. At Domodossola we took a train through the Simplon tunnel to Brig, Switzerland and biked down the Rhône Valley to Montreux, passing once again through the invisible linguistic curtain from German to French.

Along the way we rode on parts of six of the nine national bike routes crisscrossing the country. We stayed primarily at youth hostels and small family owned hotels. The weather? It was HOT!! We happened to arrive just as the Great European Heat Wave of 2003 was settling over the continent. We're from Ohio and we get our fair share of summer sizzlers but 10 straight days of 90 plus degrees were more than we bargained for.

Our flight arrived in Geneva along with all our checked baggage and two Bike Fridays. The rest of us rented bikes from Genèv' Roule. Using the internet from home we found only two establishments for bike rentals in Geneva. The other being Rent A Bike that rents bikes from train stations throughout Switzerland. The bikes from Genèv' Roule were passable.

They were hybrid bikes with rear racks, 21 speeds (a standard 7 cog rear derailleur with a 3-speed internal hub), and a "mixte" frame style that allegedly accommodates all riders. That is after a couple days of riding and numerous stops for adjustments, experimentation, and general fiddling around with seat posts, handlebars, and finicky gears. The bottom line is the price was right and we had no breakdowns.

Be prepared to speak French when you arrive at Genèv' Roule, as English speakers were in short supply during our visit to the shop. Genèv' Roule is funded in part from sponsors who exhibit advertising placards on the bike frame. The bikes are then loaned out for free on a daily basis. Since we were using the bikes for many days, as well as taking them out of the environs of Geneva, the placards were removed and we were charged for renting the bikes, albeit a reasonable charge.

So join us on a five part trip through Switzerland using the links below. Click here to contact us with questions or comments.

© Bob Parry & Ed James 2003, 2004
Part 1: Geneva to Murten

The Geneva (HI) youth hostel is a good one and in a good location. One of the few urban hostels not located next to a noisy train line. This hostel had storage lockers where we left suitcases and items not needed during the trip. They also provided locked garage storage for the bikes when not in use. It was 99 degrees the day we arrived in Geneva. Hey, they forgot the A/C in this place!

We had made lodging reservations well in advance for the entire trip since we were a party of eight traveling in August. When the airlines provided a significant price break by leaving a day later we knew changing lodging reservations at the 11th hour would be a monumental task. We decided to take the train to cover the first riding day from Geneva to Morges to make up for the lost day. The first cycling day began along Lake Geneva at Morges. Unfortunately, we had only a short distance along the beautiful lake before we headed inland.

Riding north from Morges on Cycle Route
5 we encountered some hills that seemed somewhat more arduous in the 95 degree heat. We did a bit of single track when we deviated from the bike route to avoid an unnecessary hill. On our maps we noted a dashed line along a river circumventing a steep hill. The back road eventually ended at a small farmyard with a gate. The barking dogs brought out a delightful curmudgeon of a man who greeted us with a big smile and a flurry of French phrases. Our limited French wasn't much help but he was talking a universal language of facial expressions and hand gestures.

We understood what he was saying despite the language barrier. He seemed to be whispering: "Yes, yes you can take this path, but go quietly so the old lady doesn't hear you sneaking through the farm!" We thanked him with a big handshake and we headed off down a dirt path that got narrower until it became only a footpath through high grasses before reuniting with the cycle path.

The terrain leveled out after the village of La Sarraz and we arrived for lunch in Yverdon-les-Bains on Lac de Neuchâtel. We contributed a few ducats to the local street musician performing for afternoon passers-by.

Our first riding day ends in Estavayer-le-Lac on Lac de Neuchâtel, and what's this? A McDonald's Hotel? - In the middle of a freeway median reached by riding down the access ramp. Yes, a Golden Arches Hotel by McDonald's! Whose idea of a joke was this? But wait a minute, there's A/C, lots of towels, and exposed Star Trek "beam me up" showers as part of the futuristic décor. Finding out how the room lights were activated was entertaining; a drunk would never find the little unmarked slot in the wall where one needs to insert their key card. Besides a McDee's restaurant, the hotel also included a second fast-food eatery, gift shop and small grocery store.

Beginning the second riding day making bike adjustments in the McDonald's Hotel lobby. From the parking lot we found a bike path that tunneled under the freeway. We left Cycle Route
5 at Estavayer-le-Lac and headed east on a pleasant alternate bike route to Payerne. This route is shown on the Veloland Schweiz maps.

While we were visiting the beautifully restored 11th c Abbey Church in Payerne we were approached by Peter and Hans, two Swiss gentlemen who were vacationing near Murten. They must have overheard us talking and asked if we were English. They found it curious to find Americans biking in the region and they invited us to stop for drinks at their summer cottage on our way to Bern. We accepted but we had a lot to see in the 13 miles between Payerne and Murten.

The alternate route we chose was pretty flat until we ran into a (16) stray hill near Dompierre. Oddly enough this section was designated as an inline skate route on a regional tourist map.

Avenches turned out to be an interesting lunch stop. It was at one time the capital of the Helvetii Celtic tribe. The Romans transformed it into Aventicum and their legacy is still visible in the 12,000-seat amphitheatre, city wall, gates, and a watchtower. Avenches is situated on a small hill but it's well worth the climb.

Murten is a picturesque town on the shore of the Murtensee. German is the predominant language here. The medieval ramparts surrounding much of the old town are said to be the finest in Switzerland. The Battle of Murten saw the Swiss Confederate army drive off and massacre the Burgundians led by Charles the Bold in 1476. There's no charge to explore the ramparts with great views of the town and the lake.

A Picnic With Peter & Hans It was late afternoon and we still had quite a ways to go to reach Bern. We thought we would make a quick stop to see Peter and Hans at their beach front cottage on the lake as they insisted we should. As it turned out their genial hospitality completely sidetracked us. It started out with lively conversation, a good Swiss wine, cheese, crackers, fruit, and more wine.

Then we found ourselves digging through our panniers for the bathing suits, and all of us walking across the lane to the lakeshore, and going for a swim in the 80 degree water of the Murtensee. A perfect end to a great day but now it was evening. We'd never make it to Bern by bike. We bid our hosts goodbye and rode a few miles north to Kerzers and caught a train. It was dark as we arrived in Bern.
Part 2: Bern to Interlaken

As the capital of Switzerland, Bern remarkably retains a feeling of small town charm. We preferred its intimacy and pedestrian friendliness over the congestion of busy, urban, international Geneva. The old town has 6 km of covered arcades sheltering outdoor cafés and well-appointed shops bustling with local shoppers. It is also a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A stroll along the old cobblestone streets reveals interesting architectural details. The old town is adorned with eleven artistic fountains from the 16th c. At the Kornhausplatz is the (22) bizarre Kindlifresserbrunnen or Ogre Fountain that depicts a fiend devouring a child. How many generations of children have been warned by their parents that this represents the consequences of misbehavior?

The Gothic Cathedral (Das Münster) has the tallest spire in Switzerland at 100 meters. The tower has an excellent viewing platform for a dizzying view of the city and the turquoise swath of the Aare River as it loops around the city. In 1405 most of the city was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in stone. The great cathedral was begun in 1421 and boasts reticulated vaulting and largest cathedral bells in Switzerland. The impressive stained glass windows include the grotesque "Dance of Death" by Niklaus Manuel from the 15th c.

The colorful 15th c. tympanum is one of the most elaborate we've seen in northern Europe. There is a graphic Last Judgement scene depicting the entry of the Blessed into Paradise and the torture of the Unbelievers and their fall into the fires of Hell. The Wise and Foolish Virgins are shown waiting at the door. The cast of figures total 294 and exhibit much action and symbolism.

There's much more to Bern than the cathedral. Of course there are the city mascots, the bears. Although they are confined to the bear pits these comedians seem perfectly content performing their antics for snacks from the appreciative audience. Bern also has a variety of museums such as the Fine Arts Museum, with the world's largest Klee collection, the Bern Historical Museum, the Swiss Alpine Museum, and the Einstein House.

The Federal Palace is home to the Swiss Parliament. The National Council and the Council of States maintain chambers here. Separating the chambers is the Hall of the Dome. The impressive glass dome displays the coats of arms of the Swiss cantons. Tours are available when the parliament is not in session. Throughout the sections open to the public visitors can peruse the artifacts, photos, and documents of Switzerland's political past. For those inclined to keep abreast of current activities there's a public viewing gallery when parliament is in session.

Federal Palace, Bern, CH The government must be doing something right. Switzerland is stable, peaceful and cohesive despite the three major linguistic groups in addition to a Romansch minority, and a fairly even split among Catholics and Protestants in the general population.

There are many informative walking tours in Bern available in English. Besides tours of the old town and Cathedral there is an interesting tour of the centuries old Zeitglockenturm. The Bern Tourist Office has information about all the tours as well as an informative multimedia presentation on the history of the old city.

Bern can be a bit pricey for lodgings. We stayed at the relatively reasonable Hotel Glocke that is part of the Swiss Backpackers hostel organization. Don't take a front-facing room over the raucous ground floor bar. Noise from merrymakers on the street at night is amplified between the buildings and right into your room.

Leaving Bern we rode on Cycle Routes 8 / 9 and arrived in Thun during the town's summer "Thun Fest." The place was buzzing with activity. The usual celebration of summer with concerts, folk exhibits, and food stalls. While eating lunch along the banks of the Aare River we noticed several youths jumping from the pedestrian bridge into the swift flowing river. After all, it was 95 degrees... again.

We walked along the bank and traced their progress for about 150 yards, past two additional bridges until they dragged themselves out at a third bridge. Three of us decided to go for it. A word of warning; Do not attempt a river jump if you've had a couple beers at lunch. The local teenagers make this look easy. It's actually much more difficult than it appears. The powerful current propels you at an alarming clip. If you miss grabbing the last bridge they'll be calling the rescue squad to fish your body out a few miles downstream.

Spiez is located around an attractive harbor on the Thunersee. The mountains have made an imposing presence but it's easy cycling around the lake to Interlaken.

Between Thun and Interlaken, sections of the bike path parallel the highway in the narrow space between the mountains and the Thunersee.
Part 3: Berner Oberland

Interlaken is the hub for enjoying the surrounding Berner Oberland, arguably the best alpine scenery in Switzerland. We used Rick Steves' guide to Germany, Austria, & Switzerland for tips on how to maximize our short stay in the Jungfrau Region. The chapter on the Berner Oberland makes sense of the bewildering array of transportation options of hiking trails, railways, funiculars, and cable cars. It's best to check out ticket discounts offered with the Swiss Rail Pass and Jungfrau Railways Pass so you'll have enough Swiss francs left for dinner.

We stayed at the quiet, comfortable Villa Sonnenhof, part of the Swiss Backpacker's hostel organization.

The following morning we were ready to hit the mountains. We left the bikes at the hostel and walked to the Interlaken Ost train station carrying our daypacks with essentials for one overnight. We took the train to Grindelwald-Grund where half our group continued on to take the Jungfraujoch train up and into the massive peaks of the Eiger and Mönch. The train emerges from the rock at 11,330 ft., the highest station in Europe. The rest of us walked a short distance to the cable car station at Grund and traveled on Europe's longest cableway (6.2 km) to the Männlichen station.

At Männlichen we were perched on a ridge separating the Grindelwald Valley and the stunning glacier-carved Lauterbrunnen Valley. A view of Gimmelwald from this side of the valley underscores its inaccessibility. The village appears as a speck clinging to the edge of the cliff just before it drops to the valley floor. Gimmelwald is our destination after an exhilerating day in the Jungfrau region.

From Männlichen the hike begins on a wide, relatively level, gravel path with in-your-face views of the majestic Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch peaks. The walk takes about one and a quarter hours which includes stops for photo taking.

The trail descends to Kleine Scheidegg, a train station/resort center of sorts at the base of the three giant peaks. We hiked an additional 30 minutes down and around the other side of the Männlichen ridge. When we spied a train station at Wengeralp we decided to take a load off our feet and rode down the east side of the valley to Lauterbrunnen.

The Staubbach Falls cascades off the cliff to the valley floor. We took the funicular up the west side of the valley from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp. A small gauge train took us to Mürren. Finally, the cable car from Mürren dropped us into tiny, car free Gimmelwald, population about 130.

The stars and planets must have aligned favorably to allow a place like Gimmelwald to survive into the 21st century. There are no roads to Gimmelwald, you arrive by cable car or you undertake a strenuous hike up from the valley. In addition to the difficult location other factors such as its avalanche zone designation prevents development. Subsidies from the Swiss government to the village farmers retains the traditional dairying and cheese making operations.

We stayed at the cozy Pension Gimmelwald. Dinner was taken on the outdoor patio with stupendous views. During dinner we were treated to the sight of a silent, graceful parasailor nearly at our eye level as he glided hundreds of feet above the valley floor. The rural ambiance, mountain scenery, and peacefulness of Gimmelwald leaves a lasting impression.

The next morning we boarded the cable car for the early bird special to the summit of the 10,000 ft. Schilthorn rising dramatically above Gimmelwald and Mürren. The elevation gain from Gimmelwald is nearly 5,000 ft. One can hike up the mountain from Mürren in about 4 strenuous hours while the cable car takes 20 minutes. Roundtrip on the cable car is a bit pricey but departures before 9:00 a.m. offer a significant discount. On the summit we watched the early light gradually dissolve the morning mists. There are outstanding views from every direction on the panorama terrace at the Piz Gloria restaurant. The restaurant has a revolving platform inside that allows diners to have a 360 degree view of the scenery.

Piz Gloria was the location of dramatic action scenes in the James Bond movie, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". As one may imagine the gift shop has lots of Bond memorabilia and there's a free multi-screen slide show showing highlights from the movie.

Apparently some visitors to this alpine region come dressed for fashion. Despite the absence of a crossed line through (48) the sign we can assume that wearing high heels is not recommended for hiking on the Schilthorn trails.

On a ridge near the restaurant a paraglider was busy straightening his lines in preparation for takeoff. Seeing that he was having serious trouble keeping the many guidelines separated in the gusting winds, we helped hold the sail down by sitting on it. He apparently didn't speak English but was clearly pleased with the assistance. When he felt the time was ripe he tugged on a line and the gusting winds opened the sail and he flew off the edge of the cliff. We applauded as he silently began his journey down the valley observing the magnificent scenery as only a bird can.

Coming down for us wasn't as dramatic but spectacular nonetheless. From the cable car the village of Mürren appears to have a precarious perch on the edge of the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

The cable car took us from Mürren to Gimmelwald and then to Stechelberg on the valley floor. (50) From there we began the easy hike down the valley towards the village of Lauterbrunnen.

Along the way we stopped to visit the Trümmelbach Falls. Glacier melt-off has carved an amazing series of waterfalls inside the rock wall of the valley. One takes an elevator up into the caverns and an illuminated walkway follows the path of the water through the rock. The noise and power of the spectacle is quite impressive. Despite the heat outside it was very cool in the cavern and we were glad to put on the light jackets we had in our daypacks.
Part 4: Interlaken to Bellinzona via St Gotthard Pass

We had an ambitious day ahead of us as we left Interlaken. The goal was to reach Hospental, at the base of St. Gotthard Pass by evening. To accomplish this we needed to weave together an itinerary involving train, bike, and boat travel. The train took us from Interlaken, along the Brienzersee, to Meiringen. Then over the Brünig Pass and down to the village of Lungern. The bikes were dusted off, having not been ridden much the last few days. The Lungerersee shimmered in the late morning sun. The bike route was pleasant and scenic along the neighboring Sarnersee, Alpnachersee, and finally to the boat terminal at Beckenried on the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne).

We made the departure by ten minutes having dealt with a flat tire on the way. Our ship was a vintage steam powered paddle wheeler. It was the life of Riley, cruising on a beautiful boat surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery. The ship made several stops at shore-side communities as the lake made a dogleg turn and became the Urnersee (Lake Uri). Last stop was Flüelen at the southern point of the lake.

The final leg of the day's journey found us on the train from Flüelen up to Andermatt, arriving in time for dinner. The efficiency of the Swiss transportation system took us and our bikes where we needed to go without missing a beat. After dinner there was time to get acquainted with a local before biking the last couple miles to Hospental and its quirky youth hostel.

Evening was drawing some long shadows as we entered the Hospental youth hostel. It appears as an unpretentious rural residence at the edge of the tiny mountain village. We found the reception office unattended and noticed a few college-aged travelers floating in and out of the kitchen while a few more were engrossed in preparing their dinner. We looked around at the rustic interior and noticed a note in German taped on the office window that advised guests to use the wall phone to call the manager if unattended. We called and she told us take our clean bedding from the laundry bin in the corner and proceed to room 10. We asked about the room key. She said there wasn't any. How about a key to the youth hostel? No key for that either! Ok, well it appears the crime rate is rather low in this neck of the woods. The manager showed up later in the evening to collect $15 per person. She turned out to be a very pleasant lady who spoke English quite well. We liked the Hospental hostel.

About 100 yards from the hostel the stats on the St. Gotthard Pass are presented for cyclists. The pass involves a climb of 630 meters in 9 kilometers. St. Gotthard Pass has been one of the most important passages between northern and southern Europe for centuries. We are now on Swiss Cycle Route 3.

The climb begins in earnest immediately upon leaving Hospental. Although not particularly steep the climbing is relentless all the way to the summit. Traveling from north to south this section of the road has been engineered for modern traffic and has a well maintained surface. The distance from Hospental to the summit can be completed in less than two hours by taking a slow but sure turtle's pace, and not stopping for rest breaks.

Traffic is light as we pedal our way higher and higher. The St Gotthard road was improved in the early 1800's to accommodate commercial stagecoach traffic. The train line was put through in the 1880's. It wasn't until 1980 that a tunnel was completed for vehicles thereby diverting traffic from the old road. In the center of the photo is a forerunner of the truckstop. This little oasis served to assist travelers in what must have been an arduous journey long ago.

About 2/3 of the way up cyclists have a choice. Continue on the modern road or take the old cobblestone road the rest of the way to the summit. Both have pros and cons. The old road has no vehicular traffic save for the occasional nostalgic horse drawn carriage. This route also may be a bit less steep than the new road. But one must deal with the cobblestone surface. The new road has a smooth surface and may be somewhat more direct in reaching the summit. However, there is some traffic and it may be a tiny bit steeper. The new road can be seen to the left in the photo.

Making to the summit is a relief but also somewhat anti-climatic. Your arrival is greeted by pole signs showing hiking and biking directions as well as the elevation of 2,108 meters. A quarter mile around a bend and down about a hundred feet in elevation you'll arrive at the St Gotthard tourist center. This consists of a museum, a restaurant, a gift shop, and outdoor stalls selling bratwurst and souvenirs. Now the task at hand involves a 2800 ft. drop in elevation to Airolo, 12 km away. Of course one could avoid the whole up/down affair by taking the train from Flüelen to Airolo.

The modern road leading from the tourist center down to Airolo is not recommended to cyclists due to the long dark tunnel as soon as you leave the tourist center. It is advisable to take the curvy, cobble-stoned, old road down the Val Tremola despite the 37 hairpin turns. Eventually the road becomes smooth asphalt at some point on the way down. The brakes and rims take a beating on this part. We were concerned about these components on our inexpensive rental bikes. Occasionally we'd stop to check the rims and found them very warm. At one point we splashed water on them from a cliff-side spring to provide some relief.

Finally, the village of Airolo is in view. It's time for a well-deserved lunch stop. There's more downhill ahead with another 2800 ft drop down the Leventina Valley from Airolo to Bellinzona but it's spread over an enjoyable 65 km. The road surface is very good with a traffic level that is not irritating or hazardous.

Giornico, CH If one is not in a hurry there are many picturesque mountain villages in the Levintina Valley waiting to be captured in a timeless moment. But we didn't dawdle too much in the 90 degree heat except for a cool-off in Biasca with a splash in a mountain stream.

We were exhausted upon arriving in Bellinzona. The youth hostel is very comfortable as it had been a girls' school in a previous life. We all had either single or double rooms. Wide hallways and elegant stairways aren't exactly commonplace in the proletariat atmosphere of most youth hostels. This place is nice and it's located right in front of the marvelous Castello di Montebello. We stayed two nights to allow for a day to explore Bellinzona and its castles.

Bellinzona, the capital of Ticino canton, commands a strategic location at the confluence of the Leventina Valley (left) and Mesolcina Valley (right). This site controls traffic to the alpine passes of St Gotthard and San Bernardino. Not surprisingly the town has one best preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Europe and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are three superb castles with sections of city walls drawing a curtain across the valley floor.

The most important is Castel Grande sitting on a massive rock outcropping. It's located closer to the center of the valley floor than the other two castles. Fortifications were built on this site by the Romans as they expanded to conquer the Alpine region. The castle was the center of Bellinzona's power struggles between Italian kings, local rulers, and the Germanic empire during the earlier parts of the Middle Ages. By the early 1500's Bellinzona fell under the control of the Swiss Confederation. The recently restored complex provides castle lovers with a nutshell history lesson and nice views of the town. You can either follow a steep walk up or take the elevator.

Just to the east, on a higher elevation right behind the youth hostel, is Castello di Montebello. The crenellated parapets bristle with medieval bravado as vineyards spread out below the walls. Smaller and more intimate than its imposing sibling this castle is fun and easy to explore with great views of the town in all directions due to the higher elevation. Both castles have small museums.

We did not visit the third castle in the triad, Castello di Sasso Corbaro. It is situated at a still higher elevation requiring a walk that was a bit too ambitious for those of us "castled out" by the previous two fortifications. Instead, we enjoyed the small town charm of Piazza Independenza just a couple minutes walk from the youth hostel.
Our goal was to experience three cultures in one small country. That's one example that makes Switzerland so unique. We began in French speaking Geneva, then to the Murtensee where we passed into German Switzerland. Bern, Interlaken, across the Vierwaldstättersee and up the St Gotthard Pass.
August 4 to August 21, 2003

Can a group of average, middle-aged cycle tourers make a go of it in… Switzerland?

A three-week journey in the land of glaciers, mountain goats, and alpine passes? You bet! Well, admittedly we had some help. The website Cycling-in-Switzerland directs readers to the excellent "Veloland Schweiz" series of cycling maps. All nine of the Swiss National Cycle Routes are represented in these detailed maps which include elevation gain for each map section. They were indispensable in helping us decide where to go and how to get there. The narrative for the maps is written in French or German, but the maps transcend any language barrier.

We also took advantage of the bike friendly and efficient Swiss rail system to ease us through the difficult parts. We even jumped on an alpine paddle-wheel steamer to cross a lake that provided one of the most scenic two hour boat rides we've ever experienced. Eight bikes? No problem, just roll 'em on deck and enjoy the ride! At one point we stowed the bikes in Interlaken and spent two days hiking and riding cable cars in the mountains of the (2) Jungfrau Region.

Our goal was to experience three cultures in one small country. That's one example that makes Switzerland so unique. We began in French speaking Geneva and traveled north to Lac de Neuchâtel, then to the Murtensee where we passed into German Switzerland. Bern, Interlaken, across the Vierwaldstättersee, Urnersee, and up the St Gotthard Pass.

Then down the southern side of the Alps and it was Ciao! Benvenuto! And the beautiful castles and plazas of Bellinzona. We wished one of us could speak Italian. From Locarno we cycled up the Centovalli and crossed the border into the "real" Italy. At Domodossola we took a train through the Simplon tunnel to Brig, Switzerland and biked down the Rhône Valley to Montreux, passing once again through the invisible linguistic curtain from German to French.

Along the way we rode on parts of six of the nine national bike routes crisscrossing the country. We stayed primarily at youth hostels and small family owned hotels. The weather? It was HOT!! We happened to arrive just as the Great European Heat Wave of 2003 was settling over the continent. We're from Ohio and we get our fair share of summer sizzlers but 10 straight days of 90 plus degrees were more than we bargained for.

Our flight arrived in Geneva along with all our checked baggage and two Bike Fridays. The rest of us rented bikes from Genèv' Roule. Using the internet from home we found only two establishments for bike rentals in Geneva. The other being Rent A Bike that rents bikes from train stations throughout Switzerland. The bikes from Genèv' Roule were passable.

They were hybrid bikes with rear racks, 21 speeds (a standard 7 cog rear derailleur with a 3-speed internal hub), and a "mixte" frame style that allegedly accommodates all riders. That is after a couple days of riding and numerous stops for adjustments, experimentation, and general fiddling around with seat posts, handlebars, and finicky gears. The bottom line is the price was right and we had no breakdowns.

Be prepared to speak French when you arrive at Genèv' Roule, as English speakers were in short supply during our visit to the shop. Genèv' Roule is funded in part from sponsors who exhibit advertising placards on the bike frame. The bikes are then loaned out for free on a daily basis. Since we were using the bikes for many days, as well as taking them out of the environs of Geneva, the placards were removed and we were charged for renting the bikes, albeit a reasonable charge.

So join us on a five part trip through Switzerland using the links below. Click here to contact us with questions or comments.

© Bob Parry & Ed James 2003, 2004
Part 1: Geneva to Murten

The Geneva (HI) youth hostel is a good one and in a good location. One of the few urban hostels not located next to a noisy train line. This hostel had storage lockers where we left suitcases and items not needed during the trip. They also provided locked garage storage for the bikes when not in use. It was 99 degrees the day we arrived in Geneva. Hey, they forgot the A/C in this place!

We had made lodging reservations well in advance for the entire trip since we were a party of eight traveling in August. When the airlines provided a significant price break by leaving a day later we knew changing lodging reservations at the 11th hour would be a monumental task. We decided to take the train to cover the first riding day from Geneva to Morges to make up for the lost day. The first cycling day began along Lake Geneva at Morges. Unfortunately, we had only a short distance along the beautiful lake before we headed inland.

Riding north from Morges on Cycle Route
5 we encountered some hills that seemed somewhat more arduous in the 95 degree heat. We did a bit of single track when we deviated from the bike route to avoid an unnecessary hill. On our maps we noted a dashed line along a river circumventing a steep hill. The back road eventually ended at a small farmyard with a gate. The barking dogs brought out a delightful curmudgeon of a man who greeted us with a big smile and a flurry of French phrases. Our limited French wasn't much help but he was talking a universal language of facial expressions and hand gestures.

We understood what he was saying despite the language barrier. He seemed to be whispering: "Yes, yes you can take this path, but go quietly so the old lady doesn't hear you sneaking through the farm!" We thanked him with a big handshake and we headed off down a dirt path that got narrower until it became only a footpath through high grasses before reuniting with the cycle path.

The terrain leveled out after the village of La Sarraz and we arrived for lunch in Yverdon-les-Bains on Lac de Neuchâtel. We contributed a few ducats to the local street musician performing for afternoon passers-by.

Our first riding day ends in Estavayer-le-Lac on Lac de Neuchâtel, and what's this? A McDonald's Hotel? - In the middle of a freeway median reached by riding down the access ramp. Yes, a Golden Arches Hotel by McDonald's! Whose idea of a joke was this? But wait a minute, there's A/C, lots of towels, and exposed Star Trek "beam me up" showers as part of the futuristic décor. Finding out how the room lights were activated was entertaining; a drunk would never find the little unmarked slot in the wall where one needs to insert their key card. Besides a McDee's restaurant, the hotel also included a second fast-food eatery, gift shop and small grocery store.

Beginning the second riding day making bike adjustments in the McDonald's Hotel lobby. From the parking lot we found a bike path that tunneled under the freeway. We left Cycle Route
5 at Estavayer-le-Lac and headed east on a pleasant alternate bike route to Payerne. This route is shown on the Veloland Schweiz maps.

While we were visiting the beautifully restored 11th c Abbey Church in Payerne we were approached by Peter and Hans, two Swiss gentlemen who were vacationing near Murten. They must have overheard us talking and asked if we were English. They found it curious to find Americans biking in the region and they invited us to stop for drinks at their summer cottage on our way to Bern. We accepted but we had a lot to see in the 13 miles between Payerne and Murten.

The alternate route we chose was pretty flat until we ran into a (16) stray hill near Dompierre. Oddly enough this section was designated as an inline skate route on a regional tourist map.

Avenches turned out to be an interesting lunch stop. It was at one time the capital of the Helvetii Celtic tribe. The Romans transformed it into Aventicum and their legacy is still visible in the 12,000-seat amphitheatre, city wall, gates, and a watchtower. Avenches is situated on a small hill but it's well worth the climb.

Murten is a picturesque town on the shore of the Murtensee. German is the predominant language here. The medieval ramparts surrounding much of the old town are said to be the finest in Switzerland. The Battle of Murten saw the Swiss Confederate army drive off and massacre the Burgundians led by Charles the Bold in 1476. There's no charge to explore the ramparts with great views of the town and the lake.

A Picnic With Peter & Hans It was late afternoon and we still had quite a ways to go to reach Bern. We thought we would make a quick stop to see Peter and Hans at their beach front cottage on the lake as they insisted we should. As it turned out their genial hospitality completely sidetracked us. It started out with lively conversation, a good Swiss wine, cheese, crackers, fruit, and more wine.

Then we found ourselves digging through our panniers for the bathing suits, and all of us walking across the lane to the lakeshore, and going for a swim in the 80 degree water of the Murtensee. A perfect end to a great day but now it was evening. We'd never make it to Bern by bike. We bid our hosts goodbye and rode a few miles north to Kerzers and caught a train. It was dark as we arrived in Bern.
Part 2: Bern to Interlaken

As the capital of Switzerland, Bern remarkably retains a feeling of small town charm. We preferred its intimacy and pedestrian friendliness over the congestion of busy, urban, international Geneva. The old town has 6 km of covered arcades sheltering outdoor cafés and well-appointed shops bustling with local shoppers. It is also a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A stroll along the old cobblestone streets reveals interesting architectural details. The old town is adorned with eleven artistic fountains from the 16th c. At the Kornhausplatz is the (22) bizarre Kindlifresserbrunnen or Ogre Fountain that depicts a fiend devouring a child. How many generations of children have been warned by their parents that this represents the consequences of misbehavior?

The Gothic Cathedral (Das Münster) has the tallest spire in Switzerland at 100 meters. The tower has an excellent viewing platform for a dizzying view of the city and the turquoise swath of the Aare River as it loops around the city. In 1405 most of the city was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in stone. The great cathedral was begun in 1421 and boasts reticulated vaulting and largest cathedral bells in Switzerland. The impressive stained glass windows include the grotesque "Dance of Death" by Niklaus Manuel from the 15th c.

The colorful 15th c. tympanum is one of the most elaborate we've seen in northern Europe. There is a graphic Last Judgement scene depicting the entry of the Blessed into Paradise and the torture of the Unbelievers and their fall into the fires of Hell. The Wise and Foolish Virgins are shown waiting at the door. The cast of figures total 294 and exhibit much action and symbolism.

There's much more to Bern than the cathedral. Of course there are the city mascots, the bears. Although they are confined to the bear pits these comedians seem perfectly content performing their antics for snacks from the appreciative audience. Bern also has a variety of museums such as the Fine Arts Museum, with the world's largest Klee collection, the Bern Historical Museum, the Swiss Alpine Museum, and the Einstein House.

The Federal Palace is home to the Swiss Parliament. The National Council and the Council of States maintain chambers here. Separating the chambers is the Hall of the Dome. The impressive glass dome displays the coats of arms of the Swiss cantons. Tours are available when the parliament is not in session. Throughout the sections open to the public visitors can peruse the artifacts, photos, and documents of Switzerland's political past. For those inclined to keep abreast of current activities there's a public viewing gallery when parliament is in session.

Federal Palace, Bern, CH The government must be doing something right. Switzerland is stable, peaceful and cohesive despite the three major linguistic groups in addition to a Romansch minority, and a fairly even split among Catholics and Protestants in the general population.

There are many informative walking tours in Bern available in English. Besides tours of the old town and Cathedral there is an interesting tour of the centuries old Zeitglockenturm. The Bern Tourist Office has information about all the tours as well as an informative multimedia presentation on the history of the old city.

Bern can be a bit pricey for lodgings. We stayed at the relatively reasonable Hotel Glocke that is part of the Swiss Backpackers hostel organization. Don't take a front-facing room over the raucous ground floor bar. Noise from merrymakers on the street at night is amplified between the buildings and right into your room.

Leaving Bern we rode on Cycle Routes 8 / 9 and arrived in Thun during the town's summer "Thun Fest." The place was buzzing with activity. The usual celebration of summer with concerts, folk exhibits, and food stalls. While eating lunch along the banks of the Aare River we noticed several youths jumping from the pedestrian bridge into the swift flowing river. After all, it was 95 degrees... again.

We walked along the bank and traced their progress for about 150 yards, past two additional bridges until they dragged themselves out at a third bridge. Three of us decided to go for it. A word of warning; Do not attempt a river jump if you've had a couple beers at lunch. The local teenagers make this look easy. It's actually much more difficult than it appears. The powerful current propels you at an alarming clip. If you miss grabbing the last bridge they'll be calling the rescue squad to fish your body out a few miles downstream.

Spiez is located around an attractive harbor on the Thunersee. The mountains have made an imposing presence but it's easy cycling around the lake to Interlaken.

Between Thun and Interlaken, sections of the bike path parallel the highway in the narrow space between the mountains and the Thunersee.
Part 3: Berner Oberland

Interlaken is the hub for enjoying the surrounding Berner Oberland, arguably the best alpine scenery in Switzerland. We used Rick Steves' guide to Germany, Austria, & Switzerland for tips on how to maximize our short stay in the Jungfrau Region. The chapter on the Berner Oberland makes sense of the bewildering array of transportation options of hiking trails, railways, funiculars, and cable cars. It's best to check out ticket discounts offered with the Swiss Rail Pass and Jungfrau Railways Pass so you'll have enough Swiss francs left for dinner.

We stayed at the quiet, comfortable Villa Sonnenhof, part of the Swiss Backpacker's hostel organization.

The following morning we were ready to hit the mountains. We left the bikes at the hostel and walked to the Interlaken Ost train station carrying our daypacks with essentials for one overnight. We took the train to Grindelwald-Grund where half our group continued on to take the Jungfraujoch train up and into the massive peaks of the Eiger and Mönch. The train emerges from the rock at 11,330 ft., the highest station in Europe. The rest of us walked a short distance to the cable car station at Grund and traveled on Europe's longest cableway (6.2 km) to the Männlichen station.

At Männlichen we were perched on a ridge separating the Grindelwald Valley and the stunning glacier-carved Lauterbrunnen Valley. A view of Gimmelwald from this side of the valley underscores its inaccessibility. The village appears as a speck clinging to the edge of the cliff just before it drops to the valley floor. Gimmelwald is our destination after an exhilerating day in the Jungfrau region.

From Männlichen the hike begins on a wide, relatively level, gravel path with in-your-face views of the majestic Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch peaks. The walk takes about one and a quarter hours which includes stops for photo taking.

The trail descends to Kleine Scheidegg, a train station/resort center of sorts at the base of the three giant peaks. We hiked an additional 30 minutes down and around the other side of the Männlichen ridge. When we spied a train station at Wengeralp we decided to take a load off our feet and rode down the east side of the valley to Lauterbrunnen.

The Staubbach Falls cascades off the cliff to the valley floor. We took the funicular up the west side of the valley from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp. A small gauge train took us to Mürren. Finally, the cable car from Mürren dropped us into tiny, car free Gimmelwald, population about 130.

The stars and planets must have aligned favorably to allow a place like Gimmelwald to survive into the 21st century. There are no roads to Gimmelwald, you arrive by cable car or you undertake a strenuous hike up from the valley. In addition to the difficult location other factors such as its avalanche zone designation prevents development. Subsidies from the Swiss government to the village farmers retains the traditional dairying and cheese making operations.

We stayed at the cozy Pension Gimmelwald. Dinner was taken on the outdoor patio with stupendous views. During dinner we were treated to the sight of a silent, graceful parasailor nearly at our eye level as he glided hundreds of feet above the valley floor. The rural ambiance, mountain scenery, and peacefulness of Gimmelwald leaves a lasting impression.

The next morning we boarded the cable car for the early bird special to the summit of the 10,000 ft. Schilthorn rising dramatically above Gimmelwald and Mürren. The elevation gain from Gimmelwald is nearly 5,000 ft. One can hike up the mountain from Mürren in about 4 strenuous hours while the cable car takes 20 minutes. Roundtrip on the cable car is a bit pricey but departures before 9:00 a.m. offer a significant discount. On the summit we watched the early light gradually dissolve the morning mists. There are outstanding views from every direction on the panorama terrace at the Piz Gloria restaurant. The restaurant has a revolving platform inside that allows diners to have a 360 degree view of the scenery.

Piz Gloria was the location of dramatic action scenes in the James Bond movie, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". As one may imagine the gift shop has lots of Bond memorabilia and there's a free multi-screen slide show showing highlights from the movie.

Apparently some visitors to this alpine region come dressed for fashion. Despite the absence of a crossed line through (48) the sign we can assume that wearing high heels is not recommended for hiking on the Schilthorn trails.

On a ridge near the restaurant a paraglider was busy straightening his lines in preparation for takeoff. Seeing that he was having serious trouble keeping the many guidelines separated in the gusting winds, we helped hold the sail down by sitting on it. He apparently didn't speak English but was clearly pleased with the assistance. When he felt the time was ripe he tugged on a line and the gusting winds opened the sail and he flew off the edge of the cliff. We applauded as he silently began his journey down the valley observing the magnificent scenery as only a bird can.

Coming down for us wasn't as dramatic but spectacular nonetheless. From the cable car the village of Mürren appears to have a precarious perch on the edge of the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

The cable car took us from Mürren to Gimmelwald and then to Stechelberg on the valley floor. (50) From there we began the easy hike down the valley towards the village of Lauterbrunnen.

Along the way we stopped to visit the Trümmelbach Falls. Glacier melt-off has carved an amazing series of waterfalls inside the rock wall of the valley. One takes an elevator up into the caverns and an illuminated walkway follows the path of the water through the rock. The noise and power of the spectacle is quite impressive. Despite the heat outside it was very cool in the cavern and we were glad to put on the light jackets we had in our daypacks.
Part 4: Interlaken to Bellinzona via St Gotthard Pass

We had an ambitious day ahead of us as we left Interlaken. The goal was to reach Hospental, at the base of St. Gotthard Pass by evening. To accomplish this we needed to weave together an itinerary involving train, bike, and boat travel. The train took us from Interlaken, along the Brienzersee, to Meiringen. Then over the Brünig Pass and down to the village of Lungern. The bikes were dusted off, having not been ridden much the last few days. The Lungerersee shimmered in the late morning sun. The bike route was pleasant and scenic along the neighboring Sarnersee, Alpnachersee, and finally to the boat terminal at Beckenried on the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne).

We made the departure by ten minutes having dealt with a flat tire on the way. Our ship was a vintage steam powered paddle wheeler. It was the life of Riley, cruising on a beautiful boat surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery. The ship made several stops at shore-side communities as the lake made a dogleg turn and became the Urnersee (Lake Uri). Last stop was Flüelen at the southern point of the lake.

The final leg of the day's journey found us on the train from Flüelen up to Andermatt, arriving in time for dinner. The efficiency of the Swiss transportation system took us and our bikes where we needed to go without missing a beat. After dinner there was time to get acquainted with a local before biking the last couple miles to Hospental and its quirky youth hostel.

Evening was drawing some long shadows as we entered the Hospental youth hostel. It appears as an unpretentious rural residence at the edge of the tiny mountain village. We found the reception office unattended and noticed a few college-aged travelers floating in and out of the kitchen while a few more were engrossed in preparing their dinner. We looked around at the rustic interior and noticed a note in German taped on the office window that advised guests to use the wall phone to call the manager if unattended. We called and she told us take our clean bedding from the laundry bin in the corner and proceed to room 10. We asked about the room key. She said there wasn't any. How about a key to the youth hostel? No key for that either! Ok, well it appears the crime rate is rather low in this neck of the woods. The manager showed up later in the evening to collect $15 per person. She turned out to be a very pleasant lady who spoke English quite well. We liked the Hospental hostel.

About 100 yards from the hostel the stats on the St. Gotthard Pass are presented for cyclists. The pass involves a climb of 630 meters in 9 kilometers. St. Gotthard Pass has been one of the most important passages between northern and southern Europe for centuries. We are now on Swiss Cycle Route 3.

The climb begins in earnest immediately upon leaving Hospental. Although not particularly steep the climbing is relentless all the way to the summit. Traveling from north to south this section of the road has been engineered for modern traffic and has a well maintained surface. The distance from Hospental to the summit can be completed in less than two hours by taking a slow but sure turtle's pace, and not stopping for rest breaks.

Traffic is light as we pedal our way higher and higher. The St Gotthard road was improved in the early 1800's to accommodate commercial stagecoach traffic. The train line was put through in the 1880's. It wasn't until 1980 that a tunnel was completed for vehicles thereby diverting traffic from the old road. In the center of the photo is a forerunner of the truckstop. This little oasis served to assist travelers in what must have been an arduous journey long ago.

About 2/3 of the way up cyclists have a choice. Continue on the modern road or take the old cobblestone road the rest of the way to the summit. Both have pros and cons. The old road has no vehicular traffic save for the occasional nostalgic horse drawn carriage. This route also may be a bit less steep than the new road. But one must deal with the cobblestone surface. The new road has a smooth surface and may be somewhat more direct in reaching the summit. However, there is some traffic and it may be a tiny bit steeper. The new road can be seen to the left in the photo.

Making to the summit is a relief but also somewhat anti-climatic. Your arrival is greeted by pole signs showing hiking and biking directions as well as the elevation of 2,108 meters. A quarter mile around a bend and down about a hundred feet in elevation you'll arrive at the St Gotthard tourist center. This consists of a museum, a restaurant, a gift shop, and outdoor stalls selling bratwurst and souvenirs. Now the task at hand involves a 2800 ft. drop in elevation to Airolo, 12 km away. Of course one could avoid the whole up/down affair by taking the train from Flüelen to Airolo.

The modern road leading from the tourist center down to Airolo is not recommended to cyclists due to the long dark tunnel as soon as you leave the tourist center. It is advisable to take the curvy, cobble-stoned, old road down the Val Tremola despite the 37 hairpin turns. Eventually the road becomes smooth asphalt at some point on the way down. The brakes and rims take a beating on this part. We were concerned about these components on our inexpensive rental bikes. Occasionally we'd stop to check the rims and found them very warm. At one point we splashed water on them from a cliff-side spring to provide some relief.

Finally, the village of Airolo is in view. It's time for a well-deserved lunch stop. There's more downhill ahead with another 2800 ft drop down the Leventina Valley from Airolo to Bellinzona but it's spread over an enjoyable 65 km. The road surface is very good with a traffic level that is not irritating or hazardous.

Giornico, CH If one is not in a hurry there are many picturesque mountain villages in the Levintina Valley waiting to be captured in a timeless moment. But we didn't dawdle too much in the 90 degree heat except for a cool-off in Biasca with a splash in a mountain stream.

We were exhausted upon arriving in Bellinzona. The youth hostel is very comfortable as it had been a girls' school in a previous life. We all had either single or double rooms. Wide hallways and elegant stairways aren't exactly commonplace in the proletariat atmosphere of most youth hostels. This place is nice and it's located right in front of the marvelous Castello di Montebello. We stayed two nights to allow for a day to explore Bellinzona and its castles.

Bellinzona, the capital of Ticino canton, commands a strategic location at the confluence of the Leventina Valley (left) and Mesolcina Valley (right). This site controls traffic to the alpine passes of St Gotthard and San Bernardino. Not surprisingly the town has one best preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Europe and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are three superb castles with sections of city walls drawing a curtain across the valley floor.

The most important is Castel Grande sitting on a massive rock outcropping. It's located closer to the center of the valley floor than the other two castles. Fortifications were built on this site by the Romans as they expanded to conquer the Alpine region. The castle was the center of Bellinzona's power struggles between Italian kings, local rulers, and the Germanic empire during the earlier parts of the Middle Ages. By the early 1500's Bellinzona fell under the control of the Swiss Confederation. The recently restored complex provides castle lovers with a nutshell history lesson and nice views of the town. You can either follow a steep walk up or take the elevator.

Just to the east, on a higher elevation right behind the youth hostel, is Castello di Montebello. The crenellated parapets bristle with medieval bravado as vineyards spread out below the walls. Smaller and more intimate than its imposing sibling this castle is fun and easy to explore with great views of the town in all directions due to the higher elevation. Both castles have small museums.

We did not visit the third castle in the triad, Castello di Sasso Corbaro. It is situated at a still higher elevation requiring a walk that was a bit too ambitious for those of us "castled out" by the previous two fortifications. Instead, we enjoyed the small town charm of Piazza Independenza just a couple minutes walk from the youth hostel.

Dieser Reisebericht liegt an:

Nord-Süd-Route route-03
Nord-Süd-Route
Basel–Chiasso
Zur Route
Alpenpanorama-Route route-04
Alpenpanorama-Route
St. Margrethen–Aigle
Zur Route
Aare-Route route-08
Aare-Route
Oberwald (Gletsch)–Koblenz
Zur Route
Rhone-Route route-01
Rhone-Route
Andermatt–Genève (Chancy)
Zur Route
Seen-Route route-09
Seen-Route
Montreux–Rorschach
Zur Route
Mittelland-Route route-05
Mittelland-Route
Romanshorn–Lausanne
Zur Route