Cycling in Switzerland

Photo gallery

Gruppe
Group of five friends
Overview Map
Overview Map
heavy-duty cardboard bike boxes
heavy-duty cardboard bike boxes
The Bodensee 1
The Bodensee 2
The Bodensee 3
The Bodensee 3
The Bodensee 4
The Bodensee 4
The Bodensee 5
The Bodensee 5
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 1
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 1
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 2
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 2
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 3
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 3
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 4
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 4
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 5
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 5
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 6
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 6
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 7
Central Switzerland - Lucerne 7
St. Gotthard Pass 1
St. Gotthard Pass 1
St. Gotthard Pass 2
St. Gotthard Pass 2
St. Gotthard Pass 3
St. Gotthard Pass 3
St. Gotthard Pass 4
St. Gotthard Pass 4
St. Gotthard Pass 5
St. Gotthard Pass 5
St. Gotthard Pass 6
St. Gotthard Pass 6
Ticino Canton 1
Ticino Canton 1
Ticino Canton 2
Ticino Canton 2
Ticino Canton 3
Ticino Canton 3
Ticino Canton 4
Ticino Canton 4
Ticino Canton 5
Ticino Canton 5
Ticino Canton 6
Ticino Canton 6
Ticino Canton 7
Ticino Canton 7
Ticino Canton 8
Ticino Canton 8
Ticino Canton 9
Ticino Canton 9
Ticino Canton 10
Ticino Canton 10
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 1
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 1
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 2
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 2
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 3
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 3
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 4
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 4
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 5
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 5
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 6
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 6
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 7
The Engadine (Inn River Valley) 7
The End
The End

The travel report lies on:

North-South Route route-03
North-South Route
Basel–Chiasso
To route
Graubünden Route route-06
Graubünden Route
Chur–Thusis–Martina / Bellinzona
To route
Aare Route route-08
Aare Route
Oberwald (Gletsch)–Koblenz
To route
Rhine Route route-02
Rhine Route
Andermatt–Basel
To route
25-day cycling tour in Europe

25-day cycling tour in Europe

We encountered three languages (German, Italian, and Romansch), and more dialects we ever knew existed. We biked across diverse eco-systems from breathtaking alpine scenery to lush sub-tropical Mediterranean paradises. And the food - it was all delicious.
Parts of the Rhein Route 2, the Aare Route 8, the North-South Route 3, the Graubünden Route and the Inntal-Radweg

Welcome to the web site for our 25-day cycling tour in Europe. We flew from Cleveland, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin, to Munich, Germany, taking our bikes and panniers. Our bike trip was a 600-mile (930 kilometers) loop from Bavaria to Switzerland, south to the Italian border, and returning to Munich by way of Austria. The following photo journal displays some of the highlights of our self-designed tour.

Our group of five friends biked about 40 miles per day and stayed in quaint, small hotels and youth hostels like this nearly 500-year old chalet in Brugg, Switzerland.

From left: Bonnie Vargo, Pam Galka, Ed James, Bob Parry and Russ Marx.
Introduction

Planning for the trip began in the depths of winter. The focus was on Switzerland and we decided on a minimum of three weeks. We ordered bike route maps through European sources. The maps were published by Kompass, Bikeline, and Veloland Schweiz.

Then the real nuts and bolts planning started for lodgings, terrain, mileage, and sightseeing. While the snow swirled outside we were reading Lonely Planet, Let's Go, Rough Guide, and Fodor's.

We didn't give a thought to renting bikes once we arrived in Europe. We wanted the comfort and reliability of our own steeds so we purchased heavy-duty cardboard bike boxes designed for shipping. We got a fair price on USAirways from Cleveland, Ohio to Munich, and as a bonus the airline allows bikes to fly free on international flights. (How long will that perk last?) Upon arriving in Munich we stored the bike boxes at a public storage facility at the airport.

Unlike the Frankfurt airport, Munich's airport does not have an international train connection. We took the S-Bahn commuter train into the center of Munich and spent a day touring the sights of the city. At the main train station we hopped a regional train to Augsburg, Germany, 1/2 hour west, and the start of our journey.

The next 20 days we biked nearly 600 miles in four countries. We encountered three languages (German, Italian, and Romansch), and more dialects we ever knew existed. We biked across diverse eco-systems from breathtaking alpine scenery to lush sub-tropical Mediterranean paradises. And the food - it was all delicious.

We lodged primarily at youth hostels and stayed at small family-run hotels when necessary. This kept our average nightly lodging costs to about $24 per person for the trip. Despite Switzerland's reputation as a notoriously expensive destination you don't have to spend a lot of greenbacks to enjoy this country! The Swiss youth hostels are first rate.
The Bodensee

The Swiss have developed nine national bike routes through their country. These routes are spectacularly printed in a series of bike map books called Veloland Schweiz. The books feature colored topo maps with routes, distances, elevation changes, as well as sights, location of bike shops, and lodgings along the way. We traveled on portions of six of the routes. They are well signed and maintained. The routes directed us through cities, towns and picturesque countryside. Where does one go from here? Just look for the red bicycle sign that points the way. Down the alley, past the church, through a farmer's field and you're on your way to the next town! The Swiss have done a superb job in accommodating the cycle-tourist.

It was a hot and dusty day as we biked 50 miles along the south shore of the Bodensee to Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. We stopped to take cooling dips in the lake when the muse hit. The opposite shore appeared as a hazy summer image in the distance. The youth hostel in Kreuzlingen is a wonderful old country mansion close to the shore. The international crew in the kitchen, a Frenchman, a Pakistani, and a Serb, had dinner prepared and set out in the outdoor garden when we arrived. Beer and wine on the side - it was heaven! As the sun was setting in the balmy evening, we biked across the nearby border to Konstanz, Germany, and took a twilight ferry across the Bodensee to the fortified hillside town of Meersburg, Germany.

Stein on Rhein must be one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. The facades of the buildings in the town center are painted with captivating murals depicting animals or objects after which the buildings are named. Some of the murals date to the 1500's. Just off the town center is the well-preserved Kloster St Georgen. The 12th century former Benedictine monastery hugs the banks of the Rhein and offers a peek into medieval monastic life.

The youth hostel in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, is a unique former manor house which housed an eccentric artist colony in the early 1900's including author Herman Hesse.

Schaffhausen is the site of the Rheinfalls, a dramatic 72 ft. plunge of the Rhein river. It's no Niagara, but it's Europe's biggest waterfall and impressive nonetheless. We continued biking along the Rhein River to Koblenz, where we turned south and began following the Aare River.
Central Switzerland - Lucerne

Making friends with the locals, the source of all those wonderful Swiss cheeses and chocolates. Throughout Switzerland we passed by well-maintained farms, and in a few instances the bike path led right through pastures with some very contented cows.

A dreamy, summer dawn in Brugg, Switzerland. If cameras existed 400 years ago, this is how the courtyard at the Brugg hostel would appear. Not much has changed.

The Brugg hostel is a mini-castle built in the 1500's, along the banks of the Aare River. It contains three floors of dorm-like rooms which are popular with families on holiday. We slept in an attic dorm fitted with 12 bunks and a window that looked out over the courtyard. From Brugg we continued on a mixture of bike path and paved road to the large town of Aarau where we joined the "North-South" bike route. This route would take us to Lucerne, over the Alps to the canton of Ticino, and finally, to the Italian border.

We spent two wonderful days in the city of Lucerne (Luzern), on the west coast of the beautiful Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne). The hostel is located on the outskirts of the city and can be accessed by a municipal bus from the historic center. In the heart of the city is the ancient wooden Kapellbrücke, a pedestrian bridge built in 1330, that spans the Reuss River.

While in Lucerne we left the bikes at the hostel and toured the city starting with an informative walking tour of the Altstadt. After the tour we took a railway ride to the top of nearby Mt. Pilatus, visited the Picasso Museum, the Bourbaki Panorama Museum, and the Löwendenkmal - the dying lion of Lucerne. This mascot of the city is a stone lion carved into the rock cliffs honoring the Swiss Guards who were massacred during the French Revolution in 1792 defending King Louis XVI and the Royal Family. After this incident, the Swiss restricted their soldiers from being mercenaries with the exception of the Papal Guards.

Although Lucerne is a small city (60,000) it has its share of traffic, particularly during the tourist season. We found the city to be very bike friendly with hundreds of bikes all over the compact downtown. Outside the train station and the post office there were hundreds more bikes parked along the sidewalks in continuous rows of racks. The main streets included well-marked bike lanes that put cyclists at the center of prominence.

After leaving Lucerne we crossed the Vierwaldstättersee by ferry on two occasions. One ferry was a remarkable old paddlesteamer. The lake and its appendages are framed by a twisting coastline of mountains crashing to the shore from all directions. After disembarking at the southerly lake-side town of Flüelen we biked the short distance to Erstfeld and spent the night at Gasthaus Albert, owned by the Risi family. A discussion with the owners' son, Bruno, revealed that he was once a competitive cyclist and his brother, Bernard, is a member of the Swiss Olympic cycling team. We learned that the area is the summer home to several renown cycling coaches and world class cyclists. We certainly aren't in their league but lying just ahead for the next day is the St. Gotthard Pass!
St. Gotthard Pass

Our original plans called for crossing the pass by train from Erstfeld to Airolo. Herr Risi advised us of a practical approach in tackling St. Gotthard by taking two short train rides up to the town of Andermatt, located right at the base of the pass. With his encouragement, four of us decided to give it a try. Ed kept to the original plan and avoided the pass by taking the train through a mountain tunnel to the other side. Here we are starting the 9 km climb from Andermatt to the top, an elevation gain of 630 meters, or 2067 feet, in 5.6 miles.

Three of the Swiss national bike routes pass through Andermatt. The "North-South" route leading out of town was on a nice paved shoulder.

There are two parallel roads that weave their way over the pass . The newer freeway handles nearly all the vehicular traffic. Cyclists and horse drawn carriages use the old road. The road surface is cobblestone for the last 4 km, which may have been part of the old Roman road. It was quite an effort to ride the fully loaded bikes to the top, but it was well worth it!

YES!! We made it to the top! We ate a well-deserved lunch on the terrace of a hotel/restaurant at the summit. The view of the Leventina Valley and the canton (province) of Ticino to the south was fabulous.

This is a view of the old Roman road as it descends the southern side of the pass (or ascends from the other point of view). Instead of taking these cobblestone switchbacks, we opted to descend on the smoother auto road which begins with a 1/2 mile long tunnel through the mountain.

We are heading for Airolo, at the base of the pass on the southern side. By the time the four of us reaches town we realize we won't make our destination of Locarno by dark. Ed has biked the length of the Leventina Valley and is a few hours ahead of us. We play some catch-up and take a train 40 km from Faido to Bellinzona and continue biking to Locarno where we meet up with Ed at the youth hostel.
Ticino Canton

After crossing the St. Gotthard Pass the route descends dramatically into the lush Leventina Valley and follows the Ticino River. This is another Switzerland. The Swiss took the canton of Ticino from Italy in 1512 and never gave it back. The ambiance is steeped in Mediterranean culture. The language is Italian, and the architecture, food, and climate is decidedly southern. It's a unique mix of Swiss efficiency and Italian dolce vita. It's also a great ride down the valley. Twenty miles of downhill, dropping 2500 ft. in elevation. There was a 4 mile stretch where it seemed pedaling was absolutely unnecessary.

The valley is dotted with picturesque, medieval villages built of granite quarried from the mountainsides. Even in these idyllic surroundings one is never too far from the ubiquitous SwissCom phone booth. The vegetation changes to vineyards, chestnut groves, and subtropical flowers.

We really sensed the Italian influence on the culture and architecture after arriving in Locarno. We stayed overnight in a comfortable youth hostel. The next morning we biked along the palm treed shoreline of Lago Maggiore, basking in the warm Mediterranean sun on our way to the nearby resort town of Ascona. The pastel colored buildings stair-stepped down from the Monte Verità to the crystal clear waters of the lake - La Dolce Vita!

The broad cobblestone promenade of Piazza Giuseppe Motta was lined with colorful awning-covered outdoor cafes. Here we had a wonderful lunch under the yellow umbrellas of Al Pontile Ristorante while watching the tourists and locals strolling the tree-lined lakeshore promenade. We picked up some straw souvenir hats that came in handy in the relentless sun. More stylish than bike helmets, we think they added a sophisticated look to the new "locals".

Leaving the productive farming delta of the Ticino River, we took a short train ride to the top of Monte Ceneri and then biked along the narrow edge of Lago di Lugano to the small fishing village of Figino. The youth hostel is a large, four story, former patrician's house with 27 bedrooms totaling 160 beds. Before we sat down to the family style spaghetti dinner in the hostel's outdoor courtyard, we took a swim at the town beach and shared a bottle of local Merlot.

On our way from Figino to the Italian border we passed through the lovely village of Morcote. Nestled along the shore of Lago di Lugano, a terraced hillside rises behind the town and leads up to Chiesa St. Maria del Sasso (Church of St Maria of the Rock). The winding road following the shoreline provides superlative cycling. We're getting used to seeing palm trees in Switzerland.

This youth hostel in Lugano may be one of the best among Hostelling International's affiliates in Europe. The lady who runs the hostel told us her parents operated the facility before her. With the beautiful grounds, splashing fountains and outdoor pool surrounded by trees and garden, it almost feels like you're staying with rich relatives in Ticino. Although it's located in Savosa, a suburb a bit removed from the city center, it's worth the extra couple miles.

Here's a view of Lugano from our room in another wonderful hostel, the Backpacker's Montarina. This independent hostel is a former villa set in a forest of palm trees on a hill behind the train station. It's an oasis of green fronds with an Olympic size swimming pool. We stayed in a separate building with hotel-like rooms and our own baths. It was more expensive than the Savosa hostel, but the place was spotless, the staff was very friendly, breakfast was in the hotel next door, and they sold beer at the pool! Need we say more?

Lugano is the largest and liveliest city in the canton of Ticino. The arcades of the piazze offer lots of enticing outdoor cafes and markets. In the evening, a convenient cable car whisked us from the Montarina hostel down to the waterfront where an enterprising maitre d' hotel spotted five hungry looking cyclists walking near his outdoor café. With a few words of Italian and a wave of his hands he guided us to an available table. We obediently followed and listened to our server's advice in ordering the day's special, a Mediterranean seafood paella over rice. Being more than ready for dinner we were easy marks, especially with the language barrier. As it turned out, we enjoyed the largest variety of sea creatures than ever before at one sitting. We may not have been able to identify all the species presented on the table but it was one of the best meals on the trip.

The extra day in Lugano allowed us to explore a bit beyond the city's boundaries. We traveled by ferry a short distance up the lake to Gandria. The buildings along the shore cling to the hillside in this enchanting former fishing village. Once off the ferry, passengers climb stairs up to a warren of narrow alleys and walkways leading to shops and private residences. We stopped for a drink at a restaurant overlooking the lake and the Italian shore a half mile away. Cars are prohibited and the town enforces strict construction ordinances which have preserved the old world atmosphere. While hiking back to Lugano we stopped at a local artist's gallery and struck up a conversation with a young woman who spoke perfect English. Her father was the artist and she learned English while spending a year as an exchange student in Ohio, very close to where we live in Cleveland!
The Engadine (Inn River Valley)

We traveled by train from Lugano to St. Moritz. The Alpine landscape was a series of severe peaks and valleys, and even the train route took a circuitous 6-hour journey by way of Zürich. By a stroke of luck our train ride happened to fall on a gray, rainy, dismal day - the only real bad weather day of the trip! Through the mist, we managed to capture an example of one of the several spectacular tunnels along the route.

The last leg of the trip took us through the Inn river valley, Engadine in the Romansch language. The canton of Graubünden is a lightly populated, relatively remote section of Switzerland. We met very few tourists, which is surprising because the valley and the villages are so beautiful that the Engadine should be classified as a World Heritage site all the way to the Austrian border. We used Kompass map
148, Inntal Radweg, as our guide. The path leaving St. Moritz was wide and level but it didn't last long.

In Switzerland, easy riding is often a short-lived commodity and the route took us away from the river and into the hills bordering the Swiss National Park. The scenery was superb but after 20 miles of dirt-biking on our hybrid and road bikes with panniers, it was time for a change. We had lunch in the delightful village of Zernez and biked on the main road the last 20 miles to Scuol, Switzerland. The road had a couple great downhill sections, one being at least 3 miles long.

Scuol has many thermal springs in the area and we visited the futuristic Bogn health spa in the center of town. In addition to services such massage, sauna, tanning, and curative mineral waters, there are huge indoor/outdoor bathing facilities. Inside there are several pools of varying temperatures, mineral content and salinity. Swim through a channel leading outside and pick your therapy to ease those tired cycling muscles. Float around the perimeter of the pool with the artificial current, sit under a massaging waterfall, or find a water jet with just the right pressure to relax and enjoy. It was a fun, gigantic hot tub!

We have left Switzerland and spent the night in Landeck, Austria. Landeck is a moderately sized town in the Inn valley which appears to serve as a ski center for the area. The valley is wider and since the elevation has been dropping since we left St. Moritz, the forests are thicker. We are on the way to Innsbruck and the end of our journey.

We had one final adventure along the bike route. While stopping along the river for a rest we observed a group of rafters pulling out of the water. The raft captain took his wet-suited party to a nearby bridge for a celebratory plunge into the icy mountain water. After they emerged from the river, Pam struck up a conversation with the captain and he invited her to take a jump. Donning a wetsuit, Pam intrepidly climbed to the edge of the bridge with the captain and took the dive as seen in the photo to the right. Afterwards, we had a leisurely lunch at a country restaurant across the road and noticed clouds building to the west. Our dallying cost us later in the day. About 10 miles outside of Innsbruck the sky opened and it began pouring. Arriving in Innsbruck, drenched and muddy, we were in high spirits. The trip had been an unqualified success and talk had already begun for next year's adventure. The next day we took the train to Munich. It was not over quite yet, fortunately we planned an extra day for sightseeing in the Bavarian capital.

Uf Wiederluge!
Auf Wiedersehen!
We encountered three languages (German, Italian, and Romansch), and more dialects we ever knew existed. We biked across diverse eco-systems from breathtaking alpine scenery to lush sub-tropical Mediterranean paradises. And the food - it was all delicious.
Parts of the Rhein Route 2, the Aare Route 8, the North-South Route 3, the Graubünden Route and the Inntal-Radweg

Welcome to the web site for our 25-day cycling tour in Europe. We flew from Cleveland, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin, to Munich, Germany, taking our bikes and panniers. Our bike trip was a 600-mile (930 kilometers) loop from Bavaria to Switzerland, south to the Italian border, and returning to Munich by way of Austria. The following photo journal displays some of the highlights of our self-designed tour.

Our group of five friends biked about 40 miles per day and stayed in quaint, small hotels and youth hostels like this nearly 500-year old chalet in Brugg, Switzerland.

From left: Bonnie Vargo, Pam Galka, Ed James, Bob Parry and Russ Marx.
Introduction

Planning for the trip began in the depths of winter. The focus was on Switzerland and we decided on a minimum of three weeks. We ordered bike route maps through European sources. The maps were published by Kompass, Bikeline, and Veloland Schweiz.

Then the real nuts and bolts planning started for lodgings, terrain, mileage, and sightseeing. While the snow swirled outside we were reading Lonely Planet, Let's Go, Rough Guide, and Fodor's.

We didn't give a thought to renting bikes once we arrived in Europe. We wanted the comfort and reliability of our own steeds so we purchased heavy-duty cardboard bike boxes designed for shipping. We got a fair price on USAirways from Cleveland, Ohio to Munich, and as a bonus the airline allows bikes to fly free on international flights. (How long will that perk last?) Upon arriving in Munich we stored the bike boxes at a public storage facility at the airport.

Unlike the Frankfurt airport, Munich's airport does not have an international train connection. We took the S-Bahn commuter train into the center of Munich and spent a day touring the sights of the city. At the main train station we hopped a regional train to Augsburg, Germany, 1/2 hour west, and the start of our journey.

The next 20 days we biked nearly 600 miles in four countries. We encountered three languages (German, Italian, and Romansch), and more dialects we ever knew existed. We biked across diverse eco-systems from breathtaking alpine scenery to lush sub-tropical Mediterranean paradises. And the food - it was all delicious.

We lodged primarily at youth hostels and stayed at small family-run hotels when necessary. This kept our average nightly lodging costs to about $24 per person for the trip. Despite Switzerland's reputation as a notoriously expensive destination you don't have to spend a lot of greenbacks to enjoy this country! The Swiss youth hostels are first rate.
The Bodensee

The Swiss have developed nine national bike routes through their country. These routes are spectacularly printed in a series of bike map books called Veloland Schweiz. The books feature colored topo maps with routes, distances, elevation changes, as well as sights, location of bike shops, and lodgings along the way. We traveled on portions of six of the routes. They are well signed and maintained. The routes directed us through cities, towns and picturesque countryside. Where does one go from here? Just look for the red bicycle sign that points the way. Down the alley, past the church, through a farmer's field and you're on your way to the next town! The Swiss have done a superb job in accommodating the cycle-tourist.

It was a hot and dusty day as we biked 50 miles along the south shore of the Bodensee to Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. We stopped to take cooling dips in the lake when the muse hit. The opposite shore appeared as a hazy summer image in the distance. The youth hostel in Kreuzlingen is a wonderful old country mansion close to the shore. The international crew in the kitchen, a Frenchman, a Pakistani, and a Serb, had dinner prepared and set out in the outdoor garden when we arrived. Beer and wine on the side - it was heaven! As the sun was setting in the balmy evening, we biked across the nearby border to Konstanz, Germany, and took a twilight ferry across the Bodensee to the fortified hillside town of Meersburg, Germany.

Stein on Rhein must be one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. The facades of the buildings in the town center are painted with captivating murals depicting animals or objects after which the buildings are named. Some of the murals date to the 1500's. Just off the town center is the well-preserved Kloster St Georgen. The 12th century former Benedictine monastery hugs the banks of the Rhein and offers a peek into medieval monastic life.

The youth hostel in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, is a unique former manor house which housed an eccentric artist colony in the early 1900's including author Herman Hesse.

Schaffhausen is the site of the Rheinfalls, a dramatic 72 ft. plunge of the Rhein river. It's no Niagara, but it's Europe's biggest waterfall and impressive nonetheless. We continued biking along the Rhein River to Koblenz, where we turned south and began following the Aare River.
Central Switzerland - Lucerne

Making friends with the locals, the source of all those wonderful Swiss cheeses and chocolates. Throughout Switzerland we passed by well-maintained farms, and in a few instances the bike path led right through pastures with some very contented cows.

A dreamy, summer dawn in Brugg, Switzerland. If cameras existed 400 years ago, this is how the courtyard at the Brugg hostel would appear. Not much has changed.

The Brugg hostel is a mini-castle built in the 1500's, along the banks of the Aare River. It contains three floors of dorm-like rooms which are popular with families on holiday. We slept in an attic dorm fitted with 12 bunks and a window that looked out over the courtyard. From Brugg we continued on a mixture of bike path and paved road to the large town of Aarau where we joined the "North-South" bike route. This route would take us to Lucerne, over the Alps to the canton of Ticino, and finally, to the Italian border.

We spent two wonderful days in the city of Lucerne (Luzern), on the west coast of the beautiful Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne). The hostel is located on the outskirts of the city and can be accessed by a municipal bus from the historic center. In the heart of the city is the ancient wooden Kapellbrücke, a pedestrian bridge built in 1330, that spans the Reuss River.

While in Lucerne we left the bikes at the hostel and toured the city starting with an informative walking tour of the Altstadt. After the tour we took a railway ride to the top of nearby Mt. Pilatus, visited the Picasso Museum, the Bourbaki Panorama Museum, and the Löwendenkmal - the dying lion of Lucerne. This mascot of the city is a stone lion carved into the rock cliffs honoring the Swiss Guards who were massacred during the French Revolution in 1792 defending King Louis XVI and the Royal Family. After this incident, the Swiss restricted their soldiers from being mercenaries with the exception of the Papal Guards.

Although Lucerne is a small city (60,000) it has its share of traffic, particularly during the tourist season. We found the city to be very bike friendly with hundreds of bikes all over the compact downtown. Outside the train station and the post office there were hundreds more bikes parked along the sidewalks in continuous rows of racks. The main streets included well-marked bike lanes that put cyclists at the center of prominence.

After leaving Lucerne we crossed the Vierwaldstättersee by ferry on two occasions. One ferry was a remarkable old paddlesteamer. The lake and its appendages are framed by a twisting coastline of mountains crashing to the shore from all directions. After disembarking at the southerly lake-side town of Flüelen we biked the short distance to Erstfeld and spent the night at Gasthaus Albert, owned by the Risi family. A discussion with the owners' son, Bruno, revealed that he was once a competitive cyclist and his brother, Bernard, is a member of the Swiss Olympic cycling team. We learned that the area is the summer home to several renown cycling coaches and world class cyclists. We certainly aren't in their league but lying just ahead for the next day is the St. Gotthard Pass!
St. Gotthard Pass

Our original plans called for crossing the pass by train from Erstfeld to Airolo. Herr Risi advised us of a practical approach in tackling St. Gotthard by taking two short train rides up to the town of Andermatt, located right at the base of the pass. With his encouragement, four of us decided to give it a try. Ed kept to the original plan and avoided the pass by taking the train through a mountain tunnel to the other side. Here we are starting the 9 km climb from Andermatt to the top, an elevation gain of 630 meters, or 2067 feet, in 5.6 miles.

Three of the Swiss national bike routes pass through Andermatt. The "North-South" route leading out of town was on a nice paved shoulder.

There are two parallel roads that weave their way over the pass . The newer freeway handles nearly all the vehicular traffic. Cyclists and horse drawn carriages use the old road. The road surface is cobblestone for the last 4 km, which may have been part of the old Roman road. It was quite an effort to ride the fully loaded bikes to the top, but it was well worth it!

YES!! We made it to the top! We ate a well-deserved lunch on the terrace of a hotel/restaurant at the summit. The view of the Leventina Valley and the canton (province) of Ticino to the south was fabulous.

This is a view of the old Roman road as it descends the southern side of the pass (or ascends from the other point of view). Instead of taking these cobblestone switchbacks, we opted to descend on the smoother auto road which begins with a 1/2 mile long tunnel through the mountain.

We are heading for Airolo, at the base of the pass on the southern side. By the time the four of us reaches town we realize we won't make our destination of Locarno by dark. Ed has biked the length of the Leventina Valley and is a few hours ahead of us. We play some catch-up and take a train 40 km from Faido to Bellinzona and continue biking to Locarno where we meet up with Ed at the youth hostel.
Ticino Canton

After crossing the St. Gotthard Pass the route descends dramatically into the lush Leventina Valley and follows the Ticino River. This is another Switzerland. The Swiss took the canton of Ticino from Italy in 1512 and never gave it back. The ambiance is steeped in Mediterranean culture. The language is Italian, and the architecture, food, and climate is decidedly southern. It's a unique mix of Swiss efficiency and Italian dolce vita. It's also a great ride down the valley. Twenty miles of downhill, dropping 2500 ft. in elevation. There was a 4 mile stretch where it seemed pedaling was absolutely unnecessary.

The valley is dotted with picturesque, medieval villages built of granite quarried from the mountainsides. Even in these idyllic surroundings one is never too far from the ubiquitous SwissCom phone booth. The vegetation changes to vineyards, chestnut groves, and subtropical flowers.

We really sensed the Italian influence on the culture and architecture after arriving in Locarno. We stayed overnight in a comfortable youth hostel. The next morning we biked along the palm treed shoreline of Lago Maggiore, basking in the warm Mediterranean sun on our way to the nearby resort town of Ascona. The pastel colored buildings stair-stepped down from the Monte Verità to the crystal clear waters of the lake - La Dolce Vita!

The broad cobblestone promenade of Piazza Giuseppe Motta was lined with colorful awning-covered outdoor cafes. Here we had a wonderful lunch under the yellow umbrellas of Al Pontile Ristorante while watching the tourists and locals strolling the tree-lined lakeshore promenade. We picked up some straw souvenir hats that came in handy in the relentless sun. More stylish than bike helmets, we think they added a sophisticated look to the new "locals".

Leaving the productive farming delta of the Ticino River, we took a short train ride to the top of Monte Ceneri and then biked along the narrow edge of Lago di Lugano to the small fishing village of Figino. The youth hostel is a large, four story, former patrician's house with 27 bedrooms totaling 160 beds. Before we sat down to the family style spaghetti dinner in the hostel's outdoor courtyard, we took a swim at the town beach and shared a bottle of local Merlot.

On our way from Figino to the Italian border we passed through the lovely village of Morcote. Nestled along the shore of Lago di Lugano, a terraced hillside rises behind the town and leads up to Chiesa St. Maria del Sasso (Church of St Maria of the Rock). The winding road following the shoreline provides superlative cycling. We're getting used to seeing palm trees in Switzerland.

This youth hostel in Lugano may be one of the best among Hostelling International's affiliates in Europe. The lady who runs the hostel told us her parents operated the facility before her. With the beautiful grounds, splashing fountains and outdoor pool surrounded by trees and garden, it almost feels like you're staying with rich relatives in Ticino. Although it's located in Savosa, a suburb a bit removed from the city center, it's worth the extra couple miles.

Here's a view of Lugano from our room in another wonderful hostel, the Backpacker's Montarina. This independent hostel is a former villa set in a forest of palm trees on a hill behind the train station. It's an oasis of green fronds with an Olympic size swimming pool. We stayed in a separate building with hotel-like rooms and our own baths. It was more expensive than the Savosa hostel, but the place was spotless, the staff was very friendly, breakfast was in the hotel next door, and they sold beer at the pool! Need we say more?

Lugano is the largest and liveliest city in the canton of Ticino. The arcades of the piazze offer lots of enticing outdoor cafes and markets. In the evening, a convenient cable car whisked us from the Montarina hostel down to the waterfront where an enterprising maitre d' hotel spotted five hungry looking cyclists walking near his outdoor café. With a few words of Italian and a wave of his hands he guided us to an available table. We obediently followed and listened to our server's advice in ordering the day's special, a Mediterranean seafood paella over rice. Being more than ready for dinner we were easy marks, especially with the language barrier. As it turned out, we enjoyed the largest variety of sea creatures than ever before at one sitting. We may not have been able to identify all the species presented on the table but it was one of the best meals on the trip.

The extra day in Lugano allowed us to explore a bit beyond the city's boundaries. We traveled by ferry a short distance up the lake to Gandria. The buildings along the shore cling to the hillside in this enchanting former fishing village. Once off the ferry, passengers climb stairs up to a warren of narrow alleys and walkways leading to shops and private residences. We stopped for a drink at a restaurant overlooking the lake and the Italian shore a half mile away. Cars are prohibited and the town enforces strict construction ordinances which have preserved the old world atmosphere. While hiking back to Lugano we stopped at a local artist's gallery and struck up a conversation with a young woman who spoke perfect English. Her father was the artist and she learned English while spending a year as an exchange student in Ohio, very close to where we live in Cleveland!
The Engadine (Inn River Valley)

We traveled by train from Lugano to St. Moritz. The Alpine landscape was a series of severe peaks and valleys, and even the train route took a circuitous 6-hour journey by way of Zürich. By a stroke of luck our train ride happened to fall on a gray, rainy, dismal day - the only real bad weather day of the trip! Through the mist, we managed to capture an example of one of the several spectacular tunnels along the route.

The last leg of the trip took us through the Inn river valley, Engadine in the Romansch language. The canton of Graubünden is a lightly populated, relatively remote section of Switzerland. We met very few tourists, which is surprising because the valley and the villages are so beautiful that the Engadine should be classified as a World Heritage site all the way to the Austrian border. We used Kompass map
148, Inntal Radweg, as our guide. The path leaving St. Moritz was wide and level but it didn't last long.

In Switzerland, easy riding is often a short-lived commodity and the route took us away from the river and into the hills bordering the Swiss National Park. The scenery was superb but after 20 miles of dirt-biking on our hybrid and road bikes with panniers, it was time for a change. We had lunch in the delightful village of Zernez and biked on the main road the last 20 miles to Scuol, Switzerland. The road had a couple great downhill sections, one being at least 3 miles long.

Scuol has many thermal springs in the area and we visited the futuristic Bogn health spa in the center of town. In addition to services such massage, sauna, tanning, and curative mineral waters, there are huge indoor/outdoor bathing facilities. Inside there are several pools of varying temperatures, mineral content and salinity. Swim through a channel leading outside and pick your therapy to ease those tired cycling muscles. Float around the perimeter of the pool with the artificial current, sit under a massaging waterfall, or find a water jet with just the right pressure to relax and enjoy. It was a fun, gigantic hot tub!

We have left Switzerland and spent the night in Landeck, Austria. Landeck is a moderately sized town in the Inn valley which appears to serve as a ski center for the area. The valley is wider and since the elevation has been dropping since we left St. Moritz, the forests are thicker. We are on the way to Innsbruck and the end of our journey.

We had one final adventure along the bike route. While stopping along the river for a rest we observed a group of rafters pulling out of the water. The raft captain took his wet-suited party to a nearby bridge for a celebratory plunge into the icy mountain water. After they emerged from the river, Pam struck up a conversation with the captain and he invited her to take a jump. Donning a wetsuit, Pam intrepidly climbed to the edge of the bridge with the captain and took the dive as seen in the photo to the right. Afterwards, we had a leisurely lunch at a country restaurant across the road and noticed clouds building to the west. Our dallying cost us later in the day. About 10 miles outside of Innsbruck the sky opened and it began pouring. Arriving in Innsbruck, drenched and muddy, we were in high spirits. The trip had been an unqualified success and talk had already begun for next year's adventure. The next day we took the train to Munich. It was not over quite yet, fortunately we planned an extra day for sightseeing in the Bavarian capital.

Uf Wiederluge!
Auf Wiedersehen!

The travel report lies on:

North-South Route route-03
North-South Route
Basel–Chiasso
To route
Graubünden Route route-06
Graubünden Route
Chur–Thusis–Martina / Bellinzona
To route
Aare Route route-08
Aare Route
Oberwald (Gletsch)–Koblenz
To route
Rhine Route route-02
Rhine Route
Andermatt–Basel
To route