Departures in 2012: June 17, July 29
That it should be the Swiss, the world’s most environmentally-conscious people, who care for the Alps, the world’s most elegant mountains, is a blessing for us all. No one else would do it so well. The impeccably tended beauty of the surroundings is accompanied by appropriate Alpine fare: fondue, raclette, fresh apricots and cherries that you pick from trees, and grape juice from heaven! Not a hard trip: we follow the valleys. And the only way to view the Alps is by bike.
Day 1: We assemble in a little village on the shores of the beautiful Lac de Joux on Sunday evening. Since people arrive from many directions and at many hours, this is one of our trip’s “independent nights,” but the hotel’s restaurant is warm and cozy if you make it in in time.... For entertainment, walk down to the shores of the lake to watch the fish jump. Think “card game”. (0-25km)
Day 2: We collect our wheels and, following as many rivers and valleys as possible, head over the border into France. You will quickly meet your first hill: a genuine Jura ridge, which you cross. These lines of buckled mountains gave their name to a geological era (and to a movie about dinosaurs). Their odd form will make it obvious just why (regarding the geology, not the dinosaurs). The roads are quiet, the views stunning, the lakes picturesque and very cold, and even the snack foods taste wonderful. Lunch in France (yum!), then head back to Switzerland for the night. Your bike ride has brought you down a long hill: climb back up through a fragrant pine forest, or let a train haul you up. Enjoy the healthy gastronomy in the evening – perhaps a fondue for din-din, or maybe a local trout. (50km)
Day 3: Today we go waaay up, then waaaaaay down
First, ride down the Lac du Joux. If this tires you out, refuel in lakeside Le Pont, at the far end. Now 200 meters up to the top of the col, where you are rewarded with a dramatic view of Lake Geneva to the south. On a clear day, the entire Mont Blanc chain is laid out before you. Then it’s all downhill along quiet country roads, past dairy farms and peaceful villages, to the shore. Lake Geneva has hosted visitors for 500 years, and the local expertise in the matter is immediately obvious. Lakefront promenades planted with bougainvillia, pretty terraces with views of the mountains, lake perch and white wine. Check out Lausanne on your way through. Then an international ferry carries us across the lake back into France, and to the spa town of Evian. Kick back and relax: it's what they do best here. The spa, the casino, and as much mineral water as you can drink are all possible distractions. (50-60km)
Day 4: Spend today pack-free, on a loop ride from Evian. Geneva, Montreux, back to the Jura, Lausanne - all are worthy destinations. Use combinations of your bike, the lake boats, and the train to work in as much as possible. Or just relax in Evian. Play on the water slide, sail on the lake, or maybe get in a round of mini golf. Rough life, eh? (0-75km)
Day 5: Now east along the shore of Lake Geneva, to the head of the lake where the Rhône River flows in. Back across the French-Swiss border for the umpteenth time. Turn south following the river and watch as the mountains come to greet you. With the wind at our backs, we slide between the steep walls of the narrowing valley. Incredibly steep terraced vineyards line the hills. Visit the salt mine at Bex, pause for grape juice at St.-Maurice.
Evening sees us in Martigny, at the foot of the St.-Bernard pass, surrounded by the birthplace of Switzerland's finest wines. Martigny is also home to the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, one of the world's great art museums (and which bizarrely doubles as an old car museum). Wander through the sculpture garden, admiring works of Calder, Chagall, Miró, Rodin... interspersed with the occasional Buick. (65km)
Day 6: Zermatt, our final destination, is 100 k away and 1 k+ higher in altitude. So start by forgetting your cares with a tasting at the Morand distillery, which makes fine brandies from the fruits of the orchards which surround us. Still with the wind at our backs, we charge (or wieve) up the flat floor of the Rhône valley. Car-free bike paths through apricot orchards and disguised military installations. Fresh grape juice from the station café at Riddes, a subterranean lake full of school children in St.-Léonard, castles in Sion, fondue in Leuk. Language changes from French to German.
At Visp we turn right toward the mountains and begin to worry. In the last 80 k we’ve climbed only 100 meters. That leaves 1,000 to go in the next 20. “Train. Can you say that? I like the way you say that.” A cog railway pulls us up a dramatic valley to Zermatt. Walk around town and get used to the special pace of this alpine resort village. (80km)
Day 7: A free day in the mountains. No packs, no bikes. There is, however, high altitude skiing, hot chocolate, glorious hikes among glacial lakes, alpine air... Or a vicious mini-golf tournament, the losers of which are sacrificed in a tribal ritual involving boiling cheese (optional). Not even one single km.
Day 8: Spend a last morning breathing in the mountain air. Souvenir shopping for Swiss hats, chocolate, and cuckoo clocks. Pick up a pocket knife as a gift for your favorite airport security agent. Snap some quick photos of the Matterhorn before it slips behind its robe of clouds. Then, back down the mountain. Whether under your own power (start with a serious brake check) or by grace of the railroad (make sure all the cog teeth are in place) depends on your trip, morning activity, foolhardiness, and (obviously) the tooth fairy. 40 downhill k to Brig. Enjoy every centimeter. For those now leaving our care, the trip disbands in Brig. (40Km)
- Trip price includes the bike!
Also see tour packages in:
Europe Switzerland Outdoor: Land Rambler Bicycle Touring
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