The Alps; BIG, breathtaking mountains…the image is instant and definite. Mention Switzerland, and there is no hesitation in the flow of images: towering mountains, high alpine meadows, deep blue lakes reflecting the snow covered peaks beyond. It has been said that Switzerland’s primary natural resource is the powerful attraction of her stunning landscape, the largest portion of which is the Alps. Here countless lakes and rivers find their source and mark their course in deep valleys and precipitous gorges at the feet of more than 100 magnificent peaks over 4000m high.
Our bicycle tour will take in some of the world’s most incredible views; the breathtaking and inspiring panorama of the Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger in the Bernese Alps, as well as the Matterhorn and Mont Rosa above Zermatt. We’ll challenge ourselves on the well-known climbs of the Stelvio and Gavia passes in Italy, the Furka, Bernina, San Bernardino, and countless more in Switzerland.
We’ll find ourselves cycling on perfect roads: thrilling switchback climbs and descents, meandering forest paths, winding lakeside roads, quiet roads wandering through green meadows; this will be constant scenic overload. Since childhood, this country has probably figured prominently in the travel dreams of many of us. Whether these dreams conjure up scenes of majestic peaks, fields of nodding wildflowers, tidy flower-decked chalets, polished townscapes, the carillon of cowbells, or shelves of brightly-wrapped chocolates, Switzerland will never fail to exhilarate.
This is not a tour to challenge Switzerland’s extreme terrain, but it will be a challenge to one’s senses and emotions to fully absorb the beauty and grandness of her scenery, the warm hospitality of her citizens, and… the tempting array of delicious and hearty foods served at mealtime. This tour is designed for single bikes, with most days having an intermediate route, as well as a long, challenging route. Patrik Etschmayer, our Swiss colleague from St. Gallen, has laid out a wonderful route for us, using many of the scenic, awe-inspiring roads that he has ridden for years. He has also arranged lodging for us in unique, beautifully situated 2-4 star hotels.
August 5 – Day Hike or Cable Car to Äscher Cliff Restaurant
Arrive in Appenzell on August 5 for an opportunity (weather permitting) to hike to the spectacular Berggasthaus Äscher-Wildkirchli for lunch. Built into the foot of a 100 meter cliff (the back wall is actually the rock of the cliff!), the 170 year-old guesthouse is run by the Knechtle-Wyss family and their five grown children. The menu features traditional Swiss mountain fare including our favorite rösti with homemade sausage and local alpine eggs laid by the resident hens – all this with the accompaniment of distant cowbells.
The hike takes about 3 hours and is ‘medium’ on the difficulty scale, with an altitude gain of 770 meters, but will offer stunning 360 degree views from the top, not to mention the beautiful sights along the way. After the first climb, we’ll reach the Seealpsee, and the path will lead us around this pretty lake. The path then leads up steeply to the Berggasthaus. After lunch and beers, we’ll climb on up to the Ebenalp plateau, where the views will knock you out. From here, the cable car will take us back down to the valley. Remember, you can take the cable car up to the Ebenalp as well, with about a 20-minute downhill hike through a 400 year old prehistoric cave, then on down to the restaurant.
This optional hike involves no extra cost to your tour, except for the extra nights in Appenzell, lunch on top, and the cable car. We’ll provide transportation to the starting point at the Wasserauen station, just a few miles from Appenzell.
August 8 - ZURICH, ST GALLEN, APPENZELL
From Zurich Airport, transfer directly to the St Gallen train. We’ll meet you at the station where we’ll relieve you of bikes and baggage. From here you’ll have the option (highly recommended!) to take the little red train on to Appenzell. As the train slowly climbs out of St. Gallen on its narrow gauge rail, you’ll be treated to the sight of tidy farms, brilliant green pastures dotted with very contented cows, and tiny village scenes…except that they are quite real. From the train station in Appenzell, it’s just a short stroll to our hotel. This charming town will have you wondering if you just stepped out of the pages of a fairytale book, with its ornately painted buildings and flower lined shopping streets; a perfect town and a perfect place to begin our tour of this most beautiful region. We will have our get-acquainted dinner tonight at the hotel, followed by an overview of the tour.
Ride options—The roads surrounding Appenzell offer a variety of climbs thru lush green pastures in the shadows of magnificent mountain peaks that are the signature of Switzerland. Take a friend, a map and a camera as you spin out the jet-lag, cycling along quiet roads amid the melody of ringing cowbells.
August 9 - LENZERHEIDE 67mi, 4400ft
The area around Appenzell has some of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere and is easily explored by bicycle. Our trip starts with an easy ramble across grassy pastures on some of our favorite local roads, with awesome views of the local mountains, valleys, and too-green-to-believe hills. Soon we are descending a winding forested road, as we drop down towards the Boden See and the Rhine River valley. As we head up the Rhine River we cross a tiny corner of Liechtenstein (check out the castle), we then cross back into Switzerland over the tiny Engpass, though a small cut in the mountains, on our way to Chur. The climb to Lenzerheide, the biggest of the day, offers panoramic views of the Rhine and surrounding mountains.
August 10 - ZERNEZ 46mi, 4700ft, or 71mi, 7700ft
After a small climb we have a wonderful descent, thru green meadows and cute villages, with huge mountains looming in the distance. After climbing up a deep valley we finally tackle one of the most beautiful climbs of our tour, the Albulapass. This scenic climb is followed by a descent to the well-known Engadin Valley, followed by a gradual downhill run to Zernez. Zernez is a picturesque alpine village with huge mountains on all sides and the Swiss National Park just to the south. The optional ride is to continue on past Zernez and climb the also very scenic Flüelapass.
August 11 - BORMIO, Italy 63mi, 8900ft
From our hotel, we immediately begin with a beautiful 2300ft climb to the Ofenpass, our route taking us through the natural preserve. An equally gorgeous and awesome descent brings us to Santa Maria for a café or hot chocolate warmer. We continue descending into Italy before attacking the Stelvio from the East side. This is the famous route often used by the Giro d’Italia. With its 41 switchbacks and over 6000 feet of elevation gain, it is one of the longest and hardest climbs in all of Europe. The descent to Bormio is no less impressive. This is a beautiful alpine resort town, and our hard day of cycling should be rewarded with a casual stroll around town with a stop or two for snacks gelato and beer.
August 12 - BORMIO 69mi, 9000ft
Bormio is an attractive village in a stunning setting, a wonderful place to have a day of relaxing and recovery. However, this is also headquarters for some of the most amazing bike riding country you will ever come across and should not be missed. Both routes head downhill towards Tirano, the first route turning off to climb the Passo di Foppa (often called Passo di Mortirolo). This climb shows up in the Tour of Italy occasionally, but next on the climb list, Passo di Gavia, is the Giro classic made famous by Andy Hampsten, when he won in 1988. Andy soloed to victory over this daunting climb in freezing rain and snow; hopefully we will have the more normal, sunny, blue skies.
August 13 - BORMIO Rest day or 77mi, 8500ft
The first climb of the day will be to the ski resort of Aprica. After a steep switch backed climb, we traverse a high mountain ridge all the way to the Passo di Mortirolo. This 39km alpine meander, with its precipitous terrain and impressive views in all directions, is one of Glenn’s favorite bike routes in Italy.
August 14 - PONTRESINA, Switzerland 46mi, 7400ft
Today’s route passes through some of Europe’s highest and most rugged terrain, with many of the peaks over 10,000 ft in elevation and heavily glaciated. Much of the day’s climbing is from Bormio to Livigno, as it winds, climbs and descends one of the prettiest roads of the entire tour. A gradual climb after lunch brings us to a small pass and we descend to the base of the Bernina Pass. A little more climbing to the summit of the Bernina Pass and it is all downhill, along the famous Berninastrasse, to our hotel.
August 15 - SPLÜGEN 67mi, 6800ft
Although not a rest day, today is at least an easier day, as we have only one major pass to climb. We ride through St Moritz and then the valley opens up and we cycle past two large alpine lakes (bring cameras and plenty of digital space) and then ascend (300ft) the Passo del Maloja. Next is a beautiful downhill run into Italy, including a hanging valley, and two villages worth the small side trip to explore them, Stampa and Soglio. Beautiful, high mountain valleys are becoming somewhat redundant, but we have another that must be climbed, the Splügenpass. This is a good steady climb with some steep sections, but the scenery is beautiful with lots of lakes and waterfalls. The descent to Splügen, on the Swiss side, is steep and fast, with some great switchbacks.
August 16 - ANDERMATT 98mi, 9700ft, or 79mi, 5600ft
The route, the longest and hardest of the tour, starts easy, climbing gently from Splügen and then more radically, with many tight switchbacks, over the Passo del San Bernardino. A most wonderful and very long (6000ft) descent to Bellinzona precedes an equally long, climb up one of Europe’s most famous passes, the St. Gottardpass. The old road up the pass is, in places, cobbled and tightly packed with switchbacks, making it one of the more exciting climbs of our tour. For those who are a little crazy, but full of energy, there is an even tougher route, very long and very hard, over the Lukmanierpass, and Oberalpppass. It is 116 miles with 11,800 feet of elevation for the day. The short route is quite scenic, it descends the Rhine Posteriur, and climbs the Rhine Anteriur. The Oberalppass is the only big climb of the route.
August 17 - GRINDELWALD 55mi, 9100ft
This short, but very hard day, starts with yet more scenic mountain views. We leave the hotel and before us is a grand panorama of the forbidding Val d’Urseren, surrounded by high mountain peaks, and in the distance, we can see the zigzags of the first of our three climbs, the Furkapass. Just over the summit of this beautiful windswept pass, we get an incredible sight; the Rhone Valley disappearing in the distance, taking our road with it. High to our right is the massive jumble of the Rhone Glacier, source of the Rhone River. Ahead are the steep switchbacks of our next climb, the imposing Grimselpass. The Grimselpass, the easiest of our three climbs is followed by a 25 km descent that will rest the tired legs before we begin the final climb up the Grosse Scheidegg. This is one of the most beautiful passes (and hardest) of our tour. On the way up, the jagged mountains on both sides provide a beautiful climb up through the meadows. But once at the top the view explodes into one of the most staggering views in the world, looming in front of us are the vertical faces of the Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn, and Eiger, and the snow-capped Mönch. The final descent into Grindelwald with the huge mountains all around, is so amazing that maybe we should ride it again tomorrow.
August 18 - GRINDELWALD Rest day, 53 mi, 4500ft
Grindelwald and the surrounding mountains are one of the most beautiful places on earth. Enjoy your day off with a hike or cable car ride to a restaurant, or take the cog rail to the Jungfraujoch at 11,400ft The views are staggering from anywhere, be sure to bring lots of film or an extra memory card. For those who would like to take a ride there are some incredibly beautiful options. A lovely rest day ride would be over Grosse Scheidegg, around the Brienzer See, up the Lauterbrunnen Valley (this is a must see, out and back ride) then back to Grindelwald. This enjoyable ride would be 61 miles with about 5800 feet of climbing. Or take the train from Gundlischwand for 53 miles and 4500 feet. Since the Lauterbrunnen valley, with its high vertical cliffs, is so amazing, if nothing else, do a short ride from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen and return from Gundlischwand on the train. This would be about 20 miles and 500 feet of climbing.
August 19 - VITZNAU 74mi, 3000ft, or 56mi, 6000ft, or 71mi, 8800ft
There is an easy route available, descend to Interlaken, with another chance to visit the Lauterbrunnen valley, then around the Brienzer See. No chance for a warm up on today’s main route, since the climb up the Grosse Scheidegg starts at our hotel door. After a well deserved alpine descent, the easy climb over the Brunigpass brings us to the lakes region. We pass four beautiful lakes on our way to the hotel, with a ferry ride as well. There are some extra loops available if you have the energy reserves. Map #3 shows some options for interesting exploration. Map #4 shows the loop over the Acherlipass, it adds 15mi and 2800ft. It is a very steep climb, including an 18% section, but the views from the top are amazing and well worth the effort. Our hotel is beautifully situated above the lake, with grand views of the surrounding mountains, the lake below, and the city of Luzern in the distance.
August 20 - WILDHAUS 73mi, 9000ft, -or- 58mi, 8300ft
Today we continue through the lakes region, starting with the beautiful stretch of road along the lake from the hotel to Brunnen. In Schwyz, the longer route takes us over the Ibergeregg and down to Einsiedeln. The interior of the Abbey at Einsiedeln is the best example of Baroque architecture in Switzerland and is well worth a visit before or after lunch. The short climb up the Sattelegg is followed by a great descent and an easy run into Weesen. The shorter, but perhaps more difficult route leaves Schwyz up the Muotatal Valley and climbs the very steep Pragelpass (12 to 18%). The scenery is stunning, and the descent past the Klontaler See is equally gorgeous. From Weesen, the climb to Amden is a constant 10-11%. Above Amden, we’ll see short pitches of 20%, but the struggle is quickly forgotten, as the views from the top are quite impressive. After Weesen, the long route (adds 28 miles to the ride, but 2500 feet less climbing) takes a scenic road above the Walensee, and continues around to the Rhine River. The final climb to Wildhaus winds up steep meadows with expansive views of the Rhine Valley in both directions. Wildhaus sits high in a beautiful open valley beneath the towering Santis and other peaks of the Alpstein.
August 21 - APPENZELL 30mi, 2300ft, or 31mi, 2300ft
On a trip filled with superlatives, today may seem redundant, but in no way is it average. Our last day of cycling starts with the gradual descent of one of the most beautiful high mountain valleys of the tour. At Neu St.Johann we start our last climb, the Schwägalp, which sits beneath the high rocky face of the Säntis. A trip up to the top on the cable car will provide one last view of all the mountains of our tour, all the way from the Jungfrau to mountains in Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Appenzell lies below us, 13 miles of downhill still to go, where a large stein of beer awaits us. The alternate route is just as difficult, but traverses (and climbs) the high rolling, green hills from village to village. Farewell dinner tonight at the hotel.
Depending on your time of departure, van transport is provided to the Zurich airport or St Gallen train station for your flight home