Ken Roberts - - Bicycling

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Switzerland high passes: West - East

September 2008

what's heresee overview Map of passes + routes

see also:


Very worthwhile -- I hope to do much of it again.

So far all my bicycling over the high passes has been single-day rides: 10 loop (or figure-of-8) routes over high passes, 3 over-and-back pass rides, and 3 valley loops to connect between pass routes. But now I'm feeling like I'd want to try riding much of it as a continuous multi-day tour. (Though my original concept was to focus my route exploration on West to East, now I'm seeing that riding East to West has some advantages.)

problem: Switzerland has lots of dramatic high mountains which you don't get to see well from the paved roads which go over passes.

  • Valais / Wallis: Many of the highest mountains  (e.g. Matterhorn, Weisshorn, and many others) of the Wallis / Valais canton of Switzerland cannot be viewed closely from any pass with a paved road. (The roads which do go closer to those mountains don't go over any pass. The more obvious roads get lots of vehicle traffic, and I haven't yet explored some of the lsess obvious valleys with rroads.) So instead I ride over the much-easier Saanenmoeser pass.

  • peaks of les Diablerets mountains are near the Pillon and Croix cols, but the road does not offer dramatic angles on those peaks.

  • peaks north of Surselva (e.g. Oberalpstock + Toedi) are dramatic, but not very visible from the road over and east from the Oberalppass.

surprise: What struck me about Switzerland was how pretty and interesting it was to ride the sections other than the high passes -- even though that wasn't my original purpose. Like Saanenmöser is kind of low and mellow as a pass crossing, but I found it a very pretty and pleasant ride thru farm country.

what makes this report different?

This is different from most other reports about traversing high passes in Switzerland:

(a) It doesn't just give one route and declare victory. For most stages I explored at least two alternative routes on my bicycle (and sometimes more in a car) -- and I give reasons for each alternative. I explored roughly twice as many high passes as other bicycle tour  riders crossing the country -- see map.

(b) I discuss larger strategy options and give reasons for preferring one alternative or another -- including reasons why somebody else might want to choose differently.

(c) I describe which particular stages were better or worse, and concerns about risks for some stages.

(d) I consider different directions of travel.

(e) I consider other ways of enjoying a high mountain road than simply traversing it from one end to the other. I also consider out-and-back rides and loop routes.

major changes in route or strategy

Almost all of the Switzerland passes benefit lots from having more snow, so riding in May or early June rather than late August makes the mountains look much more dramatic. (I strongly noticed this in riding to the Oberalppass in different seasons). But especially Grosse Scheidegg and Susten still have lots of dramatic high-mountain scenery to offer even after most of the seasonal snow has melted.

West to East, I'd consider just finishing the tour around Bonaduz or Reichanau or Chur instead of riding to St Moritz + Pontresina. (could take the train from there to St Moritz / Pontresina). Or if there were not significant snow for Oberalppass, I might consider cutting off the tour at Andermatt (after substituting Nufenen + Gotthard for Furka) -- or even stop at Innertkirchen (and finish instead with out-and-back tours of west side of Susten, and both sides of Grimsel, then along the north side of the Brienzersee to Interlaken).

If including riding between St Moritz and Bonaduz, then I'd definitely prefer doing it in the East-to-West direction (and over Albula instead of Fluela).

Valais / Wallis high peaks? These are some of the highest (Monte Rosa + Dom + Weisshorn) and most famous (Matterhorn) mountains in Switzerland. But except for the Matterhorn (seen from the town of Zermatt), it's hard to get a good view of those peaks from a paved road. And there's no high passes in Switzerland that go among those peaks. The closest pass is Simplon, but that goes between Switzerland and Italy, and doesn't connect in Italy closely to a high pass which would go back to Switzerland. The next closest pass Grand St Bernard, but that doesn't have views of any high peaks except the Grand Combin and Mont Velan -- a good thing, but not the Matterhorn.

The other approach would be to traverse east-west down in the Rhone river valley, and do up-and-back rides into the high Valais / Wallis peaks. I have these problems with this strategy: (a) I don't know which of these up-and-back rides is good; (b) so far I've never heard any of them recommended on net discussion forums or in personal conversations with other riders; (c) when I've driven up and down some of these roads in a car, it has not occurred to me that it would especially interesting to try any of them on a bicycle; (d) riding east-west thru the Rhone valley doesn't connect well with Grosse Scheidegg, which I think is the best paved-road pass in Europe.  

base camps?

"base camps" instead of traverse? To focus only on high passes (and miss the pretty farmland in between), another strategy is to have one fixed "base camp" for several days near Martigny, and another fixed "base camp" around Innertkirchen or Meiringen.

Martigny-area "base camp", possible rides:

  • up and back to Champex (or continue down-and-back on the south side of Champex to Orsieres). Or continue further south . . .

  • loop from Orsieres first south over Grand St Bernard to Aosta and Courmayeur, then return north (with sustantial dirt) over Col du Grand Ferret to la Fouly + Orsieres.

  • loop west up Gorges du Trient to Finhaut, returning east over Col de la Forclaz

optional: Climb above Finhaut to Lac d'Emosson with a great view of the Mont Blanc mountains, optionally some interesting riding across the dam, gentle at first, then steep and narrow climbing higher to another dam and lake.

optional: continue past Finhaut over Gietroz to Chatelard and the France frontier -- and perhaps even farther southwest into France, out-and-back thru Vallorcine to Col des Montets).

  • up-and-back on bike route 59 thru Bex and Gryon to Villars-sur-Ollon -- with big views of the Rhone valley and Dents du Midi and other mountains, interesting riding.

Additional options:  If there's still snow remaining in springtime, can climb higher toward Col de la Croix for good mountain views. Or possibly make a loop over Croix, returning over Col des Mosses to Aigle (more vehicle traffic, and it's likely more scenic + interesting to simply descend the climbing route thru Gryon to Bex).

  • up-and-back thru Monthey up to Pas de Morgins (and a little ways down its west side to Chatel)

. . . climbing up mostly on quieter roads to the north of the main road (see details below under start-finish points in West) -- and descend the same way. Or optionally descend to Monthey on the main road (an exciting middle section, but substantial vehicle traffic increasing down lower).

  • half-way up toward Col de la Forclaz by climbing a (mostly) quieter road to la Fey.

I started by going south thru Martigny-Croix, a short section on the shoulder of the Grand St Bernard highway, then turn off into le Brocard (or Broccard) and climb to le Fays (after a left turn at a T-intersection halfway up) and then up to the main Col de la Forclaz road -- (descending the main road from that point offers great views together with high-speed vehicle traffic).  (? Possibly much of the section on the Grand St Bernard highway could have been avoided by starting thru les Rappes (instead of le Brocard) ?)

  • resources: There's no regional bicycling map available yet which covers most of these roads, but I found this map helpful in showing lots of roads and paths - (though it does not show the official bicycling routes):

Valais / Wallis holiday map 1:120000 by Kümmerly+Frey.

(I've heard there's also some helpful 1:100000 topo maps available from the Switzerland government mapping agency.)

Sion: not far from Martigny in the same valley is Sion:

  • "Balcon Sud du Rhone" (my name) has big views across the valley and interesting climbs and descents . . .

I started in the city of Sierre, climbed south to Vissoie (option: continuing south up to Zinal is worthwhile, but much longer), then northwest thru Mayoux + Pinsec to Vercorin, west thru Itravers + Loye to Nax, south thru Mase + Suen + St Martin, west to Euseigne + Mache, then a complicated section sort of thru Mayens-de-Sion partly on unpaved (gentle) hiking trail (helps to have a detailed local map) -- to Veysonnaz, then down to Beuson. About +2200 vertical meters of climbing, mostly around 6-8% grade. (I'm not sure the best way to connect back to the start in Sierre).

(I liked it a lot as far as Beuson, but after that I'm not sure what's best: I tried climbing to Haute Nendaz, but didn't find a way to continue, and the descent I tried thru les Condemines + Fey wasn't so fun (though had some more big valley views).

In springtime when there is still snow on the south faces of the Diablerets mountains on the north side of the Rhone valley, the mountain views are pretty nice (in addition to the big valley view which are good all year long).

  • "Balcon Nord du Rhone" (my name) has views of both valley and mountains

Distinctive of this route is that the mountain views stay snowy and prettier much later into the summer -- so I think it's best to save it for a blue-sky day when can clearly see the high peaks to the south.

I started riding from Sion, first south on the road on south side of Rhone valley to near Aproz, then north up thru Conthey + Erde + Daillon. But partwary up the narrower gorge, instead of continuing toward Col du Sanetsch, I turned off down and crossed the bridge over the gorge, continued east thru Saviese + Ayent + Grimisaut, then climbed to Crans + Montana (which has a big view south to the high peaks across a little lake), then descent (good riding) to Sierre. About +1650 vertical meters of climbing, mostly around 6-8% grade. (I'm not sure the best way to connect back to the start in Sion).

I didn't find the valley views as dramatic as on the "Balcon Sud", and overall it felt more "developed" than the "Balcon Sud" (which wasn't what I was looking for, but if you're into ski resort towns, Crans-Montana seemed like a fairly nice one). Wished there had been more riding among the vineyards, which suggests . . .

  • Bike Route 72: “Chemin du Vignoble” (?)

I haven't tried it, but one part crossed my "Balcon du Nord" riding. There's nice map for it on the website, which says that the route goes thru Martigny + Sion + Leuk, thru lots of vineyards.

  • Col du Sanetsch (?), north from Sion . . .

 I haven't tried it. I've heard some riders like it, some don't. The road doesn't continue over the north side (though there is a mechanical lift up from near Gsteig), so this is normally done as an up-and-back ride.

  • resources: There's no regional bicycling map available yet which covers most of these roads, but I found this map helpful in showing lots of roads and paths - (though it does not show the official bicycling routes):

Valais / Wallis holiday map 1:120000 by Kümmerly+Frey.

(I've heard there's also some helpful 1:100000 topo maps available from the Switzerland government mapping agency.)

Innertkirchen (or Meiringen) "base camp", possible rides:

  • west side of Susten up-and-back (also perhaps partway down the east side)

  • north side of Grimsel up-and-back -- even better to continue down-and-back to Gletsch, or even further to partway up Furka to the Belvidere view of the Rhone glacier.

  • loop counter-clockwise over Grimsel + Furka to Andermatt, then down thru Goeschenen to Wassen, and west across Susten back to Innertkirchen.

  • loop clockwise, starting west over Grosse Scheidegg to Grindelwald + Interlaken, returning east along north side of Brienzersee and then thru Unterbach.

with various interesting side-trips:

  • loop around Brienzersee lake (with substantial section on dirt perhaps with tricky route-finding) -- I'd suggest clockwise, though actually my own riding around the Brienzersee was counter-clockwise.

  • resources: There's a regional bicycling map available for "Berner Oberland".

my route West to East

see map

  • (start from Italy: Courmayeur on southeast side of Mont Blanc)

  • (dirt) Grand Ferret (to Orsieres)

  • Champex (to Martigny + Bex)

  • [ side-trip: loop counter-clockwise from Martigny over Finhaut + Gietroz + Forclaz (I've also ridden it clockwise) ] + [side-side-trip climb to Lac d'Emosson]

  • Croix (climbing up by way of bike route 59 thru Bex + Gryon and on over to Les Diablerets)

  • Pillon (to Gstaad)

  • Saanenmöser (climb by bike route on small roads, descend main road) - (to Zweisimmen + Spiez + Interlaken)

  • [ side trip from Interlaken out-and-back to north side of the Brienzersee lake -- or possibly around the Brienzersee, with substantial section on dirt perhaps with tricky route-finding, I'd suggest clockwise, though actually my own riding around the Brienzersee was counter-clockwise ]

  • Grosse Scheidegg (climb bike route 61 (some on dirt) - [various pretty side-trips available], descend toward Meiringen) - (then short climb to Innertkirchen)

  • [ side-trip from Innertkircen up + back west side of Susten (and partway down E side) - (but so far I've only done the west side of Susten as a descent, only one section as a climb) ]

  • Grimsel (to Gletsch)

  • Furka (to Andermatt)

  • [ consider substituting (which I also rode) Nufenen / Novena + Gotthard / San Gottardo for Furka ]

  • Oberalp (to Disentis + Flims + Reichenau + Chur)

  • Lenzerheide (to Lenz + Alvaneu near Tiefencastel)

  • Albula (to La Punt + Pontresina near St Moritz)

  • Bernina (to Forcola di Livigno)

  • (finish to Livigno + Bormio in Italy)

for alternate finish routes, see under start-finish points in East.

alternate start which I've also ridden: from France, Chamonix + Chatelard on the northeast side of Mont Blanc, over Giettaz + Finhaut + Forclaz to Martigny. (I've also descended (dirt) Gorges du Trient to Martigny)

alternate start which I've also ridden: from France (from the direction of Geneva + Lac Leman), from Evian-les-Bains over Pas de Morgins.

highlights for West to East

  • if starting from Aosta, Italy: The climb under the southeast faces of Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses and Mont Dolent up to Col du Grand Ferret is outstanding - (but finished with hiking with rolling and carrying the bike from the refuge up to the col).

  • descent from Col du Grand Ferret has fun sections. I remember descending from La Fouly to Orsieres on the road being rather fun.

  • Champex works fine south-to-north.

  • if starting from Chamonix, France: the views thru Gietroz and Finhaut are good, and can climb above Finhaut to Lac d'Emosson for some outstanding views of the Mont Blanc mountains. (or if start lower in France around Sallanches, the climb on side-roads thru Servoz and les Houches to Chamonix are interesting and pretty.)

  • bike route 59 climb from Bex thru Gryon to Villars-sur-Ollon has big views of the Rhone valley and Dents du Midi and other mountains, interesting riding.

  • Saanenmöser in the West-to-East direction was already pretty good from Gstaad to Zweisimmen, could have been even better if I'd used the quieter way of bike route 9 from Zweisimmen to Wimmis + Spiez (instead of the main road) -- and I well might have preferred bike route 9 also in the section from Saanenmöser to Zweisimmen.

  • bike route 61 up the west side of Grosse Scheidegg is outstanding -- though climbing all the way up to the pass doesn't add so much to the views (unless then ride off-road a ways northwest from the pass part-way toward First; or go a ways down the other side of the pass and then turn around and climb back up again). Also there are some pretty side-trips: e.g. up the Lauterbrunnen valley, climb from Grindelwald up to Männlichen.

  • gentle around La Punt + St Moritz + Pontresina (much on dirt) was pretty.

  • climbing (mostly moderate) from Pontresina to Bernina pass has views of year-round snowy mountains.

changes + concerns for West to East

  • some of the descent on main road from Saanenmöser to Zweisimmen, and then more so from Zweisimmen to Spiez had high traffic. The alternate bike route sections had some rather pretty + interesting sections (though partly on dirt) -- so I'd consider substitituting bike route for main road.

  • riding along the Thunersee from Spiez to Interlaken was pretty enough, but kind of noisy right next to the busy autobahn. I might consider trying riding around the north side of the Thunersee to get to Interlaken -- but I haven't explored that at all yet.

  • the climb up to Grosse Scheidegg on bike route 61 is outstanding, but the descent of the east side isn't so much fun, so instead I'd consider doing the east side as an up-and-back side trip (and perhaps not go all the way to the top), perhaps descending some sections on the main road instead of bike route 61 -- then ride the road along north side of Brienzersee to get to Meiringen and Innertkirchen.

  • add the west side of Susten as an up + back side trip from Innertkirchen. (The problem I have with substituting Susten in the main route for Grimsel + Furka is that climbing north from Wassen to Andermatt has questionable visibility on a road which sometimes gets high traffic (especially the Goeschenen to Andermatt section -- also the descent from Susten to Wassen doesn't seem like it would be very interesting, though I have not tried it in that direction yet.)

  • the long climb from Chur to Lenzerheide has some questionable visibility points, and was not outstandingly interesting or pretty (and the descent south from Lenzerheide was not all that interesting). But the alternate route from Reichenau to Bonaduz to Thusis also has questionable visibility points, and so does the route from Thusis to Tiefencastel (with often high traffic). (? Perhaps just take the train or bus from Reichenau or Chur to Tiefencastel or St Moritz ?)

  • climbing south up Albula is in a pleasant environment, but higher up the main view I got was of the power transmission towers. (Julier lacks the towers, but often gets high traffic volume, and I would not be comfortable with climbing the first section of Julier (including tunnel) up from Tiefencastel. (I suspect I'd like it better in the opposite direction).

my route East to West

see map

  • (start from Pontresina + St Moritz + Zernez)

  • Fluela (to Davos + Tiefencastel + Thusis + Bonaduz)

  • Oberalp (to Andermatt + Wassen)

  • Susten (to Innertkirchen)

  • [ side trip from Innertkirchen: north side of Grimsel up + back (perhaps also down the other side to Gletsch, or further to the Belvidere on west side of Furka) ]

  • Grosse Scheidegg (descend main road) - [various pretty side-trips available, e.g. Lauterbrunnen valley] - (to Interlaken + Spiez)

  • [ side trip from Interlaken out-and-back to north side of the Brienzersee lake -- or possibly around the Brienzersee, with substantial section on dirt perhaps with tricky route-finding, I'd suggest clockwise, though actually my own riding around the Brienzersee was counter-clockwise ]

  • Saanenmöser (climb bike route 9 (some dirt), descend main road) - (to Saanen + Chateau-d'Oex)

  • Mosses (to Aigle + Martigny)

  • [ side trip: loop counter-clockwise from Martigny over Finhaut + Giettaz + Forclaz (I've also ridden it clockwise) ]

  • Champex (to Orsieres)

  • Grand St Bernard

  • (finish to Aosta in Italy)

alternate finish which I've also ridden: over (dirt) Finhaut + Gietroz to Chatelard + Chamonix, France. (I've also climbed over Forclaz to Chatelard.)

alternate finish which I've also ridden: over Pas de Morgins to Evian-les-Bains, France (toward Lac Leman + Geneva).

for alternate start routes, see under start-finish points in East.

highlights for East to West

overall going East to West across the high passes of Switzerland has some advantages.

Some of the high points:

  • Davos west to Alvaneu was pretty (but that remains in the route only if the Fluela pass remains).

  • I suspect south to north over Albula would be prettier than north to south (because wouldn't spend so much time staring at the power lines) - (but I haven't tried it in that direction yet).

  • Thusis to Bonaduz to Ilantz was nice.

  • climbing West side of Oberalp was nice (with some new snow)

  • descending Andermatt to Wassen had fun sections.

  • going over Susten is outstanding - (and East to West makes it good to include it in the main route).

  • Grosse Scheidegg is outstanding - (also some of the side-trips) - and with a more fun descent in the East to West direction (though some of the views appear more easily while climbing West to East).

  • Saanenmöser in the West-to-East direction was delightful, climbing the little roads on bike route 9.

  • Champex works fine going north to south.

  • Grand St Bernard from north to south offers convenient views of the snow-covered Grand Combin peak.

  • finishing with a descent to Aosta, climb to Courmayeur and over (dirt) Grand Ferret looping back north thru La Fouly to Orsieres -- could be a fine way to finish.

changes + concerns for East to West

If I were doing it again, I think I might try:

  • start from Poschiavo (or Tirano) by climbing the south side of Bernina

  • substitute Albula (? or Julier ?) (instead of Fluela).

  • possibly substitute Lenzerheide + Chur for Thusis -- because there are some questionability visibility points on the high-traffic road going from Tiefencastel to Thusis. On the other hand I liked the descent from Thusis to Bonaduz.

  • there are some questionable visibility points in going from Bonaduz to the Oberalppass - (mostly west above Disentis) -- but I can't think of a way to avoid them (other than to use the train and/or bus to connect from say Tiefencastel to Overalp or Andermatt)

  • substitute bike route 59 over Pillon + Croix (instead of Mosses).

favorite loop routes

Since I rode most of the stages as loop routes, it makes sense for me to say which ones I liked:

Here's some that I'd gladly do again:

  • Grimsel + Furka + Susten as counter-clockwise loop. (does have some uninteresting sections, but overall the variety of glacier views and lakes, the tunnel descent from Andermatt to Goeschenen, the sustained high-mountain atmosphere carries it for me.)

  • Grand St Bernard + Grand Ferret in clockwise loop with Orsieres (Switzerland) and Aosta + Courmayeur (Italy) - (but that includes long sections on dirt)

  • Grosse Scheidegg loop with the lake Breinzersee, tend to prefer clockwise direction starting in Meiringen.

  • Martigny to Col des Montets: go up via Salvan + Gorges du Trient to Finhaut (sustained section climbing very steep dirt), optionial climb up to Lac d'Emosson for big view of Mont Blanc mountains, then thru Gietroz (very steep downhill) toward Chatelard. Out-and-back thru Chatelard + Vallorcine to Col des Montets, and return over Col de la Forclaz.

  • Saanen > bike route to Gstaad > climb bike rt 9 east > Saanenmöser > descend main road west > Saanen.

  • Zweisimmen > climb bike rt 9 west > Saanenmöser > descend main road west > Zweisimmen -- (only if I thought the main road would not have high traffic volume west-bound).

  • Sumvitg or Trun west to Disentis on some bike routes south of the main road, and return from Disentis on main road 19 east to Sumvitg + Trun.

  • hilly clockwise loop between the Reichenau train station and Ilantz: west from Reichenau on bike rt 2 thru Bonaduz + Versam to get to Ilantz, then east back thru Sagogn + Laax Falera + Flims back to Reichenau.

  • loop around La Punt + St Moritz + Pontresina (much on dirt): It doesn't go near any high passes, but it was pleasant pretty riding.

Here's some that I was glad to do once, but not in a big hurry to do again:

  • Nufenen + Gotthard + Furka passes (counter-clockwise)

  • Albula + Fluela passes (counter-clockwise)

Here's some loops that I haven't ridden or even checked, but I'm sorta thinking I might like to try sometime:

  • something that goes all the way around the lake Thunersee (but not over any high passes)

  • I saw a hint on a bike route map that it might be possible to ride between Wimmis and Zweisimmen by going over some high trail or road between Adelboden and Lenk, but I know nothing else about that. If that worked, I could connect the other side by using bike rt 9 between Zweisimmen and Wimmis.

  • counter-clockwise over Julier pass north-to-south (but avoiding most of the main road between Tiefencastel and Savognin), and over Albula pass south-to-north.

section by section

(taking them in order West to East)

start-finish points in West

see very approximate routes on map

Four possibilities I know:

  • Col du Grand St Bernard + Aosta (Italy):  highest which is all on roads, interesting col, nice views of peaks, esp northeast to Grand Combin + Mont Velan (but not as spectacular as peaks from Courmayeur + Grand Ferret) -  (more detail under Aosta + Courmayeur :: Orsieres).

  • Col du Grand Ferret + Courmayeur (Italy): highest of these four passes, most spectacular mountain views, but substantial on dirt and with some strenuous hiking with rolling + carrying bike (more detail under Aosta + Courmayeur :: Orsieres). I would do it again north-bound (but I'm not so interested in south-bound).

  • Col de la Forclaz + Chatelard toward Vallorcine + Chamonix (France): Two or three possible routes: Obvious is the main road over Col de la Forclaz, no dirt, but substantial vehicle traffic, close views of vineyards and big views across the Rhone valley. Much of east side is long straight sections, so not as interesting as it could be. Gorges du Trient thru Finhaut + Salvan has a steep dirt section, too steep for me to enjoy going downhill (east-bound), so I prefer to take it uphill (west-bound) -- though it could be chosen for east-bound if the priority is minimizing vehicle traffic and climbing work. Another variation is to climb over the village of Gietroz (very steep on south side toward Chatelard village).

Loop Martigny > climb thru Salvan > Gorges du Trient > Finhaut > Chatelard (with up-and-back side trip to Col des Montets) > return > (optional steep climb over Gietroz and over Finhaut then descend south to main road) > Trient > Col de la Forclaz > Martigny:  I would gladly do that again.

How I found the west end of the road to Salvan + Gorges du Trient from Martigny: Starting from the main roundabout at South end of Martigny, I followed signs for “Centre-ville” (the name of the street when I looked after a few blocks was Rue St Bernard). After a while I reached a one-block-long plaza with many trees. At the North end of this block, turned L on Rue Marc Murano. Saw old castle-like tower above left as headed West toward wooden bridge. Crossed the bridge, followed sign for les Marecottes + Salvan. This street became the road up to Salvan. [Or before the main climb to Salvan starts, can bear R and quick L onto main (non-Autoroute) road NW to St Maurice, which links to several bike routes.]

thru Salvan + Gorges du Trient to Finhaut: Initial climbing is has some sections sustained around 8% grade, with big views across the valley. Road goes thru tunnel around 500m long (modern, well-lit, reasonably wide road lanes, sidewalk alongside), felt like around 6% grade (not more than 7%) inside tunnel. Salvan was a nice village with food opportunities. When reach Les Marecottes, just before train station, bear Left to follow signs for “le Tretien” and “zoo”, road goes on South side of train tracks. West from there feels more remote, but not very good views down to the bottom of the gorge.  Paved road ends at West end of le Tretien. Wide unpaved hiking trail takes rising travserse - (do not follow paved road going left down switchbacks). Interpretive sign said the trail was historically called "Route de la Cha". I was initially able to ride on the trail with my 30c non-knobby tires, but after the first sharp turn the trail got very steep and I had to get off and walk. After several switchbacks the road got gentle again with some views and then met the modern paved road just outside Finhaut.

optional side-trip: Lac d'Emosson from Finhaut, for a great big view of the Mont Blanc mountains -- one of the best mountain views in Europe from a public paved road. Also a possible interesting ride across the dam, and a possible steep narrow climb up to a second dam + lake. (Though the road up to the first lake + dam is not so interesing for a focus on the riding, just some long switchbacks.)

  • Pas de Morgins + Evain-les-Bains (France) + Lac Leman toward Geneva: dramatic Dents du Midi peaks on east side, but not as interesting on west side (though it would be much more spectacular in early season with seasonal snow). Not the best choice unless trying to make a connection to Lac Leman + Geneva. Connecting with Evian-les-Bains, I'd prefer riding over it East-bound, with a more circuitous route up from Evian more west + south thru pretty farm country, mainly because I like the descent of the West side better than the descent of the East side. I'd be glad to do (again) an up-and-back ride from Monthey, climbing up mostly on secondary roads and descending the main road (if at a time without too much traffic, otherwise descend the secondary roads) . . .

Here's how I remember climbing from Monthey to Pas de Morgins: From center plaza of Monthey, go south on main street toward Choex, to and thru wood covered pedestrian bridge. Then at first climbing SSE toward Choex. turn R for Chenarlier + Outre Vieze (idea is to roughly follow SE side of Vieze creek), roughly W and S with a couple of zigzags, then steady SW, then down + curve sharp R, cross creek and climb NE a ways up to Troistorrents. turn L to climb SW toward Champery, cross railroad tracks, a little ways further then turn R at sign for Morgins, climb steeper -- with nice views E + SE across valley, and views close to Dents du Midi (highest summit is 3257m). Higher up road goes W thru woods -- no more views, but pleasant enough. All was on good pavement, except some erosion near the top. Rejoined main road and took that W up thru Morgins to Pas de Morgins, continued down other side to pretty lake in town of Chatel.

Aosta + Courmayeur :: Orsieres

see very approximate routes on map

I liked riding north over Col du Grand Ferret -- though it included substantial sections on dirt, part with some strenuous steep hiking with rolling + sometimes carrying my bike.   Great close views of Mont Blanc and Grandes Jorasses -- the two highest peak clusters in Europe -- starting already on the road from Aosta to Courmayeur, continuing in the climg northeast thru la Palud and above, then a close view of Mont Durand and its glacier. Next time I might try riding on the dirt road to Refuge Elena (Pra de Bar) instead of using the hiking trail (kinda strenuous to roll and carry my bike in some sections). Then a steep hike (with some strenuous rolling and carrying of my bike up the steep slope to the Col). Some sticky mud from melting snow near the Col which ended up all over my tires and shoes -- and then hands, when I stopped to clean it off.

Avoiding mud?  Next time I'd want to try this after its been dry for a couple of days, and later in the season after all the snow at the pass has melted. Even in later season, note that if it rains down in the valley, that might fall as snow on the pass, which might take several days to melt, producing mud - (that's what I ran into: a little new snow in September). Snow-melt mud might to be less nasty earlier in the day.

the descent on the north side started with a long section on dirt, some interesting, some too bumpy for me on my road bike, some too steep to be fun for me -- but overall interesting. After I reached the paved road, I found much of the descent to Orsieres to be fun.

opposite direction over Grand Ferret?  I wouldn't want to try riding south over Grand Ferret, because I'd hate to do all the work of getting my bike up to the Col, then not to be able to enjoy the downhill, because I had to carry my bike down most of it.

I also liked riding south over Col du Grand St Bernard (or "Gran San Bernardo"), nice views of the snowy Grand Combin on the climb, interesting buildings at the Col, also a lake and some peaks. Descent somewhat interesting, though lower down got less interesting and less scenic.

traffic? I rode on the main road south from Orsieres, but the vehicle traffic felt pretty managable to me, I think for two reasons: I started very early in the morning, and the main road in that section is along the east side of the valley, so riding south (and staying on the right side of the road) tends to provide good visibility with vehicle drivers.

opposite direction over Grand St Bernard? I wasn't really thinking about that option. But I'd be willing to try it, especially if conditions for Grand Ferret were not favorable.

loop Orsieres > Grand St Bernard > Aosta > Courmayeur > Grand Ferret > la Fouly > Orsieres: I thought it was a great adventure. I'd gladly do it again with good weather and good (non-muddy, non-icy) conditions for Col du Grand Ferret.

Orsieres :: Martigny

see very approximate route on map

Crossing over Champex avoids most of the high-traffic main road. I'd gladly ride up or down both sides of Champex again -- pretty views in different directions across the valley. Champex is steeper on its north side than its south side.

I avoided a little more of the main road by riding on a parallel side street to its east side, going thru the Croix section of Martigny.

alternatives?  I would not ride all on the main road (instead of thru Champex) in the uphill (south) direction. I'm not much interested in riding the main road in the downhill (north) direction either, since the climb from Orsieres to Champex is not very steep or long, and the descent from Champex to Martigny is pretty + interesting.

Martigny :: Gstaad

see very approximate routes on map

First time I tried going thru Ollon to Col de la Croix, hoping for some nice views southwest across the Rhone valley, but I didn't get them.

[update 09May] Much better is bike route 59 thru Bex and Gryon with big valley views, some mountain views, and interesting riding thru vineyards -- and I think less traffic fhan the road from Ollon. (I would gladly ride Bex - Gryon - Villars-sur-Ollon again just up+back).

From Col de la Croix didn't get much view of dramatic peaks from Col de la Croix, and really not much from Col du Pillon either -- I guess at Pillon I was too close to the peaks. [update 09May] but in springtime with snow on the peaks, the views from around Croix were pretty nice.

Then some nice farm country thru Gsteig.

opposite direction? I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but I don't remember noticing any major problems with that, so I'd be willing to try riding west-bound over Pillon and Croix -- perhaps the views might be better in that direction.

Col des Mosses: lots of traffic on the road east from Aigle. I don't remember feeling uncomfortable taking it in descent (west-bound) in the middle of the day mid-week, but I would not ride it going east-bound up from Aigle.

alternatives? I might consider Mosses over Croix for inclusion in an east-to-west route, but not in a west-to-east route. Other considerations: (a) Croix is higher than Mosses; and (b) the distance from Saanenmoeser to Martigny is significantly longer over Mosses to Aigle than it is over Croix to Bex. (c) the Bex - Gryon - Villars-sur-Ollon road is just prettier and more interesting than the alternatives.

Gstaad :: Saanenmöser

see very approximate routes on map

I climbed bike rt 9 from north side of Gstaad up some secondary roads to Saanenmöser pass. I'd gladly do that again: quiet + pleasant thru farms with some big views across the valley and to some peaks. I'd be willing to descend those same roads . . .

How I'd find the West-bound turn off main road for bike rt 9: a ways W down fr Saanenmöser pass, in village of Schoenried, look for sign on R side of main road, sign says “Horneggle / Frautschi Holzbau”.

I descended the main road from Saanenmöser to Saanen, with significant vehicle traffic, and perhaps some questionable visibility turns, though didn't feel like a problem for me in downhill (west) direction. (I doubt I'd climb up that road going east from Saanen with its vehicle traffic, given that the  bike route alternative is so nice).

The bike route from Saanen to Gstaad was pleasant + pretty, though finding it from the Saanen train station was rather tricky.

Here's how I remember riding from Saanen to Gstaad: From the Saanen train station, go South over major creek, then immediately turn L on Ruebeldorfstr / Chalberhoeni. Soon see sign for bike rt 59, turn L to follow that. Cross a little creek, then ride single-lane paved road alongside of main creek. Where it ends, turn L on Bellerivestr, cross E over main creek. Turn R to continue toward Gstaad.

alternatives? once you've decide to ride near Gstaad + Saanen, there's not much alternative to going over the Saanenmöser. For the larger strategy question of Gstaad + Zweisimmen + the Diablerets mountains versus the Valais / Wallis high peaks, see discussion under Route Strategy.

loop:  Saanen > bike route to Gstaad > climb bike rt 9 > Saanenmöser > descend main road west > Saanen: I would gladly ride it again.

Saanenmöser :: Zweisimmen

see very approximate routes on map

I climbed bike rt 9, which was pretty + pleasant, but had some sustained steep sections, including one very steep section at 16% grade or more (which lots of riders might prefer to walk up -- or walk down -- instead of trying to ride). I'd be willing to try it as a descent.

Finding bike rt 9 going east from Saanenmöser was tricky. Here's my notes about it:

How I'd find the East-bound turn off main road for bike rt 9: Soon after start of descent E fr Saanenmöser pass, the sign for bike rt 9 is on Left side of road, but it’s among lots of other signs. Look for signs for Saanersloch, Golf, Golfhotel. Turn R and go past Saanenmöser train station,

I descended the main road, with significant vehicle traffic, but it worked OK in the downhill direction -- mostly favorable visibility for riding east-bound because the road is mostly along the north side of the valley. But I would not want to ride west-bound up from Zweisimmen -- because of vehicle traffic and questionable-visibility curves in that direction.

alternatives? once you've decide to ride near Zweisimmen, there's not much alternative to going over the Saanenmöser. The Jahnpass is higher, but going over it would add lots of distance to the route without much high mountain scenery.  For the larger strategy question of Gstaad + Zweisimmen + the Diablerets mountains versus the Valais / Wallis high peaks, see discussion under Route Strategy.

loop:  Zweisimmen > climb bike rt 9 > Saanenmöser > descend main road west > Zweisimmen -- I would consider doing again, if I thought the main road would not have high traffic volume west-bound. Another idea is to take the train uphill from Zweisimmen to Saanenmoeser, then take bike rt 9 east-bound (mostly downhill, but some significant climbs) back to Zweisimmen.

Zweisimmen :: Wimmis + Spiez

see very approximate routes on map

I climbed bike rt 9 from Spiez thru Wimmis up to Zweisimmen. Substantial sections on dirt. Very pretty farm country. I'd gladly do it again in either direction. Following bike rt 9 in the first section east-bound from Zweisimmen is tricky at first: look carefully for the route to temporarily go the "wrong" way toward the west. There's a short (interesting) section where bike rt 9 joins the main road.

I descended the main road from Zweisimmen to Wimmis. Substantial vehicle traffic. Some was interesting, but overall I was glad to just get it over with. I might consider riding it east-bound again if I were in a hurry or if bike rt 9 were muddy, but I would not ride most of the main road in the west-bound direction from Wimmis to Zweisimmen.

alternatives?  I saw a hint on a bike route map that it might be possible to ride between Wimmis and Zweisimmen by going over some high trail or road between Adelboden and Lenk, but I know nothing else about that.

loop: For this stage, I'm not much interested in something like riding up the bike route and down on the main road. A loop I might consider is going one way attempting the high connection between Adelboden + Lenk, and the other way on the bike route.

Spiez :: Interlaken

see on map

I followed bike rt 8 + 9 (and rode it in both directions). Lots of views close to the Thunersee lake. Some on separated bike path, some on wide sections of the main road. Problem for me was that the noise and closeness of the heavy vehicle traffic on the main road much detracts from the enjoyment of close views of the lake. Also there wasn't much interesting to see across on the other side of the lake.

Perhaps next time I'd try some (much longer) route around the north and east side of the Thunersee like, but I don't know anything about that.

Interlaken :: Innertkirchen (Grosse Scheidegg)

see very approximate routes on map | photos

There's two main ways: climb over Grosse Scheidegg, or ride along the Brienzersee -- and each of those ways then poses a further route choice, so I've ridden this stage in four different ways. (and we've heard there might be other possible variations with Kleine Scheidegg or Männlichen.)

Here's my thoughts:

  • Grosse Scheidegg is the most spectacular and interesting pass on a paved road in Europe (likely in Europe and North America). It's a must for a tour which is trying to visit the high passes of Switzerland.

  • Riding a ways northwest from the pass on an unpaved trail (toward First) leads to yet more great mountain views.

  • There's lots of sustained steep climbing (10% grade or more) on both sides.

  • I like most of the West side more than most of the East side.

  • The east side tends to have straight steep sections (and gentle straight sections). In the middle part, some of these steep sections are narrow and have curves to the right with questionable visibility with respect to vehicles climbing up the road. So I don't find it much fun as a descent. Much of the upper part of the west side is too steep for me to enjoy as a descent, but lower down there's some interesting fun sections.

  • I suspect the road on north side of Brienzersee doesn't get heavy vehicle traffic except at special times -- it didn't have much traffic when I rode it. Visibility is better east-bound than west-bound, but I find the few West-bound visibility problems pretty managable at a time without heavy traffic.

  • There's a bike route around the south side of the Brienzersee which had some pretty sections. But a substantial portion is on dirt, and last time on it I had some difficulty with route-finding. So I'm not eager to do it again, especially after how much I enjoyed the north side of the lake. If I did ride it again, I'd tend to arrange to go thru it early in my riding for the day, so could resolve the difficulties and move on to more straightforward riding.

My advice:

  • allow extra time for side trips in this wonderful area.

  • for maximum enjoyment (assuming you do not enjoy straight steep narrow descents):  do the west side of Grosse Scheidegg up-and-back from Interlaken: Climb up bike rt 61 from Interlaken + Wilderswil thru Gsteigwiler and other secondary roads and villages (with some substantial dirt sections) to Grindelwald. Very interesting and pretty.  Above Grindelwald it's all paved, but gets steeper. Great views of the Eiger + Monch peaks, and the snowy north face of the Fiescherhorn -- and the dramatic rock of the Wetterhorn. Even if you have to give up before reaching the top on the steep road, you've still seen some remarkable terrain. If you do make it to the top and find you have some extra time and strength, you can continue partway down the other side, then climb back up. Then descend to Grindelwald. Below you have two choices: the main road or the bike route 61 (with several points where you can switch between them). The main road gets lots more vehicle traffic, but some sections are rather fun descents. I'm not sure how to advise how to choose. After returning to Interlaken, go to Innertkirchen by riding east along the north side of the Briezersee lake, then thru Unterbach, and join the main road somewhere near Meiringen.

another out-and-back strategy might be to take the bus (or train?) up to Grindelwald -- or the post-bus all the way up to Gross Scheidegg (I saw the post-bus had racks on back to hold bikes) -- and ride mostly downhill on bike rt 61 back to Interlaken.

  • crossing the Grosse Scheidegg pass: I prefer east-to-west because I like some sections of the descent better. (and with choosing to cross Grosse Scheidegg instead of Brienzersee, I still make like to make a little side-trip from Interlaken to the north side of that lake.

  • loop with both Grosse Scheidegg and Brienzersee is something I'll gladly do again. I'd prefer clockwise because I like the descent of west side better.

side trip: Lauterbrunnen valley

Just riding up and down the valley is very pretty (if can find a time with less vehicle traffic). I thought Trümmelbach falls were pretty remarkable and worth a stop and payment and walk (I was glad I walked up and then took the lift down instead of the other way around). I'm not sure if it's possible or easy to ride from Stechelberg up to Gimmelwald or Mürren - (but I would consider trying -- an alternative is to take the mechanical lift up to Gimmelwald). Walking or riding thru Gimmelwald is rather pleasant + pretty village + farm country, and Mürren has a nice view of the famous Eiger and Mönch peaks. (I do not recommend taking the lift all the way up to Mürren and riding down thru Gimmelwald, because it's really worth seeing it more slowly).

side trip: ?? Kleine Scheidegg + Männlichen variation ??

Someone posted to nntp:rec.bicycles.rides that they enjoyed riding from Grindelwald up to Männlichen, then walked their bike on the trail (because cycling was not permitted) toward Kleine Scheidegg, then down to Wengen and the Lauterbrunnen valley. (I suppose this could also be done in the other direction: from Interlaken up to Zweiluetchinen to Lauterbrunnen, then up (? thru Wengen ?) to Kleine Scheidegg (? and Männlichen ?) then to Grindelwald.

Innertkirchen :: Andermatt

see very approximate routes on map

There's three main route options between Innertkirchen and Andermatt:

  • Susten + Wassen + Göschenen:  Sustenpass is the most spectacular choice (I'd say 2nd most spectacular in Switzerland for bicycling, after Grosse Scheidegg). But I really don't like the idea of riding up thru the covered switchbacks south from Göschenen to Andermatt -- because there's significant vehicle traffic, some curves toward the right with unfavorable visibility -- and because I've found it so much fun riding down thru those switchbacks (with mostly favorable visibility).

So I prefer to cross Susten only in the east-to-west direction -- or I would gladly ride the (more interesting + spectacular) west side as an up-and-back "side trip".

East side of Susten: after some tunnels at the bottom near Wassen, it's mostly long straight sections along the north side of the valley (so not favorable for visibility when climbing up in the west-bound direction, but there wasn't much vehicle traffic and I don't remember finding it much of a problem). Nice to look down into the valley, and ahead toward some worthy rock peaks above -- but the view doesn't change much for a long time. Then some switchbacks at the top, and at the top a tunnel thru to the buildings on the west side.

West side has lots of curves, rock faces by the road, some non-long tunnels, and higher up great views of snowy mountains with year-round snow.

So my preferred Sustenpass experience would be an up-and-back tour on the west side, perhaps also riding down a little ways on the east side. I also might consider expending less work to reach the snowy views by starting my up-and-back say around Gadmen or the Taellibahn ski lift (perhaps try to take the bus from Innertkirchen up to there). The road between Gadmen and Innertkirchen still has interesting sections -- it's just a matter of how much of that I feel I need to climb or descend thru in one day, in proportion to the very special snow-covered peaks higher up.

  • Grimsel + Furka:  Grimselpass has two pretty lakes higher on its north side, and its south side has some big views across to Furka pass, so I think think it's a worthwhile crossing. The disadvantage is that the lower part of the climb near Innertkirchen felt like a long slog. So perhaps it would be nicer to cross Grimselpass in the south-to-north direction. If I ride it as an out-and-back trip from Innertkirchen, can I do it both ways.

Furkapass I haven't found to be all that spectacular + interesting to ride across in either direction -- other than the view of the Rhone glacier from below the pass on the west side, and that view isn't what it used to be now that the glacier has receded. My first preference would be to just ride the west side as an out-and-back trip from Gletsch, and that only up to the Rhonegletscher viewpoint. But also have to compare it against the alternative . . .

  • Grimsel + Nufenen / Novena + Gotthard / San Gottardo:  Much longer and much more climbing than the Grimsel + Furka option. Question is whether it's worth the extra time + work.

Nufenenpass (Passo Novena) on its west side road has some distant views of the high Berner Oberland peaks of the Finsteraarhorn and Lauteraarhorn, and some nice closer views of the Ticino Alps peaks such as the Blinnenhorn. On the other hand it has lots of long straight sections, so not very interesting just for the riding -- much felt to me like a long slog. Descending the east side also had long straight sections, so not very interesting. (and I sort of doubt that riding it in the other direction would be more interesting, though the best views would be more obvious).

Gotthardpass / Passo San Gottardo didn't have outstandingly spectacular views, and the old Roman road had a sustained section of cobble surface (longer on the south side, but also some on the north side) which I really disliked. But I've heard other riders didn't dislike it so much, so perhaps my problem is that my special touring bike had much smaller wheel diameter than most normal bikes). Further down on the north side, the bike route joined the new road over the pass, and I liked that. (I'm not sure if bicycles are permitted to ride on the new road all the way across the pass, and I haven't checked it at all).

For now I'd prefer riding Gotthardpass only on its north side, as an out-and-back trip from Hospental + Andermatt (that way I can have more choice about how much cobble I'd ride). So I could use Furka or Susten as my main route, take Gotthard as a side trip. If I were going to ride over both Nufenen + Gotthard, I'd want it to be at a time with substantial seasonal snow still visible on the ground.

Andermatt :: Bonaduz or Reichenau

see very approximate routes on map

Oberalp is the high pass in this stage. I did not find Oberalppass very spectacular in last season after all the snow had melted. But I found it very impressive with some seasonal snow to highlight the peaks nearby (though of course all the other high passes are also more spectacular with seasonal snow). There's a lake right near the pass on its west side, but it would be more spectacular if the road were more above it.

East side road (talking now about the part above Disentis) has long straight sections (and I remember some questionable-visibility curves to right above Sedrun, which I found pretty managable). West side road is more interesting and crosses the railroad several times, has a view of the Gemstock and across the wide valley toward Furkapass. I think I'd prefer riding across it east-to-west over west-to-east, but mainly if I were going to do it again I'd want to be with some significant seasonal snow still visible.

alternatives? The obvious alternative to Oberalp is Gotthard + Lukmanier (south of Disentis). But I haven't heard much interest in Lukmanier on net discussion forums or personal conversations with bicyclists, and I'm not so enthusiastic about crossing Gotthard (now that I've tried it). It adds a large amount of distance to most reasonable east-west routes.

between Disentis and Bonaduz + Reichenau (sometimes called the "Surselva" region), I found lots of sections of pleasant + pretty riding. Overall there's not much change in vertical, and there were long gentle sections, but also some steep climbs in between those. I'd enjoy riding in that area again, apart from any interest in connecting between high mountain passes.

Disentis :: Sumvitg -- I intended to take my west-bound in this section on a bike route more to the south, but I never found the sign for a left turn of the bike route that would take me there, so instead I rode on main road 19 west to Disentis, which runs on the north side of valley, so had some questionable-visibility points for riding west-bound, but that seemed managable for me that time (was not much vehicle traffic that high in the valley in the middle off the day). Opposite direction? I feel confident that section main road 19 would likely work fine for riding in the downhill (east-bound) direction. Then after a snack at a bakery - coffee shop just a little off the main road coming into Disentis, I rode down to the train station.

From the Disentis / Muster train station I found signs for bike rt 2 going east-bound so I followed those, and soon was on a narrow dirt road (with some water-control bumps), then rode pleasantly on dirt along the north side of Rhein river ways, then climbed up to village Disla. (I suspect this point could also have been reached with less work by a road which turned south from the main road 19 a short ways east from Disentis). Then more pleasant + pretty riding (much on dirt) thru farms and villages, and then a long climb up to Sumvidg (but I still didn't see a bike route sign that would have enabled me to find this coming from the other direction).  I'd gladly ride that section of the bike route again, in either direction - (unless I were in a hurry or I thought the trail would be muddy).

loop: I'd be happy to try riding a loop from near Sumvitg or Trun west to Disentis on some bike routes south of the main road, and return from Disentis on main road 19 east to Sumvitg + Trun. I actually did ride that loop in the opposite direction, but that wasn't my first preference.

Sumvitg :: Trun -- I just rode on the main road in both directions, seemed to work OK, some wider sections, some narrower. But from my map it looked like there might have been some alternate route to the south thru some villages, but I didn't see signs for it. Next time I might give a try at finding a way to connect thru Surrein to some dirt path south of Sumvitg and try to join bike rt 2 between Sumvitg and Disentis.

Trun :: Tavanasa -- From Tavanasa west almost to Trun on the bike route which roughly followed the north side of the Rhein river, but I found that section too rough for me to enjoy -- seemed like a mountain-biking path. I was so happy to reach the main road a bit east from Trun, and soon a sign directed to me to take a bypass north thru Darvella, and that worked fine. My road map seemed to show a secondary road which should run from Danis thru Schlans to near Trun, on the hillside higher above north side of Rhein river -- but I couldn't find it from the east end. Then when riding east-bound I rode mostly on the main road 19 from Trun to Tavanasa, which worked fine and was kinda pretty (though there was no sign for a bike route bypass thru Darvella). Opposite direction? That section of the main road was mostly along the south side of the valley, so visibility tends to be favorable for riding west, so next time west-bound I'd consider take the side road thru Tavanasa, then mostly ride on the main road from just west of Tavanasa to Trun.

Tavanasa :: Ilantz -- I rode up west from Ilantz at first following the signed bike route, which was mostly along the south side of the Rhein river and mostly unpaved but very ridable for me. Later the signs got tricky and I thought I was supposed to cross over to the north side, which led me to the main road 19, so I road on that west to the intersection for Tavanasa (which worked fine for me), but the signs at Tavanasa indicated that the bike route actually had stayed on the south side of the Rhein river. East-bound I started on the main road, then turned off onto the road for Schnaus + Strada, which turned out to be a good way to get into Ilantz.

Ilantz :: Bonaduz + Reichenau -- I followed bike rt 2 west from Bonaduz, at first a long straight moderate-uphill slog, but then some interesting views of the Rhein river with curves and non-long tunnels, then steeper climbing with switchbacks to the village Versam, then pleasant riding with farms + views to Ilantz. I'd be glad to ride that again in either direction.

East-bound from Ilantz I decided to try a route on the north side off the valley thru Flims. I started climbing on the main road 19, which included a narrow-ish section (but with good visibility) before there was a sidewalk which I rode into the village of Schuein. I turned Right off the main road and headed toward Sagogn which was nice, then a long climb north which got steeper (I'd guess sustained at 10% or more). Then back on the main road a little more climbing on non-wide section before I turned off it Left for Laax Falera. After going thru Falera, back to the main road where I rode on the sidewalk for a ways, which almost reached to where the main road goes into a long tunnel where bicycles are not permitted. I turned off and followed the bypass which worked fine. To me Flims seems like a farily normal ski-resort town. Along the way there were some big views out across the valley which I liked. Later there was another long tunnel for which the bypass road worked fine. Finally a long descent east to Reichenau, which was OK -- though the road was not wide and I would have been glad for a less vehicle traffic. Opposite direction? No way I would ride up that hill from Reichenau west to Flims. I'd definitely follow bike rt 2 instead.

loop: I'd be glad to ride a (hilly) clockwise loop between the Reichenau train station and Ilantz:  west from Reichenau on bike rt 2 thru Bonaduz + Versam to get to Ilantz, then east back thru Sagogn + Laax Falera + Flims back to Reichenau.

Bonaduz or Reichenau :: Alvaneu (near Tiefencastel)

see very approximate routes on map

I rode east from Reichenau past Chur to climb the main road south up to the Lenserheide pass. Road is on the west side of valley, so some questionable-visibility curves in this direction. I've heard some of this could be avoided by using a dirt road along the east side of the valley, but I've never checked that. Anyway I didn't find the north side of Lenzerheide outstandingly pretty or interesting, so riding it instead on dirt doesn't appeal. Descending the south side had much just straight down, so not that interesting for me. Instead of descending to Tiefencastel, I turned east and rode to Alvaneu, then I climbed a way east (on the main road toward Wiesen + Davos) in Alvaneu Dorf, then found a single-lane road which descended (some steep) south to Alvaneu-Bad, which is on the road to the south side of Albula pass.

Opposite direction: I wasn't thinking about that as I rode it:  likely some questionable-visibility curves on the "short-cut" road west from Alvaneu to Lenk, but not lots of vehicle traffic, and I'd think main road on the north side of Lenzerheide would have more favorable visibility as a descent north-bound toward Chur. But for connecting to Bonaduz, I'd prefer riding thru Thusis, as reported here . . .

From Tiefencastel I rode west on the main road, climbed at first on the north side of the valley, then some curves along the south side of the valley leading west down toward Thusis. Definitely that road gets substantial vehicle traffic, and might have been some questionable-visibility sections on the iniitial climb, but seemed to work OK on the mid-week afternoon when I rode it. Then the main road west goes into a long tunnel down to Thusis and its Autobahn entrance-exit, so I turned Right and rode down (steeply) thru Sils instead, then into Thusis and followed the main (non-Autobahn) road north from Thusis to Bonaduz (near Reichenau). I suspect the official bike route from Sils to Bonaduz or Reichenau did something different, but the main road is on the west side of the valley, so riding north on it worked fine (with much of the vehicle traffic using the Autobahn parallel to it), felt pleasant with moderate downhills and some nice views across the valley. I'd be willing to ride that route in the east-to-west direction again.

Opposite direction: I'm not interested to ride the main road in the east-bound direction from Sils to Tiefencastel, because lots of vehicle traffic with questionable-visibility curves on road not wide. My recommended strategy for connecting east + south thru here is: take the train or bus from Chur or Thusis to St Moritz.

Alvaneu (near Tiefencastel) :: la Punt + St Moritz

see very approximate routes on map

There's three main options for this section:

  • Julier:  I think it's the prettiest, but it gets the most vehicle traffic and much of the road (especially on the north side) is not wide. I've never ridden my bicycle on any part of it but I've done backcountry ski tours on several of the peaks above the road, and I've driven my car over the pass several time. My current assessment is that I doubt I'd try riding across it north-to-south, because I don't like the vehicle interaction risk riding south on the section of the main road between Tiefencastel and Savognin. (on the other hand, I just noticed a map showing a secondary road thru Mon + Salouf, but I've never checked that at all -- but that might change my assessment).

I would be willing to try riding the south side of Julierpass out-and-back from Silvaplana (which starts with a steep section with switchbacks), and continue partway down the north side at least to Bivio for a snack before turning around and riding back over the pass again to Silvaplan - (likely I'd also ride a little further norht to a view of lake Marmorera -- and then each section further north offers something else pretty or interesting)

  • Albula:  I rode over it south-bound, seemed like much less vehicle traffic than Julier, lots of pleasant scenes along the way, but I didn't see any really spectacular peaks, and there were those power transmission towers higher up which I felt detracted. So I wasn't excited to ride it again that way. Perhaps it might feel prettier for me riding over Albulapass south-to-north, but I'd likely want to do it only with significant seasonal snow still visible on the peaks.

  • Fluela:  I rode over it north-bound, had very little vehicle traffic. Not many views of interesting peaks. Not many villages, felt kind of desolate -- so Fluelapass might be a good choice if you're looking for that sort of experience.

loop?  I've rode a counter-clockwise loop, south over Albula and north over Fluela, but I don't think I'd repeat that, partly because I didn't like the dirt trail for much of the way between La Punt and Zernez, partly because I'm not so excited about climbing Albula south-bound, etc. If I were going to try riding a loop, I think I'd want it to be north over Albula and south over Julier. But currently I'm not comfortable climbing south from Tiefencastel on the main road up to Savognin -- so I guess it's only going to happen if I check out the alternate secondary road between those towns. And find a day and time where I'm confident there won't be high traffic volume. And I'd likely also want a day with significant seasonal snow on the ridges and peaks.

St Moritz + Pontresina :: Bernina pass

see very approximate routes on map

connecting among La Punt + St Moritz + Pontresina: It's a bit tricky to connect between La Punt at the bottom of the south side of Albula pass and Pontresina near the bottom of the north side of Bernina pass -- or to make a side trip thru the famous resort of St Moritz. The problem is that the main roads get lots of vehicle traffic and are not wide. But I found it interesting and pretty even though it doesn't cross any high pass, and I'd gladly ride around there again even with no concern for connecting to any high pass.

La Punt to Pontresina -- here's how I remember riding this:

from La Punt I followed the main bike rt 65 SouthWest toward St Moritz, at first (dirt) along southeast side of river Inn, then it turned away from river and went back (on dirt) to that 3-way intersection of paved roads which is southeast from Bever. Ken continued straight across the paved road (thru closed gate) onto a dirt path which later went along southeast side of pretty lake. Next major trail junction was near East end of airport near Samedan. Here I left bike rt 65 and followed a mountain bike trail along the northwest side of river Inn. At the next major trail junction just east of the main road, I took a pedestrian bridge (not marked as a bike route) SouthEast across the river Inn, then passed by a left turn for hiking trail, soon saw a bike route sign and made the next Left turn (just before going down under main road), to go South on dirt trail. This took me to Punt Muragl train station, then a short steep climb on dirt up to base station for Muotta Muragl cable railway. I continued South on paved trail along east side of main road to Pontresina + Bernina pass, then turned Left onto secondary road to Muragls -- with some views of snowy peaks south up Val Roseg (not seen from the main road). I climbed moderately on this road straight thru Muragls and into the center of Pontresina past the tourist office. I continued climbing moderately straight up the main shopping street of Pontresina, then down a little (at the south end of Pontresina) to meet the main road going south to the Bernina Pass. (I'm pretty sure this secondary road thru Muragls is an easier climb with better views than riding the main road past Pontresina toward the Bernina pass.)

Pontresina to St Moritz -- here's roughly what I did:

First I rode on the streets and roads down to the Pontresina train station. From there I took the off-road bike paths . . . I tried going directly North and found bike route signs for St Moritz, but the trail started rather steep (so next time I would look for a more moderate trail going more southwest from the train station). Then my trail hit the (more moderate) cross-country ski trail, which was a pleasant way first to the Stazersee lake. From there I followed signs for St Moritz Dorf (instead of St Moritz Bad or Celerina) -- which led to the east end of the St Moritzer See lake. I rode west along the north shore of lake, then a little further west, and turned north crossed the main road and took an obvious street climbing moderately up to the center of St Moritz Bad.

St Moritz to La Punt -- here's roughly what I did:

From the center of St Moritz Bad, I followed signs for Celerina roughly East out of town, down hill. In Celerina, I ignored signs saying to go southeast to main road in order to go to Samedan, instead continued directly NorthEast on paved road to Samedan, then continued to Bever. At Bever the bike route signs pointed toward SouthEast, so that's the way I went -- under the main road, then on a single-lane paved road which led to junction with lots of cows + some cowherds + cowherd buildings, and there it forked into two paved roads - (there was also a dirt road crossing it in both directions, protected by gates). I tried to take the left fork and go East on paved road, but it led to dead end, and then I ended up taking a hilly circuitous route on dirt roads which somehow eventually led me to La Punt. It would have been much simpler at that junction (with forked roads and dirt road crossing) to just take a full Left turn (thru a gate) onto the dirt road and take that to La Punt (or possibly turn Left onto dirt sooner after I finished going southeast under main road, but I haven't checked that). [The trap I fell into was hoping too much that the good route would stay on paved roads.]

Pontresina :: Passo del Bernina -- The north side of the Bernina pass has two or three viewpoints of interesting peaks with year-round snow. I've ridden it south-bound taking the secondary road thru the center of Pontresina (actually less steep than the main road, and has a fine view of the snowy peaks + glaciers up the Val Roseg which you don't get from the main road), then join the main road to continue climbing to the pass. Never really steep, often a mountain creek running alongside, with several crossings of a "cute" railroad line, and the pass itself has a lake. Definitely worthy of a bicycling visit. Opposite direction? Haven't gotten around to trying it yet, but I'd be glad to do it on a blue-sky day so I could see the snowy mountains - (though the views are more obvious while climbing up). And I'd gladly do it as an up-and-back tour from Pontresina.

The south side is steeper, has pretty lake Poschiavo half-way, but not the same views of peaks with year-round snow. I've only bicycled on the short top section going downhill to the turn-off for Livigno (which was a nice enough descent), though I've driven a car over it a couple of times -- feels like some sections could be fun descending on a bike. I've also taken the train from Tirano going north over the pass to Pontresina (highly recommended, especially if take just the regular train so you can open the windows) -- on the south side the train takes a very different line from the road, and the railroad route does have spectacular views of glaciers with year-round snow. So the obvious thing to want to do on the south side is to take the train from Tirano up to the Passo del Bernina (and perhaps continue over to Pontresina) and ride the bicycle back south to Tirano. (But after I took the train up I instead rode east thru Livigno to Bormio).

I haven't though much about climbing up the south side on my bicycle, except that it's a big climb, and it would be nice to have done it as an accomplishment. I'm thinking some of the higher road tends to run on the east side of the valley, which tends to have some questionable visibility curves for riding north-bound. But I'd be willing to try it if it were a time when I was confident there wouldn't be high traffic volume -- and more likely if there were significant seasonal snow visible.

start-finish points in East

see very approximate routes on map

Bernina is the highest most spectacular pass with a paved road over it near the southeast corner of Switzerland.

Ofen pass (Passo Fuorn) is much farther east than Bernina, and fairly high -- though not so spectacular for views of peaks with year-round snow. I've never ridden on it. (I have ridden the bike route connection between Albulapass and the town of Zernez on the north-side road for Ofenpass, and I didn't so much like the ups + downs on dirt, but perhaps that's because I was in a hurry that time). I have driven my car over it a least once (but at the time I wasn't thinking about bicycling), and skied on a peak nearby. I felt that Val Mustair on its southeast side was pleasant and pretty.

Ofen connects thru Val Mustair to the Umbrail pass, which leads into Italy to the west side of Stelvio pass / Stilfserjoch, also to Bormio and the Gavia pass. Or Val Mustair connects southeast into Italy to Glurns / Glorenza on the east side of the Stilfserjoch / Stelvio pass. It also connects to the Reschenpass north into Austria -- (though that could be more easily reached from Switzerland without crossing Ofen).

I'd say for a route over high passes the only advantage of Ofen over Bernina is that it provides a more direct route from Switzerland to the east side of the justly famous Stilfserjoch / Stelvio pass (second highest paved-road pass in Europe, and with spectacular mountain views in favorable conditions).

The problem with this is use of Ofen is that the normal goal of a pass-crossing route is to ride over the great passes, not just up-and-back one side. For that goal, including Ofen in a major west-east route only if you climb over Stilfersjoch / Stelvio west-bound and down to Bormio, followed by climbing south over Gavia pass (or possibly Mortirolo), and then continue east-bound over Passo Tonale -- which is not a bad idea. But that's a much longer route thru Italy than just riding east from Stelvio, which seems to contradict the advantage of Ofen as being a shorter way than Bernina.

For a shorter route thru Italy, could instead go from Ofen to climb the north side of Umbrail (highest pass of Switzerland, but it's more on the border of Switzerland, not so much inside Switzerland). But in normal conditions climbing the north side of Umbrail is not all that spectacular or interesting -- though it is quiet and pleasant. The climb from Bormio thru Italy to the same point is more interesting and spectacular, and getting there from St Moritz via Ofen isn't so much shorter than getting there via Bernina.

Anyway, if the goal of the route is to cross high passes with spectacular mountains, then any connection between southeast Switzerland and Italy which omits Passo del Bernina must be judged to have fallen short.

It might be thought that connecting between Switzerland and Austria is a good thing, since Austria has lots of spectacular mountains and high passes. The big problem is find is that it's difficult to connect the paved-road passes of Austria into a reasonable route, and anyway you have to ride a long ways from Zernez into Austria before you reach one of the interesting passes.

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