Ken Roberts - - Bicycling

what's here

also this year

see also:  more Europe stories | public discussion | more on Europe

see also:  more Europe stories | public discussion | more on Europe

fun climbs not over a pass 2 (Switzerland - central)

09sept -- [ ?? see map | photos ?? ]

what’s here  (roughly east to west)

ratings: A = pretty special, see if it might be special in your preferred way; B = good; C = nothing special, or special but with negatives.

see also:

map: most of those routes and places are on Kümmerly+Frey bicycle map 16: Berner Oberland Gstaad - Grindelwald -  1:60000  

Oberaar Panoramastrasse (by Grimsel pass)

[ where on map | photos on Picasa | | ]

Great views of peaks and lakes in three directions, especially west into the glaciers and high peaks of the Berner Oberland. Narrow asphalt road cut into steep rock. Possibililty of riding to (and across?) the dam of a remote glacial lake.

Key point is not that so many people would ride this (short) road on its own. But it naturally combines with climbing or descending the spectacular roads of the upper sections of both sides of the Grimsel pass, and the addition of the Panoramastrasse raises my interesting+prettiness ratings for the Grimsel pass climbs from "good" to "outstanding".

You might ask: Who would ever have climbed over Grimsel pass in decent and not also ridden the Panoramastrasse? Me for one, because I didn't know to look for it. Lots of other visiting touring cyclists for another.

The main steeper "climb" is coming back from the end of the road down by the lake - (so you could get most of the great views without doing most of the steeper climbing).

Motor vehicle traffic is permitted to start driving the road from each end at a special time during each hour,and driving in only one direction at a time (as of 2009). The road is narrow and there might be some bad-visibility curves. So the best time to start riding is just after the time most of the cars are permitted to drive in the same direction you want to go. If trying to ride after the time for motor vehicle to drive in the opposite direction, note that there's no special time during each hour at which the vehicles are required to complete driving in a certain direction, and there are spots along the way to pull off and take photos. My guess is that lots of drivers stop along the way to take more photos longer going out west-bound, and fewer stop to take photos coming back east-bound.

Since this is a view ride, it's not worth doing if do not have pretty clear skies at high altitude. In my experiene, the two Grimsel lakes look kinda brownish-green on cloudy days, so hope for the brightest bluest skies. Also note that high road can catch lots of wind, which could deter riding even on a blue-sky day.

Since the road faces north, I'd be surprised if gets cleared from snow as early as the Grimsel pass road gets plowed and opened.

photos: slideshow on Picasa

difficulty: initial climb west from Grimsel pass is fairly moderate, then most of the road is on the gentle side (around +250m of climbing going out, and around +100m of climbing coming back)-- then down steep to the restaurant and down steep further to the lake and dam. I'm not sure how steep: guess at least 10%. If only go down as far as the restaurant, you get the best views, and could reasonably walk back up the steep section if it seems too hard. It go all way down to the lake, and it would be pretty long if had to walk the bike back up the hill. Distance about 5.5-6.0 km each way, total 11-12km (7 miles) out + back.

sizing + cheating options: (nice for parties of mixed capabilities):

  • "normal" start I think would be at Gletsch (1760m) or Innertkirchen (625m). From Innertkirchen it's +1540m of climbing up to the start of the Panoramastrasse road, then another +350m on the road out-and-back. (Perhaps +1500m is overdoing it on the "earning your rewards" concept?)

Extra: If start from Gletsch, I'd say it's also worth riding part-way down the north side of the pass -- like at least to the "island"-like rock with buildings sort of by the middle of the upper lake.  If start from Innertkirchen (or Handeck) then it's worth going at least a little ways down the south side to see the big view east to Furka pass and (what remains of) the foot of the Rhone glacier.

  • Handeck (altitude around 1400m, GPS approx lat-long 46.609,8.309) is a good place to start climbing up the north side of Grimsel pass. Eliminates the less interesting long section below from Innerkirchen. Cuts the amount of climbing in half, compared with Innertkirchen. Includes interesting bypass of tunnel (required for bicyclists to use on the way up, but not on the way down, as of 2009) and both of the Grimsel lakes. Short side trip to the "island"-like rock sort of in the midst of the upper lake is interesting to ride (some on steep cobbles?). Could take the post-bus up to Handeck, ride back all the way down to Innertkirchen.

  • I think there's some parking near the dam of the lower lake (by where they sometimes gate the road when the pass blocked by snow). Then you'd still do some climbing to "earn" doing the Panoramastrasse.

  • Grimsel pass (2165m) has parking (? and is served by post-bus ?). To me just riding the road from there and back is clearly too little exercise to justify the time and effort of getting there. But if it's what other members of your party need in order so you can climb much or all of Grimsel pass, then it's worth knowing.

  • ultimate "cheat": ride the road outward and down all or part of the final steep hill, then have car bring you back.

Gental + Engstlenalp (near Innertkirchen)

[ where on map | photos on Picasa | | ]

Like a wonderful mountain bike ride thru meadows near tree-line with a stream and cows (sometimes on the road) and waterfalls and some kinda dramatic rock peaks -- except that it’s on smooth asphalt, and there’s food served at the end (and perhaps along the way). A little further ride or walk on gravel road to a lake. Some views toward glaciers and distant snow peaks on the descent.

Toll road up the Gental. Asphalt surface mostly in good condition as of 2009.

Interesting+Pretty rating: The valley above the toll gate is not so obviously spectacular as some other places. But I don't know any place of the same "atmosphere" I get into on asphalt, so it seemed pretty special to me. Though if you first climb all the way from Innertkirchen, maybe it doesn't seem "special" enough to justify all that slogging (which is perhaps why gives it only 4 stars for prettiness). But if start at the toll gate, and do the whole ride immersed in the specialness -- and that around-tree-line meadow + stream atmosphere is the kind of specialness you're looking for - (perhaps followed by a fun descent all the way to Innertkirchen) -- then I feel it's into 5 stars.

photos: slideshow on Picasa

difficulty: Gentle-moderate most of the way above the toll gate, then gets steep-ish to the finish. Can go a little further on gravel road (bike or walk) to a lake. From the toll gate it's about +660m of climbing to the end of the road at Engstlenalp (altitude 1840m). From the start of the road it's about +1050m, and from Innertkirchen it's +1280m.

sizing + cheating options: (nice for parties of mixed capabilities):

  • purist start from Innertkirchen (625m): but that's an awful lot of less interesting climbing (+600m) to do before getting to the "special" part.

  • from the bottom of the Gental road  (altitude about 850m) (GPS approx lat-long = 46.7145,8.272) allows you to "earn" the special part by first doing +365m of climbing below it which is mainly slogging up thru forest. Perhaps makes sense if doing it as an "extra" along with climbing Susten pass from or to Innertkirchen.

  • start from the toll gate (altitude about 1215m) (GPS approx lat-long = 46.724,8.269) -- take the post-bus,or driving to there (paying the toll is required to get that far). A slight downhill, then a long gentle pretty section to "warm up" for the serious climbing.

  • take the post-bus (or drive) higher -- I think there is post-bus service all the way up to Engstlenalp, and there's a parking area there. Just riding downhill from there should be a fun + pretty thing to do.

Axalp + Chruttmettli (near Brienz)

[ where on map | ]

Views of the lake Brienz (Brienzersee), perhaps the biggest blue-green mountain lake in Switzerland, from close low down and from high up. Sustained climbing on a low-traffic asphalt road.

Interesting+Pretty rating: The problem is the long slog thru the forest between the low views and the high views. So I cannot give it 5 stars like -- my suspicion is that their rater rode it in late spring / early summer while there was still snow on the peaks on the other side of the lake Brienz. But the slopes on those peaks seen from Axalp face south, so they don't hold snow into later summer and fall (when I rode there). In late spring, almost any place in the high mountains looks prettier because of the snow. Therefore . . .

Climb it in late spring, or (in a big snow year) early summer.

Above Axalp there are two options to pedal higher to huts. I tried both, liked Chruttmettli better.

difficulty: About 1150-1200 vertical meters of climbing. I'm not sure about steepness, but it didn't seem like much was super-steep.

sizing + cheating options: (nice for parties of mixed capabilities):

  • lowest section with close views of lake could be a pretty side trip from the Grosse Scheidegg - Grindelwald - Interlaken - Brienzersee loop.  Or a side trip from Bike Route 8 or 9, perhaps along with riding a loop around the Brienzersee. The concept: Skim off some nice views of the big lake, and don't get into the long slogging. That lowest sections didn't seem long enough to merit doing as a ride in itself.

  • start up near Axalp and climb up to Chruttmettli? Climb seems too short to merit the long post-bus ride or drive. Seems to me there are more scenic and interesting descents to do with post-bus support.

Kleine Scheidegg direct from Grindelwald Grund

[ where on map | photos on Picasa ]

Some great high-mountain views in a famous place.

Interesting+Pretty rating: The big problem is that the upper part of the climb has a long section on dirt with larger stones in it. Painfully bumpy for me riding without a rear suspension. Near the top was some very steep gravel which was an interesting challenge to try to ride up clean, but most of the upper section didn't feel like a challenge, just painful -- my rental bike that day had a front suspension, but that wasn't enough for this.  So I can't give this climb more than 3 stars, and maybe no more than 2 stars.

Climb it only if on a dual-suspension bike.

Or see the alternative in the next section.

photos: slideshow on Picasa

difficulty: I felt some of the asphalt sections got to at least 10%. Riding the dirt sections with stones took a lot of effort. The steep gravel near the top I found I had to hop off and walk part ways. About +1050m total climbing, I guess more than half on asphalt.

descent: If also do the descent west then north to Wengen, get more great views. But then you're doing a climb "over" a pass, so it doesn't belong on this list. I enjoyed it -- definitely for the views -- but I can't say if it's worthwhile on a normal road bike because on tha day I happened to be on a front-suspension mountain bike.

Descent west from Kleine Scheidegg started pretty steep, then got moderate. Rather pretty views of Eiger - Monch - Jungfrau, and later across to Muerren with its mountains beyond, finally toward Wengen.

Descent from Wengen: I think there's a train from Wengen down to Lauterbrunnen. I don't know if bikes can be taken on the lift from Wengen up to Männlichen. Anyway I tried riding the trail down to Lauterbrunnen: Amazingly steep + sustained. Paved for the first short section, then a long long ways on dirt: Narrow -- not for the faint of heart or the unpracticed in braking and balancing. Good thing I’d practiced descending steep stuff on roads. Good thing my fingers were strong enough to keep on pulling on the brakes for so long. The dual disk brakes on the rental mountain bike worked very well for it.

sizing + cheating options: (nice for parties of mixed capabilities):

  • Maybe could take the train up to Kleine Scheidegg and ride only downhill, but I didn't check on that.

Männlichen from Grindelwald, optional hike to Kleine Scheidegg

[ where on map | photos on Picasa | ]

Great views of high peaks and glaciers, and to far horizons in many directions, plus steep look from top down into Lauterbrunner valley. Optional hike toward the Eiger north face with continuing views.

Interesting+Pretty rating: I didn't pedal up the climb -- rode up the lift instead -- so I'm relying on to attest that the experience of the paved path itself is in keeping with the other aspects. The asphalt path looked like it had less distance (less than the Kleine Scheidegg direct way) of slogging thru forest between the lower pasture-grazing land and the higher above-tree-line open meadows -- then it goes above tree-line a long ways which allows time to enjoy the high mountain views. So I’d like to try pedaling up it.

I did do the hike, and it's a rather spectacular (and not difficult) trail -- aand I suspect its popularity with walkers is a key reason that bicycling is not permitted on it. So I'm happy to agree with the rating of 5 stars.

(In my defense: I had already ridden the Lauterbrunnen - Murren - Stechelberg that same day, and I had already done the Kleine Scheidegg direct climb a couple of days earlier, and rain was threatening.)

The climb to Männlichen can be done up + back from Grindelwald Grund, but I'm also interested to see how it could be used as a part of a loop with Zweilütschinen - Grindelwald - Kleine Scheidegg - Lauterbrunnen - Zweilütschinen -- to substitute for the direct trail up to Kleine Scheidegg. So I checked out the Panoramaweg walking trail (or "Hohenweg 2000m") between Männlichen and Kleine Scheidegg -- and felt that it worked great, and makes a nice contribution to the variety and scenery of the loop adventure.

Sign marks the trail as closed to bicycling, so I jogged on it.

Trail has nice views S to Eigernordwand (and Moench?), E to Wetterhorn + GS etc, and down to Grindelwald. Much of it looked ridable with road bike (tho some coarse/bumpy sections). But the trail is very popular with tourist walkers (because it’s gentle and has great views) -- so it would likely be frustrating to try to ride it (except perhaps off-season + off-weekend).

photos: slideshow on Picasa

difficulty: up the road: about +1250m of climbing. I don't know about the steepness.

Trail was almost all gentle or moderate, much downhill toward Kleine Scheidegg. Official walking time is 1:15. But I’d expect that anyone who can do the climb from Grindelwald up to Maennlichen with normal gearing could go from M to KS in under 45 minutes jogging while rolling the bike alongside.

descent: Obvious thing is to see the views, hike around a little at the top, then just ride back down the same trail back to Grindelwald Grund. My big idea was to do the loop Zweilütschinen - Grindelwald - Kleine Scheidegg - Wengen - Lauterbrunnen - Zweilütschinen (which I did, but not including Männlichen) -- and I'm glad to try it again. So I'm more interested in descending toward Wengen. Big problem is then how to get from Wengen down to Lauterbrunnen, since the dirt trail is very steep, and I don't know if I'd feel comfortable doing it on a road bike, especially if conditions were anything less than perfect (i.e. dry). I guess I could take the train down from Wengen. Or another idea is to do the loop in the opposite direction, and instead deal with the difficulties of trying to pedal up from Lauterbrunner to Wengen (I'd guess it's a very tough climbing challenge) and then the other steep section near the top by Kleine Scheidegg. Or just rent a mountain bike.

sizing + cheating options: (nice for parties of mixed capabilities):

  • It is not permitted to take bicycles on the lift from Grindelwald Grund up to Männlichen - (It looked like anything resembling a normal adult bike just would not fit into one of the cabins of the lift).

  • ?? Might be possible to take bike on train up to Kleine Scheidegg, then walk it on the trail to Männlichen, then descend the paved trail from Männlichen to Grindelwald Grund -- but I didn't check that.

  • ?? Might not be possible to take bike on lift from Wengen to Männlichen, walk the bike on trail to Kleine Scheidegg, then ride down trail back to Wengen -- but I didn't check that.

Mürren + Winteregg from Lauterbrunnen

[ where on map ]

Big views of high peaks and glaciers, some views across the Lauterbrunnen valley, and Gimmelwald is a quiet pretty village. If you're looking for an adventure that includes carrying your bike and a variety of different road surfaces and steepness, this loop could be a good choice.

If you're looking for smooth trails, then riding the whole loop would be a bad idea, but using the lifts to skip the rough parts could work just fine -- including skipping most of the serious climbing. Key then is to take the lift down from Gimmelwald instead of riding the trail thru Stechelberg, and also likely want to ride the lift up from Lauiterbrunnen to Winteregg.

I rode it as a loop Lauterbrunnen > Winteregg > Mürren > Gimmelwald > Stechelberg > Lauterbrunnen, and found it a satisfying adventure to ride once (on a rental mountain bike with low gears and front suspension), but I doubt I'll ever want to ride the whole thing again.

My report:

Initial climb up from Lauterbrunnen: sustained steep-ish, but well-graded road, nothing super-steep. Some asphalt, but mostly dirt-gravel. Gravel mostly finer (than Kleine Scheidegg east side or Stechelberg-Gimmelwald trail) though some coarser. A few nice views, but mostly slogging in the forest. Perhaps could done on a road bike (with low gears) including perhaps walking two or three steeper sections with coarser-stone -- but why would you want to? Would be OK as a descent if doing loop in reverse. Otherwise I'd suggest instead riding the lift up from Lauterbrunnen to Winteregg, then riding to Mürren.

Winteregg to Mürren: Climb then descend, pretty views. Mostly on decent dirt-gravel (could be done on road-bike). Perhaps could avoid the climb by taking the low trail which stays close to the railroad tracks.

Mürren village: can ride thru gentle, or climb a little to see more of the shops.

Mürren to Gimmelwald: All on asphalt, pretty views.

Gimmelwald to Stechelberg: starts on asphalt, then coarse-stone gravel, rather coarse, goes for a ways, not fun even on a front-suspension mountain bike (dual-suspension would be better). Then gets narrow, crosses two steep streams, basically just a hiking trail. Gets so steep, sign says cyclists should dismount for 300 meters. There were also short technical steep uphills (some of which I succeeded on, others I had to hop off and finish walking) - and other sections which I walked down, even tho no sign recommended it - (and even tho I had ridden all the way down from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen which is pretty steep dirt). Finally reach the dirt-gravel road, which was pretty nice (on front-suspension) with views coming down into Stechelberg.

thru Stechelberg village: pretty and pleasant gentle descent with cliffs + waterfall + raging creek

Stechelberg to Lauterbrunnen: North below Stechelberg I soon turned left to get on Bike Route 6,1 -- pleasant pretty riding, mostly motor-vehicle-free, views of cliffs, waterfalls, pretty houses, cows. Finished with a short section on the main road thru the village of Lauterbrunnen.

sizing + cheating options: (nice for parties of mixed capabilities):

  • If trying to ride the whole loop (or as much as is ridable), I think next time I would try it in reverse, because the descent of the Stechelberg - Gimmelwald section mostly isn't so great. While taking the Lauterbrunned - Mürren section in reverse could be nice.

  • If don't like coarse-stone trail, then  the section most important to eliminate is Stechelberg to Gimmelwald, by riding the lift. The disadvantage is then you miss out on riding thru Stechelberg -- which seemed pretty nice to me,.

  • Lauterbrunnen - Winteregg section: didn't seem worth it as an uphill (so instead take the lift), but could work OK as a downhill.

But if eliminate too many sections, then what's left might be too small to be worth riding.

Kiental + Griesalp from Reichenbach im Kandertal

[ where on map | photos on Picasa | | ]

Waterfalls + cirque: Steep switchbacks on both sides of waterfalls, coming after a steep-walled cirque with braided streams, coming after a climb up a pleasant valley thru villages toward a dramatic rock peak.

more views: From Kiental up to the cirque: Some views of a dramatic rock peak, some glacier snow peaks. At the top there’s a parking lot, but if go a little higher up driveway to a hotel restaurant and have a snack there, they’ve got a nice view back down the valley.

Interesting+Pretty rating: It would get at least 3 stars just for the pleasant climb thru the villages, up to 4 stars for the cirque, then the unique waterfall climb clearly puts it into 5 stars (in agreement with

photos: slideshow on Picasa

difficulty: final section by waterfalls very steep, felt like some sections at 14-16% grade (or steeper?). From Kiental up to the cirque, much gentle, one sustained steeper section (I doubt steeper than 10% grade ? perhaps more like 8% ?). Climbing is about +500m from Kiental, or about +750m from the valley floor at Reichenbach.

surface: asphalt up to and thru the cirque flat section, then concrete in the steep climbing alongside the waterfalls.

sizing + cheating options: (nice for parties of mixed capabilities):

  • "normal" start is at or near the main Kandertal road by Reichenbach (715m).

Extra -- could be to ride from Aeschi -- nice descent south from Aeschi toward Reichenbach. Perhaps climb to Aeschi south from Spiez (not checked by me, but it's on and the K+F bicycle map). I would not try climbing to Aeschi by the road from the west thru Krattigen (road is not wide, questionable visibility around curves, significant motor traffic coming from Bern-Thun-Interlaken highway exit).

  • can legally drive car up to just beyond Kiental village (960m) (as of 2009), with at least one parking option (930m) -- which still leaves some "normal pleasant" climbing work before reaching the "special" parts, so you "earn" the reward. Also offers a reasonable "warm up" for the steep climbing beyond the flat cirque.

  • the cirque with flat area (1150m): didn't seem to me that car driving is normally permitted that far (? unless are a guest at hotel/restaurant ?) but I think I saw a sign for post-bus stop. Pretty place, but doesn't offer much "warm up" for the very steep climbing above.

  • parking lot at top of road (1410m): doubt that car driving is normally permitted, not sure if post-bus service. The idea would be then to ride down thru the waterfalls, without "earning" it first. Could be scary or even dangerous if haven't ridden down stuff that steep before.

  see also  [ photos on Picasa | possible route w map on ]  

fun climbs not over a pass 1 (Switzerland - southwest)

09may -- [ see map | photos ]

I got to try riding some climbs which do not go over to the other side of a "pass". Since they don't "go to anywhere", visiting cycle tourists normally ignore these climbs and descents. But some of them are fun + pretty + interesting. Here's some I explored in May 2009:

A great big view of the snowy Mont Blanc mountains - (perhaps the best mountain view from a paved road in Europe) - [photos]. (Though the road up to the first lake + dam is just some long switchbacks, not so interesting for pure riding). Could also consider riding higher -- gentle + interesting across the dam and a paved road further. Then a possible steep narrow climb up to a second dam + lake [photos2] -- on a paved path with an exposed drop-off - (those not sure they have excellent control going riding up + down steep should walk it instead).

Lac d’Emosson could be added to a touring stage between Chamonix, France and Martigny, Switzerland, or can be added to a loop or up+back ride from Martigny to Finhaut. (The big view can also be reached by mechanical lift or (almost perhaps) by cog railway from near Chatelard by the France-Switz frontier).

The climb up to Lac d’Emosson from Finhaut is about 670 vertical meters (steepness grade around 9-11%) from the road junction northeast above Finhaut, and going to the upper lake adds about 300 meters (including 200 meters around 13-17% grade). That road junction can be reached in three ways: (a) the obvious road which leaves the main road about 2 km northeast from the France-Switzerland frontier; (b) the road with two steep sections thru Gietroz and Finhaut village which leaves the main road about 0.7 km northwest of the frontier; (c) the road + unpaved trail from the northeast up along the Gorges du Trient thru Salvan and le Tretien.

  • le Fays from le Brocard near Martigny, southwest toward Col de la Forclaz) - [ see on map ]

A short way to “skim the best” of the Col de la Forclaz northeast side -- villages + vineyards with views over the Rhone valley (bigger views if descend instead the main Forclaz road). About 275 vertical meters at steepness around 8-12% grade. Could be added as a side-trip to any route passing thru Martigny.

Though this road up to le Fays could be used to climb up and over Col de la Forclaz, the road to Forclaz above la Fey is less scenic + interesting, so this allows just stealing the "best" part -- the lower views of the vineyards and out across the Rhone valley. One option is to descend the main road from that point to enjoy those great views, but that comes together with handling high-speed motor vehicle traffic - (though I'd much rather go down with that traffic than climb up with it). The road thru le Fays offers less traffic to descend the same way, which is interesting riding, though not such big views.

I started by going south thru Martigny-Croix, riding a short section on the shoulder of the Grand St Bernard highway (with high-speed motor traffic), 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. (? Possibly much of the section on the Grand St Bernard highway could have been avoided by starting thru les Rappes (instead of le Brocard) ?)

Big views of the Rhone valley and mountains across it, thru vineyards + farms + villages, interesting riding. Bike route 59 starts at the river Rhone, climbs thru Bex and Gryon to Villars-sur-Ollon. Total climbing about 850 vertical meters starting from the Rhone river, including 600 meters around 7-10% steepness grade.

I descended the same way. (On the other hand, bike route 59 continues over Col de la Croix, but that's less interesting + pretty -- except in early spring when there's still lots of snow visible on the mountains).

The route from Bex thru Gryon is much prettier (and likely quieter) than the more direct way up to Villars-sur-Ollon from Ollon.

Bex is about 20 km north from Martigny following official signed bike routes. This climb could be included as part of a multi-day west-east tour across Switzerland going to Interlaken, or a north-south tour going to Bern. Or could be a side-trip from an east-west tour going toward the Furkapass. Villars-sur-Ollon can also be reached by cog railway from Bex.

I started in the city of Sierre, climbed south to Vissoie, 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 (more motor traffic and not as pretty), and then I didn't find the way to farther west, and the descent I tried thru les Condemines + Fey wasn't such interesting riding (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 valleys view which are good all year long).

optional side-trip: Zinal [on map] I think is worthwhile. (There are other possible side-trips, but I don't know if they're "worthwhile" in terms of views or interesting riding or something).

Sion is about 30 km east from Martigny on official signed bike routes. This route could be included in a multi-day east-west tour across Switzerland from the Furkapass toward Martigny.

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) - (I saw at least one road going above Montana, but I didn't try it).  Then descended (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). I might have wished I had found a way to include more riding lower among the vineyards.

optional side-trip: ? Col du Sanetsch [on map] ? I haven't tried it.

Sion is about 30 km east from Martigny on official signed bike routes. This route could be included in a multi-day west-east tour across Switzerland from Martigny toward the Furkapass.

  • Lauterbrunnen valley from Zweilütschinen, south of Interlaken - [ see on map ]

Pretty farms + villages under big cliffs with waterfalls, snowy mountains above, options for higher steeper climbs with bigger views - (yet more options for those willing to ride on dirt).

It’s about 11 km up the main valley from Zweilütschinen up to Stechelberg on an official signed bike route, with about 250 vertical meters of climbing (mostly gentle). Just that is worth the ride, though it’s not much as a climb.

There’s other options above the valley . . .

One that I know about is the mechanical lift from Stechelberg up to Gimmelwald, then a very pretty paved path from Gimmelwald up to Mürren (about 250 vertical meters) -- villages + farms + animals with good mountain views (including the famous Eiger + Mönch peaks from Mürren) - (I do not know if it’s possible to ride between Gimmelwald + Stechelberg).

I think there’s other options for climbing above on a bike, but unfortunately I don’t yet know much about them: ? Lauterbrunnen village up to Mürren ? up to Wengen ? up to Kleine Scheidegg ? [ page with some hints | also this page ]

Zweilütschinen is about 8 km from Interlaken with official signed bike routes (with 150 meters of climbing, at least one steep section, and a non-climbing section on dirt). A side-trip up the Lauterbrunnen valley could (and should) be added to a tour across Switzerland going thru Interlaken, or to the climb or descent between Interlaken and Grosse Scheidegg.

  • Sustenpass [ photos ] west side in early springtime before the pass is open. When the road is plowed like 2-3 km above the Steingletscher hotel, the mountain views are rather good even before the road is open to the pass -- and much less motor traffic. The next section above Steingletscher is south-facing, so it tends to melt out earlier than some other roads at similar altitude.

  • Grimsel pass north side in early springtime before the pass is open. Like many roads, prettier when there's lots of snow around it.

Problem in springtime is that around the two lakes, there are steep slopes above the road, so there is danger of avalanches even after the road is plowed clear. If try riding above the sign-closure signs, even if you think it's unlikely that an avalanche would come down at the exact moment to bury you . . . if an avalanche occurred while you were higher up the road, it might be difficult or impossible to get you and/or your bike back down over its resulting debris blocking and burying the road.


candidates for future exploration:

  • Alp Rionda + Morcles from Lavey-les-Bains, north from Martigny - [ see on map ]

  • Col du Sanetsch (north from Sion)

  • Männlichen from Grindelwald


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.)

see also: 

viewpoints for Mont Blanc mountains

09jun - posted to

Found another viewpoint of Mont Blanc, and failed to reach one previously suggested.

Failure: back in April I tried to drive up to Col du Joux Plane from Samoens after a day of skiing, but the road wasn’t open yet. Success: in May I went to the Lac d’Emosson and found it had a great view of the northern Mont Blanc peaks + glaciers - [ photos on a cloudy day ] similar angle but closer and less obstructed than from Joux Plane. Riding on the asphalt-surface trail above the dam is also interesting [ photos ] - (and there are some spring ski-touring possibilities, I saw some ski tracks).

The dam of Emosson is above Finhaut in Switzerland (just across the France frontier)—a straightforward side-trip from the “grander” route I’ve proposed thru Chamonix + Martigny.

This got me thinking about other points for a grand view of Mont Blanc from an asphalt-surface road:

  • Col du Joly from Hauteluce or Beaufort is very close up to MB - (? might try also riding the dirt road on its east side?)

  • Combloux, on the old road up from Sallanches. (roughly as close as Col du Joly, different angle, perhaps easier to connect into a larger tour on paved roads.

  • Plaine-Joux (above Passy and Servoz)—haven’t been up to that point yet, but seems like the higher I’ve gotten around there, the better the view gets.

  • Col du Joux-Plane : Or is there a much better viewpoint on Pointe de Chamoissiere, hiking above the Col?

  • Col du Pre northeast side near Lac de Roselend is nice to ride to for reasons other than its view of MB. (a few weeks ago Sharon and I really enjoyed combining it with Cormet de Roselend.)

  • Arc 2000 station, though not very close, sees a classic profile of the south side of MB. (not sure I’d want to cycle up that long road—I drove there for a ski tour after the lifts were closed).

  • Italy: road northeast from Entreves toward Col du Grand Ferret (close under the Grandes Jorasses + Mont Dolent, also Mont Blanc and a profile of the Aig Noire de Pueterey)

  • Italy: southwest from Morgex toward Colle San Carlo. Should be a good spot to see the wild southeast face of Mont Blanc. (I found that the obvious road up the Val Veny southwest from Courmayeur was too close, and the main road from Pre-St-Didier to la Thuile is too much in the trees.)

tricky points about driving + cycling on roads in France


I'm just an American visitor, not any sort of expert on traffic laws or practices. Below are some hints based on my own limited experience that might help provide some ideas for how laws and customs in France might be different from many areas and states in USA.

"priorité à droite"

The principle of "priorité à droite" is not something I fully understand, so the best thing is to find some real authority or expert to explain it.

Here's some hints about what it's about:

The words "priorité à droite" mean roughly, priority to the right.

I've only rarely seen the words "priorité à droite" on any road sign in France. What's important is the concept, which applies fully even where there are no words - (one might even say, especially when there are no words).

(In French-speaking Switzerland, sometimes the phrase is "priorité de droite".)

The key point is that at some road junctions, you have to yield to vehicles approaching the junction from your right, even though there is no Yield or Stop sign on your road -- and even if your road is clearly the major road and the other road is clearly a smaller side road.

I guess that if the other vehicle had a Yield or Stop sign on their road, then you would have right of way over them -- but if neither of you has a Yield or Stop sign, then you must yield to them, because they coming from your right side.

Actually I think this is also the law in some (many?) states in USA for the situation of an intersection where neither road has a Yield or Stop sign. But in most areas of USA we almost never have such intersections -- because the authorities post signs which explicitly indicate which road has priority.

In some communities in France there are many 3-way (or 4-way or more) junctions where neither road has a Yield or Stop sign, so yielding priority to the vehicle to your right is required -- even though you are clearly on the major road. Which raises the puzzle of . . .

How are you supposed to know whether or not that road to your Right side has a Yield or Stop sign?  (since the sign is not aimed at you). Something that often helps is . . .

"X" sign:  In most (almost all?) cases I know of, on the major road there is a sign with a big "X" on it before the junction  Which means something like that you don't have the priority you might normally expect from being on a major road -- so watch out for other vehicles soon that do have priority over you.

How is an "X" sign different from a Yield sign?

(a) you likely do not have to give priority to vehicles in every direction (e.g. you likely do not have to give priority to vehicles coming in the opposite direction on your road making a left turn in front of you)

(b) the X sign is usually not at the junction, rather before it -- sometimes a rather sizable distance before the junction. (This is the aspect which is strangest and most dangerous to me -- Why can't they also put the warning sign at the spot where you are required to yield the priority?)

(c) ? it might be possible that one "X" sign applies to multiple subsequent junctions ? (as when going through a village?)

slashed-yellow-diamond sign -- another thing that might help. It's a sign with a yellow diamond on a white background with a black line "slashing" diagonally across the yellow diamond. It means that you do not have priority in some way somewhere in the next section of road -- but I don't know the details.

I have a feeling this notification might also apply to other restrictions to priority, other than unsigned intersections or priorité à droite . . . like upcoming signs to yield to traffic in all directions, yielding on entering a roundabout, or making a full stop before yielding. I don't know if the sign is just a "alert" or "warning" to be watching for future restrictions, or if its presence in itself imposes priority restrictions. I also do not know exactly how far or long the "force" of this notification applies.

yellow-diamond sign: There is also sign with a yellow diamond on a white background with no black line, which I think notifiies of a lessening of restrictions on priority. I do not know how far or long the "force" of this notification applies. Seems clear that a slashed-yellow-diamond sign would end the "force" of a yellow-diamond sign. But I'd guess that other things might also end its "force": like a yield or stop sign or an "X" sign, or perhaps changing jurisdictions. Anyway I would assume that a previous yellow-diamond sign does not over-ride the "force" of an explicit "X" sign.

My guess is there might be some intersections where "priorité a droite" applies even though there is no "X" sign or slashed-yellow-diamond sign . . .

Once I saw a subtle case where it was not so obvious that I was even at a junction where "priorité a droite" could apply -- because it was so close to another junction where priorité a droite clearly did not apply -- and yet another car-driver was aggressively entering the main traffic lane I was in.

My non-expert advice to visitors from USA:

(1) first work on getting good at spotting and correctly responding to the "X" signs;

(2) instead of trying to analyze the legalities of subtle situations, when driving thru a village or city, just drive slower and more cautiously and give priority to vehicles from anything resembling your right side, whether or not you can figure out if they deserve it.

pedestrian cross-walks

Pedestrian cross-walks tend to be taken very seriously in France -- unlike some areas of USA. Walkers do step out into the road with the expectation that you are watching the cross-walk and will stop for them. Hitting a pedestrian in Europe would be a really sad and serious thing, so be on the lookout for cross-walks.

village name on white sign outlined in red

My understanding is that this means that you're entering a village or city -- and so now the "normal" village / city speed limit applies -- even though there is no explicit numerical speed limit sign. As of March 2009, my understanding is that the village / city speed limit in France is 50 kilometers per hour.

(I believe the same principle applies in several other European countries, but the colors of the village name signs are different -- and the "normal" speed limit might be different in other countries.)


Do not just sorta guess about which hose to pump into your car.

critical filling-station words:

  • "gazole", "gasoil" = diesel (US)

  • "essence sans plomb", "sans plomb" = unleaded gas (US)

Very confusing for visiting Americans: "gazole" is not what it sounds like to American ears.

Many rental cars in Europe take diesel fuel, so it's really important to note which kind of fuel your car requires, and to get the words right to get the fuel right. Additional clues: hoses for diesel often (but not always) have colors such as orange, yellow, or black. Hoses for unleaded gasoline (US) often have the color green.

Note that there's often a difference between diesel for trucks and diesel for cars. In my experience, diesel for trucks is dispensed from different pumps than diesel for cars -- so my guideline is that if a pump dispenses both unleaded and diesel, then the diesel from that pump is for cars.

toll roads

added 10feb23

Many of the "A" roads (FR "autoroute", USA "interstate", "limited access highway") in France require tolls to be paid ("péage"). Usually the direction sign for such a road is contained in a blue rectangle. I've normally had to pass thru a toll booth both to enter and to exit from an Autoroute, and sometimes there are barriers across the whole road, where all vehicles must pay toll.

There's several different kinds of toll booths:

  • green arrow when entering toll section = take a coded paper ticket -- often requires pushing a button to emit the ticket - (whose code will be used later to determine the amount of the toll to be paid when exiting).

A few toll sections require paying the toll immediately on entry, without use of any paper ticket.

  • green arrow = payment can be made with either money or credit / bank cards. (Often there is a human attendant, but not always).

  • "CB" (in white or yellow) = "carte bancaire" = payment only by credit cards or bank cards, not money.

  • white image of two bank cards = payment only by credit cards or bank cards, not money.

  • orange "T" = "Telepass" = payment by electronic device mounted in car.

  • ? octagon (? or other unusual symbol ?) = for heavy trucks ("poids lourd") with their own special payment system.

key points

(a) When in doubt, go to a booth with the green arrow (unless you know you have Telepass). Some booths have both the T for Telepass and the green arrow -- those are also OK. Some booths have both the T for Telepass and white two-card image of "CB" -- those are also OK if paying by bank/credit card.

(b) When using an American credit card or bank card, it could be a good idea to go thru a green arrow booth the first time in a toll region -- because sometimes they don't accept some American cards. At a green-arrow booth if you discover that result, you can pay instead by cash. My experience is that the "autoroute blanche" between Geneva and Chamonix / Mont Blanc tunnel has given me the most difficulty accepting cards, while the AREA A41 / A43 system has virtually always accepted my American cards.

nearby countries:

Switzerland is completely different (as of 2010) from France: No toll booths - (and the signs for toll roads are normally contained inside a green rectangle). Instead the toll is paid once per year by purchasing a sticker ("vignette") to be attached on the inside of the windshield. Many rental cars picked up in Switzerland already have a current "vignette". Almost all rental cars picked up outside Switzerland do not have a "vignette".

Geneva airport -- Note that cars rented from the France side of the Geneva airport (GVA) normally do not have a vignette -- and it is somewhat tricky to know how to drive to GVA without using roads which require a vignette. If you take the obvious way from the France autoroutes to GVA, it is very likely that you will be required to pay for a vignette for the entire year, even though you are driving on the Switzerland toll roads for only 15 minutes. So plan your route carefully (and definitely consider having it coded into GPS).

Italy (as of 2009) is somewhat similar to France. The toll booths for credit/bank cards are titled "Viacard", and there are other differences.

Austria (as of 2009) is similar to Switzerland, and the windshield sticker is even called a "vignette".

other stuff

roundabout - (USA "traffic circle", FR "rond-point", "giratoire"): There's lots of them. Normally I find I have to yield to vehicles already on the roundabout (just the opposite of "priorité a droite"). I've never heard that I'm required to signal in any special way when entering or leaving a roundabout -- but it doesn't seem to do any harm, so often I do.

If I'm not sure where I'm going to exit the roundabout, often I'll go all the way around it once (or twice?) slowly and read all the signs before I decide.

But when I do see the road I want to exit on, I try not to make a quick unexpected move to it, because some impatient local driver might be zipping around on my right side -- I have the alternative of going around one more time and taking my exit more deliberately. If I'm going slow in the roundabout, perhaps it's better to stay to the outside anyway (so that impatient local drivers will try to slip by on my left instead of my right).

A couple of times in the city of Marseille I encountered roundabouts where traffic entering the roundabout had priority over vehicles already in the roundabout -- and this was signaled by a white dashed line across the traffic lanes of the roundabout. (I might guess that a sign with an X could be used to signal that "priorité a droite" applied to a specific roundabout, but I've haven't actually seen it.)

direction signs - in France they tend to focus on one or more cities or villages in the direction which each road is going toward. Unlike many signs in USA where the signs tend to focus on the geographic direction (North - South - East - West). So in France it can be helpful before starting driving to check a larger area road map to see what larger and smaller cities are in the direction you are trying to go.

Also the direction signs in France tend to point at the start of the road they intend, while in USA signs tend to "aim" toward the direction which the intended road aims toward.

no right turn on red - Many states in USA permit making a right turn after stopping for a red light and checking for and yielding to uncoming traffic. As far as I know this is not permitted in France. Some traffic-light intersections have a special green (or yellow) arrow light to signal when it might be permitted to make a right turn. My experience is that outside of cities it hasn't been a significant concern for me, because so many road junctions in France are roundabouts instead of traffic-lights.

phrases - here's some words and phrases as I remember them -- best to check with a real authority.

  • "sortie" : exit.

  • "suivre" : follow.
    as in "Marseille suivre Lyon" -- means that there's not going to be any more direction signs for Marseille for a long time, so if you want to go toward Marseille, follow instead the signs for Lyon.

  • "ralentissez" : slow down

  • "verglas" : icy (or "black ice").

  • "route barree" :  road closed.

  • "sauf riverains" :  except for locals.

  • "sauf service" :  except for service vehicles.

  • "bouchon" :  traffic congestion.

  • "vous n'avez pas le priorité" : You do not have the right of way.

  • "cedez la passage" :  yield.

  • "sortie camions" :  truck entrance / exit.

  • "péage" : toll must be paid to drive on this section of road.

  • "gare de péage" : toll plaza

  • "car" : bus - [very confusing compared with English usage]

  • "sauf cars" : except for buses.

  • "poids lourd" (sometimes "PL") : heavy-goods truck (GB "heavy lorry")

  • "travaux" : road work

  • "chantier" : construction site.

  • "rappel" :  reminder, recall. 
    With regard to a posted speed limit, "rappel" normally means that the speed limit in the previous section of road before this current sign was the same as the one posted here for the next section - (trying to educate you for future times you might drive this same road).

more . . .

see also


concept words: roberts Europe European visit trip vacation holiday American visitor report reports

bicycling: bicycle bicycling bike bikes bicycles bicyclist cycle cyclist cycling touring riding rider riders

routes: route routes ride rides tour tours map maps

places: place river valley state country region regions area areas city town village

fahrrad rad radfahren radtour touren routen velo tour tours route routes velotour cyclisme

bici bicicletta percorso itinerario visita giro turistico