From Geneva to Interlaken on the Alpine Lake Route(June 14 – 17 2012)
A 3-day, 250-km ride from Geneva toInterlaken, following the Alpine Lake Route through Lausanne, Gruyères,Château-d'Oex, Gstaad and Spitz.
What I had in mind was renting abicycle for a two- or tree-day loop trip around Lake Léman (or Geneva Lake).The Geneva tourist information office directed me to the Bike Switzerland shop nearthe Cornavin station. Displaying an array of maps and guides, John, the owner,convinced me that there were more exciting things to do in the same three-dayspan, like following the Lakes Route (see the Cycling in Switzerland web site), from Geneva to Interlaken, usingthe Train + Bike service for the return trip. To go from Lake Léman to the uplandSwiss Plateau, you don't have to climb a high pass, unless this is what youwant. There is an easier way, the Old Cheese Road. Travelled by ox-carts fromGruyères to the lake in times past, it is a relatively easy climb. For thattrip, I choose a lightweight, fully-equipped BMC hybrid (40 CHF/day) and I hadthree perfect fresh and sunny days, a small miracle considering the rottenweather the week before. Checking prices on Internet, I soon realized that mosthotels were too pricey for my modest budget and settled for chambres d'hôtes (bed and breakfasts)instead.
·My GPS tracks (in Garmin.gdbformat), available upon request.
·Cyclingin Switzerland, vol. 9, TheLakes Route: Crossing Switzerland from Montreux (on Lake Léman) toSt. Gallen (on Lake Constance); Web Site:http://www.veloland.ch/en/buecher_karten.cfm,
·Mobile Tagging - Bee Tag, if youtravel with your cell phone.
From Geneva to Cully (80 km in7½ h, av. 15.8km/h)
Leaving theCornavin Station at 10:30 a.m. on the bicycle path running along the Chemin deLausanne, I felt very safe in the middle of the dense morning traffic. The cooland sunny weather was perfect for riding. Using the maps of Cycling in Switzerland, I tried to stayon light traffic secondary roads between the lake and Highway 1 up the hills. Ihad lunch on the crowded terrace of a small restaurant on Crans Road, justbefore Nyon. From Geneva to Morges, a relatively flat area, most roads have ashoulder, except in rural areas where they wind through fields of wheat,potatoes and corn, with an occasional view on the lake or the Mont Blanc. Manylocal cyclists, young or old, saluted me with a friendly "Bonjour!"as we passed each other.
Just beforeMorges, a local man showed me a trail going through the thick wood close to thelake, connecting with a vast lakeside park and marina. Facing Mont Blanc andother majestic snow-capped summits reflecting on the lake, the place was simplyawesome. As if I was under a magic spell, I rode on the shared-use pedestriansand cyclists paved footway following the shore. In one place, a fine two-mastedhigh-sterned boat from another era, obviously a replica, was anchored in thebay.
Going throughLausanne, a city full of steep hills, can be a daunting challenge except if youstay on the lake side. I found another pleasant shared footpath there,bypassing the seedy industrial and railroad district. However, I had to decidewhere I would be spending the night. Before leaving, I had located severalsuitable B & B in Lausanne, but my first choice was the farthest one inCully, between Lausanne and Chexbres. Phoning from a public booth in the VidyCampground, I booked a room there. At some point past Lausanne, leaving thelake shore, I took narrow Villette Road over the railroad, for a fun ride inthe middle of the Lavaux hills. Covered with golden green chasselas andoffering a gorgeous view on the lake, these hills are part of UNESCO's WorldHeritage Sites and grace the 200 franc banknote as a watermark (Collect them all!).Just before 6 p.m., I passed through quaint Cully and after a mildone-kilometer climb, I reached Le VignyBed and Breakfast, an old house in the middle of the vines (60 FS withWiFi). Thanks to a 1941 law forbidding any new construction there, the distinctivecharacter of that unique site was preserved from condomisation. There, I met anold New Zealander couple needing an interpreter. Once I had settled in, I rodeback to Cully and had dinner in the chic Major Davel Hotel restaurant, a goodplace to watch a gorgeous sunset in the mountains on the other side of thelake.
Friday, June 15
From Cully to Château d'Oex(86 km in 10 h; max. 56 km/h, av. 12.8km/h)
A little before 6a.m., after a quiet night's sleep, I was awakened by a crop sprayer chopperchurning the air around and over the house. The small hedgehopping craft,wrapped into thin white veils, looked like a graceful ballerina dancing overthe vines. Over a hearty breakfast, the owner told me that these sprayingflights were needed to fight mildew and other fungal diseases. "We justclose the windows for a few hours", she said.
Around 8 a.m. Iwas back on Route 9. The subdued lighting of the early morning had replaced thevibrant tones of yesterday afternoon with by soft, hazy pastel hues. That day,I wanted to sleep in Saanen or Gstaad but there was no way I could get a B& B reservation on the Net. To be on the safe side, I jotted down theaddresses of the tourist information offices and Youth Hostels of Châteaud'Oex, Saanen and Gstaad.
In Vevey, a smallcity tucked to the lake by Highway 9, I had some trouble finding the Old CheeseRoad. A man I asked on the street drew me a crude sketch directing me to theunderpass. A few minutes later, I slipped out of the concrete belt on a narrow connectingroad so steep that I had to walk my bike up. Soon after, as I was climbing inlow gear, the beautiful alpine valley panorama began to unfold, a pleasure forthe eye. With a slope never exceeding 4degrees, the climb was easier thanwhat I expected.
Just before noon,I had lunch in Châtel St-Denis, some 400 meters over the lake, which was nowout of sight. Then, I was riding in the middle of the green fields of the flathighlands, taking the narrow back roads recommended by the Guide, most of themclearly shown by distinct color-coded signs (for hiking, skating, canoeing,mountain biking or cyclotourism). In Vaulruz, I went a bit out of my way to seethe church and castle on the hill. On the other side of Bulle (one of the rareindustrial towns in that area), the alpine landscape gets more character. Afterpassing by the huge cheese factory in Gruyères, I had a command to fulfill,taking a few pictures of the old town for a friend. An ancestor of herssupposedly had been the paramour of the count a long time ago. Crowded withtourists and visiting school classes, that little walled town up on the hill isnevertheless a must-see.
Going down thehill on the narrow empty trails was an exciting moment. Old Route de Rez (aboveIntyamon Road) offers nice views on the valley, for a price; I had to stand upon my pedals to climb several short steep hills. Passing through Grandvillardaround 4 p.m., I stopped to check my map in front of a cold beer. The hotafternoon sun was coming down and Château d'Oex was my best bet.
Just pastLessoc, I fell back on the main road, which follows the Sarine River. Near asmall bridge, a Swiss cyclist about my age signalled me to stop. He advised meto take the old road across the river, instead of the main road intermittentlyblocked by road works. Riding the cool shaded but unkempt road was a pleasureand got me past a long line of vehicles waiting for their turn to pass.
Reaching Châteaud'Oex at 6, I climbed up one more small hill to reach the tourist informationoffice in the middle of the town. The kind clerk there directed me to Les Chambre d'hôtes du Berceau, a B& B in a farm close to the river, and I got a cosy small room in a recentlyrebuilt house. Later, at the swimming pool restaurant nearby, I ate deliciousperch filets, the other Swiss national dish, except that most of the fish isimported now from Poland or Estonia.
Saturday, June 16
From Château d'Oex toInterlaken (86 km in 8 h; max. 56 km/h, av. 14.4 km/h)
Getting up at 7:30a.m., I chatted with the owner while he was preparing breakfast. They had sometwenty cows and a few small cattle. "We get less than what milk producersget in Quebec", he lamented; "I know, I've talked to peoplethere". In Switzerland, agricultural, dairy and livestock farms areheavily regulated and diversely subsidized operations, with winners and losers.
I left at 9 andafter a few kilometers on the quiet narrow road on the other side of the SarineRiver, I got back on Route 11 in Saanen. This town marks the "linguisticfrontier", after which all signs are in German. Feeling great, my onlyregret was to be on my final day instead of going all the way to LakeConstance. Well, some other time... Traveling without a reservation on a warm,sunny Saturday, I had better get to Interlaken before the end of the afternoon,and decisions had to be made. So, I bypassed Gstaad in order to make good time.The road goes up on a gentle slope all the way to the highest point in Shönried(1286 meters), a total climb of 900 meters in two days without too much pain.Wherever I looked, I was surrounded by big and small mountains, withwhite-crested peak farther away - Swiss landscape at its best.
After a stop forlunch in a small town called Zweisimmen, I followed the well-named Weissenbach("the White Creek"), a small raging brook crossed by several coveredwooden bridges. For a short while, I rode along a group of kayakists going downthe rapids. In Wimms, high mountains block the valley except for a narrow gorgegiving access to Spitz, on beautiful Lake Thun. Surrounded by intermediate sizemountains, it looks like a scaled-down Lake Léman of sorts. As one would expecton of a fine weekend day, a lot of sailboats were leisurely drifting in everydirection. There is a nice bicycle trail along the shore connecting severalsmall public beaches. I would have like to join the swimmers there for a dip,but the afternoon was already drawing to an end. Near Interlaken, the railroadtakes the whole width of the shore, and that's the end of the trail.
Basking in the goldenlate afternoon sun, the Höheweg was crowded with tourists strolling in frontof world-class hotels at the foot of themajestic snow-capped Jungfrau (4158 m). Paragliders gently dropped from theheights, landing in the vast park, an empty meadow bought by the hotel ownersmore than a century ago to make sure no other constructions would steal theirunique mountain view.
I had yet to finda room, and to make things worst, the Tourist Information Office had closed at4 p.m. The attendant of the Youth Hostel told me that due to a punk rockconcert at the airport that night, all their rooms were already booked, and allthey had left were dormitories. She advised me to check with the informationbooth near the train station. I got there just before closure time at 6 p.m.and the young lady there made some calls for me. I finally reserved a very niceroom in BB18interlaken (85 CHF), not far from the city center. Once I wassettled in, I walked back to the station to get my train ticket and find aplace to eat, casting my choice on a very good Asian restaurant.
Sunday June 17
Hoping on the Geneva Train
While preparingbreakfast, Andy, the B & B owner, told me that he had learned English inLondon, where he had been a student in his twenties. In Switzerland as in therest of Europe, English is becoming the linguafranca. He said that personally, he felt more comfortable speaking thatlanguage with non German-speaking Swiss, because this puts everybody on anequal footing, that is, no one feels he has to put ahead is own language, andthis makes communications easier. I observed the same phenomenon in theBrussels Airport, where all the signs are in English, instead of in one of the"official" languages, French and Flemish. That strategy may work wellin countries where ethnic groups (other than English-speaking) are relativelywell-balanced and don't feel that their language is on the list of thethreatened species. However, it would be a sure way to quick assimilation formy own French-speaking community in Quebec, which counts for only 1.5 % of thepopulation of North America. For that matter, the pragmatic "linguisticfrontier" approach adopted by Swiss and Belgium, seems to be the best wayto preserve both diversity and national unity.
In the station, theplatform of the Geneva-bound train was full of people and I didn't know wherethe bicycle car would stop. When the train came in, seeing a couple of cyclistshurrying in the direction of the front cars, I followed them, pushing myfully-loaded bike as fast as I could. Other cyclists helped me to get in, then,I took off my panniers and hooked my front wheel up to make some place forother cyclists. Standing the bikes vertically definitely is the most compactway to stack them in a train. I found a seat with a couple of cyclists fromBern going to Geneva for a round trip around Lake Léman. Three middle-agedJapanese cyclists on the other side of the aisle borrowed my Cycling in Switzerland guide. They weregoing for a round trip from Geneva to Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc,crossing the Forclaz Pass (1526 m) and coming back through France.
In conclusion, I thinkthat Switzerland is the most bicycle-friendly country I've visited for manyreasons, including its extended bike path net, its distinct pictogram signsguiding the cyclists, first class rent-a-bike services in major cities, not toforget the train and bus which allow self-loading of bicycles to get to (orback from) any place in that beautiful country, without having to cross boringurban or industrial areas.