Route Map

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 5 Day 6

I am the first to admit that I am no football fan, having only ever watched one live match, and usually avoid all televised football. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my Switzerland holiday would clash with Euro 2008 being played at two stadiums in Switzerland. At least I would out in the sticks well away from the action. As it was things turned out slightly different.

Day 1. My holiday followed the usual formula of flying to Basel where Hans and Ilse from the Moulton Bike Club were waiting at the airport. Following an excellent meal and a night's rest at their apartment Hans guided me out of Basel, past the St Jacob stadium where Switzerland were due to play Portugal that evening, and out into the country where I picked up a signed cycle route. I was heading for Solothurn in the Aare valley on the other side of the Jura mountains. The day was cool and cloudy and after a couple of hours cycling a light rain started to fall. Heading south up a wooded valley I had a 450m climb to cross a low col before descending to the Aare. After a coffee at the summit I caped-up for the decent which left me bitterly cold. This was entirely my fault as I like to travel light and my only concession to warm clothing is a long sleeved tee. The rain continued for the rest of the day and I arrived at the hostel cold, wet and tired having not eaten all day. Having explained my predicament to the warden, within half an hour I was sitting down to a hot meal she had prepared for me.

Solothurn is one the finest Baroque city centres in Switzerland, it reminded me of a mini Prague. After my meal I set out to explore the town; outside one of the medieval town gates was a stadium where the fans were gathering to watch the match on a giant screen. Although the centre was very attractive the rain soon drove me back to the hostel where I settled down to watch the football on the TV. It was about 11:30 when the game finished when I headed back to the dorm for some rest, but by then the whole town had come alive with blaring horns and cheering fans as they celebrated their win. Consequently it was the early hours before I got some sleep.

Day 2. It was still raining next morning as I set out to follow the River Emme from its confluence with the River Aare to its source high in the Alps. Another signed cycle route took me out of town on quiet roads to an unsurfaced track running along the river bank. This was fine at first but after a couple of hours the rain turned the surface into a slurry which coated both me and my bike in a grey paste. Finding a quiet spot I dunked the bike in the river and waded in myself to get cleaned up before continuing up the valley on the main road. After yesterday I needed a lunch stop and to get out of the rain for an hour. At Langnau-im-Emental I found a busy hotel by the station where I was able to refuel with a plate of pasta and dry out.

Due to the bad weather I decided to alter my route and keep to the main road, which fortunately was not too busy apart from the logging lorries which invariably towed loaded trailers. Had the weather been better the Emme valley would have been very attractive, but the cloud was down low over the valley restricting the view. By late afternoon I left the main road and joined an "Alpine Panorama Strasse" which would take me to my overnight accommodation. The last 16k involved an 880m climb up to the ski resort of Sorenberg. As I cycled into the village the hotel proprietor spotted me and in spite of the rain came out to greet me. While her partner took charge of my bike, she carried my saddlebag and directed me to my room. It is welcome's like this that cheer you up at the end of a tough day.

Day 3. Next morning a light rain was still falling, so I set off without a rain jacket to cross the 1660m Glaubenbeilen pass. The cloud had lifted and I could see the high mountains for the first time; the first thing that struck me was how much more snow there was compared to previous years. The weather was improving and I started the climb amid a cacophony of cow bells on a deserted road. This was an easy ascent with most of the altitude being gained the previous day. Approaching the top I passed a sign warning of rockfall. I have often thought that these signs are pointless as there is not much you can do if caught by falling rocks, particularly on a bike. Suddenly I could hear a rockfall above me and looking up there were rocks the size of footballs bouncing down the mountain side in my direction. It's amazing how much energy you can find in an emergency and jumping on the pedals I summoned up a feeble sprint. Fortunately the double height Armco stopped most of the rocks, but I would not have liked to have been in the firing line when they hit the barrier.

8k after leaving Sorenberg and 400m of ascent I was at the summit and the rain had stopped. Unfortunately there was no refuge serving a much needed coffee, just a shelter with a vending machine offering cheese and butter. After all I was in the heart of Emmental, famous for its cheeses. From the summit there was a fantastic 12k freewheel down to the next valley.

Stopping for coffee I met two Swiss cyclists riding one of the national cycle routes. Like most German and Swiss cycle tourists they rode treking bikes complete with suspension forks, kick stands and butterfly handlebars. Each bike weighed 18kg before being loaded with mountains of luggage. Seeing them tackling the passes on these bikes made me feel totally inadequate as I struggled with a lightweight bike and a single saddlebag.

Back on the road I headed for ferry to take me over Lake Lucerne. Its local name of Veirwalderstattersee - "Lake of the Four Forest Cantons" - is much more romantic as this must be the most beautiful and dramatic lakes in Switzerland, surrounded by high alpine peaks and plied by vintage paddle steamers.

My destination lay up a picturesque side valley on the far side of the lake which involved yet more climbing to take me to the isolated village of Muotathal. My hotel for the night lay just outside the village at the foot of the Pragel pass. Coming down for a meal that evening the locals were gathering in the bar to watch the football. Trying to make conversation they asked me where I was from. From past experience of these situations where no one speaks English or has never heard of Hull, my hometown. It is a lot easier to respond "Ich komme von Manchester. Kennen Sie Manchester United". This immediately triggered an animated conversation about the merits of different football teams were language is not a barrier.

Day 4. Next day I set off in light rain wearing wet clothes. For the first time my previous evening's washing had not dried due to heavy overnight rain. There was no point in wearing a rain jacket as just 100m down the road a sign indicated that the road climbed 880m in 8km, an average gradient of 11%. The first few kilometres were tough with gradients between 15 and 20%, but once the steep sections were behind me the rain stopped and I could enjoy the beauty and remoteness of the situation - high alpine pastures with waterfalls cascading over vertical cliff faces. After 12k of climbing along a narrow single track road I reached the summit at 1550m. A farm at the summit was serving Kaffee Mootal which sounded good. It turned out to be milky coffee laced with Bayleys Irish Cream liqueur, not the best cyclists' fuel but I felt pretty good afterwards.

Descending from the Pragel into the Klontal valley was just as spectacular. With the sun making an appearance the lake at the bottom of the pass resembled a Norwegian fiord surrounded by vertical cliffs with waterfalls plunging hundreds of meters into the lake. The rest of the day was spent in pottering along cycle ways in valleys and along the Walensee, another spectacular lake, before arriving at my destination at Walenstadt.

Day 5. The following day was the penultimate day's cycling and it turned out to be the hardest of the holiday. Setting out under a hot sun the morning's ride followed easy cycle paths along the upper Rhine valley where I found a super hotel for coffee, with an elevated terrace overlooking the river - I could have happily stayed put for the rest of the week. Eventually I had to leave and head up a side valley up to Klosters. The sign at the junction indicated 800m of ascent in 32k. It should have been a steady climb but as the valley narrowed the route started to zig-zag up and down to villages on the valley sides. This turned out to be hot work. Higher up the valley I ended up on a rough gravel road which degenerated into a muddy track with the gradient getting ever steeper. At this point I decided to turn back and join the main road at the last village. This was not much better, it was very busy, narrow and climbed steadily. I was sandwiched between the barrier and the lorries which thankfully were not going much faster than me. Fortunately after a few kilometres the traffic turned off onto a new road and I now had quiet roads once more. Due to wasting time on the rough tracks I had missed lunch and it was late afternoon before I reached Klosters. From here to my overnight stop at Davos was only 12k, but first I had to cross the Wolfgang pass, with 450m of ascent in 8km. It was a tough finish to a hot and tiring day, and the last straw was having to ride up another steep hill to reach the youth hostel.

Having checked in I staggered up to my room on the second floor. Opening the door revealed an immaculate private twin bedded room with a TV and en-suite facilities, even better was the balcony and sun lounger with extensive views over the town and Alps. I dumped my saddle bag and collapsed on the sun lounger. After a rest I summoned enough energy to go down for a meal, before heading straight back to my room for a sleep. It seemed like the middle of the night when I was woken by blaring horns and cheering fans - Germany had won their match.

Day 6. I woke to a perfect alpine morning, just like the ones you see in the tingling fresh toothpaste advertisements. The day's ride would take me over the 2,383m Fluela pass and down into the Engadine Valley where I would finish at Zernez. I was out and on the road by 8am enjoying the cool crystal clear air and alpine scenery. The climb started on the other side of town, just 820m of ascent in 12k, nothing too strenuous. I had recovered well from yesterday and soon settled down into a steady rhythm on a quiet road. Less than two hours after leaving the hostel I was drinking coffee and sunning myself on the terrace of the summit refuge. Surrounded by snow clad alpine peaks and a still frozen lake it was a beautiful spot, cycle touring does not get much better than this.

The descent to the Engadine Valley was equally satisfying, a 14k freewheel with sweeping hairpin bends. The Lower Engadine is quite narrow here and as beautiful as ever. After a few more kilometres I reached the attractive little town of Zernez on the edge of the Swiss National Park. This was the end of my ride as I was close to the end of the rail network. After a meal I was on the little red trains of the Rhatische Bahn heading back to my friends in Basel.

Next morning Hans and Ilse took me down into Basel old town. Holland were due to play their quarter final match against Russia that evening and 100,000 fans were expected. The entire centre of Basel was just a mass of orange shirted fans cheering and blowing horns. Over coffee in the old town I met the first person who knew where Hull was, and he just happened to be a Dutchman from Rotterdam!

In spite of the poor weather at the start of the week it had been another cracking week's cycling with a grand finale on the last day. Only 300 miles but with about 5,500m of climbing it had been a lot tougher than previous years.

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