August 18, 2011
Switzerland has been busy over the past few years making bike travel a big part of their tourism program. As you’ve read in “Where the Rubber Meets the Sky” (August/September Adventure Cyclist), Aaron Teasdale took advantage of the off-road network of linked trails. But there’s also a paved network of nine national and 53 regional routes assembled by SwissMobility covered in this guest post by Gigi Ragland.
The buzz of morning activity outside my hotel in Bern was the perfect wake-up call to prompt me to get rolling, both figuratively and literally, as I would soon be cycling in and out of the fray of the city. The night before my traveling companions and I bid each other “aufedersein” over a Swiss fondue dinner while benefiting from a local hiking group’s echoing refrain of Swiss yodeling songs. The heartfelt sounds of the hikers yodeling folk songs from the night before lingered in my head like the hum of a song you can’t forget but try to; only this time I wanted the harmony of the perfectly pitched melodies to remain with me for the rest of my travels and thereafter. What a send off, couldn’t get much better than that, I remembered thinking at the time.
Tearing myself away from the group after a great traveling experience was bittersweet. I would miss the camaraderie of the pack as well as the good times together but was looking forward to freeing myself up to go where I wanted and when I wanted without consulting with anyone else. That’s part of the glory of solo travel after all. And, after seven days touring the verdant wine region of Valais and the tasty cheese-making Emmentaler slopes of Switzerland, it was now my turn to explore solo with the help of the SwissMobility Foundation’s well-designed network of trails. Their extensive trail network covers the country in a web of mountain-biking, road-cycling, hiking, in-line skating and canoe signposted routes. With just two days left before departing from Zurich for the states, I wanted to take in as much as possible via road bike. Before I had left for Switzerland I reviewed the comprehensive informative website to map out a plan.
Pedaling along a signposted route seemed an easy way to tour, however I didn’t have a bike. Luckily I discovered that SwissTrails, the operator for the SwissMobility Foundation trail system, could provide a rental bike for me with drop off at my hotel. In addition to that perk, included in their services they arranged luggage transfer, organized hotel stays and train schedule stops all along a two-day trail route that worked perfectly with my schedule.
The plan was to cycle a two-day condensed version of the “River Aare Route” (normally seven-stages) that crisscrossed the countryside from Bern to Solothurn and then take the train to Zurich. The signposted trail led me through the heartland where the river threads through a patchwork of hills, forests, fields, and all-too-charming Swiss villages with a view in the distance, almost like a mirage of castle tops, of the towering Alps. This rolling fertile farmland flanking the Aare from Bern to Zurich is considered the “Schweizer Mittelland,” where the bulk of Swiss produce is grown as well as a bounty of fruit orchards.
An information packet was waiting for me at the hotel front desk with maps, guidebook, hotel vouchers, instructions, and general information. You can imagine my delight when I saw the rental bike was well-maintained and geared up and ready to go. SwissTours works with the national company “Rent-A-Bike” to offer all types of bikes from racing to mountain-bikes for all variety of terrain. I was outfitted with an upgraded version of their touring bike equipped with a helmet, small touring bag, tool kit, pump, and extra tube if needed. Plus, there’s a help line to call in case of emergencies. I was assured further when Ruedi Jaisli, the proprietor of SwissTrails who was instrumental in setting up the first long-distance cycle route in Switzerland with Eurotrek in 1993, communicated to me, “We have a whole team of drivers and these drivers are everywhere. In case of emergency, we have people who handle situations. That means as a 'non-guided' client you are not alone! Call the help line and say you have a flat tire, or need to be picked up with emergency service. There’s no fee for emergency service.
The signposted national Aare Route was #8. One-digit numbers indicate national routes, Two-digit numbers indicate the regional route, and three-digit numbers indicate local routes. A red background stands for cycling, mountain-biking, and skating routes with light blue square inserts of a particular route indicating cycling routes. So all I had to do was follow the red signs with the bike symbol and the light blue #8 insert signposts. It was so easy it was almost difficult!
Day One Highlights:
Bern to Murten approximately 26 km
A perfectly crisp and cool fall day along backcountry roads accented with apple orchards.
Views of artfully crafted Swiss homes came into view at every turn with graceful arched and sloping rooftops.
Stops at roadside farm stands for tasty apples and cider.
Cross-country riding over hilly roads, crossing bridges, and through forests leading out into farmland trails with vegetables ripe for picking.
Sleep-in-straw accommodation in Murten at the Rentsch Family Farm. Best value for cyclists at around $28 per person to sleep in a cozy farmhouse barn with full breakfast and shower/bathroom facilities. (Rustic, although very comfortable and very Swiss.)
Day Two Highlights:
Murten to Biel to Solothurn approximately 72 km
Train to Zurich late afternoon
Cycling through charming villages on bike paths flanking the River Aare.
Lunch break at a regional prison that looked more like a French chateau estate with many hectares of fields farmed by the inmates--shopping in their visitor’s store for fresh baked walnut bread, cheese and fruit.
Glimpses of the Alps over the warm haze of meadows and rolling hills of the Jura.
Hammering through field after field of sweet smelling cornucopia of produce along farm paths with only the birds as my companions and the sun on my back.
Gazing at dozens and dozens of birds from white storks to herons and more flocking to harvested pastures of corn stalks and wetlands along the Aare.
Reaching the train station on time, unloading my bike, grabbing my luggage then hopping the train to Zurich completing the end of my short and pure Swiss journey.
Learn more about the SwissMobility Foundation.
Locate all cycling routes throughout the SwissMobility Foundation Network.
Review the complete River Aare Route.
Learn more about what SwissTours offers.
Discover Switzerland’s Sleep-in-Straw accommodations program.
GIGI RAGLAND is a freelance travel and food writer who favors viewing the world while pedaling a bike. She is still haunted by the melodic timbre of Swiss Yodeling and will return to Switzerland again to hear another refrain soon.