The Call of the Mountains: A Switzerland Cycling Journal

This September, with my good friend and DuVine founder Andy Levine, I was given the enviable task of sampling some of Switzerland’s best passes and hotels from Zurich to Davos. And while the high elevations and challenging rides could be called arduous, that’s not a word I would even whisper when it came to the task of testing out hotels and meals along the way.

Day 1

International travel with a bike can be hit or miss—some airlines allow bikes as baggage while others charge a fee. Upon seeing my bike at the Boston Logan Airport bag check, my Swiss International Air agent smiled and said: “All those mountains. It will be beautiful, but difficult.” How right she was!

We arrived in Zurich midday and transitioned seamlessly to our first hotel, the amazing Dolder Grand—a five-star hotel known for its collection of original art, overlooking the east side of Zurich. Nestled in a tangle of streets high above Lake Zurich, the hotel’s entrance made us feel like royalty. They even rolled out the red carpet for us (and our bikes).

While Andy was en route from DuVine’s French headquarters, I met up with Zurich residents who I’d met earlier in the summer: Emma Pooley, an Olympic medalist, and Iaonnis Vorrias, a fellow pro rider. To fend off our jet lag, we went for an evening spin (and several coffee stops) on a loop that picked up near downtown. We followed a bike path before cresting a ridge, and there I got my first glimpse of the Swiss countryside: nothing but green fields, immaculate roads, and—to my delight—very few cars. This was what we were after.

Day 2

Today’s mission was to use our 1st Class Swiss Travel Passes and take advantage of the incredible network of trains that crisscross Switzerland, and we headed off towards Gstaad via the Zurich Hauptbahnhof station. Swiss train schedules are accurate to the minute—a fine example of the efficacy that Switzerland is known for. Travel with a bicycle is welcome and even has its own system: secure yourself a 13 CHF bike ticket good for one day, then find the rail car that allows you to board with your bike. Our Cannondales rode the train right beside us.

We arrived in Gstaad, a small, idyllic village in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, to a stylish reception from the five-star Alpina Gstaad. The gullwing doors of a Tesla Model X lifted for us to climb in the back seat—just one of the amazing fleet of vehicles that Alpina Gstaad maintains for use by guests. The hotel overlooks the valley but blends quietly into the surrounding beauty of Gstaad, and the view from my room was a glorious panorama from the Alpina’s flower garden to the Alps.

Andy pointed us towards our afternoon loop and a few of his favorite climbs from scouting this tour for DuVine: the Col des Mosses and the Col du Pillon. We emerged toward Lake Geneva in the municipality of Montreux and Aigle, which I recognized as the headquarters for the Union Cycliste Internationale. “We’re getting closer to the big stuff,” I thought. But while I’d raced road and cyclocross races in the area, I hadn’t done many passes in the Swiss Alps, and I couldn’t have had any idea what we were in for.

We returned to the Alpina supercharged from our fast descent into Gstaad, and walked straight into a massage in the Six Senses Spa. There were two Michelin restaurants to choose from on the property, and we capped off the evening with an outdoor dinner wrapped in wool shawls and huddled under heat lamps.

Day 3

Breakfast at the Alpina Gstaad was a smorgasbord of treats, with everything from three kinds of local Swiss cheese to freshly ground hazelnut cream. Fueled for a long day, we rolled to the train station down the hill from the hotel and used our Swiss Travel Passes to reach Interlaken for a ride into Andermatt.

Our ride started out on some dirt outside of town—we chose a route from Strava that led us towards the Grosse Scheidegg, a pass that’s closed to traffic. Besides cyclists, there’s only the occasional bus shuttling people up to the lookout. There’s a certain sense of pride when you to choose to keep on climbing; just you and your bike, passing the groups who are simply standing by in anticipation of their cushy ride to the top.

Without a doubt, the view from the Grosse Scheidegg was one of the most memorable, with the headwall to the east looming over the small, switchback-laden path on the way up. I kept my mind off the constant grade by envisioning ski lines on the slope—after a snowfall, this pass is perfectly set up for turn after turn. It was a true reminder of the potential for year-round fun and adventure in Switzerland.

Halfway down, we decided to break up the chilly descent with a stop for hot tea, and it’s a good thing we took the time to rejuvenate: the climb out of Innertkirchen bombarded us with 25 kilometers or more of constant, difficult grade that could only be the Grimsel Pass.

We chose our route because it gave us the option to add on the Furka Pass late in the day, and it meant we had no choice but to climb the Grimsel. I’ve ridden my fair share of long climbs at altitude, and this still wasn’t an easy one. We stopped to enjoy the views spanning the famous peaks of the Alps, and I’m glad we did. It’s easy to get lost in the effort and miss it all. I was determined not to let them slide off into the pain cave.

The climb proudly behind us, we jumped into the café that marks the highest point of the pass. Soup, tea, bread, and jam were in order before our descent from the Grimsel to the Furka Pass, where tight, twisty switchbacks rolled into the kind of picture-perfect, high-speed straightaways that appear in your Instagram feed and pique your appetite. I looked across the valley at the spaghetti-noodle roads and had my a-ha moment. This was the Alps!

Andy arranged our exit plan for when we hit the top of the Furka Pass, where would ring in 100 kilometers and almost 4,000 meters of climbing. We called ahead to The Chedi Andermatt and arranged for Sven Flory, Director of Sales and Marketing, to grab us at the top. The golden hour sun that was so great for photos meant the temperature would soon be dropping. We swung around the famous Hotel Belvedere as I imagined the engineering that went into erecting it a hundred years ago, and took our commemorative photo with the Furka Pass sign at the summit.

Perhaps because I looked a little sad or maybe because there was still a bit of sunlight, Andy sent me riding the final 20 kilometers that stood between me and my massage at The Chedi while he hitched a ride into Andermatt with Sven. They paced themselves with some photo ops, capturing the James Bond 007 sign where a famous car chase from Goldfinger was filmed and snapping a picture with the goats I would later meet while rounding a lower corner.

We arrived at The Chedi via our impromptu motor pace session, and the spa took me as I was for my massage, still wearing the gear I’d descended the Furka Pass in. A glorious shower and fresh robe were awaiting me—just one small example of how The Chedi goes above and beyond. Its location forsakes the more widely-known Swiss destinations in favor of an exceptional cycling locale, and our room was more like a gorgeous apartment than a hotel room. There was even a dedicated yoga room just off my bedroom.

We dined at The Japanese Restaurant, The Chedi’s Michelin-starred sushi bar in the unexpected heart of the Alps. After an impeccably served meal and a dreamlike stroll through the hotel’s glass-walled cheese room, the Daiginjo sake sank in and we were both rightfully wiped from exhaustion.

Day 4

With rumors of a storm rolling in, Andy and I made a plan to brave the Gotthard Pass and have our new friend Sven meet us at the top in the Chedimobile. We made it one way, our churning legs acting as our heat source, and arrived to find wild winds at the summit. We simply dropped our bikes, settled in for soup at an auberge, and waited for Sven.

Day 5

The rumors about weather were ultimately right: we woke to more than six inches of fresh snow at the valley floor, and more than a foot and a half on the passes. With the weather curtailing our plans for a final ride, we were forced to endure The Chedi’s offerings: an impeccable indoor/outdoor pool, a full menu of spa services, and staff that bent over backwards to update us on the changing weather conditions.

With my hopes of riding that morning dashed, Andy and I parted ways: he hopped aboard the glass-domed Glacier Express while I arranged to meet up with journalist Chris Case “somewhere on the Gotthard or Furka Pass.” A few hours later with bright sun beating down, the snow-dusted scenery was absolutely stunning, with only the dark strips of road twisting up the passes.

I found the Furka closed at the top, and turned back to descend into Andermatt one final time. The pass was completely closed to vehicle traffic, which made spotting Chris easy as he pedaled towards me, plain as day. There we were, a pair of Americans having a meet-cute on a snowy Alpine road, while another one rumbled off towards parts unknown with a few more cycling notches in his belt.

Follow the same roads Tim and Andy took on DuVine’s new Switzerland Journey Bike Tour

About the author

Tim is a professional cyclist with championship cyclocross titles. He's deeply passionate about bikes and the opportunities they create.
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