11th August 2018
Last night we had a great family reunion at my sister’s house in Sirnach. I’d taken a break from my tour through Switzerland for it and stayed there overnight. But this morning I continued again. I had been planning to see three parts of Switzerland that I really didn’t know much, Appenzell, Valais and Jura. I’d spent some time in the first two of those, so now what was left was Jura. To make the most of my time left in the country, and also because I’ve already spent so much time in central Switzerland already, I took the train to Basel. Trouble was that last night it got a bit late, so I got up fairly late in the morning too and it was early afternoon already by the time I arrived in Basel. It wasn’t really worth setting off towards Jura today. But then, Basel is a great city and I hadn’t really seen much of it either. I booked into a hotel and then took off again to explore the city and surroundings somewhat.
It was Saturday afternoon, in the “dead” hours when all the shops were just about closing but before people start heading out for the evening. It seemed a better option to explore the surroundings of Basel first up. The city sits in such an interesting setting where the city centre is right at the border to both, France and Germany. This has always fascinated me, so I went on a round-trip. First up, to Riehen, still in Switzerland, but then over the border into Germany to the small village of Inzlingen in Germany. The reason I went there was because there is because there is a real oddity in the way the border runs here. Switzerland has this very narrow but long stretch into Germany, called “Eiserne Hand” (Iron Hand).
This has always puzzled me and I wanted to see what the reason was for this odd border. Well, now that I’ve been there, I still don’t really know. While the border follows the narrow ridge of a hill, either side of the hill is German territory. There is nothing there other than forrest and a small hiking path along the ridge, and a small gate at the end where it borders into Germany.
It’s very pretty though and considering how close this is to Switzerland’s second largest city, this really quiet and peaceful and looks like a good location for a hike. It had been uncharacteristically steep riding the bike up there though, it was also still incredibly hot, so I was glad that from here I got to roll downhill into Lörrach, a town that, although fairly large, felt a lot sleepier than I had expected. I continued on towards Weil am Rhein, which meant I had to cross over a small section of Switzerland again. Weil am Rhein by contrast looked a lot livelier and busier. From the number of department stores and shopping malls right at the border, this looks to be a bit of a shopping destination for France and Switzerland.
Moving further west, I had to cross a fairly large bridge. I wasn’t actually sure if I was back in Switzerland, still in Germany or whether I’d already crossed into France. I’ve been crossing back and forth between borders so many times today, I had actually lost track of which country I was in at the moment! I only found out later when I looked at the map that I was still in Germany, in the tiny town of Friedlingen. I wasn’t there for long though, Friedlingen is right on the Rhine and crossing over the pedestrian/bike bridge brought me to Huningue in France. From there I went to St. Louis, a very nice town where I stayed overnight a few years ago. Today though even St. Louis was uncharacteristically quiet too, so I went back across the border to Basel.
Basel is quite a cool city though. I don’t know it well but it always struck me as somewhere that would be good to live in. Of course it looks especially nice on a beautifully hot summers day, but one thing I admire about Basel is how they make use of the Rhine. Every evening you’ll see lots of people socialising on the shore and in summer people are swimming in the river, right in the city centre.
12th August 2018
Next morning I was ready to head towards Jura. Basel was fairly quiet, it being Sunday morning, which worked well for me. I got through the city quickly and headed south towards Therwil. That looked like the last of the suburbs and from there on it felt like I was in the countryside.
Just like yesterday, it was brilliantly sunny and very hot. There were a lot of very pretty bike tracks around this part of the world too, mostly following the train line. That made the going a bit easier. Even though this one of the few areas of Switzerland without any real mountains, it is exceptionally hilly, so it’s a constant up and down. Following the train line at least took out the worst of some of those short, sharp hills.
Laufen, one of the larger towns along the way, has a very pretty old town centre. There was also a beach volleyball tournament on right in the town centre. This is the third time in the last few days that there’s beach volleyball in a country town. There must be some sort of championship going on. While that would normally feel a bit out of place in Switzerland, it was so hot and sunny, it looked right at home now.
Following the Birs river upstream, it wasn’t long before I crossed into the Jura canton and with it the language border from German to French. Not much else changed initially. The landscape still looked very remote country side, a stark contrast from where I started this morning in Basel. Before long I arrived in Delémont, Jura’s capital and largest city. That’s not saying much though, it still only has barely over 10,000 people living there. I first went to the historical town centre trying to find somewhere to eat. It was lunch time and I was starving. But everything there was closed so I went to the new town centre where at least a couple of restaurants and shops were open.
While I had lunch I also studied the map a bit to see where I should go next. Initially I had wanted to head north towards the Ajoie region. But I had been there before, a couple of years ago and it looked like I should be able to reach La Chaux-de-Fonds today, a city I’ve long wanted to see. So I decided to head there instead, even though it wasn’t going to be all that easy. La Chaux-de-Fonds, even though it’s one of the larger towns in Switzerland, is quite a long way up and sits at over 1000 metres above sea level. I’d have to do quite a bit of climbing in mid-30 degree temperatures today.
This got complicated even further. The route I was originally following out of Delémont started fantastically beautiful as I went from Bassecourt along this stunning forested canyon uphill towards Petit Val, only for the road to be closed a few kilometres in. So that meant having to backtrack 10 or so kilometres to Bassecourt, I’d also have to do a lot more climbing. As it turned out, not just was there more climbing, unlike the first road I was on that had manageable inclines, this one was insanely steep! This would be tough any time, but in this heat, with a loaded touring bike, that really had me sweating! About halfway up I took a break when I spotted some trees that provided a bit of shade. As soon as I stopped and unpacked some food, I got visitors.
I made it up to Saulcy, which wasn’t quite the end of the climb, but from here on the road became a bit more manageable. It was a hilly high plateau rather, so lots of up and down, but it rarely got anywhere near as crazy steep again as the road up had been. From here it was also just lots of very small country towns every few kilometres and crossing the border back and forth between the cantons of Jura, Bern and Neuchatel a bunch of times.
I’d been going for several hours through all these tiny villages, lots of farmland, meadows with cows on them, basically landscape that looked as rural as it comes. So when I got to La Chaux-de-Fonds it was quite a bit of a shock. There were no suburbs, it was rural countryside, then you come over the ledge of a small hill and suddenly there’s this large, busy city in front of you! No suburbs at all, in an instant you cross from rural farmland into metropolitan city. And all this at over 1000 metres above sea level.
La Chaux-de-Fonds is interesting for other reasons too. It’s the centre of the Swiss watch industry, but more importantly, almost the entire city got destroyed in a fire in the 18th century and when it was rebuilt, it was done so by following a grid layout. Something that is quite foreign to European cities. This means the city also looks like nowhere else in Switzerland. While it still has typically Swiss buildings, it all feels quite odd with roads that are almost completely straight and at 90 degree angles. It is a pretty city though, even if there isn’t much of note to see.
13th August 2018
I woke up, surprisingly, to rain. It had been so hot and dry in Switzerland for so long, I really hadn’t expected this. But it was wet and remarkably cool this morning. That probably had something to do with being a long way up too.
It’s a pity though. I don’t really mind riding in the rain so much, but what I find is that when it’s raining, you tend to not see much. It becomes more of a ride just to get from A to B. It also informed the route I was taking today to a degree. Initially I had planned to head towards Neuchatel and then Thun, but that more direct route looked a bit harsh in this weather because there is a lot of climbing and downhill along the way. Instead I chose the longer, but easier, route which went via Biel. A route that, in nice weather, is likely also incredibly pretty as it follows this incredibly long valley downhill all the way into Biel. But I barely stopped along the way until I actually got to Biel where I then had lunch.
Somewhat unexpectedly, while I had lunch the rain stopped. I was also down from the mountains and it was quite warm again. Nothing like the heat of the last few days but far more pleasant than the chill I felt up in the Jura mountains. From Biel I headed towards Bern. At times there was even a bit of sun poking through the clouds, although never for long. I skirted Bern and headed straight south towards Thun. I’d wanted to stay there overnight, but Thun in the high-holiday season is damn near impossible to afford so I ended up staying a few kilometres out of town in Heimberg instead. With impeccable timing, just before arriving there the rain started again. Luckily that didn’t last long, so after a shower and change of clothes I went into Thun. I’d been here before but only very briefly. Thun is an incredibly beautiful city though. Much larger than I had remembered, quite touristy, but I can see why everyone wants to come here. The setting right along the lake, on a couple of river islands is amazing and the city itself looks almost cliche Switzerland pretty.
14th August 2018
I had booked myself into the hotel in Heimberg for two days. I still had a couple of days left on my Swiss rail pass that I bought to get to the family reunion a few days ago. So I took the opportunity to make today a “rest” day and explore the country by rail. A few days ago I was in Zermatt but didn’t have enough time to get up to the Gornergrat. But Thun, even though it’s on the other side of a huge mountain range, is very close to Zermatt and Swiss railways go everywhere, even tunneling through that mountain range which meant I could get there relatively quickly. Sounds like a plan!
Annoyingly the weather, although it was no longer raining, hadn’t really cleared up that much. It was still quite overcast and cooler than it had been for some time.
I rode the bike into Thun and took the train from there to Spiez where I had half an hour between trains. Spiez from the little that I’ve seen, also looks incredible.
From Spiez the train went almost straight into the mountain, only to emerge again 20 or so minutes later at Visp. From there I went on the same train I’d been on a week ago to Zermatt. Unlike last time where it was an absolute sauna in the train, today with the cooler weather it was quite pleasant. Zermatt was also far, far cooler than last week. Not cold, but nothing at all like the insane heat from last week. I quickly got on the Gornergratbahn which apparently is the highest electrified rail line in the world and is going up the mountain at incredibly steep gradients. Unfortunately with the heavy clouds today the view wasn’t anything like it would be normally. Still quite amazing, but more often than not I saw little more than clouds. When I arrived at the top, over 3000 metres above sea level, I was right in the clouds. I could barely see anything so I went for a coffee first up. There is a large hotel and restaurant right at the top. And of course a couple of very cheesy souvenir shops where you can even get your photo taken in 19th century mountain climbing gear in front of a green screen where the Matterhorn ends up getting CGI’d in.
After that break the worst of the clouds had disappeared. It didn’t look like it was going to get much better anytime soon, so I took off for a hike. Even though the weather was disappointing, this was still fantastic. I’d love to come back and spend a lot more time here. This is quite a stunning area for hiking, even with limited views.
The hike I was on only went for a bit over an hour before I reached the Riffelberg cable car station. Tempting as it was to hike all the way down into Zermatt from here, in my flat running shoes that probably wouldn’t be the best idea so I took the cable car down into town. The train ride from Zermatt to Visp still looked incredible, even in this weather.
The railpass allowed me to travel anywhere in Switzerland, so instead of going back the same way I’d come, I took the long detour and headed to Lausanne for a quick city trip. I’ve been to Lausanne heaps of times, but it’s probably my favourite city in Switzerland. It’s beautiful, has an incredible setting and also feels a lot more metropolitan than just about any other city in Switzerland. I was also out of clean clothes, I had miscalculated somewhat and didn’t have enough clean clothes left for the remainder of my trip. I also didn’t have time to do laundry for the last few days, so I did some clothes shopping in Lausanne too. After that it was back to Thun by train.
15th August 2018
The last day of an epic 7 week bike trip. I’d covered nearly 4000 kilometres and went through 12 countries. There was just one more day of riding ahead, I needed to get from Thun to Buochs where we’d have another family get-together before I head back home to Australia tomorrow.
Luckily the weather had cleared up today after two wet and overcast days. It was gloriously sunny and already fairly warm when I got up this morning. Riding into Thun from my hotel, the mountains on either side looked gorgeous with the sun rising behind them.
I didn’t stop at Thun but instead went straight toward the lake. About six or seven years on my first ever bike tour I’d come through here and I remember it being one of the prettiest areas I’d ever come through. Seeing it again today, that still holds. This is just flat-out amazing!
I had to stop every few kilometres just to admire the scenery. The pictures from there are pretty, but they don’t do it justice. This is a brilliant part of the world!
Towards the end of Lake Thun I spotted a parking spot and small shop along the road. Initially I just wanted to get a drink at the shop, but then I saw that this is the entrance to a cave system, St. Beatus Caves. I still had plenty of times and that just looked too good to pass up, so I bought myself a ticket and went on a cave exploration.
How have I never heard of this place? This is amazing! The caves are huge. So far only about 15km have been explored, but they’re likely much bigger than that. The public area alone reaches over a kilometre into the mountain. Being so deep underground it’s also quite cool in there, a welcome relief from the hot weather outside. Really glad I didn’t miss this, and another of those accidental sights you come across bike touring that you’d probably miss driving past.
It wasn’t long from the caves to Interlaken, one of the tourism capitals of Switzerland. It’s a very expensive and upmarket place, even if it has Switzerland’s only Hooter’s restaurant right next to a super-expensive five star hotel.
The last time I came through here six years ago I rode along the northern shore of Lake Brienz. That was pretty, although I always had a suspicion that the southern side was likely the better option on the bike. So today I was determined to go there. It immediately paid off, there was a very pretty road along the lake with practically no traffic all the way to Iseltwald.
Lake Brienz is almost impossibly blue!
The road into Iseltwald had been basically a bike path already. But from Iseltwald it became a bike and hiking path only. The only other road, the freeway, went into a tunnel from here. The mountains got very steep and ran right down into the lake. So the bike path went a long way uphill through thick forrest. It was almost all unpaved, but very pretty. Every once in a while you could see almost straight down to the lake. The southern shore is a lot tougher, but definitely the much prettier ride along Lake Brienz.
Eventually I hit the end of the lake and the road went steeply downhill towards the shore. I stopped at Brienz for lunch. I had been doing so many stops and so much sight-seeing, I’d really not come very far at all this morning. But it was the last day, I had time and this was just far too pretty to just rush through.
After lunch it was about to get tougher though. I had to get over the Brünig pass. Although this isn’t one of Switzerland’s highest passes, it nevertheless is quite an uphill hike and by now it was boiling hot again too. The first part of the pass is quite pretty and easy as you come through a small mountain road uphill with the car traffic diverted through the highway. But after 2 or so kilometres the bike road joins the highway and it becomes a bit of a chore. The road and views are still very pretty but there is an awful lot of traffic, even on a Wednesday afternoon. There also isn’t much room for the bike. Even worse, about 2 km from the top, another highway joins up with the pass road and the traffic gets very heavy. It is basically non-stop cars and trucks going up the road and really isn’t much fun riding a bike up there. It’s a pity because the landscape here is stunning with incredible views through the Bernese Oberland mountains.
Luckily once I got to the top of the pass I spotted a bike detour. So at least I wouldn’t have to ride downhill with the same traffic. The bike road was quite pretty and went through some forests and farms until it eventually hit a ridge with an incredible view of the Lungernsee down below.
So, from here it was downhill to Sarnen, the capital of the Obwalden canton. I was totally dehydrated from the climb up and the heat and raided the first shop I saw of drinks! The climb up the Brünig pass had also taken a bit of a toll and the last few kilometres into Buochs got quite tough. But by about 5pm I made it there, went to my cousin’s house and met up with lots of cousins for an awesome dinner!
That’s another bike trip finished. I keep thinking that I should really do something different for my next holiday, but these tours are just so much fun. Even though I’ve just finished an epic trip, this was just so fantastic, I’m already looking at maps of the world and start contemplating where to go next!