Bikes and Swiss Air
The hills, vineyards and picturesque towns of Switzerland – especially in Valais Canton – allow the hardened or neophyte cyclist to enjoy the best of what the country has to offer
Article by Andrew Threlfall
Oooooouch! That’s got to hurt! Those cows must be on something. I’m on the very top of the mountain overlooking Verbier and at least 50 cows in a field are attacking each other as their owners look on with the sort of pushy parent pride I’d only witnessed once before (in China when beetles went to war…to the death).
The outcome is apparently less deadly here in Switzerland but for some perspective let’s rewind three days to my very first hour after arriving in Martigny, a 75 minutes or so train journey from Geneva airport.
Life in the canton of Valais is as blissful and sedate as you can imagine and the visit to Morand Distillery was going well until the owner revealed his secret weapon. They brewed their own Absinthe. Everyone moved back a few yards from the unopened bottle now sitting there as though just producing it had brought visions of a Swiss Jack the Ripper and bar room brawls with no end.
“Who’s in?” your representative cries. More yards between bottle and apricot liqueur quaffing press pack develop. Two shot glasses full of the deadly liquid are pushed my way. Still no takers. I can’t do this on my own. The largest Swiss in the room finally relents and we swear to “get out of here alive.” All of this is on Instagram account I should add. The Absinthe is put away with aplomb, waiting for the A Bomb. His hand accidentally comes up like a split second VAR adjudged penalty decision at the World Cup and the shot glass smashes in to my front teeth sending a splinter of said tooth across the room.
One hour. One hour in Switzerland and I’m offered a ride to A&E. Much like the female cows (rutting it was not) I take it on the chin and in the gob, get back on the e-bike and ride off into the sun.
Martigny is an excellent place to set off from each day on the bikes with enough going on – weekly markets and so on if the weather closes in, and if you need to keep warm in the winter then Hotel Vatell is definitely your best choice seeing as they conjured up mid 80s room temperatures in mid June (mid 80s Fahrenheit not the 1980s) when air con was overlooked in preference to the Michelin level food and “best breakfast orange juice” ever.
E Cycling is booming in this part of Switzerland with an increased range of people managing to cycle further and up more vertiginous hillsides. This trend isn’t confined to the young athletic types, older holidaymakers are seeking more active or adventurous cycling holidays and the E bike allows that to flourish, especially at a relaxed and comfortable pace.
With a hot summer climate (over 250 sunny days a year), exotic flora and fauna and panoramic snow-capped mountain scenery, this part of Switzerland is an ideal destination for both the regular cyclist and the gym bunny.
Also expect the unexpected – I ended up in the neighbouring canton of Vaud sitting down to a spectacular Indian take away prepared for the hundreds of cyclists taking part in The Fugue, an annual Sunday cycle through the area. The restauranteur behind Goa Masala is English chef Mama Masala Colette’ who will happily regale tourists with her unparalleled knowledge of cooking with spices accrued over 20 years living and traveling through the Asian sub-continent.
Starting in the town of Martigny on the E bikes I had managed to explore the charming towns of the region on relatively easy cycle routes – even as far as Lake Geneva and the fabled jazz festival town of lakeside Montreux (Where there really is Smoke on the water as Deep Purple wrote about) – that lead back to my hotel each evening.
Strolling through the never-ending grapevines, sampling the Swiss wines now achieving real prestige in the area this was a summer holiday with a subtle difference: Every time I got back on the bike slightly tipsy or having consumed far too much local cheese I began working off the calories.
Valais road cycling offers/packages that are bookable from summer 2018:
Bike offer/package 1: Discover Valais on the Valais Cycling Tour
Bike offer/package 2: Treasures of the Upper Valais by road bike
Other useful sites: www.valais.ch/en/touren/road-and-mountain-biking/cycling/rhone-route