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Text: Keir Plaice | Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith | Video: My Media Sydney
Hidden high in the Saane valley in the Bernese Oberland, Gstaad is the winter refuge for the beau monde. Its grand hotels, wooden chalets, and calm, boutique-laden streets form a pocket of Old World charm and refinement amidst some of Switzerland’s most imposing peaks. Joined by chairlifts, railways, and cable cars, the surrounding mountains are one of the Alps’ largest ski areas in winter – but skiing’s hardly the only draw. Besides top-notch restaurants and art galleries and the quiet elegance of the village, Gstaad is home to some exceptional cycling.
Well-kept pastures patched with stables roll up and down the valley. As you wind over the hills, horses will often gallop beside you. The posh estates soon become lumber yards; the chalets, replaced by centuries-old farms. You rise onto fields and fall into forests. Besides the clanking of cow bells and the whir of your chain, there’s hardly a sound.
There are plenty of cols in the region to test your mettle. From Gstaad, the Col du Pillon, Col des Mosses, Mittelbergpass, and Jaunpass can all be climbed within a 105-km loop. The Col du Pillon begins in Gsteig, just south of town, and rises for seven kilometres. After the summit, a long, fast descent takes you down to Vers l’Église, where the road again turns up. From there, the steep ascent to Les Voëttes climbs for four kilometres, before it merges with the main road and then continues on over the top of the Col des Mosses and onto the descent towards Château-d’Oex.
You may have had enough for the day by then. If so, there’s an easy shortcut back to Gstaad. But the next climb en route, the Mittelbergpass, is well worth the effort if you have any strength left in your legs. After passing through Rougemont, the road again begins to climb. It continues on for seven kilometres at an average grade of 8%, though several sections are well over 20%. There’s then a quick descent to Jaun, where the final climb, the five-kilometre Jaunpass, begins. It too will have you gritting your teeth, but push on, because the descent that follows is about as good as it gets. Sweeping switchbacks, perfect pavement, the undulating green valley below, with the Alps in the background—if you’re keen, you can absolutely plummet down it. Then, there’s just an easy jaunt back to Gstaad and your hotel.
A visit to the spa and a good meal will be all the better after your efforts. The people of Gstaad have honed relaxation into an art, so you are sure to be pampered. Leave yourself time for a leisurely stroll around town and some shopping.
After the exertions of the day before, the morning after may call for a gentler ride. For an easy spin, there’s a tranquil lake in the mountains, the Lauenensee, above the village of Lauenen that makes for an idyllic destination. Have a coffee at the restaurant overlooking the water before heading home. From Gstaad, it’s about a 25-km round trip.
There is also plenty of mountain biking in the region, with downhill trails and excellent cross-country.
There’s an airfield in nearby Saanen, and it’s easy to reach Gstaad by rail. From Montreux, there’s even a classic belle époque train you can travel up in. The closest major cities are Bern and Geneva. From Bern, it’s about a 1.5-hr drive to Gstaad. From Geneva, it’s a little over two hours.
Gstaad is the insiders tip for road riders who want to ride among stunning alpine scenery, whilst still enjoying the good life. Surrounded by mountains, the village of Gstaad has developed a firm reputation as a place to exert and exhale, year-round. With high quality mountain-biking and road-riding alike, Gstaad is a destination well-worthy of a visit.
For a full description of Gstaad’s cycling offering, visit here.
Gastromonic Gstaad is everything you could wish for: hearty and delicious, delectably creative, genuinely regional or international. Visitors can choose from over 100 restaurants – from the finest gourmet offerings, to traditional raclette lodges.
Coffee houses and tea rooms complete the choice available for visitors to Gstaad. Highlights include the events of Saveurs Gstaad.
On the big loop, have a break in Saanen before climbing up to Mittlebergpass. At restaurant Landhaus in the middle of the old village, you’re sure to find something you like.
On the loop to Lauenensee, have a break at the restaurant Lauenensee – but bring cash! Here, just real money counts.
For a full listing of restaurants in Gstaad, visit here.
Gstaad offers an enviable cycling offering, both on the road and on the mountain bike.
The following road-riding routes come highly recommended:
See a full run-down of suggested road riding itineraries in Gstaad and surrounds here.
If mountain-biking is more your flavour, visit here.
Chances are you have already had a taste of Emmental. The mild cheese full of holes that grocers around the world pass off as Swiss is an imitation of Emmentaler, the rich, almost sweet, and nutty cheese that has been produced in the Emme valley in central Switzerland for many centuries. Despite its global renown, few know much about Emmentaler’s true origins. Now protected by an AOP designation, it is made on just 200 dairies, scattered over a knobbly patch of grassland and forest. Cottages and churches, copses of trees, and the odd castle spot the low hills where the cows that produce the raw milk that Emmentaler is made from graze. Those hills make the Emmental great cycling country.
Though short, they can be very, very steep. And there are hundreds of them to explore, all criss-crossed by tranquil, well-paved lanes. Tidy farms dot the fields by the sides of the roads. Every few kilometres, there’s a village, ready to welcome you for a coffee or a bite to eat. Fondue isn’t likely a good idea if you have much further to ride, but afterwards… Crusty bread dunked in a pot of boozy cheese is hard to beat.
Start your ride in Burgdorf, the largest city in the region. Its medieval streets are well worth exploring. The castle by the river dates back to the year 1200. From there, there’s no end to the roads you can ride. Perhaps, pedal out to the peaceful village of Röthenbach. It’s about a 90-km out-and-back loop, but you can stretch it out into a wider and longer circuit if you like.
For shorter rides, the Herzroute is lovely. It meanders along quiet roads and paths for 45 kilometres through the forests and meadows between Langnau and Burgdorf, before continuing on in the direction of Willisau. There are plenty of stations along the way where you can rent e-bikes and switch out their batteries if needed. With tired legs, a boost on the hills might be appreciated. The local bike maker, Flyer has been building e-bikes in the region since the early 1990s.
Of course, while you’re in the Emmental, you also have to visit a dairy. There’s one in Affoltern with modern cheesemaking facilities, a restaurant, and a cottage where cheese is still made in the traditional way over a fire. They will be glad to show you the ins and outs of the production process. You can even make your own wheel of cheese and have it sent to you once it’s been ripened.
Or just enjoy a moment on the patio, looking out over the valley. Beyond the pastureland, the Alps can be seen off in the distance.
Bern is the nearest major city to the region. It is just 20 kilometres south-west of Burgdorf. Getting to the Emmental on the Swiss rail network is also straightforward.
Emmental, in central Switzerland, is best known for its iconic cheese – but with lumpy rolling hills and scenic forests, it’s a hidden treasure for cyclists too. Whilst the hills are a great test for road cyclists, the various dairies throughout the region and their bounty all but demand a slower-paced visit – and what better for a boost up the hills of the region than some electric assistance from an e-bike?
For a full overview of Emmental’s road-cycling offering, visit here.
For more on e-biking in Emmental, visit here.
During our time in Emmental, we stayed at:
For a full listing of accommodation options in the region, visit the ‘Stay’ section here.
It wouldn’t be the Emmental without food. The home of arguably Switzerland’s most famous culinary export, Emmental cheese, the region also offers a wide array of cosy guesthouses, restaurants and traditional inns.
Visit here for a listing of recommended eateries.
For a list of food experiences and tours in Emmental, visit here.
Emmental isn’t a big area geographically, but there’s a lot to do.
Offering a well-developed network of hiking trails through landscapes dotted with meadows, gorges and forests, there is plenty to occupy you off the bike.
As a farming region, there are also numerous farm-stays you can participate in. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, consider instead joining a canyoning adventures, enjoy a refreshing dip in one of the region’s several open-air pools or play a round of golf.
We’re producing a limited run of the Discovering Switzerland kit, as worn by Keir and Dave throughout the series. Made by Cuore of Switzerland, these kits are both stylish and comfortable for long days in the saddle.
To pre-order or check out the items, visit the CyclingTips Emporium. The order window will close Monday 2nd April, with kits to be delivered within 6-8 weeks.