Text: Keir Plaice | Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith | Video: My Media Sydney
Stony, sun-baked vineyards rise up the banks of Lake Geneva in terraces along its Swiss shore. By the lakeside, colourful villas preside over beaches. Rows of speedboats and yachts bob at their moorings. In the old hillside towns that look over the water to the snow-blasted peaks of the Alps, grand chateaux guard promenades decorated with flowers and palms.
From Montreux in the north to Geneva in the south, the Swiss coast arcs westward for 95 kilometres. The other shore belongs to France. On the map, the lake is shaped like a croissant, wedged between the Jura and the Alps on the course of the Rhône. On the Swiss side, cities such as Montreux, Lausanne, and Nyon are famed for their mild, almost-Mediterranean climate, their culture, and their buildings, while Geneva offers all the pleasures of a cosmopolitan city in a naturally beautiful setting.
You could spend days exploring the lakeside roads, stopping in tidy wine-growing villages to have a coffee and watch the paddle steamers ferry past, as the sun climbs over the mountains to the east. But be sure to head inland as well. The foothills of the Jura are close by. There lies another world.
Through the forest, the roads swoop upwards, past meadows marked by dry stone walls, where hardy cows jangle and graze. From the top, you can see the mountains rippling off into the distance, their rocky ridges flanked by conifers. At the bottom of the valleys, lakes gleam like puddles of mercury beside pretty little towns. High above them, wooden huts are built into the hillsides, where farmers make their strong soft cheese, Vacherin Mont d’Or.
You can understand why the Huguenots fled here. In the wilds of the Jura, they found the peace and quiet they needed to practice their faith. But the winters were harsh and made farming almost impossible. So, they turned to making clocks and scientific instruments to pass the long, cold months.
Today, the valleys of the Jura are home to Switzerland’s most prestigious watchmakers. Manufacturers such as Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Jaeger-LeCoultre still have their premises in the Vallée de Joux, a tranquil rural setting, which seems very far away from the glitzy fast-paced centres where their wares tend to be worn.
Perhaps time has to run at a more natural pace to make a fine mechanical timepiece by hand. The cyber frenzy of modern life seems to slow to the tick, tick, tick of seconds there, amongst the pines.
Exquisite examples of mechanical craftsmanship are one hallmark of the Joux Valley; the other is the popular dish, Vacherin Mont-d’Or AOP – a flavoursome soft winter cheese, aged in spruce and beloved across Switzerland. After you’ve taken the time to admire the intricate work of the Swiss timekeepers, a hearty serving of Vacherin Mont-d’Or is the ideal way to round off your time in the tranquil Joux Valley – a pocket of Switzerland which feels very far indeed from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
You are not, in fact, very far from Geneva though. From the bustling centre of the city, the Lac de Joux is just 65 kilometres away. From Nyon, a little to the north, there is a 100-km route which takes you from Lake Geneva to the Lac de Joux and back, with two beautiful climbs. The first, the Col du Marchairuz, climbs for 19 kilometres at an average grade of 5%. The road then drops down into the valley and circles around the lake, before it turns up again in the town of L’Abbaye and climbs for five kilometres. From there, it’s an easy downhill, with the odd roller here and there, all the way back to Nyon, where you are sure to be welcomed with the hospitality the Vaudois are famous for.
Home of Switzerland’s most famous lake, Lake Geneva Region (or, the canton of Vaud) offers a lot more than just waterfront views. Scenic lakeside villages like Le Sentier, L’Abbaye or Le Pont offer a wide range of restaurants, hotels and activities.
Rising steeply up from the shores of the lake, you can visit the World-Heritage listed Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, and the climbing doesn’t stop there. Two high mountain passes – Marchairuz and Mollendruz – offer substantial climbing challenges and rise up to over 1100m in elevation.
It’s also a region that will be familiar with cyclists as the home of the UCI.
For a full description of Lake Geneva Region’s cycling offering, visit here.
With lake-front roads but surrounded by steep hills, cycling in this region can be as easy or challenging as you like.
The Jura Mountains, scene of some classic battles in the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France, offer some fantastic climbing. The Marchairuz Pass and the Mollendruz Pass, as featured in the video, are tough but rewarding ascents with scenic views back to the lake below.
When not on the bike, there’s no shortage of activities to enjoy. There are a number of highly regarded museums in the region – including the Swiss National Museum in Nyon.
The Joux Valley is the home to one of Switzerland’s most famous industries, watchmaking. Espace horloger, a stunning interactive museum dedicated to the craft, is well worth a visit. It’s also worth stopping by the Vacherin Mont-d’Or museum for an insight into this interesting cheese.
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.