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Text: Keir Plaice | Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith | Video: My Media Sydney
The Jura is a range of mountains that extends along the Franco-Swiss border from the Rhône in the southwest near Lake Geneva to the Rhine by Schaffhausen in the northeast, falling into the Jura & Three Lakes region (which in turn comprises a series of smaller cantons). Though lower than the more iconic summits to their south, the Jura range’s rugged limestone peaks provide a refuge for a way of life that has all but disappeared from the Alps.
There are no glitzy resorts in the Jura. The glitterati don’t often descend on its slopes. Instead, lumberjacks and hikers and herdsmen who still make their own cheese in their barns roam the hills. Centuries-old villages lie hidden in valleys lined with forests and lakes and fast-running rivers. There are hundreds of remote roads and trails to explore. The Jura is one of Switzerland’s most rural regions.
Across the range, six smaller regions have decided to become nature parks. Each of these regions has been formed to preserve the unique natural character of its territory and the culture of the people who call it home.
The Parc Jura Vaudois in the far south of the chain is made up of mountainous woodland and meadows criss-crossed with dry stone walls. The Parc régional Chasseral, which lies further north between La Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchâtel and Bienne, is named after the famous mountain at its centre, which offers spectacular views over the Vosges, the Black Forest, the Three Lakes Region, and the Alps. Just next to it is the Parc du Doubs, where horses graze freely in wooded meadows. The Naturpark Thal, further north still, is a patchwork of high-elevation forest and pastures, and the Jurapark Aargau, which covers the range’s rolling foothills near the Rhine, harbours orchards and large pine forests. Finally, the Naturpark Schaffhausen is located at the far east of the Jura range, and is home to the largest vineyards in German-speaking Switzerland.
Possibilities for cycling abound. The Parc Jura Vaudois, to the north of Geneva and west of Lausanne, includes the pretty Vallée de Joux, which is home to many of Switzerland’s greatest watchmakers, and some of the highest mountains in the Jura. You can read about our time visiting this area here.
The Chasseral, meanwhile, is a mountain-biking haven. From the red-and-white-striped tower at its summit, 1,607 metres above sea level, trails drop off in all directions, offering high-speed descents through forests and fields. After a few hours of riding, stop at one of the many farm restaurants on the slopes. The food will be as local, and the atmosphere as authentic, as it can possibly get. The families who run the farms basically invite you into their own homes. They’re used to long days of very physical work, so there is bound to be more than enough to eat.
On a road bike, the Chasseral is also a beautiful climb. It can be tackled from either Saint-Imier on its western flank or from Nods in the east. Both approaches rise steeply through the trees for about 11 kilometres before coming out onto the barren top, where winds can be fierce.
In the Naturpark Thal, the road up to the Passwang Pass is wonderfully scenic. From Balsthal, it climbs for 11 kilometres at an average grade of 4%. The asphalt is perfect. Switchbacks sweep up to the summit. From the top of the pass, the climb further up to the Vogelbergfluh is well worth the effort too, although it is very steep. From the top of the ridge, you can see out over several valleys in all directions. It’s said to be one of the most beautiful spots in all the Jura.
After the descent, the bottom of the valley offers superb riding as well, with rocky cliffs and crumbling castles by the side of the road and towns where time seems stand still.
The hills in the Jurapark Aargau may be less dramatic, but they can be every bit as difficult. The roads and gravel tracks that run through the forests and orchards of the region are forever rolling, with steep inclines and very fast descents. You don’t have to push hard though. There are many great hotels and cafés to stop at along the way, as well as farm stands that offer local produce.
Keep an eye out for the Swiss Parks label, which guarantees that what you’re eating was grown and made locally. A visit to the canton of Aargau’s capital, Aarau, is also a must. Many of the buildings in the charming old town date back to the 16th century and feature the city’s signature painted gables.
The Route Verte is a 470km trail that takes you from Schaffhausen to Geneva, through the six nature parks. Although designed with ebikes in mind, it can also be tackled on a road bike. It offers a series of quiet, interconnected roads and is an ideal way to discover the region.
One of Switzerland’s most rural regions, the Jura mountain range extends along the Franco-Swiss border from the Rhône in the southwest near Lake Geneva to the Rhine by Basel in the northeast. With an incredible diversity of terrain on offer, it’s perhaps little surprise that the riding through the area is absorbing and impressive – whether you’re on a road bike, a mountain bike or an e-bike, there’s something for you.
To discover the cycling offering in the Jura and Three Lakes region, visit here.
For a full summary of suggested cycling itineraries in the Swiss Parks, visit here.
The food offering in this region was particularly charming, with the Métairie (farm restaurants) along the riding route providing some of the most delicious, memorable and character-filled meals of our entire time in Switzerland.
For a full listing of farm restaurants in the Jura, visit here.
For a full listing of restaurants along the Route Verte, visit here.
With an incredible variety of cycling routes on offer, you’ll be spoilt for choice when riding in the Jura. However, there are some clear standouts.
Mountain biking the route n°44 from the top of Chasseral mountain to Sonceboz offers amazing 360° views of the Alps, the Jura & Three Lakes region. The nature through this route is well preserved, and you can break your ride for hearty fare at ‘métairie’, or farm restaurants, along the way.
The Route Verte is a seven-stage e-bike or cycling route that will take you from Schaffhausen all the way to Geneva and accross the Jura Arc’s six Nature Parks: Schaffhausen Nature Park, Argau Jurapark, Thal Nature Park, Doubs Nature Park, Chasseral Nature Park and Jura vaudois Nature Park.
This route of over 470 km showcases some of the most beautiful landscapes in Switzerland – where the journey counts more than the destination. You’ll also go behind the scenery to meet passionate locals that live and work to preserve the amazing nature of their regions.