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The Rhine is one of the most important waterways in Europe. Its two sources are connected by perfect asphalt. Over three days we will discover monumental alpine passes, culinary highlights and breathtaking scenery on quiet roads.
In the history of road racing, the fights for the leader jersey always took place in the mountains. Coppi, Simpson, Pantani and Froome became heroes in the ascents, with many alpine passes gaining cult status because of them. Epic climbs can also be found in Graubünden at the source of the Rhine. These routes are still real insider tips and are waiting to be discovered.
On the road to the sources of the Rhine
We see the Rhine for the first time shortly after leaving the city of Chur and follow it upstream to Reichenau. It‘s here where the Anterior and Posterior Rhine unite into one. From here the Rhine travels through five countries until it flows into the North Sea in Rotterdam.
We follow the Posterior Rhine through the fruit growing and fortress region of Domleschg to Thusis where the ascent to the Viamala gorge begins. Glacial shifts and raging water over millions of years have created an impressive natural wonder. The gorge is three hundred metres deep, Viamala means translated “bad way”. Thanks to resourceful engineers and a pioneering spirit, the passage is now safe.
In Zillis, the village at the southern end of the gorge, we fill up on Capuns, the regional specialty. The award-winning Swiss chard roll gives us strength for the next ascent. It was here that world-famous British TV chef Jamie Oliver learned how to prepare it.
After recovering from the climb at Laghetto Moesola on top of the pass, we relish the fast descent through the Italian-speaking area of Graubünden. A descent of 1,800 metres is awaiting us and with it, a journey from the high alpine down to the mediterranean region. Throughout our descent, it seems as though we are not only going through several kinds of vegetation but also different climates.
Up the second pass: over the Lukmanier Pass back to Graubünden
We reach the lowest point of our journey and also the canton of Ticino in Bellinzona. The Ticino river takes us north until we turn into the idyllic Blenio Valley in Biasca. We still have to climb almost 1,700 metres up to the summit of the Lukmanier Pass. Even though the Lukmanier Pass is the only alpine pass in Graubünden that does not crack the 2,000 metre mark, we are still proud that we made it. Geographically, we are now at the other end of the canton and therefore in the region of the source of the Anterior Rhine.
The view up here is incredible and the 42 kilometre long climb was totally worth it. From now it is practically only downhill to the monastery town of Disentis. The green landscape and pastures fly past us and the grin on our faces just gets wider and wider. West of Disentis we see the ascent to the Oberalp Pass, where the source of the Anterior Rhine lies. Our route however leads downstream towards Ilanz, the first town along the Rhine.
Ilanz is the gateway to Ruinaulta, the Rhine Gorge. It is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon with its steep limestone cliffs and amazing formations. The narrow road that towers over the gorge is a treat for road cyclists. We stop in Valendas at the largest wooden fountain in Europe and enjoy an excellent coffee. From the viewing platform at the eastern end of the gorge we take a last look at the majestic landscape and take in the amazing energy. Chur, where our journey ends, is not far anymore. The oldest city in Switzerland and the cultural centre of the canton welcomes us back with open arms.
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Our tour to the two sources of the Rhine was quite a trip: we rode 270 kilometres in three days. The region is an undiscovered cycling diamond with more than enough ascents to explore for five or more days. In addition to the well-known alpine passes Oberalp and Splügen, the Glass Pass and the Avers valley or the Obersaxen plateau are definitely worth a visit.
Graubünden truly is a secret with many wonders in road construction. However, there are also villages with wooden houses covered in flowers whose streets are made of cobblestones. Relaxing mineral baths, churches from the fourth century, dairies with tasty specialties from happy cows, as well as staycations in a monastery and 500 years old huts. These things and the incomparable landscape call for a more leisurely pace to take it all in.
Tour details, attractions, hotels and luggage transport are available at:
Highlights along the way:
Viamala Gorge, San Bernardino Pass, Splügen Village Pass, Disentis Monastery Town, Lukmanier Pass, Rhine Gorge
The best time for cycling in the area is from May – October.
The weather in the Alps can change very quickly. Always pack a wind jacket in your tricot.