I have skied in Switzerland and passed through the country’s airport of Geneva countless times, but until this week I had not experienced a Swiss cycling trip. Now I have tried it, I will be back for sure. (Although, if I need to pay for myself next time I doubt I’ll end up at the same hotel!)
The trip, supported by Etape Suisse and Gstaad Tourism, was to the “high society” destination resort of Gstaad, in the Canton of Bern, south-west Switzerland. It is part of the municipality of Saanen and is much loved as a major ski resort by the rich and famous.
Cycling through the village revealed numerous designer shops and stores stocking labels way above my price range, including Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chopard, Prada, Ralph Lauren and Cartier.
Even more amazingly, on this cycling trip I had been invited to stay at the famous Gstaad Palace, where more celebrity guests have stayed than you could ever imagine. Apparently, Madonna books into Gstaad for New Year, no less!
Getting to and from Gstaad was also easy via Geneva and the very efficient Swiss Air.
Here’s what I learned while cycling in Switzerland
(In no particular order.)
1 Setting off for a ride at an elevation of 1,050m (3.445ft) means it’s too easy to get out of breath. It also feels like any training has been for no use whatsoever. (Thankfully, the the physical deficits of cycling at altitude were mostly mitigated by point 13 below.)
2 Going downhill through a valley for 45 minutes on your first ride also means you face the hardship of climbing back uphill to return. Thankfully, the God of Swiss Cycling offered the bonus of a tailwind to take me back to the hotel on that first evening of the cycling trip.
3 Yet, after only a day of cycling at this height, I re-found my lungs and could push my legs to almost their full muscle power again. (I think, if I was to go again, I’d spend a day or so acclimatising before setting out for a big ride.)
4 Switzerland truly is as beautiful in summer as all the picture postcards, photos and films portray.
5 Swiss cows sport clinky clanky bells, just as you would imagine.
6 It’s still possible to wow a well-travelled 47-year-old like me. Five-star Gstaad Palace took my breath away with its high levels of decadent furnishings, attention to details, views from the rooms, spa, tennis courts, swimming pool – and the tidy fairies.
7 The tidy fairies added a whole new level of luxury to a holiday by quietly going behind your back (when you have gone out of the room to explore or dine) and tidying and sorting all your clothing, kit, shampoo bottles, etc…
8 Although I have rarely slummed it on a cycling holiday I did not imagine it was possible to easily combine such luxurious Gstaad Palace accommodation with the sweaty pursuit of cycling. It didn’t seem, somehow, “right”. But I have been proved wrong. Luxurious accommodation does combine very well with days of cycling.
9 Gourmet dining can be healthy and nutritious enough to fuel the next day’s cycling. (Perhaps a little less wine would have helped as well!)
10 Water with the addition of a High 5 Zero Hydrate tablet helped to stop the dehydration and cramps of hot summer cycling.
11 Still, I was pleasantly surprised that a cheeky small glass of chilled white wine enjoyed with the beautifully prepared meal at Hotel Alpine Lodge in Saanen did not put me off cycling 25km more post-lunch.
12 You can even stay in a cycling themed guest room at Hotel Alpine Lodge.
13 Swiss roads are so smooth and fast that they can forgive a year or more of lazy cycling training. Over one day I somehow managed to enjoy riding almost 90km and around 2000m of climbing.
14 Saying that, the cols (hill passes) felt gentle compared to many others I have tackled in the Alps. Think long-ish and mostly gradual.
15 It is possible to cycle up an 18 per cent incline even if you can hardly believe it at the time – and it’s less than 500m long.
16 BMC Switzerland make some very fine carbon bikes (Granfondo 1, if you are interested) and the addition of a generous granny gear helped with all the hills. Did you know that BMC bikes are sold at Evans Cycles?
17 Electric gears (Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic transmission, to be exact) are an absolute delight (once you get the hang of how they work.)
18 Just the smallest adjustment of seat height or stem length can make a huge difference to comfort on a bike. Thanks to Cycle Fit for helping with that in Gstaad.
19 If pedal power alone is too much for you, why not think about an e-bike? I have demo’ed an e-bike before and found it to be very good for taking the pain out of longer rides. The Stromer brand looked fabulous.
20 Cycling and chatting are still two of my favourite activities.
21 And the two pursuits of cycling and chatting are the best excuse for not being able to keep up with the faster (and quieter) riders at the front! Respect to all you fast dudes and dudette Victoria!
22 So many different people love to ride their bikes. Our group of 40 or so cyclists included a wide range of business people and each of them had interesting stories about life, work and cycling.
23 It’s worth enlisting the help of a couple of good cycle leaders so you do not need to think about navigation and you ride where the roads are the best. Patrick and Martin, our cycle leaders from Gstaad Tourism, were perfect.
24 Gstaad is the location for a new luxury cycling sportive, the Etape Suisse Gstaad, which takes place in September 2016. It seems, contrary to my previous experience of many other sportives, that it’s possible to avoid pot-holed roads, lots of traffic, wind and rain on your bike. Then, rather than sleeping in my campervan overnight, it’s quite the ideal thing to live it up in the lap of luxury at the famous Gtsaad Palace. (If only I had the money to sign up!). See Etape Suisse for inspired luxury cycling sportives.
26 I can confirm that the 64km Classique sportive is perfectly proportioned with hills, flats, views and café and lunch stops.
27 Remarkable things come from cycling sportives. Etape Suisse Gstaad is partnering with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, a charity that helps young people to overcome the limitations imposed by challenging social issues including poverty, homelessness, war, violence and drug abuse by supporting a worldwide programme of sports-related community projects.
28 In 2016, Etape Suisse’s corporate sportive in Gstaad aims to raise over £1million for Laureus.
29 Laureus ambassador and English cricket legend Michael Vaughan is also a decent cyclist. I know because I rode with him in Switzerland!
30 If you can’t wait for the Etape Suisse Gstaad sportive, why not join the Etape Suisse Davos sportive weekend in September 2015?
31 Life would be eternally wonderful – and my mood would be on a forever high – if warm weather, smooth roads, fabulous hotels and gourmet dining were my daily life. I promise I would never complain again.