Valais Cycling: ride to the roof of the Alps
Dramatic mountains, peaceful valleys, crystal-clear lakes and rivers, a sunny climate, flower-filled pastures, lush vineyards and orchards: Valais boasts an incredible diversity of landscapes, making this region at the heart of the Alps a paradise for cyclists. We have already looked at cycling in Gstaad and Ticino. In the latest instalment in our series on Swiss cycling meccas, we explore Valais cycling.
©Valais/Wallis Promotion – Pascal Gertschen
Top-level World Tour riders and ardent pro cycling fans will know Valais well as it has hosted stages of the Tour de France on several occasions, but the greatest draw for amateur cyclists is the spectacular scenery and the tremendous diversity of rides. From the Rhône valley blanketed with orchards to the picturesque side valleys and the high mountain passes, from Lake Geneva up to the Rhône Glacier – it is truly a smorgasbord of different parcours to explore.
Valais has a lot to offer the cyclist by way of routes, but it promises plenty of other treats, too. Delicious local produce, mouth-watering cuisine and sensational regional wines ensure you’ll love every one of your breaks, too. Here are a couple of different routes you could explore.
The “Valais Cycling Tour”
The catchily titled “Valais Cycling Tour” links together some of the most spectacular riding in the region and will test the limits of even the strongest riders. Created by Valais-based pro rider, Steve Morabito, who rides for French WorldTour team Groupama-FDJ, this multi-day route takes in the region’s most attractive resorts and finest scenery. At 740 kilometres in all with 18,500 vertical metres and 25 climbs – all spread over 10 punishing ‘stages’ – the Valais Cycling Tour is a gruelling test to match epic multi-day events like the Maratona dles Dolomites and the Haute Route.
When stage 17 of the 2016 Tour de France came through Finhaut-Emosson, the race’s director Christian Prudhomme, described it as “… a stage on the roof of the Alps, in a world out of a James Bond film, unlike any other.”
If you don’t have the time (or the legs) to tackle the full ten-day epic, there are plenty of exhilarating climbs to the iconic mountain passes of Valais that can be done individually. There are 20 summits in all, of which seven peak at over 2,000 metres above sea level. These routes are certainly demanding but they also promise breath-taking views. The Nufenen and Furka passes, to mention just two of the most famous, are among the giants of the Swiss Alps and should definitely be on the bucket list of every keen road cyclist.
By contrast, the “Route du Rhône” leads along the foot of the mountains, crossing the whole of Valais as it follows the River Rhône along charming, peaceful lanes. This route, too, takes in a variety of landscapes, and promises a delightful recreational ride in contrast to the leg- and lung-sapping exhaustion at the hands of the high passes. Nearby, the “Chemin du Vignoble” or “Vineyard Trail” leads through the sunny vineyards that cover the south-facing slopes of the Rhône Valley, and features gentle climbs and descents, pretty winemaking villages, historical sites and plenty of opportunities for tastings.
Renting road bikes
In Valais there are plenty of bike shops from which to rent a machine, so you can grab some state-of-the-art tech to ensure your days in the mountains are as smooth as possible. It’s worth enquiring in advance about availability though, as there is less demand for road bikes than mountain bikes and shops keep a stock of fewer road bikes as a result.
©Valais/Wallis Promotion – David Carlier
One awesome aspect of Valais cycling trips in Switzerland is that you can stay in hotels specially adapted for road cyclists and mountain bikers. There are more than 70 Swiss Bike Hotels located along the nation’s most popular bike routes, all of which offer a range of handy services including lockable bike storage and repair facilities. These cyclist-friendly refuges also provide maps and detailed information on rides in the area, along with hearty and well-balanced breakfasts.
Food and drink
Thanks to its superb, sunny climate, the rich soils and generations of expertise, Valais offers a mouth-watering range of local produce. It has won more protected designations for food and drink products than any other region of Switzerland – a guarantee of traditional quality and genuine local flavour.
Highlights include juicy apricots, asparagus bursting with flavour, melted Raclette cheese and local beef, seasoned and dried naturally in the pure mountain air. These authentic specialities are delicious on their own, and continue to inspire new creations by award-winning local chefs.
A cycle trip to Valais is also a chance to discover Switzerland’s leading wine growing region. With 5,000 hectares of vineyards, Valais boasts the greatest diversity of grape varieties in the world. It feels as though you’re riding through a vast open-air wine museum. In all, winegrowers cultivate 50 different varieties between altitudes of 400 and 1,100 metres. Certainly plenty of choice then when it comes to choosing a post-ride refresher.