Switzerland for Dummies: General Hints (Part 6 of 6)

Dec 5, 2011 at 22:05
by Lee Lau  

|| Flims-Laax || Lenzerheide || Davos-Klosters || Engadin-St. Moritz || Zermatt || General tips and tricks ||

General Info:

Travel Wiki Page
Tourism Switzerland
Swiss Alpine Adventure
Swiss Maps
Bike-explorer maps
SBB
Graubunden Tourism
Flims/Laax
Davos Klosters
Engadin St Moritz
Livigno (we'll be back to do a proper story on them next year
Zermatt

The omnipresent chue cows and the Rh tischeBahn Rhaetian Railway on the very touristy but very beautiful descent from Bernina Pass to Pontresina

The omnipresent chue (cows) and the RhatischeBahn (Rhaetian Railway) on the very touristy but very beautiful descent from Bernina Pass to Pontresina



Views: 6,359    Faves: 49    Comments: 11


Video courtesy of Tom Malecha

Getting Here:

• Getting to Zurich from Vancouver is relatively painless. We flew via Air Berlin for about Can $1050 per person.

• The airport does have a “Left Luggage” office where you can store baggage for extended periods but we didn’t want to get to the airport at 5:00am to pack our bikes and catch the plane. We had a 7:45am flight home in three weeks and didn’t want to carry bike bags around everywhere we went (we packed our bikes using the Mitch Chubey hockey bag method). We opted to book a hotel room near the airport where we could store our bike bags while we were here. We stayed at the Fly Away Hotel which, like most hotels near the airport, had a shuttle just outside the terminal right to the hotel. There was no charge for storing the bike bags. That service was provided along with the one night hotel room booking

• It turned out that SBB (the Swiss rail system) is so efficient that, if we had managed to book an afternoon or evening flight we could easily have skipped staying at the airport hotel and could have packed the bikes into travel bags and squeezed in one more day of riding.

• We used the Android SBB app to plan our bus trips between locations. There are apps for iPhone, Symbian and Java based phones too but its data-based so watch for roaming charges

Taking the ridiculously efficient PostBus back to Lenzerheide to Chur after riding down to Chur

Taking the efficient PostBus back to Lenzerheide to Chur after riding down to Chur


Travel to Graübunden:

• From the Fly Away Hotel we caught an Inter City bus from the Kloten station to the Zurich HB (central train station) where you catch the train to Chur. We activated our Swiss Pass. This pass must be bought outside Switzerland and is only available to foreigners. Its tremendous value allowing you a pre-set number of free trips, discounts on public transit, mountain railways, chairlifts and some city attractions and gondolas and trains in some cities. We cannot recommend it highly enough. You feel like a member of an elite club using it, the SwissPass is so useful (3 day SwissPass, 2nd Class is approx. $ 300 to give you an idea of costs).

• The SBB Inter City train has a car where you can take your bike. Most trains in Switzerland have cars that carry bikes, you must check the bus for the time you want to ensure it will have a bike car as not all trains will carry bikes. Of note, the Bernina Express line of the Rhatische Bahn (Rhaetian Railway) which travels from Celerina to Tirano over the Bernina Pass has fewer cars that carry bikes.

• We caught a Post bus from Chur to Laax. This incredible, amazing service (truly one of the Swiss’s most enduring contributions to civilization) have 5 bike hooks on the back. They leave fairly regularly so travelling in Switzerland with your bikes is painless. The drivers are friendly, courteous and will help confused jetlagged tourists with a smile and welcome! The Swiss are so honest that no-one will steal your bikes from the back of the bus. Do make sure that the drivers know that you've put a bike on the back otherwise they might drive off before you get a chance to get your bike.

• Some city bus lines in smaller places (eg the Lenzerheide and Celerina buses) do not carry bikes so you must check when you get there if the bus will carry bikes.

• As we were traveling in September it was not that busy for bus transport. In high season you must make a reservation on the bus to ensure you will have a spot for your bike. The tourism center in most cities will make the reservation for you.

• In general all trains except ICN trains and the local Zurich trains during rush hour take bikes (ICN does still take bikes, but only 6 spots on the train and these MUST be reserved in advance). The IR, R, RhB and pretty much any other train line do take bikes except for certain exceptions. If in doubt the online timetable will always show a little bike with a line through it icon if you are not allowed to take the bike. Otherwise it's game on.

• The one catch is that there can be limited room and normally there is no way of knowing (except experience, and even that doesn't always get it right) which trains have a large bike wagon and which ones have space for two bikes in a number of carriages along the length of the train. In general a train that doesn't take bikes is the exception rather than the rule, but care should be taken at busy times.

General Map of Graubunden

General Map of Graubunden



Food and Accommodations:

• Unlike in North America grocery stores are not open 24/7 with long hours. Particularly on Saturday and Sundays the stores either have limited hours or are closed. Many grocery stores in small towns close for 1.5 to 2 hours over lunch. So plan accordingly!

• As we fly in on a Saturday we bought food for dinner and the next two days of breakfast so we wouldn’t have to worry about it in Laax. Right next to Zurich Airport in the mall is a large grocery store where you can buy what you need. On that note, the larger stores are Coop and Migros. Smaller towns have Volg stores.

• Groceries in Switzerland are about the same price as Canada. Eating out in Switzerland is rather more expensive. Plan on paying about 2x more for meals then you would in Canada. Most hotels offer breakfast, which can double as lunch! So plan on paying about Can $50 per person for dinners, Can $ 20 per person for lunch.

• Some hotels offer half-board (dinner and breakfast) while many offer breakfast. Our half-board Swiss experience was quite ordinary. The included dinner was palatable but a bit uninteresting. On the contrary our half-board at Livigno was so good that it almost convinced us to stay (despite the fact that trails were all snowed in).

• “Bike-Hotels” are specific to Graübunden & Livigno. The concept does not seem to exist in Wallis. Basically they are hotels which accomodate bikes ie have bike storage that is secure, laundry, place to wash the bike and don’t mind a bit of dirt. They are not 4 or 5 star but can be thought of as 3 star. Often the chairlift or gondola ticket is part of the package. Often breakfast is offered. They are the best deals going and a selection are presented in the story. Look at spending about $ Can 90 - 110 per person per night during this time of the year (more if in high season)

Restaurant Sanaspans is your basic Swiss alpine restaurant at a little over 2000m

Restaurant Sanaspans is your basic Swiss alpine restaurant at a little over 2000m



Riding

• The official Swiss maps are a very nice resource. They show nearly all hiking trails but distinguish between types of trails (singletrack, doubletrack, hike-a-bike too-steep etc) so you should carefully employ map reading skill in interpreting a map.

• We found the best maps for Graübunden trails to be the Bike Explorer series. If you stay at a “Bike-Hotel” in Graübunden usually you will get a free map. Otherwise they are $15 - 20 apiece.

• The Single Trail Maps are worth mentioning although we didn't use them but only perused them briefly. They show more clearly what the trail is like than the Bike-explorer series which might be considered more advanced maps. Not all trails are included in them though and the scale is only 1:50000 so they are often best used with a 1:25000 hiking map for proper navigation (more expense). They cost $ 30 each.

• For enduro and XC rides the best trails to ride are the hiking trails. Pick the ones which look the faintest – usually indicated as a dashed line.

• Be warned that many of the suggested xc/enduro bike routes on bike sites (traildevils.ch, trail.ch, Everytrail.com) include gravel road, double-track or paved road. These suggested routes are just "suggestions" so do not blindly follow suggested bike routes. Use the suggested bike routes or GPS tracks as a guideline but look at a good map and check the suggested Swiss routes against the routes in the map (this includes our own provided routes). Often riders will bypass perfectly good singletrack and ride doubletrack - don't make that same mistake.

• The exception to the rule is Swiss Alpine Adventures which is the personal site of Dave O’Riordan. The routes recommended there tend to be of high quality. Unlike many of the other Swiss sites which were in German or French (testing our mediocre language skills or Google Translate) SAA is in English. The descriptions are very accurate

Riding through the ridiculously picturesque village of Tschiertschen on our way to finish our ride from Lenzerheide to Chur

Riding through the ridiculously picturesque village of Tschiertschen on our way to finish our ride from Lenzerheide to Chur



Riding: cont'd

• When looking at the maps for trails pay attention to the vertical drop of the trails. If contour lines look very steep expect a brake-burner. If there’s a way to build a trail through terrain the Swiss/Italians will do – never be surprised by what you find.

• Always always watch out for chue scheisse, a fender if it is wet would be helpful.

• Watch out for electric fences, they will give you a minor buzz. Put the fences back after you cross the gates.

• Respect private property but remember that you are allowed to be anywhere there is a wanderweg sign so don’t allow anyone to scare you away (hikers were universally nice to us for some reason).

• Signage is awesome particularly in Graübunden where it is standardized.

• Times shown on signs are hiking speed.

• Signage in Zermatt area could be improved. The names are accurate but symbology is very cryptic (what does a butterfly symbol mean?). The Zermatt bike maps that you pay for are not terribly useful and we recommend you pick up a 1:25,000 hiking map from the local book store instead

• We cannot say that we were terribly excited about riding the mountain bike specific trails in any of the resorts that we went to without a dedicated downhill bike. They are usually really well-used (which means rough) and are best enjoyed with a DH bike with DH tread. Not to be snobbish – this is just our opinion and we are prepared to take some heat about it.

• A word on the famous loops including the Grischa Trail and the Alta-Rezia. In our opinion they involve entirely too much doubletrack and road in order to try to create made-for-marketing epic loops. If your goal is to maximize quality singletrack use the hub and spoke method; base-camp somewhere and radiate out from that base-camp to pick off the selected best singletrack. Grischa Trail and Alta Rezia in particular try to (poorly) emulate a wilderness experience but let’s face it. You are in Europe where there is no wilderness unless you head deep into a glacier. If you want wilderness loops stick to NorAm and take a road trip to the Chilcotins, Utah, Montana etc and save your money. Again, this is our opinion and we are prepared to take heat for it.

• The caveat to the above opinion is that the made-for-marketing loops are not fixed loops. No-one is holding a gun to your head forcing you to ride every piece of road, double-track or trail. As with all things, use your head and be creative in finding interesting ways to link up trails. These loops can be improved by planning out your own version that caters to your preferences. If you like singeltrack, there are options. If you like road, you can do that. If you're not up for a full epic, take the bus home.

• This begs the question; why Switzerland? For the access to the alpine. For the wonderful scenery. For the culture. For the friendliness of the Europeans. For the novelty (may it never wear off) off mountaintop restaurants, ice-cream, beer and apple struedel. Don’t go to Europe for wilderness loops which don’t exist except in the eyes of marketeers.

• Bring spare brake pads & important hard-to-find parts.

• While most trails could be easily ridden on a cross country bike, we were happy to have our 6X6 bikes to smooth out the rocky trails and allow multi day riding.

• Not every hotel in Zermatt has secure bike storage. Check with them and don’t assume you have a place to put the bike

So much history in Switzerland. Old meets new

So much history in Switzerland. Old meets new



Money:

• Plus/Cirrus ATM cards work on most Swiss banks ATMs. You must change your password to a 4 digit password as many of the European ATM’s appear to not like 6 or 8 digit passwords.

• Its never a bad idea to tell your credit card company and/or that you will be in Switzerland so they do not block your card as conducting suspicious activity

• Tipping in Switzerland isn't expected but for sure is appreciated. Tipping is usually rounding up to the nearest round figure.


Old town Chur was built sometime in the late 11th century

Old town Chur was built sometime in the late 11th century



Internet:

• Almost every hotel had a wifi connection but it wasn’t always that strong.

• Swisscom 3G pay as you go is not cheap; 1CHF per 1MB downloaded. We just used it to check train schedules so 80mb was plenty for three weeks as a guideline. Plan on spending more if you need to check email; download attachments etc

• We picked up a pay as you go SIM card at SwissCom. If you get this make sure they set up your phone to use the card. I coudn’t use the data plan initially until I went into another SwissCom store in Chur. We chose Swiss Com since it is the largest provider in Switzerland and provides most land lines. Calls to other Swiss Com phones are free, calls to other providers are charged.

Lift-served hunting off the Rothorn in Lenzerheide

Lift-served hunting off the Rothorn in Lenzerheide



Misc

• Learn some Swiss German just to make life easier – stuff like gruezi and danke to hikers goes a long way. As does Morgen to everyone you meet. That and a wave and a smile.

• Swiss AC adapters are NOT the same as EU adapters and not the same as the NorAm adapters. It makes you wonder how the Euros are going to solve monetary issues if they cannot agree on power outlet standards! Hotels usually have adapters. If you want to buy adapters the ubiquitous Swiss Post stores had them as do the grocery stores.

• When dialing phone numbers in Switzerland when you are in Switzerland always dial the area code. When dialing Swiss phone numbers when you are outside Switzerland dial the country code and the area code like so 011-41 – Swiss number. So for the Trailrider Bike shop in Unterageri their area code is 041 which is Luzern.

If you are calling from Noram, use the Swiss country code of 41 but leave
out the zero in the area code and dial (011)-(41)-41-750-90-12

If you calling them from Zurich, leave the zero in the area code and dial
(041)-750-90-12


That’s all we can think of for now! Feel free to fire questions

Trail markings in Switzerland

Trail markings in Switzerland




____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Switzerland for Dummies

1. Flims/Laax

2. Lenzerheide

3. Davos Klosters

4. Engadin - St Moritz

5. Zermatt

6. General Hints
Must Read This Week
Video: Biketherapy
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53 Comments

  • + 14
 I wish the buses where I lived had bike racks Frown
  • + 7
 well I reckon if anywhere in the world was to adopt bike racks on buses it'd be New Zealand....
  • + 4
 The bus allows you do ride 6+ hours on single track and skip the 4 hour road ride back to the start...

Pretty civilized if you ask me!

It also made getting to different destinations very simple and we didn't need to rent a car which is a HUGE bonus.
[Reply]
  • + 6
 I wouldn't get too hung up on the perfect pronunciation - in my experience of visiting the Alps, however you say it will probably be wrong, but the fact that you're making the effort goes a long way with locals.
  • + 2
 Its a fascinating language though and I like languages. It's very cool how the dialect changes from valley to valley
  • + 1
 It was pretty cool hearing swiss french, then in a matter of hours having to get used to swiss german in the same country!
[Reply]
  • + 2
 woah RoverDover; no need to tread on a nation based on one person's comments! Its not that we're terrified of firearms at all...we've just got on okay without everyone having easy access to them fine so far. All credit due to Switzerland for their gun possession/gun related crime stats though -I'm inclined to think that its got nothing to do with availability of firearms or legal restrictions though; I think its more down to the sound mentality of the people that posess them.

Oh, by the way, I speak as one of the minority in the UK with the privilege to be trusted enough to actually use firearms - I'm in (just about to leave!) the army.

All that aside though - thumbs up for Switzerland - the trails look great Smile
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Thanks so much for doing this whole series! I hope it will attract more tourists and make even more resorts realize that they should invest in mountainbike structure. Smile Graubünden really is doing a stellar job with their offerings to the mountainbike community but some other cantons are still lacking. Razz
[Reply]
  • + 5
 I agree. All bus's should have bike racks.
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Cows are called Kühe, not chue!!!!!!!!!!! and the reason we don't have wilderness is because Switzerland is tiny compared to Canada.
  • + 6
 you really from switzerland jan? we do call our cows "chue"
  • + 0
 Scheisse! Sorry
  • + 0
 Ich bin eigentlich von deutschland, aber wohn in der schweiz
  • + 1
 One thing I learned in Switzerland is that Swiss German is not quite the same as German!

Agreed on the wilderness - from Part 4 Engadin of the series - " Switzerland as a whole is 41,285 square km. About 7.8m people live there. Compare this to, for example, Vancouver Island which is considered quite populated by Canadian standards (33,000 square km; about 750,000 people), or the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined (48,000 square km; about 1.9m people combined). Swiss population density is greater than North American"
  • + 1
 muahaha, that was the best one! CHUE isch schwyzerdütsch, jan!!! hasch jetz wo gelärnt? X-D
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Nice write ups, thanks. Btw "chue" is the correct Swiss German word for cow :-)
[Reply]
  • + 3
 "Always always watch out for chue scheisse" so true Smile Hunde Scheisse is a problem too.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great info. What bikes did you take over? I'm wondering whether to take my nomad or altitude (carbon)? I'm into pedaling up more than riding resorts, my altitude is light with a 6" fork. Would it be enough bike? Thanks.
  • + 1
 Oh for sure. Both bikes are pretty nice and you have good choices. I found the trails to be rocky and technical with lots of sharp corners but totally doable with shorter/medium travel bkes. Think of it as Baldface with a lift to the top and restaurants serving you beer and apple struedel at the peaks. The downhills maybe aren't quite as fall-line steep though.

The Altitude will be fine. Make sure you pad the bike well when transporting though. And don't forget spare brake pads
[Reply]
  • + 2
 did anyone else notice in the picture where is is loading the bike on the bus, there is no rear shock!!
  • + 1
 hahahahahahahhaahaha......ktm87 u r write there is NO REAR SHOCK .....WTF??????
  • + 2
 i know! CRAZY!!
  • + 2
 Guys - trust me on this. There is a rear shock on the bike. His hand is blocking your view. Don't worry - you don't have to take the rear shock off to put it on the bus bike racks
[Reply]
  • + 1
 sorry to get back on topic, but you're in lausanne, what would the locals choice for the closest downhill, shuttle, or bike park riding be? thanks!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I'd rather eat that goat than some farm raised animal thats been pumped full of growth hormones. Nice rifle also. Beautiful country.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great summary, very helpful too. Just one thing, the link to the "Swiss Alpine Adventures" page is the same as the "swiss pass" one, maybe you should fix that.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Very nice and helpful serial. Even for one that lives in Germany. But do you have any more pictures of this wonderful Knolly?
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Thanks for this great post! I have had a Swiss trip in mind for years.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Really good story. Thanks for all the info you gave us. This i really complete.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great write up, really useful.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Interesting that they rent a hotel room just to store bike bags....
  • + 1
 After reading that I did not explain that part very well! Thanks for catching it There was no charge for storing the bike bags. That service was provided along with the one night hotel room booking. We needed the hotel room because of our plane flight which was very early in the morning.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Good job! Intresting and funny to read :-)
[Reply]
  • + 1
 If l ever go this is good info. Danke
[Reply]
  • + 1
 'General Hint Number 1' Money And LOTS of it
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Really nice work !
[Reply]
  • + 0
 Why would u put cold water onto a hot disk and risk warping it???
[Reply]
  • - 3
 I'd like to have that guy slung over my shoulder with his tongue hanging out so i could put him up on my wall as a trophy!
  • + 8
 id say hes going to be taking it home and eating that.
  • + 6
 Here in Switzerland you need a license to hunt and every certain period of time (yearly?) hunters have to pass a test. The amount of each animal that they can hunt is very tightly controlled. There are very few if none that hunt for fun here, it's more of a job to control populations and dangerous animals (like freak bears or wolves that get to near human populations). And the number that can be shot each year is determined by the government. So next time think before you talk.
  • + 2
 Freak Bears! Freak Wolves!...ffffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.....
  • + 1
 That was meat for his family! Lift-served hunting
  • + 1
 I have a hunting license in germany and that "There are very few if none that hunt for fun here" is wrong. Hunting is damn expensive and it simply wouldn't be worth to do this just for nutrition purposes. I'd say that 80% of european hunters are mainly "trophy hunters", sure they don't throw away the meat but they are mainly interested in the trophy itself. You pay more than thousand euros for killing a chamois in the alps.Pricing is even equated to the weight and credit points the trophy has.
  • + 0
 Oh no! a poor sensitive, vegan Brit has taken offense at a picture of a dead animal and a gun! get over it, every where else in the civilized world people own guns and shoot animals to eat them and for sport. I know you Brits are terrified of firearms but the fact is nearly every household in Switzerland has a gun.
  • + 1
 To add to that fact, Switzerland also has some of the best gun control in the world.
  • + 0
 And we eat Horse as well! Here in Switzerland we have Hunting season and we love to eat these specialities.Like in most part of the world. Of course they are trophy hunter, like they are stupid poeple on bike.
[Reply]

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