We liked Switzerland so much last year that we wanted go again. Apparently the Swiss liked us too as we were invited back! This time we flew on the charter airline Edelweiss Air - direct from Vancouver to Zurich. Pleasant, friendly and comfortable - exactly the kind of introduction to Switzerland one expects.
As we arranged to get bikes while in Europe, getting there was much simpler with just hand luggage. It was a snap to get out of Zurich Airport and make connections. Swiss public transit (SBB) is world reknowned for its efficiency and reliability; for that reason we came to rely on it in our past trip. Right outside the airport we caught the now familiar SBB train that was, of course, on time - and then continued on to Zug where we were picked up by friends. ________________________________________________________________________________________________
These friends were in Unteraegeri and had ridden with us in North Vancouver in 2007, and skied with us in Western Canada in 2012. Our last time around in Schweiz we'd also ridden with the Aegeri crew at Davos. Here we picked up bikes then rode two wet overcast days in Aegeri.
Our next destination was Grindelwald in the canton of Bern. It's almost embarrassing to admit that we almost didn't go. Others had told us stories of getting yelled at by crusty old wanderwegging hikers in Bern while riding legal bike trails. We'd even had to write about a proposal by some interest groups in Bern to ban singletrack riding in late 2011.
All of this had lent the distinct impressions that Bern merely paid lip service to mountain biking and was confused about whether or not to embrace this growing demographic. Fortunately we'd met some tourism representatives from Bern and they were exceedingly nice people. During the course of writing about Bernese mountain bikers' efforts to keep trails open we'd made contact with some very cool people so off we went - and boy are we ever glad we did. As a sidenote we also got the update that the proposed anti-biking law served to galvanize the biking, tourism and outdoors community which turned out en-masse to register their concerns. Apparently biking is one of the most popular Swiss recreational activities and now the lawmakers really know that.
We stayed at the Hotel Kirchbuehl, which was a Bernese bike-hotel. Kirchbuehl's staff were super friendly and helpful. They're a little way from the train station at Grindlewald but a courtesy shuttle gets you to the hotel. Food there is exceptional. What is noteworthy too is an excellent continental breakfast with fruit, cereal, lots of bread and cheese choices. Every room had views of the mountains. It's well-set up for biking visitors and quite high-end. Perhaps the best value for money we have had in our Swiss travels of the past 2 years.
We did our first ride in Grindelwald heading up the First Gondola. Its VERY long, 5,226-meter long, climbing to 2167m. It was cloudy and the weather didn't cut us any breaks so we missed out on the viewpoints that you can get at the end of the lake at the First Vantage point. Here we first learned that "marathon" bike routes are to be avoided like the plague unless you are basically a roadie on dirt. The best route down was the "Eiger Marathon" trail which was basically a gravel and asphalt road winding down to valley bottom. Meh
Fortunately this was just a short day as we had spent half the day getting to Grindelwald from Aegeri (travelling by train in Switzerland is so easy - you don't need a car). It'd be a nice way to kill a half-day if the views were good but otherwise we'd give it a solid yawn for interesting/good trail riding. ________________________________________________________________________________________________
The second day the weather cracked and went bluebird! We met Simon Weiler of Wengen Tourism and Samuel "Noodlez" Hubschmid for a local's tour. Starting out we rode 1200m to Kleine Scheidegg, a nice long grunt which fortunately was on a pretty mellow grade. Talks are underway to allow bikes on the train which goes from valley bottom (950m) to Kleine Scheidegg at 2150m but for now you can only put your bike on the train after 4pm.
Once we got to Kleine Scheidegg we realized the reason for the limits on bikes as the place was crawling with tourists (this is the main tourist access point for the Jungfraujoch railway) and of course the ubiquitous Swiss Coca Cola teepee (wish we had taken the picture). Of course we are also the epitome of tourists and wanting to experience the civilized life of Europeans we had some coffee, cheesy macaroni and cake. Then off we climbed a short 20m pitch to a traverse to the Lauberhorn downhill; site of a World cup ski race where there is singletrack among some of the most breathtaking views of glacier-clad peaks we have had the privilege of riding.
Following the Lauberhorn downhill we descended pretty good singletrack that was surprisingly untouched by the footprints of chue. These trails wound along the typical drop-dead gorgeous Swiss villages and ended up finally in Lauterbrunnen; which is characterized by hanging glacial cut valleys possessing vertical drops of near 1000m. Of course at Lauterbrunnen there is a gondola that we took up to the village of Winteregg. From Winteregg we traversed to a conveniently located alpine restaurant where we had more coffee and cake and maybe some beer. Right from the restaurant there is a pretty awesome hiking/wanderweg trail that is fast, technical and a hell of a lot of fun. In fac,t it was so fun that for once, we didn't stop to take much video so you'll just have to take our word for it.
Conveniently, the trail takes you back to Lauterbrunnen where a street fair and market was being held. Ambushed by more roadside patios and restaurants we could not help but have more beer. After that we cruised down to the train station at Zweilutschinen and caught a ride back up the valley to Grindelwald (150m up the hill and 10km away). Back to another amazing dinner at the Kirchbuhl Hotel. Infrastructure and transportation is so civilized it almost beggars imagination
Although we are here to ride bikes it seemed a bit silly to not come and see one of the biggest tourist attractions in Europe. This region is best known for the Eiger and Jungfraujoch. We didn’t really click in that the Jungfraujoch was accessed by a train that went through a tunnel in the Eiger. Built many years ago with construction starting in 1893, it travels to 3454m and is branded as the TOP OF EUROPE. The engineering achievement is remarkable and even more so when you realized that it was built without modern tunnelling equipment. The Swiss really are something.
While very touristy (almost kitschy at times) it is worth checking out; needless to say especially so if the views are good. The operators have done a great job at the top to highlight the glacier and the environment in the area. It's super cool to see people from all over the world come and appreciate these high alpine places that we as people who live in the mountains take for granted.
The Jungfraujochbahn is also used as access for hunters and for mountaineers to climb the Jungfrau, Monch and other peaks in the area. Conceivably you can also travel down the Aletsch glacier to the Bettmeralp/Reideralp area.
Tickets aren't cheap (140 Euros or so per person in high season) but you get them for half price with your Swiss Rail Pass; as if you need another reason to get the Swiss Pass. Our suggestion is to get on the first train and if possible on weekdays as it is a super busy attraction. Our train was only half-full. Coming down just after 1pm we saw standing-room only trains going up!
L: Bollywood Restaurant with all you can eat buffet was unfortunately not open while we were there. Top: little wee window onto the Eiger's North Face: Bottom: Lift-served hunters got off at the toe of the glacier
Top: View from the Sphinx observatory looking onto the Jungfrau behind us looming in the background. Left and right: silly but cool tourist things to do
We almost always that we wished we had stayed longer after visiting any one of this planet's wonderful places. This can not be any more fervently expressed than when we experienced the Bernese Oberland and the Jungfrau Region. We're so glad to have visited the region but am now convinced that we didn't even scratch the surface. Our advice is to take more time here than we did. You need some local knowledge though to figure out which trails are actually good, the directions in which to ride them and the best ways to link them up and to do so you might want to talk to Beni Kaufman at the Hotel Lauberhorn. who wrote the local guidebook. You can get trail maps from Tourism Wengen and Jungrau Region Tourism
The full photo set from this wonderful place is here
(Click on the links to bring the maps up full-page. You can download GPS also if you want to replicate the loops)
Kleine Scheidegg – Lauberhorn
Length: 31 km Duration: 6 hours, 33 minutes, 13 seconds Vertical up: 2075 m Vertical down: 2263.4 m Average Speed: 4.7 km/h