The resort of Verbier
in the Swiss Alps is synonymous with being a winter holiday destination for celebrities and royal families, thanks to its abundance of luxury accommodation, fine cuisine, nightlife, and superb off-piste skiing. During the summer season - starting 11th June this year - Verbier transforms into a laid back mountain bike-friendly resort that offers some of the best alpine trails in Europe. Despite its reputation as being a luxury resort, it is possible to stay in Verbier without breaking the bank, although if you're looking to treat yourself, Verbier comfortably offers some great options.
Situated in the canton of Valais in south-west Switzerland and part of the famous '4 Vallées' network, Verbier sits on the eastern side of the Val de Bagnes region at 1,500m above sea level, around 95 miles (150km) from Geneva. Home to a multitude of shops, restaurants and hotels, most of which are located on the streets running off Place Centrale, Verbier is an archetypal picturesque Swiss alpine village. Like many resorts in the Alps, and following the success of the likes of Morzine/Les Gets and Chatel in France, Verbier is making a concerted effort to develop its mountain bike trail network, with fast lift access offered from the very heart of town, open from early June to late October.
With the likes of local rider Ludo May using Verbier as his training ground for the EWS, we're seeing more and more pros heading to the resort to join him. That's not surprising, because with 12km of downhill, 220km of enduro and 500km of cross country tracks, Verbier is fast becoming a 'must ride'
Jumping back over ten years, we first visited Verbier in 2005 and found only a few alpine trails, most of which weren't well marked, as well as one of the first ever Kona Bike Parks, which was a bit rough and ready to say the least! We were keen to know how things had progressed over the last decade, and so at the end of the 2015 summer season, we visited Verbier to rediscover what the resort had to offer riders looking for something different to the hustle and bustle of better known Alpine destinations. Join us as we bring you our guide on the essential things you need to know about visiting, staying and riding in Verbier.
If you're flying to the area, Geneva is your most convenient airport. We flew in from London so had a choice of departure airports and carriers; handy if you want to get the best deal. British Airways, Swiss and Easyjet all offer direct flights from the UK and average around £45 each way (£90 return), excluding luggage allowances. Flying time from London is around 1 hour 40 minutes, so a relatively quick hop. If you're flying from elsewhere, Geneva is accessible from most major European airports, as well as via New York JFK, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Montréal Trudeau and Toronto Pearson for those travelling direct from North America.
For this trip, we opted to use Switzerland's national airline, Swiss. Their price was competitive and bringing a bike cost an additional £40 per flight per person. Unfortunately, during the online booking process Swiss didn't make it possible to book our bikes at the same time, which meant having to call Swiss Customer Services. Annoyingly, it turned out there was no room on the return flight for one of our bikes, meaning we had no option but to book a separate additional flight with British Airways for one of us on the return leg, so we could travel with our bikes. Why Swiss doesn't allows you to add a bike at the time of booking is pretty astonishing, so a major concern when it comes to being bike friendly. Hopefully this was just a hiccup, but the best advice is to check before you book, to see if Swiss have updated this clunky booking process.
Just to note, with Easyjet, you can add your bike at the time of booking (subject to a fee and specifications for bike bag weight), and British Airways takes your bike bag as part of your standard luggage allowance as long as it's packed correctly and doesn't exceed 23kg. It's worth noting that under current 2016 regulations, any additional hold luggage is counted as an additional bag and will be charged for.
Once at Geneva airport, the easiest and most stress-free way to transfer to Verbier is by train to Le Châble, a town which sits in the valley below Verbier. If you happen to be travelling via other European routes by train, you can hop on the Le Châble line at Genève-Cornavin, Geneva's main railway station.
As our trip was just for a few days, based solely in Verbier, we opted to let the train take the strain, and caught one of the hourly departures direct to Le Châble. Taking around two and a half hours, including a transfer at Martigny, standard (2nd class) tickets from Geneva airport to Le Châble cost around £80 (110CHF/$118USD) per person for a return trip. Alternatively, you can opt for a range of travel passes that are offered solely to tourists from outside Switzerland. A Swiss Transfer Ticket
covers each person for a round-trip between the airport or Swiss border and your destination. Prices start from £94 (133CHF/$120USD) in standard class and £151 (214CHF/$220USD) in first class.
If you've never visited Switzerland before, or just don't fancy the drive, sitting back, relaxing and watching the Swiss landscape transform from urban to lakeside, along the north shore of Lake Geneva and then to the mountains, is a great experience. Getting your luggage on and off the trains is a relative breeze too; with big doors, bike friendly storage areas and plenty of space for luggage.
As we arrived a little late in the evening in Le Châble, we opted for a pre-booked taxi to take us the last leg up to Verbier, although the yellow PostBus is also on hand, taking around 15-25 minutes to reach the resort. The PostBus operates on a daily basis and works with the railway system so there's minimal chance of the bus heading off without you. The price for a single bus ticket is £8 (11CHF/$11.30), but your train fare will often include the connecting bus ride, so check before you board. There are numerous taxi companies operating in the area, which you can find here
. Your final option - though we wouldn't recommend relying on it - is to board the gondola which runs from Le Châble to the very centre of Verbier, although it can be busy during the day (opening 8am, closing 5:30pm).
You can of course reach Verbier by shuttle bus - which may be offered by your accommodation provider in Verbier - and by car, but bear in mind the cost of motorway tolls in France and permits (known as ‘vignettes’) for driving in Switzerland. Also bear in mind that if hiring a car in Switzerland, recent legislation
may mean that you cannot cross the border into any neighbouring countries (France, Austria, Germany, Italy or Liechtenstein), so check with your hire company first!
If driving from the UK, the most direct route is from Calais. With over 530 miles to cover, it's a long drive, or if you’re hiring a car from Geneva, it will take you around two hours to get to the resort. With parking spaces at a premium in the resort, it’s also wise to check with your accommodation provider whether there’s allocated parking for the duration of your stay, as there's no on-street parking in Verbier, and the main public car parks are either very expensive or located a good distance from the centre of town. There is, however, a free bus service to get you around the resort.
WHERE TO RIDE
One you've arrived, unpacked and got your whip built up (or hired from one of the many local bike shops), the Verbier area offers some great riding for those at intermediate and advanced levels, but less so for beginners. More of that in a bit...
The trails around Verbier are split into two categories - downhill and enduro - and are clearly indicated on trail maps which you can pick up from the tourist office or main gondola station. The downhill trails are confined to Verbier Bike Park but the enduro trails not only cover the bike park area but stretch across the entire mountainside, down into the valley and back up the opposite sides. In fact, for the more adventurous rider, it's possible to traverse the whole '4 Vallées' area from Thyon and Veysonnaz, via La Tzoumaz and Nendaz, all the way back to Verbier and Bruson. During the summer, many of the lifts in the Four Valleys area are open, although it's worth checking which ones are running before heading out, and having a car to access these areas is probably more practical than riding there!
Back in Verbier Bike Park, there are seven downhill trails; one beginner (Tsopu), four advanced (Tû çuci, Wouaiy, Bortabitche, La Rôdze), one advanced (Wooohhh), and one advanced/expert (Tire’s Fire). It’s worth mentioning that most European bike parks tend to classify the trails’ difficulty one colour easier than those in North America, so a North American 'black' equates to a European 'red'. If you're an intermediate rider used to riding in the Alps or high alpine-style trails in North America, then you should be used to these kinds of trails, which are dotted with roots, gaps, tables, steep off-camber switchbacks, optional North Shore-inspired drops and features, and most importantly, a lot of grin-inducing flow sections.
For those who want a bit less gravity assistance, the enduro trails are just as challenging. There are 12 marked trails to chose from on the Verbier side of the mountain, but that’s not all. There are other trails on the Bruson and Mauvoisin side of the valley that are easily accessible from Le Châble via the PostBus network. If you’re staying for a long weekend or week, then it’s well worth the trip to explore beyond the Verbier zone. However, if you're just riding for a few days, then the Verbier mountainside has more than enough trails to keep you entertained.
One of our favourite trails of the trip was the now internationally famous La Rôdze, and it's easy to see why it's a 'bucket list' trail! At just over 2km long, with 65 table jumps, aggressive DH terrain and countless berms, it's certainly an advanced trail. From top to bottom, you're also accompanied by stunning, occasionally vertigo-inducing scenery. The trail is accessible via the 'Chaux-Express' (Ruinettes - Fontanet chairlift) which only runs during peak months, so make sure you check the timetables to make sure you get to ride this gem!
On the whole, Verbier's trails are well maintained and there were very few breaking bumps which was a pleasant surprise, given their notoriety in other popular European alpine resorts. Even when we visited, late in the season, the trail crew were on it, so there were no complaints on that front. Had we been in Verbier for longer, we would have explored the Bruson and Mauvoisin sides of the valley, or even headed up to Mont Fort, the mountain above Verbier, and explored the trails around Nendaz or beyond, but with some lifts closing towards the end of the season, we sadly didn't get the chance. Again, it's best to check the scheduled lift opening times
to ensure trail access is available when you plan to travel.
Back in Verbier, there’s plenty to get your teeth into, although there are limited beginner or easy/intermediate trails on offer. This is currently Verbier’s Achilles heel; the success of any resort depends on bringing new people and families into mountain biking and by offering just one ‘beginner’ trail (which was more akin to an intermediate/blue trail in Whistler) the resort may struggle to cater to those who want to take a more leisurely approach to riding. Notwithstanding the lack of beginner trails, the other trails on offer are a blast and really get your heart going in terms of jumps, berms and technical rock, root and steep sections, with much on offer being on par with the likes of Whistler and back country BC. Coupled with some of the best landscapes Switzerland has to offer, Verbier really is one of those places you have to ride at least once.
Price wise for lift tickets, if you’re there for a long weekend then you’ll want to purchase a three or four day pass. Prices for the three day pass are £54 (76CHF/$78USD) and for the four day it’s £67 (93CHF/$96USD). Alternatively, ask your accommodation provider if your lift tickets are included in your stay. If you fancy riding against the clock on Tire’s Fire (used for IXS European Cup and Swiss National Downhill), Tsopu or Wouaiy, then you can rent a Freelap timing device for £6 (8CHF/$8USD) a day, or £4 (5CHF/$5USD) for a half day, from the Téléverbier information office.
As previously mentioned, access to Verbier Bike Park opens from 11th June weekend this year, with lifts operating weekends-only until the 2nd July, after which weekday lift access begins, running until 19th September. Lifts are open 8am to 5pm for the Le Châble - Verbier lift (valley to town), and 8am to 5.30pm for the Verbier - Ruinettes lift (town to bike park). From 20th September until 30th October the Verbier - Ruinettes lift runs from 9am to 12.20pm and 1.30pm to 4.30pm. At the weekend the Le Châble - Verbier - Ruinettes gondola continues to run at the weekends from 9am to 4.30pm during the last weekends of the season.
On a couple of occasions, we had Bike Park manager Fabrice 'Trifon' Tirefort with us to show us around the downhill and enduro trails, but the park does offer guided tours of the enduro trails starting at £116 (165CHF/$170USD) for half a day or £220 (310CHF/$320USD) for a full day. Downhill lessons are also on offer at £116 (165CHF/$170USD) for three hours per person or £35 (50CHF/$52USD) per person for a group of five during July and August. Rates reduce slightly in September and October. Bookings can be made via email or telephone
, or at the Téléverbier information office.
WHERE TO STAY
For a resort that is working very hard to develop its offering to mountain bikers, it was a bit of a shame that quite a few hotels and chalets were closed towards the end of the season, although there is plenty of availability during peak summer season. Luckily though, from the places that were open, there was still a good choice depending on your budget.
We stayed at the Hôtel de la Poste
which was one of the first hotels to be established in Verbier. Conveniently located in between the resort’s central square - Place Centrale - and the main Médran gondola station, this homely alpine hotel offered tradition chalet-style en-suite rooms, all of which were well proportioned, clean and offered great views of either the mountains or the resort. Most rooms had individual balconies or access to a shared terrace. Secure bike storage was also within the building and other amenities included an indoor pool and gardens. The hotel served a hearty continental breakfast to get you ready for the day, and nothing quite beats freshly baked bread and locally produced cheese for breakfast! Prices for the Hôtel de la Poste for summer 2016 are £140 - £215 (196CHF/$200USD - 300CHF/$310USD) per night, based on two people sharing. There are also options for staying on a bed and breakfast and half-board basis so it’s worth enquiring directly with the hotel.
Further up the accommodation scale, options include staying at the luxurious and eye-wateringly expensive W Verbier
, situated close to the Médran chairlift station. Accommodation ranges from cozy rooms to private loft suites. We'll let you check out the prices! Thankfully though, Verbier does offer cheaper alternatives, including hostels, catered and non-catered chalet options and apartments. For example, for £70 (99CHF/£102USD) per person you can stay for one night at the youth hostel in Le Châble, two minutes away from the railway and gondola station. The package includes breakfast, a two day pass on the Verbier gondalas and chairlifts as well as access to the swimming pool in the Verbier Sports Centre.
Last year's prices for an 'all inclusive' mountain bike week in Verbier (via MTB Verbier
or Bike Verbier
) including seven nights chalet accommodation, breakfast, evening meals, a packed-lunch, five days guiding and lift passes, was £734 (1025CHF/$1056USD). Further info on accommodation options can be found here
It’s worth bearing in mind that until quite recently - bar a few places like Morzine and Les Gets - European resorts have generally been closed to bike tourism, making it harder to find a range of accommodation to choose from. But with the realisation that mountain biking tourism brings a summer season to the local economy, more and more resorts are seeing the benefits of opening in the summer, although it’s not quite there fully in places like Verbier. However, it's a chicken and egg scenario; only when more tourists make the trip, will the resorts see it being financially viable to open their doors outside the ski season. The flipside is that until the masses cotton-on, you have more trails to yourself!
With Verbier being a pretty small place, we didn’t have to travel far to catch some post-ride refreshment, though being in town late in the summer season meant that not all the bars and clubs were open. Those that were though, offered great hospitality and entertainment.
Unlike the raucous winter season, the summer season aprés is a pretty laid-back affair, giving you plenty of time to grab a few beers, watch the world go by, or review you day's helmet-cam footage with mates. We spent a few evenings doing just that at Tbar
, just of Place Centrale, and with draught beers for £3.50 (5CHF/$5.10USD) a pint between 4pm and 9pm, it was an instant hit. Later on in the evening, Tbar becomes a great place for a nightcap, especially thanks to its comfy sofas and chilled out vibe.
As an alternative, the bar at Farinet
, again just off Place Centrale, played host to live music and was buzzing with seasonaires from all over Europe, as well as plenty of locals. Being one of the few late-night bars open at the end of the season, the pricelist for drinks was a little on the high side, but than again, it's Verbier, so worth an visit to get a glimpse of the local party vibe.
WHERE TO EAT
If you want to have lunch in Verbier, be prepared to stick to traditional meal times, remember to grab a packed-lunch or go hungry. This isn’t Whistler where you can drop into the Village at any time to order your favourite snack or sit-down meal. In Verbier, most of the local cafes and restaurants only offer lunch from noon to 2pm. So if you intend on eating out, remember to plan your riding around where you’re going to stop for lunch. There were one or two times on our trip when we missed the boat at traditional cafes (Café de la Place and Le Chat Bleu, both in Le Châble), by just minutes and had to spend valuable riding time searching for alternatives, in the end, all the way back up the gondola in Verbier!
One good find was Hauts Sandwich just off Place Centrale, which offered a Swiss take on baguettes, burgers and chips, with swift if slightly pricey service; a baguette and drink came to around £6 (8CHF/$9USD). Cafe Médran though, located inside the gondola station, was a disappointing affair, with poor food and drink and poor service, topped off with a price twice that of Hauts Sandwich! Definitely one to avoid.
If you’re self-catering, Verbier has a few mini supermarkets where you can grab essentials. If you don’t have time for that, then there are a number of other options, including pizzerias and cafes...but just remember to get there in good time.
Being Verbier, there are options at what you might first consider would be the pricier end of things, such as at the W Hotel, where we imagined we might just about be able to afford a coffee without taking out a mortgage. So imagine our surprise to discover that lunch was actually better here than anywhere else in Verbier, with a great selection of fresh sandwiches, salads and pastas from around £6 (8CHF/$9US). Better still, it was open throughout the day until 5pm, and being by the main lift, was a great spot to meet riding buddies.
The tourist office in Verbier recommended a number of spots in the resort for dining, and we of course had to sample a few. Pizzeria Restaurant La Pergola, was our first stop, offering traditional Italian fare, with a two-course meal for two, with beers and soft drinks, costing around £20 (28CHF/$29USD) a head. We also checked out the rustic Restaurant Le Caveau in Place Centrale, which offered a more traditional Swiss menu, with raclette, fondue, pierrade and Swiss salads on offer (with Absinthe or Eaux-de-Vie as a default accompaniment). At around £64 (90CHF/$92USD) per person for three courses, sides, drinks and coffee, eating out in Verbier was on the expensive side, but you could easily spend a lot less.
Restaurant Le Millénium was immediately across the road from our hotel and offered more international cuisine. Famed for its steaks, we couldn’t resist trying it out, and it certainly lived up to the bill, as well as Verbier's reputation for being quite costly.
Our final dining experience was at Restaurant Le Carrefour, a short taxi ride out of town, sitting high above Verbier with picturesque views of the 18 hole golf course and valley below. Le Carrefour is actually situated just a few hundred metres from the trails and is open through the day for lunch and snacks. We'd passed by it on a few occasions whilst riding so were pleased to be back to check out the dinner menu. Featuring local produce sourced from the mountainside on its doorstep, and complimented by Swiss specialities, dining at the restaurant was a great experience, especially for those wanting a bit of sophistication. With half the restaurant incorporating an avalanche barrier - be sure to ask them why some walls are painted red - the restaurant is full of charm and it’s a great way to explore the regional cuisine, picked fresh from the mountain only hours before you walked in the door. Of course the luxury comes at a price, but Le Carrefour was well worth the experience.
Like many summer alpine resorts, Verbier isn’t all about mountain biking. There are plenty of hiking trails - over 500km - with short treks or 'Grand Tour' hikes which last for days, taking you as far as Chamonix and Zermatt, plus rock climbing, Via Ferrata, golf and paragliding available if you don’t fancy biking all day.
Verbier also lies within Switzerland’s largest nature reserve, Haut val de Bagnes, which hosts ibex, chamois deer and if you’re lucky and fast enough to sport them, marmots. Lake Geneva is roughly a 1 hour drive away, and both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn - the highest and sixth highest peaks in Europe respectively - are roughly 90 minutes drive away, with a visit to Zermatt, at the base of the Matterhorn, well worth the trip (as featured in seminal bike film VAST
Verbier has moved on a huge amount over the last 10 years, and the town has its own unique Swiss charm, quite different from other Swiss or French alpine resorts. The capable Bike Park team have put loads of effort into making not only the downhill trails, but also the enduro trails as fun and challenging as possible. If you're an intermediate or advanced rider then Verbier is definitely a place you need to check out, and it's certainly possible to either spend a lot of your hard earned cash or be frugal whilst still having a great time here be that for a weekend or longer. Whatever you chose, you won't be disappointed with the riding or the scenery, and that's what it's all about, right?The trip was provided by Tourism Verbier. Prices are correct as of May 2016 and are subject to change.
If you're into partying every night then Verbier in the summer isn't going to be your kind of town, but if you're looking for a more chilled out aprés-riding culture, where you craft your own chilled out evening, then you won't go far wrong staying in Verbier.
With the resort being within easy striking distance from internationally-connected Geneva, Verbier is a perfect weekend getaway for those wanting a taste of some of Europe's finest alpine terrain.
MENTIONS: @geebeebee / @YTIndustries