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 Hote
l 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
Travel to Graübunden:
Taking the efficient PostBus back to Lenzerheide to Chur after riding down to Chur
• 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.
Food and Accommodations:
General Map of Graubunden
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
That’s all we can think of for now! Feel free to fire questions
Trail markings in Switzerland
____________________________________________________________________________________________________Switzerland for Dummies
3. Davos Klosters
4. Engadin - St Moritz
6. General Hints