Ahead of the Tour de Suisse (9-17 June), we’ve teamed up with Switzerland Tourism to show you the best cycling locations the country has to offer. Our first visit is to Gstaad in southwestern Switzerland, a destination that has earned a high level of prestige and international renown both inside the cycling world and out.
Rooted in the alpine tradition, this sleepier part of the country (situated far from Geneva and Zurich) maintains a rustic charm and authenticity that keeps guests coming back for more. As acting legend Julie Andrews famously said, “Gstaad is the last paradise in a crazy world.”
It is predictably popular in the winter months for its access to the mountains, and its magnetism is in no way diminished once the snow has melted. Cyclists will find more than 500km of GPS tours and signposted routes for mountain, road, and e-bikes, leading them back to any number of bike hotels at the end of the day.
Let’s take a look at what each rider type can expect to find in the cycling paradise of Gstaad.
The insider’s tip for ambitious cyclists on their way to Switzerland, Gstaad is the place to go for varied and challenging routes through staggering Alpine scenery. This region is very much a well-kept secret, away from the famous, well-trodden mountain parcours of Europe’s Grand Tours. The variety is incredible, with poky little alleyways through towns leading to breath-taking valley roads which give way again to narrow winding mountain passes.
Ever since “Pedaleur de Charme” and overall winner of the Tour de Suisse, Hugo Koblet, won the stage to Gstaad in 1950, the area has been something of a Mecca to those in the know. The Gstaad roadbook shows off ten ‘Tours’ for all abilities of lengths anywhere between 40 and 170km and altitude gain up to 2,900m. All promise an epic day out and a chance to alter our rhythm with the ultimate meditation: riding your bike.
Speaking of the Tour de Suisse, this year’s edition of the WorldTour stage race makes the most of the fantastic terrain in and around Gstaad. Listed as moderate, stage 4, which finishes in Gstaad, is relatively benign until the category 2 climb up to Saanenmöser and what promises to be a lightning fast and potentially chaotic 9km descent to the finish line. Stage 5 picks up where stage 4 left off, taking the race south and climbing from the gun. The Tour de Suisse is one stage race guaranteed to bring the fireworks and this year’s looks no different.
It’s not often that you hear about routes designed and maintained specifically for electric mountain bikes, but today happens to be such an occasion. Gstaad boasts a variety of e-MTB routes which cater for beginners and leisure-seekers who have come to Switzerland to take in breath-taking views and mountain air. The routes are predominantly classed as ‘easy’ with a mix of natural terrain, singletrack and paved trails, taking riders through pine forests, beside mountain streams and along high-sided valleys surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
With mountains galore, as well as the rugged terrain that invariably sits between high peaks, Gstaad is a perfect playground for mountain bikers. There are MTB routes to suit riders of all types, no matter whether you’re looking for high altitude cross-country, technical forest trails, or just a cruise along the valley floor. There’s something to suit all abilities from beginners to seasoned enthusiasts.
For some, the scope of pedalled expeditions reaches only so far as the tourist trail demands, and for that, there are a number of signposted e-bike routes available. The mountain scenes and crisp Alpine air are best experienced on two wheels and an electric-assisted bike offers a little extra oomph to the ride, giving you more time to look around and enjoy the panorama. What’s more, many of the villages now have battery-charging stations, so e-bikers can enjoy rides of any length with peace of mind, taking the opportunity to explore everything the Gstaad region has to offer.
Not just a cycling haven, Gstaad is also a foodie’s dream. The gastronomy of the region is described as hearty, delectably creative and definitively home-grown. There are over a hundred restaurants to choose from, so there’s no chance of going hungry, nor of getting tired of the same old regional delicacy every night of your stay.
It would be remiss of a guest of Gstaad not to visit one of the many rustic raclette lodges – that’s melted cheese: perfect for a guilt-free post-ride binge – or the countless mountain cafés that litter the landscape. The phrase “there’s something for everyone” has never been more appropriately employed, with everything from tea rooms to gourmet fine-dining restaurants to choose from.
Buzzing with that warm, fuzzy feeling that descends at the end of a long and hard day in the mountains, there’s nothing better than a welcoming hotel which promises to take care of both you and your bike. There are plenty such places around, including the exquisite Hotel Le Petit Relais in Saanenmöser. This traditional chalet-style hotel is a great base from which to join the routes and trails around Gstaad and the owners are bursting with insider tips and advice for where to go. The hotel promises uncomplicated cuisine for the weary cyclist, relaxing facilities, a bike workshop, e-bike charging station and even provisions for home-made packed lunches.
Keep a look out for where we’re off to next on our journey around Switzerland, and in the meantime, it’s time to start planning a trip!
Photography: Berner Oberland, provided by Switzerland Tourism