Trans Euro Trail: Switzerland

Another TET adventure waits! After exploring the Northern Italian Alp tracks, I head for the mountains of Switzerland.

Switzerland, country of Gruyere & Emmenthal cheese, but also the place where you can find an incredible number of mountain roads in all forms and sizes. The great difference between the Italian TET tracks and the Swiss is the high number of asphalt roads in the Swiss part. Due to strict regulations on riding on unpaved roads, it’s nearly impossible to ride gravel sections in this country. The linesman however has found some unpaved sections, but still the Swiss TET consists of 95% tarmac roads.

I wonder how this looks like. There’s only 1 way to find it out… take the bike and hit the road!

A 560 km track in a mountainous country without any technical sections. It sounds as a perfect destination to explore with my orange KTM990SM.

I enter Switzerland via the North Western side of the country, The Jura region. A very dense populated area in the French speaking part of the country. Coming from Lucelle in France you cross the border to Switzerland almost unnoticed. No grumpy customs officers who squeeze your toothpaste tube empty, but just a small sign on the side of the road that tells you that you’re crossing the border. The roads are narrow, winding and hardly with any traffic. It stays that way for the next kilometers. No spectacular views, but a lovely landscape with smooth hills and easygoing roads. All of this covered in the most beautiful warm autumn colors.

After these first very easy and calm hours the traffic becomes busier, but never too full. Once passed the Neuchatel Lake there is some more urbanization and the roads are less interesting than the first kilometers. It forms a kind of liaison to the German speaking area of Switzerland. Fortunately, by the time it gets too boring, the Gurnigel pass is showing up. A great little mountain road that crawls up and provides you with some stunning views.

Near the city of Thun, I reach the end of section 1. I still have enough time left to start section 2 and proceed the ride into Central Switzerland. I’m enjoying all these small roads. Even though I’m not even in the high Alps it’s already a lot of fun to ride the twisty tarmac roads. And occasionally some minor gravel sections. Not a hard or technical ride but just pleasant enough to make it a fun ride on these unpaved roads.

The Entlebuch region, where I’m in next, is a part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. An extremely beautiful place with some stunning nature and a very quiet region. My most favorite place of the day.  And this day is running to an end.  The sun is setting low and it’s time to find a place for the night.  The road goes downhill, with a spectacular view on the Sarnen lake and the snowy peaks in the distance. I will explore these snowy mountains tomorrow. In the town of Sarnen I find myself a place for the night. 

The next day - a cold morning – is close to perfect! Just out of Sarnen a small tarmac road takes me up in the mountains. A great road! But it’s narrow… I’ll have to stay focused. Once up there is a junction. To the left the road is going further up. But it’s even narrower! A sign indicates specific hours of passage. In my impatience I don’t take the time to figure out what it actually says. I just hit the throttle and I’m revving up the mountain. A marvelous little lane, just 1 car wide and with some great views. This road goes up to the Aelggialp where you can find the geographical center of Switzerland.

After a short stop at this place I start the ride back down. A few 100m further I encounter an oncoming car. The man tells me that this is a one- way street at this moment and I have to wait 15 minutes before I can go further down. I did not pay any attention to the signs, now I know why they were there. The problem is that the road is too narrow and steep to turn back. I try my luck and just continue the ride downwards. In the hope I don’t encounter too much traffic going up. 

Beside of a VW van, which nearly squeezes me into the rock face, I get down without any trouble. Let this be on the list of the most stupid things I have done this year! It could have been a lot worse…

Back at the junction the road downhill is still very narrow. This is not the place to find out the top speed of your bike. I cautiously drive further down to lake Sarnen where the road is wide and open again.

After this stretch of more open roads I encounter a minor stretch of gravel which brings me up the top of the Brünig pass and further on to the Susten pass. The pass roads are packed with motorbikes on probably one of the last mild & sunny Sundays of the year. And it seems they know the spots for speed controls, because a lot of sports bikes are heading for pole position at some stages! Most of the bikers drive up the Grimsel pass, but the TET track is directing me on the Susten pass which is a lot much dense in traffic. This 2260m high mountain pass provides great views over the Stein glacier and the curvy road is paved with some smooth tarmac.

I enjoy the relative lower traffic and head on a sports/touristic pace to the center of Andermatt. A small touristic but very cozy town at 1447m above sea level at the feet of the Gothard-, Oberalp- and Furka pass. There are a high number of hotels in this place. I pick one of them and leave my luggage.  Next stop is the tourist office to purchase a day permit which allows me to drive the unpaved road “Unteralp”.

This permit costs 12 CHF. For this you get a drive up a +/- 7 km stretch of gravel road, which is heading to the Vermigel lodge, a mountain refuge at the end of the Unteralp. It’s one of the highlights of Swiss TET. Beautiful surrounding, mountains tops all around, and an easy to drive gravel road that leads you high up into a deserted landscape. It’s a one-way road and I’m back in Andermatt a while later. Next on the trajectory is the Furka pass. With an elevation of 2,429 meters it’s connecting Gletsch, Valais with Realp, Uri. A magnificent road winding up high up into the snow-covered mountaintops. Nearly at the top of the Furka, another small treasure awaits.

The Tätschstrasse above Realp. Again, for this road you need a permit (7CHF) that can be purchased at a vending machine at the trailhead (coins only!) The Tätschstrasse is a little adventurous gravel path, which leads you away from the tarmac road. After a few hundred meters it feels like you’re all alone in this high alpine deserted landscape. (You’ll find yourself above 2000m altitude). It’s an enchanting place. But, be alert! Because the second part of this non-surfaced road is quite washed away and it’s rather steep.

This section is also a one-way road, the good side of it is that it gives you the opportunity to ride this remarkably trail twice. Once back at the starting point of this track I make a quick side step to the top of the Furka pass before heading back downhill to Andermatt.

In the very chilly but sunny morning I go up the Furka pass again. It looks almost even more beautiful in the morning sun than the day before. The trajectory is leading further south into the Rhone valley and leads you further up via Brigg to the Simplon Pass. This mountain pass is connecting the Swiss TET with the Italian TET. The trajectory through the Rhone valley is much higher on traffic and not so interesting as the rest of the roads. But, the Swiss linesman (Jan Eckert) is working on a more interesting alternative for this last part of the TET Switzerland. 

In a café high on a mountain pass, while drinking a cappuccino, I reflect on the trajectory I just rode the last few days. It’s not a TET ride with a high adventure level or technical difficulties. Does this make the trajectory less interesting? No, not at all! Just realize this is not the TET section you must choose to ride with your competition enduro bike. It’s a fantastic track for every kind of road bike or big adventure bike. Leave your knobbies at home, get some good road tires on the bike and enjoy the superb flawless Swiss back roads, mountain passes and the few (but great) gravel sections!

 

See our other episodes about the Trans Euro Trail


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