Is Switzerland expensive for a cycling trip?
We had only been cycling for two weeks in direction of Spain when we are told that the South of France is turning red because of covid. Back then, in September 2020, our insurance company also told us that we would not be not covered for health problems in red areas. Doubts arise when we realise we have to cycle through Switzerland. How are we ever going to manage that with our travel budget of only EUR 30 per day? Little did we know!
We've just left the Vosges in France when we cycle into Switzerland through the Jura Mountains. No more short climbs, but the first real mountains are awaiting us. During our first cycling day we conquer just under 1,200 altitude meters, a new daily record for us. It's the first time we climb for more than an hour in a row and have to face 18% ascents. We use our first hydrating gels which give us the necessary dose of energy to keep on going. "It's these moments that make it all worth it", Niels is saying to himself. He loves to suffer on the bike, especially when we get rewarded with all those awesome views at the end of the day.
At the end of our first day in Switzerland, we arrive in Tavannes, where we immediately try to find a camping spot at people's homes. However, we don't explain it properly and the day of climbing fatigued us to the bone, so the friendly woman immediately points us to a campsite nearby. She sends her 11-year-old daughter with us to show us the way. Totally worn out we can't follow her on these last steep parts. The little girl looks at us and can't stop laughing. Finally we arrive at a beautiful farm, camping Belfond, where we can pitch our tent for the night.
While we pitch our tent, a large window at the adjacent restaurant suddenly swings open. In front of us appears a man with the biggest smile and a white chef's hat on his head, "Are you here by bicycle?" - "Yes, all the way from Belgium" we say in chorus. We have a short chat with the friendly man and are offered a glass of Schnapps. An ideal nightcap because the skies turn dark before we realise it and we have to put on our flash lights in order to cook our pasta. Not much later we are in dreamland, every now and then we are flashed awake by a passing thunderstorm, which seems a lot more threatening between the mountain peaks. Scary, but we love it!
An encounter that changes our trip through Switzerland
Only a short ride for today, where we plan to cycle to Sonceboz and take the train from there to Biel. There is only one road to Biel and that is via a motorway that also runs through a tunnel. "Best avoided", we read on most forums. For this reason you can also buy a train ticket for only 1CHF as a cyclist. However, we are not aware that these cheap tickets can only be purchased through the local post office. The only post office near the station closed just five minutes ago for a three-hour lunch break.
We contact Christian, our Warmshower host for that evening, to let him know that we will arrive a bit later because of this. However, he tells us that the reputation of the highway is not justified and it is safe to traverse it as a cyclist. A moment of doubt, but we trust Christian's word. Fluo jackets on, helmets strapped on and off we go, safety first! Cycling on a highway through a Swiss tunnel, again something we can tick off our bucket-list. The noise inside the tunnel is overwhelming, which is quite scary, but it was certainly safe enough to make this crossing by bike. In the opposite direction, we would recommend it less because you will have to climb most of the time. In our direction (Sonceboz to Biel), pedalling is not even a necessity.
Once we arrive in the city, we take a little break next to Lake Biel. We enjoy the sun, a delicious lunch and we stay a while to clean the bikes and read a book. These afternoons are often the highlight of our day! We are shocked when we see the price of a Cola on the terraces, € 7. So we find a local supermarket for a refreshing drink. In the evening we take the funicular to Evilard where Christian and Martina are awaiting us with open arms. We see a beautiful house with a view of the city and we get a whole floor/flat at our disposal. From there we can even see a glimpse of the Alps!
Our hosts are the most heartwarming people with whom we immediately feel a good connection. Christian and Martina are cyclists as well and went on a bike trip through Europe for one year, last year. They have a lot of interesting stories to tell, we eagerly exchange tips and we laugh our asses off at their adventures. Christian even takes some time to adjust our bikes a little bit, so they will be easier to handle in the mountains. How wonderful being able to share the same passion with people who, until a few hours ago, were complete strangers to us.
The weather predictions are very bad for the next few days, snow in September! Several passes over the Alps are already closed and they advise us against cycling directly towards there. We are in doubt because we wanted to leave Switzerland as soon as possible, but we follow our gut feeling and trust the locals. Christian and Martina offer to spend an extra night at their place in Biel. For the next day they even arrange accommodation for us at Christian's parents' house, some 80 km away. From there it is not very far to Bremgarten, where we can visit acquaintances of Niels. For the first time during this trip we let go of a schedule we had made in our heads and enjoy Biel a bit more. We feel good, we feel free!
The Swiss hospitality is amazing. Christian and Martina prepare a cycling route for us and send us the GPX files. They assembled all highlights and prepared an itinerary that will show us the best views on our way to Italy. For our day off they send us into the mountains around Biel and we did a 17km hike that was insanely beautiful. It doesn't happen often to us, but Biel is one of those cities that could fit into a way of living for us. Many opportunities for jobs, a vibrant city life and walking distance from the most beautiful nature.
In the evening we surprise Christian and Martina with our cooking skills: a delicious spaghetti à la Niels. To this day, we still send messages to these wonderful people every now and then. In the meantime they have welcomed their son Ruben Nicolas. We are still grateful for all their help and advice!
What.A.Day. Climbing in het Jura Mountains!
Our pace in the morning is pretty good and we notice that, at least on the flatter parts, our average pace gets better every day. Once 3pm, another 20 km await us with almost 700 meters of altitude. The first part of the 7 km climb goes relatively smoothly and the views are very nice. Once we start the steepest part (1.6 km at an average of 12.2%) rain falls down upon us. We put on the ponchos, we climb and we sweat. Taking a break is not an option because the cold would catch up upon us. After 50 minutes we finally reach the top! The views are phenomenal, the descent even more so. Because of the rain it is very slippery, but as always we decide to descend quietly and safely. We rely completely on our Schwalbe Marathon Plus MTB Tires.
We arrive at Christian's parents, Peter & Marlies, around 6pm. They were waiting for us and immediately show us our sleeping place. In one of their old barns they made a little guesthouse for guests and we have everything we need. Their property is beautiful and used to be home to around 800 pigs, but Peter & Marlies are in retirement now and enjoy peace, quiet and some travelling. It doesn't take long before Peter tells us about his adventures on the bike as well. He started cycling during his son's cycling trip through Europe and paid them a visit. We have a good diner but go to bed early, tired from a beautiful but exhausting day on the bikes.
Today we tick off the first 1000km on the bikes! This feels great and tastes like more. We are so proud of ourselves and can hardly believe it. Our legs feel stronger and stronger and we notice that we recover faster. A month ago we would have jumped on our bikes with stiff legs after a day full of altitude meters, but none of that now. We feel fitter each day and even the cold mountains don't bother us any more.
At the end of the day we arrive in Bremgarten with Marco & Corinne, whom Niels met during a month of traveling in Africa. It's lovely to see them again but unfortunately they just planned a holiday to Portugal themselves, so it's only a short reunion. However, they have no problems with us staying in their home while they are on a holiday. For us this is a perfect timing because we can shelter for the bad weather that will reach us by tomorrow. We promise to take good care of their house and we give our cycling legs some rest. It is nice to be among the two of us in a homely atmosphere for a little while. We do groceries, the laundry, cook a lot of food and watch a movie. The next day we make a city walk through Bremgarten, a beautiful town where the largest Christmas market in Switzerland takes place every year.
The Alps are waiting for us
We decide to leave Bremgarten a day early and cycle to the foot of the Alps via Lake Luzern. Once again the hills become mountains with longer climbs, in the background the monstrous Alps lurk defiantly. The area between Bremgarten and Lake Luzern is beautiful and we can see the first snow in the distance. Around Luzern there is a lot of traffic and it is noisy to cycle, but as always the Swiss manage to build safe cycle paths. The continuous view of the lake makes us quickly forget the cars whizzing by.
The same evening we reach the apartment of Sonja and Pirmin whom we contacted through Warmshowers. A very nice couple with a lot of bike touring experience themselves and they offer us a place on their couch for the night. Sonja and Pirmin are very friendly people, but a bit more reserved and most of the communication has to come from our side. When people open up their homes for us, we try to adapt as much as possible because we are their guests. We quickly realise they are not really in for a "cosy" evening full of small talk and we are tired ourselves as well, so we go to bed early. We check the weather forecast and doubts take over. It seems it will be smarter to let the challenge of 'crossing the Alps by bike' pass us by and we think we will have to book a train ride for the next day.
Climbing in the rain
We wake up to a message from Sonja and Pirmin: "We already left for work. Please stay one more night because it is going to rain/snow all day." Especially Niels is having doubts because bad weather in the Alps is of a different level than bad weather at the Belgian coast. Nevertheless, both of us would be too disappointed to miss out on this challenge and suddenly we see a possibility. "Tomorrow the weather will be beautiful in the Alps, sunny! If we bite the bullet today, defy the cold and book a hotel along the way, we'll simply wake up in the Alps tomorrow!" That being said, we book a small room in Andermatt, wolf down some sandwiches and close the apartment door behind us.
We "only" have to cycle 38km today, of which the first 15 to 18km are still fairly flat. After this, the real challenge starts and we bridge just under 1,100 altitude meters for the rest of the day. The silence scares us at some points and there are moments we don't hear or see another soul. We hear the roar of large waterfalls but we don't see them. There are times we are cycling only a few meters apart and we have to rely on our little tail light to keep track of each other. It's pretty grim and incredibly tough, but it remains one of the most beautiful cycling moments we've ever experienced.
The last 12 km offer us unseen gradients, we are cold and exhausted! Taking a break means we'll feel frozen so we keep pedalling until we finally arrive in Andermatt, a beautiful ski village. We are so proud we started this challenge and happy to have arrived at our hotel. The thought of a hot shower kept us going for the last hour. Unfortunately, the receptionist had forgotten to place our key and we have to wait another fifteen minutes before we can open the door to our room. After the longest shower ever and a satisfying meal (we never ate more than today!) we crawl into bed, what an experience.
When we open our curtains the next morning, a massive mountain range appears out of nowhere. Just a few dozen meters away we see a mountainside next to our hotel, during breakfast we see the sun appearing more and more and we enjoy the great view. Other hotel guests are staring at us like we are strangers, when we get back to the buffet for the 4th time! "So, now we're all set for the final stretch!" says Stefanie, laughing.
Only 9km to go to the top, but still 630 altitude meters. A few weeks ago, we might have balked at this, but we look at each other confidently and jump on our bikes. It turns out to be a tough climb, but without too much of a fuss we reach the highest point of our trip. Drivers cheer us on and people on their racing bikes declare us crazy, but give us that extra dose of energy to push our boundaries! We reach the top of the Gotthard Pass, 2106m high, and we are extremely proud of each other. We don't pat ourselves on the back too often (too little, in fact), but after this achievement we have certainly earned it.
The descent of the Gotthard Pass is possibly even more scenic than the climb. We descend on the southern side and the start is made up of hairpin bends with cobblestones. Very unique to experience! We stop every so often for photos and to enjoy the scenery, it is breathtakingly beautiful. As slowly as we were climbing the previous day, we are now suddenly flying down. Before we fully realize it, we are back at an altitude of 400 meters and it feels like we have already arrived in Italy. English is no longer spoken and the area suddenly looks very picturesque and charming, almost characteristically Italian.
In the evening we wild camp for the first time in Switzerland. We meet some people along the way and at first ask for a spot in their garden, but the locals who mostly speak Italian don't understand us. Eventually a man tells us we are allowed to camp next to the soccer field, wild camping with permission. Unfortunately it was not an ideal night: a lot of noise from the highway in the distance, church bells ringing every hour and a slanted soccer field causing Stefanie to roll onto Niels all the time. We were also awakened by an animal that came to sniff at the tent, did we have a visit from a fox?
The next day we continue cycling towards Lugano, our trip in Switzerland is almost over. It feels a bit weird because we both realise this has been the highlight of our cycling trip through Europe so far, but we're ready for Italy! You can read how we're doing in our next blog, doubts in Italy.
To finally answer the title of this blog: Is cycling in Switzerland expensive? NO!!! For us this was a very cheap destination as we could always enjoy the Swiss hospitality. The countless invitations to stay with people made sure we hardly spent any money on accommodation, we are very grateful to everyone for that! It is correct that it is a bit more expensive to do your shopping in Switzerland, but even there you can save quite a bit.
Skipping Switzerland because you fear the sky-high costs is not necessary. Preferably use platforms such as Warmshowers, couch surfing, etc.. and especially talk to the locals. You will be amazed by the possibilities and hospitality, you will be able to visit this country on a budget. Would you like to cycle in Switzerland but don't know where to start, feel free to let us know!
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