Sign up for our newsletter

The canton of Vaud: Lakes and mountains

Sponsored
19 Mar 2019
Advertisement

Just over 100km east of Geneva airport and the buzzing metropolitan shores of its famous lake lies the Vaud Alps – or Alpes vaudoises to use the local parlance.

Accessible in an hour and a half using Vaud’s excellent public transport network (which happily caters for travellers with bikes), the Alpes vaudoises’ 420km of prime skiing pistes are transformed into a haven for cyclists when the snows on the valley’s slopes melt to reveal perfectly orchestrated expanses of quiet roads and mountain pastures.

No wonder cycling’s governing body, the UCI, chose the town of Aigle in Vaud’s southeastern tip as the base for its headquarters, and Aigle-Martigny to host the UCI Road World Championships in 2020.

With that in mind, a pilgrimage to the home of professional cycling, with its indoor and outdoor tracks, cycling museum and welcoming cafe, is a must for any fan of the sport.

But Aigle is also the perfect jumping off point into the gloriously smooth network of quiet roads that weaves through the vineyards of Chablais to the base of the 3,000m high glacier in Les Diablerets.

Yet deviate from these marble-smooth roads and you’ll find countless near-deserted gravel tracks nestled between lakes, ancient villages and towering peaks.

There is plenty to do off the bike too, from hiking to tobogganing to traversing the glacier.

However, it’s the long season – from April to early November – that can be had riding the region’s road and gravel tracks that marks Vaud out as one of the most exciting and versatile cycling destinations in Switzerland.

Ask the expert

Based in the village of Gryon in the Alpes vaudoises, Alain Rumpf has been riding his bike in the Alps since he was 12.

His love of cycling carried him into a 20-year career at the UCI, where amongst other roles he managed what would become the WorldTour.

He has since gone on to a new life as an expert guide, photographer, writer and consultant.

An authority on both the area and all things two-wheeled, Alain can be contacted for further information on the region, as well as personally guided rides, at aswisswithapulse.com.

Vaud tick list

• Cycling season runs from April to early November
• Home to the UCI, cycling’s governing body, in Aigle
• Vaud’s Diablerets Massif range includes the Sommet des Diableret, western Switzerland’s highest peak at 3,210m
• Produces some of Europe’s most sought after white wines and cheeses
• Encapsulates the majority of the Swiss side of Lake Geneva, home to the world famous Montreux Jazz Festival held annually in early July

 

Ride 1: Such a perfect day

Blend tarmac and gravel with this ride in Vaud

'We had this amazing autumn last year in the Alpes vaudoises. The weather, the colours, the quiet… it was perfect,’ says local guide Alain Rumpf.

‘But after a long summer of guiding and riding I was mentally burnt out. So my friend Luca and I set out to find an antidote, and we ended up with what I think is the best gravel ride in the whole area.’

A combination of old farm tracks, hiking trails and off-season ski runs, this route ties together Vaudoises’ three major resorts of Villars, Les Diablerets and Gryon over 50km of beautiful Alpine terrain.

The road out of Villars is a forest-wending, paved affair and serves as a great warm up before the day’s highest climb, a 600m ascent to the 1,800m Col de Bretaye.

There are tantalising glimpses of Lake Geneva to the west before the road is fully ensnared by the Diablerets Massif’s numerous monolithic peaks.

Punchy gravel climbs weave through slumbering ski lifts and onto the brief bitumen respite of the Col de la Croix pass.

A short, upward stab through the quintessential hamlet of Taveyanne is met with a longer, more technical mixed terrain descent towards Gryon.

But be warned: while the road back to Villars is an enticing set of mixed paths, a stop at the Refuge de Solalex to sample the best cheese board in the area is a must, and there’s no sense missing out on the fondue either.

Fortunately, gravity is on your side as you sweep back west to Villars.

Gravel bliss

To download this route, go to cyclist.co.uk/vaud1. Take Route des Layeux out of Villars-sur-Ollon, past the main gondola station and head west along Route des Pins towards Les Ecovets, then head due north on Route de Plambuit.

At approximately 5.7km look for a signpost for Bretaye that takes you on a narrow forest road. Follow the road to Bretaye then switch to gravel tracks on to Route du Col de la Croix at around 23km.

Head south to Taveyanne, at 31km, Frience at 36km then Solalex at 39km. From there, swing west to Barboleusaz at 46km, then join the tarmacked Route de Villars back to Villars-sur-Ollon. For more detailed information about this route, contact Alain Rumpf, at aswisswithapulse.com.

Distance: 50km
Total ascent: 1,200m

Ride 2: Aiming high

Take on the Croix, Pillon and Mosses cols, a trio of classic climbs in the Alpes vaudoises

On its outskirts, Aigle feels like a pastoral cycling paradise of yesteryear, with vineyards surrounding the majestic Château d’Aigle awash with grape musk and the gentle putt-putting of old farm equipment.

But at Aigle’s centre beats cycling’s modern heart: the sleek concrete headquarters of cycling’s governing body, the UCI. What better place to visit for some inspiration ahead of a day bagging some of Switzerland’s toughest cols?

Heading into the Rhone Valley from Aigle is placid enough, but after 5km the Col de la Croix begins in earnest.

It takes 23km of climbing to reach the Croix’s 1,778m summit, and the road hastily ratchets through the gears to peak at 12% for a total vertical gain of 1,300m.

Relief comes in an 8km descent to the village of Les Diablerets before the road tips up again to the Col du Pillon, a pass that tops out at 1,546m and runs beneath the feet of the 3,000m-high Diablerets glacier that unites Vaud with neighbouring cantons, Berne and Valais.

It’s a long descent from here through Gstaad and onto Château-d’Oex, a village nestled a kilometre up in the Alpes vaudoises, and from where the Breitling Orbiter 3 famously launched to complete the first successful circumnavigation of the globe by hot air balloon in 1999.

Just like that balloon, the road now aims skyward again one last time along the Col des Mosses – a regular feature in the Tour de Romandie and visited by the Tour de France in 2016.

When you reach the summit and you are looking out on endlessly rolling moors, across to craggy peaks and with a rip-roaring 18km downhill into Aigle to come, it will all seem happily worth it.

 

Classic Swiss Alps

To download this route, go to cyclist.co.uk/vaud2. Head south from the train station in Aigle on Route Industrielle, soon taking a left towards Ollon and following signs to Fenalet-sur-Bex, Gryon and Villars-sur-Ollon.

From Villars, take the Route du Col de la Croix to Les Diablerets, then Route du Pillon past the glacier and on to Gstaad. Follow signs for Rougemont, Château-d’Oex, L’Etivaz and Col des Mosses.

Stay on the same road all the way back to Aigle. For more detailed information about this route, click here.

Distance: 108km
Total ascent: 2.360m

 

Don’t miss...

Some other highlights to enjoy while you’re in Vaud

Château d’Aigle Vine

Presiding over the heartland of the Chablais wine region, this 13th century castle (pictured right) situated amidst the vineyards of Vaud is all fairytale turrets and battlements from the outside, while inside a wine-making museum takes centre stage, with plenty of opportunities to try the local vintage. Go to aigle-leysin-lesmosses.ch.

Tour des Alpes vaudoises

The riding options in Alpes vaudoises are near endless, and we’ve listed just two routes.

Striking out alone is a wonderful day out, but so too is a multi-day guided tour such as the one led by Alain Rumpf, comprising six of the area’s best climbs in 200km of riding over four days.

To find out more see lake-geneva-region.ch and alpes.ch.

Glacier 3000

If there is one thing that might rival the Alpes vaudoises’ cycling for grandeur, it’s the Glacier des Diablerets, the highest point in the region, commonly referred to as Glacier 3000.

A cable car runs from the Col du Pillon to Botta 3000, a contemporary restaurant designed by architect Mario Botta.

The glacier’s ski slopes are open from October to May, and the rest of the year sees tourists flock for the stunning vistas that include views of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Cervin peaks.

The free ‘Peak Walk’ suspension bridge to the summit of Scex Rouge is a must. Visit glacier3000.ch.

UCI World Cycling Centre

This futuristic structure set against the Vaud mountains is as important as it is imposing, containing offices for the great and the good of cycling’s governing body, together with an elite coaching and training centre, cycle history museum and public access to sessions at the velodrome.

You can also ride the boards yourself with prior booking. Book at uci.org.

Fly with SWISS

Fly with SWISS and take your bike from as little as £74 one way. SWISS offers up to 160 weekly flights from the UK to Switzerland, connecting you to over 1,600 miles of beautiful Swiss cycling routes.

Best of all, bike transport is free if part of your standard baggage allowance. For more information visit swiss.com

Swiss Travel System

Switzerland offers a rich array of options for combining two-wheeled travel with the boat, bus and train network. Bicycles can be handed over and collected at any railway station with a luggage counter.

In Switzerland, public transport is the perfect partner for all cyclists. Switzerland Mobility’s information panels at more than 300 train stations throughout the country assist the integration of two-wheel travel routes into the public transport network. See MySwitzerland.com/rail.

 

The essentials

Travel

Flying from the UK to Geneva takes just over 90 minutes from London. From Geneva, transfers to Aigle take around 1h 20min by train or car.

Accommodation

The Alpes vaudoises play host to a number of top hotels, but for a quintessential mountain stay head to the Hotel du Pillon or the three-star Swiss chalet-style Alpe-Fleurie.

Food

According to local guide Alain Rumpf, ‘the best restaurant in the area’ is the Refuge de Solalex on the return leg of the Villars gravel ride, which serves up ‘the best cheese specialities in the area’ from its picturesque mountain setting.

Boulangerie Charlet in of Gryon is also a real hit with the locals, and is famous for its Vaud speciality salée a la crème, a baked cream tart made with bread dough.

Contacts

For more information about the canton of Vaud, visit lake-geneva-region.ch.

For more on Villars and Les Diablerets, see villars-diablerets.ch. For information on Aigle, go to aigle-leysin-lesmosses.ch.

For info on Switzerland in general, visit MySwitzerland.com/cycling.