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Swiss rides: Bern region

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1 Feb 2018
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On another day you’d struggle to find anything quite so blue and inviting as Lake Brienz.

Yet today it has company, a rival if you will: the sky. Scanning across the distant horizon, there’s not a wisp of white interrupting a palette that ranges from a deep and lustrous azure high above us to a paler shade conjured by the reflecting sun off snow-dusted peaks.

We’ve barely covered four kilometres from our hotel in the centre of Interlaken on the road that hugs the shore of Lake Brienz, but already it’s time to stop for a moment to savour the landscape. It would be churlish not to.

That said, we can afford to. This morning is set to be a delightfully leisurely 20km spin around the lake, followed by a ferry ride back west to Interlaken.

From there the road will turn upwards – as all roads seem to in this mountainous region of Switzerland – and we’ll have to put in some serious legwork to make it to the outermost edge of Brienz’s sister, Lake Thun.

But until then there’s little more to do except gorge our senses on the landscape.

Then again the road around the lake is so open and smooth that a fast effort proves impossible to resist, and soon the sloping roofs of dormant chalets and lumbering shapes of grazing cattle are flashing by in a blur across the brilliant blue and soft green surrounds.

We eventually slow to take a short section of cycle path around the uppermost section of the lake before completing a full about-turn that has us spinning and gasping up an unexpected incline.

The twists are narrow, the gradient sharp and the air heavy with the musk of moss clinging in damp clumps to the rock.

Just as the northern shore of Brienz was bright and airy, so this side is cloaked in great shadows from the looming mountains.

We emerge, breathless, at the palatial Grandhotel Giessbach. A funicular runs from its terrace to the ferry jetty below, but spotting an unmarked gravel path we opt to test tyres and nerves down a dozen tightly coiled switchbacks instead.

Knowing that the next leg of our journey will be spent on a boat back to Interlaken, we turn tail to climb back up the scree-strewn corners, as much to take in the Grandhotel’s view one last time as to indulge a bit of full-gas suffering.

Beautiful detour

The ferry ride is a tranquil affair, but it leaves us with heavy legs as we begin the lengthy climb towards the village of Beatenberg.

By the time we’ve negotiated the second hairpin the gradient is nudging double figures, but the slope is at least consistent, so finding a rhythm is easy.

From our vantage point atop the mountainside, the views are no less obliging than before, with Lake Thun glittering silver and turquoise below a saw blade of gigantic mountains on the horizon.

Far in the distance are the Eiger, the Mönch and Jungfrau peaks, whose combined summits exceed 12,000m, ten times our current height.

Upon exiting the main drag of Beatenberg’s 7km long road – which apparently makes the village the longest in Europe – we opt to make a brief out-and-back detour by following the Gronbach River deeper into what a map would call a valley but our senses detect as an amphitheatre.

The air hangs still, the quiet only punctuated by the occasional distant bray of deer and the babble of the Gronbach.

We look enviously on at a family having a picnic and a couple of farm hands lifting huge wheels of cheese into a small outhouse, but we still have one more ascent to make, sandwiched between the promise of some ripping downhills.

The tale end

The descent to Sigriswil is unmercifully narrow, but mercifully quiet. It tears through rows of bolt-upright conifers, sheer drops and pitch dark tunnels in a fashion more befitting a theme park for bicycles than a piece of civil architecture.

By its trough we are down to 800m, then the road pitches unceremoniously up again and away into yet more damp pines and rocky verges.

Though not quite as long as the climb up to Beatenberg, the next 8km towards the village of Heiligenschwendi sit somewhere between ‘tough’ and ‘severe’ on the climbing spectrum.

The views of Lake Thun have been enshrouded by the forest, so we have little choice but to fixate on the wall of asphalt ahead.

We bob up and down from our saddles as we tackle spiteful attacks of 12% then 16%, unable to find a rhythm.

Respite eventually comes when the trees peel away and the road lifts itself towards a still glorious blue sky, before settling into a final plateau.

Tired and all but spent, we stop to gather our wits for the descent to Thun, but not before one last detour.

This time it calls for shouldering our bikes and walking unsteadily up a steep, grassy bank.

But as with the every part of today’s ride, the view across Lake Thun and on towards its mountainous keepers makes it more than worth the effort.

 

Lake district

Enjoy the twin attractions of Lake Brienz and Lake Thun

• To download this route, got to cyclist.co.uk/swissrides2

Leave Interlaken on the main road, route 6, and follow it all the way clockwise around Lake Brienz until you see signs for Giessbach Falls and the Grandhotel Giessbach.

Go through the Grandhotel car park and take the gravel path by the terrace down to the jetty, then take the ferry back to Interlaken Ost. Head west back through town and onto the Beatenbergstrasse.

Follow the natural road through Beatenberg and down onto Justistalstrasse. The road doubles back on itself by a farm next to a small bridge, and it’s here a spectacular detour can be made by taking a right up the narrow but paved path until the valley opens up some 2km later.

Retrace steps back to Justistalstrasse, carry on through Sigriswil then take a right signposted Aeschlen/Tschingel. Follow signs to Heiligenschwendi, on to Goldiwil then descend to Thun.

How we did it

Travel

The lakes that sandwich Interlaken are encircled by stunning roads, both along the shoreline and higher up.

However, the southern side of Lake Brienz can get busy, so we opted for a more scenic, laid back boat journey to connect our ride.

The ferry runs from the Giessbach Falls, near the luxurious Grandhotel Giessbach, to Interlaken Ost.

A day pass for the ferries around Lake Brienz and Lake Thun starts from around £25, with bikes an extra £6. See bls.ch for more details.

However, if that all sounds a bit sedate then JetBoat Interlaken (jetboat.ch) will pick you up from your hotel and take you on an unforgettable powerboating experience from Bonigen to the Giessbach Falls.

Accommodation

We stayed in Hotel Krebs, a spacious, recently renovated four-star hotel in the bustling centre of Interlaken.

Its attached Terrace Restaurant serves up modern fine dining cuisine at reasonable prices, although money will be easily spent in the myriad high-end shops and attractions on its doorstep.

Prices start from around £120 per night (krebshotel.ch). Alternatively, if no-expense spared luxury is what you're after, look no further than the Grandhotel Giessbach right on the shores of Lake Brienz.

With views of the Giessbach Falls and lake beyond, this palatial residence, which is set on 22 acres of land, has been busily hosting emperors, kings and artists since it opened in 1874 (giessbach.ch).

Destination 

Interlaken serves as a beautiful and convenient gateway to an area overlooked by the imposing Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks.

As such there’s top-notch skiing and hiking to be had, as well as boat trips, canoeing, hang gliding, quad biking, skydiving and more. For more details see interlaken.ch

Swiss Travel System

A biking tour combined with a relaxing cruise? Want to travel by train back to your starting point? Switzerland offers many opportunities for two-wheeled travel combined with boat, bus and train.

Bicycles can be handed over and collected at any railway station with a luggage counter.

If they are handed over by 7pm they can be collected the next day from 9am onwards, although it’s worth bearing in mind that the opening hours of luggage counters vary, and that groups of 10 or more require an advanced notification of at least five working days prior to travel.

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

To facilitate the planning of outdoor activities, all cycling routes under switzerlandmobility.ch are linked with the timetables of more than 150 public transport companies nationwide. See myswitzerland.com/travel for more details.

• Discover more about cycling in Switzerland at myswitzerland.com/roadcycling