Experiencing Swiss Mobility
After arriving in Switzerland for the launch of the SwitzerlandMobility project, Brian Schott has been exploring the new linked network of trails that crisscross the country. He sends this dispatch from his travels.
LAKE GENEVA—Over the past week, I’ve spent time wandering the landscape in this stunning area of Switzerland by bike, foot, and train—inspired by the launch of the SwizterlandMobility project—and I’ve been surprised around every corner.
We biked past Roman ruins in Avenches. Bottled our own wine in a festival in Espesses. Witnessed a fire ceremony in a Russian Orthodox temple in Vevey. I ate guinea fowl in Morgues. I visited Audrey Hepburn’s grave in Tolochenaz, and then noticed a giant sequoia down by the lakeshore next to thousands of full-bloom tulips.
In Duillier, I ate one of the specialties of the land—horse (entrecôte de cheval with Bordelaise sauce). It tasted sweet and the texture was closer to liver than steak, and really, it was quite delicious. Shutting off my brain was the hard part.
“I mean the only time in our culture when you eat horse is if it’s the last thing left standing and you’re starving,” I said to my friend.
“Or your dog,” he replied.
In all, I’ve biked nearly the entire 50-mile northern shore of Lake Geneva from Montreaux to Nyon and walked miles through terraced vineyards built by monks in the 13th century.
From the press conference on SwitzerlandMobility, it had been time to put the spin to the test.
First Stop, Chexbres: We grabbed rental bikes from the train station in Avenches (you can rent bikes at most stops on the Swiss Rail) and explored the rich Roman history here. In Chexbres, we opted to walk along the roads high above the lake (you can see Evian, France on the opposite shore) to a wine festival in Epesses, a small village of 400 hundred people, all growing the Chasselas grape on 27 different vineyards.
The triple suns of the area are the secret to these vineyards success: The sun in the sky, the sun reflecting off the 1000-foot deep lake, and the warmth of the sun trapped in the thousands of terraced stone walls which release heat in the evenings. The combination gives this shelf a Mediterranean-like climate that the grapes flourish in, sucking up the mineral-rich water.
Amidst the happy, friendly people we sampled wines, ate local sausage, beef, potatoes, and cheese. They were selling six-minute helicopter rides (50 Swiss francs, pretty much on par with the U.S. dollar) and I jumped on for a dizzying view of the Alps, lake, and Rhine Valley. It was my first helicopter ride…and a real gas.
It was time to ride and we set out for our 30-km bike trip along the lake. We filled out our SwissTrails luggage transfer tags, attached them to our luggage and laptop bags (slightly nervously as we left them in a room off the lobby of our hotel) and jumped on our bikes. No need to worry—every stop along the way, the luggage transfers were flawless.
Really, it’s difficult to get lost around here. You have a massive lake on one side and terraced vineyards on the other, with towns and villages interspersed. SwiterlandMobility boasted of perfect signage, and I can’t say that what I saw was perfect (a few times it was difficult to determine the correct turn at confusing intersections), but with a map in hand, you would never have a problem. No map, you might get a little lost. But that’s the point anyway.
At one spot, we jumped off the main trail and clicked into low gear as we climbed into the vineyards, feeling the heat of the three suns as our sweat mixed with sun block. We stopped in the small village of Rivas to sample wines from the Chappuis family. The Swiss export only about 3% of their wines, because their production is low and their consumption is high. Here I tasted subtle hints of fresh grass, wet rock, and Granny Smith apples amidst the fine bubbles.
We took a wrong turn from the vineyard (go figure) and wound up on the highway, with cars speeding past us. My biking partner Harriot suggested ditching the highway, so we shouldered our bikes and climbed stone stairs to an upper road, then continued climbing, climbing, climbing, and climbing but the bonus was that I was ten pounds lighter and got to ride…DOWNHILL! to Lausanne.
Here we checked out the Olympic Museum, dined on traditional perch from the lake, and delved into their video archives. When we called up the highlights of the “dream team” USA/USSR 1980 hockey gold medal match, I practically cried. Really. We took an amazing tour of Olympic history, and it made me want to be faster, higher, stronger (“Citius.
Altius. Fortius,” the Olympic motto.)
Back on our bikes: destination Morgues. Here we opted to stay as close to the lake as possible. It was Sunday and a spectacular day, nearly 70°F (20°C) and people were everywhere. Cars were parked in every conceivable nook and there were thousands of people in the perfectly manicured parks. Rolling along the lake shore was an education in the Swiss Sunday. Hang out with the family; make out with your girlfriend.
The next morning, as I snapped a couple shots of the stone cross marking Hepburn’s burial site, clouds began to roll in. We set out on the main trail along the highway for the 30-km ride to Nyon, until we detoured through a small village, and then put our heads down as sheets of rain unleashed from the sky.
Today was more about getting there than being there, and with that in mind, I found myself on a train, water dripping down my face, and a conductor asking us why we didn’t have tickets for our bikes. We pleaded for forgiveness, and returned our bikes at the station.
Marketing hype or the real deal? The Swiss have something here.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
It’s a simple idea with complex execution. Make it easy for folks to travel on their own power across the entire country. Link businesses to rent equipment and shelter travelers. Keep it simple. Keep it real.
Over that plate of horse, I asked Heidi Müler, a tourism guide from Nyon, what she liked about living here. She has traveled the world as a Swiss Air flight attendant and even spent a couple of years south of Chicago when her husband was transferred.
“The quiet. The charm of the town. The streets. With little secret parts that make you feel cozy. You go back centuries. It’s quiet. It’s nice. You just go back to dreams.”
In Zurich, they confiscated my little Swiss Army knives, small gifts for my wife and son I had stuffed into my camera bag, forgetting that these innocent instruments are frowned upon on planes entering U.S.
I was still in a dream.
Photos by Brian Schott