Biking in Switzerland

Western Switzerland

Southwestern Switzerland's canton of Valais is bisected by the course of the Rhone River, from its glacial source near Furka Pass to the deep Lake Geneva basin in the west. All along the river's lowland banks—reputed to be Switzerland's sunniest corner—and particularly between Brig and Martigny, fields and fields of pears, apples, sweet grapes, and vineyards compete for solar and human attention. This is the country's fertile fruit bowl and wine region.

However, as your attention is lifted above the roar of valley-floor civilization, the imposing nature of the steep flanking walls grips your thoughts. To the north, a mighty and daunting palisade looms near and unbroken. These are the Berner Alps, uncrossed by roads until the Grimsel Pass just east of some of the country's highest peaks—Jungfrau, Eiger, and Finsteraarhorn, the latter the tallest Alp entirely within Swiss borders.

To the south, a gentler, greener slope climbs up eroded valleys before disappearing in the Walliser Alps, topped by the towering, permanently snowcapped, Swiss-Italian Grand Cambin, Matterhorn (also known as Monte Cervino), and Monte Rosa.

Only two roads cross the monolithic gambol of rock to the south, one each reaching passes at the western and eastern extremes. These are the well-known Grand Saint Bernard Pass (or the Col du Grand Saint Bernard) in the west and the Simplon Pass in the east. There is a third high road pushing southwest over a lower saddle—the Col de la Forclaz—and into a neighboring valley (in France) at the foot of Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain. These three roads are the high-pass gems of southwestern Switzerland.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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