Switzerland’s cycling routes may be more accessible to older travelers by renting an electric bike.
Switzerland’s hiking and cycling holidays are known around the world as a spectacular way to enjoy a beautiful and stimulating environment with a taste of this small country’s flora, fauna and deeply-rooted history and culture. While the opportunities are many, Switzerland Tourism has selected 18 multi-day routes, each graded from easy to difficult. Some of these routes overlap in places.
Travel with a Challenge’s editor has selected six routes in order to feature different regions of the country and to suggest a variety of senior-friendly options to explore on foot (hiking or walking), on conventional or electric bicycles and even by canoe. The URL for all 18 routes is listed at the bottom of this page in the Follow Up Facts box. Please note that 1 kilometer = .62 of a mile. In Switzerland, signage is in kilometers.
Trans Swiss Trail (final stage of 56 km, hiking) South Central Switzerland
Stretching 500 km in its entirety, the long-distance Trans Swiss Trail crosses the country from north to south, embracing a wide range of landscapes – from fern and birch forests to lakes and magnificent mountaintops. The final 56 km of the route has a real southern feel to it and that is what is recommended for the more casual hiker. Even if you take the funicular up to San Salvatore, there are several challenging ascents to tackle between the UNESCO World Heritage Sites castles of Bellinzona and the UNESCO Site of Monte San Giorgio in Mendrisio. But it’s worth the effort for the rustic grotti taverns en route and spectacular views – for instance that of the “little Italy” part of Switzerland around Lugano, which oozes Italian charm on warm summer evenings.
Divided into four daily stages with accommodation available along the route, the level of difficulty is easy to medium. The route may be shortened by using public transport.
Hiking the final 56 km of the Trans Swiss Trail is easily accomplished in four daily stages.
Aare River Canoe Route Western Switzerland
Whether you opt for a day tour or a multi-day adventure, a trip on Switzerland’s greatest river is a delight. Once an important transport route, in recent times the river has become a source of energy thanks to a series of dams and reservoirs. During the first day of canoeing (12 km), you will not follow the original course of the river – the meandering “Old Aare”, now much reduced – but rather a canal, one of several built over the years to control flooding, and allow the drainage of the surrounding swamps.
In western Switzerland, choose a two-day paddle on Switzerland’s greatest river.
Once the Aare reaches Büren, the river returns to its original bed allowing paddlers to go with the flow on the second day (17 km). This relaxing segment passes small islands, sleepy settlements and the “European Stork Village” of Altreu where you may stop to see the nesting birds. There is a nature reserve information center and charming restaurants serving regional specialties.
Heart Route (cycling, electric bikes) Central Switzerland
Of all Switzerland’s itineraries for electric bikes, the Emmental Heart Route is the most popular. Divided into three days of Thun to Langnau (72 km), Langnau to Burgdorf (45 km) and Burgdorf to Willisau (63 km), the highlights are many, including spectacular lake, forest and snow-capped alpine peak scenery, historic towns world famous for Emmental, also known as Swiss cheese, and an impressive array of charming farm houses among vivid green
landscapes. Along the route are many battery exchange stations for electric bikes so there is no risk of having to pedal the Heart Route too hard!
Bovine encounters in the high summer meadows are common on the cycling-friendly Heart Route.
Easy, Medium, Difficult … What do they mean?
Hiking trails are graded by “Level of Difficulty”; click here and scroll down to the heading“Trail Signalization” for detailed descriptions of each grade. Here is a sample:
Easy = no special equipment required, no map necessary, recreational walking trails that are not challenging. They are usually away from motorized roads, leading through valleys from town to town and along high plateaus. Along the way there are yellow signs or arrows about 10 minutes apart.
Medium = solid hiking boots, all-weather clothing and a map are recommended. There are partly steep, narrow and exposed sections negotiable for the physically fit. Leading up to higher altitudes, be aware of sudden weather changes. Along the way there are white-red-white signs at regular intervals.
Difficult = well, why don’t you check out this “Level” for yourself?
Lake Route (cycling, electric bikes) Skirts 16 Swiss lakes, Southwest Switzerland
The “Tour de Suisse” for electric bikes leads from Lake Geneva to Lake Constance through idyllic scenery, with one particular stretch between the Bernese Oberland and Lake Lucerne offering spectacular beauty. This four-day route is divided into manageable distances per day with plenty of time to visit natural attractions such as the Giessbach Falls and sample village specialties such as the original meringue, invented in Meiringen!
The second day goes the shortest distance (32 km) because it includes serious elevation changes to cross over the Brünig Pass at 1,008 meters, but thanks to the motor on your electric bike, the climb is easy. At the end of each day, stay in picture postcard towns and immerse in the history and culture of this region including a visit to the monastery of Einsiedeln with its exquisite ornate pilgrimage church, home to the “black Madonna”.
Follow the Lake Route using electric bikes between Lake Geneva and Lake Constance.
King’s Route (cycling) Northeast Switzerland
With a level of difficulty rated “medium”, this 231 km bicycle ride accomplished in six daily stages is abundant in both natural and cultural highlights. The starting point for the self-guided cycling tour is the village of Appenzell, enchanting in itself. Stunning views await around every corner – the Rhine Falls, the Churfirsten mountains, Lake Constance and the peak of Säntis all seem close enough to touch.
True to its name, the King’s Route is bejewelled with little gems, including St.Gallen with its UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hagenwil Water Castle near Lake Constance, the Napoleon Museum, and the Stammheimer wine country en route to Schaffhausen. Ittingen’s Carthusian monastery and Fischingen Abbey are peaceful retreats, as is the final stop Rapperswil-Jona, famous for its rose gardens.
On the King’s Route, an alpine meadow at sunset is the perfect end to the day.
Via Jacobi (walking/hiking) In the Footsteps of Pilgrims, Northeast Switzerland
This 93 kilometer route is easily accomplished in four daily stages, level of difficulty rated “easy.” It is part of Europe’s Way of St. James or Camino de Santiago, a stunning walk that leads from Lake Constance to Geneva, ticking off many cultural highlights. Chapels, churches and hostels are strung along the trail like beads on a rosary.
The first stages from Rorschach to Einsiedeln, Switzerland’s most important place of pilgrimage, lead past the world-famous St. Gallen Abbey library, through the hilly countryside of Appenzell and Toggenburg, and over the picturesque 1.5-km wooden bridge that links Rapperswil to Hurden. The trail rounds out with a breathtaking view of Lake Zurich from the Etzel Pass. The route may be shortened by using some public transport.
While doing the Via Jacobi pilgrimage walk, spend some time at St Gallen Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To learn full details about each of the 18 designated routes, click here. Many of the routes may be walked or cycled as preferred by the visitor. To read Switzerland Tourism’s colorful 42-page Outdoor Adventure brochure online featuring all 18 routes, click here.
There are hotels and inns that may be booked along each route. For packages that include accommodations, transfer of baggage, rental of canoes and bicycles, it is necessary to book with a tour operator. FLYER electric bicycles are made in Switzerland to very high standards. They may be rented for recommended routes.
For information on travel to all parts of Switzerland, visit www.myswitzerland.com.
You will enjoy two other feature articles in our Travel Article Library about Switzerland’s mountainous transportation system, “Switzerland’s Ups and Downs”, and about the country’s lesser-known and less-visited Italian enclave of Ticino.