The Alps attract cyclists from all round the Globe and the vast majority of those visiting descend upon, or rather ascend, the more iconic climbs made famous by the Tour de France and the pantheon of cycling greats. Those who know the mountains intimately, however, will argue that some of the best places to cycle in the Alps remain a little off the beaten track and the unwitting visitor is more likely to speed past them, with bikes firmly secured to the car roof, than stop and explore these hidden gems.
For every iconic climb - think Alpe d'Huez and the Galibier for example - there are a dozen more 'off the Tour climbs' and stunning routes that have everything that the big names can offer . . except for the hoards of cyclists and traffic jams!
One such area is the Swiss region or canton of Valais, which lies on the very western flank of the country, butted up to France to the west and Italy to the South. Locals and visitors who have cycled in this area will maintain that the Valais is a secret that few cyclists from abroad will ever explore, but the roads that radiate out from the capital city of Sion offer superlative cycling through vineyards and spectacular valleys and over challenging cols.
The aptly named Tour des Vins du Valais sportive is one of several amateur events held in the area. BPM Coaching
The Valais is an area of picture postcard beauty, with breathtaking panoramas in every direction. From the vineyards of the Rhone valley to glaciers flanked by the towering peaks of the Swiss Alps, the region has an eclectic beauty that never fails to deliver an unbeatable cycling experience. And all of this is complimented by a relatively benign climate and far quieter roads than many other areas of the Alps.
The high mountains of the Valais require one to be relatively fit to enjoy much of the cycling the area has to offer, which is why you should not be surprised to encounter pro cyclists training on the same roads. There are several formidable ascents to consider. Head eastwards up the Rhone Valley to the Furka Pass, one of the highest paved roads in Europe at 2429 metres or south to the Simplon Pass that heads over to Piedmont in Italy. The Col du Sanetcsh lies to the north of Sion and is arguably one of the greatest Hors Category climbs in the whole of the Alps. Head west towards the French border and you can tackle the Grand St Bernard or the Col de la Florcaz, ploughing on over the border to visit the famous ski resort of Chamonix.
The wealth of options will keep you entertained for many days, but if the high mountains are too daunting, then less demanding rides are available along the Rhone valley, with smaller climbs through vineyards and picturesque villages, with plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy a coffee or a small glass of the local vin rouge in a local café.
Main image: Vineyards overlooking the Rhone Valley in the Valais. Alain Rumpf/A Swiss With A Pulse
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