Switzerland's best-kept cycling secret08 Jun. 2018
Cycling on a hidden road in Switzerland
Col du Sanetsch. Wallis, Switzerland
With its beautiful mountains, friendly motorists and quality roads, you would expect that the Swiss cols would be much higher on many cyclists’ bucket lists. But apparently what’s unknown is unloved. May we introduce you to one of the most beautiful climbs?
At a length of almost 26 kilometres and an altitude difference that’s almost as big as that of the infamous Stelvio, you would expect more cyclists to be familiar with the Col du Sanetsch. We can think of a few reasons why that’s not the case, the most important of which, we believe, is actually a great reason to do cycle there: it’s a dead-end road.
You climb the Sanetsch from Sion, which is located at about 500 metres, and there’s no real descent. There’s no road at the “back” of the mountain. One option is to take a cable car to Gsteig, down in the valley, and do a (rather long) tour that will eventually bring you back to Sion. The big advantage of that dead-end aspect is that it’s very quiet on the way up.
On a beautiful summer or autumn day, the view across the undulating vineyards is beautiful. You’re riding on the sunny north side of the Rhone Valley, and this is a region of Switzerland famous for its wine production. The climb is still pleasant here, but as soon as you leave the vineyards and turn into a side valley, the road starts to become increasingly steeper.
Don’t be mistaken, the Sanetsch is a big and tough climb indeed with almost two thousand vertical metres, but the majority of it can be classified as “steep but doable”. There are a few small stretches where the incline hits the double digits. After the vineyards, there’s a tarmac road of varying width bordered on both sides by tall coniferous trees. They offer shelter from the wind but – as we realise during our ascent – not from the rain.
By now we have gained quite a bit of height and you can tell that it’s getting considerably colder here. Especially when some drops of wetness are added to the mix. We quickly put on our rain and wind jackets; a smart person will take his arm warmers out of his pockets. We pass two cosy little restaurants, but decide to save them as an option for the way back. The road crosses over to the other side of the valley, and in the contours of the mountain we can already see the impressive hairpin bends. This is the part where the real hammering on the pedals begins and you quickly gain altitude. The views seem to get better in proportion to the drops of sweat that are spilled; this really is a beautiful part of the Alps and it’s actually a wonder that there are so few people and so little traffic.
The temperatures drop even further and, now that there are no more trees, the wind is given free rein above 2,000 metres. We bury our heads a bit further between our shoulders and battle on. The Col is in sight and we wouldn’t want to miss it for anything in the world. Along the way, we pass through a few tunnels. Like many things in Switzerland, everything is well taken care of here: a few sparse fluorescent beams spring into action when we enter the tunnel. Still, it would be wise to take a few small lights with you, if only to be visible to other road users.
From the top of the Col, at a distance of about 26 kilometres from Sion, we have to ride another 4 kilometres to reach the cosy little mountain lodge along the reservoir just on the other side of the mountain pass. The thought of a hot cup of coffee and something tasty to eat on this deserted pass more than makes up for the extra kilometres – and the extra vertical metres on the way back! We take a shortcut via the picturesque dam and grab a seat at the Auberge’s colourful innkeeper’s table. Through the window we see the top station of the cable car that could bring us back down to Gsteig, from where we could then descend via the Col du Pillon directly back to Aigle or via the Col de la Croix and then via the Rhone Valley back to Sion. It’s a long ride but, if you leave Sion early enough in the morning, it should be doable.
After eating our snacks, we decide to turn around and take on those beautiful hairpin bends with gravity in our favour. We’ve definitely earnt it! And: psst! Don’t tell anyone else, will you? Otherwise it could get pretty crowded here on the Col du Sanetsch.