Seeing The Sunny Side of Verbier

Alpine Biking Verbier 2The hills are alive with the sound of music. Tinkling cowbells, Alpine horns, yodelling… and the hum of my electric mountain bike.

Ok, so it’s cheating. But I’m an unashamed member of the Cheaters’ Cycling Club.

Instead of grinding down through 30 gears, bursting your lungs and straining every muscle to conquer one-in-eight gradients of a Swiss mountain I zipped up stony tracks like Bradley Wiggins on speed.

Our ride from the valley of Verbier St. Bernard  was uber-easy. A gondola, which in the winter would be crammed with eager skiers and snowboarders, whooshed us up to Les Ruinettes in the late summer sunshine.  At the lift station we were kitted out by Bike Club Verbier with our sturdy steeds and crash helmets for a journey through Heidi country.

Before the snow falls it’s all green pastures, ice-capped peaks, forests of firs, gurgling streams, hikers, climbers, St Bernard dogs and edelweiss.

At each bend you expect to encounter the Von Trapp family in full voice.

It’s a change from city cycle lanes back home but the E-bikes make it Easy, Effortless and Exhilarating. With four gears to boost your pedal power you never get puffed and sweaty. You can enjoy the spectacular views, the soaring eagles, fluttering butterflies and noisy crickets while keeping an eye out for Charlotte the Marmot, a large ground squirrel straight out of Disney.

The path narrows and starts to steepen. Oh joy. A shift from Econ gear to City. A bit steeper and you press the button for Tour. You face an impossible gradient and you pick Power for a turbo boost that kicks you in the butt till you crest the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn no time at all the E-bike has eaten up 10 kilometres to La Croix-de-Coeur. Our ultra-fit guide Petir Pavlovic, a Czech Republic ski racer who switches from winter ski instructor to summer mountain bike supremo, tells us the range of the bike can vary between 50 and 80 km. on the flat. We are not on the flat. Anything but. A person weighing 80 kg may accomplish a vertical climb of up to 800m. Vertical? How vertical?

We are reassured that he has a couple of spare batteries in his rucksack, and there are 10 locations on the routes to exchange worn batteries for re-charged ones. Not that we are going to run out of steam.

We have chosen a family-friendly route also suitable for less fit bikers. This is a bit of an insult to the one super-fit cyclist in our party, who is more used to a whisper-light cycle with skinny tyres than our robust mounts. ‘Too sluggish and heavy for me,’ he scoffs.

We coast along the Route de la Planie at 2200 meters, greeting joggers and hikers, fording streams and whistling through a tunnel carved through rock, marvelling at monumental art work – selected by former Tate Britain curator Paul Goodwin – in a sculpture park featuring a solemn stork and an ear-flapping elephant.

It’s time to re-charge our own batteries with a leisurely lunch on a sunny terrace, watching colourful paragliders take to the skies in graceful arcs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFleur d’Hérens sur Ardoise is the dish of the day, beef from the famous fighting cow served on slate.  Tomorrow, if we make our white-knuckle descent safely, we attend the festival to mark the cows being brought down from the pastures – and watch the most bellicose females fighting horn-to-horn for the Queen’s Crown – in what has become a major tourist attraction of the Valais Alps.

At Desalpe La Fouly we eat ourselves silly with Val de Bagnes raclette cheese for elevenses and lunch, quaffing Fendant white wine (www.switzerland-wine.com) at trestle tables laid the length of the village, serenaded by military musicians on horseback, oompah bands and impossibly long alpine pipes.

Switzerland ticks all the mountain boxes whether you visit by summer or winter. The hot news from Verbier is the December 1st opening of a W hotel, the last word in extravagance, style and cuisine.

For more information on the Valais region of Switzerland and events visit www.valais.ch. Return flights with Swiss from Heathrow to Geneva start at £143. For more, visit www.swiss.com. Return flights with Easyjet from Edinburgh to Geneva start at £105. For more, visit www.easyjet.com. Swiss Rail Pass: www.swiss-pass.ch 

Gill Martin

Gill Martin

Gill Martin is an award winning travel writer and former Fleet Street journalist – Daily Mail reporter, Daily Express feature writer and Sunday Mirror Woman’s Editor.
She is a freelance writer for national newspapers from the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph to tabloids, magazines, regional newspapers and websites.
After a six month career break after the Indian Ocean tsunami where she volunteered as a communications consultant in Banda Aceh, Indonesia for Plan, the children’s charity, she is now focused on travel.
From skiing everywhere from Kashmir to Argentina, Morocco to Turkey, North America and all over Europe; snow shoeing in Canada; captain of the GB team of the Ski Club of International Journalists; whitewater rafting down the Zambezi; electric mountain biking in Switzerland and cycling in Portugal; Kenyan and South African safaris; riding elephants in India and horses in Brazil; paint balling in Romania; opera and archeology in Serbia; Caribbean snorkelling; sampling food and wine in Italy.

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