A signed bike route around Lac Léman has been put in place following five years’ collaboration between the French and Swiss authorities. The route, which was inaugurated this summer, comprises nearly 200 km of mainly quiet roads with fantastic views over the lake and the landscapes beyond.
On the Swiss (northern) side of the lake, the route is marked by red signposts bearing the number 46, while on the French (southern) side the signposts are green and white and bear the title ‘Tour du Léman’.
Jenny Rietbergen-McCracken recently tested out this new route and reported back for Living in Nyon.
In her article you can discover which was the hardest part of the route, recommended places to stay and eat, some tips to bear in mind and where it might be best to ignore the road signs!
Over to Jenny
I was very happy to find this well-designed, well-marked bike route when I was planning a round-the-lake cycle last August. Our family had done a similar cycle some years ago and we’d spent ages plotting out our itinerary, trying to find a compromise between the shortest possible route (sticking to the lake road) and the quietest possible route (which inevitably involves going up hills). Once on our way, we had to stop regularly to check our maps, and on a few occasions break the bad news to the kids that we’d taken a wrong turn and needed to head back up the hill!
This time round, it was just my teenage son Sam and myself and we gave ourselves two days to complete the challenge. We had a great time and loved being immersed in the stunning beauty of this region. We came back with our minds full of wonderful images, including the vineyard terraces of Lavaux, the forest paths through the Grangettes nature reserve, and the clear blue waters of the lake. We took the recommended clockwise direction to stay as close as possible to the lake.
Photo above – Jenny starting the cycle ride in Geneva with the Jet d’Eau in the background.
The route designers have done a very good job of finding the right balance between the shortest and the most scenic. On the Swiss section, relatively little time is spent on the lake road. Instead the clearly positioned signs take cyclists on quieter roads, traffic-free tracks and in a few instances, dedicated cycle paths. On the French side, there are longer stretches on the busy lake road but also plenty of time on lovely country lanes. Only once or twice did I swear at the designers (on the French side) when they seemed to take us on unnecessary detours uphill. However I must admit to swearing at the same French-side designers more frequently when the bike path signs seemed to disappear or, worse still, point in the wrong direction. Overall though, it is a path well worth following.
Some Tips to Bear in mind
The best place to start is probably Cornavin train station. The signs start right outside the station and take you along the Rue de Lausanne.
A good place to overnight is Montreux. It’s just over halfway round and has the best choice of accommodation, including a Youth Hostel and plenty of hotels (we stayed in the three-star Hotel Helvetie which was very comfortable and had a locked garage to store our bikes safely). We left Cornavin at 8am and, with a couple of hours’ stops along the way, were enjoying pre-dinner ice-creams in Montreux at 6pm.
Don’t bother carrying lots of water. There are plenty of ‘eau potable’ fountains along the way, as well as public toilets with very drinkable tap water.
I would recommend taking a rest stop in Rolle, which involves a slight detour off the bike route. After going past the Le Rosey school on the outskirts of Rolle and joining the Route des Quatre-Communes, as the bike route signs indicate, ignore the left-hand turn and carry on down the Route des Quatre-Communes till it hits the lake road (Grand Rue). Boccard tea-room has a lovely garden terrace where you can indulge in a well-earned coffee break while keeping your bikes within sight and enjoying the views onto the lake. Then carry on the lake road and rejoin the bike route in Perroy.
Morges makes a good lunch stop, with plenty of eatery options (e.g. on the pedestrian Grand-Rue, which runs parallel to the lake road after you pass the chateau).
In Lutry I would recommend turning right off the bike route to follow the lakeside promenade and enjoy a rest on one of the benches by the lake, or in one of the cafes along the promenade. You will need your energy to do the next part of the route – see below.
The Hardest Part of the Route
The hardest part of the whole route is just after Lutry, on the long climb up through the vineyards of Lavaux. The alternative is to stick to the lake road but that would mean missing the stunning views and the exhilaration of speeding down after struggling up!
Photo above – Sam Rietbergen at the top of Lavaux
Cycle past the iconic Château de Chillon
For some reason the bike route stays on the busy lake road from Vevey to Montreux and beyond. There is no need to do this, and at your first opportunity (in Clarens) it is far preferable to turn right off the lake road to join the lakeside promenade that will take you all the way through Montreux, Veytaux, past the iconic Château de Chillon, through Grandchamp and as far as the campsite at the entrance of Villeneuve.
Photo above – Sam cycling past the hide at the Grangettes nature reserve
The French-side signage is not so frequent and includes several variants (including a ‘sportif’ option for going up the hills to avoid the busy lake road). I would recommend ignoring the signage and sticking to the lake road all the way to Evian. The traffic is quite busy but there is usually a well-marked bike lane and you are very close to the lake and views across to where you’ve come from, to take your mind off the noise and busyness.
Photo above – Bike parked at Noville
Ignore the bike route signage at the big roundabout as you leave Amphion-les-Bains (just after Evian) – the signs will take you in the wrong direction. Instead, take the roundabout exit just before the flyover, i.e. on the road that runs parallel to (and just below) the flyover. Follow this road (Route des Vignes Rouges) as it runs parallel to the lake road (Avenue de Thonon). Then, soon after going over a bridge over the river Dranse, you will see the bike route signs again – follow them as they take you right on Avenue de Ripaille – and you can follow the bike route signs from now on, all the way till you re-enter Switzerland again at Hermance.
Evian is a good place to stop for coffee on the morning of Day 2 – there are nice lakeside café terraces as you come into the town. There are plenty of lunch options on the French side – we decided to hold out till Yvoire but if you wanted to eat earlier Anthy-sur-Léman also offers lakeside eating.
If you overnight in Montreux, Day 2 is a slightly shorter ride than Day 1; we left Montreux at 8:30am and arrived in Geneva at 5:30pm. The bike route brings you right back to Cornavin station – where you can celebrate your achievement with anything from a glass of wine to a vegetable smoothie!
About the author
Jennifer Rietbergen-McCracken is a freelance researcher and writer/editor specialising in sustainable development and nature conservation. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos above – J. Rietbergen-McCracken