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Swiss & French Jura

A Tour of the Swiss and French Jura

(Northern Leg, September 15 – 17, 2013)

Itinerary

            The Basel to Geneva Bike Route no. 7 map posted on the Cycling in Switzerland Web site (see links below) served as a base to plan this trip. Forgoing the less interesting urban part of Basel and its suburbs, I shaved off one day. The revised plan called for traveling by train with my bike from Geneva to Delémont (42 km SW of Basel), connecting with the Bike Route in Courgenay and pedaling my way back to Geneva through the Jura mountain range (Delémont - Courgenay - St-Ursanne - Saignelégier - La-Chaux-de-Fonds - Val-de-Travers - La Côte-aux-Fées - Vallorbe - Lac de Joux, and back to Geneva through Le Brassus, the Marchairuz Pass and the Leman Valley).

            As it happened, I had to cut my ride short in Ste-Croix on the fourth day, after only 175 kilometers. Not without a revenge: except for a short gap between Ste-Croix and Lac de Joux, I covered the rest of the itinerary one year later, going on a round trip from Geneva (see Southern Leg below). My GPS tracks are shown on the map under. The magenta line from Delémont to Courgenay was hand-drawn because the GPS record of the first stretch was lost.

Up : North Leg; Down : South Leg

Resources

  •  My GPS tracks (in Garmin .gdb format), available upon request.
  •  Cycling in Switzerland Web Site : http://www.veloland.ch/en/suisse-a-velo.html
  • Jura National Bike Route no. 7 (JNBR7) :  http://www.veloland.ch/en/routes/route-07.html.

 Day 1 - Sunday, September 15

From Geneva to Delémont and Courgenay (32 km in 5 h, av. 9.3 km/h, max. 37.8 km/h)

            In Cornavin station, the station master told me that the bike car would be in the front part of the GenevaBasel 11:20 train. Once inside, I hooked up my bike on the rack, which can take a dozen of them. I was in Delémont at 1:30 pm; it is advisable to stand in front of the door with your bike and bags shortly before the scheduled stop, because it doesn't last very long. The sky was grey and scattered showers were expected for the next few days. That didn't worry me too much because in the Jura Mountains, or in any mountain area, for that matter, weather can change rapidly and forecasts are notoriously unreliable. Delémont is a small, unattractive industrial town in the lowlands of Swiss Jura. From there, I had to ride to Courgenay, some 35 km beyond a small crest, a short, easy first stretch rain or shine.

Tobacco

Leaving the station on the pedestrian overpass, I headed west on flat Road 6. Dark clouds piled up and busted as I washaving lunch in a deserted bus shelter in Develier. Putting my raincoat on, I got back on the road when the shower tapered off to light rain, and soon after, I attacked the Rangier Pass (758 m). The start was hard, but I felt more comfortable as I warmed up. Soon after reaching the top, the rain had stopped and I was gleefully going down the other side of the hill. However, the other half of my brain had mixed feelings about it because all that painfully gained height would be lost in the long descent to Courgenay, where I had a reservation. Energy-wise, St-Ursanne would have been a better choice. In Cornol, a pretty small town, the road passes in front of the last active wooden shoes manufacture, certainly worth a closer look, but it was closed. Then, the road goes through big tobacco fields in the valley. Once in Courgenay, a small, pleasant town, I set down in La Petite Gilberte, a vintage hotel near the station (89 CHF). Later, I walked to a crowded and lively neighborhood restaurant a few blocks away.

Day 2 - Monday, September 16

From Courgenay to Saignelégier (34 km in 5 h, av. 9.3 km/h, max. 38 km/h)

St-Ursanne
           Getting up at 8 am after a very good night, I was the only patron in the dining room (a very basic café au lait, bread and jam at will breakfast, 10 CHF). The owner told me that tobacco was still a big cash crop in Jura because they grow top quality blond tobacco for premium cigarette makers like Phillip Morris. He said he had nothing against tobacco, but as for himself, he quit smoking years ago after loosing a lung to cancer. Leaving at 9:30 on a cool cloudy day (8-10o), I headed back to the hills on the Courtemautruy road, following the JNBR7. The climb to the Col de la Croix (789 m) is a stiff one; I had to walk my bike up a few times. A cold wind was blowing in the heights. After a long descent in the valley, I was in Ste-Ursanne, a pretty medieval town straddling the Doubs River at the foot of steep cliffs. Except for a few tourists going for their morning walk, the place was deserted, and everything was closed because the third weekend of September happens to be a Swiss national religious holiday, oddly named the Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance and Prayer. Fortunately, I had enough groceries to go on. After a brief ride around the castle and on the narrow old stone bridge, I was back on my way, following the Doubs, an old acquaintance (see Bicycle Camping from Bordeaux to Lausanne). 

            Then, following the JNBR7 map, I took the narrow Les Seignes-Dessous road, a steep six-kilometer stretch carved in the side of the wooden hills, climbing from 450 to 1000 m. Pushing my bicycle up when needed, I didn't feel the cool, damp weather any more. Once in the highlands, following the shortest line to reach Highway 16, I took a small dirt road going through deserted pastures. I was the only soul up there. Going by a big rocky outcrop looking like a giant molar tooth, I stopped to see what was the light coming from the bottom of a cave. That place was an empty machine-gun nest overlooking the valley, built to deter an invasion during World War 2.      

After a long desc
Saigneliegier
ent to St-Brais, I stopped for lunch in another bus shelter as a fine drizzle began to fall. Back on theroad in spite of the rain  around 1:30, I passed through a farm of wind turbines sprouting here and there on the crest. Down the road, there were roadside signs denouncing that form of space invasion. 

            I did the last stretch under the heavy rain on busy Road 16, trying not to get splashed by semi-trailers. I had to get to Saignelégier by all means. Booking a reservation ahead is certainly a great way to focus and strengthen the mind. Admittedly, with my feet wet and my fingers going numb, the long stretch from St-Brais to Montfaucon on a low uphill gradient wasn't much fun, but nothing could stop me. Reaching Saignelégier at 3 pm, I quickly found Hotel Bellevue, where I enjoyed a nice warm bath with my clothes and gear spread all over the room for drying. After a short walk in the city center to visit the old gothic church, I went back to the hotel for an irresistible proposition : a hot pizza cooked in a wood stove.

Day 3 - Tuesday, September 17

From Saignelégier to La Côte-aux-Fées (88 km in 7 h, max. 42.0, av. 12.2 km/h)

            Getting up at 6:30 after another good night's sleep, I had a good breakfast at the hotel's buffet. Despite an uncertain weather forecast, I left at 8:30, trusting my good star. As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, less than five kilometers away on the main road (Road 18), rain started pouring, a very bad omen at the start of a 80-kilometer stretch. The night before, I had reserved a room in Côte-aux-Fées after searching without success in the closer Val-de-Travers area.

            In a small place called Les Écarres, following the JNBR7, I took a small, quiet road going to Les Breuleux, and then Les Vacheries Road (which probably means “the Cow Pasture Road”, not “the Dirty Tricks Road” - don't be mislead by colloquial expressions). This alternate road, running more or less parallel to the main road, is great to avoid trucks and traffic.

            In spite of the rain, I was in great shape and progressing rapidly. The problem with Web maps is that they are not sufficiently detailed compared to a plain old Michelin map, so watch out for wrong turns, or learn to enjoy comedies of errors, as I did. Thus, after loosing a good hour on a dead-end dirt road, I found the Cerneux-Versil Dessus road a little farther westward. Then, I climbed up the hills of Mont Soleil (1200 m), going through a wind turbine farm feeding a solar powerhouse. By then, the rain was pouring again. I decided to forgo St-Imier and take a shortcut across the hills, using the GPS to stay on course. While this type of navigation works well enough in cities, it is dicey in rugged countryside because of natural obstacles and dead ends. Eventually, I reached a point some 200 meters above Renan. There, unable to find a connection with JNBR7, I took a very steep forest road ending in that town. From there, the main road (Route 30) follows the steep-sided valley of the Suze River.

La Sagne Eglise

           Soon after, on the Route des Convers, the rain was back again. I took a bite under the overhang of a garage entrance. Except for my soaked shoes and my hands getting numb, everything was fine. I supposed that endorphins had finally kicked in because I didn't mind anymore. Bypassing La Chaux-de-Fonds on a flat stretch, I made good time to warm myself up. Then, I ran into the massive concrete interchange connecting with the Mont Sagne tunnel, and it took me some time to get around it riding on the small steep service roads. A little later, I was on my way on La Corbatière Road, which had a rural charm of its own despite the sporadic rain. I stopped in La Sagne Église to take some pictures. There, a young twentyish cyclist joined me and we chatted for a few kilometers. In Les Ponts-Martel, I was back on the JNBR no. 7.

          As the sun started to peep out, I went down the long Rotel hill and reached Travers. Leaving the main road, I took a small, quiet one following the south shore of the Areuse. While I was buying goodies in a bakery in Couvet, I asked the lady where I could find some absinthe, the local specialty. There was a distiller just a block away. The store was closed, but the door of the distillery was open. The owner told me that he didn't recommend his hootch for riding, but if I wanted some, he would send his wife to open the store for me. I bought two small bottles of the Green Fairy (68%). Following the water from Covet to Buttes was pure fun. Then I hit the hills once more, climbing some 290 meters on a 4-kilometer winding stretch without having to dismount. Half way up, there is a decommissioned bunker which used to secure the border during World War 2. A lot of refugees took that road to sneak into Switzerland.

            Soon after reaching la Côte-aux-Fées, I found the B & B owned by a retired couple (60 CHF with breakfast). There was no restaurant up there and the food store was closed. Luckily, I had bought all that I needed in Couvet. My back and legs felt very stiff as I climbed the stairs to my room.

Day 4 - Wednesday, September 18

From La Côte-aux-Fées to Ste-Croix and Geneva (10 km in 1 h)

            The next morning, a thick fog blanket covered the hills and a strong wind warning (possibly reaching 100 km/h) had been issued for that day. The lady advised me against riding and offered to take me to the station with my bike, some 10 km away. I declined her kind offer because there was no wind and the visibility was acceptable by then. After a pleasant downhill ride in the mist, I took the small shuttle going to Yverdon-les-Bains and from there, the Geneva train. I was back in the big city in the middle of the afternoon, on a beautiful sunny day, ha, ha, ha! I definitely would have to give it another try.

 

A Tour of the Swiss and French Jura

(Southern Leg, July 2 - 4, 2014)

 Itinerary

            A three-day, 255-km counterclockwise round trip from Geneva through French and Swiss Jura. This is the sequel of the Grand Tour of Jura that I had to cut short due to bad weather the year before (see Northern Leg, September 15 – 20, 2013 above). Following the Rhone Valley from Geneva to Bellegarde, in France, I went up the Valsérine River through French Jura and spent the night in Les Rousses. The next day was earmarked for a tour of Lac de Joux, in Switzerland. After a second night in Les Rousses, I headed back to Geneva through Le Brassus, the Marchairuz Pass and the Leman Valley. My GPS tracks are shown on the above map (at the beginning of the Northern Leg, above). The magenta line, from Burtigny to Geneva, was hand drawn because the GPS batteries died off during the last stretch.

Day 1 - Wednesday, July 2

From Geneva to Les Rousses (102.8 km in 10 h; max. 41.4, av. 11.2 km/h, elev. diff., 900 m)

Pougny

            The day before leaving, I picked up my bike (a fine 30-speed Price Tour des Alpes hybrid) at the downtown Bike Switzerland shop near Cornavin Station (190 CHF with insurance and panniers). An hour later, I was back at my friends' house in Veyrier, a nice, quiet suburb on the southern side of Geneva, close to the Salève Mountain and the open French border. What I had in mind was starting from there early in the morning without having to cross busy Geneva or wait for the bike shop to open.

            I left Veyrier just before 7 am. The cold temperature (15°) was correct for riding. I didn't mind the drizzle because the sun was supposed to be back by the end of the afternoon. I had reserved a room in Les Rousses, a winter sports center in French Jura, some 85 km from Geneva. Accommodation is cheaper in France than in the posh Lac de Joux area. 

          Taking narrow streets and country roads, I passed through small quiet towns like Troinex, Bardonnex, Perly, Sézegnin and Chancy, trying to follow the shortest way to Bellegarde-sur-Valsérine with relative success. Crossing the Rhone on the pedestrian side of a small bridge under repairs, I landed in Pougny, on the French side. Despite low clouds feeding the light, sporadic rain, I could see a huge misty gap in the mountains marking the Rhone Valley, where I was heading. After a 32-kilometer stretch, I stopped for an espresso and croissant in Coullonges. Soon after, I fell back on the main road. Snaking high on the side of the hill over the mighty Rhone, the busy Chemin de Genève goes through a narrow tunnel in Fort l'Écluse. Before going in, make sure there is no big trailer behind! In the middle of Bellegarde, a medium-sized ungainly industrial town, I reached the Valsérine confluence at the bottom of a steep 150-meter hill. Heading north, I had to climb back up following the bank of the cascading river. 

            Riding over the cliffs on a high bridge, I finally reached the 911. This quiet slow-climbing country road loosely follows the Valsérine, which forms a natural border first between Jura and Ain in France and then, between that country and Switzerland. I had lunch in a small public park in Lélex. Later in the afternoon, Philippe, a fiftyish cyclist from Brittany, kept me company for a few kilometers. Feeling weary after crossing the Alps on a snow-covere

Les Rousses
d high pass, he was heading for Pontarlier, some 200 km from Annecy, his starting point that morning. He had ridden some 5000 kilometers in 29 days, an average of some 190 km/day. Then, cranking up his pace, he disappeared in front of me. As for myself, all I had to do was to maintain a slow but steady climb on an endless false flat. That wasn't a problem on a good road with light traffic. 

            In Mijoux, I unwittingly stayed on the main road (which becomes the 936) instead of taking the Combe d'en-Haut (D50), which follows the river in the lowlands. I was already riding high over the valley when I realized that I was heading for the Col de la Faucille. The best thing I could do was to go on up for a while and then down for the next ten kilometers on the D1005 (1286 m) - a hard-earned pleasure.

            The sun briefly came out at 5 pm, just before I reached Hotel La Redoute in Les Rousses, where I had reserved a nice clean room (72 € a day plus 9,5 € for breakfast). I felt very stiff and a nice warm bath made my day. I was very glad to stay in the same place for two nights because my clothes and equipment could use a warm place to dry.

Day 2 - Thursday, July 3

A One-Day Tour of Two Lakes (67.7 km in 6 h; max. 37.7 km/h, av. 15.1 km/h)

Lac des Rousses
            Shortly after 9 on a cool sunny morning, I set out for a round trip around Lac des Rousses and Lac de Joux, the head lakes at the source of the Orbe River - a no-sweat perk without panniers in a beautiful flat valley. Riding on the Route du Lac on the northern hillside, I passed by a lot of cottages of all types; without surprise, the high end ones were close to the lake front. I got a better view of the lake as the sun wore off the morning mist. The lower opposite side was occupied by larges farms bordering the main road (D 415) at the foot of the hills. 

            Crossing the Orbe on the old bridge of a quaint small town called Bois d'Amont, I climbed up the valley to take the main road, which goes through another closed custom office. I was now back in Switzerland. The Swiss region located on the west side of the Jura Mountains is called the Jura vaudois and as such, it is a part of the Canton de Vaud, instead of the Canton du Jura, as one might think. Just before Le Brassus, I passed in front of daunting Marchairuz Pass Road, trying to forget that I would be climbing every meter of it within 24 hours. Then I rode by the Audemars Piguet high end watch plant, which offers goods jobs in quiet, remote towns of Jura.

Dent de Vaulion
            Soon after, I started off a tour of Lac de Joux (28 km) on the north side bike path, running in front of big old lakeside cottages. The well-preserved forested hills make up gorgeous lake side views. Here and there, the massive Dent de Vaulion (1500 m) can be seen at the other end. Then, the path disappears as the road goes up a hundred meters inland through wooded hills and farms, coming down in Le Lieu. Soon after, I passed through Le Pont, the main town at the end of the lake. Despite the nice sunny day, the lake front street was empty. On the south side, the main attraction is the ruins of a gothic monastery in L'Abbaye, which was destroyed and abandoned during the horrible 16th century wars of Religion. Then, running on the main road through vast agricultural expanses, I came full circle in Le Brassus and headed back to the hotel. The Tour du Lac de Joux is certainly a classic, but I saw only a handful of cyclists there, possibly due to the cool and rainy weather that week. 

Day 3 - Friday, July 4

From Les Rousses to Geneva (85 km in 7 h, max. 50 km/h)

Marchairuz
Leaving Les Rousses for good soon after 8, I was back in Le Brassus one hour later, an easy 16 km warm up stretch, ready to take on Marchairuz Pass. I could see the road snaking steeply up the hills right from the start. Weary of the gray sky, I had no time to loose because rain was expected. It finally came but didn't last very long; soon after, there was more sweat than rainwater on my back. After a couple of turns, I had to dismount and push up my bike because the grade was too steep. Then, I pedaled slowly, but steadily my way up to the pass, at 1479 meters. A technique learned from Philippe, standing up in the steeper sharp turns, proved to be helpful. I tried to find a small alternate road running on the crest and going down to Bassins, according to the JNBR7 map. Reaching the restaurant on top, I stopped for a coffee and croissant; nobody there could direct me to the alternate road. So, I had no qualms about hurtling down the main road to St-Georges, some 8 kilometers away. The sun was back and the cool temperature, perfect for riding. 

            For the rest of the trip, I chose, whenever I could, high country roads slowly going down the Leman valley. After Longirod, I missed a left turn in Marchissy and ended up in Burtigny instead of Bassins. There, my GPS batteries went dead and I had to travel the old way, using a map and compass, like I used to do in the last century. To avoid coming down too soon on N1 Highway, I went back up and got back on track in Arzier-Le Muids. Then, I rode through small towns with pretty names like Genolier, Givrins, Tréflex, Gingins and Borex. To avoid a traffic jam at the entrance of the highway, I took an overpass and landed in deep suburbia on the south side. After Commugny, I went back to the north side and passed through Collex and Ferney. Then, bypassing the Cointrin Airport, I headed westward on Rue de la Servette. Thanks to well-marked bike paths, entering busy Geneva is seldom a problem. Reaching the Cornavin Station before 4 pm, I took the city bus after turning my bicycle in. As luck would have it, the clouds burst as I sat down in front of a cold beer in Veyrier, an appropriate salute marking my return.

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