This feature was produced in association with Cyclotour de Léman
It’s a perverse twist that such a perfectly serene place inspired works of Frankenstein fiction, prisoner poems, and vampire stories. However, although the magnificent beauty of Lac Léman turned the creative minds of Mary Shelley and Lord Byron towards gothic and horror writing in the early 19th century, the latter could not hide the impact that the majestic beauty he had in his well-being.
Typically stoic, Byron wrote to his family at the end of a long stay by the lake: “I lay in the sun enjoying myself thoroughly… and dared to write in my pocket that I was happy” .
It seems impossible that anyone, faced with such an idyllic picture postcard scene, could not be happy and content on the shores of the largest lake in the Alps, better known as Lake Geneva to the English-speaking world. So how about cycling around the entire perimeter of the lake, as cyclists can do in June’s Cyclotour de Léman?
This is Switzerland’s greatest athlete. The Cyclotour de Léman returns next summer for its 20th edition, the 176km circuit staying true to the original route that was first run as a race in the late 19th century. The route is not complicated: keep the pond to your right at all times, stay as close as possible to the boats and swimmers, and you will circumnavigate the entire body of water passing through a succession of varied landscapes that they will leave pedaling in a cocktail of exhaustion and a rush of endorphins.
While Byron resisted expressing his happiness, Ferdinand Von Boehn, the director of the Cyclotour de Léman sports, it embodies the response of each participant as they traverse Switzerland’s deepest, bluest and largest lake. “It’s one of the most beautiful lakes in the world,” he exclaims. “I’ve lived here for 25 years, and even now wherever I see the lake it’s a ‘wow’ feeling. It’s fantastic. A fairy tale too hard to describe, one that has to be seen to be truly believed.”
For almost as long as it has inspired literary figures, Lac Léman has also been the scene of bicycle races: the lake first hosted the Tour du Lac Léman in 1879, one of Switzerland’s first races.
The winner, Ernest Métral, completed the course in a recorded time of 10 hours and 41 minutes, an impressive speed with the teams of yesteryear but which will be bettered by most of the 4,000 participants in the sport today.
The Tour de Lac Léman was last run in 2005, but although today the region no longer has an annual race, the Tour de France fills the void by visiting from time to time, as it did in last summer with an end of stage. in Lausanne The Tour de Romandie often plays against the same blue backdrop.
The Cyclotour de Léman sportive doesn’t map out the same steep finish kilometers of the eighth stage that featured in the 2022 Tour, but it’s possible to think back to Wout van Aert charging to glory ahead of Michael Matthews over Lausanne, the Belgian dressed in a green leather suit to complete his second stage victory in what history will remember as the Week of the Wout van Aert Show.
Van Aert would have been too fixated on winning to really appreciate the magnificence of his surroundings, but we like to think that Métral was able to enjoy a constantly changing and varied landscape as he traveled the course over 140 years ago.
It is a testament to the profound beauty and preservation of the natural landscape that, even with the arrival of large financial corporations and sports venues, the views of the lake have remained unchanged since Metral won that first edition.
“The record time so far for the sports is four hours,” says Von Boehn, confirming that most will better Metral’s original benchmark. “But for us and many others the speed is not the priority, the beautiful scenery and other touches are.”
Von Boehn refers to the fuel stops that distinguish the event from others. With world-class wine being made on one side and world-renowned cheese on another corner of the lake, the athlete is in touch with the local environment and offers specialized regional food at each checkpoint.
Plus, the service stations change every year, so while one year you’re tasting delicious cheese at the first food stop, come back 12 months later and you’ll be enjoying the milkiest, creamiest chocolate.
It’s almost too coincidental that food is one of the many highlights of an event that takes place while circumnavigating a body of water that resembles the shape of a croissant.
Crystal clear blue and plummeting to more than 300 meters deep in places, the lake itself reflects a series of different mountains and peaks, some rolling, others more aggressive and rugged. Most will be covered by plains and green forests, while others, like the imposing Mont Blanc that can be seen from Geneva in the south-west corner of the lake, will be snow-covered all year round, glaciers visible” like an icy hurricane.” as Byron wrote admiringly.
Completing a lap of Lake Geneva is no mean feat, however. This is, after all, one of the largest lakes in Western Europe. The route around it may not be substantial at just under 900m of elevation gain, and the overall difficulty may not match that of other athletes, but it still requires you to cycle over 100 miles.
Whatever trouble your legs may encounter, it can be helped by the succession of stunning views. Leaving the Olympic city of Lausanne, it’s the vineyards that first strike as you head east along the banks, the grapes bearing fruit against the backdrop of a lake that stretches across the distant horizon Get the right light and it looks more like a sea than a landlocked lake.
Turning south along the eastern banks, a quarter of the way around, you pass the mighty and impressive medieval Château du Chillon. It is as you drive past the castle, situated right on the lake and surrounded by outstanding architecture, green fields and snow-capped mountains that you begin to fully understand why the lake is often referred to as the Swiss Riviera.
In and out of small towns and cities, the scenery changes from grazing cows to ancient buildings and churches.
Not all rides take you in and out of two countries, but there’s no other option on the Geneva Cyclotour. A third of the way, you’ll cross the French border and approach the town of Évian-les-Bains, the starting point of the 112 km route and the end point of the shorter 64 km route. The town is famous for its spring water that comes down from the Alps, but you’ll taste more than just water at the nutrition stop.
The French section of the route is 55 km and the landscape is no less spectacular. The Chablais Alps will frame the view to your left. Approaching the bustling city of Geneva, both Grand Combin and Mont Blanc, huge masses of rock and ice, will tower over their fellow mountains and be visible from the city.
In and out of the main financial center that is Geneva, head northeast along the shore to Lausanne, an almost straight trip along the lake shore. Returning to the Olympic city, you will be as happy but not as fast as Van Aert last July.
Reflecting on the accomplishment of the trip, it’s no surprise that event director Von Boehn sees locals unconsciously promoting the event every day of the year as he walks around the lake and its towns. “Some people have been doing it for 15 years, and I see people wearing the event shirt all year round,” he says. “People want you to know that they’ve done it and that they’re pretty proud to have finished it.”
It is not, unlike many other similar events in the Alps, a monstrously difficult undertaking. In fact, the 176km route only has a total elevation gain of 890m, a modest figure consumed in spaced sections rather than a grueling climb.
It is therefore a sport that offers things that few of its rivals can: a challenging distance in the shadow of the continent’s biggest mountains, but with only a few meters of climbing. It’s an attainable goal for everyone, whether completion or the fastest possible time is the goal.
It is for this reason that over the past two decades the sport has become Switzerland’s best mass participation cycling event, with more than 90 percent of the annual participants coming from one of the two host countries.
But it also has an international appeal, visitors driven to the sport by the immense beauty of the event and the safety of the field: it is not run on closed roads, but has security measures.
It took several months for Byron to admit his happiness and joy by the lake, but it will take only minutes for the Cyclotour riders to express a similar level of satisfaction. As Von Boehn concludes: “everything comes together for people to have the best time around the lake.”
when: June 4, 2023
distance: 176 km of complete circumnavigation of Lake Lémen with departure and arrival in Lausanne, with 890 m of elevation gain; 112 km from Evian to Lausanne with 640m of difference; 64 km distance from Lausanne to Evian that explores the Lavaux vineyard terraces
How much: CHF 99 until January 31, 2023; thereafter, the price increases to CHF 139.
what a bike: Road bike, e-bike, tandem
How to arrive: The nearest airport is Geneva, with multiple connections throughout the day from European and global destinations. There are also direct train services to Lausanne from other major European cities, including Paris.
where to be: There is a large amount of accommodation in Lausanne to cater for medium and high budgets. Expect to pay between €100 and €350 per night.
where to eat: As you would expect from any large and cosmopolitan city, Lausanne has enough varied restaurants to satisfy any cravings and cravings. Pinte Besson is the oldest pub in town, created by a wine merchant in 1780, while Churrasco serves the best steak in the area.
Bicycle rental shops: If you don’t want to travel with your bike, it is possible to rent bikes in both Lausanne and Geneva. Between €120 and €200 for a two-day rental.
Other information: Daytime temperatures are likely to be in the early 20s, with a chance of rain once every three days.
What you will see
Lausanne – Olympic capital, Switzerland’s fourth largest city, and home to 55 international sports associations.
Lavaux vineyards – Along nearly 30 km, wine has been produced here since Roman times, a long history that has earned it the title of World Heritage by UNESCO.
Chateau du Chillon – a 13th century castle that was once a fortress and then a prison. A contender for one of the most beautiful castles in the world.
Montreux – Queen recorded several albums from the city on the east side of the lake. You can even pass by the Freddie Mercury statue.
Évian-les-Bains – spa town famous for its spring water rich in minerals
Geneva – a global financial city that hosts the largest number of international organizations. Admire the Jet d’Eau fountain, the beauty of the lake and impressive architecture.