Graubünden Tourism

Cycling Route «Source Region Rhine»

High passes and deep gorges

Susi Kraft is confident: The Viamala Gorge, the San Bernardino Pass and the Rhine Gorge belong in every road bike diary. The passionate racing cyclist tells us about her experiences on the racing bike route "Source region rhine".

From Susi Kraft

The dreams of every racing cyclist come true in Graubünden. Here in winter, you’ll find everything you have dreamed of when you cycle the kilometres of training routes: high passes, deep gorges, wide valleys and lonely roads.

Through the Viamala Gorge to the San Bernardino Pass

It is quiet in Thusis in the early morning. In the Hotel Weiss Kreuz, breakfast is served as of 6.30 a.m., so that cyclists can set off on time. Shortly as I exit the village, my daily ascent begins. A sign at the side of the road reminds me of what I'm getting into: Until I reach the San Bernardino Pass, a distance of 46 kilometres away, there’s 1,400 meters of altitude difference to endure.

But until there, many unique places are waiting for me. The first is the Viamala Gorge. Above me, suddenly, rock walls up to 300 meters high rising into the sky.

bridge over the viamala canyon (Photo: © Susi Kraft)

It is getting dark; I can hear the water of the back-Rhine rushing. The river flashes emerald green deep down in the gorge between grey rocks. At the narrowest places, the rock walls are only a few meters apart. Even the Romans squeezed through the Viamala on beaten paths. The gorge has been used as a transport route for centuries. At least since 1473 carters passed through the gorge, which here is the only connection up to San Bernardino.

The Viamala Gorge spits me out into a wide valley. The sun blinds my eyes. Through the Val Schons the road leads me sometimes flat, sometimes slightly uphill from one historic mountain village to the next. Here time seems to stand still. Farmhouses are scattered in the steep mountain slopes. I am almost alone on the road.

In the depths of the Roffla Gorge

After the villages of Zillis and Andeer, the first steep ascent of the tour leads me up to Splügen. Dreamlike serpentines, finest asphalt, below me the roaring river. The valley narrows again. The Roffla Gorge separates Splügen from Val Schons.

Once again, I dive down. So deep that my sports watch loses the GPS signal. A dense coniferous forest lines the road and the gorge. The Roffla Gorge Inn marks the entrance to the gorge. The guests, who are sitting on the terrace, cheer me on. Motivating shouts instead of middle fingers, windscreen water and horn - that's how cycling is fun!

This section is one of the most beautiful of the tour for me. Both on the ascent and the descent.

From Splügen to the San Bernardino Pass

Splügen is one of the oldest pass villages in Graubünden. You can feel this flair even when cycling past and even better with a coffee on the way back. At the foot of the San Bernardino Pass lies the little village of Hinterrhein. Eight kilometres and 400 metres in altitude still separate me from the pass summit. On narrow serpentines, I climb up. I leave the timberline behind me. In front of me, an extensive plateau spreads out. The landscape reminds me of my last holiday in Norway. Smoothly polished rocks rise from the barren meadows. From the pass, an icy wind blows towards me. Then: done. A wonderful moment. I slip on my windbreaker and roll back to Thusis on the same way. Those who don't want to turn back at the San Bernardino Pass should immediately tackle the whole Rhine Spring circuit.

Key data for the tour:

  • Distance: 93 kilometres
  • Ascent: 1550 vertical meters
  • Condition: medium
  • Landscape: unique

Through the Rhine Gorge and onto the Lukmanier Pass

The next cycling day begins with a train ride. Yesterday, I moved to Ilanz in the Surselva, in which valley the Vorderrhein has its origin. Early in the morning, I get on the Rhaetian Railway to Disentis at Ilanz station.

One reason why I love cycling in Switzerland so much is the well-developed railway network. You can reach almost every major town by train and if you have a problem with cycling, the nearest train station is not far away. Public transport in Switzerland is also ideal for round trips.

From Disentis to the Lukmanier Pass

With an altitude of 1915 meters, the Lukmanier Pass is one of the lowest and easiest passes over the Central Alps. Without many serpentines, the road makes its way through the Val Medel. It takes about one and a half hours to reach the highest point. The 20 km climb from Disentis (1142 m above sea level) is a pleasant cycling route. Only a few passages are really steep. Two kilometres after Disentis, several short tunnels lead through the Medelser gorge. Then the valley widens, and I cycle through the villages of Curaglia, Platta, Fuorns, Acla and Sogn Gions - all typically Swiss and rustic.

cycling route «source region rhine» (Photo: © Susi Kraft)

From the top of the pass, a merciless wind blows towards me. It is so strong that I briefly consider turning back. But the beautiful landscape motivates me to keep pedalling. From the steep mountain slopes, fresh brooks gush down.

Final at the Sontga Maria reservoir

A steep ramp and two serpentines I have to fight my way up in a strong headwind, before I reach the Sontga Maria reservoir. I can't wait to turn my back to the gusts. I put on my windbreaker and rush into the descent.

20 minutes later, I'm back in Disentis. Here, you can either add the Oberalp pass, take the train back to Ilanz, or cycle out of the valley. I opt for the train, because I want to make another round in the afternoon.

Key data for the tour:

  • Distance: 40 Kilometres
  • Ascent: 900 vertical meters
  • Condition: simple
  • Landscape: tiptop

You can combine the tours over the San Bernardino and the Lukmanier Pass to form the impressive racing bike route "source region rhine"

Via Laax, Flims and Trin to the Rhine Gorge

I finished my cycling trip in Graubünden, one of the most beautiful sections of the route I have ever ridden on a racing bike. The Rhine flows through the rock between Ilanz and Reichenau and makes its way out of the valley.

10,000 years ago, 100,000 million cubic metres of rock are said to have thundered down into the depths of the Rhine during the Flims rockfall. They buried the Vorderrhein under a thick mass of debris. A 25 km long lake dammed up. Over time, the river dug its way through the debris. The lake flowed away, and the Rhine Gorge was formed.

The gorge bears rightfully the nickname "Swiss Grand Canyon". The bizarre rock formations fascinate hikers, train passengers, rafters and cyclists from all over the world.

I start the tour through the Rhine Gorge in Ilanz. The first ascent up to Laax is six kilometres long. I'm roasting in the sun and could slap my face for not refilling my bottle at the well in Ilanz.

Fortunately, I find a supermarket in Laax, which is also open on Sunday. Cola and ice cream give me the necessary sugar boost for the rest of the journey to Flims.

Downhill with top speed potential

Between Laax and Flims you can loosen your legs. After the end of Flims the first long descent of the Rhine Gorge circuit begins. Without taking a single bend, the road goes down a steep ramp before me. I don't even have to pedal, and my speedometer already shows 55 km/h. The landscape rushes past me. In Tamins I cross the Rhine - the Vorderrhein and the Hinterrhein flow together here. United for the next 1300 kilometres, until they flow into the North Sea in Rotterdam. For me, about half of the tour is done here. And the most beautiful part has just begun!

With the racing bike through the Rhine Gorge

The Rhine meanders 14 kilometres through the Rhine Gorge. 14 kilometres where I can hardly keep my eyes on the road, because of the beauty of this landscape. The white cliffs of the Rhine Gorge rise up to 350 meters.

Deep down in the valley, the Vorderrhein shimmers turquoise blue, framed by dense coniferous forests and shining white cliffs. A natural spectacle as I have never seen before.

The road snakes high up to Ilanz. So narrow that there is no room for two cars at the same time. That is mostly not necessary. There is little traffic and I can fully enjoy the last 20 kilometres back to the starting point at the country inn Glenner.

Key data of the tour:

  • Distance: 45 kilometres
  • Ascent: 900 vertical meters
  • Condition: moderate
  • Landscape: incomparable

Accommodation tips and further information

Are you planning to stay around for a few days? Then, I recommend the Hotel Weiss Kreuz in Thusis and the Landgasthof zum Glenner near Ilanz. Both hotels offer great value for money by Swiss standards, offering family charm, cordiality, good cuisine and modern rooms.

With the "graubündenPASS Bike", you can use all public transport in the whole of Graubünden for a one-time payment and take your bike with you. An investment that will definitely pay off if you want to use the public transport several times.

Susi Kraft
Susi Kraft

Susi Kraft is a sports scientist from Salzburg. Her blog combines her great passions for cycling, nature and writing.

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