Switzerland is well-known by skiers and walkers alike. But cyclists should take note: the roads are mostly in near-perfect condition and the climbs are spectacular. Alpine passes with evocative names such as Grimsel, Furka and Gottard are wonderful hair-pinned passes that should satisfy every climber’s need. Also, the tourism infrastructure that accommodates winter visitors is very welcoming for summer cyclotourists.

Andermatt base-camp

The ski village Andermatt is a perfect choice for base-camp. Located at 1,437m above sea level, it is close to some phenomenal local climbs. Andermatt has a wide range of accommodation, from chic hotels to self-catering apartments, which can be useful for groups of cyclists needing vast amounts of pasta—and a place to store bicycles. The village is about 100km as the crow flies from the Italian border, and around 70km south of Lucerne. It is near to the Furka, Grimsel, Oberalp and Nufenen alpine passes, and the Rhône Glacier is also nearby. Anyone planning stay here should create some routes that incorporate these climbs. Also, don’t forget to include the old pass road to St Gottard, which has a cobblestone ascent, just to put your legs through an extra level of hell…

The surface of the old pass road St Gottard is mainly cobblestones. Not for the weak of leg or mind… Photograph: Getty Images.

Furka and Grimsel

The names sound like two wicked sisters, but these pass climbs are simply excellent for those cyclists who like it when the going gets tough. The Furka is 2,431m high and has two hotels near the top.

You can also opt to ride down the Furka Pass. Big fun. Photograph: Getty Images.

The Grimsel Pass is 2,164m high and is on the opposite side of the valley to the Furka. It is equally spectacular and the great thing about all the climbs in this area is that once you have done the climbs, you can reward yourselves with the descents. These are virtually without exception on extremely well-maintained tarmac. During our trip there, several of us descended at over 80kph, without it feeling dangerous at all. Remember though, you are in the Alps and the weather in the valley can be very different at the summit of a climb than it is below. Always have a rain jacket, or at least a gilet, with you to keep warm during the descents. Think carefully about your other clothes choice too.

The Grimsel pass (in the foreground) and the Furka in the distance, where you can see the hotel set against the cliffside. Photograph: Getty Images.

Traffic? Yes, but…

Because these roads are so well-looked after, a lot of sports car enthusiasts drive on them too. But in our experience, although the passes can be a little busy on a sunny weekend day, local drivers were very considerate to cyclists and we experienced no disrespect from drivers. On a sunny day, the views are breathtaking. Only 7km from Andermatt lies the Gotthardpass. We think the Italian name sounds quite a bit cooler: Passo del San Gottardo. This cobbled switchback ascent is a must-ride for any serious cyclist who visits this area. This pass links the Italian and Swiss Alps. You can ascend both sides.

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It’s not only cyclists who enjoy these roads… Photograph: Getty Images.

The north ascent of the Gottard is a normal road, which gets very busy at weekends. But the southern approach includes 14km of cobblestones and is a real beast and therefore perfect for cyclists. Remember to (if you can) speak Italian when in Airolo, which lies at the foot of the climb—although technically still in Switzerland, the people there are very Italy-oriented.

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It’s not always hot at the top, as The Prologue’s Mike Cooper found out.

Great choice

With a really wide range of climbs and descents in the area, and an excellent tourism infrastructure, the area around Andermatt is an excellent cycling centre. So as you sweat it out in your pain cave through the winter, consider planning a trip to a lesser-known but nevertheless spectacular destination. Here’s a short impression from the gents at Cycling Tips. But really: find out for yourself, you won’t regret it.