For someone who cycles in Essex, where there really aren't any hills to talk of, heading to the Swiss Alps for a “cycling break” might not seem like the most obvious choice. If you're in a similar boat, fear not, in Anthony at Kudos Cycling you really don't need to worry. First of all, Anthony is careful to find out exactly what sort of cycling you've done before so that he can choose a route that will challenge you without breaking you. Add to that the wonderful Swiss Valais region and you are onto a winner.
Sure, there are mountain passes that would keep Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali happy, but the valley floor between Martigny and Sion alongside the River Rhone is flat, beautiful, filled with delightful medieval Roman villages and towns and bedecked with vineyards, orchards and apricot orchards on either side.
Now although the valley was a pleasure to be pedaling along, I actually wanted to test myself. Each day started with a chat with Anthony seeing how the legs were and working out what would be a good route for me and my fellow riders. Each of the four days out with Kudos Cycling were different. A steady, but not too tough ascent to the ski resort of La Fouly was rewarded with a coffee and lunch in a delightful alpine restaurant where I sampled the local cuisine. Day two was tougher with a ride along the valley before a testing climb up through a nature reserve to a stunning beautiful lake at Deborance. The route takes you up some tough steep ramps but eases off to take you through the most extraordinary section of road literally blasted out of the side of a mountain. The tunnels are extraordinary and great fun to blast down giving a yodel as you go, hearing it echo as you go from light to dark and back again.
With the legs feeling it a bit, day three was something completely different: e-biking! This must surely be the way forward, particularly for families and a great way to explore the valley. Anthony had organised mountain bikes from Mountain Air in Verbier that come with a battery unit attached that is good for 40-50km depending on how you use it. On the downhills you use the bike exactly as normal, but on the way up, you can get a helping hand. I chose to test myself using the lowest setting 'eco mode' though others chose one step up: tour. If you go up to Turbo mode, although the battery wouldn't last very long, you would keep up with the aforementioned Mr Froome!
Although the group had cyclists of different standards, these bikes evened it all out. What strikes me is that with the multitude of trails in the area, you could easily have a whole family outing that simply wouldn't have been possible otherwise for the real hardy characters, you could go out on a normal mountain bike with your loved one heading out on an E-bike. They are brilliant fun. We climbed over 5,000 feet on ours and ended up on the lower slopes under the Glacier de Corbassière. Just below this stunning viewpoint was the Cabine Brunet mountain restaurant. It was almost a throwback in time. Clearly a family run concern, father was busying himself restocking the cellars while Mother produced good wholesome alpine food. Among our group we had a delicious macaroni dish while other had goulash soup served with great hunks of still warm home cooked bread and a slab of local cheese on the side. Delicious.
All good things must come to an end so there was only time for a short foray back into the hills on my trusty steed - a Specialized Roubaix S4 - and Anthony had kept the best (and hardest) for last. A challenging climb up numerous switchbacks saw us rise rapidly up the valley sides over a couple of 'cols' before a brief descent back down to the village of Vollege for a well-earned coffee and cake. This was me getting close to the limit but with words of encouragement from Anthony ringing in my ears I cannot tell you the elation I felt making it over the top.
For me, Anthony was able to work out exactly what I was capable of doing and then gently teasing that little bit more out of my legs so that I was left feeling hugely proud of my achievements. Pushing me onwards without ever really getting to that red line; looking back as I write this, it is a rare talent indeed that can choose just the right route for the occasion.
Travel to Le Chable couldn't be easier. You can fly into Geneva from pretty much anywhere in the world and take the ever-efficient Swiss railway to Martigny and then on up the valley. From this winter on, a new operator Powdair will start flights into Sion flying from London City, London Luton, London Southend, Southampton, Bristol and Manchester as well as Antwerp. You can then train right up to Le Chable. Swiss efficiency was more than in evidence on my return. The train departed Martigny bang on time and arrived on time at Geneva Airport. It was then a whole eight minutes from stepping off the train until I was through security at the airport. Admittedly a quiet time, but still, you'd be hard pressed to do it anywhere else!
It would be wrong of me not to finish by mentioning the region of Valais again. The views are simply stunning, the cycle routes (on and off road) numerous, varied and just plain awesome. Restaurants are varied in price, type and style and don't forget the small coffee shops - after all you need to treat yourself after all that effort. If you fancy trying something a bit different from the norm and want to challenge yourself, just enough, then you could do a lot worse than get in touch with Anthony at Kudos Cycling. I for one, will be heading back just as soon as I can.