Ardez – La Punt – Albula Pass (2,315masl) – Berguen – Thusis – Spluegen – San Bernardino Pass (2,066masl) – Bellinzona
Pentecost is a great time to hit the mountains as by then most passes are free of snow and officially open. We followed the National Cycle Route Number 6 through the Canton of Graubuenden/Grisons, famous for its picturesque villages with beautiful engraved pictures, patterns and proverbs (known as sgraffiti) on their massive stone houses.
Following the River Inn, the dedicated cycle path meanders up and down hills to take in these quaint villages, while snowcapped mountains form a perfect backdrop.
From the village of La Punt in the Engadine Valley, it’s just 8km up to the Albula Pass (2,315masl), but the change in scenery is dramatic. Marmots call from their burrows as numerous alpine flowers emerge, and in no time you are above the tree line. Snow greeted us on the pass and we had biting hail on the 15km downhill to the village of Berguen, where it was so cold, the chickens were lining up for the deep-fat frier!
The weather was a whole lot more welcoming the next morning as we rolled another 30km downhill to Thusis at 700masl.
The first part of the ascent is called Via Mala (bad road) and it is easy to see why. Consisting of a deep gorge, there’s not much in the line of natural crevices to attach bridges to. Only in the early 1900s was the road widened to three metres in order to compete with the Gotthard and Brenner alpine crossings. Still, making automobiles illegal in 1900 and only allowing them after 1925 didn’t help the transport business on this north-south trading route.
The Hinterrhein has a good mix of gorges, beautiful villages and some rather flat agricultural land. It even sports a lake, held in place by a hydroelectric dam.
Spluegen was where we spent our second night. From here you have the option to cross the Spluegen Pass to Italy or continue on the San Bernardino Pass to the Canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland.
Gasoline comes in the form of delicious hearty regional dishes such as pizzoccheri (buckwheat noodles with veg and cheese) and sennenroesti (hashbrowns with bacon, cheese and egg).
Picture postcard weather and scenery were the order of the day as we climbed the next morning, enjoying dozens of hairpin bends en route.
About 5km before the pass, the freewheel mechanism in Darina’s rear hub turned to mush, which put an end to her cycling for the day. After pushing uphill for 3km or so, wondering how she was going to make the train reservation in Bellinzona some 55km away, the local police officer arrived on the scene and saved the day! She got a lift in the cop car to San Bernardino village, where the bus was just about to leave for Bellinzona. Three cheers for the Grisons traffic police!
Meanwhile, Kurt enjoyed the long descent, pretending to be a motorbike … and was even faster than some too!
Arriving in Bellinzona with its palm trees and Lombardian-style villas, it was like a completely different country, and we felt as if we had just completed a proper international tour! The National Cycle Route Number 6 is definitely worth checking out.
BTW Darina’s bike is up and running again, all set for the summer adventure 😉