Photo: View over the Emmental and Alps from Moosegg.
Cows, rolling hills, giant farmhouses, and plenty of cheese.
The Emmental Cheese Route (Emmentaler Käseroute) is a self-guided bike tour aimed at casual riders who can rent E-bikes for the day.
In theory it is a winning idea offering a fun experience just a short train ride from the tourist hotspot of Bern. I have to hand it to whoever thought up this back in the day it was quite a forward thinking idea when it was introduced some time around 2013; they even made an app for the route. It seems a few travel bloggers were enlisted to write about it, but it has faded into obscurity since then. The route has a whole 5 reviews on Tripadvisor – all of them are 5 stars at least. It is a really wonderful area, but I can understand why it loses out to the Alps. If you wanted an easy and enjoyable day tour from Bern then there are certainly much worse ways to spend a day, especially if the weather isn’t all that good in the mountains.
The route is offered as a 1 or 2 day tour. Given that the 1 day tour on an e-Bike is 35km with 500m of height gain this is essentially an elaborate way to get you to have lunch at the show dairy. They are clearly aiming for very relaxed tourists who don’t cycle all that often, not people planning to power through in one day. The full route is 72km, +/-1500m – far more than most people are going to want to do, but perfectly reasonable for more experienced cyclists.
For all the fame of being the ‘Swiss Cheese’ Emmental is actually about as boring as cheese gets. The show dairy sells 30+ month aged cheese which actually has some flavour, otherwise there are many more types of cheese made in the region. My favourite cheese from the area is the Wilde Bergfee (literally: wild mountain fairy) which is fairly easy to find in the Bern/Solothurn region.
I didn’t take many photos on this day so see my other Emmental Posts for some more impressions of the region.
Route: Burgdorf – Heimiswil – Lueg – Affoltern i.E. – Lützelflüh – Emmenmatt – Arni – Walkringen – Aetzrütti – Lauterbach – Burgdorf. GPX of the whole route (via Dropbox).
Length: 72km, +/-1500m.
Season: Spring (April) to autumn (October). The highest point is barely above 1000m so it would still be doable over most of the winter given how mild the winters are getting, but it is much nicer in the warmer months (especially in May and June) when everything is in full bloom rather than just grim and dead.
Arrival/Departure: Train to and from Burgdorf. It is less than 20 minutes from Bern with frequent trains.
Supplies: Burgdorf is a big town with plenty of shops and restaurants. There are endless restaurants along the route and a few villages with shops too.
- In most parts of the route you can simply roll back down to the valley and hop on a train back to Burgdorf in case of difficulties.
- The route seemingly hasn’t been optimised or updated since it was created. This is OK but I would argue there are better roads to explore in the area. so I suggest a few changes in the notes below, or would recommend simply following one of the numerous Herzroute tours or loops which have been refined and updated a bit over the years.
- For a different route themed around cheese and the Emmental I suggest cycling up the Eriztal.
Exposure/Hazards: This is designed for a very casual rider, however much of the route is on roads (though these are at least mostly very quiet roads) which might be a bit scary for those who don’t ride bikes around traffic very often, or for parents with small children. The road near the start from Heimliswil to the show dairy is the worst part of the route.
- The official website and app provide all the information you need. The only thing lacking is easy way finding – the app shows your position on a map but doesn’t provide directions.
- The route isn’t signposted. I know this area well enough that I could do the whole thing without a map, but navigating by just a GPS marker on the App would be a bit of a pain. Surprisingly there is no official GPX file (despite my local blogger Spoony suggesting that 10 years ago), The GPX file I used is linked in the route info above.
- I did this on a normal Tuesday morning so most of the route was very quiet apart from the show dairy. The Herz route is scenic touring on roundabout side roads so it is normally fairly quiet anyway.
Notes along the route
From Burgdorf station the route briefly joins the main road around the town, but quickly turns off and follows a gravel path alongside the Emme to avoid the worst of the traffic as you leave the urban area. You get a good view of the castle but mostly the town is left hidden until the end of the tour.
After crossing the river Emme the route follows the road up the Grabe valley (Graben is the German word for ditch and Grabe is used to describe the deep valleys in the Emmental region, though most have a name in addition). At first there is a pavement (sidewalk) that bikes are allowed on, then after that stops the road is wide, but after Heimiswil Niederdorf the road narrows and cyclists are sharing the road closely with drivers until Affoltern. The valley is beautiful and so are the villages, but I think the (somewhat steeper and rougher) ridge signed by route 899 is more impressive (and much quieter).
I took the suggested diversion to the Bauernhof Bättwil at the start of the valley. I got the impression that this was a guest house and hoped to grab some coffee and cake, but it seems you need to pre-book with a group for brunch. Still the view of the old town and castle in Burgdorf was worth the little climb.
Climbing out of the Grabe valley at Kaltacker, the route turns right and follows the road along the ridge up to the Lueg. This section is quite windy with the view ahead often blocked by forest or hills so there isn’t much warning of cars coming up from behind.
The view really changes at the Lueg where the road crosses to the south side of the hill (mountain? ridge?). This is one of my favourite spots in the region. It is well worth turning off the road to go up the monument (if possible leave your bike at the bottom because the footpath up is STEEP). Despite having an altitude of a mere 888m the Lueg is very prominent so it has a fantastic view over the rolling Emmental and the Alps. The surreal sight of a giant war memorial in Switzerland is also worth a look in itself.
From Lueg it is an easy glide down to Affoltern i.E. and the show dairy. There is a little farm shop (Mumi’s Hof-Lädeli) just before the village which was my first cheese purchase of the day.
I find the Emmentaler Show Dairy (Schaukäserei) to be much more beautiful and interesting than the ugly modern building that the more famous La Maison du Gruyère sits in. There is a little historic house/museum (free), a view down into a cheese making area (free, but check when activities are planned to not just see an empty room), a self-guided tour in the King’s way building (Königsweg) (16 CHF), and a shop/restaurant with all the cheese you would expect. It was surprisingly busy on an otherwise very quiet day. I would have liked to have taken something cheese-based for lunch there, but being a mere 15km from the start point I arrived at 10am and settled for coffee and cake instead. Then I stocked up on cheese (including the actually tasty ‘Emmentaler APO le Roi’ which is aged for 30+ months) and carried on.
Leaving the show dairy the tour follows stage 6 of the Herzroute along a ridge towards Lützelflüh. This is one of the best parts of the route. It is very low traffic (I passed no cars, just a few other cyclists), the view over the local valleys and of the Berner Oberland is utterly fantastic, and the ridge stays at basically the same height allowing plenty of time to take it all in.
Descending down to the valley floor Lützelflüh is the biggest village along the route with a bakery and COOP supermarket. The Dorflädi looked like it would be a good spot for lunch, but again it was too early.
From here the 1 Day Loop route follows the Emme downstream back to Burgdorf. There is a short section of very quiet road to the next village, then it is car-free gravel paths through the forest all the way back to Burgdorf. You can also follow the Emmeweg along the southern side of the river to spend even less time sharing the road with cars. Either way it is a pleasant enough ride but nothing remarkable.
The majority of the route for Day 2 is simply stage 5 of the Herzroute with a few minor variations (probably due to the Cheese Tour not being updated). There are a few farm shops and a dairy selling cheese along the way, but this mostly feels like a way to pad the concept out. I have yet to find an account of anyone doing both days. Day 1 has a single climb, a payoff view at the Lueg, the show dairy for lunch, then a fun glide down – all without requiring more than a few hours of cycling. Day 2 has plenty of beautiful views and fun sections, but it really lacks any clear marketing point to convince people to stick around and book a hotel.
From Lützelflüh the route follows alongside or close to the Emme staying relatively flat and mostly car-free for 10km.
I didn’t bother with the short detour to Schangnau. That is presumably mostly to just provide overnight accommodation options for those who are splitting the route over 2 days.
At Emmenmatt the Cheese Route leaves the Emme and goes up the Löngenbachgraben, a deep valley which makes for a rather short but steep climb (8-10%). I would advise turning off frim the Emme one village earlier in Lauperswil and following the signed Herzroute up the ridge from there on what looks like a much gentler and more scenic ascent.
Either way once up on the ridgeline it is again very scenic. This section has some of the best views on the route (the corner just before the guesthouse Waldhäusern is my vote for best view on the whole route). There is a farm which sells cheese and meat, though the cheese is from the Oberland rather than local.
The route hits the highest point at 1000m on forested bend and then dives down into a fairly wide valley towards Arni. The signposted Herzroute goes on a bit of a more strenuous detour here whilst the Cheese Route stays on the tarmaced road and gently glides down through the valley to Anri which has a dairy with a cheese vending machine.
At Arnisäge the Cheese Route rejoins the signposted Herzoute and follows it all the way until Burgdorf. From here the surrounding landscape noticably changes from the steep hills of Emmental to the more open and gentle Aare valley.
The route traverses up the edge of the valley above Arnisäge and then dives down into Walkringen in the base of the next valley (where you can hop on a direct train back to Burgdorf or ride there up the Biglen valley without any further height gain).
After passing through the village the route climbs around the next hillside, with a bit of up and down across the next valley, before a long gentle downhill in the Lauterbach valley. This last part of the route is fine but not essential; the main points of interest have been covered, the best views have been had. I can’t recall any more cheese to buy along here and the views are more over the gentler Aare valley and Mittelland rather than the striking steep Emmental and Alps.
At the end of the long glide down the Lauterbach valley the route briefly joins the main road then crosses to the other side of the next valley and over a little hill to Burgdorf. This detour avoids the main road and is car-free, but it is by far the roughest part of the route with parts of the climb being very stony. Turning right at the main road to Oberburg and carrying on to Burgdorf via the road or the cycle path on the Emme would avoid the climb and stones.
Finally the route does a little tour through the old town of Burgdorf. It isn’t a very big place but it is quite nice and the architecture is very similar to that of Bern. I would rate it as one of the best unknown old towns in Switzerland. There are also plenty of fountains to fill up your waterbottles.
I didn’t actually end up with as much cheese as I expected. There were a few more types on sale in the dairy, but I was hoping to pick up more from farms along the way.