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Bike – Bonjour; I cycled from my house to France

    Cycle Solothurn France

    A beautiful ride through the Jura mountains with the novelty of jumping across a national border and multiple language borders.

    Key Information:

    Route: Solothurn – Passwang – Kleinlützel – France – Sägemühle – Movelier – Delemont (train home).

    Length: 83km, +1300m, -1300m.

    Date: 2021-September-03.

    It is a mere 28km from my front door to the French border. Though that is as the crow flies, and in this case it is flying over the Jura mountains which makes it somewhat harder by bike. A diversion via Passwang requires only climbing over 1 ridge and increases the distance to 60km.

    Having grown up in the middle of England and also partly in Australia the notion of crossing a border as part of daily life is still novel (especially a remote crossing point by foot or bike).

    This was my first trip to France in something like 3 years, despite it only being 2 hours by train to spots like Colmar. Partly because I have pretty much entirely stuck to Switzerland since the pandemic hit, but I tend to forget it is quite so close (mainly because in practical terms it isn’t). I keep meaning to do a bike tour through the wine villages of the Alsace and into the Vosges (including up to the Grand Ballon), maybe in 2022 (edit: that didn’t happen).

    Practical Info

    • There are lots of villages along the way for supplies, though fountains with water suitable for drinking are a bit hit and miss on the north side of the Passwang – many come with warnings that the water isn’t drinkable.
    • I followed a mix of the marked bike paths (with some of my own shortcuts). Other than a brief stretch of my climb above Mümliswil it was all paved road.
    • The roads on this route are mostly minor and only really serve local traffic. The only bad part is the around Balsthal where the narrow road is a bottleneck for traffic coming from a number of valleys. On the weekends over places like Passwang there will be quite a few people out for a scenic drive (especially motorbikes).
    • This region of Switzerland is a messy mix of borders so the route passed through quite a mix of cantons and changed back and forth between languages: Solothurn (German), Bern, Solothurn, Baselland, Solothurn, France (French, duh), Basel land (German), Jura (French), then by train to Bern (still French) and Solothurn (German). At times you even get a curious mix of languages (e.g. Le Löwenberg).
    • This region of the Jura is really beautiful (especially when everything is green during the summer), but not what many would think of as typically Swiss. The Jura are much lower than the Alps, and whilst they are mostly much gentler you do get some impressive cliffs and deeply folded landscapes. That isn’t to saying cycling is always easy; some of the steepest roads in the country are in this region.
    • After an autumn like August, summer was suddenly here with warm bright sunshine all day which felt more like summer than most of the summer so far.

    Notes along the route

    I did a similar route in the opposite direction in the spring with some more information of places along the way.

    I just followed the marked bike route to Oensingen for quiet roads and an easy start to the day (shortcutting their silly diversion after Niederbipp which juts out over the Autobahn to south and then back up again for no good reason).

    Cycle Solothurn France
    Crossing the Aare out of Solothurn.
    Cycle Solothurn France
    Industry and the pass into the Jura at Oensingen.

    There are quite a few castles in the valleys through the Jura, especially around Balsthal where the ruin of Neu Falkenstein towers overhead as you leave the town.

    Rather than following the main road out of Mümliswil I went straight up and along the side of the valley through Reckenkien and Hagli joining the Passwang road closer to the pass itself. This wasn’t too steep and meant a traffic-free route with fantastic views. The road doesn’t actually climb over the Passwang, but passes through a tunnel (it is worth having lights to hand for this).

    Cycle Solothurn France
    Castle ruin Neu Falkenstein by Balsthal.
    Cycle Solothurn France
    Quiet roads above Mümliswil.

    The north side of the Passwang is one of my favourite areas in the Jura. It doesn’t tower like the Alps, but the landscape of the folded Jura around there is beautiful and the easy descent down by bike provides plenty of time to admire it.

    Cycle Solothurn France
    Landscape around Passwang.
    Cycle Solothurn France
    Landscape around Passwang.

    Coming down from Passwang there is another castle towering over the road just after Erschwil. Then the route enters the relatively wide and flat valley of the Laufental. The town of Laufen which sits in the middle of the valley and gives it the name has a beautiful little old town which is worth a quick diversion. Sadly cars can drive through and park in the main street which really took the charm away somewhat (especially given that there is a road directly bypassing the old town).

    Cycle Solothurn France
    Castle ruin Neu Thierstein after Erschwil.
    Cycle Solothurn France
    Laufen old town.

    From Laufen there is a bit of a climb out of the valley and then down to Kleinlützel an area which is fairly typical Jura but has some interest to me being one of the far flung parts of my canton Solothurn which has a number of exclaves just floating around.

    There is not much at the border apart from the sign and a very quiet looking customs house. I had printed a Covid declaration form just to be safe, but nobody was there to care. Other than the signs being different you wouldn’t know you had entered another country. There isn’t much reason to cross the border there other than the novelty of crossing the border.

    Cycle Solothurn France
    Entering France.

    I had been planning to venture a little bit further into the next French village at least, and then to carry on along the road and up the Bavalier valley to then drop straight down into Delemont from above. But my bottom bracket started making horrible creaking noises again (despite my bike shop checking and assuring me it was fine, they did do another deep check for free afterwards at least).

    So instead I turned off the main road at Sägemühle and took the pass going by Roggenberg and Movelier instead. Which was also a beautiful route.

    Cycle Solothurn France
    Climbing above Sägemühle, the opposite side of the valley is France.
    Cycle Solothurn France

    Just before entering Delemont the bike route passes through a little Military site where the gorge narrows to a clear defensive point.

    Delemont has a nice but not exceptional old town. Train from Delemont to Moutier, then Moutier to Solothurn (getting off at Oberdorf to roll down to the town).

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