Photo: Beach at the Pointe du Grain.
Neolithic standing stones, castles, rustic villages, vineyards, and lakes.
I rode along the south side of the lake a few years back and wanted to see the standing stones I missed last time and finish off the loop of the lake.
The north side of the lake is something of a blind spot for me. I have been along it many times on the intercity train between Neuchatel and Yverdon, but that spends much of time in tunnels or blocked in by trees and hills so other than the presence of the lake you don’t get much of a feel for the area.
Route: Yverdon-les-Bains – Neuchatel – Erlach – Biel/Bienne.
Length: 85km, +/- 540m.
Season: Outside of rare heavy snow this would be doable year round.
Arrival/Departure: Train to / Train from Biel/Bienne.
Supplies: Numerous villages with shops and restaurants along the route.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: The train lines make it easy to stop early or skip sections.
Exposure/Hazards: None, barely even any time on actual roads.
Regarding taking bikes on trains. This was the first time I have taken a bike on the IC5 in ages, I generally try and avoid doing so. The bike spaces are very limited, you have to reserve a paid spot, and you have to hope that your spot isn’t blocked by another bike or luggage. The area is also not very practical; you have to carry your bike up a step entrance then around the corner and hang it from a undersized hook. Fine for a younger person with a racing bike, a challenge for an older person with an e-bike. On the way out I found that the section was blocked by 2 e-bikes which the owners had difficulty getting on and off the train, never mind hanging up. On the way back I got talking to a man who was also taking his bike on the train, it turned out he had reserved for the previous train but had missed it because all the space was taken already, he too had trouble getting his e-bike on and onto the hook. In both cases I helped them out, but it isn’t ideal that it only works with the help of strangers.
Notes along the route
I started with a quick diversion to the Menhirs at Clendy, a group of 4000-6000 year old standing stones (which fell over and have only been standing again since 1986). I had actually ridden within a few metres of this on my previous ride but had no idea that it was there. I only found out after reading about them in another blog. I might also have known if I had bothered to read the Switzerland Mobility entry properly, but I tend to mix and match bits of those routes rather than focus on a single route and stage. Plus you would think that having some of the most ancient bits of history in the country would make them put up a few signs. There was also at least one stone along the route.
Doubling back through Yverdon I followed Stage 3 of the Jura south foot route (number 50) to Neuchatel. This is a fantastic example of a Swiss cycling route: partly inspired genius taking you through beautiful scenery with no/low traffic, and partly shoving you off to the side through industrial areas and forgotten service roads. The first half is a little dull going through forest and skirting around industrial sites, but then it turns increasingly to swooping past vineyards, pretty little villages, and castles.
The first point of interest was Grandson. The village itself is very pretty, but the main highlight is the castle. I have seen the castle from the train – indeed the train actually passes through the castle (if you have the patience to wait then a train going through the arch must be a top photo op).
After Bevaix the route drops down to the lake and follows the lakefront past vineyards around the Pointe du Grain which was one of my highlights of the day.
I made a quick detour to the Pointe d’Areuse. Having been to the source of the river near Fleurier, and walked through the Areuse gorge many times I was keen to see where it entered the lake. Getting out to the very end of the point was easy with a gravel bike. It is pretty and quiet spot, but the river has long reached the level of the lake so it doesn’t flow in but just sits and looks a bit stagnant.
I had meant to turn into Auvernier as it was one of the few villages I had heard of, but I forgot at the time. It is only just outside Neuchatel so maybe I will take the tram out and walk back along the lake one day.
The waterfront path through Neuchatel is a mix of utterly picture-perfect cruising next to the water, and dodging through a confusing maze of car parks and little roads where you don’t have right of way when crossing. The only things I can say against it are that the waterfront has no fountains, and there is quite a bit of traffic once you get away from the lake (but they did at least keep the lake front car free which is more than can be said for many Swiss cities).
After Neuchatel I carried on with the next stage of route 50 to Biel/Bienne. The first section passing through the urban sprawl and St-Blaise is perfectly fine but totally forgettable (plus it jerks you about this way and that constantly). The canal connecting the two lakes makes for a nice quiet gravel road. The special moment is reaching Lake Biel the pretty villages of Le Landeron and Erlach appear on the horizon at about the same time.
I took the south side of the lake. The villages on the north side are much prettier (the south side of the lake is mostly empty or charmless expensive-looking houses), but I hadn’t passed through Erlach in a while and when you do get a lakeside spot on the south side the view is much better.
My intention had been to carry on all the way to Solothurn but I just wasn’t enjoying the heat so I called it quits at Biel/Bienne and took the train from there.