August 28, 2012
After a day spent lounging in my little chalet apartment, catching up on reading but also going outside to walk around and do a bit of shopping in downtown Charmey, such as it is, and managing to locate an adapter which would allow me to plug in my espresso machine and my computer into the really weird and totally unique another-argument-against-European-integration Swiss electrical sockets (were they designed so that invaders would not be able to use their coffee machines?), I felt fully recovered from my exertions at the Gruyère Cycling Tour and on Tuesday I decided to take advantage of the fine weather and do an easy ride to the east, involving no navigational effort whatsoever since I would be riding a stretch of the Cycling Tour again. I particularly liked the flattish bit that commenced just outside of Charmey.
Leaving my chalet, I rode past a little chapel directly in the neighbourhood and stopped to take a look. It was constructed in 1633 and the various wall paintings had been restored fairly recently but what was especially interesting was the ceiling, which had been plastered over during the centuries but which restorers had cleaned up to show the original painting on the barrel-arch ceiling.
Riding another 200 m down the road, I came to, surprisingly, another chapel on the main road in Charmey. This was smaller than the first chapel I visited and there was no sign informing about its history. It was located directly across the street from the large church that dominates the village.
Turning east along the main road, I passed though Charmey proper (891 m ASL), passing the tourism office on the left and the adjacent cable car station, and a short descent took me back onto the straight road running alongside the Jogne River through the Swiss countryside. Shortly after leaving the village, I came across yet another chapel, the third one within 3 kms of my start! This one boasted a nice altar but also some very nice plantings outside, particularly around a nearby water trough, an omnipresent and very useful fixture in Switzerland. I noticed that many of the participants rode with only a single water bottle at the Gruyère Cycling Tour, which saves a bit of weight on all those climbs but I would only risk if assured of a regular supply of water, which is the case here.
The Jogne Valley takes you past some impressive mountains, with the Hochmatt on the right reaching 2152 m ASL and les Dents Vertes (“the Green Teeth”) formation on the left. I rode quietly along in the sunshine, enjoying the superb road and looking at the remarkable flower displays on the farmhouses I passed. There were occasional sawmills along the way but not much in the way of traffic. At some point I crossed a linguistic barrier as the village names were now much more German as I noted when I passed Im-Fang and Zur-Eich (“In the Trap” and “At the Oak” respectively). At this point I returned to the section where the road was under construction that we had been delayed at during the Cycling Tour. I was able to cycle a good part of it but as I made my way between the graders and rollers I came across some very soft dirt and had to walk again.
Soon rolling once more, I went through the slightly larger settlement of Jaun and then passed a little waterfall in Kapellboden I had not noticed on the previous ride. There was the turn on the road towards Abländschen and the Mittelberg that had been the hardest stretch of the Cycling Tour. Instead today I continued straight ahead.
Now began a serious climb of around 5 kms through the green countryside as I worked my way up the Jaunpass. There were some sections that must have been around 10% at the start but then the grade became more reasonable. I passed an attractive stone marker that had been set in 1878 showing the distance to Broc on one side and to Boltigen, in the direction I was going, on the other. There was very little traffic, except the occasional motorcycle, for which I was grateful as after the stone marker the road became quite narrow.
I rode at a fairly steady rate and soon enough I came to the top of the pass (1508 m ASL), which had the usual selection of restaurants/sporting goods stores that you find at the top of a pass in the Alps. I had to ride a little further to find the col sign for the obligatory photo and as I pulled up a group of four cyclists arrived from the other direction. There were two older men and a girl and a youth; one of the older men (who was missing an eye) offered to take my photo in front of the col sign and did a commendable job. He told me that going further along the road I would be able to see a glacier in the mountains so I took my leave and began the descent of the pass, crossing into Canton Bern and the Simmental.
Sure enough, after 500 m or so I could see the ice on the mountains across the valley. I took some photos and turned around as I had not intended to go on towards Boltigen and climb both sides of the pass today. Instead, I stopped at the summit for a coffee in a Fromagerie, where all the signs were in German but the lady spoke French. There was a sign with a photo showing an old style cheese vat with a man in local costume stirring it with a big paddle which pointed out that they don’t make cheese like this anymore. In fact, behind a glass wall was a modern spotless cheese operation with the usual stainless steel equipment.
In addition to cheese, there were a number of other local products available, including the meringues which are sold everywhere around here. I bought a small jar of local Simmental mountain honey to give to friends I was going to see in Bern that evening. I had a really excellent latte macchiato while I sat outside in the sun. The lady in the shop came out and we chatted for a bit and our conversation was interrupted by the appearance of two wonderful old stake trucks, probably from the late 1940s or early 1950s. One was a startling turquoise colour and had a large cow sculpture on the bed while the other was a pleasing coffee-and cream combination (no cow though). The drivers tooted their horns at us as we waved and they then drive up the short climb behind the Fromagerie to a restaurant.
Looking at my photos, I saw that the trucks were decorated to celebrate the centennial of the Chevrolet marque. This was fitting as I am quite certain Louis Chevrolet actually was French Swiss. The lady told me that the day before a whole group of beautiful Ferraris had come over the pass and that it is not uncommon to see vintage cars on these roads.
Coffee finished I gingerly headed back down the Jaunpass, which seemed a lot steeper going down that when I had come the other way. My descending skills have not improved with time but have rather declined in inverse proportion to weight gain. If I lived around here I am sure that I would be a better descender but I am very conscious when riding alone to put prudence first.
An easy ride back towards Charmey (well, minus the construction section where I had to walk again!) and I was soon back in the chalet. A relaxing 37 kms with 675 m of climbing (not always so relaxing) and some great coffee for a successful excursion.