THE hills are alive with the sound of music. Tinkling cowbells, Alpine horns, yodelling… and the hum of my electric mountain bike. Ok, so it’s cheating. But I’m an unashamed member of the Cheaters’ Cycling Club.
Instead of grinding down through 30 gears, bursting your lungs and straining every muscle to conquer one-in-eight gradients of a Swiss mountain I zipped up stony tracks like Bradley Wiggins on speed.
'We attend the festival to mark the cows being brought down from the pastures – and watch the most bellicose females fighting horn-to-horn for the Queen’s Crown'
Our ride from the valley of Verbier St Bernard was uber-easy. A gondola, which in the winter would be crammed with eager skiers and snowboarders, whooshed us up to Les Ruinettes in the late summer sunshine. At the lift station we were kitted out with our sturdy steeds (www.bikeclubverbier.ch) and crash helmets for a journey through Heidi country.
Before the snow falls it’s all green pastures, ice-capped peaks, forests of firs, gurgling streams, hikers, climbers, St Bernard dogs and edelweiss. At each bend you expect to encounter the Von Trapp family in full voice.
It’s a change from city cycle lanes back home, but the E-bikes make it Easy, Effortless and Exhilarating. With four gears to boost your pedal power you never get puffed and sweaty. You can enjoy the spectacular views, the soaring eagles, fluttering butterflies and noisy crickets while keeping an eye out for Charlotte the Marmot, a large ground squirrel straight out of Disney.
The path narrows and starts to steepen. Oh joy. A shift from Econ gear to City. A bit steeper and you press the button for Tour. You face an impossible gradient and you pick Power for a turbo boost that kicks you in the butt till you crest the hill.
In no time at all the E-bike has eaten up 10 kilometres to La Croix-de-Coeur. Our ultra-fit guide Petir Pavlovic, a Czech Republic ski racer who switches from winter ski instructor to summer mountain bike supremo, tells us the range of the bike can vary between 50 and 80 km on the flat. We are not on the flat. Anything but. A person weighing 80 kg may accomplish a vertical climb of up to 800m. Vertical? How vertical?
We are reassured that he has a couple of spare batteries in his rucksack, and there are 10 locations on the routes to exchange worn batteries for re-charged ones. Not that we are going to run out of steam.
We have chosen a family-friendly route also suitable for less fit bikers. This is a bit of an insult to the one super-fit cyclist in our party, who is more used to a whisper-light cycle with skinny tyres than our robust mounts. ‘‘ Too sluggish and heavy for me,’’ he scoffs.
We coast along the Route de la Planie at 2200 meters, greeting joggers and hikers, fording streams and whistling through a tunnel carved through rock, marvelling at monumental art work – selected by former Tate Britain curator Paul Goodwin – in a sculpture park featuring a solemn stork and an ear-flapping elephant.
It’s time to re-charge our own batteries with a leisurely lunch on a sunny terrace, watching colourful paragliders take to the skies in graceful arcs.
Fleur d’Hérens sur Ardoise is the dish of the day, beef from the famous fighting cow served on slate. Tomorrow, if we make our white-knuckle descent safely, we attend the festival to mark the cows being brought down from the pastures – and watch the most bellicose females fighting horn-to-horn for the Queen’s Crown – in what has become a major tourist attraction of the Valais Alps.
At Desalpe La Fouly we eat ourselves silly with Val de Bagnes raclette cheese (www.bagnesraclette.ch) for elevenses and lunch, quaffing Fendant (aka Chasselas) white wine (www.switzerland-wine.com) at trestle tables laid the length of the village, serenaded by military musicians on horseback, oompah bands and impossibly long alpine pipes.
Switzerland ticks all the mountain boxes whether you visit by summer or winter. Just swap your E-bike for skis or snowboard. A few Swiss train rides away – yes, they do run like cuckoo clockwork – and I’m in Klosters for snow fun.
This charming little town is undeniably posh, but equally friendly and discreet. Just look who goes there. Prince Charles and sons William and Harry can ski there without attracting paparazzi. Carole Thatcher lives there with her ski instructor chap. Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is a regular.
The welcoming residents of Klosters opened their homes and hearts last season to the Skiing with Heroes charity, which took a group of injured British ex-servicemen and women seriously disabled from conflict, illness or accidents. Tara skied with them and they were introduced to Prince Charles.
Klosters, homely little sister to glitzy Davos down the valley, is protective of its royal visitors. It is not flash with bling, furs and soulless accommodation. Old money, family-run hotels, cosy restaurants and comfortable chalets are its trademark. And good service. Andrist Sport kitted us all out with skis, boards, boots and helmets with immense patience, and didn’t even complain about broken and lost poles.
Après ski is more subdued here than most ski resorts. Aperitifs and a gentle game of ten-pin bowling – my strike puts my bowling above my skiing – at Chesa Grishuna is followed by a superb dinner at the Silvetta Hotel.
Courses of salmon with mango and wasabi, pomegranate sorbet, roasted beef fillet with red wine shallots, chocolate timbale with rum sauce, call for some serious skiing the next day to deserve lunch.
And superb skiing is what Klosters offers: forested glades, challenging off-piste, deep powder plus beautifully groomed pistes for the less adventurous.
We caught the Gotschna cable car from the village at of 1,124m to the Gotschnagrat at 2,285m. Over the ridge lies the Parsenn, a wide expanse of mountain which offers powder heaven and with skiers thin on the ground in early season. Comfortable red runs, under the watchful guidance of instructor Jo, flattered the most uncertain skiers.
We celebrated a great morning’s ski with more diet-busting food: pigling ragout with potatoes, zucchini and carrots at the Schwendi mountain restaurant.
The following day we took a short bus ride from Klosters along the valley to the Madrisa, a separate mountain covered by the same lift pass. Its south-facing slopes are a joy for sunny day skiing, with family-friendly wide-open blue runs and easy reds.
After a day on the slopes I was happy to wallow in the wellness centre of my wonderful Hotel Vereina. Its Aquareina Spa boasts a pool with a view, saunas, thermal baths, heated stone loungers, fluffy towels and a rock-lined waterway to explore. Bliss with knobs on.
Swiss Tourist Board: visit www.myswitzerland.com
Swiss Rail Pass: www.swiss-pass.ch
For more information on the Valais region of Switzerland and events visit www.valais.ch
Return flights with Swiss from Heathrow to Geneva start at £143. For more, visit www.swiss.com
Return flights with easyJet from Edinburgh to Geneva start at £105. For more, visit www.easyjet.com
For more information on Klosters visit: www.klosters.ch
Return flights to Zurich with national and budget airlines.
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