It was time to move further south. I had earmarked a couple of spots in the Vaud Alps for a visit, the first of these being Leysin. A town and ski resort at the western end of this set of mountains.
Bike parts in Villeneuve
Our route took us along the motorway that runs down the eastern end of Lake Geneva. We toyed with going to Montreux to see the Queen Studio Experience but the 30 degree heat had put us both on edge and we decided we wouldn’t enjoy it. One to save for another, cooler, visit.
We did need to stop though. We needed to find somewhere for Paul to buy a new brake pad set for his bike as the spring that holds them in place had snapped, causing the issues he was experiencing in Moléson. We saw that there was a Decathlon just off the motorway so we pulled off to see if they had the part. There was nothing on the shelves but after holding out the offending part to be examined and being passed around the staff they eventually found a replacement in their workshop. Well done Decathlon.
We had passed by a Coop (Co-op) on the way to Decathlon so we navigated our way back to get some more groceries. We’ve done our best to stock up with the basics but fresh fruit and veg was needed. As expected the prices were pretty high. Denner and Aldi are at the more budget end of shopping here. Coop seems to be the Waitrose equivalent. I do find it difficult to resist a ‘nice’ supermarket.
Getting to Leysin
The route to Leysin involved a stiff climb up through Aigle. Bertie was overheating as we ascended the south facing slopes in the heat of the midday sun. In an attempt to cool off the engine we turned the heating up to max. It didn’t help our moods as we sweltered in the cab, hot air blowing from the vents and equally hot air coming in the open windows. We stopped part way up in a tree shaded layby to drink some cold water and allow our tempers to return to normal.
On the way we passed many vineyards with the grapes hanging heavy on the vines. It must nearly be harvest time. Switzerland produces some nice wines but doesn’t export a lot so they aren’t that well known outside the country. Passing all these vines reminded me I should pick up some bottles to try. All in the name of new experiences of course.
Leysin motorhome aire
Finally we reached the lower part of the town where the aire is located. A final turn onto a very steep downward access road took us to the parking spot. We were relieved to see there were trees providing some shade. We parked up to take as much advantage of the shade as possible given that a few other vans had already taken the prime spots.
The Leysin aire is on gravel parking between the sports centre and a ski jump. Another area of parking in front of the sports centre was also designated for motorhomes but didn’t have any shade or any facilities.
There are plentiful electrical outlets in the parking area, but you’d need a long lead to make use of them. Paul had to put two leads into use to reach an outlet. We didn’t really need to hook up as our solar is working well, but as it was all part of the price it didn’t hurt to save some gas.
Just around the corner from the parking there are services in a heated shed, obviously all set up for winter camping. There is also a composting toilet which I really liked. The smell of fresh sawdust is lovely compared to the smell of normal cleaning chemicals.
I popped into the sports centre to pay our dues. Here we had to pay a fee for use of the parking and then tourist tax for each person on top of that. It should have come to 13.80CHF a night, but the lad behind the counter just charged us the base cost of 10CHF a night. We got our ticket to put in the window. This is the first place we’ve seen actively patrolled by the local police and a couple of other motorhomes were asked to go and pay. I did feel a little smug.
From the parking area we could see the pyramid mountain that is Mt Berneuse (it looks a bit like a spoil heap) and the far more attractive rocky limestone towers next to it. Under the trees was a grassed area where we could get our chairs out and relax in dappled shade. It was very much needed in this blistering sunshine. We’ve been really pleasantly surprised how many of the Swiss parkups have been near recreational spaces so it’s been perfectly acceptable to sit outside as many locals are turning up and doing the same. It was very convivial. One group of people played petanque with a lot of loud competitive joking. A class of students from the American school in Leysin were having a geology lesson. Our French neighbour got his accordion out and played tunes from the far side of the grass. He said he didn’t want to disturb us, but it was a nice background hum, like the sound of tuneful bees.
Swiss refuse disposal
As part of our stay we also got a nice yellow bin bag thrown in. This meant we could finally legally dispose of our waste.
Refuse is taxed in most places in Switzerland and you’re meant to have an official tax-paid bag to throw away general waste. You’re also mean to be very diligent about separating recycling. As usual we had been separating out glass, paper, tins and plastics but had still built up a couple of small bin bags of other stuff; food, soft plastics etc that have been sitting in our garage waiting to find a way to get rid of them.
We hadn’t realised the rules at first and just thought we’d been unlucky not to find bins at the aires we’d visited so far. In future we’ll be getting rid of handfuls of rubbish at a time in any small waste bin we find to avoid building up a rubbish surplus. For now I was very excited to finally have this yellow bin bag so we could get rid of the rubbish that had been stinking up our garage.
Just to note that you can buy rolls of the official bin bags in supermarkets, they work out at about 4 CHF per bag. Or we could just dump our rubbish in a bin somewhere as it’s unlikely that someone will spot us and track us down. But I do like to follow the rules where I can.
A short bike ride around the deer park
On the afternoon of our arrival Paul replaced his brake pads. After the tinkering he had done the day before this was an easy exercise. He rode around the car park a few times and then decided he needed more of an outing.
I had done some exploring on foot and found a couple of local mountain bike trails so we decided that we would combine a cycle up to the gondola station with the shorter one of the trails.
The main downside of the Leysin aire is that it is at the bottom of the town. The gondola station is at the top of the town and the climb is short but steep. We zig zagged our way up to the top of town passing by the cafes, shops and houses. At the gondola station we checked out the downhill trails map to see if we fancied taking our bikes up the following morning. Then we zoomed back to the motorhome parking where we picked up the local mountain bike route No 3 ‘Tour des biches’.
This trail navigates around the deer park where we saw a stag and does eating the grass and twitching their ears to ward off flies. The route itself was only 5.5km but was steep and technical and really hard. As I pushed my bike down steep rocky steps I insisted that we must have missed our way. There was no way that anyone could cycle this surely, even on an electric bike.
With that particular unpleasant section over I found a short section I could stop and work at, going round and round in circles as Paul helped me get over some of my fear of turning directly down a steep slope (it’s very similar to the fears I had to overcome with skiing years ago).
Finally we finished the route, cycling past the ski jump where we watched mesmerised as people whooshed down the slope and twirled in the air before flumping into a huge air bag, sometimes landing with elegance but often sprawled in an ungainly heap. Now that is facing downhill! It made my fears on the bike ride seem very insignificant.
The background swoosh flump noise was a constant companion whenever we sat outside Bertie. It must be quite a popular pastime. Paul joked that we should have a go, but I couldn’t imagine ever being able to let myself go down that slope.
A longer ride to the Lac de Mayen
We had decided we wouldn’t pay to use the Leysin bike park. The blue flow trail at the top of the main gondola was closed for redevelopment and the rest of the blue trail was just a track. A bike park ticket usually costs more because you get unlimited rides up on the lifts, but it didn’t seem worth it to ride a track multiple times.
Instead we would do one of the national mountain bike routes around Leysin, coincidentally we would just happen to pick up the blue trail anyway. This was national route 592 ‘Lac de Mayen’ we had found on the very useful SwitzerlandMobility app. It said it was of Medium difficulty and ranked ‘Easy’ on the fitness scale. Hopefully Medium difficulty would make it more achievable than the route we had done the day before.
We started early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. We had another long slog up through the town, past the train station and in front of the Grand Hotel where a liveried doorman stood outside. Finally we reached a parking spot where we could get onto the marked trail which zig zagged further up along an asphalt mountain road. Trees gave us some respite from the sun at first and we passed under the gondola that was taking people up to the summit. We passed a dairy and cafe and eventually reached Lac de Mayen, the highest point of our ride 700m above our start. We sat in the shade of the nearby ski lift, ate our snacks and rehydrated.
From the top we continued to follow the trail downhill, whizzing down slopes and trying to summon up the confidence to cycle straight over the cattle gates. This was a fun ride down some single track, some earthy rocky tracks and some gravel tracks. It seemed like no time at all before we were back at the gondola station and then we just had to follow our noses downhill to our parking spot.
This was definitely more our level of bike ride, a lesson learned that we need to check out the grade of a route before following it’s arrows.