The SwitzerlandMobility project, a sustainable network of trails interwoven through the country's landscape, just launched this past weekend. Brian Schott was on hand to see it at its start.
MURTEN, SWITZERLAND — I was late. After arriving in Switzerland to sort out the country's new Mobility Project, I was struggling with my own version of Swiss mobility: sprinting for the train in Lausanne for the 45-minute ride to Murten, hoping to make a press conference that would launch the largest national network of non-motorized transport routes ever created. Once I was rolling, wiping sweat from my brow, I could relax. I gazed at workers in the fields harvesting onions, and gawked at views of the alps across Lake Geneva. Walking to the shores of Lake Murten, I listened to thrush singing, took in the beautiful architecture of the medieval village, and breathed in the smells of ornamental cherries and magnolia trees in bloom.
The dignitaries gathered. Press assembled. I listened.
Okay, here’s the deal, they explained. There are no new trails. No new construction. Really nothing new for travelers to see. Huh? I’ve never been here before and am already blown away by just the small speck of landscape that I have seen in the past 24 hours. Just standing here in this village is enough.
So what exactly am I doing here?
Turns out, thanks to the ingenuity of Swiss precision and four years of hard work, these charming folks have created a linked network for hikers (3,914 miles/6,300 km), touring cyclists (5,281 miles/8,500 km), mountain bikers (2,050 miles/3,300 km), inline skaters (683.5 miles/1,100 km) and canoeists (115 miles/250 km), all marked across the independent 26 cantons of Switzerland. The system of trails will use over 100,000 standardized signposts with different markings for national, regional, and local routes, for all the various forms of human-powered mobility. Some 18,000 public transport routes connect with the network. Ja wol!
That, in itself, is a major feat. Anyone who has ever been to any kind of meeting sitting around some table trying to gain consensus for a project knows that. Toll!
“The signposts are excellent,” assured Ruedi Jasli, one of the masterminds behind the project and the owner of Swiss Trails. Fifteen years ago he spearheaded an effort to get in-line skating trails established across the country. When I spoke with him in person after the official announcement, I could feel his passion. He obviously has a lot to gain from its success, managing the booking of one to eight day tours. But you can tell his love of sport outweighs his love of the bottom line. Any good project starts with love.
“The signposts are perfect,” he went on. “There are two options for signs. None. Or perfect. We chose perfect.”
You gotta love the Swiss. Tick, tock.
What else is slick is that various partners have linked up to offer lodging, equipment rentals, discounted rates on the rail system, as well as luggage transportation where you can leave your bags and have them delivered to the next town while you travel via foot or pedal power. And you can book it all, print out customized maps of your route of choice, with train timetables included, with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Dr. George Ganz, president of the SwitzerlandMobility Foundation, outlined the program. “People can actively enjoy nature in Switzerland,” he said. “The creation of a standardized non-motorized transport network—this is the real milestone. Why travel? The search for the sense of life. A need to look inside. To lay back, forget, leave the daily business behind. To discover nature, a new culture.”
I discovered some bacon-wrapped figs and delicious Swiss wine at lunch, used my broken high-school German to purchase a postcard and stamp for a quick dispatch to my wife and three-year-old boy, and boarded the next train for Avenches, where our Rent-a-Bikes would be waiting.
Next up…a British guide takes my gang through Roman ruins…who would have thought, in Switzerland. Yes, here.
This is Brian Schott’s first post for Intelligent Travel. He is a freelance writer based in Whitefish, Montana, and Chatham, Massachusetts. He is the founding editor of the Whitefish Review, a new literary journal.
Photos: Brian Schott