Switzerland's mountainous landscape appears to hold no fear for the legions of cyclists who tackle its steep slopes every year.
Riders covered a total of 200 million kilometres in 2002 – roughly equivalent to cycling 5,000 times round the Earth.
Switzerland is criss-crossed by nine national cycle paths, which wend their way over a distance of 3,300km.
They run from Montreux to Lake Constance, Chiasso to Basel; along the banks of the Rhone, the Rhine and the Ticino; and up through the Alps and the Jura mountains.
Around 15,000 red-and-blue direction signs point the way, with guidebooks and detailed maps available for every section of the “Cycling in Switzerland” network.
Two years ago it is estimated to have generated 600,000 overnight stays and some SFr240 million ($194 million) in revenue.
“Cycling in Switzerland is now an established feature of the Swiss tourism scene,” said Peter Anrig, a member of the network’s management body and deputy director of Switzerland Tourism.
A day trip sufficed for many cyclists (more than four million in 2001), during which they averaged around 30km.
But 270,000 opted for a full-scale holiday, pedalling for an average of five days at a steady rate of 43km a day.
“The vision for a national network of cycle paths dates back ten years,” Anrig told swissinfo.
“At that time, we drew up the plan and contacted a number of potential partners: cantons, associations and private individuals.”
With overall investment of about SFr10 million, including spending on marketing, Cycling in Switzerland began operations in May 1998. At the time, similar cycle networks already existed in Denmark and the Netherlands.
“Today our service is very popular here in Switzerland and is fairly well known in northern European countries,” commented Anrig.
But it has made far less of an impact on two of Switzerland’s larger neighbours: France and Italy.
The project’s objective is to encourage “mobility by human power”, a way of getting around which is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
And the idea has been very successful: “The product, though available only during the summer months, is of good quality, well maintained and well promoted. Above all it conveys a positive image,” explained Anrig.
All the same, it still caters for a niche market; Swiss tourism is not going to grow fat on cyclists.
“In Switzerland, the official figure for overnight stays is 65 million per annum, less than one per cent of which is accounted for by Cycling in Switzerland,” said Anrig.
An additional 5,000 km
A few months ago, the network received the Evenir Prize, awarded by the Swiss Petroleum Association for projects which lead the way in environmental sustainability.
“The award is a significant endorsement, confirming that we have succeeded in achieving what we set out to do,” said Anrig.
What next? Now that the national network has been completed, the plan is to add 5,000km of regional cycle routes by 2008.
And, step by step, the service will be broadening its scope and including other forms of environmentally friendly mobility: roller-skating, walking and canoeing.
swissinfo, Marzio Pescia
Cycling in Switzerland consists of 3,300 km of cycle tracks.
There are nine national routes;
There is no charge for using the tracks.
Rhone route (1): Andermatt to Geneva, 310km, easy (except for the Furka Pass).
Rhine route (2): Andermatt to Basel, 425km, easy (except for the Oberalp Pass).
North-South route (3): Chiasso to Basel, 365km, fairly difficult.
Alpine panoramic route (4): St Margrethen to Aigle, 483km, difficult.
Central Plateau route (5): Romanshorn to Lausanne, 369km, easy.
Graubünden route (6): Martina to Bellinzona, 260km, difficult.
Jura route (7): Basel to Nyon, 275km, difficult.
Aare route (8): Oberwald to Koblenz, 305km, easy (except for the Grimsel Pass).
Lakes route (9): Montreux to Rorschach, 497km, easy-fairly difficult.