At the Furkapass in the Swiss Alps, a melting snowflake could flow one of two ways. To the east, it would become part of the mighty river Rhine. To the west, it would form the headwaters of the Rhône.
The banks of the Rhine have long had an international cycle route. The Rhône, however, is one of the newest EuroVelo routes. Known as route R1 in Switzerland and the Via Rhôna in France, it is a stunning scenic journey from the majesty of the Alps to the heat of the Mediterranean.
And it’s all downhill. Should you want to start at the pass, you’ll have to take a postbus (bikes welcome) from Andermatt or Oberwald: failing that, you can take a metre-gauge train to Oberwald, and miss out the highest hairpins.
The scenery never lets up. Another 200km and you’re by the shores of Lake Geneva; on its way to Lyon, the route snakes through narrow gorges with exposed rock faces; and as the river broadens, so too does the valley, eventually giving out into the Rhône delta of salt flats, wetlands and channels. Along the way you’ll pass through Geneva, France’s second city of Lyon, the papal city of Avignon and the Roman town of Arles.
The route is roughly half on-road, half traffic-free. The narrowness of the valley early on means that some jostling with cars is inevitable; by and large it’s tolerable, but these sections may not be ideal for a family holiday. Then further downstream, immediately south of Lyon, a cycleway has not yet been constructed so you’ll need to follow a busy road as far as Givors.
Around Lake Geneva you can choose to follow the north shore via Lausanne, or the south shore. The northern route is more varied but the southern one will be a little faster for road cyclists.
A few sections of the route are unpaved, but generally firm and well maintained.