The Tour du Lac Léman is a 175 kilometre cycling route that allows cyclists to complete a full loop of beautiful Lac Léman/Lake Geneva on a well-signed cycle route.
The route offers fantastic views of the lake and surrounding mountains, as well as ancient towns and villages.
If you happen to be in Geneva with your bike (or the time to hire one), you should definitely consider tackling it.
John Vicars, and his wife Sue, did just that.
Here he shares his experience of the Tour du Lac Léman/cycling around Lake Geneva.
Want more info about basing yourself in Geneva? Check out this article on cycling in Geneva.
Where is Lac Léman?
Lac Léman is the French name for what most non-French speakers know as Lake Geneva. Geneva sits on the shores of Lac Léman.
Lac Léman is a huge lake that separates Switzerland from northern France. It is the largest natural lake in the Alps and Europe’s second largest freshwater lake. It sits on the course of the River Rhone, with the French Alps to the south and Switzerland’s Jura Mountains to the north.
Broadly speaking, the northern side of the lake belongs to Switzerland (the canons of Geneva, Vaud and Wallis) and the southern side to France (the Haute Savoie region). French being the most commonly used language around the lake.
As well as the mountain vistas, there are impressive towns and cities all around the lake, with highlights including Lausanne, Montreux and Evian-les-Bains, not to mention the medieval Chateau de Chillon. We also enjoyed the beautiful vines you cycle past along the route - this is Switzerland’s second largest wine-producing region.
Tell us about the Tour du Lac Léman.
Cycle route 46 comprises cycle lanes that allow you to cycle all the way around the lake through both Switzerland and France.
As you would imagine from a route in the bottom of a valley it’s a relatively flat route with just over 800 metres of climbing over 170 kilometres. It’s known as the Tour du Lac Léman.
What prompted you to tackle this route?
I had spoken to French cycling friends who had recommended the Tour du Lac Léman and, as I was driving north from Spain back to the UK, it was relatively simple to take a detour into Switzerland.
I was intrigued to check out this cycle route that runs for around 100 miles around Lac Léman, through two countries. I was also interested to see how cyclists were integrated with both pedestrians and motor vehicles.
For those living in the UK it’s still something of a novelty to be able to ride straight through manned border controls between different countries! Breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in France and back for a Swiss dinner!
Tell us what the day was like.
We were based in Switzerland near the town of Nyon and travelled in a clockwise direction, so we were always riding by the lake side.
We passed through well-known towns such as Lausanne and Montreux on the Swiss side of the lake and the spa towns of Evian-les-Bains and Thonon-les-Bains in France. We then crossed back into Switzerland, through Geneva and then back towards Nyon.
We did the loop in late July and it was very hot, around 35 degrees, but I was pleased to note that there were ample opportunities to stop in the many towns and villages on the route to stock up with food and drinks.
It should be said that this is not a rough track route adjacent to the beaches and waterfront. Rather, the Tour du Lac Léman route is a marked loop, in the main, that runs either on or adjacent to the main roads that circle the lake. The entire route is on asphalt.
What were your three favourite parts of the Tour du Lac Léman?
The three things that stood out to me were as follows:
On the Swiss side, the quality of the cycle lanes in terms of both the markings and the smooth surface was impressive. You felt totally safe even approaching main road junctions and it was clear that the cycle lanes are extremely well used by commuters as well as leisure riders. Motorists seemed used to the volume of cyclists and as such were totally integrated. Pedestrians were in the main using paths and tracks nearer to the water’s edge. (For our opinion of the lanes on the French side, see below.)
After Montreux, with about 100km to go, there were several kilometres away from the lake through woodland that took us across the River Rhone and afforded stunning views of the front range of the northern Alps. You can see the magnificent peaks of Les Jumelles and Les Cornettes de Bise.
I loved the ride through Evian-les-Bains, home of the famous bottled water and a very classy looking holiday location. It was by far the most glamorous and appealing place on the lake and I made a mental note to revisit at some point in the future. We found a nice little waterside café for lunch here and enjoyed a cheese tart salad.
What were the best and worst parts of the route?
I thought the best part of the route was the ride into the city of Geneva. The route here is on good quality surfaces, because you are back in Switzerland, cycling close to the beach and water’s edge. This section of the route is also slightly downhill which, after nearly 150 kilometres in the saddle, was very welcome.
Cycling in Geneva seems very popular. I remember following a man in business attire for a couple of kilometres and I don’t think we travelled at less than 30 kph!
The worst part of the loop was unfortunately the quality of the cycle lanes on the French side of the lake. You could see that the lanes were built with a purpose and as part of an overall strategy in Switzerland, but in France they were of inferior quality and at times they seemed to be something of a ‘bolt on’ to the main road.
That said the French side did take us away from the main road on several occasions and these sections offered the quietest and most isolated part of the loop.
How fit do you have to be to ride the route?
Riding 170km is no mean feat, but for an experienced rider this is not a particularly difficult route as in the main it is relatively flat. That said it is not a route for a novice rider as you need to be in the saddle for around 6 hours or so depending upon your pace.
The most difficult part of our ride was the heat not the distance.
If you wanted to ride the equivalent of 100 miles in a circular loop, then there cannot be many more picturesque and flatter places to ride. The Tour du Léman also has the added bonus of plenty of places to stop to eat and drink and a well signposted route!
What sort of logistics are involved?
A cyclo tour of Lac Léman requires some thought. Here’s how we went about it.
Depending on your average speed, you need to allow 6 or so hours in the saddle plus an extra hour to cater for lunch and miscellaneous breaks.
If you are planning to negotiate the route in the summer, then beware that the temperatures can get up to 35 degrees or more.
The earlier you start the better. We left our hotel, after a hearty breakfast, at 8.30am and enjoyed two and a half hours before you could feel the sun burning through the layers of sunscreen.
We planned the lunch stop before we started. The spa town of Evian-les-Bains was our target after 100 kilometres, as we wanted to break the back of the journey before it became really hot. After that I knew we had Geneva and Nyon where there were plenty of opportunities to take on further food and drink and take the opportunity to cool down for a few minutes.
You can complete the route comfortably on a road bike. We took our own and knew they were in top condition, but we did take spare inner tubes and gas canisters – fortunately we didn’t need them!
One thing to note is that you will lose your way unless you follow the GPS route. There are plenty of twists and turns, particularly on the French side, that demand full concentration.
Tell us about your kit choice.
We wore Stolen Goat jerseys and matching shorts as we knew that it was a long ride and needed to be comfortable throughout the day.
We were riding in the middle of a hot summer, so wet/cold weather gear was not required.
How did you organise your nutrition?
We planned our lunch stop, and decided how to replenish before and afterwards, ahead of the ride. We stopped to refill our bidons every 90 minutes (adding our own electrolyte tablets) and took plenty of energy bars and gels with us.
In the midsummer heat I cannot stress enough how much you need to drink even when you’re not feeling thirsty. I worked on breakfast fuelling me for two hours then made a mental note to eat something each hour.
We took the remainder of the route on feel if one of us felt thirsty or hungry we stopped at the next available village or town. Bizarrely, after 160 kilometres I had an uncontrollable urge for an ice cream and duly found one in a little kiosk at the side of the lake in Nyon!
What tips would you give someone wanting to cycle around Lake Geneva?
I think anyone contemplating the route needs to have completed some prior rides of at least 4 or 5 hours in duration. Whilst the terrain is relatively flat it still demands concentration and the ability to know how to refuel.
You need to be comfortable in riding with traffic as whilst the cycle lanes are clearly marked there are areas in the towns where you have to mingle with cars and lorries. This is not a cycle path around the side of the beach.
On the Swiss side, look out for the red cycling route signs with the number 46 in white on a blue square. On the French side, the signs are the green and white bike route signs, with Tour de Léman on a blue square.
The signs are pretty regular and easy to spot on the Swiss side, but it’s harder on the French side. I’d suggest you have someone in your group following a GPX route around the lake or you will probably get lost on the French side and waste unnecessary time and effort.
If you can, plan to do the loop in months other than June to August. It’s very hot and in the bottom of the valley there is not much wind to cool you down.
In any event, take some electrolyte tablets to add to the water you purchase, as well as as much food you can carry – you will eat it I guarantee!
Bear in mind events like the world-famous Montreux jazz festival; if you decide to visit when that is on, I imagine the roads and hotels would be really busy!
We took our passports with us but didn’t need them. The border crossings are manned, but no-one seemed to be stopped as they passed through the lines.
Everyone we met spoke French and a little English. The currency in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc but we found they accept the Euro in most establishments.
If you are ever in the area, the Tour de Lac Léman is highly recommended.
A big thank you to John for sharing his experience with us.
Want to know more about cycling in/around Geneva?
If you want more info on riding in this spectacular area, don't miss our Q&A on cycling in Geneva.
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