On your E-bike!
‘LIFE is better on a bike.” Those were the words panted exhilaratingly by Erik den Oudenammer, my mountain bike guide, who led me high upon a hillside overlooking the stunning Val de Bagnes, two hours east of Geneva.
It’s a statement worthy of its own bumper sticker and one which perfectly sums up my feeling having spent a day tearing up and down tracks, paths and roads around this stunning part of Switzerland.
“But easier on an E-bike,” I retort, having allowed the electric motor of my bicycle to help me in the last steep incline to that glorious view.
Round about now, this place will be covered in snow and this spot – Switzerland’s largest ski area, called the four valleys – will be crowded with skiers.
But for the summer months two wheels rule the hills.
E-biking is the latest effort by the Verbier tourism chiefs to make the area a more appealing year-round destination.
The one I rode was a solid and sturdy mountain bike and, in terms of practicality, could run between 50 and 100km, depending how much you pedal. It could certainly give you extra help.
Having spent two days riding with a group of men and women of all ages and abilities, the E-bike was the great leveller and allowed us all to stay together.
It means for a family, no one need be left out. Even grandma can come along for the ride.
The summit is no longer just for the superfit.
But amateur E-bikers beware, the battery power does run out if not managed well, and getting stuck powerless across the valley pedalling a 30kg bike tests the limits of Erik’s previous claim.
With 500km of bike trails to choose from, and cableways linking routes around La Chable, Verbier and Fonanet, and Verbier Bike Park - 6km of serious downhill tracks - I can see why it is a mountainbiking mecca. I could spend a week riding here and probably never do the same track twice.
One route we took was from Verbier to the Mauvoisin Dam - the second highest arched dam in Europe - via the picturesque villages of Sarreyer and Bonatchiesse.
As well as the staggering beauty of the region, the hospitality and welcome everywhere was superb.
Children and adults, strangers all, would wave and say ‘bonjour’.
For those who need a break from the biking there’s plenty more to do.
You can park the bike and hike, and there are activities for adrenalin junkies including paragliding.
Both activities would give you a better chance of spotting some of the elusive but wonderful wildlife including the ibex, an extravagantly horned goat, and the marmot, a very cute beaver-esque mammal which takes real patience to see.
While the real pull of the region is the great outdoors, Verbier is also a cosmopolitan refuge for fun with a lively nightlife, great shopping and pampering.
You will find all of the above under one roof at the W Hotel in Verbier.
Spread across four chalet-type buildings linked by glass corridors, the hotel is sleek and stylish while retaining the traditional Alpine feel.
There is a large open-plan lounge and cocktail bar which encourages the guests from the 123 rooms and suites to mix and sip a few drinks before heading to the nightclub, an amazing underground space full of glitz and glamour.
When the partying is over, my spacious room – with a truly massive bed, plush fabrics and large wooden balcony – is like a little haven to recharge my batteries.
For some extra TLC there’s a luxurious pool and spa area with nine treatment rooms.
The food at the hotel is top notch.
At breakfast you are spoilt for choice with a buffet for every taste and a menu of firm favourites, including pancakes and eggs royale.
At lunch and in the evening the main Arola restaurant offers a delicious selection of fine food - including amazing tapas - thanks to a menu created by double Michelin-starred culinary director, Sergi Arola.
During my stay I also get to eat at the homely and kitsch Al Capone, which does a fantastic stonebaked pizza, and I get to experience the Sonalon where I try the traditional raclette, the Swiss cheese which is melted onto your plate and gobbled up with potatoes and pickles.
Verbier is renowned as the playground for the rich and famous, but there is plenty for all budgets, for all year round.
But when you are freewheeling down a seemingly endless hill with a stunning view of the valley and the sunshine on your face, worries just melt away and life certainly feels better on a bike.
The riders tackle the high trails of Verbier
Stuart on his E-bike