Highlights: Viamala Gorge, Zillis Church, Via Spluga, Splugen
Route 6: Section 5 (Thusis 672m–Splügen 1,456m)
Stats from SwitzerlandMobility.ch ( https://www.schweizmobil.ch/en/cycling-in-switzerland/routes/route/etappe-0883.html): 27km, height difference 950m (140m in opposite direction). Their site has the full profile.
What an amazing bike trip today! The weather was sunny and cool and the alpine views were spectacular! The exercise was also pretty good, with a continuous climb from Thusis to Splügen.
Left Thusis, we entered the northern mouth of the spectacular Viamala gorge. The Hohen Rätien Castle is also in this area. It dates back to the Middle Ages and is situated up high on a cliff with magnificent views of the gorge and the valley below. However, once we started biking we could not find any access from route 6:05 and so we did not visit it. Probably the best road access would be from Sils.
The road to Viamala (=bad route) is quite busy and with several long tunnels but the wonderful views of the gorge amply compensate for the annoying traffic.
At Viamala ( https://viamala.graubuenden.ch/de ) one can descend 321 steps into the middle of the narrow gorge or walk across the foaming waters of the Hinterrhein river via a series of narrow bridges. However, we skipped this hiking diversion and just admired the awe-inspiring views from up high. In some points, the passage between the rock walls is very narrow (only a few meters) and very deep (at times over 300m high rock walls).
It is incredible to think that this very dangerous north-south Alpine transit route was used as early as Roman times. Across the entrance kiosk one can see metal representations of packed mules on the Roman trail.
The road continued to be busy until Zillis, but then the traffic decreased significantly and we shared the path only with the occasional cyclist or motorcycle.
In Zillis (10km from Thusis) we stopped to visit the unique St Martin’s Church (9th Century). This church is famous for its late Romanesque wooden painted ceiling (around 1100 AD), which is considered to be the earliest in Europe. Only about a handful of churches in the Western World remain where on can admire this type of medieval art and church decoration! The 153 timber square pieces depicting various religious scenes are incredibly well preserved. They were painted individually on an easel, before installing them onto the ceiling. Notably, the expensive blue and gold colors were not used in this remote Alpine church. However, the presence of this gem is testimony to the importance of Zillis and this Alpine crossing route in medieval times.
Before visiting the church we also went to a separate building to see a movie on the history of the Viamala and the Zillis’ Church (highly recommended).
After Zillis the bike route continued into an extremely scenic alpine landscape with amazing views of the rambling stream and gorges below and snowy peaks above.
Another natural place listed along this route is the Roflaschlucht (Roffla Gorge), but we completely missed it. It is supposed to be a beautiful waterfall, accessible only via a man-made tunnel.
We arrived in Splugen in the early afternoon, with the sun still high and strong. It felt good to leave the bikes at the Hotel and indulge in a stroll among the several well preserved historic “palazzi” and the many restored dark timber houses. Splugen was indeed an important crossroad for Alpine transit. It is definitely worth spending the night here, between the quaint atmosphere and the amazing views of snowy peaks. A couple of beautiful historic hotels are just the cherry on the cake for dinner and a night stay.
Links to Introduction and other Sections:
- BIKING THROUGH SWITZERLAND (with an electric bike)
- Route 6: Section 1 (Chur–Thusis)
- Route 6: Section 2 – Thusis to Bergün
- Route 6: Section 3 – Bergün to Zernez
- Route 6: Section 4 ; part 1 – Zernez to Scuol
- Route 6: Section 4, part 2 – Scuol to Martina to Finstermünz Fortress