Participating in Swissman is not logistically “impossible”, but surely not the easiest. Therefore I would like to share my experience and look at the different options, and in my opinion give you some good tips along the way.
The nearest international airport to Ascona, where the start is, and Grindelwald, where you park your car before finishing, is by no surprise Zürich. The flight connections are good and the airport is as effective as you except in Switzerland. Ordnung muss sein. Getting the luggage, bike suitcase and rental car pick-up went quick and easy.
Then your options are either driving the quickest way to Ascona (about 2,5 – 3 hours) or going to Zurich (or somewhere else for that matter) for sightseeing. Since my mood for sightseeing before a race is low, we drove straight to Ascona to get things settled before race day.
Ascona is the perfect city to prepare for the race. It is picturesque and absolutely worth strolling around, but it is small enough to get it done within a couple of hours. Even with a jazz festival in the city simultaneous as the Swissman, it is a very calm city with a very easygoing mood. It is almost impossible to get stressed out there, expect if you need something special, for example the mandatory rescue blanket that needs to be in your backpack. That can be bought in the sport store in the coop center outside Lucarno, 20 min away by car. Have everything you need ready before you travel is my clear advise.
In Ascona you want to have accommodation close to the pier and alternatively close to T1, which is 1,2 km away. Note that since Ascona Jazz Festival is held at the same time, you should book hotel right away when you decide to participate in Swissman. If you choose a hotel at the pier you can drop them a note that you are going to do the race, so they can give you a room towards the backyard, which will be more quit. When speaking of accommodation, I will recommend booking a room at Kleine Scheidegg before you even get a spot at Swissman. We stayed at Bahnhof Scheidegg, which was simple, in a nice way. Staying at Kleine Scheidegg rather then Grindelwald saves you for a trip down and up again with the train.
What to do in Ascona? Stroll around in the city centre and just enjoy the beautiful buildings. Go to the pier and eat delisious Swiss icecream. Just east of the pier there is a nice park to relax, have a swim and play around if you have kids. The beack where T1 is also a good place to hang out before the race. There is also an art-store on every corner which can be quit interesting.
What to eat? Pizzas in the restaurants along the piers are great, but expensive. A very nice and affordable place was Grotto Baldoria, with local made cheese and sausages.
Travel tips from race day are well described in the Swissman – Race Manual. I have nothing to add, except from taking with you a wide angle lens if you have one.
After the finisher ceremony at Kleine Scheidegg on Sunday you have a couple of options. If the sky’s are clear, you can take a train up to Jungfraujoch, and the highest train station in Europe rising 3454 meters high. That is probably magnificent and well worth doing, but with the fog we had it would have been meaningless.
Instead we choose to take a very nice stopover on our way to Zürich. Close to Luzern, there is a small, discreet, and very luxurious hotel with an incredible spa. Luxury is not something we are used to, since our travelling budget is high enough as it is. Still, I must admit that spending nearly a whole day at a spa is the best post-race day I have ever had. Floating around in an outdoors pool while breathing in fresh mountain air with a view that reduces your stress level to a minimum. Taking a steam bath followed by a trip in a cold well. It felt so calming and pleasant that I cannot imagine any better way for me and my team to recover and regenerate. Hopefully the pictures describes it better then words. The price for a day at the spa at Villa Honegg is 70 CHF, and well worth it. Especially compared to the 86 CHF, I paid for less then two days of parking in Zürich.
Zürich was our destination after a day at the spa. While it is the
capital of Switzerland (no, thats Bern), it is not a big city. Nor is it busy or crowded. The perfect as a post race recovery city. A compact charming city centre where you can walk as far or short as you feel like and look at old buildings, interesting stores, not to mention another go at the Swiss Ice-cream. When your legs have had enough you can rest at one of the many nice cafés, or relax in one of the countless green lungs the city have to offer. Renting a pedal boat for 28 CHF each hour and pedal in the crystal clear Lake Zürich is another nice recovery activity which also gives you a beautiful view of the city. The water quality of Lake Zürich is actually close to drinking water quality. A great tip we got from Yonca, on of my supporters and a Zürich inhabitant, was to take a swim in the river. It is like a really big endless pool where you can jump of a bridge and let the current float you to the nearest «climb-up» point which can be quit near. That was my brothers favourite, while I just did a 30 min fresh recovery swim.
Our accommodation in Zürich was Hotel Wellenberg, the same as we stayed at on my very first Ironman, IM Zürich in 2010. While not being the least expensive hotel, it is located right in the old city centre and a 10 min walk to the train station. Spacious rooms (at least if you had a room for two adults and one child like we did) and good breakfast. The location is still the most important thing and with walking distance to basically everything I would recommend staying in that area.
To sum it up, Switzerland is a superb country to be a turist. Well-crommed, clean, friendly and helpful people (not always perfect English-speaking) and with a magnificent nature. The only drawback is the price, which even by Norwegian standard is on the high side. 13 CHF for two bottles of tap water, 86 CHF for less then two days of parking and the occational black coffee costing 6 – 7 CHF.
This time we went to and from Zürich, but last time we went to and from Milano, Italy. It is not a lot longer to drive in total and also offers countless charming cities and villages, and soothing scenary. Lake Como, where Jenny and I got married in 2011, is naturally, one of our favorite places, but the options are endless. Choosing that way of travel is also highly recommended.