Route 5 ~ Bale to Aarau, By the Staffeleckenstein


The road is the same as Route 3, as far as Rheinfelden

Leaving Basel on.the familiar ride towards Augst on the No.2 National Velo Route, 40km in, “at Stein it quits the side of the Rhine, and ascends the Frickthal”

One of my regular training routes, I was used to this climb, however my cycling partner for the day, Danny, was finding the rolling hills rather tough going, so I didn’t dare mention what lay ahead.


Frick is a weird town. It’s located within beautiful countryside halfway between Basel and Zurich, however there is literally nothing there of note. Which is maybe why all Murray had to offer was its population (1800 in 1837, now 5200) and the fact it had a “church on a height”.


I pointed out to Danny that, according to Murray, the pretty countryside and farming villages in which we were cycling, known as “The Frickthal”, “belonged to Austria down to 1801.” He wasn’t impressed and seemed to be more pre-occupied with trying to find the right gear in which to tackle the next hill. I think he might have even uttered the words “Frick Off!” in my direction, but I can’t be sure as he’d fallen that far behind.


The 10km climb out of Frick up the Staffelegg Pass was challenging in the afternoon sun.

“Staffelegg. Above this village is a depression or col in the chain of the Jury, over which an easy carriage-road has been constructed at the expense of the government of the canton.”

What Murray described as being “easy”, Danny certainly disagreed as he got off to push his bike up the busy main road in the sweltering heat, large trucks whizzing past, drowning out his foul mouthed curses aimed at me, Murray and the lorry drivers.


The summit is reached relatively quickly, although not without effort,whether cycling or pushing, and the fast descent over the other side makes it all worthwhile.



“A gradual descent leads down into the valley of the Aar, which is crossed in order to enter Aarau”.

Murray goes on to explain that this bridge was “swept away by an inundation in 1831”, six years prior to his visit.


Aarau is a weird city. Or as Murray writes…

“Simond calls it “an odious little place”.

The old town is certainly beautiful and well kept but largely deserted, and most life seems to revolve around the busy modern train station, a major transport hub, where large groups of immigrants hang around outside. Switzerland has a diverse population with 1 in 4 people being foreign. Many of the immigrants in Aarau are refugees from Eritrea, Syria, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, and you can’t help but wonder how they must feel having fled such horrific sights in war torn states to arrive in such peaceful beautiful surroundings.

Whilst I was aware that Aarau was “the chief town of the canton, Argovie” (or Aargau), I had no idea that barely 48 years before Murray visited…

“When the armies of the French Revolution took possession of Switzerland in 1789, and destroyed its ancient form of Government, Aarau was made capital of the Helvetian Republic, but it was soon transferred to Lucerne.”

Possibly because they found it too “odious”.

“Murray’s Handbook For Travellers in Switzerland, 1838” guides the reader around the town, which at the time was surrounded by vineyards.



“The Rathaus, in which the cantonal councils are held, includes within its circuit the tower of a feudal castle of the Counts von Rore, which may be regarded as the nucleus of the town.”


I have on good account that the Counts von Rore were a local Country & Western band whose 1837 anthem “We Aar The Champions” went on to inspire Freddie Mercury 140 years later.


In the parish church, Protestant and Catholic services are performed alternatively.


You can only imagine what insults the parishioners would leave etched on to the back of the benches, for their counterparts to read, the following Sunday.



“Henry Zchokke, the historian and novel-writer, resides here.”

In the days before Hollywood, let alone Frankie, who went there, the superstars of the day, other than dictators, were probably explorers, artists, poets and authors, many helped by John Murray’s family publishing house, which had made big names of the likes of Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Coleridge and Charles Darwin amongst others.


In trying to research where exactly Zchokke’s house was, (Villa Blumenhalde at Küttigerstrasse 21, now the Zentrum für Demokratie Aarau), I encountered this wonderful report in The Calcutta Magazine of 1830…

Of this Swiss novelist, whose productions have lately acquired him a European reputation, by the French translations that have been of them, than they would have ever gained if they had remained in their original German dress, we find the following rather lively account in one of the latest of the numerous “Hermits”…

“At some distance from Aarau, in the midst of a thick forest, is the habitation of a man, whose name for some years past, has been frequently mentioned in our journals: a romance writer, a poet, a philologist, an antiquary, a historian, and notwithstanding all these titles to celebrity known in Switzerland. When I enquired of the landlord for the residence of Zschokke, he stared at me and remained silent. I repeated this inharmonious and difficult-to-be-pronounced name, which he repeated after me, turning round to some of his guests who were sitting at a table close by. They all appeared to be in an equal state of ignorance. At last, one of them, rubbing his forehead and looking steadily at the large mouth of his beer-glass, exclaimed, while he caught hold of his neighbour’s arm, “Zschokke: the forest inspector!” instantly they all seemed to start, as if from sleep, and each began to repeat the name accompanying it with certain material qualities to prove that he was perfectly acquainted with the great man  “Zschokke – yes! yes!  a little old man about five feet high?”, said one; “Zschokke – the forest inspector,  seventy years old and stoops a little?”, said a second; “Zschokke – who lives half a dozen miles off and whose house you see from the road?”, said a third, “do we know him? He wears an apple-green coat – a good man, an excellent man.” These were the literal expressions, but it is impossible to describe the surprise and the tumultuous joy of these jovial fellows on hearing that the name of Zschokke began to make a noise in France; that he had written an excellent history of Switzerland, romances full of life and interest, and tales which frequently exhibit the refined observation and bantering irony of Voltaire. They could not believe their ears and seemed as much astonished, as if we had told them that the rocks of Lauffen had disappeared under the waves of the Rhine.”

I would love to have read that the journalist, on meeting Zchokke, had actually been directed to the wrong Herr Zchokke, maybe his brother or cousin, yet still conducted his interview thinking that he had the right man, with the confused seventy year old forest inspector answering all the questions regardless, about “a chapter of romance to a page of history, from a philosophical thesis to a question of geology” which were supposedly attributed to him, bidding his farewell the following morning after having fed and accommodated the intrepid reporter, with a “who the hell was that?”, à la National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Unfortunately, though, for he was successful in his tracking and, amongst a great interview, got this quote:

I asked Zschokke if he was fond of travelling. “Yes”, said he, “but only in my library. At my age one prefers the dead to the living, and for very good reasons.”

Talking of the dead, Danny was beyond shattered, so I left him at Aarau station with all the Eritreans, who found his typical English lobster red sunburn hilarious, whilst I ticked off the surrounding attractions on Murray’s list (each of which can be saved for Route 6) as well as the Zschokke-Stübchens at the Kantonsbibliothek with its 1,840 titles sold by Heinrich Zschokke in 1847, the year before he died and ten years after Murray’s visit. His statue can be found nearby in Kasinopark.





Inns: Wilder Mann (Sauvage); Ochs (Boeuf); Cigogne

I’ve struggled to find anything about these three inns other than this advert for the Gasthof zum Wildenmann, which was actually published the year “Murray’s Handbook For Travellers in Switzerland, 1838” was published.


Cycling alongside the “right bank.of the Aar”, for 12km, I made the steep climb up to the gorgeous castle of “Windeck”.


Despite passing Schloss Wildegg on an almost weekly basis, it was the first time I had been in the grounds and was immediately taken aback by how pretty it was, with its majestic views and aviary.



At the foot of the hill, I briefly visited the thermal “baths of Schintznach” (Bad Schinznach), which I should have suggested Danny got off the train at, to take advantage of the thermal waters. Although with temperatures of 39°C, his already blistered English skin may have found them too much to bare.




The principal buildings are the Great Inn, Grosser Gasthof, and the Bath-house, erected within a few years, in a semicircular form. In May and June, 300 people often dine here in the splendid saloon. The house contains sleeping accommodation for 200, and 50 baths. 

Today the Kurhotel Im Park offers 31 rooms and a fine dining restaurant, whilst the Bad-Stübli offers less formal dining, as does the Aquarena restaurant within the baths, and the Magma bar and lounge.



Close to Schintznach, rise the ruins of the Castle of Habsburg, the cradle of the house of Austria.


It was another steep climb, well worth it for the view, although, together with the baths, I would return later to give it more attention, as Murray would be back this way again on Route 6.



19 stunden = 62¼ English miles.

Diligences daily.

At 63km to Aarau, or 86km taking in the thermal baths at Schinznach and castles at Wildegg and Habsburg, the route is somewhat shorter than what Murray advises. Other than a few short hills, especially the steeper ones to the castles at Wildegg and Habsburg, the only real challenge is the Staffelegg Pass, which averages 3% over 8km. The entire route is possible by road bike.

For overnight accommodation, you have three choices if you continue on to the castles and baths; either return from Habsburg to Bad Schinznach (4km); drop down the hill to Brugg (5km); or go back to Aarau, following the No. 5 or No.8 cycle route on the opposite side of the river (17km).


0km ~ BASEL

20km ~ RHEINFELDEN   up  75 m   down  90 m

38km ~ STEIN   up  240 m   down  205 m

46km ~ FRICK   up  75 m   down  25 m

57km ~ STAFFELEGG   up  300 m   down  25 m

63km ~ AARAU ~ RATHAUS   up  30 m   down  265 m

63km ~ AARAU ~ STADTKIRCHE  → flat

76km ~ SCHLOSS WILDEGG   up  75 m   down  35 m

82km ~ BAD SCHINZNACH   up  5 m   down  85 m

86km ~ SCHLOSS HABSBURG   up  150 m

90km ~ BAD SCHINZNACH   down  150 m   [HOTEL]

or 91km ~ BRUGG   up  5 m   down  150 m  [HOTEL]

or 103km ~ AARAU  up  40 m   down  150 m



Route 4 ~ Basel – Luzern

Route 6 ~ Basel – Zurich  >

~ All routes ~  Introduction ~


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