As the temperature drops, many people’s thoughts turn to blue sky powder days, après ski, and the alpine atmosphere. While some choose to fly to the Swiss Alps, others look forward to a road trip and the convenience of having their car in the resort.
In this post, we will tell you what to expect when driving to the Swiss Alps. You will learn about the different options for crossing the channel, all about tolls, rules of the road and top tips for driving.
PREPARING FOR THE JOURNEY
When embarking on a road trip to the Alps, it is important to pack some essential items to ensure a comfortable and safe journey. These include:
Warm clothing and layers: The Swiss Alps can get chilly, even during the summer months. Be sure to pack warm clothing, including jackets, sweaters, and hats, to keep yourself cozy during the drive and when exploring the mountain passes.
Emergency kit: Prepare an emergency kit that includes items such as a first aid kit, flashlight, extra batteries, reflective vests, warning triangles, and a basic toolkit. These items will come in handy in case of unexpected situations on the road.
Maps and navigation tools: While GPS systems are convenient, it is advisable to have physical maps or a detailed road atlas as a backup in case of technological glitches or signal issues.
Snacks and water: Keep some snacks and water bottles readily available to stay hydrated and energised during the journey, especially if you encounter long stretches of driving with limited access to amenities.
CHECKING WEATHER CONDITIONS & ROAD CLOSURES
Before embarking on your road trip to the Swiss Alps, it is crucial to check the weather conditions and any road closures along your intended route. The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, and road closures due to snowstorms or avalanches are not uncommon, especially during the winter months. Check reliable weather forecasts and official road websites for up-to-date information. This will help you plan your journey accordingly and avoid any unnecessary detours or hazards.
FAMILIARISING YOURSELF WITH THE ROUTE & MOUNTAIN PASSES
To ensure a smooth and enjoyable road trip, take some time to familiarise yourself with the route and the mountain passes you will be crossing. The Swiss Alps are home to several breathtaking passes that offer stunning views but also pose unique challenges. Some notable passes to be aware of are:
Furka Pass: Furka Pass is renowned for its scenic beauty and historical significance. It connects the Swiss cantons of Uri and Valais and offers awe-inspiring views of snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Research the specific details of the pass, including its elevation, road conditions, and any noteworthy landmarks or viewpoints you might want to visit.
Gotthard Pass: As one of the most important commercial trade routes in Europe, the Gotthard Pass has a rich historical background. It is known for its engineering marvels, such as the Gotthard Base Tunnel, and offers impressive vistas of the surrounding mountains. Understand the significance of this pass and consider exploring attractions such as the Gotthard Museum or the Tremola road with its hairpin bends.
Susten Pass: The Susten Pass is famous for its breathtaking alpine scenery, with panoramic views of mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers. It is advisable to gather information about the pass’s altitude, road conditions, and recommended viewpoints, such as the Susten Lake or the Steingletscher Glacier
CROSSING THE CHANNEL
Once you get to the south coast of England, the first thing you need to do is cross the channel. You can catch the ferry or jump on the Le Shuttle through the Eurotunnel.
Which one you choose is all down to your personal preference and circumstances. If you want to get across the channel as fast as possible, the train is your best bet. The journey from Dover to Calais is just 35 minutes.
But you need to think about rest, as your drive from Calais to the Alps can be around 10 hours. This isn’t so much of a problem if you share the driving, but it also depends on how far you need to drive to Dover.
Catching the ferry takes about an hour and a half to two hours, depending on which port you choose to leave from. This gives you the chance to rest before the long drive down to the Alps.
The critical thing that will influence your decision on which to choose is where you live. If you live near the coast, you may want to take the train and speed up your journey.
Many people stay in a hotel in Dover or Calais overnight if their drive through the UK is long. This way, they can start the journey across the continent feeling fresh in the morning.
DRIVING TO THE SWISS ALPS
The next thing to consider is your route to the Swiss Alps. There are three main routes to choose from.
One route takes you through the centre of Paris on the A1 and joins the A6. This should take just over ten hours; however, driving through Paris is stressful and often congested, so this isn’t the best route.
Another route takes you to Reims before running along the German border. This route offers picturesque views, but it takes about ten and a half hours to get to the Alps.
The most common route follows the A26 through Reims to Troyes and skirts Dijon on the A39. This is the quickest route and takes just over 9 hours from Calais to Verbier.
If you want to break up your drive, you can stop at Reims, Troyes or Dijon. This will shorten your trip, so you are not too tired when you arrive.
A Note On Arrival Time – For most ski chalets, hotels and apartments, check-in time is 4pm. If you arrive early in the morning, you will have to occupy yourself before you can get into your accommodation.
You may be able to go skiing, but you need to think about where you will get changed, keep your stuff etc.
TIPS FOR DRIVING THROUGH FRANCE
Most of your trip will be on French roads if you drive from the UK. There are some road laws that British drivers should be aware of.
You are not allowed to drive in France without a warning triangle and a high visibility vest for all occupants of the car. These should be carried inside your car and not in the boot.
You can buy European driving kits at the port if you don’t have these, but it will be cheaper to get them in advance. These kits should also include the mandatory “UK” sticker for the rear of your car.
If you travel in more than one car or need to tie up some loose ends at work while driving, you will need to use your phone. However, French law prohibits any kind of Bluetooth headset or earphones while driving.
When driving through France during the winter, you can experience bad weather conditions. You may be tempted to flick your lights onto full beam in poor visibility. However, this is illegal in France, so stick to dipped headlights.
Even though you can buy beer and wine in service stations in France, don’t be tempted to start your holiday early with a few beers. The French drink-drive limit is lower than England and Wales at just 0.05%.
GET SOME SNOW CHAINS
As you are heading off on a skiing holiday, you need to be prepared for snow on the roads. You don’t need to fit your car with winter tyres (although they make a huge difference), but you must carry snow chains. Buy your chains in the UK; they are much cheaper than local alpine garages.
Make sure you know how to fit your chains in advance to avoid awkwardness and embarrassment. You don’t want to be that person holding up all the traffic heading up the mountain.
FUEL UP ON THE FRENCH SIDE OF THE CHANNEL
Filling your tank up in France will be kinder to your wallet than in the UK. However, when you fill up on France’s motorways, you will find that the fuel prices are higher than when you fill up at petrol stations on A and B roads.
DON’T FORGET THE TOLLS
When you drive through France to the Alps via the motorways, you will need to pay tolls. Most péage’s have contactless payments, but it is worth having some Euros handy. You can expect to pay around €70 on tolls in both directions.
Also, remember that Switzerland doesn’t accept Euros, as they use Swiss Francs.
You probably have a right-hand drive car as you are driving from the UK. Therefore, you will need to wake up your passenger when you approach the péage or stretch if you are travelling alone.
To make tolls easier, you can order a Télépéage electronic device. This is something you stick to your windscreen that automatically pays the toll and lifts the barrier. These are not too expensive and make getting through the tolls quicker and easier.
DRIVING THROUGH THE SWISS ALPS & COUNTRYSIDE
Driving through the Swiss countryside on your way to the Alps offers a visual feast of breathtaking beauty. As you venture away from the bustling cities, you’ll find yourself immersed in the serene ambiance of rolling hills, lush meadows, and charming villages.
The countryside is adorned with vibrant colours, especially during spring and summer, when wildflowers carpet the fields and gentle streams meander through the landscape. Take your time to soak in the picturesque scenery, and don’t forget to capture these idyllic moments.
SNOW CAPPED MOUNTAINS & STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE
As you approach the Swiss Alps, the landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation. Majestic snow-capped mountains rise before you, their peaks piercing the sky. The Alps are famous for their grandeur, and driving through this awe-inspiring terrain will leave you in awe.
The towering mountains, often glistening in the sunlight, create a breathtaking backdrop that will accompany you throughout your journey. Be prepared to witness nature’s magnificence as you drive through this alpine wonderland.
NAVIGATING MOUNTAIN ROADS & HAIRPIN TURNS
Driving in the Alps involves traversing winding mountain roads that weave their way through the rugged terrain. These roads often feature hairpin bends that require careful manoeuvring. As you navigate these curves, take your time, and maintain a moderate speed to ensure safety.
Adhere to traffic regulations and be mindful of other drivers sharing the road. The mountain roads can be narrow, so exercise caution while overtaking or passing other vehicles. Embrace the adventure of driving along these challenging routes, and savour the thrill of conquering each bend.
When driving on narrow mountain roads, particularly those without dividers, it is essential to exercise caution and be mindful of oncoming traffic. Due to limited space, encounters with vehicles coming from the opposite direction can be common.
Keep a watchful eye for approaching vehicles, and be prepared to yield or find suitable spots to pass each other safely. Maintain a safe distance from oncoming traffic, especially on blind corners. Patience, attentiveness, and adhering to traffic rules are vital to ensuring a smooth and secure journey through the narrow mountain roads of the Alps.
MOUNTAIN PASSES & THEIR UNIQUE FEATURES
Furka Pass, located in the Swiss Alps, is a mountain pass that connects the cantons of Uri and Valais. It is known for its stunning natural beauty and its historical significance as an important trade route between northern and southern Europe.
The pass sits at an elevation of 2,429 meters (7,969 feet) and offers breathtaking panoramic views of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and lush valleys. Furka Pass gained fame for being featured in the iconic car chase scene in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger.”
Along the Furka Pass, there are several noteworthy landmarks and viewpoints that should not be missed. One of the highlights is the Rhone Glacier, which can be accessed by a short walk from the road. This massive glacier provides a glimpse into the region’s glacial history.
Another prominent landmark is the Hotel Belvédère, a historic hotel that offers magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. Additionally, the nearby Furka Steam Railway, which operates during the summer, is a popular attraction, allowing visitors to enjoy a nostalgic train ride through the picturesque landscape.
Gotthard Pass holds immense importance as a historic commercial trade route between northern and southern Europe. The pass has played a significant role in facilitating trade, connecting regions, and fostering cultural exchange throughout history.
In recent times, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in the world, was constructed to enhance transportation efficiency through the Alps, further solidifying the pass’s status as a vital trade link.
When driving through the Gotthard Pass, there are several attractions and viewpoints worth exploring. The Gotthard Museum in Göschenen provides insights into the pass’s historical significance and the challenges faced during its construction.
As you ascend the pass, the Tremola road awaits with its famous series of hairpin bends. This section of the road showcases impressive engineering and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Additionally, the Airolo side of the pass provides access to the historic Gotthard Hospice, a place of rest for pilgrims and travelers dating back to medieval times.
Susten Pass is renowned for its exceptional scenic beauty and serves as a popular route for those seeking to immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring Swiss Alps. As you ascend the pass, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks, cascading waterfalls, and verdant valleys.
Noteworthy viewpoints along the way include Susten Lake, a picturesque reservoir nestled amidst the mountains, and the Steingletscher Glacier, where you can witness the majestic presence of a glacier up close.
PRECAUTIONS WHILE DRIVING ON SUSTEN PASS ROADS
While driving on Susten Pass, it is important to be aware of the challenges and take necessary precautions. The pass reaches an altitude of 2,224 meters (7,297 feet), and the road can be steep and winding. Pay attention to road conditions and be prepared for changing weather, as the pass can experience rapid weather fluctuations.
Exercise caution while driving, especially during adverse weather conditions, and be mindful of oncoming traffic, as some sections of the road may be narrow.
GREAT ST BERNARD PASS
The Great St. Bernard Pass, located in the western Swiss Alps, has a rich historical background and holds significant importance as a mountain pass. It has been a crucial route for centuries, connecting Switzerland with Italy.
The pass was named after the Great St. Bernard Hospice, a hospice founded in the 11th century by St. Bernard of Menthon, who provided shelter and assistance to travelers crossing the pass. Historically, the pass served as a major trade route, facilitating the movement of goods, people, and ideas between northern and southern Europe. It also played a vital role for pilgrims traveling on the Via Francigena, a medieval pilgrimage route.
NOW YOU KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN DRIVING TO THE SWISS ALPS
Driving to the Alps gives you a lot of flexibility. Your car makes getting to the lifts easy, allows you to take everything you want, and gives you the opportunity to explore other resorts.
By following these tips, you will get to the Alps quickly and efficiently. The Alps offer an endless list of opportunities to its visitors and residents, including the chance to invest in luxury Swiss ski properties. AlpLifestyle are experts in luxury Swiss real estate and ski properties, get in touch with us today to find out more about how you can start your property investments today.