Smith Travel BlogTravel tales and hotel news from the boutique hotel experts at Mr & Mrs Smith

How to… drive in the Alps

Posted by Jim Whyte on November 14th, 2008

Car adverts invariably show a gleaming vehicle purring unhindered along an empty highway that twists and turns through magnificent scenery. Real life is, of course, a bit different. The reality is that the average speed of a car in London’s rush-hour traffic is seven miles an hour, and the nearest that many motorists get to top gear these days is watching Jeremy Clarkson on Dave. But don’t despair: you can escape the terrible tedium of the Hammersmith gyratory (and Clarkson). In the Alps.

Ski holidays in the Alps - driving tips

Before you blaze off into the mountains, it’s worth considering a few of the lessons I learned the hard way while researching the Smith Ski collection. Here are some tried-and-tested Alpine driving tips to help you get to your ski chalet in one piece:

1. Just because there’s a road on the map doesn’t mean you can use it in winter. If you ignore the signs telling you the mountain pass is closed, you’ll end up facing an impassable snowdrift – as I did when trying to get from Chalet Eugenia in Klosters to Chalet Solmaï in Verbier.

2. French radio can only really be enjoyed by amateur philosophers, Tanita Tikaram fans and (presumably) the French; pack one of Mr & Mrs Smith’s Something for the Weekend CDs for en-route entertainment if you value your sanity.

3. Perfect Swiss tarmac comes at a price: late spring and early summer is the roadwork season. Detours can be long but fascinating; I’ve was once unexpectedly re-routed via Austria and stumbled across a Tyrolean brass band in full lederhosen regalia.

4. Drive carefully. My hire car had a helpful little alarm that told me the car was skidding out of control on ice near Val d’Isère. Of course, the fact that the steering wheel and the tyres were pointing in opposite directions at the time was another handy hint.

Ski holidays at Chalet Solmai in Verbier5. If you take a quick detour to Liechtenstein on the way from Zürich Airport to Davos or Klosters, do not compare the country to Lilliput – not even in jest: the locals get rather upset. Seriously, not worth it.

6. Autumn is a fabulous time to drive around the Alps when the pines turn a sparking golden colour. Luxury private chalets available for rental all year round include Chalet Solmaï, Chalets Philippe, Ferme de Moudon and La Grange à Charlotte.

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10 Responses to “How to… drive in the Alps”

  1. Jim – I’d love to see a picture of a surprised-looking Tyrolean brass band in their lederhosen if you have one!

    By Lucy

  2. Love the winterscapes! I really wish we had more time to travel in the winter because I love snow.

    By Dominique

  3. Found you though this submission to DeliciousBaby’s photo Fridays! Love the snow shots!

    We have really enjoyed driving in the Alps on our open ended world tour as a family, but we actually avoid it in winter time and ski the mountains close to our warm winter home in Spain.

    I think it is a Californian thing, we like swimming at the beach in winter & just driving to skiing in mountains nearby. ;)

    Stunning scenery though, we’ve seen the Alps in spring and fall, perhaps we should try winter before leaving the European continent!

    By soultravelers3

  4. We drove around the Italian & French alps during the summer (on our honeymoon). It was absolutely beautiful, and of course there were very few tourists. I’d love to return during winter time… thanks for bringing me along virtually.

    By DeliciousBaby

  5. I love driving and taking trains through the Alps, it’s just so beautiful! Your photographs are beautiful!

    By kat

  6. what lovely photos!

    By Jessie V

  7. Some good tips Jim, thanks. I work for a car hire company called Auto Europe, and we get a lot of questions from people wanting to know whether they need snow chains, special tyres etc, when driving in the Alps. Some regions require winter driving equipment to be used by law and some don’t, so it’s worth checking up before you travel.

    In regions where you’re required to have snow tyres, a compulsory winter season fee will apply whenever you hire a car, which covers the cost of the equipment.

    We’ve put together a guide about the regulations for all main skiing destinations, so check it out if you get the chance: http://www.auto-europe.co.uk/showspecial.cfm?specid=649

    By Gemma

  8. Stunning photos. If only snow weren’t so cold…

    By zooeyibz

  9. “Just because there’s a road on the map doesn’t mean you can use it in winter.” – This is by far the best tip.

    And I agree that autumn is a fabulous time for driving in the Alps. We drove through France and Switzerland in October a few years ago. It was amazing!

    By Erica

  10. Sounds exciting! I was curious about the dangers of avalanche, how serious is the risk in the Alps?

    By Jack Thomas

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