It’s June 2013 and over the next 9 days we were due to cover 2620 miles in a Mazda MX5 and a VW Polo G40 supercharged. France, Switzerland, Italy and Moncao were all waiting for us across the channel. Spending £431.15 worth of fuel, and £185.59 in tolls was well worth it to see the incredible views of these four European countries, and with only 1 broken clutch cable I think we can say we had the time of our lives…
The adventure begins…
Meeting at Clacket Lane Services with the other guys, nice and early, we were straight down to the Eurotunnel for one of the 1st trains out. We were in France within 2 hours and our journey was well under way!
Observation number 1 – I’d never driven abroad before, ever. Driving on the right side did, somehow, seem very natural, apart from the first few minutes where you’re consciously not trying to drive on the left; it was actually very easy and problem free. All 3 of us driving during the trip had no problems at all.
Observation number 2 – French motorways are fantastic. Yes they cost a fair bit in tolls but I think you pay for what you get. Well surfaced, quiet (we could sit in the slow lane for miles without seeing/overtaking anything), decent speed limits (80mph in most places) and everyone seems to be able to drive correctly (no middle lane hogging, driving too slowly etc). Also the services are generally very good and frequent, with nice picnic areas and restaurants, if a bit dear – but when aren’t they?!
After a bit of phoning around in my broken schoolboy French we booked a couple of rooms at an Ibis at Bourg-Jasseron services. This was good in 2 ways – first of the all it was quite reasonably priced (£70 for a room) and it had a perfect restaurant attached to the services that served great grub e.g. steak, burgers and beer! It also had a little pond outside with a waterfall and was generally very nice for a motorway hotel, so good in fact we stayed here on the way back as well.
Up nice and early! As we headed towards the border and the Mont Blanc tunnel, the road started to weave up into the mountains and brought some stunning views with it. Where else can you grab a sandwich from a motorway petrol station for breakfast and eat it while looking at mountains! Soon we reached the Mont Blanc tunnel, and drove through into Italy, only briefly. It was cool to do it once but I wouldn’t bother going that way again. There’s many other tunnels in Switzerland that are just as interesting and don’t cost 40 euros.
In Italy we had our first experience with Italian drivers, they are mental, and not in a good way. They will overtake you anywhere and without any regard for the laws of physics. The amount of times we were overtaken on blind corners by 20 year old Fiat Pandas or huge trucks/SUVs.
Along route 11 from Aigle to Spiez we made 2 more observations about Switzerland. Observation 1 – It seems like a place where they actually love cars, and the Swiss are also mental but in a good way this time. There were so many modified, rare and interesting cars all over the country, from slammed VW’s to big old American Cadillacs, lots of Evo’s and Imprezas and even some cars that looked like they fell straight out of Fast and Furious – Mitsubishi Eclipse anyone? Maybe a bright orange Mitsubishi GTO?
Observation 2 – They drive them properly. Whereas the Italians were reckless the Swiss drive with a massive level of skill and respect. Going faster than them? They’ll slow down and indicate for you to pass. Going slower? They’ll always overtake, but only when it’s safe to do so. It was heaven all over the country; I really can’t make a big enough deal of this!
That afternoon we arrived in Interlaken at a fantastic little campsite just across the road from a lake – Camping Alpenblick. The lovely people that worked there were happy to see us, made a great schnitzel and served coke in massive beer mugs.
This was meant to be THE day. The day to end all days. Unfortunately as confirmed by our Swiss campsite owners last night the Grimsel pass and Furka pass were still closed due to snow. Bugger. This also meant a LONG drive around the lake to the North west as there is no other way across the mountain range. So we set off even earlier than usual as it was raining (about 6am) and headed up towards Lucerne and around to Altdorf then Andermatt. We did find some great roads around the lake but a lot of it was slow going through small towns.
After we went up and over the Gotthard again we headed back down to Andermatt and across to Chur. I can’t remember much of this road to be honest, it was a fairly general alpine road. This doesn’t mean it was boring however, nothing was boring in Switzerland.
When we got to Chur we found a trusty Ibis on the edge of the town, opposite a car dealer selling brand new Camaros, Vipers and Mustangs! This was a lot more expensive than in France (Switzerland is quite an expensive place overall it would seem) but it served a purpose for the night…
***Check back for Monaco and Lake Como, next week, in part 2 of their ultimate Road Trip!