LEG 3 – GRINDELWALD AND THE ALPS
The actual entry into Switzerland was uneventful, except for a rather expensive carnet (40 Swiss francs!) that one must pay for to drive on Swiss roads.
As we drove deeper into the country, we started to see the landscape slowly change from flat and rolling civilisation to towering mountains that fought with clouds to display their splendour. We also noticed the sudden uptick in pricing, with meals everywhere costing a lot more than they did in Germany. The high prices, however, were justified when we stopped at Grindelwald, our abode for a week.
Said resort town is a gateway to the popular holiday destination of Jungfraujoch. However, most tourists just bypass Grindelwald to board a funicular railway to bring them up to Jungfraujoch. That’s a real shame, because Grindelwald is a fantastic base from which to explore numerous mountain hikes and cycling trails, including a few that lead to pedestrian-only villages perched on cliffs.
One of these villages is Gimmelwald, which we visited for a breather and where the car didn’t come into the picture. However, with mountain passes awaiting us, I set the alarm one evening to wake us up at 4.30am, and slept in anticipation of the drive at dawn.
With the sun rising early in summer, it was a real boon to keen drivers as visibility was excellent and the roads were empty! We reached the first mountain pass, Grimsel, at around 6am and it was simply driving heaven. The Grimsel, Nufenen, St Gotthard and Furka passes combined are all you ever need if you wish to experience the most delightful drive around the Alps.
Although not immediately popular or recognisable, these roads are wide, quiet and well-maintained, allowing anyone to drive fast without ever needing to take unnecessary risks. The views are simply amazing, and it felt as if I had the whole area to myself – such was the extent of the remoteness. That said, it’s very impressive that even on some of the quietest stretches, the roads were always cleared of snow, even though sometimes the snow was piled to triple the height of my hatchback!
The altitudes of these roads are no laughing matter, and I would advise that you check the Internet for their condition before setting off from your hotel. Even in summer, the summits of these passes are sometimes engulfed in the thickest of snowstorms.
With my driving desires fulfilled, I left Grindelwald satisfied and went further south towards Stelvio, where I predicted that I would be busier trying to avoid traffic heading up the pass than actually enjoying the road. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the case…