Winter Motorhoming in the Alps
We casually left St Anton around midday with a plan to drive through Liechtenstein and see what that country was all about, before finding an aire (free / cheap motorhome stop) to spend the night.
Travelling through Austria was a breeze (so long as you have purchased the right vignette to travel on the roads there). We then arrived at a rather strange border. It was difficult to work out if the border was with Liechtenstein or Switzerland, so Greg left Knigel (our Knaus motorhome) to investigate. I stayed put as there were policemen with guns. I’m a proud feminist but given the amount of everyday sexism I suffer; I figure sometimes it’s good to call the woman card every once in a while.
Liechtenstein was just like Austria funnily enough except with different number plates. Still, we notched up our half a century country and headed onto Switzerland.
Swiss Service Stations
We purchased our Swiss vignette in Liechtenstein. CHF 40 for a year, so not a bad price compared to the French tolls that we incurred during last Summer. For a respite we stopped off at the strangest motorway service station. Underneath, where the toilets were, there was a tunnel connecting the two sides of the motorway. This tunnel was lit, with bird noises playing and wildlife pictures on the wall. All very odd! Greg and I ate the most expensive Burger King in the world (and it was disgusting) then headed back onto our route.
Aire in the Alps
The plan was to stop driving when it got dark, which to be honest we thought would be earlier than it was! So at 7pm we started looking for an aire. For both Summer and Winter motorhoming, we use Camperstop and Park for the Night as our information sources on parking.
Camperstop had come up with an aire just over the border so off we headed. Unfortunately for us, this aire appeared to be in the mountains. A reminder of last Summer ensued. Up unlit, winding roads wondering where in the back of beyond we were travelling to. I reckon it was worse in the Winter than the Summer though. Perhaps this is a black mark against Winter motorhoming. Most of the time we had no idea whether we were in Switzerland or France.
Half an hour later and we are still on winding roads going in and out of the two countries. We did see a number of people skiing on lit slopes so it looked like we were in the right area anyway. On our way, we spotted a number of other motorhomes parked up. In true French motorhomer style we stopped to see what the fuss was all about. A great free aire is what it was all about! We had arrived at Porte de Balancier in Les Rousses. We settled down for the night then woke up to find that we were parked at the bottom of a chair lift to a ski resort. Apparently French Winter motorhoming is as casual and brilliant as Summer motorhoming. No time to get the skis out, we headed off to find some French gas before collecting Fiona.
Picking Fiona up at Geneva airport was easier said than done. It would appear that the airport isn’t built to cater for motorhomes. I had been advised to park in the cargo section, but that didn’t seem to have a connection to the arrivals terminal. After half an hour driving around trying to stop and taking out a few plastic barriers, we bundled Fiona into Knigel illegally in departures. It wasn’t quite the welcome we wanted to give her for coming all the way to Switzerland to see us but great to catch up on the way to La Clusaz.
So for our second Winter motorhoming ski adventure I chose La Clusaz. This was based on an article in the Telegraph about good ski resorts near to Geneva airport. I read that La Clusaz was undiscovered by the British so was a majority French resort maintaining its quaint alpine village feel.
I am not sure if the journalist has ever been to La Clusaz as we arrived to a packed resort full of people, cars, restaurants and ski shops. Not quite the quaint experience we were expecting. We bundled Fiona out at her hotel (Odalys) as we had bundled her in!
Off we headed to the aire that we had found on Camperstops. The description here was also a little off the mark. The aire is a good 15 minute drive outside of La Clusaz village, nowhere near a chair lift, restaurant, bar etc. Most importantly for us, it was nowhere near Fiona. We tried the local campsite, but they were fully booked. Oh no! What are we going to do!?! Is this where our Winter motorhoming adventure starts going pear shaped??
I checked our Park for the Night app, and found a couple comments about camping being tolerated in a couple of the central car parks. We fought our way back through the traffic and found a “pitch”. Haha, it was a car parking spot really, we just set up shop in the pitch black and hoped that we’d be ok. Greg was pretty convinced that we’d be woken up and moved on by the police. I kept reminding Greg that we were in France now, so could be naughty, unlike in Austria!
We discovered the next morning that our car park was basically a ski in ski out motorhome, nice! We were absolutely happy for the next 3 nights and managed to get to and from a main gondola within 3 minutes. All this, and it was free!!! Maybe the Winter motorhoming adventure just got better!
Fiona is a very good skier like Greg having learnt at a young age, so I felt very secure with the pair of them. My new found bravery continued and we skied red and black runs all day. The view from the top of Massif de Balme was stunning, with Mont Blanc in the background.
The first day, we had a really long skiing day but loads of fun. It was fabulous catching up with Fiona who regaled us with her tales. Greg and I might have just met someone clumsier than us! One of Fiona’s stories involved falling off a chair lift as a child by slipping under the bar. Greg is concerned that she is a travelling curse, whereas I figure if it’s all happening to her I’ll be perfectly safe. Sorry Fiona, you know we love you!
Those that know me will know that I have a bit of a toilet obsession, or perhaps I should say repulsion. The hardest thing about travelling for me is having to use public toilets. I would like to ask the people and councils of France why oh why in such a beautiful country you have to have such awful toilets? One of the piste toilets was shared male and female with the urinals next to the sink, so I queued next to a man weeing, then washed my hands next to a man weeing. Nice! Greg got stage fright and wouldn’t go!
Empire Strikes Back
On one little break we spotted some Storm Troopers casually carrying their skis onto the piste. Brilliant! I asked for a photo, which two of them were more than happy to pose for. We assumed that these guys were great skiers, why would you draw attention to yourself otherwise? It was with much hilarity that we then watched them go up on a button lift, onto a nursery slope and try to ski. I don’t think they’d ever skied before. Their coolness dropped down a notch or two!
I have to say, Storm Troopers hadn’t quite formed part of my plans when we were considering Winter motorhoming.
Stay on Your Feet!
I had quite a spectacular fall on a red run – the first turn saw me head off down the mountain head first. Fiona was behind me and said that she was impressed with my 360o flip, so that’s all that matters. I was completely unhurt.
Later on that day, heading back into resort we came across a little flat blue track with limited snow on it. I face planted in front of a group of skiing soldiers (only in France) and kids. It was not a good look.
My confidence was shaken a little but not too bad. Fiona and Greg both gave me skiing improvement tips so I think I’ve moved on a little bit more. And still, no meltdowns! Impressive huh?
It’s fair to say that La Clusaz isn’t the best après ski resort. We hunted and hunted for après ski bars and found the grand total of zero! Refusing to be beat the three of us made our own après in bars around the resort, even when we were the only people in them!
La Clusaz does have its fair share of restaurants though, albeit they were all fully booked! We managed to squeeze into a couple restaurants and had some lovely meals. Fiona and I shared a fondue one night, which was delicious. We also managed to find a hilariously named bottle of wine. So much for all our wine tasting experiences, this was purely picked for the name.
There is a drawback to Winter motorhoming verses Summer motorhoming, as in the Winter you can’t sit outside the van for a couple beers socialising. It is much more in van based, which doesn’t lend itself to après ski!
Saturday arrived, which meant it was change over day. Fiona is leaving and Greg’s parents are arriving. On the way to Geneva we stopped off at the town of Annecy for brunch. It was a lovely little town on a lake / river. It was a nice change after being in the mountains to have a walk around a town in the sunshine.
We parked in the free aire, but I wouldn’t have liked to spend the night as the toilet was an open sewer (cue wretching!).
Back to Geneva airport and we tried to go back to the illegal departures parking. Our plan was foiled by two policemen who told us off. We then spent half an hour trying to drop Fiona off, getting told off by policeman after policeman. In the end we stopped at a give way junction for Fiona to run out being chased by another policeman! Very stressful. Top tip, don’t try to pick up or drop off anyone whilst driving a motorhome!.
So now we say goodbye to Six Countries Fiona. Amazing to see you. You have now been part of our South American adventure followed by our Winter motorhoming one. I wonder if we’ll see you in our Asian leg???