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Driving to Verbier

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If you don’t like hanging around in airports, or if you’re looking for cheaper travel, fancy a scenic drive through France or simply don’t like being couped up in a plane, travelling by road can be a very appealing option (and allows you to stop and stretch your legs and/or exercise the children).

Journey time

The journey time from Calais to Verbier will depend on how many stops you make. Sticking to the speed limits and not stopping at all (except for a single fuel stop), it’s possible to do it in around 8 1/4 hours, but this isn’t always feasible with unexpected traffic congestion en route, or extended stops to break up the journey. Hence, we generally advise people to plan on around 9-10 hours. Clearly, you will also need to factor in the time taken to get from your home to Folkestone or Dover – assuming you are planning to cross the Channel at its narrowest point!

Once in France, the drive from Calais to Verbier is pretty straightforward. It’s motorway all the way to Martigny if you choose to go ’round the south’ via Geneva (usually quicker than cutting cross-country between Bersaillin and Vallorbe, but a little further), and then it’s a 45-minute climb up the Grand St. Bernard valley to Le Châble and up the hill to the resort. It is approximately 850km/530 miles from Calais to Verbier.

Directions

If you don’t have sat nav installed, here’s a handy link to the Google map equivalent, for directions between Calais and Verbier!

Motorway tolls and Swiss road tax

Unlike the UK, most European countries don’t have road tax. You will need to pay around €50-60 (around £40-£50) each way in French motorway tolls as you travel to and from Switzerland, and you will need to purchase a road tax disc for your vehicle at the border when entering Switzerland (no other tolls are charged in Switzerland). The toll lasts a whole year, but costs around 40CHF (approx. £25-£30) for a car, so is not as punishing as the UK equivalent.

Driving in the resort

Verbier is a small village, and has a decent internal bus system, so using your car during your stay may prove to be unnecessary. However, it can be handy (and less of a bun-fight when jostling for space on a crowded bus) to be able to drive yourself home from the slopes after a long day, and parking is available close to the lift stations. Having your own car also allows you to take day trips if you want a change of scenery, perhaps to ski or hike elsewhere for the day.

Driving laws in France and Switzerland

France

Please be aware that it is now a legal requirement to carry a high visibility vest at all times for the driver and each of the passengers when driving in France. These are cheap enough to purchase in the UK before you go, and arguably could be handy to keep in your car at all times in the UK in any case. They are certainly a lot cheaper than paying the fine if you are stopped without them.

You are also required to carry at all times an appropriate GB sticker unless your number plate already carries the GB Euro-symbol, and headlamp beam converters – to prevent dazzling on-coming drivers.

A warning triangle must also be carried in your vehicle in France and, as of July 2012, it is a legal requirement to carry an NF Approved breathalyser at all times.

Switzerland

Given that you are likely to be driving through France to Switzerland, meeting the requirement of the French laws above will ensure you also meet those of Switzerland. (For the record, you do not have to carry high visibility vests or a breathalyser in Switzerland, but you DO need to have a GB sticker or number plate, headlamp beam converters and a warning triangle!)

NEW headlight law
A recent law has also been introduced in Switzerland that requires you to drive with your headlights on at all times during the day. Some vehicles have ‘daylights’ which are legal, but it is always best to check for your specific vehicle.

Preparing for your journey

Click the drop-down to see our list of essential checks.

Essential vehicle checks
Tyres and snow chains
A 4×4 can be useful when driving on snowy roads, but is generally not enough. Without the right snow tyres and/or snow chains, a 4×4 just means having four spinning wheels instead of two. You might consider investing in some snow (winter) tyres for your journey, which give a much needed increase in traction when driving on fresh and compacted snow. Similarly, a set of snow chains could prove a wise investment, as they can get you out of a lot of scrapes (quite literally).

If you are buying snow chains, practice putting them on before you travel. It isn’t difficult once you know how, but doing it for the first time with cold hands, in the dark and with a tired family on board is not something we would recommend!

Battery
Even modern batteries don’t last forever, especially in very cold conditions. A solid battery is essential. Winter conditions in the dark with lights, car and seat heaters and windscreen wipers puts a lot of strain on your battery. Consider replacing your battery before you go, especially if it is approaching the end of its life span.

Vehicle Fluids
Check the oil and water levels in your vehicle (found in your hand book) and ensure they are topped up. Pay particular attention to the anti-freeze and windscreen wash – use a proper product rather than the cheaper options. You do not want your vehicle freezing up on your journey, as it is dangerous and could cause damage to your vehicle.

Lights
Check that all lights are working and clean. Remember also that you are driving on the opposite side of the road in France and Switzerland, so remember to fit headlight converters to adjust your beams so as not to dazzle on-coming vehicles.

Windscreen Wipers
Very important if you happen to get a spot of rain or snow while driving up the mountain roads. Check front and rear wiper blades for wear or splitting, and replace if necessary.

Number Plates
If your vehicle / number plate is pre 2001 and without a GB Euro badge then you are required to affix a GB sticker to your vehicle. This needs to be clearly visible. You can pick these up at high street stores for not a lot of money.

Motor Insurance
It is essential that you have the correct level of insurance for travelling in a different country. We advise you to contact your insurance company at least one month in advance of travel to inform them of your trip. They can best advise any additional costs or requirements that may be needed.


Rules of the road abroad

To avoid an encounter with the French or Swiss authorities, you need to know what the differences are in road rules once across the Channel.

Rules of the road
Driving Direction
Most importantly, in France and Switzerland they drive ON THE RIGHT. It is easy to forget this when doing common things like pulling out of a petrol station. So be wary and remember to drive on the right. In France they also give way to the right, which can sometimes mean giving way to a car that is pulling onto the road you are already travelling on.

Drink Driving
As with the UK, it is illegal to drive when intoxicated in France or Switzerland, although in France please note that the legal blood-alcohol level is lower than in the UK. If you are planning on heading out to one of the local bars once in Verbier, you are best advised to walk or take public transport. Buses are free within Verbier, so there isn’t really no excuse.

Mobiles
It is illegal to drive and use your mobile phone in the EU and Switzerland unless using a hands free kit.

Seat Belts
It is mandatory in France and Switzerland that you and all your passengers wear seat belts whether in the front or back seats.

Speed
Speed limits apply on most roads, just like in the UK. Across the Channel, speed is measured in KPH and not MPH, so be sure to look up your conversion table before you go and know what the correct speeds are before you travel.


Preparing your travellers

A 9-hour+ car journey is not to be undertaken lightly. Ensure you and your passengers are well rested before you travel, and take plenty of water/fluids and maybe a snack with you. Most importantly, of course, please ensure that everyone remembers their passports.
 


With a bit of forward planning, driving your own vehicle to the Alps can be a great experience. And it’s certainly an option to think about if you don’t fancy flying.