CAMPERVANNING IN SWITZERLAND
Are you thinking of campervanning in Switzerland? If so, magnificent mountains, perfect Alpine pastures and over 1500 sparkling lakes lay in wait for you. Reading Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, when I was young, and watching the movie (several times), meant that I had a fair idea of the stunning scenery that awaited me. I was not disappointed.
This article includes heaps of information to help you plan a motorhome and campervan trip in Switzerland. You’ll find tips for driving through Switzerland, places to visit and information on amazing Swiss experiences to be had.
So join us and find out how we found the elusive Swiss edelweiss, stumbled upon the only lighthouse in the Swiss Alps and what it’s like to visit a village above the clouds. All intermingled with great practical advice for your Swiss road trip itinerary.
HOW THIS CAMPERVANNING IN SWITZERLAND ARTICLE WILL HELP YOU:
♥ Suggested Motorhome routes and road trips in Switzerland
♥ An interactive map with campervan overnight spots and places to visit
♥ Advice in relation to driving a campervan and motorhome rules in Switzerland
♥ Handy tips to make your campervan tour of Switzerland as stress-free as possible
♥ Experiences from our Campervanning trip in Switzerland and ideas of places to visit
For those of you that are new to campervanning, you will want to read our Motorhoming tips for beginners which will give you useful pointers to help make your trip much easier and stress-free. We also highlight many of the campervan accessories we find useful which you may wish to browse or go to our All Things Motorhome Lifejourney4two Amazon Shop.
Alpine Scenery at Oberalp Pass, Switzerland
FREE MOTORHOME/ RV TRAVEL PLANNER
We also have the perfect planner to use as you motorhome Switzerland. Download a 23-page Motorhome and RV TRAVEL PLANNER. Other FREEBIES include Photo eBooks, heaps of Travel Guides and free mobile phone Wallpaper.
CAMPERVANNING IN SWITZERLAND INTERACTIVE MAP
HOW TO USE THIS SWITZERLAND MAP
To use this map, expand it using the square symbol on the top right-hand side and you will find the key on the left-hand side. By clicking each location you will find extra information.
The motorhome overnight stops are marked with an orange circle with a parking icon and the places we visited marked with Purple location icons.
The red location icons are locations on the Alpine Circle and the blue are other popular places to visit on your campervanning trip in Switzerland.
OUR CAMPERVANNING JOURNEY THROUGH SWITZERLAND
We arrived in Switzerland in early July, the perfect time to enjoy the verdant Alpine Mountain scenery and endless quantities of healthy Swiss fresh air. The same fresh air that gets bottled up and sold for $32 a pop. Dumbfounded, I did some research and Swiss air isn’t the only breath of fresh air on the market. I recently read that you can buy a bottle of Devonshire coastal air in the UK for £75. Perhaps that’s what you buy the person who has everything – a bottle filled with absolutely nothing. As my grandfather used to say, ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk’
But I digress, where were we? Oh yes, breathing in copious amounts of Switzerland’s delightful Alpine air — free of charge.
Below, I highlight the places we visited, where we overnighted in the motorhome and a list of other places you might like to add to your Swiss road trip itinerary. (You can skip to the places to visit in Switzerland here)
Firstly though, let’s get practical…
MOTORHOME AND CAMPERVAN CAMPING IN SWITZERLAND
A motorhome tour is the best way to travel around Switzerland in the summer. This is because it is much more economical and budget-friendly than paying for accommodation, which tends to be relatively expensive.
Switzerland has its fair share of luxury campsites for those who like to splash out a little and plenty of cheap or free options for those on a budget. We were on a budget, so our itineraries reflect cheap or free motorhome camping options.
In recent times, camping, campervanning and motorhoming in Switzerland has become even more popular, so it is recommended to book a campsite well ahead of time, especially if you are travelling in the peak summer holiday season. (July – September).
SWITZERLAND MOTORHOME CAMPSITES AND SERVICES – APPS TO USE
We have included all of our motorhome camper van stops that we stayed at in Switzerland in the map above– with most having links to the camper contact site where you can see reviews and available services. We used the Camper Contact app the most when motorhoming through Switzerland. Another app you might find useful is Park4 night, which many motorhomers also use.
An overnight motorhome stop in Guarda
WILD CAMPING IN SWITZERLAND
Wild camping in Switzerland is allowed in some regions but not all. Each municipality has its own rules, so pay careful attention to signage.
Some car parks allow for overnight rest only — which means that you should not set up camp by using your outside table and chairs and should move on the very next day. Your campervan or motorhome must be parked in a designated spot.
During Covid times, wild camping increased, and in some places, this has been tolerated, but not expressly permitted. Remember these important points:
- Be respectful of nature and the environment – Leave no trace
- Do not put out chairs, tables or awnings
- No wild camping in nature reserves, national parks, hunting areas and quiet zones for wildlife
- Pay attention to any “no camping” signs
- Do not drive on grassland/meadows without permission
It is recommended to inquire on-site with the respective municipality or the local police if you want to spend the night outside of official campsites or parking spaces.
WHEN TO GO MOTORHOMING, RV’ing AND CAMPERVANNING IN SWITZERLAND
If you want to avoid snow ridden mountain passes, but still want to enjoy all the beauty of Switzerland’s Alpine wonder then the best months to travel by camper are May to October. Easter holidays and the school summer holidays will be particularly busy — as will the most popular tourist locations. However, we travelled in early July and, as we prefer many of the off the beaten track places, we didn’t find anywhere overwhelmed with tourists.
As you’ll read further along, we didn’t fancy motorhoming in Switzerland in winter. Many of the Alpine roads are closed in winter or during bad weather. Snow tyres and snow chains are required and it’s recommended to have experience driving in snowy and icy conditions. If you are confident driving a large vehicle in winter conditions or have a small campervan, then this may be an option for you.
The Swiss Alps are one of the best places to ski, and as such the ski resorts are busy over the winter period. If you are going to Switzerland for the skiing season then book early as campsites can fill quickly.
The winter season can start as early as November and snows can last into April.
We did come back to Switzerland in the winter, but we left our campervan in Greece — where we were enjoying the warmer winter weather. We flew from Athens to Zurich, experienced the festive Zurich Christmas markets and then enjoyed a magical Christmas skiing in Bettmeralp.
For us, the Swiss Alps were a marvel in both summer and winter but the summer months were the best time for campervanning.
Oberalp Pass overnight Car Park
THE FLEXIBILITY OF MOTORHOMING AND CAMPERVANNING IN SWITZERLAND
Motorhoming through Switzerland means that you are totally flexible, and you can either have a fixed plan with your route all mapped out or you can travel along and decide where to go on a whim. When we travel, we end up with a happy medium of both. We basically know where we are headed, but try not to lock anything in so we have options to stay longer in certain places that we like.
MOTORHOME HIRE IN SWITZERLAND
If you aren’t travelling in your own motorhome and you need to hire a motorhome then we thoroughly recommend Motorhome Republic. They search for the best deals for you with a wide variety of campervan rental companies with various pick-up points in Switzerland. We used them and they were incredibly helpful and we saved more money going directly to them rather than to individual rental companies.
MOTORHOME AND CAMPERVAN DRIVING IN SWITZERLAND
These are the main pointers that you will need to pay attention to for your road trip through Switzerland:
- In Switzerland, you drive on the right.
- You will need to have the following documents:
- Drivers licence
- Vehicle insurance
- Vehicle registration document
- Headlights: It is compulsory to drive with your lights on during the day. If you are driving with a right-hand vehicle camper van you will need to adjust the beam to suit driving on the right (so that the dipped beam doesn’t dazzle oncoming drivers). You can cheaply purchase beam deflectors to adjust the beam.
- Tolls. You need to buy a vignette which can be bought at the border, post offices, and petrol stations. It is expected that in 2023 an e-vignette will be available.
- Speed Limits are as follows unless otherwise signposted and on dry roads
- 120 km/h on motorways
- 110 km/h on expressways
- 80 km/h outside built-up areas
- 50 km/h in built-up areas
- Emergencies: Drivers must create a corridor in the middle of the motorway without encroaching on the emergency lane to allow access for emergency vehicles. This means that on a motorway with three lanes, vehicles in the centre lane must move across into the lane to the left or right. Hazard warning lights must also be turned on.
- Mountain Roads: When driving on Switzerland’s steep mountain roads, the uphill driver has priority and the downhill driver is expected to reverse. On narrow roads, if you cannot see around a bend it is useful to sound your horn to alert any potential oncoming traffic.
- Braking on Steep Roads: Do not brake excessively on steep roads as this can cause brakes to overheat and stop working. If you smell the brakes and overheating tyres, pull in and turn the car engine off for a few minutes to give the brakes time to cool down.
- Winter Driving: Drivers must use snow chains and winter tyres where appropriate.
Stunning Alpine Scenery on the Oberalp pass
PLACES TO VISIT WHEN CAMPERVANNING IN SWITZERLAND
SHOPPERS DELIGHT IN SAMNAUN
The first Swiss town we stopped at in Switzerland, arriving from Austria, was the high altitude border town of Samnaun.
It was an 11km detour off the main route and involved many winding roads. Not a particularly pleasant experience in a large motorhome. Nonetheless, we arrived not too frazzled, found a parking space and went for a stroll.
If you are an avid shopper and love high-end brands then Samnaun is for you. There are over 40 shops in this high Alpine town, and they are all duty-free. Samnaun is the only duty-free zone in Switzerland and has been since 1892. At that time, there wasn’t any direct road access via Switzerland and the town relied on goods from Austria. The cost of setting up a customs office would have outweighed the taxes paid, so it was decreed a customs-free zone and remains so today.
In winter, Samnaun is one of the largest ski areas in the eastern Alps. In summer, it is the starting place for bike tours and numerous hiking routes. The area has over 250km of marked hiking trails and several themed trails, such as the Fairy-tale Trail, Sayings and Quotes trail, Mountain Forest Trail and a Plant trail.
If you are a fan of cheese, take a visit to the local Samnaun dairy with fresh products made on-site from the milk of the valley’s cows.
Our first motorhome overnight stop in Switzerland was in fact our very first ‘wild camp’ on our European Campervanning journey. It was in a carpark with a tremendous vista overlooking the mountains. We’d pulled off the main road into the village of Guarda. It was in this tiny village that we stumbled upon its beautiful facades that date back to the mid 17th century.
Guarda is in the Engadine region of the Swiss canton, Graubunden. It was awarded the Wakker Prize in 1975 in recognition of the care and the preservation of the village and its architecture. We didn’t know at the time, but the village also has an app that you can download on your phone which gives you information about many of Guarda’s buildings and their history.
Did you know that if you eat a meal with heavy cutlery you enjoy it more? I recently heard that interesting snippet of information on the BBC program, QI. If you eat in the starred chef Andreas Caminada’s restaurant, Casa Caminada, in Guarda, you will use the weighty cutlery made by the local blacksmith, Thomas Lampert. In mid-July 2021, the blacksmith will be opening a new forge offering visitors an insight into the old trade with blacksmithing demonstrations and a cafeteria. Thomas Lampert also hosts regular workshops where you can make your own knife.
Along with the beautiful architecture of the village, there are many hikes in the area taking you through the valley of the River Inn.
In March, the village boys carry out the ancient tradition of the Chalandamarz. The boys bang ‘plumpas’ which are large cowbells, chasing the winter away and singing songs to greet the new springtime.
Guarda in Switzerland
THE ALPINE CIRCLE
You may have heard of the Golden Circle in Iceland, the Garden Route in South Africa and the North Coast 500 in Scotland, but have you heard of the Alpine Circle in Switzerland? It is the new circular road trip in the Graubunden area of Switzerland.
The four main highlights of the route include the Swiss national park, the Diavolezza Glacier world, the Landwasser Viaduct ( a UNESCO World Heritage structure since 2008) of the Rhaetian Railway and the Rhine Gorge, also known as the Swiss Grand Canyon. (see map)
We didn’t take the Alpine Circle but it’s definitely on our list for when we return.
Landwasser Viaduct, Switzerland (Photo:Canva)
If you love street art then you may like to detour off the Alpine Circle into Chur. Chur is the hometown of Bane, of Bane&Pest, an internationally renowned street art duo. Bane holds the Swiss record for creating the largest mural painting in Switzerland. It is on the edge of Chur, is 800 square metres and depicts two hands holding a crystal. Bane also launched the annual Chur Street Art Festival in 2018.
FUN ON THE SWISS MOUNTAIN ROADS
Leaving Guarda, we hit the zigzagging and winding Alpine roads towards Oberalpsee.
It was somewhere along this road, on a right-angled bend with a good 50-metre drop or so to one side and a steep craggy mountain on the other, that we encountered a full-size bus.
We spent a good twenty brow-sweating minutes edging inch by inch past this monster. The whole time it looked like it might topple off the edge of the road, as we gently grazed the encroaching cliff face thanking our lucky stars, or whoever may be listening, that we were on the inside of the bend.
Not an incident we wanted to repeat. The bus drivers who frequent these Alpine roads must have nerves of steel. The memory of this incident was in the forefront of our minds when we decided to return to experience Switzerland in the winter.
Winter in Switzerland offers a white wonderland of beauty, but campervan travel — in the snowy winding roads — wasn’t something that appealed to us. Also, many of the Alpine passes are closed in winter so your choices of where to drive are limited.
The Swiss trains run run through the Alpine passes all year long
The Oberalp Pass weaves along 23.5 km from Tujetsch to Andermatt. Partway along, you will arrive at Oberalpsee. Stop here if you’d like to find out more about the highest lighthouse in the world (and the only one in the Swiss Alps), hike to the source of the Rhine at Lake Tamo, or buy artisanal products from locals from small pop-up vans in the nearby carpark.
It was here that we got chatting to this lovely local who was selling cheese, honey and wines. As we debated over the best cheeses to choose and how the honey bees had collected the pollen of Alpine flowers, we also lamented our lack of success in finding any edelweiss in the Alpine meadows.
“Oh, I have plenty growing in my garden – I will bring you some tomorrow. “
And the very next day we laid eyes upon our first authentic edelweiss.
The edelweiss flowers taped into my travel journal for posterity
I must admit my first impression was one of surprise. The edelweiss isn’t a natural beauty. It isn’t a flower you would immediately notice in a crowd. But it is a resilient little thing, surviving extreme weather and blustery winds. Over the next few days, as I planned how to preserve this floral representation of Switzerland and studied its off white, woolly appearance, I grew rather fond of this little flower. I believe the author, Mark Twain’s comments about the edelweiss being an “ugly Swiss favourite”, as a little too harsh and I congratulate the Swiss for choosing heart and substance over physical appearance, as their national iconic bloom.
The highest lighthouse in the world, at 2046 metres above sea level
We found this great video on YouTube by Road Trip Through the Lens, which takes you along the Oberalp Pass. We drove it in the opposite direction but you can see the motorhome stop at Oberalpsee on the left of the screen at 9.09 minutes in, with Oberalpsee on the right.
We set off early in the morning to drive the Furka Pass, about an hour and a half drive from Andermatt to Gletsch along Route 19. It is one of the highest roads in Europe at 2429 metres with craggy mountains and forests your companion along its unnerving route.
The James Bond movie, Goldfinger, was filmed on location here. Be prepared for endless winding roads and dramatic scenery as you weave your way through the ancient ice-carved valley. The Rhone Glacier can be seen just before you reach Gletsch and it is possible to step inside this massive glacier into its Ice Grotto.
Driving the Furka Pass
On the drive, we were lucky enough to have an early morning sighting of a marmot — the only one we saw on the whole trip through Switzerland. It was happily going about its business amongst the wildflowers. Though we only saw that one, we had heard them on several occasions. Initially, we made the mistake of thinking the whistles and chirps we heard were birds. However, not seeing any evidence of any feathered friends we realised it was the marmots calling from their burrows. Marmots make their tweeting noises when alarmed so they were obviously voicing their dislike of hikers rambling through their domain.
This isn’t the marmot we saw … but it looked exactly like this… with a little less modelling experience I think
Oh, Bettmeralp. This has to be the most undiscovered summer paradise in the Swiss Alps. This traditional Swiss Alpine village sits above the clouds in the Valais region. It is car-free and can only be reached by cable car.
If you have ever read Enid Blyton’s, The Magic Faraway Tree, visiting Bettmeralp is like climbing to the top of the Faraway tree and going on an adventure with Silky, Moonface and Saucepan Man. It is just as magical in summer as winter and although a bustling ski resort in winter, in summer, it is mainly the locals you will be sharing the emerald green Alpine meadows with … and marmots, who as we mentioned, you are more likely to hear than see.
The hiking opportunities here are spectacular and you can also take a guided tour onto the largest glacier in the Alps, the Aletsch Glacier.
On a clear day, you can see across to the famous Matterhorn which overlooks the popular town of Zermatt.
Bettmeralp also has its very own lake, Bettmersee, a fantastic high ropes park, an indoor swimming pool, mini-golf and more.
There is plenty of parking beside the Betten Talstation station in the valley, where you can catch the cable car up to Bettmeralp.
Bettmersee Lake, Bettmeralp
MORLON PLAGE – LAC DE LA GRUYERE
Our final campervan stop in Switzerland was at Morlon Beach, a small pebble beach cove, at Lac de la Gruyere.
This was a gorgeous place for a swim in the tranquil waters of the lake with mountain views and grassy banks to rest on afterwards. Surprisingly again, this wasn’t busy and highlighted the fact that many tourists visit the well-trodden and most popular places in Switzerland and many of its other beauty spots are often missed.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT ON YOUR SWITZERLAND ROAD TRIP
There are plenty of really popular places to visit in Switzerland too, and many travel blogs write about them. We hope that our motorhome trip, to some of Switzerland’s less-visited spots, will inspire you to include the path less travelled as you road trip Switzerland.
Popular tourist spots include:
- Lake Logano
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION FOR YOUR SWITZERLAND ROAD TRIP
- Emergency Number: 144
- Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)
- Languages: German, French, Italian, Romansh are spoken here … many can also speak English
- Switzerland Authorities: For more rules, regulations and information the Swiss Authorities website is: https://www.ch.ch/en/
- Capital city: Bern (…not Zurich which is the largest city in Switzerland)
- Guide Books: If you like having a paper copy with routes and information about Switzerland we recommend the following books:
CAMPERVANNING IN SWITZERLAND – THAT’S A WRAP
Although we’ve now swapped out a motorhome for a 4×4 bush camper (more practical for Overlanding Africa), a motorhome is a perfect way to explore Switzerland and the rest of Europe. There is so much to visually entice you through this beautiful country and, along with mountains, marmots, swiss cheeses, waterfalls, lakes, and of course swiss chocolate, your road tripping in Switzerland is set to be a delight to all of the senses.
… And the fresh Swiss air will be free.
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