Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Courmayeur in the summer. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Since I first went to Courmayeur, having stopped there for breakfast, on our way home from our annual ski week in Pila, driving through the scenic SS26, I fall in love with the place. When we were coming up, just after coming out the Mont Blanc tunnel, you see the gondolas and the tram on top of the route, plus the town with all its buildings very prettily aligned around the route and I knew I wanted to check it out! Being working in the ski biz for almost all my life, before moving to the UK (in the US/Canada and Argentina/Chile), I knew about Courmayeur as a name, but I have not visited many ski areas outside America.

Summer in the mountains? Why not? The look from Plan Chécrouit in Courmayeur. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.
Summer in the mountains? Why not? The look from Plan Chécrouit in Courmayeur. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Our summer in the mountains – one week in Courmayeur.

Of all places in our first family ski holiday in Europe, we’ve finished in Ollomont – a small ski ‘field’ – I would say, in the end of the road where mountaineers go to ice climb – but I will write more of this in another post.

But back now to Courmayeur. Since our first breakfast there, we had a second one on the following trip with my friend Claudine from the Tourist Office of Courmayeur and her baby – and then again we’ve been up the Skyway coming back from Lago di Como, and finally we’ve stayed  for some nights in winter for two years now – and managed to ski the mountain! First time only one day and the last time, for two (even though my knee was not up for skiing!).

But last summer, I’ve convinced my husband to go at least one week during our summer holidays. I would love to uproot my family there, (to the answers of my husband of what will I do, I don’t speak the language – and me telling him to just learn it!) I wanted to stay in the summer, to see how it is life in Courma in the summer. I’ve been in the fall, seeing at all the hotels – for my Must-Read Guide to Courmayeur. Even many hotels were closed, they’ve opened them to me, and I could see them while many of the maintenance and upgrades were taking place.

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The Gran San Bernardo pass has reopened

The Gran San Bernardo pass has reopened. Photo: AostaSera

The Gran San Bernardo pass has reopened

From AostaSera

Today the Gran San Bernardo Pass has reopened to the public. The pass, at 2,450 meters links Valais in Switzerland to the Aosta Valley in Italy. Lots of people came to the open ceremony. The opening works started by Anas personnel in April. Snow has accumulated on the sides of State Road 27 up to 12 meters of height.

The Gran San Bernardo pass has reopened. Photo: AostaSera.
The Gran San Bernardo pass has reopened. Photo: AostaSera.

Anas personnel started opening a gap in the snow reaching a stretch about 4 km from the state border. As the road was cleaned, the side barriers and vertical signs were also restored, removed before closing and stored to avoid damage due to possible avalanches.

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A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland

Nufenen pass on a cloudy and foggy day. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland

A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland.

I like having our summer holidays, whenever possible, near the mountains. And each trip, we need to try a new mountain pass. That is part of the adventure!

A couple of years ago, the idea was to stop by at Interlaken, on our way back from Lago di Como. Looking online, the best way to go was via the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and the Grimsel Pass. The Grimsel Pass is very well known by everyone I’ve asked about, but the Nufenenpass, not so much. Some friends of us that have a house in Moltrasio, and whom their father lives in Lago di Como and knows ‘all the mountain passes’, have not heard of the Nufenenpass, but we’ve checked it out online and he suggested me that it should be fine as it was paved.

The view towards Valais from the top rifugio of the Nufenenpass. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland.
The view towards Valais from the top rifugio of the Nufenenpass. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland.

Looking in Google Maps, the pass seemed pretty wide enough for two cars – which was what I wanted to see, but I did not see too much of a guardrail on the side. Another option was to go towards Airolo and then Andermatt and take either the St Gotthard Tunnel, or the St Gothard pass. The St Gothard Tunnel was not an option, as this was a Saturday, where you can be stuck for hours. On our way from Engelberg to Lago di Como, we did the St Gothard Pass, which was very nice. It is very busy too, but at least the traffic goes through.

Panorama of Nufenenpass on a nice day. Photo: Alexander Hoernigk. A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland.
Panorama of Nufenenpass on a nice day. Photo: Alexander Hoernigk. A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland.

Going back this way, we should have taken afterwards the Furkapass, which is a very renown way to go – mostly for bikers and cyclists alike!

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Our Route des Grandes Alpes to cross from France into Italy

A stop for lunch at Notre Dame de Bellecombe. Our Route des Grandes Alpes to cross from France into Italy.

Our Route des Grandes Alpes to cross from France into Italy

This past summer we went to have a holiday in the mountains. From Chamonix we were off onto Courmayeur. But it was a Saturday – what is considered here in the mountains as a Samedi Noir or Sabato Nero, meaning very long queues to cross the Mont Blanc Tunnel.

This past summer was ridiculously hot – even in the mountains – with the temperature being 31 C in Chamonix in the morning – imagine staying a couple of hours in line to cross the Mont Blanc Tunnel did not seem too much fun at the time.

How adventures start - with a good map. The IGN Route des Grandes Alpes. Our Route des Grandes Alpes to cross from France into Italy.
How adventures start – with a good map. The IGN Route des Grandes Alpes. Our Route des Grandes Alpes to cross from France into Italy.

I’ve asked the evening before some friends I have in Chamonix on how other way we could go – and how about taking the Petit St Bernard Pass. Arnaud Jamson, the deputy director of the Chamonix Tourism Office suggested me to go all around and stop in Megève for lunch, then go to the Lac du Roselend and from there go up to La Rosière to cross into La Thuile through the Petit St Bernard. This is a typical road for motorcyclists and bikers alike – many of these roads have been used by the Tour de France!

As I have a memory of a mosquito, I’ve asked at the hotel’s reception where I could get a good map, and I was told to go into the main street in Chamonix. There is a wonderful books and magazine store – that I could stayed for hours just looking around, where I bought the IGN Map of Route des Grandes Alpes. I love maps and this one was a great addition to my collection.

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The Half Term Family Ski Holiday that did not result as planned

My youngest son at Maison Vielle- with the majestic Mont Blanc behind. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. The Half Term Family Ski Holiday that did not result as planned.

The Half Term Family Ski Holiday that did not result as planned

Our Family Half Term ski holiday is always decided one year in advance. Pretty much we always go to the Aosta Valley, as my youngest boy does not want to change location. I see it with my family, and I’ve seen it with many people over the years (even with myself when I’ve started skiing while much younger!)

You go to one resort, you get familiarised with it, and you don’t want to change! All is easy, and just changing to another resort, makes it too challenging. I see it as using an old pair of jeans, that you don’t want to change for something else!

So, we were set to leave the Friday before the half term- as my husband is the sole driver (for me it was too difficult changing sides of the road when I’ve moved from Argentina to the UK, that I daren’t do it again!)

Getting up early pays off - usually. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. The Half Term Family Ski Holiday that did not result as planned.
Getting up early pays off – usually. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. The Half Term Family Ski Holiday that did not result as planned.

Our car has been acting funny since September, when the Turbo went off. Then it started revving between 2nd and 3rd gears and we’ve took it twice to the mechanics. The first time we were said it was solved, but it was not, and I’ve took the car back in the garage two weeks before leaving. I did not have the car until the Wednesday of the week we were leaving – we were leaving at 4 AM on the Friday of that week and I was already very nervous about it and seeing if we could rent a car in the UK to cross to the continent.

Apparently, you can do so with Hertz and Avis, but obviously these cars do not bring roof rack, nor winter tyres or chains. So, I was budgeting all that just in case. My husband was saying that if we did not have our car back, we were staying and cancelling the trip, and my kids and me were completely distraught at the thought of it.

The car came out off the garage so then we were going to be ready to go. The night after taking our dog to some friends to look after him, my husband told me that the revving was still there, but that I should not worry. He was sure that this was not going to be anything.

Off we went with our skis, helmets, ski boots, all the paraphernalia you take when you go skiing. We set out in good time and at the Eurotunnel we were given a crossing one hour earlier, so we had time only to go to the bathroom and pick up some coffee and croissants to eat in the car.

We had a very good driving. Last year there was snow from home all the way to Folkestone and from Calais all the way to Italy. This time all the roads were clean, and the weather was beautiful, pretty warm too. This was not the best snow year for the Alps – (Austria and Eastern Switzerland got lots of snow, as well as other Eastern European countries like Romania), but for France, Italy and Western Switzerland the snow was ok, but just.

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Self-drive skiers need to plan now for Brexit

Autoroute Blanche - Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Self-drive skiers need to plan now for Brexit.

Self-drive skiers need to plan now for Brexit

News from Travelmole

If your clients are planning to drive to the Alps or the Pyrenees after Britain leaves the EU on March 29, they might need some extra documentation.

For a start, they might need an international driving permit to be able to drive on European roads if the UK exits without a deal. If their journey will take them to several EU countries, they might need more than one permit. Each one costs £5.50 and can be bought at selected large Post Offices.

A bridge that separates you from here to your next adventure. Photo Federico Beccari- Unsplash. Self-drive skiers need to plan now for Brexit.
A bridge that separates you from here to your next adventure. Photo Federico Beccari- Unsplash. Self-drive skiers need to plan now for Brexit.

Assuming we leave the EU without a deal, drivers might also need a Green Card to drive their own vehicles in countries within the EU and the EEA as well as Switzerland and Andorra. Drivers must apply to their car insurance provider for a Green Card, which could take up to four weeks to arrive.

Drivers are also being advised by the Government to place a GB sticker on their cars, especially if they have a number plate that displays the Euroepan flag, to make it clear that they are from outside the EU.

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Skiers Face Winterisation and Ski Rack Charges Adding up to £179 On Car Hire Bill

Skiers Face Winterisation and Ski Rack Charges Adding up to £179 On Car Hire Bill. Photo: iCarhireinsurance.com

Skiers heading to the slopes this winter face ‘winterisation’ and ‘ski rack’ charges of up to £179 by car rental companies.

The research by iCarhireinsurance.com, the leading provider of stand-alone car hire excess insurance, surveyed the costs of six car hire companies for a week’s car hire, from 27 December 2018 to 3 January 2019, in Barcelona, Geneva, Grenoble, Innsbruck, Sofia and Turin.

The ‘winterisation’ charge, which includes the price of winter tyres and/or snow chains, varies widely and is normally only payable at the rental desk. Hertz in Grenoble, for example, charge £110 to hire a ski rack and £69 for ‘winterisation’ adding £179 to the hire car bill.

A woman with a child on the winter road. emergency sign. Skiers Face Winterisation and Ski Rack Charges Adding up to £179 On Car Hire Bill.  Photo: iCarhireinsurance.com
A woman with a child on the winter road. emergency sign. Skiers Face Winterisation and Ski Rack Charges Adding up to £179 On Car Hire Bill. Photo: iCarhireinsurance.com

The average ‘winterisation’ fee across the six destinations is £37, but travellers could pay up to £74 in Barcelona with Budget.  Winterisation is an optional charge in all destinations except for Turin. Here, travellers pay on average £40, and up to £71 with Sixt for this compulsory charge.

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Important Pet Travel Scheme Update for Eurotunnel’s passengers

Taking your pet abroad- Pet Travel Scheme Update. Eurotunnel- Photo Unsplash Jeremy Bishop.

Important Pet Travel Scheme Update for Eurotunnel’s passengers: thought that this might interest to those going to the mountains, whatever time of the year from the UK with their furry pals.

Eurotunnel has sent a DEFRA’s update on the Pet Travel Scheme if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

This week DEFRA announced their recommendation that pet owners planning to travel immediately after 29th March 2019 contact their vet at least four months in advance of travel to check what they need to do.

Driving to the Mountains. Pet Travel Scheme. Eurotunnel. Picture Unsplash: Randy Fath
Driving to the Mountains. Pet Travel Scheme. Eurotunnel. Picture Unsplash: Randy Fath

For example, if you are travelling on 30th March 2019 the recommendation is that you visit your vet as soon as possible, and before the end of November 2018 at the latest.

DEFRA have advised that customers will still be able to travel with their pet to Europe after Britain leaves the EU, however they may need to take some additional steps to allow their pet/s to travel in a ‘no deal’ scenario.

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Winter tyres laws when driving to the mountains in Europe and North America

Driving to the mountains on route nationale through France- Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Self-drive skiers need to plan now for Brexit.

When driving to the mountains, it is important to know the laws about carrying winter tyres and snow chains. Not all countries and states or provinces oblige you to wear them. I would suggest you to check before you travel. Even if there were no law for using snow tyres, I would at least recommend taking snow chains, because if you are caught in a big snowstorm, you will need them. If you can buy at least second hand winter tyres, do so. It is an investment, more if you are going to drive to the mountains each ski season.

Also, if renting a car, don’t assume the car will come with snow tyres, even if going to countries full of mountains everywhere, remember to request them when booking your car rental, and also reserve snow chains.

Driving to the mountains- check if you need to have snow tyres and snow chains. Photo Jeffrey Wegrzyn- Unsplash. Winter tyres, snow chains. Driving to the mountains
Driving to the mountains- check if you need to have winter tyres and snow chains. Photo Jeffrey Wegrzyn- Unsplash.

Here is a summary of where snow tyres are mandatory – please you need to do your own search, as this is not by any means 100% accurate- we cannot be held responsible for you deciding not to take winter tyres! Do your own homework!

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A trekking day with the family in Cervinia.

The sky allowed us to see for a bit the Monte Cervino, later the clouds covered it. Photo by The-Ski-Guru.

We were lucky this summer to stay for a week in Courmayeur, and we had a couple of days out going on different trekkings. I’ll write about our week in Courmayeur later. We decided to visit Cervinia one day with the family. From Courmayeur to Aosta, you have 40’ through the national route or 30’ through the A5, and then you continue to the east and for half an hour to the north through a windy road you arrive to Cervinia. All in all is about 1 ½ hours away.

 

Arriving into Cervinia through the last tunnel. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Family day in Cervinia
Arriving into Cervinia through the last tunnel. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. Family day in Cervinia

Arriving in Cervinia

The first thing you start seeing on the road is the majestic Matterhorn, which is called Monte Cervino in the Italian side. The Matterhorn/Cervino is surely the most photographed and known mountain in Europe, not the tallest- that is the mighty Mont Blanc (just between Courmayeur and Chamonix)

I have been a couple of times in Zermatt now (and will write a must-read guide soon), but the first thing that called my attention, is that the Cervino’s peak seems much bigger on this side. This is, I was told, because you are at a higher altitude in Cervinia than in Zermatt, so you are just more near the peak.

The boys with the Monte Cervino in the backdrop. A trekking day with the family in Cervinia.
The boys with the Monte Cervino in the backdrop. A trekking day with the family in Cervinia.

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