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Zermatt And Gornergrat By Train, Half Marathon Support Crew

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Zagan the motorhome has enjoyed three days of rest at Camping Attermenzen in Randa ((N46.08571, E7.78168), just a little way down the valley from Zermatt, Switzerland. We were there so Jay could run the Zermatt Half Marathon, which he did amazingly in. He’a already written a report about the race, but I thought I”d give you a few details from a non-running perspective, in case you want to visit and enjoy some amazing views.

camping attermanzen near ZermattDawn arrives much earlier on the mountains than down in the valley

With Jay’s race number he was given three day’s worth of travel for free on the railway lines that run the length of the valley, as well as the Gornergrat Bahn which runs from Zermatt up high to Gornergrat. Tickets for the trains around here aren’t not cheap. In July a return on the Gornergrat Bahn will set you back around 114CHF (£87), and that doesn’t include the train fare to get you to Zermatt. You need to get a train to Zermatt because it’s a traffic free resort; even coachloads of sightseers only get as far as Täsch station where they are dropped off to ride the rest of their trip on the little red shuttle trains. Luckily for me, the race organisers offered a supporter’s ticket on all the trains for 77CHF. That seemed expensive when I bought it, but now having looked up the prices seems like the bargain of the year!

No traffic in Zermatt, instead you need to ‘Kiss and Ride’!

The campsite we stayed on was between the villages of Randa and Täsch, both of which have train stations. The walk up to Täsch station is slightly longer at 2.3km (the runners cycled up as there are wide cycle paths alongside the roads) but Täsch also runs additional trains so they are more frequent than those from Randa, which go past around every half an hour. The campsite also offers a shuttle service to Täsch for 7CHF one way or 14CHF return. On the weekend we were there they were also running a shuttle to the marathon start in St Niklas down the valley, but we didn’t need that.

Catching the train to Zermatt with our friends Phil and Jules

Arriving in Täsch, bikes were locked in the bike racks next to the bus drop off and we headed into the station. The barriers won’t let you through if there isn’t a train due so beware or you may end up doing a silly dance trying to get the card reader to beep green for you. Also, another great idea, the train doors open on the other side of the train to let folks off before your doors open to let you on – genius if you ask me.

Arriving in Zermatt we’re bang in the middle of the town. Across the street is the station for the Gornergrat train, but first we had final loo stops (at the nice, clean, free loos under the station), then we navigated our way around some goats (we have no idea what is going on) before seeing the men off to their starting pens.

Jules and I watched the start of the race and cheered on Jay and Phil as they headed off through the streets on the start of their 13.1 mile uphill run. Once they had gone we walked down to the Gornergrat station, skipped the queue of people waiting to buy a ticket, swiped the same ticket we had used on the previous train and waited in an airport-style departure lounge. A large clock counted down when the next train was due, and as the room filled up we took up positions near the door to the platform. Posters inform you that the right hand side is the best for a view of the Matterhorn, and so we dived into two window seats on the right as soon as we were released, which of course was after all the passengers got off the train coming in.

So that’s where they got the idea from!

I would say that we sat back and enjoyed the views, but no, we stood up most of the way leaning out of the window to get a better view, even though the windows were spotlessly clean. The train trundled its way up and up, twisting around to give us views out of Zermatt and the valley below, then plunging us into darkness as we passed through tunnels carved into the rock. We passed the two stations that the marathon would run through, and knowing that we had about an hour until they reached the lowest one, we decided to plough on to the top.

The views on the way up were just stunning with lots of folks getting off at one station and walking down to the next

We knew we’d be cutting it fine on our runner support duties if we stayed at the top for a look around, so we ran out of the station grabbed a couple of photos and a selfie then ran back onto the train as it left for Zermatt.

Some of the view from Gornergrat – we needed a 360° camera!

Our tickets were great as they gave us unlimited travel, so we hopped off at Riffelalp station to grab a photo with the iconic Matterhorn as backdrop, before heading back up to Riffelberg for the finish. Between the two stations we watched the runners alongside the train track, many of them with their hands on their thighs willing their tired legs to make another step towards the finish.

Jay at Riffelalp

Jay and I headed back up to Gornergrat so he could see the views after he had finished running. Then we hit marathon rush hour getting back down the mountain. It took over an hour to reach Zermatt as they had so many trains on the line, and the trains themselves were so packed a few folks passed out with the heat. After a ‘pasta party’ bite to eat for the runner, and a quick nip around the supermarket for me, we caught the train back to Täsch and Jay gave me a croggie (also known as a ‘backie’) back to the campsite on his bike – well it was downhill.

Gornergrat station It was worth nipping back up so we could have a proper look around.

We made it back to the campsite just in time for the second half of the England v Sweden world cup match, during which much beer was consumed. The following morning we had a very late start and did very little apart from a walk down the valley to Randa.

Randa – looking back up the valley to Zermatt and you can just make out the train line going up the hill to Riffleberg

It was baking hot, so we sat in the shade of the local church to escape the heat and looked over the beautiful graves. Standing in straight rows each wooden cross has a stone roof and is carved with the person’s name. As well as a photo of them, there were also very well kept flower beds at the foot of each was a candle and a little metal box containing a brush. It all looked so pristine, and with the mountains all around it wasn’t a bad place to be put to rest. As we sat in the shade we chatted about Charlie, he is never far from our minds, tears are now mingled with laughter as we remember the wonderful times we had with him.

As we headed back to the campsite we took our last look at the chocolate box chalets, window boxes trimmed with geraniums, sitting alongside farm buildings made of wood that looks like it has seen several lifetimes.

Before we made it back to Zagan, we popped across the road from the campsite to have a look at the local golf course. Yes, space may be at a premium in the valleys around here, but they managed to fit in all sorts of sports activities – I thought my Dad might particularly like this one.

Tomorrow the ACSI discount rate ends at the campsite and the price shoots up. So we’ll be leaving this little piece of paradise, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be back one day.

Ju x

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Find Places to Sleep

Google Tour Maps from Motorhome Bloggers

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Julie and Jason Buckley - Authors of the OurTour Travel Blog

Thinking about a campervan trip around Europe, or even a year long motorhome tour? You’ll find tons of first-hand information, hints and tips, costs, places to stay, full-timing info (living in a van), practical advice, photos and stories to inspire you here at the ourtour.co.uk travel blog. Why not start with this summary of our tours to date, or dive into a full list of all ourtour blog posts?

Thanks for visiting, Julie and Jason Buckley

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breakdown cover

Brexit Considerations for a European Motorhome Tour

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motorhome on the channel tunnel How cool is this?

Ju and I are planning to start a six month(ish) motorhome tour of Europe in January 2019 (yeah baby!), which means we’ll be out of the country on 29 March 2019, when the UK leaves the EU. Hmmm. We need to think about what this might mean…

What impact will that have on our travel plans? We dunno. Until the details of Brexit are made known and ratified by parliament, we won’t know, but this post outlines the areas we’re starting to consider, just in case. At this very point in time we’re watching and waiting to see what happens in November and early December, but if you plan to travel with a pet, you may need to take immediate action. Read on folks.

Motorhome on Channel TunnelJu’s booked us on the Chunnel in January, so no fear of sea sickness!

Please don’t treat this post as anything but our thoughts on what may or may not need to be done. We’re not experts in any of the areas mentioned and we may well have misunderstood or missed some key aspects. If the UK agrees a deal with the EU, then it’s entirely possible none of the points below will change from the current pre-Brexit scenario. 

If you spot anything inaccurate or missing below, feel free to tell us using the comments section, that would be very helpful.  Please don’t go political on us though. Comments we deem to be political won’t be approved as we’re just trying to keep stuff simple, and make sure none of us fall foul of the law in April next year.

OK, let’s go.

Motorhome Insurance and Green Cards

Best case here will be that our insurance continues to let us travel in the EEA countries plus Serbia, Switzerland and Andorra, without needing to present a Green Card document to the authorities. If we travel outside of these countries (like Morocco or Turkey for example), we currently have to get a Green Card from our insurer in advance (you physically need the piece of green paper, so it is posted to you, this makes it tricky to arrange once you are on the road). For some countries, like Ukraine and Bosnia & Herzegovina, our insurer will not issue a Green Card and we have to buy third party insurance at the border, known as frontier insurance.

Brexit won’t change the need for frontier insurance, but could force us to get a Green Card for the countries which don’t currently need one. Whether this is necessary or not remains an open point until any deal is agreed with the EU. We’re in touch with Safeguard (our insurer) to get their view on the situation and will update this section when we have a response.

Breakdown Insurance

Our motorhome insurance policy includes European AA breakdown cover. We also have a separate breakdown policy with the ‘German version’ of the AA, called ADAC (this option is no longer available non-German applicants, nothing to do with Brexit). Our expectation is that these policies will remain valid after Brexit, as we’ve not been advised otherwise.

Travel Insurance

We buy travel insurance for our tours abroad. The main reason for this is to avoid potentially very high medical costs for emergency repatriation to the UK, or for emergency private treatment abroad. We don’t see this need changing post Brexit, and will continue to ensure we’re covered but will check the wording more carefully if the EHIC becomes invalid (see below).

Internet and Mobile Roaming Costs

At the moment mobile phone call charges and Internet data roaming costs are capped in Europe. This might not be the case at some point post-Brexit, but then again it might stay exactly as-is (here’s the government’s official line on it). According to the BBC if there is a deal: “All EU rules and regulations, including on mobile roaming anywhere in the EU, will continue to apply until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.”  This wouldn’t apply if there is no deal, but the same BBC article states: “Three has “committed to maintain the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit”. Vodafone, EE and O2 made similar statements.

We use 1p Mobile (www.1pmobile.com) for our phone SIMs (for voice calls and text messages), and Three (three.co.uk) Internet with Legs (mobile Internet data SIMs). So it looks like we don’t need to worry about the Internet, but may need to change provider for our voice and text SIMs. We’ll keep a close eye on what happens and switch providers if needs be (or consider buying SIMs abroad).

The PETS Pet Passport Travel Scheme

We’re no longer travelling with a dog, after Charlie passed away earlier this year. Our understanding is that even if you have a Pet Passport, it might not be valid after Brexit, depending on whether a rabies inoculation test was done when it was issued.

If you plan to travel in the EU post Brexit with a pet, we’d strongly recommend you contact your vet ASAP to check whether your passport is valid, as you may need to allow up to four months to travel after Brexit in a worse-case scenario. You may also need to obtain a health certificate in advance of any trip, another point to discuss with your vet. The reasons for all this are complex, and explained here.

Customs Controls

It’s possible customs controls will come back into force, so we won’t be able to import large quantities of wine from France back into the UK, say. This is one area we’ll just keep an eye on, and act according to whatever the law says when we cross international borders after Brexit. Needless to say we brought back a considerable amount of wine when we returned from our last trip, just in case!

Driving Licenses and International Driving Permits (IDPs)

At the moment we can use our UK driving license in any EU country. This may or may not continue after Brexit. If it doesn’t continue, we’ll need to buy two International Driving Permits (IDPs) each (to ensure we can travel to all EU countries – France and Spain use different IDPs for example). The IDPs will be available from Post Offices and cost £5.50 each, last a year, and we’d need four of ’em (two each). For more on IDPs and Brexit, read the government’s notice here.

The EHIC Card and Health Insurance 

At the moment we both carry free European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC), which entitle us to access state-provided health care in EEA countries plus Switzerland (read about the cards on the NHS website here). It’s possible the EHIC system will continue after Brexit. In the worse case scenario where the EHIC scheme is discontinued, we’ll need to spend more time checking exactly what our travel insurance will cover before buying it, and possibly budgeting more for medical treatment abroad.

Visas

At the moment, as UK citizens, we can visit most of Europe without applying for a visa (Turkey and Russia being obvious exceptions). It’s not yet clear whether this will continue post Brexit and we can only watch and wait to see what any new requirements will be.

Passport Validity

The UK foreign office has already stated that passports need a minimum of 6 months validity before travelling to the EU. Our passports both have a few years validity on them.

I **think** that’s it. Please feel free to pop any (non-political remember!) thoughts in the comments section below.

Cheers, Jay

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Departmental Roads

D Roads to Stella Plage, North to the Opal Coast

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Zagan the motorhome’s up against familiar pale yellow dunes in the free aire at Stella Plage (N50.47341, E1.57723), just south of Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale (the Opal Coast). When we arrived yesterday afternoon, 18 of the 20 spaces of the aire were taken, and another 6 or 7 vans were parked up on the seafront. This morning (which happens to be a Monday) pretty much everyone’s gone, so it seems there were a few weekend wanderers here, rather than the whole of France being packed out with camping cars.

The free motorhome aire at Stella Plage on the Opal CoastThe free motorhome aire at Stella Plage on the Opal Coast

Quick aside: France has a thing about posting signs indicating the full details of local laws, so rather than a great big blunt ‘NO MOTORHOMES’ sign on the sea front spaces, there’s a 4 page notice (in teeny weeny writing) giving precise dates when vans can park outside the aire, where they can park, the fact they need to be self-sufficient for cooking, washing, sleeping and toilet facilities and lots of other details we couldn’t easily translate.  After September, the sea front if fair game, but we’re happy we opted for the aire as the dunes we’re sandwiched between are protecting us beautifully from the wind. Every time we come here there are land yachts or kite surfers hammering up and down the coast.

Motorhomes along the seafront at Stella PlageMotorhomes along the seafront at Stella Plage

Now we’re pooch-less, so don’t need to allow 24 hours after a vet visit before heading to the UK, we could quite easily (with some strong coffee perhaps) motorhome our way home from Paris in a day. Get up early, pile up the A16 toll motorway, grab a train under the channel, free motorway it up to Nottingham. But no, we’re WAY, WAY too lazy for that. That and the fact a couple of hours driving serves to seize my upper back into a mass of painful muscle, in a way no number of press-ups, kilometres on the rowing machine or miles of running can touch.

So we’ve stuck to the old way: France’s departmental (D) roads have brought us here, the equivalent of ‘B’ roads back in Blighty. These smaller roads effectively join the dots between French villages and small towns, and since July 1st this year have a blanket 80kph (50mph) speed limit (previously 90kph). The aim of cutting the max speed is simple: to reduce the number of folks killed (roughly 10 a day) or injured (about 190 people a day) on French roads. Will it work? Time will tell, folks still pull off daft overtakes across solid white lines or in the face of fast oncoming traffic when we’re doing the new limit, so perhaps the lower limit will have the opposite effect? Ju’s updated our TomTom SatNav with the new limits, although it’s wrong in some places: sections of road with two lanes on one side and a single lane on the other, with no central divide, are sign-posted at 90kph for the dual-lane side, while the TomTom has them at 80kph. 

We cruised out of the campsite in Paris on Saturday around noon, having had a cracking stay seeing friends, visiting Versailles, gawping at the art and architecture in La Defense, looking around the Pere Lachaise cemetery and doing some Parkrun tourism. From what we could see, but for a section of roadworks on the way into the city, the roads around Paris flowed easily. Except at rush hour that is, when they were jam-packed for a couple of hours each morning and evening: think six lanes of endless brake lights with occasional horns blaring, that kind of stuff. Sundays were devoid of cars mind you: if you’re concerned about the traffic, come to the city on a Sunday and you’ll have the roads to yourself.

After a long section of free motorway and dual carriageway, the road gradually dwindled down to D road as we headed for a wee free aire at a village called Conty (N49.74425, E2.1565), to the south-west of Amiens (which we visited in 2017). We’d been recommended a visit to Arras by a nice British couple at the campsite in Paris, but we both thought we’d already been. Checking our map we just found we haven’t (doh), so that’s one for the ‘next time’ list. Conty turned out to be a good spot for a kip, a small town with boucheries, boulangeries (Ju can’t resist the artwork cakes these places flog, opting to try one called a Glandan acorn-looking treat), a poste, and a tabac (which had burned down). A kid quaintly greeted us with a passing ‘bonjour monsieur-dame’, and a lady opposite the permanently-shut church popped out her front door and asked whether I was cold (I think, my French is pretty rubbish). The aire was a grassy area away from the main road, a perfect spot for a good night’s sleep (we made sure we were at the far end from the cockerels spotted strutting in a neighbouring garden!).

Le Gland - the acorn cakeLe Gland – the acorn cake

Sunday morning we woke to the distant thud-thud of guns. Shop windows in France have us gawping at the array of shotguns, knives, throwing stars, explosive depth charges and the like you can buy and deploy of a Sunday in vengeful war against the local small mammal population. As we drove in among the fields, groups of blokes with dogs stalked through the low crops, guns at the ready, dogs trotting at their feet. They were pretty easy to spot, being dressed in bright orange jackets with a seemingly pointless camouflage pattern. Exactly what they were hunting, and how come their prey hadn’t been blasted out of existence through this relentless Sunday massacre, we dunno.

Crossing the Somme west of Amiens only took us past a handful of war cemeteries. This area of rolling countryside was the scene of human slaughter a hundred years back, and if we’d been further east the green signs pointing to the war graves would have stood at junction after junction. We didn’t stop to pay our respects though, not this time.

Up here at Stella Plage we’re on familiar ground, having stayed on the same spot two or three times before. I really like it here. The fact there’s only a single bar/cafe (open at the weekends) doesn’t bother me. I like the peace, the dunes, the huge beach. It has an easy living feel to me, a little like the Capbreton aire down towards Spain on the Atlantic coast which we first stayed in seven years ago on our first escape from the big bad World.

The sand dunes of the Opal Coast, south of Le Touquet Paris-PlageThe sand dunes of the Opal Coast, south of Le Touquet Paris-Plage

Our ferry home is at 6am tomorrow from Dunkirk (it was cheaper at that time, who needs sleep?), so we’ll head up to the aire at Oye Plage this afternoon, a shortish drive from the port. From there we’ll nip up the motorway and home to Nottingham, popping Zagan back in storage for a few days while we head off on holiday with friends. He won’t be alone for long, as we’re then grabbing him again for a jaunt up to Bonnie Scotland for a mate’s 65th and to check out the North Coast 500. After that, it’s a December back home and we’ve just about decided to use the van to head south in January for a longish tour through the winter months, Greece and Turkey maybe, not sure yet, watch this space :-).

Kudos to Ju! 10km beach run this morning, good work!

Cheers, Jay

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