Meh – skiing or snowboarding isn’t for everyone. Neither is marmite and, if Nestle are to be believed, Yorkie bars.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider deep winter touring and camping in your motorhome or campervan. In fact, we’re going to show you that winter motorhoming for non-skiers is fab – there are loads of activities you can do and ways you can enjoy the mountain air when it’s arguably at its most beautiful.
There are lots of benefits of touring in winter and we’ll run you through a few of them in this post (5) – hopefully this might encourage those of you who are sitting on the fence, or who’ve never even considered taking your vehicle to the mountains, to try it – you never know, you might like it!
We’ll also cover a few of the fears people have about winter driving and show you that it’s not nearly as terrifying as you might imagine.
#1 TRAVELLING WITHOUT THE CROWDS
As long you avoid driving up to resort on a Saturday morning, you’ll feel like you have the world to yourself! Ok – so the actual resorts themselves can feel pretty busy at times – not overly so – but that’s not where the secret is… the real treats are on your travels.
Cheaper (by far) and quieter with a bucket load more flexibility, travelling on ferries (and the chunnel if you prefer) is significantly cheaper in winter. We know many of you take advantage of this time to visit the Christmas markets so why not carry on up the road a little and see what fun you can get up to?
Evian, Annecy and Chamonix
Three places we think are better in winter than in summer and should definitely be on your winter tour.
Yup – that Evian. There are taps around town where you can fill up your motorhome with pure Evian spring water free of charge… or, you can get it in the shop for €10/l. We don’t understand it either, but your motorhome deserves a tank of France’s finest alpine run off doesn’t it?
Why winter? Just a short drive from Geneva, Evian in on the shores of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva as we know it) and is an outpost where the great and good spend their summers.
Festooned with yachts and holiday villas, it’s a pretty special place and in winter you’ll have the entire town to yourselves. You won’t even need to make reservations at some of the best restaurants in the region and if you visit during Christmas, you will be in for a real treat – Les Legendes des flottins – Christmas lights that make the Harrods Christmas window a bit pathetic.
Famous for a building in a river. But that’s not all – there’s also a renowned traditional Christmas market – and if you’re fed up with the same gluhwein and churros, this place will reignite your passion for all things sparkly. With the most extraordinary backdrop of the high Alps and Lake Annecy (and an aire actually on the shore), this place is so beautiful in winter you might find yourself fantasizing about moving there. You’re not alone – everyone does it.
It’s also a foodie place and one of the best restaurants in town is Le Freti where your fondue comes in a loaf of bread. Proper savoyard cheesy delights including Raclette at half the price you’ll find them in resort so get your cheese-fill in town!
If you’ve ever spoken to someone who’s been to Chamonix in the high summer season you would think that the place is heaving to the point of busting.
Switch that to conversation with your average winter tourist and you’ll hear stories of a breath taking setting in the shadow of Mont Blanc, queue-less attractions including the buttock twitching Aiguille du Midi cable car and a magical café culture that stretches the length of this historic alpine town – the oldest ski area in the world.
There’s so much going on in Chamonix besides skiing that it’s a place that requires a repeat visit but it’s mountaineering history can’t fail to capture your imagination and as well as some formal exhibits, the whole town is a sort of nod to its origins in mining and as part of the Grand Tour.
Check out our blog on motorhome skiing in Chamonix here.
#2 MOUNTAIN AIR
What’s your ailment? It doesn’t matter – mountain air is the cure.
Here’s what we know.
- Snow is fun and makes everyone happy – even people who claim not to like the cold – and when it’s not brown and breaking the M1.
- Bluebird days (wall to wall blue sky) are actually the antidote to all malaise
- The air is thinner – it’s good for your blood pressure and after just a week, you’ll be able to run a marathon at home – fact
- UV – in moderation. You can stop eating 10 peppers a day to get your Vitamin D fix. The mountain sun will sort that out for you. Free of charge.
#3 WINTER MOTORHOMING IS CHEAP
As well as your cheaper crossing, winter motorhoming can be inexpensive for non skiers. Don’t believe us… here are the facts:
- You’ll be in bed by 7.30 because that special mountain air will make you very sleepy so you’ll save on gas and bar bills!
- You don’t need to invest in lots of equipment to enjoy the mountains – there are tonnes of amazing marked walks which will take you to extraordinary views – they’ll also take you to some pretty pricy mountain restaurants but BYO vin chaud and a baguette and you’ve got the worlds greatest picnic spots.
- Between €50 and €100 will buy you a 6 day ‘pedestrian pass’ in pretty much any resort in Europe. This means you can access many of the same places as skiers and boarders – for a fraction of the cost. For example, in Alpe d’Huez there are fantastic walking trails right at the top of the mountains – perfect for an afternoon of soaking up the rays above the clouds. You can also pick passes up daily and on a trip by trip basis and you’d be surprised how many of our European neighbours enjoy the mountains in this way.
- Spa deals – there are loads of really good spa deals on during the day in winter when others are out shredding the pow… you can benefit from redundant beauty therapists and masseurs!
#4 MOUNTAIN ACTIVITIES
Where to begin? There are so many things you can do in the mountains on a winter motorhome trip and they don’t all require you to have a head for heights or high levels of fitness…. In fact, that’s the secret of snow… you don’t really need to be fit to do anything on the mountain really.
In no particular order – these are some of the things you can do without going near any planks with razor sharp edges:
- Ice driving
- Fat Bike safari
- Show shoeing
- Photography – those starry nights and snow-capped mountains
- Cat-safari (check this out)
- Skidoo safari
- Ice skating
- Zip lining
- Drinking (popular amongst motorhomers!)
- Eating – see above
- Guided walks and nature trails
#5 WINTER MOTORHOMING WITH DOGS
Basically if you have a dog and it doesn’t live in a handbag, you have to take it to the mountains in winter. It’s the rules. Watching your dog play in the snow will bring you untold joy and it beats soggy w.a.l.k.i.e.s in UK winters, that’s for sure!
You can get doggy lift passes so they can join you in your pursuit of jaw dropping views and in much of Europe and all over France, dogs are welcome in restaurants, shops and most other places – especially in the mountains – so it’s just your obligation to go winter motorhoming with your furry friend.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF WINTER MOTORHOMING
There’s no need to be nervous of taking your motorhome to the mountains in the winter. Yes, there’s a little more admin required than a trip to the Algarve and a few set up costs that might initially put you off. Winter tyres (a must in our opinion and the law in many places – more on why you need winter tyres here) a few hundred quid – you’ll save that on your ferry fares alone. A few bits and bobs to make sure your motorhome is winterized – but if you have a winterized motorhome or campervan already, very little is required to make life in the harshest conditions exceedingly comfortable. If you hire a winterized vehicle it’ll come with all the necessities (chains, thermal screens etc) and you’ll benefit from low season rates so even better!
Winter driving tips in a motorhome:
We’ll cut to the chase. If you want to get to the top of a mountain you’re going to need to negotiate switchbacks. These are the zig-zag roads that wind their way up mountain sides and make everything take ten times longer than you expect. They’re not nearly as scary as people imagine.
- If you stick to resorts and ski stations, they will be regularly cleared and maintained well. I know – a shock for anyone used to British roads but it’s true.
- If you don’t like these roads in summer, you’re not going to enjoy them very much in winter either. Shut your eyes (but not if you’re driving).
- Roads are sometimes a little narrower in winter (from ploughed snow debris) but you don’t usually get the same nut-jobs overtaking the way you do in summer so it’s never an issue
- If the roads are too dangerous, they are closed by the police. They don’t want tourists falling off mountain roads any more than you want to try it.
- Don’t travel on Saturday. It’s resort transfer day and it’s bedlam.
- Take your time.
We’ve covered a whole lot about winter tyres in this blog: You’re not an ice-road trucker… so check it out if you want to read a bit more about that.
Check out this little video we did to show you the road from one of the most popular aires in Montgenevre and the city below, Briançon.
IN SUMMARY – TAKE YOURSELVES TO THE MOUNTAINS!
We hope we’ve encouraged you to consider taking a winter motorhome or campervan trip – even if you have no interest in skiing or mountain sports. It always seems a shame to us that so many motorhomes and RVs (including caravans) sit in storage over the winter months – and we think that maybe some people just haven’t considered it an option before.
If you take your motorhome, caravan, or campervan to the mountains in winter for skiing, boarding or any other activities – or simply to enjoy the mountain air, tell us about it in the comments below – where do you go and what do you do? If this is a new idea to you or you’ve been considering it and are looking for more information, join our active Facebook Group community where you’ll find lots of people with tonnes of experience who can answer any of your most bizarre questions!