After a week exploring the Alsace in France, I drove south through Switzerland to my new home base in the Aosta Valley of Italy. Today’s drive took me across borders, through tunnels and into spectacular Alpine scenery.
Switzerland maintains its historic neutrality and is not part of the European Union. As I left France, I had to stop at the border crossing in Basel and purchase a vignette (~$40) to place on the inside my windshield. It was basically a toll for the privilege of driving on Swiss roads.
The stoic Swiss border agent took my credit card and inserted it into his portable device but it was not connecting. I mentioned (in German) something about this being a Monday and he chuckled. I considered that a major achievement.
After securing my payment and applying my vignette, I was free to hit the Swiss highways. I drove from Basel, through Bern, down to Lake Geneva. I stopped in the lakeside town of Montreux and explored its famous castle, the Château de Chillon. What an incredible sight.
The views of the castle along the shimmering lake with the snow-capped Alps towering in the distance were jaw-dropping. The views were still incredible from inside the castle as I peaked out the windows.
I also admired the modern Swiss engineering involved in the highway that curved gracefully above the lake.
As I continued my journey south, the road continued to climb. It also narrowed and devolved into a series of hairpin turns. The temperature steadily dropped and soon I was passing above the tree line through snow.
I crossed over the border from Switzerland to Italy somewhere deep below a mountain inside the Great St Bernard Tunnel. When I finally emerged back into daylight, the signs had switched from French to Italian.
It didn’t take long for the road to begin its steep descent into the Aosta Valley. The Romans conquered this region around 25 BC, building roads and bridges. Valle d’Aosta literally means “Valley of Augustus”.
I have a grand view of this ancient valley from the balcony of my Airbnb.
My proprietor, Anne-Marie, is actually Belgian and she spoke excellent English. Her property is set up perfect for me, she even included a bottle of local wine and a wedge of Aosta (pronounced “ow-oh-stuh”) cheese.
After unpacking, I stretched my legs by hiking around the neighborhood. Most of the houses clung to the side of the mountain and all enjoyed this incredible view. Even through we’re at a higher elevation, it’s warmer here than France due to the special micro-climate protected by mountains on both sides.
As I was out hiking, a farmer rumbled by on his tractor and gave me a friendly Ciao. I’m generalizing here but the Italians always seem more approachable to me, especially after I’ve spent time with the typically reserved French and Germans. I need to brush up on my Italian phrases.
After the long drive through the mountains, I’m ready to call it a day.
It should be interesting to explore this area considering it offers Roman ruins and plenty of castles plus Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn are nearby.