Day 19: Italy and Switzerland

This was quite a short day distance-wise, but time-wise was a very long one. 

As an aside though as I leave Italy, I have been a little shocked by Italian driving. Just today I saw several Italian drivers use their indicators at a junction and one driver in front of me even pulled over and stopped to use her mobile phone. Most shockingly of all, when approaching traffic lights, rather than treat a red light as an invitation to stop if they wish, every one of them dutifully stopped and waited for a green light. This is not the Italy of our stereotypes!

I started the day off just north of Riva del Garda in Italy and chose the smallest roads I could find on the map which made a vague route north west through the Alps towards St. Moritz in Switzerland. And I really found the small ones, but a fantastic drive. 

The road I followed through the Italian Alps

The road I followed through the Italian Alps

The route as you may expect on a sunny day here was stunningly beautiful. On these small roads you're supposed to honk your horn on tight corners and this did show up a difference in nationalities. Italian drivers gave a great big prolonged honk at every opportunity, while as a Brit I gave a shy quick half-second parp before deciding one just didn't like drawing attention to ones' self with reckless honking and packed it in, preferring instead to crash into someone and plunge off a cliff rather than be so bold as to keep beeping.

I had two problems on this part of the journey, one being that the road was very small and therefore slow, but the other one being that it was so jaw droppingly beautiful that I had to keep stopping to take photos. After two and a half hours I'd only done 45 miles!

A small village I passed as you climb up into the Alps

A small village I passed as you climb up into the Alps

At the village in this photo I stopped quite a long way above it before the road twists down into the village itself, but even at that distance you could still hear the noise of people chattering away down there. Italians are very different to the French - most French villages have all the life of a graveyard and you don't see anyone, never mind hear them, while Italian villages seem full of people all of whom are talking at once.

As you keep climbing you enter the Alpine meadows and they're full of cows which really should be advertising chocolate.

Pretty cow

For all this leg of the journey I had the stereo off and the windows open and the clanking of the cowbells coming from all over the valleys was really atmospheric.

The road doesnt have a straight bit for miles and miles, and if you're enjoying it, this route on a Sat Nav looks like driving nirvana:

The road carries on twisting and climbing with a photo opportunity every few hundred meters, hence I took nearly 200 photos today!

As you reach the peaks there is no man-made sound at all. The road is very quiet and in three hours I probably saw 10 other cars. Loads of bikers on it but they keep stopping on every corner as well. Most of the time all you can hear is the wind and birds. 


My target in Italy was Tiorano where I picked up a proper road again and from where you cross into Switzerland. It's a bit of an odd border as you go to the main square, turn left, go round a corner and there is a border post in the road outside the bar, then a bit further up is the Swiss border post outside the petrol station. After arriving at the Slovenian border with my passport in the boot I wasn't going to let a lack of preparation in passport-readiness get in the way, but nobody was interested in it at all this time,

In Tiorano I had to stop at a clanking level crossing for a red train to go past and that train carries on up and over the pass in Switzerland. It's almost enough to make you into a train spotter. A proper James Bond super-spy train to go on.

Train in Switzerland

At the start of the day down in Garda it was about 25C and people were swimming in the lake. Up here it was 4 degrees and a bit parky for those still just in a t-shirt. At the top I sent the drone up to get a couple of photos and it was freezing when it came down, hardly surprising in retrospect as the pass was at 2330 meters, about 7500 feet. 

I then dropped down to the St. Moritz area, which is OK but probably is at its best in the snow rather than an overcast July day. After being so hot for the last couple of weeks it was quite odd to see people in gloves, coats and bobble hats, and a lot of velcro-fastened clothing beloved of the outdoors types.

Of this journey, Italy stands out as having the most diverse landscape, from the hot scrub near Brindisi to the lush Alps, but Albania and Switzerland are the two which were very different to expectations. I was hoping Albania would be an undiscovered gem on the Med, but it's a dump, while I always though Switzerland would be a pretty enough but a boring place but I am very smitten with it.

Eventually I had to cave in though and find a larger road as the first 147 miles had taken me seven hours to do and at this rate I'd be driving for two days to the next hotel!

Ah, the hotel... This is it, up a pass above Lucerne. Very nice, in a Tyrollean-Swiss way. Except I was the only guest. There was nothing outside but the clanking of cowbells in the fog as the clouds kept descending and then lifting. I was on the top floor and you have to walk up two completely empty floors to get there, which are in the middle of rennovation and then down a long dark corridor to the room. It is silent inside. There was one member of staff and when I got there at 8pm she said "if you want food you must eat now" so I sat in a massive, but empty, dining room on my own. It was very posh - silver everywhere and all the wood polished to within an inch of its life, and all the tables laid out, but nobody there, no music and no sounds of people. It was like a horror film where the good guys eventually find the deranged serial killer sat at home at their dining table, with it all laid out formally for them and their imaginary friends. I locked the door at night...

Tomorrow was supposed to be Switzerland to Reims in France but I am making a detour over to Brittany, so Friday is now a 1100km blast right across France, quick stop there then back part-way towards Calais again so I can get the tunnel on Saturday. As that's quite a drive today I have to get going so don't have time to spell-check this thing so apologies if it is a bit of a barely-coherent waffle today!

PS. When I was a child the BBC used to occasionally show a Swiss programme called Heidi, about Heidi and a goat herder called Peter. It was dubbed into English. I have been very disappointed today to discover that Swiss people's mouths do in fact move in time with their words.