Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Early June this year, I took a break from my weekly cycling ritual and instead, packed all my family and a friend, JD into my second hand SUV and went off to explore the mountains of Italy and Switzerland.

My aim was to drive through roads less traveled by tourists and explore the mountain region of Switzerland, all the way to Mendrisio, where the most talked about factory outlet Foxtown is located and drive back to Geneva through the (almost) 17 km long Gotthard Tunnel, (the third longest road tunnel in the world).

I did not planned to drive pass through ITALY, but more of that later.

View Larger Map


We started our journey at 7.00 pm and drove towards Montreux and continued on to the place where the river Rhone more or less orignated, town of Briggs. (Some people say Rhone started its long flows to the Mediterranean from Andermartt, a town located further up the mountain road. And perhaps they are right). Weather was pretty bad with dark clouds and occasional rains. The view however, was still beautiful and breathtaking. We passed through Martigny (where I cycled to last week). The A9 highway passed through the Rhone valley with the two majestic mountain ranges looking down on from both sides, its slope dotted with vineyards. Wheat farms and other plantations carved the valley floor on each side of the road for miles. We drove through medieval villages and pretty little towns along the way.


Arriving in Brigs, we stopped for a little while from bathroom breaks. Its been almost 2 hours drive from Geneva and the A9 highway ends somewhere here. I plotted the GPS for the route to Mendrisio and JD took over the driver's seat. Following the GPS direction, we continued with our journey. Half and hour later, JD told me that he had drove pass this part of the country but looking at the surroundings and the view, he cannot recall anything that look familiar. We glanced at the GPS and its still giving out instructions and routes to take. I said "GPS bagi route lain kot?". JD shrugged his shoulders and commented " Kalau tak betul dia dah recalculate dah. That means we are on the right track." Putting our trust in the modern technology marvel, we decided to press on.

The view was really breathtaking with the valley spread like a carpet at the foot of the mountains. Its also very high. For a person with a fear of heights like me, its quite scary since the road we were traveling on was cut through the very edge of the mountains, and I was looking at thousands of feet of sheer drop. Other parts of the road were built on high cliffs hugging the mountain slopes. I could see the whole valley, tiny houses and square shape farmlands thousand of feet down below (tried not to look down out of the car window too much since darah berderau).

We drove for about one hour climbing the mountains until we reached the snow lines. Yes, snow still on the mountain top here, even in summer. (Snow lines normally formed at the height of nearly 2,800 feet above, so imagine how high we were). My youngest daughter, who has been very quite at the time, suddenly said "Ibu, I think I am deaf. My ears keep on buzzing and popping!" We all laughed at her remarks and my love one explained to her "No, you are not getting deaf, your ears is just fine, it happens because we are high on the mountain, swallow as often as you can, and it will get better".

JD and I were still discussing about the GPS when we arrived in Simplon. We were still confident we would not deviate from our planned route going to Mendrisio via the Swiss mountain road when suddenly, we saw a sign post "Doune". " Damned! Its the Swiss/ Italian border and we didnt bring our passports. Without which the Italian border officials could turn us back and after negotiating the horror of the high mountain roads for almost 2 hours, we were quite reluctant to turn back. We decided to try our luck anyway. Surprisingly, the border officials lazily waved us through the check point. (Note: Traveling between EU countries does not require stamping of passport. The problem was, Switzerland is not an EU country and we did not bring our passports since our plan was to travel within Switzerland). We shouted thank you to the Italian official and quickly continued our way to Mendrisio through the unplanned Italian route to our destination. I was cursing the GPS under my breath. I was thinking that perhaps this border crossing was located so far away that the Italian border officials adopted a very relax attitude. Looking back, we were more lucky to cross the border without any traveling documents way before the 2010 World Cup, since I suspect Italy's elimination in the first round will definitely adversely effect the border officials emotions.


We drove to Domodossola, the next Italian town in our way according the cursed GPS.

I was surprised to see a lot of cyclist here since these mountain roads and the elevation was so high, with long narrow elevations. I observed that the numbers of elderly man and woman cyclist more or less equals the younger ones. Which really say something about these Italians. No wonder they are a force to reckon with in the cycling world, and no wonder some of the best road bikes and bicycles were designed by the Italians. If an average old guys could cycle up the mountains with ease, then the younger ones should, logically top that with no problems.

The thing is, I'd observed the people here really are into the active life thing. Not just with cycling others jogged and even skied, never mind in the middle of summer, like the guy in the pic below. That should say something about these people way of life.

There's a lot of contrast I noticed after entering Italy. For one, the drivers were not as disciplined as the Swiss on the road. Road condition was quite bad, tunnels were dirty and not well maintained compared to Switzerland. But I have seen worse back home.

We arrived in Domodossola, after a long way down the mountain.


From here we head towards Locarno, a Swiss town about 45 km away. We had to climb a mountain again and crossed the Italian/ Swiss border near the Swiss town of Cameda. This is the Italian part of Switzerland and people here speaks Italian. (Note: Switzerland have 4 official languages which are French, German, Italy and Romansh).

The road was really narrow and can fit only one car at one time. High cliffs on the left side of the road and deep gorges and ravines on the rights side. A river cuts through the gorges down below, flowing towards Locarno and ends up at Lake Maggiore. Reminded me of the old James Bond movies location.

We dont have any problems exiting Italy at the border, since there was nobody there at the entry point. No nothing, just a run down old building in the middle of the road. So we just drove passed through slowly and continued our way to the Swiss border post which was also the same. No one there too. I guess thats not very odd here since not a lot of tourists who came this way and perhaps only local people uses this road.

We continued our journey to Locarno.


After Locarno, we pushed on to Mendrisio. I was glad since the route there was a highway all the way. There was accident and traffic froze, bumper to bumper. Beat the traffic jam by entering a maintenance road (which were not allowed, but hey, we are Malaysians, and we do that sort of thing!) and headed towards Bellinzona and drove through the old road to Lugano and straight to Mendrisio.


Foxtown is a factory outlet which (supposedly) sell designer labels products at low price.

I have to say that I was really not impressed with this factory outlet. I mean, back in Malaysia, our malls are much, much more bigger and spacious compared to Foxtown. The prices were not that cheap as advertised either. Anyway, its just not my cup of tea.


We went back to Geneva using the other route and this time its via the third longest road tunnel in the world, the Gotthard Tunnel. 16.4 kms to be exact!

Its a weird feeling to drive through this long tunnel with the whole mountains on top. The children were counting the km mark as we passed each one.

After a long almost 6 hours drive, we arrived back in Geneva. Its a long and tiring journey but was well worth it since the journey was truly off the usual beaten track and we had the opportunity to see those wonderful and breathtaking views. Credit to my daughters for being on their best behavior and a good sport.

And no, I still didnt get over my fear of heights.

No comments:

Post a Comment