Thursday, 9 May 2013

Portable Luxury: Alpine Walks from a Motorhome or Campervan

Walking in the Alps is a singular and deeply memorable experience and, now more than ever, extremely accessible. There are legendary walks lasting hours, days or weeks and which bestow some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. With a network of fine huts available, some of which border on the luxurious, it is tempting to simply walk from hut to hut over the course of days or weeks. This, on a classic walk like the Tour du Mont Blanc, or a more technical walk over glacial terrain, like the Classic Haute Route, is a perfect way to see a specific section of the Alps.

But what if you want something more varied? Or if you'd like the privacy of a place all to yourself? If you don't fancy paying eye-watering prices for wine and food? Or you are undertaking a multi-discplinary adventure - mountain-biking, climbing AND walking, all in one trip? Carrying your equipment, or food and drink, will be onerous if you have different priorities to those required on a hut-to-hut adventure. And if you want privacy, alpine huts are not the place for you. How about a campervan? Or motorhome?

Europe is geared towards helping motorhome owners. France has Aires de Service (Camping Car) and Germany has Stellplatze. The Italians calls them Aree di Sosta. They are all areas set aside purely for motorhomes to overnight. Often they are free. They usually contain a sanistation - a unit which looks a little like a petrol pump - to obtain water, electricity, dispose of grey waste (shower and washing up) and black waste (think toilet). And there are vast numbers of campsites too. In fact, if you head to the Alps, there are so many places to stay that in the summer season, you'll find yourself without a great deal of company in places like Grimentz (for the Val d'Anniviers) or Grindelwald (for the Eiger and beyond). There are campsites outside Zermatt or both Air and campsite in Breuill Cervinia (for the Matterhorn), or nearby Maconcagua in Italy. These are just a few. Check out Vicarious Books excellent "All the Aires Mountains" for a pretty comprehensive list. Whatever your taste, there are Aires and campsites to suit.

So what does this matter to you, the ardent trekker? Think of your summer this way: Either drive a van down to the Alps (2-3 days at most) or hire one down there and then head to, let's say, Grimentz. Have a nice dinner in the town, basking in the warmth of the setting sun, then retire to your van for a chilled glass of vino. Sleep well, for the next day you head off into the Val d'Anniviers. Spend a couple of days walking - stay in the Cabane de Moiry (2,825m) overnight and eat dinner in full view of the Moiry Glacier, the Pointes de Mourti and the Tsa de l'Ano (3,368m). Take a circuitous route back and get home to the 'van by nightfall. 

Take a warm shower. Dig out your maps, and plan another overnighter but this time near the Mont Blanc massif. Stay in Courmayeur, the impossibly chic Italian version of Chamonix where hiking boot meets high-heeled boot. Head up to the Bertone hut, have lunch, before heading along the Mont de la Saxe path, taking in the southern face of the Mont Blanc massif, the Aiguille de Peutery (and the Brenva Glacier) as well as the Grandes Jorasses. Stay overnight in one of the most salubrious alpine huts, the Refugio Bonatti, and stare at Mont Blanc herself. Head back down to Courmayeur the next day. Or if you fancy planning something a little different, have a look at Kev Reynolds' "Walking in the Alps" for a thorough rendition of the routes available across the Alps (published by Cicerone).

And go on like this, all summer. So, this year, try thinking slightly differently. Take in a massif (forgive me) amount of walking, all across the Alps, without struggling on trains and taking more with you than you thought possible. And a bike rack on the back of a motorhome is standard these days, not a luxury. For reliable motorhome insurance, check out The Caravan Club. Well worth a look (we were members) and they have some great places to stay which are in wild areas in the UK too (and where only 5 vans can stay at a time). It's worth joining a club for all the other benefits it gives later on. Insurance abroad is essential and a club will ensure you are covered for exactly what you need.


  1. Europe is geared towards helping motorhome owners. France has Aires de Service (Camping Car) and Germany has Stellplatze. They are all areas set aside purely for motorhomes to overnight.For knowing more please visit

  2. Motorhomes are really good things to have for when you go to places like this. My family always go on holiday in our Burstner motorhome and its a great place to stay.