Published on July 5th, 2012 | by JT0
Heading to the Alps this year? Here’s some things you might need to know.
It’s quite possible that you or someone you know is taking a trip this summer to France, Switzerland or Austria to ride for the first time. It’s a fairly easy job getting to the Alpine resorts by car or van, but there are a few things you need to know and do before you go.
You really can’t go riding abroad without adequate travel insurance. Seriously. Don’t even think you can get away with it. If you Google ‘Mountain Biking Travel Insurance’ you should get a few good results.
Mountainbiking is classed as a Group 2 sport. That is effectively the amount of risk factor involved. Note that if you are going to race, for example: Mountain of Hell or the Megavalanche, you will then need Group 3 insurance to cover you for racing. It’s not advisable to skip on cover and even Group 3 can be as little as £25 for a week so it’s not expensive.
You will also need an E111 card. This is a European health card and will entitle you to the same basic health care as you’d receive in the UK. It’s free so don’t forget to get one.
As for car insurance, your policy should cover you. You’ll need a a minimum of third party insurance in Europe as in the UK. However it is advisable to notify your insurer before you go.
Driving in France especially means you are subject to a new set of laws. Pay attention here, the French can be quite strict.
When you take a car to France you will need (as in not optional):
You now need to carry a breathalyser when you drive in France – don’t panic if you have no idea where to get one, you can pick them up in the ferry terminals for about £2. But while we are on the subject of drinking, the limit in France is LOWER than in the UK. Whereas at home we can get away with 80mg/100ml, in France it’s only 50mg/100m. So just remember, one SMALL glass of wine and you can be over the limit. You have been warned!
If you are caught on a speed camera it’s unlikely that you will receive a fine. However, in France you will find a lot of road side police officers with speed guns. If they catch you, they will issue you a pretty hefty fine – ON THE SPOT! Or they’ll take you to le bastille (jail) until you can get someone to pay it for you.
A lot of European roads are actually toll roads. I hear a lot of people moaning about paying £5 to cross the Severn Bridge, but the tolls on a trip to Morzine can total something more like €112 each way. That’s not too bad if four of you are sharing, but can be expensive if there’s just two people in a car.
If you vist a website called Mappy http://en.mappy.com you can go to the itinerary and it will give you an estimate of the cost of tolls and fuel. It’s a great way of helping you budget for your trip. Alternatively you could avoid the tolls of you don’t mind spending two days traveling.
The Alps are about a 9-12 hour drive from Calais. So you have to plan your crossing quite well. Most people will want to try and get there in one go so they don’t waste any holiday time, so you have to be clever about how you plan your drive.
If you are going for one long stint you are going to have to plan your drive – It can’t be done in one day so you are either going to have to start or finish in the night (unless you live in the south east of England). Work out when you want to get there (it’s better to arrive in the day) and trace your route back. Just remember to take regular breaks and alternate drivers if you can.
You will also need to remember that French time is one hour behind the UK in the summer.
It’s not cheap in the Alps – If you are staying somewhere with self-catering (which I’d recommend) , take a big bag of pasta with you and buy the fresh stuff when you get there. Also beer isn’t as cheap in the resorts as the booze cruise supermarkets so a multi pack from home might work out cheaper.
When you are in the resort, look for a local town which has a supermarket rather than shopping in the more pricy in-resort stores. For example, Alp d’ Huez, famous for the Tour de France stage and Megavalanche has a few small shops, but if you head to the foot of the valley, there is a large Casino Hypermarket where food is usually a bit cheaper.
Be aware that you will need to activate roaming on your phone before you leave the country. It’s a good idea to have a phone with you as you can use it in an emergency. However, be careful to turn the data off or you might end up with a massive bill when you get home. Uploading pictures might seem like a good idea, but you will be limited. Find a free WiFi zone if you can (there are plenty around) and upload your pictures from there.
The European number for emergencies is 112.
If there is anything else you’d like advice on, please comment below and we’d be happy to give you the benefit of our experience. The most important thing to remember is to have fun – it will be the trip of a lifetime if it’s your first or if you have been before. Enjoy.