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Driving in Switz/Italy/Austria

Old Mar 25th, 2002, 08:51 AM
  #1  
Jay
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Driving in Switz/Italy/Austria

I'm planning a driving tour of these 3 countries in the last half of May and have a couple of questions that I hope someone can answer for me.
(1) Are some of the more-remote the Alpine passes open during that period, or is there a way to find out ahead of time if they will be open then? I've read that some passes are closed from Nov. to May, but I'm trying to find out when in May they open. I tried a web search to find an answer, with no luck. Does anyone know of a handy phone number or web site that would have that info?
(2) I read conflicting opinions about the need for an Intl drivers license. I now it's technically the rule for US drivers to carry one while driving in Italy & Austria, but I've also read that the Italian police rarely enforce that rule. What about in Austria? Not planning on getting pulled over, but just in case.
(3) Austria apparently requires an Autobahn Vignette for driving on their most of their autobahns, but what about on the country roads?
(4) Does anybody have any favorite &/or scenic places they've driven through in these areas that I shouldn't miss? My general planned route is to go from Munich to Zurich to Como to Tuscany, then back to Garda, the Dolomites region, then back through the Innsbruck area to Munich.
Thanks in advance for any advice given!
 
Old Mar 25th, 2002, 09:15 AM
  #2  
Jan
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Jay,
Sounds like a great trip. I have some of the anwers for you but not all! We did a similar trip in Switzerland 4 years ago...toward the beginning of May. The passes are magnificent...some (The Gotthard) almost a lunar landscape. Most of the passes will be open in Late May, but can always close for a late snow. Just be flexible, there are always alternate routes that are as beautiful (and i don't mean tunnels!)
2. We have never used International licenses and have never had a problem. All of the countries are used to US drivers.
3.Austria and Switzerland both require vignettes on the highways only. Switzerland's runs about $40.00/year and they don't give you a break. In Austria, you can buy it by the week, month etc. Italy just uses an expensive, slow toll system. (in my opinion!)
4. For routes, Salzburg to Llubljana (or cut west to Italy in Klagenfurt) is absolutely magnificent. The other areas you mentioned are also beautiful. Other places of beauty in CH, St. Moritz, Chur area (Graubunden) and Interlaken, not the town but the general area ie Wengen, Murren. Unfortunately, I don't know much about the Dolomites (yet!).
Enjoy, and buy your gas in Switzerland...it is cheaper!
 
Old Mar 25th, 2002, 09:44 AM
  #3  
bettyk
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We went across the Grossglockner in late May and it was snowing but the pass was open. It was really impressive! As far as an international driver's license, it only cost $10 plus the photo. Every official Austrian site says that it is required, so I would get one to be on the safe side. Same with the vignettes. The cost of the fine is far greater than the cost of the vignette. But you only need the Vignette if you plan to travel on the Autobahn's or "A" roads.
 
Old Mar 25th, 2002, 10:19 AM
  #4  
Bob Brown
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It is my understanding that in Austria you do not need an international drivers license IF your home license is in English, or German.
I saw that in the fine print on an Avis web site.
I have never had one in Switzerland and have never been asked for one.

In addition to what the others have said about scenic routes, I have one I liked last year: the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. It is reached by driving southward from Salzburg and Munich, or north from Venice, or east and south from Innsbruck.
The Hohe Tauern national park lies on either side of the highway. There is a turn off from the highway that leads to the Kaiser Franz Josef Höhe where there is a view point built by the Swarovski Crystal Co. It gives great views over the Pasterzegletscher and the Grossglockner itself. The glacier is the longest in the eastern Alps. (The Great Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland is longer by several K.)

The drive itself is spectacular. The starting altitude is low, so that by the time you go up and over, you have gained over 5,000 feet in altitude.
Hochtor (High gate) is at 2575 meters and Döllach is at 1000, so there is a gain of 1575 meters, which converts to 5166 feet, about.

On the north side of the park are the Krimml cascades, some 380 meters all told. That is about 1250 feet of showerbath.



 
Old Mar 25th, 2002, 10:44 AM
  #5  
chris
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You can check the status of Swiss Pass openings at www.inforoute.ch
 
Old Mar 25th, 2002, 10:49 AM
  #6  
Ingo
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1. Most of the passes will be open late May. I recommend to go via St. Moritz to Lake Como – the passes on this route are open in winter, too. For current conditions on the Swiss pass roads you should have a look at http://www.swisstxt.ch/traffic/d/paesse.php . Although there is no English version it gives you enough information. Schnee = snow, Gesperrt = closed, Frei = free.

2. I am German and only have a German drivers license. No problem so far.

3. Vignettes are only required for motorways (Autobahn). The Swiss costs 40 Sfr. (24 $), not 40 $ ! No need to drive a motorway in Switzerland, so you don’t need to buy the Swiss Vignette. For the short way through Austria from Brenner pass to Mittenwald I never bought a vignette, because I always used the normal roads, not the motorway.

4. For your way from Zurich to Lake Como I recommend to drive via Chur and Julier (better Albula, but maybe still closed) pass towards St. Moritz. You should stay at least one night somewhere in the villages around St. Moritz. I prefer Sils (fantastic hotels, located between two lakes) and Pontresina (fantastic hotels, too, and good views). Drive to Como via Maloja pass and Bregaglia valley (don’t miss Soglio, stunning views, romantic village! Another good place to stay a night, Hotel Casa Battista in old world style, not too expensive) or via Bernina pass (fantastic views of Morteratsch glacier and Piz Bernina etc. from Montebello, parking right on the road) to Poschiavo valley with its beautiful lake (another good place to stay for a night, maybe Hotel Romantica in Le Prese). This route is much more scenic than via Gotthard.

In May it is probably better to stay in Poschiavo valley or Soglio.

Here some websites:
www.valposchiavo.ch (not sure about English version)
www.bregaglia.ch
www.engadinferien.ch (choose summer)
www.waldhaus-sils.ch (fantastic hotel in Sils, but probably not open in May)

Still a word about Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. It is unreasonable expensive: A couple of years ago I had to pay ca. 25 $. As far as I know Hochtor is at 2505 m alt. The highest altitude you reach at Edelweissspitze 2571 m. I admit the views are beautiful, but finally it is still another glacier and more mountains. No need to pay so much money for that, if you are not addicted to driving pass roads.

Ingo

 
Old Mar 25th, 2002, 12:54 PM
  #7  
Bob Brown
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Ingo is right on the elevation figure for the road.
I think my elevation figure given above was a result of reading an Austrian map and thinking )( on the map meant a pass like on US maps and the figure of 2575 under the word Hochtor applied to the route marker. After further review, I found this line, which I converted from German: The road goes through the Scheitel Tunnel at the Hochtor at 2503 meters. The German said:
durch den Scheiteltunnel beim Hochtor, 2503 m ü. M.
I presume the Hochtor is a rock formation and not the "gate" or entrance to the highway tunnel.
It is an ancient pass route, and my presumption is that the Hochtor was a gate like rock formation obvious on the old trail.

The price is about as steep as the road, 360 As when I did it. But I was in too far to turn around. If there was a posted notice warning me of the toll, I did not see it.

At any rate, I figure I got my money's worth. Compared to paying for a fancy dinner or a concert, this was a bargain as far I am concerned.
 
Old Mar 25th, 2002, 01:22 PM
  #8  
Sue
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Our driving adventures in the Alps are chronicled here -
Austria-
http://mywebpages.comcast.net/smengels/de/c11.html
Italy-
http://mywebpages.comcast.net/smengels/de/c14.html

Have a great trip, it's beautiful!
Sue Engels
 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 05:44 AM
  #9  
bettyk
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Maybe this will answer the International Driver's License and Vignette question once and for all??? (from http://www.usembassy-vienna.at/consulate/car.html.

Driving in Austria

A U.S. DRIVER'S LICENSE ALONE IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO DRIVE IN AUSTRIA. THE U.S. DRIVER'S LICENSE MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER'S PERMIT (OBTAINABLE IN THE U.S. FROM AAA) OR BY AN OFFICIAL TRANSLATION OF THE U.S. DRIVER'S LICENSE, WHICH CAN BE OBTAINED AT ONE OF THE AUSTRIAN AUTOMOBILE CLUBS (OAMTC OR ARBO). THIS ARRANGEMENT IS ONLY ACCEPTABLE FOR THE FIRST SIX MONTHS OF DRIVING IN AUSTRIA, AFTER WHICH ALL DRIVERS MUST OBTAIN AN AUSTRIAN LICENSE.

AUSTRIA REQUIRES ALL VEHICLES USING THE AUTOBAHN TO DISPLAY A HIGHWAY TAX STICKER "AUTHOBAHN VIGNETTE" ON THE INSIDE WINDSHIELD OF THE VEHICLE. THE STICKER MAY BE PURCHASED AT BORDER CROSSINGS, GAS STATIONS IN AUSTRIA, AS WELL AS SMALL "TABAK" SHOPS LOCATED IN AUSTRIAN TOWNS. FINES FOR FAILING TO DISPLAY A VALID AUTOBAHN VIGNETTE ON THE WINDSHIELD OF YOUR CAR ARE USUALLY AROUND $85.00.

 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 10:34 AM
  #10  
Bob Brown
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The question about whether or not an International Drivers License is required in Austria is one where there is much conflicting information.

After reading Betty's post with the quote from the US Embassy, I decided to see how many different stories I could get. First, I called the Austrian Consulate in Charlotte, NC. The very nice fellow there said one was not required. I called Avis, they gave me the same story I posted above. I called Hertz, they said the document was required.
I called AAA, the rep there said an American license was recognized in Austria. I called the Austrian Tourist office in New York. The fellow there said in no uncertain terms that it was mandatory.
 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 10:39 AM
  #11  
Bob Brown
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PS So I guess it depends on who you want to believe!!
Me?? I will stop by a AAA office and get another International license before I leave for Austria.

I had one last year, so I was safe.

I am dumbfounded that there is so much conflicting information. Either one is required, or it is not. So why a plethora of conflicting answers?
Somebody is not getting the message.


 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 11:38 AM
  #12  
bettyk
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Bob, you are right. It is confusing. But $10 is a cheap price for peace of mind. Personally, it aggravates the dickens out of me to have to pay it. I also don't understand why it's only good for one year when your drivers's license is good for much longer. Oh well, like I said, peace of mind.
 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 01:20 PM
  #13  
Bob Brown
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The Avis International answer bothered the most. The Hertz agent really gave a funny answer. In Austria, they don't check for the international piece of paper when renting a car to an American. In Spain, they will not rent you a car without the International License. The stated reason was that the Spanish would fine you $300.

Go figure.

Perhaps it is like the speed limit on I 85 northeast of Atlanta. The sign says 65, but you are in danger of being belted in the rear if you drive that slow.
Obviously, the law is not enforced, but if you asked the Ga. State Patrol, their spokeman will tell you that the law says 65 mph and you better obey it.

I have never been stopped in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, or Italy for any reason, so I don't know from experience. (I have not driven in other European countries.)
 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 03:11 PM
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Mary
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For what this is (or isn't) worth, My sister and brother-in-law did the Switzerland and Austria road trip for 2 1/2 weeks and after all was said and done, they said that if they had it all to do over again they would have much preferred using the fantastic train system....leaving the driving to someone else! Mary
 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 03:15 PM
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bettyk
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Mary, although the train systems in Austria and Switzerland are excellent, it is not difficult to drive there. The roads are well maintained and the drivers, although aggressive, know the rules of the road and follow them, unlike here in the US. I like the flexibility of having a car as there are just some places you can't get to easily without one (Hallstatt being one of my favorites!)
 
Old Mar 26th, 2002, 07:08 PM
  #16  
Bob Brown
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I agree, the train system is good, and I use it. But there are times when I want to go places and follow a route that is not served by the train system.
Like in Switzerland. No train goes over the Grimsel Pass or the Furka Pass or the Susten Pass.
And that is as spectacular as it gets.

People claim the Glacier Express is spectacular. I don't agree because trains seek the lowest route for the road bed. Perhaps some of the mountain trains that have limited track distances take you to spectacular views, e.g. the train from Lauterbrunnen to the Jungfraujoch or from Zermatt to the Gornergrat.

By in large, train routes are either on the flats, or they are at the bottom of valleys and inside of tunnels.
 
Old Mar 27th, 2002, 10:16 AM
  #17  
ingo
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Bob, I agree, the Glacier Express is not very spectacular. The parts between Sedrun and Andermatt (Oberalp Pass) and Bever and Tiefencastel (Albula) are great, but the rest ...? It is a convenient journey, though, if you are planning to visit both the Engadine and Valais.

Of course a car gives you in general better access to remote places. But I respectfully disagree on your comments on Grimsel, Furka and Susten. It is true, there are no trains, but there are buses. And in combination with the buses you can do a wonderful trip with the DFB (steam) train on the original route of the Glacier Express between Realp and Gletsch. Soon the train will reach Oberwald! Like in old times. Okay, not over the pass, there is a tunnel 300 m below.

There are routes, too, which are not served by the road system! The train route between Montreux and Gstaad is in my opinion much more beautiful than the route on the road via Bulle or Aigle. Another example is the Bernina Pass. If you are driving you are missing the spectacular view offered by the train route (Alp Grüm views of Piz Palu and its Glacier).

By the way, for the best views you have to walk/hike because they are away from roads and trains.

Ingo
 
Old Mar 27th, 2002, 02:19 PM
  #18  
Bob C
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I got a speeding ticket in Austria. The officer spoke no english but he had no problem taking my Texas drivers license. He wrote the amount the fine on a note pad and I paid him. No problem.
 
Old Apr 7th, 2002, 09:38 AM
  #19  
Jay
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Wow! I went away for 2 weeks, came back and found all of these great responses! Thanks to all, and particularly to Ingo, Bob Brown, and Sue Engels for the advice and web referencees. I hadn't originally planned on going through the Julierpass and the St. Moritz area, but now I'm putting that on the itinerary. I had also planned to go through the Val Gardena in Italy, then drive north through the Brenner Pass into Austria, but now I might go further east through the Grossglockner instead. Since that will involve more time and roads in Austria, I'll go ahead and buy the Austrian autobahn vignette since it'll be used for more than just an hour or two while I'm in that particular country.

Now everybody can see why I asked about the intl. drivers license. There is an incredible amount of conflicting information out there about it. I think I'm going to do what Bob C did, and not bother with it. Then $10 cost isn't the problem - the problem is the shlepping to the photo shop for the accompanying photos, then shlepping to AAA to apply for the thing. If I can avoid losing most of a morning going through all that, when it may not be necessary after all, I would rather not get one. I'll just try to be a good boy and stay at or below the speed limits, etc.

Rail travel through these areas is not an option for me. I'm picking up my new car in Munich through BMW's European Delivery plan, so that settles that question. IMHO, rail travel is best when traveling between larger cities in Europe, such Munich to Berlin, Budapest to Vienna, etc. But for seeing the countryside, you're much better off using a car because you can be on your own schedule. Ingo referred to some great towns that I should see in the area of St. Moritz. If I'm in a car, I can stop in these places for lunch or tea, as it pleases me and on my own schedule.
 
Old Apr 7th, 2002, 01:11 PM
  #20  
Georgine
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I was stopped by the police in Austria for alledgedly going 45KM in a 35KM zone. My US Driver's license was NOT ACCEPTABLE--- Fortunately, I did have an International Driver's License with me
(stashed in my suitcase). Once it was shown to the officer, there was no more conflict.

The Austrians are quite rigid---I'd spend the extra $10.00 for the International License. It is good for a year and worth the money to avoid the hassle if you are stopped, or in an accident.
 

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