Alpine air, dramatic landscapes and winding mountain roads – a summertime driving holiday in the Swiss Alps is the full road trip package.
And when it comes to exploring Switzerland’s glorious lakes and mountains, there’s nothing quite like hitting the open road in a supercar. A destination as scenic as the Swiss Alps surely deserves a prestige vehicle, so why not treat yourself to luxury car hire and take this magical route…
We’ve put together six must-do driving routes, devised as a circular journey, starting and ending in Geneva. Taking in most of the country with a few sneaky little trips across the border into neighbouring Italy, it is easily accomplished in one go, although each can be undertaken on their own.
1. Geneva to Lausanne and Bern
Once you’ve picked up your hire car in Geneva, most likely from the airport, be sure to spend some time in this fascinating city.
Surrounded by the spectacular Alps on the shores of Lake Geneva with its dramatic 140m-tall Jet d’Eau fountain, Geneva is the home of clockmakers and is the birthplace of the internet – invented at CERN. If you fancy checking it out, the Internet Museum is just 5km from the airport.
From Geneva, it’s 64km to Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee has been located since 1914. The picturesque medieval town is spread over three hills: park up to enjoy the small alleyways, tucked-away cafés and boutiques.
Carry on around Lake Geneva to Montreux, just half-an-hour from Lausanne. This traditional resort town is delightful with its grand Belle Époque buildings – and if you visit in July, you’ll also enjoy the famous Montreux Jazz Festival. The medieval island castle, Château de Chillon, with its fairytale ramparts, great halls and courtyards, is less than 4km away.
Double back on yourself slightly as you head off an hour’s drive to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bern. Switzerland’s capital is famous for its brown bears and big ideas – it was here that Einstein devised the theory of relativity. Enjoy a wander around the Old Town with its 16th century fountains, 15th century cathedral Bern Minster and Zytglogge, a medieval clock tower with moving puppets.
2. Bern and the Lauterbrunnen Valley to Lucerne
An hour away is Lauterbrunnen promising high peaks and little villages for perfect Instagram opportunities. On arrival, it is immediately apparent why it gave Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien inspiration for his Elven City of Rivendell. Park up and stretch your legs on a quick hike to the majestic waterfalls: the Trummelbach and Staubach Falls.
Drive a further 72km and you’ll arrive at Jungfraujoch, home to Europe’s highest railway station at 11,333 ft. (3,454 m) and the famous Eiger, which at 3,970 m (13,020 ft. is the jewel of the Bernese Alps.
3. Grindelwald to Lucerne to Zurich
Double back and continue on the main road and divert to Grindewald, the country’s oldest ski resort. From here you can reach the Aletsch Glacier, Europe’s longest. The cable car up to the Bettmerhorn or Eggishorn, provides panoramic views of the glacier and a sense of its scale.
Back on the road and it’s an hour or so to Lucerne with its pretty medieval architecture, and like most cities in Switzerland, it comes complete with snow-capped mountains and sits on the shores of a lake. The town’s main attraction is the 14th century Kappelbrücke, or Chapel Bridge. Underneath are numerous paintings depicting the history of Switzerland.
Next stop is Zurich. The world global financial centre is just half-an-hour’s drive. Its residents love to swim and there’s plenty of choice, including the beloved ‘badis’ or outdoor pools, which can be found all around Lake Zurich and in the city itself.
4. Zurich to Davos to Stelvio Pass
It’s two hours from Zurich to Davos, Switzerland’s largest ski resort and the highest city in Europe. In the summer months it’s a glorious playground for hiking and biking.
It takes around an hour and 45 minutes to reach the zig-zag Stelvio Pass, which brings you across the border into Italy. Made famous by the Top Gear team with their dramatic footage of hairpin bends, the Stelvio Pass was named as one of the programme’s top driving routes in Europe.
While the Top Gear presenters enjoyed deserted roads, regular drivers can expect motorbikes, motor homes and tourists taking in the scenery at a leisurely pace. With little chance of passing on these tight alpine roads, you may not be able to unleash your supercar’s true power unless you opt for a very early morning drive.
Whatever time you travel, you’ll need to concentrate hard as you navigate the third highest pass in the Alps (2757m) and its 48 switchback turns.
5. Stelvio Pass and Bernina Pass to Lake Como
Back in Switzerland, and you’ll soon reach the Bernina Pass. Here’s where our circular route goes slightly awry, but bear with us. The Bernina Pass is a linear 55km route from St Moritz, famous for its 300 plus days a year of sunshine, ski slopes, and hiking trails, to the Italian town of Tirano.
From the Stelvio Pass, it’s a half-hour drive to St Moritz and if you want to explore the entire Bernina Pass, it’ll take you about two hours. Be careful though, even in summer, the route can be treacherous, with ice and snow not uncommon.
The Bernina Pass also takes in Italian-speaking Val Paschiavo on the Swiss side and includes the picture-perfect Lago Bianco or ‘White Lake’ before ending at Tirano. It’s another two hours from here to Lake Como.
6. Lake Como to Lugano to Zermatt to Geneva
Surrounded by the Alps, Lake Como is idyllic and at 146 sq km, it’s Italy’s third largest lake.
Another hour on the road and you’ll reach Lugano, which may sound like you should still be in Italy, but you’re actually in southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region. The historic town centre of Lugano is traffic-free, with spectacular Lombardy-style architecture – the perfect stop for lunch.
Onto Zermatt and the closest town to the famous Matterhorn where, after the three-hour journey from Lugano, you might like to swap your luxury hire car for The Glacier Express to the mountain. Zermatt itself is car-free and there’s no through-route, so you will have to park up in nearby Tasch.
It’s two-and-a-half hours from Zermatt to Geneva, but you could take another two-hour diversion to experience perhaps the most famous of the Swiss Alps’ passes, the Great St. Bernard Pass. The Great St. Bernard Hospice nestles deep in the mountains – and it was here that 17th century monks began selectively breeding and training their dogs resulting in the St. Bernard breed.