The Ultimate Motorhome Road? At the Grimsel Pass, Switzerland

Dave takes in the view over the dam at the Grimsel Pass.

Dave the motorhome is free camping at 2165m at the top of the Grimsel Pass, Switzerland (N46.56141 E8.33768). The view from our front window is spectacular. The sign says 10 CHF (about £6.50) a night for a motorhome to stay here, but the buildings are all boarded up for winter and no-one’s been to ask for the cash.

Dave takes in the view over the dam at the Grimsel Pass.
Dave takes in the view over the dam at the Grimsel Pass.
Thursday today. The wet stuff was supposed to happen on Saturday, and has crept forwards a day, but it’s looking like rain rather than snow – good news for the snow-chain-less up here!

The mist drew itself up the glacial Lauterbrunnen Valley again this morning, eclipsing the sun and all sight of the precipitous cliffs either side and their accompanying over-the-edge-of-the-Earth waterfalls. Only a parachuting fella landing in the cow field next to the camp site and turning his helmet camera upwards to catch his mate’s descent gave away the fact something existed above us. It was also flipping cold too. We paid up at the campsite, scared the owner as we edged close to a lamppost emptying the grey water, and headed north back towards Interlaken.

Our blanket of fog stayed with us all the way along the edge of the Brienzer See, being forced to one side by the kilometers of tunnels as we left the top of the Earth and delved beneath it to avoid the undulations above. Only a long-haul mountainous climb pulled us clear of the white stuff and into the bight blue daylight again, opening up the Swiss mountains and forests, and inevitably lifting our somewhat dampened spirits.

The pass is fully open, happy days!
The pass is fully open, happy days!

Gelmerseebahn. We had it written on a scrap of paper along with GPS co-ordinates. Joseph and Petra had emphatically suggested we visit, so we’d programmed it in as it lay on our route to the Grimselpass. A few years ago, Switzerland realised the many funicular railways it had built for the purpose of moving materials for constructing dams and the like could be converted into tourist attractions. The one at Gelmersee happened to be the steepest in Europe, and as we arrived to peer up at it from below, we felt ill at the sight.

The Gelmerseebahn.
The Gelmerseebahn.

Photos can’t show the crazy angle the railway curves up the mountain at, almost vertical at the top, with a set of steps alongside which basically turn into a ladder. At the car park we’d not been able to figure out why there were so few cars around us. At the ticket kiosk all became clear, it closed a few days before.

With no Gelmerseebahn for kicks, we had to make do with the adjacent, and free, rope bridge over the canyon.
With no Gelmerseebahn for kicks, we had to make do with the adjacent, and free, rope bridge over the canyon.

Right-o, back into Dave. Next stop, another Joseph suggestion, the Panoramastrasse Oberaar. This little beauty is the ultimate road referenced in the title, and is a sight to behold. I can imagine no road more dramatic and challenging which can still (depending on season) be tackled in a several-tonne motorhome. A few meters below the crest of the Grimsel Pass, it’s a narrow stretch of tarmac leaning into an unforgiving slab of mountain, with often vertical drops guarded only by oft-bent metal barriers, if you’re lucky.

The start of the Panoramastrasse Oberaar.
The start of the Panoramastrasse Oberaar.

As you can see in the photo above, a sign stands at the entrance to the road showing the ten minutes per hour traffic is allowed to leave from the pass end, or the other end of the 5km road, giving you between 20 and 30 minutes to make the trip. We arrived just outside of the departure window, but no matter, since the road was closed for the winter.

How relieved was I? The panoramastrasse was sheet ice in places.
How relieved was I? The panoramastrasse was sheet ice in places.
But was truly spectacular, if you have the gumption to drive it...
But was truly spectacular, if you have the gumption to drive it…
We walked the road. One day we'll have to come back and drive it.
We walked the road. One day we’ll have to come back and drive it.
One last photo. You get the picture.
One last photo. You get the picture.

As we walked back down the crazy road, eyeballing the many bent-metal barriers and trying to stay upright on the ice while staring at the view, Swiss fighter jets played around in the sky popping out sonic booms and scaring the be-jeezus out of us. A couple of helicopters touched down in the pass car parks, one military and another doing the now-expected job of fetching some kit from elsewhere via a long rope slung beneath.

Despots: don't bother invading Switzerland.
Despots: don’t bother invading Switzerland.

Just as we sat admiring the incredible view over the lake and mountains from Dave’s window, a Brit-registered van pulls in next to us. Several hours later, Phil and Katherine, youngster European wanders have just left with their beautiful pooch Lennox, hence the rather delayed blog post ce soir!

Lenox, come on in, welcome to Dave.
Lenox, come on in, welcome to Dave.

Ju and Charlie are gently snoring as I tap this out, my own head a little befuddled shall we say, with a few drinks swishing around inside me. The temperature is dropping outside and wisps of clouds are forming. It seems the incredibly bewitching Switzerland is trying to tell us something: it’s winter folks, which is serious stuff around here. Put up or shut up.

Cheers, Jay

4 Comments

  1. Can guess by the temperatures for the weekend you will be moving onwards. Fantastic scenery and well worth the drive that way though.

    • Hi Glen, yep, we’re heading for lower ground today, cutting across Italy and back into Switzerland via Val Cannobina if it doesn’t hoof too much snow down on us! Hope things are on the up for you and Steve, cheers, Jay

  2. Good description of the Grimsel area, I am a Brit living in the Luzern area and the passes are a mere 45 mins from home….great blog

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