Travel Tips for Italy/Switzerland
When to Go: It really depends on the snow pack. In 2014 with an amazing snow pack the flow started at the end of April. I arrived on May 25th and had plenty of snow left. Some runs were high, several were low… but that is always going to the case. Several need rain to run which then pushes others too high. Although we got rain all but one day, including a few downpours the rivers did not spike high enough to bring in some of the runs on the list. But did bump others on the list too high. Anyways, Later April and May tend to be the window to target for Italy and Switzerland both. If flows are too high, you can always head to France or Austria to salvage the trip. Or if you are really early, Corsica is an option to quickly detour to.
Entry into Italy/Switzerland: Passport is of course required... but no Visa for folks coming from the US.
Getting to Piemonte/Ticino: Milan is the closest airport. Milan has two, use MXP (Malpensa) as it is on the north side of town and only 1.5 hours from either region. They have rental cars there and fly boats.
River Beta: Info in English is not readily available. But, for Piemonte there is a brief UK guide in pdf format. For Ticino the best I found was a map I bought online in France (and in French). It was called "Carte Nautique et Loisirs Suisse. Vernier: Touring Club Suisse (TCS), 2006" and I bought it here in 2012 but now in 2014 I can't seem to locate it. It was a nice map with color coding on the rivers for the sections and how difficult they are. A good starting point if you can find a copy... or hit me up and I can send some pics of it over. Also, there is a guidebook called "White Water South Alps" which is available on google which has additional runs in the Piemonte area but no runs in Ticino. Additionally there is a French website with some of the runs in this area included. I have found searching it doesnt work well... but the map is great to hunt and peck. eauxvives.org map. Finally, a nice website with a map with gauge links has recently popped up here.
Water: OK to drink from faucets etc. Many cities especially in Italy have fountains just free flowing water. These are ok to drink as well.
- You do not need an international driving license... but, rules are changing more and more in Europe, if you get pulled over an international drivers permit ($15 from AAA) are requested. Some rental car agencies are also stating it is a requirement... though to date I have not heard anyone actually be asked for it at the counter. So... better safe that sorry right?
- Tolls are present in Italy. Though it is only ~10 Euro from the Milan Airport to either region. In Switzerland the highways require a permit that you can buy for 45 Euro. Or just stay on frontage roads which actually works just fine if you are just staying in Piemonte and Ticino area and not going further into Switzerland.
- Parking rules in Switzerland are a little weird. We parked at a sign that we all read as “no parking from 19:30-24:00. So we parked and came back in time to move our car… and got tickets. 48 hours to show up at the police station… on our last day. So early the next morning we went and were told “no parking at all in yellow spots” despite all the other cars and the sign pointing to the contrary. The fine… 120 Euro per car. Or $170 for an error in parking. Steep. Luckily they wiped one away and only charged us for one car. Also, on a side note… many of the river valleys have pay parking at the river access points. Like the Verzasca… the Middle and Lower put-in’s require paying. Same for the Maggia. It is only 2 Swiss Franks for an hour, or 10 Franks for a day.
- Be aware, in the mountain towns, the driving is class IV/V. Super narrow 1.5 lane roads with speed limits of 50km/hr. I am not joking, my life flashed before my eyes several times. What are tour buses doing on these roads?!?! One in our group was run off the road and scratched his brand new Mercedes. Sucks. Just be ready to be a little scared driving.
- One final note on driving… be aware your car will likely be a stick (almost all are) and will take Diesel fuel (almost all do). So know how to drive a stick and make sure to put the correct fuel in the car.
- GPS: I found an app called Navfree (now it is called NavMii) which is basically Google Maps but offline. This means that you can search and route your way around the country without internet or a data plan. So that is awesome. It is one map per country and they run 200-500 mb but work great. I also have begun using a map app, Galileo, which allowed me to save the .kml files from my planning (that I have on the website's map section) so we were able to see all the way points and camping spots etc. That map app wouldn't route though so we had to use both apps.
Vaccinations: No extra needed.
Money: Plenty of ATMs that take US ATM cards. Just make sure to tell your bank before you go, in some countries 4 digit pins (no more) are required... Also, even on your credit card, get a pin put on. Also, much of Europe requires credit cards with chips on them. So look into that… Also bring more than one. We had cards work at one spot, and others not… and then vice versa at other locations. Also, just an FYI… Italy is on the Euro but Switzerland uses the Swiss Franc. So be prepared for both.
Prices: Italy is much cheaper than Switzerland in nearly all aspects. Bring as much across the border with you as possible. Going out is ~2x as expensive. And buying food is ~1.5x. Wine in Italy cost as cheap as 1.5 Euro… in Switzerland the cheapest we found was 8 Franc (~4x). Strangely though, the gas in Switzerland was a smidge cheaper once you take into account the currency differences.
Food: Pizzarias in every town. Plus of course Gelato… so good. Nocciallo is my all-time favorite flavor of gelato in Italy.
Boats: Bring your own... there is nowhere that I know of near these areas to rent. There are a few places 5 hours to the north in Switzerland and Austria… we had Austrian friends bring some out for half of our group. But unless you have contacts such as those it would be a long first day to get the boats in hand.
Accommodations: We camped every night. In Italy the camping is easy to pouch. Wherever off the road is all good. In Switzerland they are much stricter which requires you to pay for camping. Even some of the camping areas do not allow tent camping. Check out the map for the places we camped. There were plenty of pay camping in Switzerland other than these, so you could always ask other boaters when you arrive where they are staying. The Verzasca always has boaters at it.
Weather: The weather can be all over the place. We had warm days and cold rainy days. Apparently it was unseasonably rainy when we were there… but it happens. We only wanted dry tops 1 day, the rest we wee glad to have dry suits. So… come prepared for it all!
Random Thing to do: If you camp down near Lake Maggiore in Switzerland… there is a cool 2,000 year old castle in Bellinzona that is free to walk around in.
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