1. Avoid tourist hotspots and explore lesser known valleys
Switzerland's most famous resorts such as Zermatt and the Jungfrau offer much in the way of infrastructure and accessibility but at a cost. Not only do these hotspots and their surrounding trails attract the crowds, you can expect to pay much more for transport (particularly cable cars and funiculars), accommodation, food and drink. However, close by are many other lesser known valleys but equally as spectacular scenery with lower prices in an effort to attract visitors. (Escape the Crowds and Discover Unspoiled Valleys in the Swiss Alps). Which leads in to our next tip...
2. Investigate regional Summer schemes
You'll need to check specific details with local tourist offices and make sure these schemes still arre still running, but our favourite Swiss valley, Val d'Anniviers, ran an incredible scheme for summer visitors. The "Liberte pass", available to tourists staying in the valley, cost just 2.50CHF per day but gave free or discounted access to all cable cars, buses and many other attractions. We estimated we benefited from over £400 of activities, really enhancing our experience of the valley and the reason we ended up staying for 3 weeks. Saas Fee ran a similar "Summer Saas Pass" we also took advantage of but the pass cost a little more. We also heard about a Summer pass in the Villars-Gryon valley. These great offers tend to be available in the more lesser visited areas which, if you like peace and quiet, is even more reason to go.
3. Drive less, see more
This one is personal preference, but we really like to get to a place and settle down to explore fully before moving on. Not only do we find this more relaxing and fulfilling, it saves diesel. Driving up to remote mountain villages on winding roads is quite fuel inefficient so once we're up there we don't like to rush off again the next day just to go up the next valley. This leads onto our next tip.......
4. Fill up with fuel before you go
Diesel prices in France were 20-25% cheaper than in Switzerland. Coupled with our preference for driving less and seeing more, we saved a lot by making sure we filled up to the brim in France and only put just enough in tank to get us back to the border.
5. Visit in June or late August/September
We visited Switzerland immediately before and after the summer high season and there were far less crowds than there would have been in July and early August (you might want to check your specific destination for its off season dates). We still had good weather right up until the start of October but with camping sites (and hotels) offering discounted off season rates, accommodation costs are much lower. This leads onto our next tip......
6. Get an ACSI Camping Card
During our off season visits to Switzerland, when we did stay on campsites we always picked one which offered a discount for ACSI cardholders. This saved us several euros a night as campsites in Switzerland can be quite pricey. We made sure to pick campsites offering the 16 euro/night rate (includes our showers and electricity). At just 15 euros for the ACSI card this is one the best purchases we made before leaving the UK.
7. Find a nice aire and stay there
Motorhome Aires are few and far between in Switzerland compared to France. Finding a permitted place where you can park and sleep for free (or cheaply) is quite rare in the Swiss Alps. We found that wild camping in a motorhome was definitely frowned upon and policed. We used Camperstop Europe to help us find aires (although we did think the Switzerland section of the 2014 book was a bit disappointing and needed updating). The aires we found varied significantly as to what services were available. Whatever length tour you're on, if you find a good value permitted place with stunning scenery to explore, why dash on?
8. Minimise eating out
We love cooking for ourselves and rarely tend to eat out anyway but we know that many people consider eating out a big part of the holiday experience. Unlike some other countries in Europe where a set 3-course menu can be less than 10 euros, prices for restaurant food and drink in Swiss mountain resorts are high. By not eating out (or at least not as often) you can save a small fortune.
9. Don't go grocery shopping with a list
Groceries, including food and toiletries, are our highest monthly cost. The first Swiss supermarket we visited shocked us as we realised that our usual items cost a lot more than in France. But revisiting the shelves more closely we found that for almost all staples there was a reasonably priced option if you looked for it. We could still do an inexpensive shop if we were flexible on what we bought - for fresh produce in particular, this meant we tended to be buying local and in season, rather than the much more expensive food flown in from overseas. But if there are certain things you know you might miss, especially on a motorhome tour, you could always stock up before crossing the border.
10. Stock up before heading into the high mountain valleys
We found that smaller grocery stores servicing small villages in high mountain valleys often sold groceries for up to double what the major chains in the valley floors charged. This is some what understandable given the cost of additional and often tricky transportation. Normally we like to champion local economies and prefer buying local over large chains, even if it's a little more expensive. However the price difference in some places was often prohibitive for our budget. By stocking up at the larger stores or wholesalers on the valley floors before heading into the hills we saved a lot, simply supplementing our fresh supplies at the smaller places if things ran out.
11. Shop around
As with any purchase it pays to shop around. In certain towns in the lower valleys we found clusters of stores and supermarkets often within a few hundred metres of each other and pricing for certain grocery items was highly variable. One might be selling raisins for half the price of another, but be more expensive for apples, walnuts and tomatoes. It might take a little longer, but if we were stocking up we saved quite a lot of francs this way.
We discovered a number of wholesalers and farm shops, especially in the Rhone Valley that sold fresh produce (fruits, vegetables, milk, bread, eggs, meats, jams etc) cheaper than in the supermarkets. We found a guide to these outlets in the tourist office in Martigny, but have seen similar guides in other areas too.
The scenery speaks for itself. If you love the outdoors Switzerland has so much to offer. By making a few simple changes it was possible to revel in the beauty of some of Europe's most stunning mountains without spending a fortune. We hope these tips help. If you have comments, questions or other tips please share them below.
Other Related Posts
Escape the Crowds and Discover Unspoiled Valleys in the Swiss Alps
9 Things to See and Do in Val d'Anniviers
6 Months On: Reviewing Our Costs of Touring Europe in a Motorhome