France has introduced a new law making it mandatory for cars driving on roads in mountainous regions to be either 1) fitted with winter tyres; 2) fitted with compliant all season tyres or 3) carry snow chains. Roads where this is required will be marked with the above sign.
The law came into force on 1st Nov 2021 but it’s understood that no one will be fined within the first year – if you’re stopped you should be let off with a warning.
If you’re hiring a car you should check if it comes with winter tyres – otherwise you should hire snow chains. This change in the law does favour hiring on the Swiss side in Geneva, rather than the French sector – even though prices can be significantly higher. Cars from the Swiss side usually come with winter tyres as standard (plus the Vignette sticker for driving on Swiss motorways – saving £30).
Of course you can hire snow chains but have you ever tried to put these on with frozen fingers, at the edge of a narrow mountain path with snow coming down and cars slipping around you. And on several occasions I’ve booked them they were not there at pick up. Or worse, I was once given the wrong size and struggled getting them on if awful conditions before abandoning the car (and family) to find a garage. Plus if you buy locally you usually have to dump them as they are very specific to the tyre size.
I have now invested in a set of universal snow chains that fit a wide range of tyre sizes like these. I’ve used them a couple of times on rentals. They are not as good as snow chains but definitely improve traction . And they are a lot easier to put on. Whether they are compliant with the new law I don’t know but we’ve never been stopped with them on.
Train + bus option from Geneva is available all year round and “seamless”
A friend just returned from an autumn break in Praz-sur-arly (lucking-out with wall-to-wall sun in late October) and has just proven that it’s not so hard to get to our apartment from Geneva airport without a car, even outside the main seasons.
Our previous recommended carless solution was to catch a shared bus for around 30 euro (such as Alpybus or Chamexpress) to Sallanches. From there it’s a 20 min car journey up the mountain – either a taxi or a pickup from someone already at the apartment.
But given this trip was outside the main season, this option wasn’t open – so Jeannie took a train from Geneva airport to Sallanches and from there a bus straight to Praz-sur-Arly, dropping off at the Tourist Office – just 10 mins walk from the apartment. The Timetable is below – but Jeannie mentioned that she thinks SNCF – the train company – runs additional buses, so worth looking into it as an option.
We were concerned there would be a lot of hanging around, but Jeannie described the trip both ways as “seamless.”
NB – The bus was cash-only, so have some euros handy (€3.50 inc baggage)
You can save a lot of money doing a little research on car hire prices before diving it and booking with a familiar name.
If you’re flying to Geneva, you’ll have a choice of picking up on the French or Swiss side. French side is usually cheaper but it’s not that straight-forward. See here
You could easily save £100-200 shopping around
I’d recommend starting at the comparison sites. Try Carrentals first – as the broadest engine, to get a rough idea. It also might be worth looking directly at other sites, such as like Holiday Autos, AutoEurope or Rentalcars. Shopping around could easily save over £100.
Some car rental companies will give significant cashback on a booking, if made via Quidco or TopCashBack . 15% cashback can make a big difference on a hire cost of £250, so it might be worth looking at direct bookings – with Avis and so on – too once you’ve checked the comparison sites, as cash back may be much higher.
Don’t forget to check the weather and add snow-chains to you booking if needed. Cars come with summer tyres on the French-side of Geneva. The number of times car hire companies have not had chains (or given me the wrong size) or I’ve needed to buy while I was away only to have to dump them has pushed me to buy a set of universal ones like these. Not as good as traditional snow chains but easy to put on I can use again and again on (virtually) any car again.
Don’t be ripped off on insurance!
I’d recommend buying your own car hire insurance, rather than taking it with car hire. I find I can get a full year for less than the price of one hire. I use Questor.
Kirstie found this great guy from Flumet with a car that can hold 7 or 8 at a push. Lovely chap, speaks a bit of English. Only cost us 25eu to Megeve. And he was happy to pick us up after midnight (but asked up to SMS so as not to annoy his wife)