Car rental through Geneva, the largest hub airport for Alpine ski resorts
Renting a car from Geneva Airport and driving to the alps can be a great option to reach ski resorts in the northern French Alps and South Western Switzerland.
But driving in Europe during the winter, especially when heading into the mountains, can be daunting if you’re not used to it. The reality is that it’s not as difficult as you might think. Ski journalist Rob Stewart will take you through some tips and advice from start to finish, along with some of the resorts you can reach easily by car from Geneva.
Thanks to Avis Car Rental for helping with this feature
Getting to Geneva Airport from the UK
Geneva is the most popular entry point in the Alps for British skiers and snowboarders and has extensive direct flight routes from around the UK and Ireland.
Airlines flying into Geneva:
SWISS – from London Heathrow, London City, London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh
Easyjet – from London Gatwick, London Luton, Manchester, Bristol, Southampton, Bournemouth, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Belfast
British Airways – from London Heathrow, London Gatwick and London City
Jet2 – from Birmingham, East Midlands, Manchester, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh
Arriving in Geneva Airport
Whatever sector you arrive in and whatever passport you hold, you will need to go through passport control. Currently (winter 2022-23) for EU passport holders, some entry points have e-gates, older entry points will have separate lines for EU and Swiss passport holders. British passport holders will be required to go through the ‘all other passports’ line.
All scheduled flights arrive at Terminal 1 in Geneva Airport. This is the main terminal and you will arrive on the Switzerland side of the border. Geneva Airport also has a French sector and it’s possible to cross into the French side – BUT, if you’re planning to rent a vehicle from Geneva Airport and travel into France, it’s normal to rent the vehicle on the Swiss side. Normally you do not go to the French side of the airport even if you’re driving into France.
Terminal 2 is only used for charter flights.
Getting to the Avis car rental desk
Once through passport control you will be able to collect baggage from the reclaim area and then exit through customs.
Directly after exiting the customs area, turn right to walk towards the car rental area. This is signposted and takes approximately two to three minutes of walking, all indoors.
There are two Avis desks in the car rental area and it’s the largest rental operation at the airport.
Getting to your hire vehicle
Once your keys have been collected, it’s time to get to the vehicle area, which is an offsite car park (Short Term P51 GVA) just a short FREE bus ride or walk away.
The bus stop is directly next to the Avis rental desk and buses depart every ten minutes and take approximately two to three minutes to the car parking area.
It’s also possible to walk and this takes approximately five minutes. Follow the red line past the Total petrol station and the World Trade Centre, before arriving at the car park. If you’re unsure about the walk or laden with baggage, it’s advisable to take the bus.
At the car parking area
Another Avis office is located within the car park, on the far side – just walk along and across the car park and it’s easily visible.
It’s not necessary to visit this office and your paperwork will include the parking bay where the rental vehicle is located. Once you find your vehicle, check it over and if there’s any damage, issues or questions then the staffed office is there to assist.
Now you’re ready to drive!
Remember your steering wheel is on the left of the vehicle and you must drive on the right hand side of the road.
There is no exit barrier from the rental area of the car park, you can simply drive out. You join a one-way road and depending on whether you’re heading to the French or Swiss Alps, this determines the direction you take almost immediately afterwards.
Getting to the French Alps
All routes first pass through the Switzerland-France border and the quickest and easiest route is through Bardonnex.
Exit the car park onto the Rte de Pre-Bois and drive approximately 0.5 km until you pass under the road bridge (Rte de Meyrin) and turn left at the lights, joining the Rte de Meyrin, before turning immediately right onto the E62 (Swiss highway 1). This should take approximately 5-10 minutes depending on traffic.
Follow this road until the Switzerland-France border (Douane de Bardonnex). Following the border, take the A40 for the northern French Alps resorts (Les Gets, Morzine, Avoriaz, Chamonix, Megeve, Grand Massif, La Clusaz, St Gervais), or continue towards Annecy on the A41 for the 3 Valley’s (Meribel, Courchevel, Val Thorens, Les Menuires) and Tarentaise region (La Plagne, Les Arcs, La Rosiere, Tignes, Val d’Isère).
For Chatel, the route takes you through Geneva City Centre and towards Thonon-Les-Bains on the D1005, crossing the Switzerland-France border about 8 kms outside of Geneva on the eastern side of the lake. At Thonon, take the D902 towards Abondance and then onto Chatel. Alternatively, it’s possible to drive through Switzerland via Lausanne and Monthey, before turning off the Morgins and crossing the Switzerland-France border just before Chatel. (Warning: Swiss Vignette* required if taking the motorway)
TIP: for the 3 Valley’s and Tarentaise area, you have the choice of whether to take the toll road via Chambery or the smaller road around Lake Annecy, either side of the lake is possible (D1508, west side of the lake or the D909 on the eastern side of the lake). All routes should lead you to Albertville before Moutiers, and the Lake Annecy road generally takes around the same time as the toll road and saves around Euro 25. But the toll road can be faster during peak driving times and rush hour.
It’s also possible to reach the resorts in the Maurienne Valley (Valloire, Les Sybelles). Join the A43 after Chambery (toll road) towards Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
Resorts in the Isere region including Alpe D’Huez and Les 2 Alpes can be reached from Geneva, via Chambery and Grenoble. Further south, Serre Chevalier is approximately 3.5 hours from Geneva and the resort is much easier to reach from Turin.
Getting to the Swiss Alps
All routes take Swiss highway 1 north east towards Lausanne and Lac Leman. (Warning: Swiss Vignette* required if taking the motorway)
Exit the car park onto the Rte de Pre-Bois and immediately take a right turn on Rte de l’Aeroport (Warning: Google Maps will automatically presume you will exit the car park on the north western side already on the Rte de l’Aeroport but this is not possible from the rental section of the car park). Take the next right turn onto Avenue Louis-Casai – cross over the motorway and immediately turn left onto the Rte Francois-Peyrot, which is the feed road for the E62 (Swiss highway 1) towards Lausanne. This should take approximately 3-6 minutes depending on traffic.
Follow the E62 (Swiss highway 1) to Lausanne, with Lac Leman on the right hand side.
At Junction 19 (Villars-Ste-Croix), turn off onto highway 9 towards Montreux and Martigny. Continue past Montreux (Autoroute du Rhone) and towards Aigle.
At Aigle, turn off for resorts including Villars (Jct 17, route 11 and 9), Leysin, Les Diablerets and Gstaad (Jct 17, route 11).
For the Swiss Valais resorts (Verbier, Nendaz, Anzère, Crans-Montana, Veysonnaz, Grimentz, Zinal, Saas Fee, Zermatt) continue towards Martigny.
For Verbier, turn off onto road 21 (E27) for Val de Bagnes and continue towards Sembrancher and onto Le Chable before the final section to Verbier.
For all other resorts continue towards Sion. Turn off before Sion for Nendaz (Jct 25, Conthey) and Veysonnaz (Jct 26, Sion-Ouest). Continue past Sion for other resorts.
Note on Zermatt and Saas Fee: both resorts are car free. Refer to local websites for parking instructions.
Types of vehicle, winter tyres and chains
Avis offers a number of vehicle options from Geneva Airport.
Winter tyres are fitted on Avis vehicles during the winter period. Winter tyres in French mountain regions become a mandatory requirement from November 1, 2021. Do not enter the mountain areas between November and March 31 without winter tyres on the vehicle.
Technically there is no law in Switzerland mandating winter tyres, but in wintery conditions it’s highly advisable to have winter tyres fitted and if you have an accident without them on snowy roads, this might cause problems legally and with insurance.
Snow chains can be provided with Avis rental vehicles in Geneva Airport (charge of CHF35). Snow chains are only required in heavy snow conditions – light snowfall or compacted snow on the roads normally do not require the use of snow chains. In Switzerland it’s mandatory to fit snow chains if road signs state they must be fitted. Essentially it’s the same in France. Snow chains aren’t always easy to put on and require getting onto the floor and behind the wheel – they are always fitted on the drive wheels and on 4×4 vehicles, they are fitted on the front two wheels.
4×4 vehicles are useful but a two wheel drive car with winter tyres can be just as effective on snowy or icy roads as a 4×4 and definitely more effective than a 4×4 with summer tyres.
The ideal set up is a 4×4 with winter tyres but don’t be concerned about a two wheel drive vehicle fitted with winter tyres.
Remember when driving downhill on snowy or icy roads, a 4×4 vehicle needs to be treated in the same was as a two wheel drive vehicle, with controlled speed and light braking.
Other handy tips
Gloves – always a good idea to have with you during the winter.
Torch – useful if chains need to be put on in the dark, a head torch is the best option.
Swiss *Vignette: all rental vehicles with Avis at Geneva Airport will come with a valid Swiss Vignette that is mandatory for all motorways within Switzerland.
Returning the vehicle at Geneva Airport
Whether you’re returning from the French or Swiss Alps, to return your rental vehicle to the car parking area, you must drive through the airport drop off area – but just follow the signposts to the car rental drop off.
You drive out of the airport area again, past the fuel station (where you can fill up with fuel if needed) and then turn right into the car park. It’s well signposted with the Avis (and other) rental brands signs.
As you drive in, there is a barrier where you must take a ticket. Immediately afterwards, there is another barrier into the dedicated car rental area and that ticket is then used to gain access to this.
Drive through to the Avis drop off zone where a member of the Avis staff will check over your car and collect the keys. You must sign the paperwork before leaving.
Avis operates a scheme where they will refill the tank for you at a lower cost to the fuel at commercial petrol stations. If the tank is a quarter or less full, then economically it’s better to drop it off without re-fuelling. And it’s more convenient.
Once the vehicle has been returned then the bus will take you back to the terminal building (or walk 5 minutes). The departure area is on the second floor – walk through from the bus area into the terminal and then take the escalator or lift up.
Some ski resorts reached by road from Geneva Airport
Driving level ratings from 1 to 5
1: very easy drive, no mountain road, mostly lower altitudes up to 1,100 metres.
2. Easy drive without any difficult mountain roads and altitudes below 1300 metres.
3. Moderate driving with some mountain roads but no serious altitude above 1500 metres.
4. Moderate to difficult driving in places with steeper mountain roads and higher altitudes reaching over 1500 metres.
5. Very difficult driving with high mountain passes that include multiple hairpins and high altitude up to and above 2,000 metres.
Les Gets – 1 hour, level 2 (www.lesgets.com/en)
Saint Gervais – 1 hour, level 1 to 2 (www.ski-saintgervais.com/en)
Chamonix – 1 hour 15 minutes, level 1 (en.chamonix.com)
Meribel (Centre) – 2 hours, level 3 (www.les3vallees.com/en/resort/meribel)
Val Thorens – 2.5 hours, level 4 (www.valthorens.com/en)
Tignes – 2 hours 45 minutes, level 4 to 5 (en.tignes.net)
Villars – 1.5 hours, level 2 (www.alpesvaudoises.ch/en)
Gstaad – 2 hours, level 3 (www.gstaad.ch/en.html)
Verbier – 2 hours, level 3 to 4 (www.verbier.ch/hiver)
Crans-Montana – 2 hours, level 3 (www.crans-montana.ch/en)
Zermatt (Täsch) – 2 hours and 45 minutes, level 3 to 4 (www.zermatt.ch/en)
Avis Geneva Airport
Opening hours: 06.45am to 11.30pm Sunday to Monday (hours might vary during public holidays)
To book a rental car from Geneva Airport go to: www.avis.co.uk
We have a regular Podcast called The White Out where we review the latest gear, talk about the latest snow forecast and updates on where is best to ski now, as well interviews with absolute ski legends AND we spotlight a resort every week and so much more. You can check out our regular podcast here Apple | Spotify | Podcasts or search The White Out on your chosen podcast directory.