Mont Blanc Tunnel, France

Another quirky route this issue. Not one for lighting the tyres, but certainly a one-off motoring experience; the Mont Blanc tunnel, in Haute-Savoie, France.

LOCATION: Chamonix, France to Courmayeur, Italy

LENGTH OF DRIVE: 7.25 miles

The Alps
St Bernard’s Pass

Opened: 1965

Length: 11.6km

Width at base: 7m

Altitude at French end: 1,274m

Altitude at Italian end: 1,381m

Maximum altitude: 1,395.5m

Maximum rock above the tunnel: Over 2,000m

Number of firefighting booths: 78

Crossing time: 12 minutes at 60kph

Official website:

Linking France to Italy, the Mont Blanc tunnel was opened in 1965 and, strictly speaking, it joins Chamonix on the French soil to Courmayeur on the Italian side. At 7.25 miles in length, it is the seventh-longest road tunnel in the world, and cuts right under Mont Blanc, which itself is the highest mountain in Europe.

As a drive, the tunnel itself is almost a straight line. Strictly speaking, it is actually a slight ‘V’ off the horizontal, so don’t be expecting any tail-out cornering. However, we suggest this route is worth taking in not for the sporty drive, but as both an engineering marvel, and also for the scenery around you.

Where else in the world would you be able to not only see one of the world’s most significant mountains, but to also drive through it?

The approach to Chamonix is on glorious French Autoroute. Smooth, fast and through some stunning scenery. Turning off the N205 from Geneva, the road snakes southeast from Chamonix, directly towards the 4,808m summit of Mont Blanc. At the toll booth (35 euros one way, 43 euros return) you get your card to hang on the rearview mirror, essentially with safety information on, and then you’re off.

The tunnel is only eight metres wide, so is a two-lane affair, with limited distance between direction lanes. Safety is paramount, especially since the fire in 1999 when 39 people died, after a truck carrying margarine caught fire, and got out of control.

A three-year closure and refit saw much in the way of safety altered, and a limit of 70kph, with 150 metres between vehicles being strictly adhered to.

Ignore these, and expect a huge on-the-spot fine, not to mention perhaps your licence – and don’t even think about running out of fuel, such are the fines.

All this said, as a marvel of engineering for the motorcar, it is worth the drive, purely for the spectacle alone. Not to mention of 7.25 miles of flat six wail echoing off the tunnel walls! On the Italian side, the St Bernard’s Pass is but a few gearchanges from the toll booths, and if it’s clear, is well worth taking as an open air route back to France again, laced with tempting hairpins.

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