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Tips for driving to France this summer

Self YTravel to the Alps yhis Summer

Driving to France for your holidays is a long forgotten art. But one that used to be practiced by many a skiing family back in the day before the low budget airline changed our habits. 

But times are gradually changing (especially since Covid) and more and more of us seem to be taking to our cars. We (at Alpine Elements) think holiday makers are moving away from the rising cost of airfares, plastic wrapped sandwiches and punitive baggage charges. Can't think why…

So we’ve taken the liberty to compile a great list of tips from the experiences of 100+ driving trips that your author has undertaken to the Alps. We hope it will help you shuttle yourself across France in a far less demeaning manner with not an official in sight, to tell you to take your shoes off and put your toothpaste in a small plastic bag. So here goes…

6 top driving tips 

Eurotunnel Train

1. Take the Eurotunnel

First, I always recommend the Eurotunnel. Trains run non-stop and don’t suffer the same delays as boats or flights. Let’s face it, planes are high maintenance and whether it’s too wet, too cold or too busy - there always seems to be an issue that delays a flight! But I've never known a train to have ice on its wings or to be confined to port in a force 8 gale…

It’s also nice to privately shuttle oneself between home and the door of your chalet without coming into contact with a soul, bar a few loo, coffee and croissant stops en-route.

Fontainbleu Chateau

2. Stopover en route

Second, why not try a stopover en route? France is a beautiful country and since you will drive the breadth of it, why not stop for a night at a lovely gite or chateaux and see what it looks like from outside of your car? There’s a high chance your host will speak better English than most of us, and you won’t pay UK hotel prices or receive black pudding for breakfast. And the kids will love the adventure.

Our favourites are Troyes, Fontainebleau, or a nice gite or chateaux near Chambery - so the drive up to the resort the next day is short; and you can do something alpine and less car-like in the afternoon.

Bip and go TollBip and go Tol

3. Nail the tolls!

Third, get a ‘bip and go’ electronic toll payment card. It sits on your windscreen and bills you electronically (you have an online account to view transactions) and allows you to drive through the priority lane and dodge the longer queues that the masses wait in. See bipandgo

A bipper will save you a minute or two at each toll on a peak travel day (Feb half term), which, after 7 or 8 of the damn things to Morzine -  is a lot less time than the time it takes you to order one online. 

4. Dig out your finest audiobooks

Sitting in a car for 8 hours can seem a lot longer travel time than the alternative - time spent shuffling around a couple of airports, on and off an airplane, getting undressed, re-dressed, buying more Starbucks and magazines you don't need - with not a lot to break up the journey. 

Yes, with driving you can still waste money on pints of coffee flavoured milk and (instead of magazines) the most expensive croissants in France - but you do get unhindered time to think and relax, put on a book, chat to your darling wife (eek!), sing songs, dance (no, maybe not that), play eye spy… but generally, a road trip is a lot of fun and a bonding time for all of you. 

And of course the promise of a film in the back for the kids will break up the arguments at least for a while.

5. Dig out your finest co-pilot

We can all drive eight hours straight. But you will arrive slightly jaded at the other end if you attempt this. Of course, it’s fine if you have a beer waiting at the other end and nowt much else to do than sink into your chalet sofa and await the dawn for some skiing or alpine pursuits. 

But, do remember that whilst on the trip out there you are full of beans, the trip back is a lot less fun, especially in the last few hours as it always rains as you approach Calais in the gathering dusk and at these (low) points a decent co-driver is worth their weight. Driving as a lone adult in the car, I’ve even been tempted to ask my 9 year old daughter to take over in the past. So let’s not get ourselves into that position, hey! 

Your ‘full size’ co-driver only needs to help out with an hour or two pitched at the right moment, so that you can carry on and do the lion's share with a fresh face. It really does help to have a lending hand for a small part of the journey, trust me!

6. Buy your fuel on the continent

The first motorway petrol station out of Calais is not the cheapest, i’ll be honest, but if you have time then venture off into Calais and find a €1.70/litre priced fuel station. They do exist! Later on the motorway, expect prices between €1.80 and 1.90 - which is still cheaper than the UK and £1.56/litre (taken January 2023).

For winter: If you drive diesel then take a fuel additive! If you are planning on visiting a super cold ski resort then do buy a bottle of fuel additive which at about £100 with deal with several tank fulls of fuel. Diesel fuel freezing over in -20 degree ski resorts (at night) is a common thing and hugely inconvenient. It takes seconds to add the additive and (comparatively) ‘pennies’ to buy, when the alternative is a rescue truck. Fuel sold near ski resorts would have antifreeze additives already in it. But don't bet on that.

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