Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

31 August 2016
Comments: 15
Category: Ski Holiday Advice
31 August 2016, Comments: 15

Driving to the Alps is becoming an increasingly popular option for British holidaymakers, and it’s not just for financial reasons.

You might have previously seen my article Driving to the Alps – Is It Better than Flying? – so I can tell you it’s definitely doable!

Check out my suggestions for ways to make your journey even more worthwhile when you take to the road instead of the skies, and if you still prefer to fly you might find these suggestions useful for planning your summer holiday route…

 

1. You Can Choose Your Route

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just CheapDriving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

Most ski resorts within reach of Geneva – Chamonix, Verbier, Val d’Isere, etc.– are around an eight to ten hour drive once you make the 40 minute crossing at Calais.

I took the 9am Channel Tunnel, which is much quicker on Sundays due to France’s restrictions on lorries, and it’s a breeze to get across.

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable

You might consider taking the ferry, but be warned: I was once fooled in to taking a ferry (I was told you get a complimentary breakfast).

Now, the thought of having a full English to get me through the day and standing on the deck getting some fresh sea air sounded incredibly appealing.

I think it may be my biggest mistake to date. Total chaos; screaming kids, day trippers going to load-up on French booze, lorry drivers, queues and queues, people feeling sea sick, the smell of fried food and ultimately a horrid breakfast.

Never again.

If you are not London based you may want to make your first overnight stay either in Calais so you are on the other side and ready to go, or if you can make it to Reims then that is ideal.

If you do decide to stop in Calais, the Chateau de Cocove is definitely the place to go!

20 minutes max from the tunnel exit and away from the hustle and bustle, you’ll find this small chateau set amongst fields and forests. It has private off-road parking, a great restaurant and fully renovated rooms awaiting you.

However, if you want to make a road trip of it, there are all sorts you can do along the way!

 

2. Drink Champagne in the Ruinart Chalk Mines

(2.5 hours drive from Calais)

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

You’ll need a designated driver for this one, but taking a tour through the Champagne-Ardennes Region could give the start – or end, for that matter – of your trip a little extra fizz.

Tours run Tuesday to Sunday at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Maison Ruinart’s caves, and I recommend staying nearby at the Hotel de la Paix, in the heart of historic Reims with its own covered car park.

Although, if you’re after something a little fancier, why not rest your head at the luxurious Grand Hotel des Templiers instead?

 

3. Taste Some Real Burgundian Mustard

(5.5 hours drive from Calais)

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

Although most mustard-loving tourists go to the Maille Boutique in Dijon, I much prefer the Fallot Mustard Mill – a bespoke family business that produces flavoured mustards in the traditional way. And for the record, the blackcurrant mustard is simply amazing in salad dressing.

If you’d like to make a night of it, and I wouldn’t blame you, I suggest that you choose to stay in Beaune – where you can visit the Hospices de Beaune, and the historic centre.

For an extra treat, the Hess Cheese Company is well worth a trip too, and is easily reached from the excellent Hostellerie le Cèdre.

 

4. Discover the Vineyards of the Côte d’Or

(5 hours drive from Calais)

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable

Using Beaune as a base, it would be shame not to taste some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in the world while you’re there…

I’d suggest a trip to the Chateau du Clos Vougeot, HQ of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin – a special order founded in 1945 to safeguard the French Burgundy wine heritage.

A day spent driving through the vineyards will also see you come across world-renowned names such as Puligny-Montrachet, Vosne Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny and Aloxe-Corton, to mention but a few…

 

5. Visit the Historical City of Saulieu

(5.15 hours drive from Calais)

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

This historical etape city is found approximately halfway between Paris and Geneva, making it the perfect point to take a break from driving.

Situated in the beautiful Morvan National Park, it also boasts the stunning Le Relais Bernard Loiseau – proud owner of two Michelin stars – that’s undoubtedly better than stopping in a service station for lunch.

And if you fancy staying the night, my choice would be the Hostellerie de la Tour d’Auxois, complete with heated outdoor pool and roaring fireplace to beat the winter chills.

 

6. Stop-Off in Paris if You’re Brave Enough

(3 hours drive from Calais)

Yes, it may be a hassle, but if you’re keen to commit to it there’s so much there to make it worth your while.

We can help you to plan in a great trip to Paris, and sort your accommodation as well as giving you plenty of recommendation for restaurants and things to see, so you can really make the most of stopping off there.

Do you have any questions?

Get in touch with us

 

7. Val Moret is Cheap and Cheerful

(4 hours drive from Calais)

Nestled halfway between Calais and the Alps, Le Val Moret is a great little find in the Aube countryside, and it’s only a short detour off the motorway.

It’s a great 3* hotel with a pool and a charming restaurant, where you can pull up outside your room (so there’s no need to completely unpack your car or drag luggage anywhere).

It’s also perfectly positioned to explore the Forêt d’Orient National Park if you’ve got time.

 

8. Avoid the Hassle of Airports

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

Skipping airport security? Not having to decant everything into tiny see-through bottles? Being able to stop whenever you want… There are a few things to be said about choosing to drive.

Firstly, as mentioned previously having a car means you take more with you, or bring extra goodies back with you and not have to worry about weight allowances.

Eight hours in a car might sound like a lot, but instead of the many smaller trips you make if you’re flying to your resort, those who drive can get in the holiday spirit on their own time.

Also, if you are into music or podcasts, what better way to have quality time listening.

Lastly, there’s less chance of losing your baggage, as has happened to me (and some of you, I’m guessing) before.

 

9. Fill Your Boot With Goodies

No strict luggage allowances means a) you can take more gear with you; and b) you can bring even more back!

Olive oil, wine, mustard, and all the other delights you’ve picked up on your travels can all find a space in your boot, and that colourful all-in-one ski suit you couldn’t fit into your bag before has got plenty of room to squeeze in.

 

10. Driving Is A Cheaper Option for Families

Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable

As a quick example, I’m going to run a comparison of costs for a family of 4.

London to Courmayeur – January 2017

Flying:
Scheduled return flights from London to Geneva: £ 200 x 4 = £ 800
Taxi to London Heathrow: £ 80
Car hire and Geneva to Courmayeur tolls: £400 (or return private transfer to Courmayeur, also £400)
Total: £1,280

Driving:
Eurotunnel: £140 return
Calais to Courmayeur tolls: £100 x 2 = £ 200
Petrol costs: £220
Cost per night in a 3* hotel for 4 people: £200
Total: £760 (excluding meals)

However, if you do decide to fly, Swiss International Air Lines will ensure you do so in style – and you should definitely stop off in Heston Blumenthal’s Perfectionists’ Cafe in Terminal 2 at London Heathrow if you do – but the savings are clear for all to see.

 

Ready to Get Behind the Wheel?

If you’ve got any questions, or you’ve driven before and want to share your experiences drop us a note below, I’d love to hear from you!

You can also contact us with any questions, and get a quote for your trip, so you can start getting excited for your next ski holiday.

15 responses on “Driving to the Alps: 10 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

  1. Mark Denford says:

    One thing to remember if driving to an Austrian ski resort is that you will probably need to purchase winter tyres for your car, get them fitted, and then change them back to your normal tyres upon your return…..an added and quite large expense that most forget.

    • Amin Momen Amin Momen says:

      Completely agree, specially if you are London based and have less use for winter tyres but if you do it regularly then its worth the investment. These guys came to our house and did it outside for us http://www.blackcircles.com and if you don’t have storage, from what I remember Kwik Fit used to offer storage and swop tyres for you pre winter season.

  2. Malcolm Bentley says:

    We drive most years and being Dorset based find the overnight ferry from Portsmouth works really well, in contrast to Amin’s experience. Late departure so you can pretty much immediately turn in, after a drink if you wish, in your cosy little bunk cabin. Breakfast is a bit functional.
    Arrive Caen 7am and drive straight to your resort in time for dinner, stopping to fill up with all the delicious french food and wine in Bourg St Maurice if heading for self catering in the Tarantaise.
    Whilst Amin’s cost comparison is fine for driving versus independent flights, it may not stack up so well against a package with charter flights and coach transfer.

  3. Will Graham says:

    Good article. I drive to Verbier two or three times a year so here are some more tips – first contact http://www.saneftolling.co.uk and order a Liber-T tag. This allows you to breeze through the Tele Peage lanes without stopping or queuing to get a ticket or pay on French toll motorways. You fill in a direct debit mandate and you are billed each month for your tolls. Second – always carry exactly 90 Euros in cash. If you are stopped for speeding (the French Police love catching Brits on the last leg from Arras to Calais rushing to catch their ferry/train home) you will be fined this amount on the spot. If you don’t have it they will make you drive to the nearest ATM and they won’t give you change nor will they accept sterling or Swiss francs. Third – choose an out of the way border crossing (Vallorbe is my preferred one) – there are never any officials on duty and you will avoid having to buy the Swiss “vignette” which costs 40 Swiss francs and is theoretically required for driving on Swiss motorways. Lastly, as in most countries, try and buy fuel at supermarkets – there’s usually one near most motorway junctions.

  4. Anatole Beams says:

    We usually drive to the Alps as that gives us the freedom to include our extensive skiing & climbing gear. Just one thing I would add is that if you are returning on Eurotunnel the extra for a Flex+ booking can be well worth it. It gives you the ability to just turn up and jump on the next train, all the speedy boarding queue jumping plus a goody bag of sandwich & snacks, newspaper and a tea/coffee. Well worth it for a car-full of tired travellers. If you are travelling at a weekend (peak time crossing), the difference in price is only about £60.

    • Amin Momen Amin Momen says:

      Thanks Anatole – Good point. I missed my slot a few times but was lucky enough to hop on without any surcharges. I think the grace period is 1 to 2 hours on a stand by basis.

  5. Gavin Tucker says:

    Have had/heard of any issues with taking a swiss registered car over the border into France?

    https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/28/eu-citizens-car-hire-switzerland

  6. Shaun tribe says:

    We always drive at Christmas. But we don’t do any of the stops. We get a late evening train and get into resort mid morning also you get to see some amazing sun rises. This means you can get to ski on your 1st day if you wish to. We do save a lot of money as we are a family of 6.

  7. Marna says:

    Great article! We drive every year to Les Gets. The freedom of having a car is great, and we always stay over on the way down in Dijon. Packing 4 sets of skis, helmets, boots and luggage means no extra charges to hire equipment and being able to bring back those treatments is a must!

  8. Graham Ellis says:

    We prefer to drive than fly, destination again this year is Valmeinier – a great little resort.
    Stop off in Arras on the way down (we’re based in Yorkshire so travelling the entire trip in one hit is not really feasible with kids in the car.

    Take all our own food, we even took the Christmas Dinner and a tree to Flaine a couple of years ago.

    I wouldn’t fly now unless it was significantly cheaper than driving.

  9. Paul Browning says:

    I recently drove over to landgraaf to snowboard, we got the ferry ( like u said – it was the most disgusting experience of my life, they haven’t changed one bit from the school trips 20 years ago!) For the summer camp in l2a I flew via lyon while everyone else did the drive.. I’ll definitely by driving to l2a next year. If you have a modern car with sat nav and air con it’s loads of fun

  10. Lucy Down says:

    Have been driving to The Three Valleys for several yrs now. Live in Somerset, use Tesco reward points to pay for the Tunnel. Stopover around Troyes or Dijon. Nice to leave the motorway and avoid Lyons altogether.
    Generally arrive in time for lunch!

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