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
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.
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.
In fact, 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.
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…
If you fancy something smart and you’re driving out at Easter time then the Château de Fère definitely merits a small detour (if not definitely a stopover for your summer drive to Europe). It’s great spot for the kids to stretch and have a swim before the long drive the next day. Ideally stop for 2 nights and make the most out of the area.
There’s much to discover in the area , apart from discovering the Champagne route (see my next point) and visiting other Châteaus but also some very moving WWI memorial sites very close by.
2. Drink Champagne in the Ruinart Chalk Mines
(2.5 hours drive from Calais)
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)
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 (see below a few snaps of my last trip there with the family). 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.
4. Discover the Vineyards of the Côte d’Or
(5 hours drive from Calais)
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, as we did on our recent trip…
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)
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.
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. Stopover in Troyes
(3.5 hours drive from Calais)
Simply the most wonderful place to stop over and a new find for us!
We stayed at Domaine de la Creuse, where Marie-Christine and her family are the best hosts.
They have the most gorgeous rooms (see below) and make you the best breakfast with their own organic homemade croissants, jams, yogurt and muesli. If you need a place for dinner, there is l’Horlogerie brasserie which is great value and just a 5 minute drive away.
9. Avoid the Hassle of Airports
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.
10. 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.
11. Driving Is A Cheaper Option for Families
As a quick example, I’m going to run a comparison of costs for a family of 4.
London to Courmayeur – January 2017
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)
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!