Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

5 December 2019
Comments: 23
Category: Ski Holiday Advice
5 December 2019, Comments: 23

Driving to the Alps is becoming an increasingly popular option for British holidaymakers, and it’s not just for financial reasons. Sure, it’s kinder to the wallet, but it’s also a brilliant way to holiday in a more planet-friendly way than flying (provided you have a few people in the car and assuming the train is not a viable option as the first choice). As well as the sustainability and economic benefits, it’s also a fun way to experience the beautiful mountains and see a different side to France, which is the route we’re focussing on in this blog post. Read on to learn how to make the most of your motoring adventures to the Alps.

 

Take the Eurotunnel

Driving the alps

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

We don’t advise the ferry – picture screaming children, boozy daytrippers, overwhelming scents of fried food, lorry drivers, seasickness, and endless queues.

If you are not based in the south east, you may want to make your first overnight stay in Calais, so that you’re on the other side and ready to go, or if you can make it to Reims then that’s ideal. If it’s Calais, the Chateau de Cocove is the place to go! It’s 20 minutes max. from the tunnel exit and is a pretty little chateau tucked away amongst forests and fields. It’s away from the hustle and bustle, the rooms are newly renovated, and the restaurant’s fantastic.

However, perhaps you want to make a road trip of it, in which case there’s plenty you can do along the way. If you fancy something smart, and you’re driving out in the springtime, then the Château de Fère certainly merits a small detour. It’s a perfect spot for kids to stretch bored legs, and have a swim before the long drive the next day. Ideally, stop for a couple of nights and make the most of the area. There’s some WW1 sights nearby, as well as gorgeous scenery to take in.

 

2. Drink Champagne in the Ruinart Chalk Mines

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

This is 2.5 hour’s drive from Calais. You’ll certainly need a designated driver for this one, but it’s not to be missed. Taking a tour through the Champagne-Ardennes Region adds a lovely, unique twist to your trip, either to get it going or to end it on a high note.

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 stop off at the luxurious Grand Hotel des Templiers instead?

 

3. Taste Some Real Burgundian Mustard

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

5.5 hours into your journey from Calais, check out the Fallot Mustard Mill – a bespoke family business that produces flavoured mustards in the traditional way.

The blackcurrant mustard is an absolute must-try, particularly spectacular in a salad dressing. This is an authentic French experience, and is such a welcome contrast to the exuberant culture of Alpine ski resorts. Make a night of it, and stay in Beaune, where you can visit the Hospices de Beaune, and the historic centre.

 

4. Discover the Vineyards of the Côte-d’Or

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

This is 5 hour’s drive from Calais. Using Beaune as a base, don’t miss the opportunity to taste some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in the world. Take a trip to the Chateau de Clos Vougeot, HQ of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin – a special order founded in 1945 to safeguard the French Burgundy wine heritage.

In a day spent driving through the vineyards, you’re bound to stumble across world-renowned names such as Puligny-Montrachet, Chambolle-Musigny and Aloxe-Corton, to mention but a few…

 

5. Visit the Historical City of Saulieu

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

This historical etape city is found approximately halfway between Paris and Geneva, a little over 5 hours from Calais. Therefore it’s an ideal spot to take a much-needed driving break.

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, the Hostellerie de la Tour d’Auxois is complete with a heated outdoor pool and log fireplace to beat the winter chills.

 

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

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

It may not be the easiest option, but it’s just 3 hour’s drive from Calais, and it’s so worth the effort. If it feels a bit much to organise, we can help you plan a great trip to Paris, sort your accommodation, plus load you up with restaurant recommendations.

Do you have any questions?

Get in touch with us

 

7. Stop at Val Moret for a Cheap and Cheerful Stay

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

Nestled halfway between Calais and the Alps, Le Val Moret is a 4 hour drive from Calais. It’s a charming little find in the Aube countryside and only a short detour off the motorway. It’s humble but cosy, with a pool and a delicious restaurant. It’s also extremely convenient for those of you lugging great big suitcases, as you can pull up outside your room.

If you’ve got time, it’s perfectly positioned to explore the magical Forêt d’Orient: 70,000 hectares of vast forests and stunning lakes.

 

8. Stopover in Troyes

domaine de la creuse

Just 3.5 hours from Calais, the Domaine de la Creuse is a family-run place to stay that will exceed expectations. The rooms are pretty and spacious, and the organic, homemade breakfast is truly French and absolutely delicious. For dinner, visit l’Horlogerie Brasserie for great value.

 

9. Feel Smug With Your Choice

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

8 hours in a car might sound like a lot, but whack on a podcast series or a new album, and the time will fly by as you marvel at the beauty surrounding you! Meanwhile, you can pity the tourists crammed into unpleasant airport security rooms, desperately waiting in never-ending queues weighed down by the fear of lost luggage. In a car, you’re totally free and able to stop wherever and whenever you want. It’s also guilt-free, knowing you’re lowering your carbon footprint, or all of the other environmentally damaging things associated with flying (on-board waste, having to buy plastic bottles of water, etc.). You don’t have to make do with pricey airport food, and can bring your own snacks, or try out high-quality French cuisine along the way.

 

10. Fill Your Boot With Goodies

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

No strict luggage allowance means you can take more gear with you and 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, so you can shop as you please. If it’s Christmas with kids, stockings don’t need to be limited and there’s space for all the presents necessary.

 

11. Save Money as a Family

Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

As well as all the fantastic things you can see en route; you’ll save money if travelling as a family compared to peak holiday air fares. To give you an idea of how much you could save, here’s a quick cost comparison for a family of 4, driving from London to Courmayeur in Italy during the school holidays:

February Half Term 2020

Flying:
Taxi to London Heathrow: £80
Flights from London to Geneva: £425 x 4 = £1,700
Return private transfer to Courmayeur: £400
Car hire with Mont Blanc tolls: £435
Total: £2,180 with transfer / £2,215 with car hire

Driving:
Eurotunnel Standard: £180 return
Eurotunnel FlexiPlus: £502 return including:

  • Board when you arrive
  • Priority check-in
  • Exclusive lounge with free drinks
  • A refundable service

Hotel overnight stop e.g. Reims or Troyes in Accor hotels (Ibis, Mercure, Novotel) for 4 guests including breakfast: from £170
Calais to Courmayeur tolls return: £216
Fuel costs return for a diesel car: £196
Total: £762 with Eurotunnel Standard / £1,084 with Eurotunnel FlexiPlus

Cost Saving = Up to £1,453

Easter 2020

Flying:
Taxi to London Heathrow: £80
Flights from London to Geneva: £130 x 4 = £520
Return private transfer to Courmayeur: £400
Car hire with Mont Blanc tolls: £343
Total: £943 with car hire / £1,000 with transfer

Driving:
Eurotunnel Standard: £160 return
Hotel overnight stop e.g. Reims or Troyes in Accor hotels (Ibis, Mercure, Novotel) for 4 guests including breakfast: from £150
Calais to Courmayeur tolls return: £200
Fuel costs for a diesel car: £196
Total: £706 with Eurotunnel Standard

Cost Saving = Up to £294

 

Ready to Get Behind the Wheel?

If you’ve got any questions, or you’ve driven to the Alps before and want to share your tips, please drop us a note below, we’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.

23 responses on “Driving to the Alps: 11 Ways to Make It Enjoyable, Not Just Cheap

  1. Avatar 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 https://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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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. Avatar 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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  12. Avatar Lesley says:

    Is it feasible with an electric car to drive to the Alps in France? Do many hotels have charging points? Does Eurostar let you charge your car in transit?

    • Avatar ben says:

      Hi Lesley, that’s not something we’ve had a chance to test yet but we’ll be sure to post on our blog about it if we do. Thanks, Heidi

  13. Avatar Giulia Snape says:

    Is there any special requirement for UK passport holders driving in European Community, should we ever get to leaving? We’re driving to Verbier, planning a stop over in Parcey, near Dole, on the way.

    • Avatar ben says:

      Hi Giulia, we haven’t received the official guidance yet but hopefully there will be very clear guidelines so we can all still enjoy travelling out to the Alps by car! Good luck with your trip to Verbier and enjoy the drive!

  14. Avatar Chris says:

    Great article and we will be sure to try out your recommendations in the years ahead. We drive to Switzerland most years and it works really well. There are lots of reasons to drive, but your point about reduced carbon emissions is only really true if you fill the car with people. A single person driving is pretty similar in carbon emmisions to a single person flying (depending on the details of plane loading and style of driving etc.). It’s not quite so one sided as your article suggests.

    • Avatar ben says:

      Hi Chris, glad you enjoyed the article! You’re quite right, which is why we included that this only works provided you have a few people in the car and assuming the train is not a viable option as the first choice. Hope you get a chance to try some of our recommendations. Cheers!

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