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