Driving to the French Alps for your skiing holiday can be a great way to start your holiday if you like a good road trip. You can take in overnight stops in beautiful French towns and villages and cut out the busy, stressful airports. If you live in the south of the UK, this might make your decision easier. If you live in the north, then it adds several hours to the journey but it’s still totally doable. Here’s a quick round up of the pros and cons.
DRIVING THROUGH FRANCE ADDS TO THE ADVENTURE
Airports can be chaotic, especially during ski season and half term in particular. If you are flying, always choose an airport and resort with a short transfer time. For example, if you fly to Geneva and head to Chatel in the Portes du Soleil, the transfer takes just 1.5 hours (on a good run). Driving offers more flexibility, avoids long transfer times, flight delays and unsociable flight times. Some airports, especially Grenoble airport can be badly affected by weather and delays, it happens at some point every season and if you’re caught up in it, it’s a frustrating way to start or end your trip. You can get creative with the journey and there’s no shortage of beautiful villages and towns to stop off at in France along the way.
THERE ARE NO BAGGAGE LIMITS IN YOUR CAR
One of the huge benefits to driving to the French Alps is being able to pack whatever you want into your car or into a roof rack. You don’t need to worry about going over the 23kg luggage allowance! This is especially useful if you have all your own kit such as skis, boots and poles. There’s also no swapping over from a plane to a shuttle bus and negotiating baggage collection points at airports. You’ll also find the supermarkets en-route are much cheaper if you need to buy supplies, so do this on the way rather than stocking up in the resort at busy and smaller supermarkets. And the best tip I saw? If you’re self-catering, pack a slow cooker so that your dinner is waiting for you when you get back from the slopes.
WHICH IS BETTER, THE FERRY OR EUROTUNNEL?
When driving to the French Alps, you can either take the ferry or the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. The Eurotunnel is the fastest, it takes you from Dover to Calais in just 35 minutes, while a ferry service takes 1.5 hours to Calais or 2 hours to Dunkirk.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DRIVE FROM THE UK TO THE FRENCH ALPS?
This all depends on if you’re travelling from the north or the south. In theory it can be done in one, rather long day. The UK is often the hardest part of the journey. Lancashire to Folkestone can take at least five hours. The Eurotunnel crossing itself takes 35 minutes, however check-in can be done 1-2 hours before. Passport control at Folkestone is often very efficient, as is loading the car onto the train. There are clear road signs once you arrive in France. Remember to buy your Emovis tag in advance to save time and money at the motorway tolls.
After the crossing, Calais to the 3 Valleys, Les Gets and Morzine takes around 9 hours and is a fairly straightforward journey. From the north, you could also consider taking the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam. The journey to Les Gets from Rotterdam takes around 10.5 hours. However, driving may require a few extra days off work to allow for overnight stops either side of your holiday.
Some people say it’s easier if you have children to have them travel in a car rather than negotiate airports. I guess that depends on how well your children travel, I’m sure it all makes for an adventurous holiday with scheduled stop offs, DVD players, iPads and a ton of snacks.
WHERE ARE THE BEST STOP OFFS IN FRANCE?
If you’re driving to the French Alps from the north of the UK, you might like to plan an overnight stay in a Travelodge at Folkestone, depending on how long your drive takes. Once in France, if you are happy to drive for seven hours before stopping off, Bourg en Bresse is a good choice. Famous for its wonderful architecture, old-town and timber-framed houses, it makes a great stop off if you’re heading for the northern ski areas like the Portes du Soleil (Avoriaz, Morzine, Les Gets, Châtel), the Grand Massif and Chamonix-Mont Blanc areas. From Bourg en Bresse, it’s about 2 hrs 45 mins drive to Châtel. Another gem is the town of Annecy, also known as Little Venice thanks to the waterways that run through the centre. There’s also a stunningly beautiful lake and many incredible restaurants dotted around. Annecy is around 1.5 – 2 hours away from resorts such as Châtel and it makes a simply wonderful place to stop off.
Read more about Annecy here: The Best Day Trips from Châtel
STOP AT DIJON OR LAON
Other popular ideas include crossing the tunnel around 6-7pm, then driving to Dijon which takes around 5 hrs 30 mins from Calais. Famous for mustard and gingerbread, Dijon is also the gateway to the most prestigious Burgundy vineyards. You could stop overnight in Dijon, enjoy a hotel breakfast at leisure, stock up with a supermarket run, explore the Toison d’or shopping centre, then drive on to the Alps and arrive at the resort in time for check in.
You could book the early Eurotunnel Le Shuttle and drive on to Laon, a lovely town with beautiful restaurants. The city contains numerous medieval buildings, including the cathedral Notre-Dame of Laon. Other popular stopover spots include Troyes (the ancient capital of the Champagne-Ardennes region famous for its vineyards and the finest champagne) and Reims (the gothic masterpiece of Notre Dame de Reims is widely perceived as the jewel in the crown of Reims). Stopping at places adds to the holiday and some much prefer this to waiting around in the airport.
If you live in the north of England, another option is to take the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam. You can also take in overnight stops at Reims, Troyes or Dijon. Another popular option is to take the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle then drive to St Gervais, France, which takes approximately 8.5 hours.
On the return journey, if you leave the resort mid morning, you can stop over in Reims for dinner. You can then make the tunnel crossing mid-late morning on the Sunday and be home by mid-afternoon/evening. Another option would be to consider Le Touquet overnight on the way back to Calais.
IS IT CHEAPER TO DRIVE OR FLY TO THE FRENCH ALPS?
If you’re travelling during half term, flights can be prohibitively expensive for a family of four, so driving may well be the cheaper option. However, you need to add everything up and compare the costs because a lot depends. Flights a week or two before Christmas will always be cheaper than February half term.
You’ll need to think about the added cost of winter tyres, snow chains, motorway tolls, the extra fuel, plus your hotel stays and food for the journey. The benefits are of course, that you can stop wherever and whenever you want. Once in the resort, you also have the luxury and flexibility of a car so you can probably squeeze more skiing in on the day you arrive and the day you leave.
Driving to the French Alps costs approximately £1,000. Flying to the French Alps can cost in excess of £1,900+ for a family of four during February half term. If you fly, you’ll also need to add on the cost of your transfers to the resort.
For example, the cheapest Eurotunnel crossings cost approximately £250, road tolls £170, 2-3 tanks of fuel could be in excess of £180, European breakdown cover £60, winter tyres £240, snow chains, car roof box are all additional costs.
For the drive through France, it’s a good idea to get a tag a few weeks before from Emovis-tag.co.uk so that you can drive straight through the tolls. If you are driving a car you can use any lane with the Liber-t symbol or the tag-only lane on the left side. This will prevent having to stop each time and fumble around for change or credit cards.
|DRIVING TO THE FRENCH ALPS |
(2 adults, 2 children)
|FLYING TO THE FRENCH ALPS |
(2 adults, 2 children)
|Petrol 2-3 tanks £180||Flights during February half term £1,700+|
|Train crossing Dover to Calais France £250||Return transfers (airport – resort) £ 200 +|
|Road tolls £170|
|Hotel stay in Dover £80|
|Hotel stay in France £100|
|Winter tyres + snow chains £300 +|
|European breakdown cover £60|
|Driving in France kit £24|
|TOTAL £1,140||TOTAL £1,900|
DO I NEED TO BUY WINTER TYRES AND SNOW CHAINS FOR THE FRENCH ALPS?
Yes, it’s a legal requirement in winter and a full set costs around £240. Although, you could look at buying 3PMSF all season tyres so they meet the winter tyre requirements for the mountains but also work well all year round so you don’t need to swap them over in the summer. You will also need snow chains and a ‘driving in France kit’, which contains items you are required by law to carry (breathalyser, high-vis jacket etc.)
Need more inspiration? Why not check out these 7 Amazing Ski Resorts Near Geneva.