Kirsteen, keen skier and mother of two, gives us her top tips on driving to the Alps with kids.
This was our third drive to the mountains — and one of many road trips around France — so we thought we had it all sussed but this time there were a few key differences and we learnt a few new tricks for next time.
Travelling on a peak travel date in the school holidays
This will make a significant difference to your journey, we of course realised this, but underestimated exactly how much of a difference.
Although our previous trips had been during the school holidays they were at Easter. This time we were heading down to the Alps for the week either side of New Year along with an army of 4x4s from the home-counties and half of Holland, Belgium and France.
This resulted in very slow moving traffic from just before Lyon, all the way to Moutiers. There were no accidents or road works just weight of traffic.
We were quite prepared that there would be more traffic and thought we had planned accordingly but had misjudged quite how many other people would be making this road trip too.
We usually incorporate an overnight stop, which makes the journey less stressful in the event of any hold ups.
All but one of our trips have included an overnight stop. On one occasion we were leaving on the Sunday and had to get back for school on the Monday, so had to do it in a ‘oner’ which was fine as there was no snow and we didn’t have any hold ups but could make for an unpleasant day if there were.
On our first two drives to the mountains we did the lion’s share of the driving on day one and stopped overnight near Lyon, leaving a short drive in the morning, a leisurely lunch and plenty of time to explore the resort on the day of arrival. This is what we will do in future — on the most recent trip we decided to leave late in the day and overnight in Reims and although we left Reims at 6.30 am with the aim of ‘beating the traffic’ I think the only way we would have beaten the traffic would have been to have stopped much further south, near Lyon for example.
Channel Crossing - Eurotunnel
I’m not good on ferries so it is the only option for us and I love it. Also if you are early you can usually get on an earlier crossing.
We have developed a habit of relying upon a viaMichelin print out of the route, which nicely details the exact signs that you need to follow and has successfully guided us to many a destination without a hitch, in the last few years we have also started using the sat nav (or not).
However, our latest experience taught us that you do really need to track your route on a proper map and be ready to deviate from these new fangled means of navigation in unforeseen circumstances — unless you are happy to put full faith in your sat nav (even when it appears to be telling you to go in completely the wrong direction). I would also suggest finding a reliable road traffic information site for the country you are travelling in so you can check the travel updates en-route.
Early in the journey the sat-nav kept warning us of phantom traffic works and delays that didn’t materialise, so when it added several hours onto our journey time and tried to send us on a completely different route we ignored it — probably to our peril. But you never get to find out. Whichever route we had taken it was going to be longer than it should have been.
Motorway service stops/aires
There are motorway stops at least every 20kms on French motorways. They vary from a toilet in field with a couple of picnic benches to a full choice of restaurants, shops, petrol station etc. You do have to pay attention to the signs so you know what to expect as they do vary a lot.
On peak dates it is worth having a few essentials with you as many of the motorway services become incredibly busy and there are long queues for everything.
- 1: Water
- 2: Toilet roll (essential if you are going to brave the ‘hole in the ground’)
- 3: Snacks
It is also worth filling up on petrol as early as you can as the further south you go, and the later in the day it is, the worse the queues are.
On the southbound journey there is the most fabulous looking ‘aire’ that we are yet to stop at. I have finally noted down where it is so that we can plan accordingly next time.
It is called ‘Aire de Jugy’ and it is on the A6 after Chalon Sur Saone/Saint Remy. It has the most fantastic play park and looks great for a run around. You know you are getting close as there are giant toadstools at the side of the road as you approach it.
Everything you read about snowchains says practise putting them on before you go, we did and it was well worth it.
Our previous journeys were for end of season ski trips so we didn’t need to worry about snow chains — you obviously need to check the weather before setting out as there can be significant late season snowfalls. Even though the forecast was clear and we could see on the webcam before we left that there wasn’t much snow on the roads in the resort we still needed the chains for the last 20 metres of our journey! At the end of a very long day as the light was fading and in freezing temperatures we were very pleased that we had done a practice run at home.
Essential Items for driving in France
It is compulsory to have the following items in your car when driving in France:
- Warning triangle x1
- Reflective vests x1
- Full valid driving license
- GB sticker/number plate
- Spare bulbs
- Spare pair of glasses (if required for driving)
For more information on items to take, routes and tips take a look at our ‘Driving to the Alps’ feature.