Drive to Ski Resorts France: French ski holiday enthusiast Penny Walker shares her top tips and steers you in the right direction for driving to your ski holiday destination in France…
If you are planning a ski holiday to the Alps this winter, you may choose to fly, take the train or drive to your ski holiday destination. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. I like to treat the trip as part of my holiday by car. It’s about 8-10 hours’ drive to the Alps from Calais if you use the excellent French auto-route network.
Drive Ski holiday France – plan in advance
The Bison Futé website is an excellent resource for live traffic information. If there are major traffic delays on your route you can plan an alternative itinerary, which can save you tons of time, hassle and frustration en route.
Plan your route using one of the internet route planners like Michelin, AA, Google or Mappy.
Use the autoroute Péage (toll) system
The French auto-routes are so much quieter than the UK motorways and generally a real pleasure to use. The toll costs are worth the smooth journey.
If you are driving on the toll roads for the first time it really does help to know in advance how the system works. As you enter a tolled section of auto-route, you will need to take a ticket from the machine. Don’t lose the ticket! Keep it somewhere accessible along with some cash or your credit card (Visa and Mastercard are accepted on the network).
As you are leaving a tolled section of the auto-route, you will approach a ‘Gare de Péage’. Don’t head for a lane with an Orange ‘T’ sign indicating Télépéage unless you have purchased a Liber-t transponder in advance. The terminals in all of the other lanes, not just the ones showing CB or the card symbol, are equipped with a slot for credit cards. Some toll booths have an “attendant” symbol where your payment will be taken manually. Alternatively pop some cash into the machine (coins and notes) and change will be issued, the barrier will lift and off you go. Easy!
Autoroute service stations in France
Not only is there far less traffic on the toll roads in France, but using the service stations or ‘Aires’ is usually a pleasant experience. You’ll find there are plenty of lovely little pull-ins which are almost always situated in a gently landscaped environment set well back from the road. Simply equipped with toilets and picnic tables, they are perfect for a comfort break and a stretch of the legs. However, you’ll also find full service stations with fuel, restaurant, shop and toilet facilities and maybe even free WiFi. Service stations are indicated on the autoroute road signs and the website www.autoroutes.fr includes masses of invaluable information to help ease your journey through France.
Fuel costs in France
Although the major cost on the drive down to the Alps will be fuel, there are ways to minimise the expense. It is well worth seeking out the big hypermarkets which are often located just off exits from the auto-routes and where you can expect to save Euros against the auto-route filling station prices. Most of the French supermarket websites now incorporate a useful Google maps page which enables you to plan in advance where you are going to stop for fuel. Note that you will need a major credit card such as Visa or Mastercard to use the automated pumps which dispense fuel 24h/24h but don’t leave it until late at night or last minute just in case you have a card issue – some machines seem to be picky.
Another great resource is the French ‘Prices of fuel’ website which gives you up to date fuel prices at various outlets, including the auto-route service stations, within a chosen department.
Breaking your journey
How far you wish to drive before breaking your journey very much depends on your arrival time in France. The type of accommodation that you choose for your overnight stop is obviously a matter of budget and personal taste. You’ll find a great choice of welcoming places to stay, with good home cooked meals. Take your pick and make your journey to the Alps part of your ski holiday to France.
Legal requirements for driving in France
The list of equipment that you need to carry in the car when driving in France is ever-changing, but at the time of writing, the following equipment is compulsory:
GB sticker or Europlates, Headlamp adjusters, Warning triangle, Fluorescent jacket
If you are stopped, failure to comply will result in an on the spot fine.
Read more about driving regulations in France.
The following items are advisory:
Spare bulbs – All car lamps, lenses and reflectors must be in working order at all times – or you could face a fine.
Fire extinguisher – it is an offence in France if you fail to render assistance in the event of a fire or take necessary precautions to prevent a fire from escalating.
First aid kit
Radar detectors are illegal in France whether in use or not. If your Satnav is capable of displaying speed camera locations in France, at the very least you should make sure that you disable camera alerts before driving in France. You may wish to get a software or database update and remove camera data for France as the penalties for not complying are onerous. Be warned that it is not a legal requirement in France for cameras to be indicated – so be aware and don’t exceed the speed limit (Read more about speed limits in France).
Finally, don’t forget to buy snow chains for your car. In the mountains, they are obligatory wherever you see the ‘Equipements spéciaux obligatoires’ sign.
On that note, may I just wish you ‘Bon Voyage’ and ‘Happy Holidays’!
Penny Walker is the business owner of Stopover Connections, a specialist reservation service for handpicked B&B accommodation in France. She is a committed francophile and passionate outdoor sports enthusiast who lives in the French Pyrénées.