As a family we have always headed to the French Alps for skiing, initially 3 Valleys for numerous years, then Tignes for 4 years and currently La Plagne. As the idea of ‘public transport’, ie airports, transfers etc with children sends us into a cold sweat we have always driven, and driven through the night. Sounds a little crazy, but we finish work on the Friday and head straight down to Folkstone to get a dinner time train across The Channel Tunnel (often bought with Tesco Triple Points rewards!). The children get early supper before leaving, while we have a picnic in the car, the train literally gives us time for a quick toilet stop and pj’s on for the kids.
The journey time in France to the Alps is about 9-10 hours but French Payages are so delightful to drive on the whole experience is a lot less stressful than travelling up the A1 in the UK. We never go through Paris, always around Reimes, the only decision to make is to go on the payages around Lyon or head off at Dijon to Bourg-en-Bresse and through Annecy. We have often mixed it up and gone payages on the way down in the dark but when travelling home in the daytime the Annecy route is a little more picturesque and interesting. The Lyon route is about 45 minutes quicker, 40 km longer and costs about 25 euros more. We take a picnic with us that is easy to eat while driving and easy to get at as you don’t want to disturb the rest of the car sleeping. A flask of hot drink is also highly recommended, we take 2 x 1 litre flasks, one with pre made coffee, the other with water for either coffee or hot chocolate. The driver also sometimes has their own iPod with headphones to listen to more up beat music!
Fuel wise it take us between 2-3 tanks of fuel to get from home (200 miles from Folkstone) all the way to resort and back again. We tend to fill up full at home to give us a good run in France and top up the tank at one of our stops / driver change overs. We then get another half tank fill up in Moutiers as the fuel in the mountains has antifreeze additives which is always handy if you are parking it in -10 degrees for a week! Lift your windscreen wipers when parked in resort so they don’t freeze to the windscreen, don’t start your car and just defrost everything in the week unless you are going to go out and drive about for a bit, just defrosting and not getting anything hot will create more issues! Also advisable not to leave your handbrake on in cold temperatures, leave it in gear for a manual, if you can switch auto handbrake off in an automatic then do, if not don’t worry just leave it in ‘park’.
In recent years we have managed to leave home earlier in the day on the Friday and have taken an earlier train across this would have resulted in us getting to the bottom on the mountains at about 3am – as a result we have driven for 2 hrs – swop – 2 and a half hrs – swop and a final 2 hours to reach a nice aires d’autoroute (rest stop) just past Lyon. This takes us 750km (about 6 and a half hours) into the 970km (9 and a half hour) journey and gives us a proper 4 to 5 hour sleep (while also cat napping on your passenger stint). Waking, we then journey to Moutieres to be there in time for the supermarket to open, gather a few groceries, fresh croissants and start the ascent up the mountain by 8-9am. At this time of the day you miss all the big traffic heading up but start to see all the queues coming down!
Having given our chalet hosts a heads up on our early arrival they usually let us in for a quick change into snow gear, toilet stop and we are in the Hire shop by 11-12am and on the slopes for a lovely run or two before finding a restaurant for lunch. We then have a whole afternoon of extra skiing, heading back to the chalet at about 4pm when all the remaining guests on flight transfers are just getting in or heading to pick up skis.
Most French resorts have 1 lift for beginners that is free to use so you don’t even have to fork out for that extra days lift pass if you just want to have a play and get those snow legs back.
Cost comparison for 2 Adults and 2 children (2014):
Snow Train: £149.5 per adult – £105 per child – £509 – but transfers required
Flights: £100 per seat + bag and taxes – £549 not including transfers/parking etc
Driving: £156 Channel Tunnel (but actually paid 1/3 as used Tesco Points with Triple rewards) – £256.95 of fuel – £125 for tolls – Total spend £537.95 and we had the car to use all week plus could take with us anything we could fit in!