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If you've travelled to France in the summer in the past few years...

(92 Posts)
frogs Sat 27-Sep-08 21:46:51 you think it is cheaper to drive down or to fly and then hire a car?

We are going to the south of France next year for a family event, and then plan to rent a gite for a week or so afterwards. There are five of us, so even cheap plane fares add up once you multiply by 5, and we need a reasonably big car (ours is). I would also strongly prefer an automatic (again, ours is but they tend to be more expensive to hire).

If you've driven down from the UK, how much of a nightmare was it? And did you spend a fortune on staying in places overnight? Or should we look at campsites?

All advice gratefully received, we're novices at this, and I'm finding it really hard to weigh up the pros and cons.

PortAndLemon Sat 27-Sep-08 21:50:00

Driving will be cheaper. But we've only gone as far as Lower Normandy (which was completely fine) so I can't say how much of a nightmare it would be to drive to the south.

Orinoco Sat 27-Sep-08 21:50:08

Message withdrawn

themoon66 Sat 27-Sep-08 21:52:56

We've done that drive a few times. I've always found it much more enjoyable than flying.

On the plus side: You get to see all the French countryside as you go, stopping at nice little places for lunches and snacks. You can stop as many times as you like for small children to go pee, get drinks, run around etc. There is no boring hanging around in airports for 2 hours before the flight. You are not at the mercy of airlines and their annoying delays.

On the minus side: If the weather is crap it can be hard driving in heavy rain. If you cannot share the driving it would be hard for just one person to do it all. It takes two days to get to south France in a relaxed unhurried manner.

We did it in large, automatic estate cars - Mondeos, Citroen C5 or similar.

We always did an overnight stop at the Campanile in Dijon, which is about half way.

Driving through Lyon is scary if you hit it at rush hour. You can go around the ring road to avoid it, but it adds one hour to your journey.

frogs Sat 27-Sep-08 21:53:09


I'm the only driver in our house, so the sneaky cheap flight thing won't work. Hmm.

But if we take it slowly and do a couple of overnights at campsites en route, it might be tolerable?

themoon66 Sat 27-Sep-08 21:55:24

frogs... how old are your DC? You really need someone to keep them amused if you are concentrating on driving. It also helps if you have another adult to keep you sane, pay tolls through passenger side window etc.

pooka Sat 27-Sep-08 22:01:22

We done it two years running, but rather than making the journey during the day, we've driven overnight.

Got the tunnel at 8pm. Calais at 9pm, near Toulouse at about 8am.

Kids (5 and 3 - but 4 and 2 when we first went) in the back in pyjamas. We have dvd in the back.

Then dh and I did shifts driving, maybe 2 -3 hours each time.

The first time we did it was pretty exhausting because we stupidly forgot to pack ourselves lots of coffee and snacks. The way back was better because we were well rested and we had lots of coffee and remembered to eat lots while driving.

Sat Nav invaluable, particularly for the Paris bit at about 3am.

It wasn't so bad, and infinitely preferable to schlepping to airport, having to worry about car hire and seats and so on. And doing it at night suited us because we arrived at the house early, spent the day lounging by the pool and by next morning felt fine. And for the return journey, were home just before 8am, all unpacked and all washing done by 10am. Brill.

pooka Sat 27-Sep-08 22:02:13

Sorry. blush
Just seen that you're the only driver. No way overnight.

Tortington Sat 27-Sep-08 22:03:21

driving down with kids in theback is a fucking arse ache - we went to the alps two years ago.

Quattrocento Sat 27-Sep-08 22:07:12

Oh Frogs we were debating this today.

It is around £500 cheaper for us to drive down rather than to fly four of us to Nice and hire a car for three weeks.

There are lots of nice places to stay and there is a book by Saudet of "character" B&B's (please dispell all UK images of suburban semis) where the family can stay for under £100.

It takes us two days driving hell for leather, so only one overnight stop. The big downside is that it does take two days each way so 4 days of your holiday lost. But if you make the journey funnish and plan your stops at nice places, then it can be part of the enjoyment.

madamy Sat 27-Sep-08 22:08:04

pooka - that sounds interesting! We're planning next years hols and as we'll be camping, want to go further south than our usual Brittany/Vendee.

Do you find that the kids sleep ok? Ours will be 6, nearly 4 and 2 next summer.

Do you stop for a sleep in the car at all?

The main problem with us doing an overnighter is that we're in the Midlands, so it's 3-4 hours to the south coast before we even get to France!

themoon66 Sat 27-Sep-08 22:11:36

We are in Lincoln (midlands) too, so it used to take us 3 or 4 hours to get to the tunnel.

We used to drive all the way to Northern Spain (Gerona).

Don't drive through Paris. Go further across to the East. Aim for Dijon.

Quattrocento Sat 27-Sep-08 22:14:06

Re entertaining children on the long drive:

1. DVDs - take a laptop or a portable DVD player - you will not regret it
2. Nintendo thingies - gameboys or DSs or whatever
3. Squabbling Conversation and games such as Ispy
4. Singing songs in French to get them in the mood
5. Portable games

We do this fly or drive debate every year. For the last couple of years we've flown but I had a bad experience with the carhire people. I MUCH prefer driving my own car to the ones you have to queue up for around 2 hours (I am not joking, that's invariably the length of time you have to wait with tired children at a hot airport) at Europcar or Hertz

pooka Sat 27-Sep-08 22:29:01

We find that the children actually sleep pretty well. Takes them a while to get to sleep but when they do, not too bad. We recline the seats as much as we can (as much as is safe with the seats they have - ds still in a priori which reclines a fair bit, dd in a rodi xr which has a similar incline). Have travel pillows.

This year when we got to calais (at about 5am) they both woke up full of the joys of spring and we went and had coffee/breakfast. Then back in the car and they both fell asleep again.

It is pretty draining, but doing an overnighter does mean that you have the whole day when you get there, which is fine if it can be a lazy day of dozing (helps that my father and step-mother were there to help out).

We are south of London anyway, so only about 1hr to the tunnel for us.

WendyWeber Sat 27-Sep-08 22:38:10

One of the really nice things about driving through France is the Aires - unlike English motorways which just have nasty commercial services about every 30 miles, on French ones they have picnic areas much more frequently, with tables & grass & loos (not necessarily nice ones mind you grin), so you can break often just for 5-10 mins to stop everybody going mad.

pooka Sat 27-Sep-08 22:59:59

OH yes, the aires are fab and the motorways are brilliant too.

themoon66 Sat 27-Sep-08 23:23:35

It's not till you drive across France that you realise how bloody big that country is!

I'd pick driving over flying any day. Especially if you own a big automatic estate car.

daffodill6 Sat 27-Sep-08 23:31:51

Agree with Wendy web ..Aires are brill especially at 5 am and the sun is rising! Again , I'd choose to drive rather than fly...prefer to be master of my own destiny

Celia2 Sat 27-Sep-08 23:32:09

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

aznerak Sat 27-Sep-08 23:37:27

My parents have a property in the south of France and we drive there several times each year. Our children are 6 and 3 and are so used to the journey that it isn't an issue for them at all.

We opt for the tunnel as firstly both me and my DH have a bit of a phobia of ferries and secondly because it is so much quicker and in our opinion, more convenient.

As others have said, the aires are fantastic. We take a very early crossing and have breakfast after check-in before the crossing. We take a big heary picnic with us and lots of snacky things for the journey. We then break the journey half way in a cheap and cheerful hotel, get a good value meal, an early night and make the most of the buffet breakfast! We arrive at the villa around lunchtime.

As we do the journey so often, we are lucky in that we know which are the best aires on our journey and there are plenty which have brilliant playgrounds where the children can let off steam, have a run about and stretch out for a bit.

I would always opt to fly - we can travel at our own steam, we have our own car (and car seats!) and can stop as and when we want to.

Where abouts are you looking to go in South of France - more than happy to tell you which route we use and which aires we opt to stop at!

aznerak Sat 27-Sep-08 23:39:14

there are chain hotels that are much like travel lodge - we always get 2 interconnecting rooms and the rooms cost about £30 each per night (per room not per person!). Kids eat free at breakfast too so overnighters can be very reasonable

madamy Sat 27-Sep-08 23:54:24

aznerak - which chain is that with interconnecting rooms and can you book them online?
We've stayed in the BB chain with a mezzanine floor for dd1 and dd2, with ds in a cocoon type thing on the floor next to me. He'll be 2 next yr, so that won't really work!

SqueakyPop Sun 28-Sep-08 07:38:32

It is definitely cheaper and less stressful to drive. It's not a nightmare.

There are some travel hotspots, but it's nothing like driving on UK motorways.

As others have said, stops are easy - from the picnic area aires, to those with just petrol station (where you can get coffee and snacks), to the full service ones. They also appear about every 10km, so you never have to drive very far after you get the call from the back of the car.

There are loads of places for inexpensive accommodation - Campanile, Ibis etc., with their own restaurants. They are very good value and comfortable.

If we were driving to the SofF from the London area, we would typically aim to stop fro the night just south of Paris/Reims, and then again in, say, Avignon. It's possible to do it with one stop, but means that you are putting in the miles all day and just collapsing into bed rather than enjoying your stopover.

There is another option, for £££, which is Motorail. You put your car on the train, and travel overnight in a couchette, arriving at 8am on the coast. It's still a bit more expensive than the cost of petrol, tolls, accommodation and food, but great if you are short of holiday time.

branflake81 Sun 28-Sep-08 08:10:58

you could get the motorail?

Marina Sun 28-Sep-08 08:31:12

We have never driven right down south but have often done Calais/Charente Maritime and like driving in France, based on those experiences. As others say, the aires are pretty good (although never enough picnic tables and you need to watch out for dog mess on the lawned areas). Some are superb, eg the Baie de Somme one - with a landscaped marshland walk, an observation tower and excellent shops and loos. Incredibly civilised.
Bison Fute can give you updated info on which routes are especially congested at any given time.
The Sawday recommendations will always be very good but might not be that close to the motorway (it can be a bit vexing trawling up and down tiny roads looking for your bijou pigeonnier at 9pm).
We usually aim for a Logis de France and have struck gold many times - again, more along the SW routes. Anything listed in the Cadogan Guides is reliable too. This summer we got a pair of gorgeous adjoining rooms in this delightful boutique hotel for just under £130 for the night for the four of us, including breakfast.

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