Tips for driving to the French Alps(26 Posts)
As title says, we're driving in my van to France during half term.
Winter tyres and snow chains are to be sorted.
We're driving straight through, no sleep, to avoid the half term traffic rush.
We do this loads - leave home at 530am, Eurotunnel by 730ish, at our place in Swiss Alps by supper time. We eat at service stations, stop 2-3 times for quick loo stops.
Lots of long story CDs for the kids.
It's pretty easy!
Pre-pay the tolls?
Fill up with fuel at the bottom of the mountain. Apparently the petrol stations near the mountains have a different formula with antifreeze in it, so it won't freeze
If you are parking outside, leave the windscreen wipers up
Book a flexiplus ticket on the eurotunnel, or you will have long delays.
We have an APRR badge for the tolls, but there is a limit of 2m, so I don't know how that effects you in your van.
If you can book accommodation from Sunday to Sunday, the roads will be much quieter.
The motorway services become packed at lunchtime - we take a packed lunch, but if you were buying lunch, you might want to do so by about 11:30, to avoid the rush.
My main piece of advice is make sure that you have decent European recovery in place. We were unfortunate enough to crash our car on an icy Swiss mountain road, and discovered the hard way that travel insurance is useless in these circumstances. The only reason we made it home without bankrupting ourselves was with the help of the recovery company, who arranged car hire (there were hardly any family cars available for hire within striking distance of the Alps as it was half term...) and basically were complete superstars in making a stressful situation bearable.
Other things to check are the latest requirements for what you need to carry in your vehicle - I think it's a breathalyser, spare bulbs, warning triangle and reflective vest....there may well be other things depending on which countries you're driving through.
Some great advice here, thank you! Keep them coming.
Good European cover is a must - been caught out before when we drove to France 2 years ago and our camBelt went. Huge hassle made worse with poor cover.
Wouldn't think of putting wiper blades up, but will do. Accommodation does have underground car park, but I drive a van with a roof box so it will have to stay outside.
Oh, one more... Leave enough space in the van for lots of lovely wine and mountain goodies
I am sure you do but stick scrupulously to the speed limits within 50 miles or so of Calais.
I do the drive several times a year (DS lives in the Alps) & often see mobile speed traps in that area.
Put concentrated screen wash in neat. Should cover you down to about -20. If you don't have clever headlights you may need those little sticker things to redirect the beams. I can change mine for the other side of the road with a lever in each light fitting but not sure if that's limited to xenons.
Take 2 bin bags. One you kneel on to fit the chains if needed and the other you use to put both the bag you nelt on and the chains in once you take them off to keep your boot/contents cleaner/dryer, and get a fold out shovel if you need to dig it out after a week or so in a resort car park.
I'm pretty sure you have to carry a first aid kit as well as the other stuff.
Not sure of your route so just in case - If you are travelling on any Swiss motorways you need an annual motorway pass in the form of a sticker for your windscreen. They are available at service stations and border crossings. 40 Swiss francs for a car, though it may have gone up, not sure about a van. Also in Switzerland you have to have your lights on all the time, even in brilliant sunshine!
For service stations late lunches can work as well as early, though choice could be more limited.
YY to portable shovel! And a brush is the best way to get a lot of snow off your vehicle!
Done this trip loads, as a kid, as an adult and as a adult with kids; in fact I think it's the only way we have done it. As a kid it can't have been that bad as I only remember the holidays themselves (and this was definitely pre portable DVDs etc.)
How many drivers have you got? If possible let one driver rest/sleep at a time and lots of toilet stops to get fresh air. Have fun (I am just a little bit jealous!)
Definitely recommend getting the little thing that sticks to your windscreen & lets you'd breeze through the tolls.
I'm building up quite a list here - thanks to everyone.
Portable shovel - check. Thanks to Lidl.
No grit, but I have a large jar of that salty ice melt stuff.
Sticker thing for tolls - arranging today.
Tyres and chains - work in progress.
Brush - daft question - soft or stiff bristles?!
I would recommend getting a Sanef toll pass before you go - it means no leaning out of the passenger window to pay at the tolls - you do it by direct debit afterwards, no queueing - saves loads of time driving straight through, you simply have a tag attached to your windscreen. Also wouldn't want to do it without car dvd players for the kids -makes the journey far more pleasant!
We do as shirlecantbe does....but heading to southern French Alps. It's a 9 hour drive from Calais. Plus stops.
I don't disagree with anything here already. we take a flask of strong coffee, sweets and sandwiches, satsumas....cuts cost down at services and more importantly time. Kids take books and we relax rules on DSs and iPads. We share driving.
Doing it in one go means you don't waste 2 days travelling and you have another day on the piste.
We have a snow clearing brush that came from America...odd Xmas present, but it has come in handy! Pretty stiff brush.
Also keep an eye on weather and road conditions. You may not have much choice re route, but at NY we saved hours (crash announced on radio) by going on the mway via Bourg en Bresse not straight to Lyon. And s of Grenoble our quickest route is over the route napoleon to Gap. If vizille is horrendous, we go a different way.
Strong antifreeze in radiator. Bad experience many years ago after taking car off the train at the bottom of the Alps and driving to Chamomix, but I'm sure you would have that covered.
Eurotunnel do (or used to do) a deal with ANPRR/SANEF for the transponder thing you stick on your windscreen, you set up an account with a direct debit so you get billed for the tolls later. It.s great to avoid the queues at the péages. No cheaper, just extremely handy. It now covers virtually the entire French motorway network and also some car parks (Indigo -- or at least it does in SW France)
I would imagine you can get a snow brush for windscreens at the service stations you pass on the way. We're in Central Europe and always have one handy in the car: it has medium-strength bristles on one side for snow and a plastic scraper on the other for scraping ice. It's on an extendable handle so you can reach across the windscreen but then fold it back for storage.
Remember to have a small tube of lock de-icer with you (not in the car!) - another essential for a Central European winter. We had to use ours just last week to open the doors.
Only a very minor issue (I think the fine's only 10 euros) but you're supposed to have a single use alcohol tester with you. Again, available from petrol stations along the way.
Obviously stock the car with plenty of blankets, food, drink (as well as the chains, shovel etc) just in case you end up in a jam and it's cold. Oh, you said you have salt instead of grit - in Germany that's illegal for private people I think, you have to use grit. Don't know what the situation is in France, perhaps check.
Um, silly one but remember if it's really cold that things in the car will freeze! So waterbottles, beer etc. My daughter didn't thank me for the nappy change I gave her when the wipes froze in -28 (Canada) last year. A cooler is sometimes better to keep things at the right temperature oddly.
Start the car 10 mins before getting into it as driving with a warm engine is easier on the car (and passengers are warm). Don't know the age of your kids but some seats aren't as good with bulky coats on. I take my kids coats off before getting in, big campaign about that over here. I always have blankets for long journeys (better if you break down) and sunglasses can be just as useful when driving in sunny snowy days - have a great time! Fully charged phone/in car charger too is useful too.
I LOVE Mumsnet
So much great advice and already a fab checklist is growing.
Very grateful to you all.
if you are going via eurotunnel make sure you book your van early.the spaces for tall vehicles go quick.
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