Driving to the Alps – how to make it fun, hassle free and with a little bit of luxury!
Whilst the thought of getting in a car for a 1,500 mile round trip may not be on the top of everyone’s bucket list it can be a fun and surprisingly low stress way to get to the Alps for a winter ski break. It would not be recommended for a long weekend; however if you are planning a trip for a week or more, have children or indeed a lot of ‘kit’ for skiing it can be a great way to arrive at your chalet or hotel without the stress of airport travel. The majority of airlines now charge ski carriage too and this can quickly mount up. It is much more fun to spend this money on some seriously good french food and wine!
Whilst Folkestone is not necessarily the closest point to home for heading over to France, the Eurotunnel is in our view the least stressful. Crossing the Strait of Dover takes just thirty five minutes from Folkstone to Calais in France (considerably less than the ferry) and you arrive in your car ready to go! We would highly recommend the Flexiplus ticket both ways (particularly if budget is not an issue) as this means if you arrive early for your train you will be put on the next available one and not waste any time waiting around. We have had occasions where our wheels have hardly stopped from arrival at the Eurotunnel terminal to boarding the train. Similarly if you are running late you will be on the next train and there will be no need to re-book or lose money in the process.
A Flexiplus ticket starts at £219 per car each way; if you have say four people in the car this isn’t bad value. If you do arrive at the terminal early there is a fast track lane and also the option to stop off at the Flexiplus lounge. This provides WiFi and downloadable magazines, bathroom facilities, alongside complimentary food and newspapers. The ticket is valid for a year, refundable and amendable. Once you board the train there is no benefit to Flexiplus as you simply remain in your car for the journey, there is no lounge on board but there are basic bathroom facilities should you require them!
Clearly there are a plethora of amazing places to stop en-route; champagne tasting in Ruinart is one such example. In this itinerary we recommend a lunch stop followed by a night in a fabulous guesthouse. Depending on your final destination there are lots of wonderful options in France and you will be spoilt for choice.
One such place is Domain de Rymska (photo below) which lies 30 kilometres from Beaune in the beautiful Burgundy region of France. It takes approximately five hours and forty five minutes from Calais (without stops) so we would recommend a morning Eurotunnel (don’t forget you lose an hour due to the time change) and stopping en route for lunch somewhere around Reims. We have enjoyed a wonderful meal at Brasserie Flo Excelsior (96 Place Drouet d’Erlon, 51100) in the centre of Reims (there is a large underground car park very close by). The grand building was once a private mansion but now houses this fabulous restaurant.
If the weather is good it is magic to sit outside on the pretty terrace sipping rose and enjoying incredible French food (the Eurotunnel now but a distant memory!). You could enjoy anything from Grilled chateaubriand with home-made dauphine potatoes, sautéed green beans, choron sauce to Whole sea bream served open, with sautéed tomatoes and Taggiasca olives whilst sipping some fabulous French wine (it is a good idea to be the navigator rather than the driver!).
Once you have meandered your way to Domain de Rymska (approximately three and a half hours from Reims) you will be welcomed into 80 hectares of stunning Burgundy countryside and the luxurious surroundings of this sophisticated guest house with just five rooms (three bedrooms and two suites). If you are travelling as a family then the Harmony suite (86 sq m) is ideal. It provides two bedrooms (which can be configured as twins or doubles), a sitting area, a dining area, separate WC and large bathroom with bath and separate shower cubicle. It is not cheap at approximately 385 euros per night but it provides a luxury stop over you will not forget in a hurry.
Dinner in the evening is not to be missed, arguably this is a ‘grown up’ restaurant as the atmosphere is quiet and romantic, and there is limited menu choice – however we did eat with our children aged five and seven and they were warmly welcomed. The decor is farm house style with an open fire and attractive beams. The restaurant pride themselves on offering a farm to plate experience and much of the food is sourced from the domaine itself. The quality of the ingredients is second to none and this is soon apparent when the most mouthwatering delicacies start to arrive. From Wagyu beef to blue lobster, you will not be disappointed. The wine list is extensive and offers everything from a bottle of Pinot Noir (35 euros) to Romanée-Conti GrandCru Monopole (16,000 euros) and everything in between so we can safely say there is something for everyone here!!
One of the downsides to driving in Europe is the tolls which can be time consuming and expensive – one way to reduce the hassle factor (but sadly not the cost) is to buy a Emovis tag which is available to UK residents and for around 20 euros allows you to use the automated lanes at tolls and avoid the hassle and queuing of paying manually. You can also calculate the amount you will spend on tolls (in France) using this website so you can be aware in advance.
Feeling fully rested and well fed and watered you can make the drive to many ski resorts easily the following morning. Courchevel 1850 is around four hours drive from Domaine de Rymska while Alp D’Huez is slightly shorter. If you have your own skis you could be on the mountain in the afternoon or alternatively, (especially if you have little ones in tow) you can spend the afternoon unhurriedly settling in to the hotel or chalet, getting lift passes organised and hiring ski equipment so you are all ready to get up the mountain the next morning.
For the return journey you could mirror the drive down to The Alps if you are not short on time and meander back over a couple of days. Or alternatively if you don’t fancy unloading a car full of dirty washing into a hotel for a night then it is around eight and a half hours to Calais from say Alp D’Huez. If you are able to share the driving, stop for a sandwich (try Paul Bakery at various service stations on the main routes for delicious French baguettes and pastries) and include some extra rest stops, it is doable in a day. Although much less restful than the journey there!