Driving to the French Alps for your ski holiday in 2021/22

Tuesday 25 May, 2021

Given how complicated travelling can be at the moment, we thought we’d share all our best tips and advice for a self-drive summer or ski holiday in the Chamonix valley.

With some pre-planning, you can turn the journey into part of your holiday. Driving to the Chamonix valley means you don’t have to worry about the ever-changing situation with airlines. It also has the advantage of meaning you can bring all your own ski equipment with you if you have it. And, if you don’t, then we can arrange to have someone come to the chalet to kit you out with boots, skis and boards in the winter.

When you bring a car with you to BlackRock Ski Lodge in les Houches, it also means you are in a position to really make the most of your Mont Blanc Unlimited Lift Pass. It gives you the freedom to ski in three different countries and explore 10 different ski areas! That is what you called spoiled for choice.

Crossing the English Channel

There is no shortage of choice when it comes to your Channel crossing. Depending on where you are traveling from within the UK, you can opt for short and sweet – like Le Shuttle – or use an overnight crossing as the chance to rest on a longer drive. Le Shuttle from Folkestone to Calais takes only 35 minutes, although you will need to allow time to check-in.

Traveling by ferry, particularly the Dover to Calais, Dover to Dunkirk and Newhaven to Dieppe routes remains one of the cost-effective ways of crossing the channel. However, depending on where you are driving from, you can opt for a longer ferry journey to save time on the road once you reach France.

There are overnight options from Plymouth to Roscoff, Poole to Cherbourg and from Portsmouth to St Malo, Caen or Cherbourg. You can book direct with the main ferry operators like DFDS Seaways, Brittany Ferries and P&O Ferries but sometimes we find it worth using sites likes Direct Ferries as it gives a quick way of comparing routes and prices.

Planning your route to Chamonix

For many, the 7 to 8-hour drive from the French coast to Chamonix is something they are happy to tackle in a day. The French autoroutes are mostly toll roads, but that means they are less busy than UK motorways and well-equipped with very regular comfort and service stations on the way for fuel and food stops.

Families traveling by car may find it is more fun all round to include a stop as part of the holiday journey. Traveling from Calais or Dunkirk our recommendation is a stop around Reims or Troyes. Equidistant from the coastal ports to the valley.

When heading back to the UK we often opt for a stop either at Bourg en Bresse or near St Quentin. Bourg may be less than halfway, but particularly if you are traveling with very small children it’s a great option to allow for an afternoon departure from les Houches and a 3-4 hour drive before stopping for a chicken dinner (Bresse has a reputation for being the producer of the best chickens in France).

Alternatively, if you are early risers, then a stop off at Domain du Vadancourt - near St Quentin is another great option. It’s only an hour and 45 minutes from Calais and means you can tackle the second part of your journey and the Channel crossing fresh the next day.

Planning a winter road trip

No winter road trip preparation is complete without a checklist for making your car winter compatible.

1. Winter tyres – swapping from summer to winter tyres is a normal everyday practice for many people who live in Europe but much less common in the UK. We recommend that you winterise your car by adding winter tyres.

2. Whatever type of tyres you have you should also have snow chains or snow socks – sized to fit your vehicle – onboard as well. Even winter tyres are no guarantee of being able to get out of deep snow or icy conditions and they are mandatory when driving in the mountains. They aren’t easy to deal with, so practice before you go.
3. Keep in mind however that you should only use snow chains when there is snow on the road to avoid damaging your wheels and tyres. You should ideally fit them on flat ground and off the road – look out for the designated areas for fitting snow chains. Be sure to fit them to the wheels that drive your car – for most vehicles that’s the front, but double-check and if you have a rear-wheel drive add them there or, if you are driving a four-wheel drive, you should add chains to all wheels.
4. If you need to drive with your snow chains on, then keep your speed down and take corners slowly and smoothly.
5. The French authorities also require drivers to carry the following equipment. Failure to have these onboard carries an on-the-spot fine if you are checked: an emergency triangle, high visibility jacket for every person on board, a First Aid kit, spare bulbs for headlights, indicators and brake lights as well as a personal breathalyser kit.
6. You will also need to adjust the beam of your headlights. Either by switching them from RHD to LHD beam pattern – if your car has that ability. Otherwise, you should buy and fit stick-on beam adaptors for driving in Europe.
7. Be sure to swap your screenwash to one that can cope with temperatures of up to -20 or -30. Trying to clear a salty windscreen is impossible if your washer reserve is frozen solid.
8. From a safety and comfort perspective then water, flasks of hot drinks, food and a warm blanket are a good idea. The mountains in winter often involve large storms and unexpected delays, so much better to be prepared than spend a cold night in your vehicle.
9. You will also need to have the following documentation with you too: your driving license, a European driving permit, your vehicle registration and certificate of motor insurance.
10. Check that your car insurance covers you for overseas and add overseas breakdown cover to it too.

Top tips for driving in the mountains in the snow

  • Always allow a good distance between you and the vehicle in front. It takes longer to stop in snow and ice.
  • Keep your speed down and brake gently to avoid skidding – gently pumping the breaks can give you more control.
  • When descending in poor conditions use engine breaking and low gears rather than constantly breaking.
  • Keep in mind that buses, HGVs and large vehicles need both lanes to negotiate narrow bends. You need to allow them the space to do so.
  • Be considerate and give priority to those driving up the mountain as it’s much harder for them to make a hill start than it is for you to continue down the hill.
  • Snow chains – practice putting them on before you go, and also check them after driving 10 metres.
  • Have your headlights on - it’s a legal requirement for driving whilst snow is falling.
  • If you should get stuck in the snow:
    • Put your hazard lights on
    • Try rocking your car out of position by putting it into high gear and rolling it forwards and then backwards.

Concierge service

We are always just an email or a phone call away if you need any help with planning your Ski Trip for Winter 2021-22. We are also offering a flexible booking and cancellation policy to help our guests to plan ahead.

You'll also find lots of great information about everything ski-related in our top tips on the Mont Blanc Unlimited Lift Pass.

Tuesday 25 May, 2021