Things you should know if you’re thinking of driving to the Alps this winter...

I remember the first time we drove to the Alps in winter. A journey that was to take twenty-one hours. What we hadn’t planned for was our daughter being travel sick on the ferry, the freezing temperatures driving down France causing our windscreen washer to freeze, the queues for the autoroute tolls and having to put chains on the car whilst climbing the mountain road in the dark. We also hadn’t anticipated just how exhausting it was – this in itself had an impact on the first few days of the holiday – especially for the kids. The return journey was also challenging in that we had to dig the car out – see photo, and it rained all the way back to Calais where we only just caught the ferry!

So, whether you’re a seasoned professional or this is your first time driving to the Alps, here are a few tips that will help your journey go a little smoother.

1. Allow plenty of time – it will take longer than you think. Factor in lots of stops along the way. France has lots of services along its autoroutes – some have fuel and shops but can be busy. The others are like picnic areas with very basic facilities. Be sure to carry toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

2. It is much quicker to take the Eurotunnel than the ferry. At quiet times, you can almost go straight on and once in France, you’ll be on the Autoroute within a few minutes of arriving. If you have to travel a long distance to get to the port, the ferry can provide a useful rest break where you can get some refreshments.

3. Get an autoroute télépéage tag. These allow you to take the priority lane through the toll booths. They are fixed to your windscreen and take payment automatically. In most cases you don’t even need to stop and will save you loads of time.

4. Fit some winter tyres to your car. These will make your journey so much safer. They improve grip and handling of the car in temperatures below seven degrees Celsius. They may also be a legal requirement depending on where you are going.

5. Get some autosocks or chains for your car. It is a legal requirement to carry these and make sure you practise how to put them on before you need them. Autosocks are much easier to use but wear quickly if used on tarmac.

6. Plan in an overnight stop especially if travelling with children. There are loads of relatively cheap places to stay close to the autoroutes. You will feel so much less tired and make your journey safer.

7. You will need to refuel your car a number of times on your journey. As in the UK, fuel is more expensive in the autoroute services. It may be worth checking if there is a supermarket close by that sells fuel as it will be much cheaper. They are also a good place to get reasonably priced sandwiches.

8. Take lots of snacks and drink with you. At certain times of the year the roads get gridlocked and you’re never sure how long you’re going to be stuck. Carry baby wipes to help clean up.

9. Make sure the kids have got lots of entertainment. Watching films on tablets is a great way to entertain them, also books and simple games like “I spy”.

10. Keep to the speed limit. It makes driving so much less tiring, will save you from a fine and use less fuel. Bear in mind that the speed limit changes on autoroutes from 130km/h in dry conditions to 110km/h in wet.

11. Carry these items in your car - shovel, high-viz jackets, spare bulb kit, jump leads, first aid kit, warning triangle, spare wheel, wheel brace, locking wheel socket, and 12v compressor.

12. Prepare your car for the journey by getting a service before you go and ensure that coolant antifreeze levels allow for very low temperatures.

13. Make sure that your screen wash covers extreme winter temperatures. It is commonplace for temperatures to be below -20 degrees Celsius. Keep some spare in the car to help clean your windscreen whilst travelling.

14. Breakdown cover is essential. Make sure that the cover you have will allow you to continue your journey and also to repatriate your car back to the UK.

15. Plan your journey before you leave home. Update your satnav and carry a road atlas just in case.

Hopefully these tips will help your holiday get off to a good start.

Terry Jeynes is a Snowsport England Alpine Development Coach Level 4 IVSI. He is based at Gloucester Ski & Snowboard Centre and has years of experience working with all levels of skier ranging from novice through to instructors.

For more information, please visit his website - or phone 07413 240925

© Copyright 2024 Terry Jeynes Ski Coaching Ltd.
Red House Farm, Longdon Marsh, Longdon, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, GL20 6BD
07413 240925
Company Number 14772133