Driving through Europe: Routes, tips, useful links

By adamrowden, 18 Dec '12 at 10:16

Driving through Europe to the Alps

Driving to the Alps is something everyone should try at least once. Alpine roads include some of the most beautiful scenery you are likely to see while driving and the advantages of having your own car in resort are considerable.

And if you are going out to work the season, a car can in resort can be very useful for shopping, day trips or even for getting onto that first lift first!

So, we thought we would weigh up the positives and negatives for you. And, we also have some decent routes to resort as well as some hints and tips to help you to stay safe on your journey.

Pros
- Door-to-door convenience
- Drive on beautiful mountain roads
- Take as much luggage as you like
- Follow the snow and tour from one resort to another
- Get off the beaten track (eg La Grave, Ste Foy and those other gems)
- Stock up on booze on the way home
- No flight delays (only ferry strikes!)
- Extend your holiday (both Saturdays - the best day of the week to ski on)

Cons
- Driving conditions in the mountains can be hazardous
- Chains can sometimes become compulsory
- Ferries/tunnel tickets can be expensive with only 1/2 passengers
- Traffic jams are possible at peak periods (but then again you could be in a transfer coach)

Routes
Travelling to France or Switzerland, we suggest you take the Autoroute via Rheims, Dijon and Macon. At Macon you can either cut in to Geneva for Switzerland and Northern French resorts, or head to Lyon for the rest of France. A very good Euro route planner is below.

Calais to Chamonix is 560m (900km). Rumours abound for exactly how quickly you can do this journey - less than 6 hours is rare (although it is dual carriage way all the way). More commonly, 8-9 hours should see you comfortably. Add another hour for Tarentaise resorts and two for Southern French resorts.

Natives Opinon
Take the Autoroute over the Route National - pay the tolls, you'll get there quicker and European motorways are a joy.

For Eastern Swiss resorts, you should take the Northern route to Basel via Metz and Strasbourg. For Austria, which a pretty long journey by car (15 hours+), head to Strasbourg again, but then aim for Ulm, then Munich depending on your destination.

For Italy, head to Chamonix and (if it's open) take the Mont Blanc Tunnel. At the time of writing, the tunnel is closed although is due to open again in October 2001. There is considerable debate as to whether it should allow freight traffic, but it will almost certainly allow private cars access.

Cross Channel Options
The easiest way to book Eurotunnel, ferries or Eurostar is via Ferrybooker.

Safe Driving
Even if there's no snow on the road, you should always be aware of possible black ice or the next unmarked hairpin bend. And if there is snow, don't take too long before putting on your chains.

In many cases they're not necessary, particularly if you have snow tires, but depending on the temperature, wind and depth of snow, in most cases chains (or a 4x4) are the only safe option.

If you've never used chains before, you should definitely practice first. When it's dark, snowing heavily and -10C outside, you'll want to get it done as quickly as possible.

It's when you're going downhill that you'll need to be particularly cautious. Stay in a low gear, keep your speed down and brake where possible by using the engine. Avoid using the brake on bends in particular. Easier said than done of course, but if you do feel the wheels lock and start to slide then steer into the slide.

Maintenance
- Find a covered garage if possible.
- Failing that, park on flat ground and/or leave the car facing downhill.
- Leave the car in gear with the handbrake off (it could freeze up)
- Lift the wipers away from the windscreen
- Remember where you parked it - there could be under a metre of snow when you come back!

Don't Forget
- Driving licence, Insurance details and vehicle registration
- Chains
- Ski Racks
- Warning triangle (you'd be surprised how important it is to many Eurocops)
- Map
- Your toothbrush

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