Take the relaxed option and drive down with stopovers in Pas de Calais Troyes & Limonest near Lyon.
This is the classic route south, via Champagne, Troyes and Lyon onto the A7 Autoroute Du Soleil. We've given you the super relaxed option where you stop just an hour from Calais on the first night. If you want to get further south on the first day, simply drive to Troyes ( or Reims). Make the journey part of the holiday...
To reach Calais, you can take either the ferry from Dover Eastern Docks or Eurotunnel Le Shuttle from Folkstone. The ferry takes around 90 minutes and you have to arrive at least 45 minutes before departure. There are a choice of ferries with DFDS, P&O and MyFerry all having regular sailings. The ships are modern with cafes, bars a shop and plenty of seating areas. Although the sea crossing takes longer than Eurotunnel the price tends to be cheaper and you get the wonderful view of the White Cliffs fading away as you head towards France. You also get an idea of just how busy the Channel is.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, though more expensive (booking ahead gets you the best prices), is quicker than the ferry and not subject to the varying weather conditions of the sea. Certainly, during the winster months, it's a good option. The journey takes about 45 minutes with a 45 minute check-in time.
5 miles. Approx 1hour 15mins. Tolls £2.35
At Calais, leave the terminal on the Autoroute and head towards Heuchin. This journey is about 45 miles and takes around 75 minutes, much of it through rural countryside that resembles a Pissaro painting. Arrive at Maison De Plumes in Heuchin in the early evening.
As an alternative we recommend Chateau De Moulin Le Comte near Aire-Sur-La-Lys just off the motorway. It's a splendid and very relaxing hotel.
HEUCHIN - TROYES (approx) 215mls 3hrs 45m £70 inc Toll
This is a lovely and relaxed drive in classic, rolling French countryside that takes you through Champagne. Frequent brown coloured signs line the autoroute, reminding you of WW1 battles fought in the area and the historic nature of the region.
Stop for a coffee or a meal in the delightful town of Arras, which is close to the motorway. It's easy to find your way into the centre and there's often plenty of parking around the Grand Place, which is surrounded by Flemish style houses. There are numerous cafes and restaurants around Place des Heros, the town hall square.
You also pass close to Reims, the heart of Champagne country, later in the journey. You could again stop off here, as it's easy to drive around. If you simply want a break you can stop in the area nearby Thillois, just to the west of Reims.
Troyes is fairly close to the autoroute and is easy to drove around. The old town is inside the inner ring road. It's not a large centre, so don't worry if you miss your turnings as it's easy to find your way back. We recommend The Hotel de la Poste, the Relais St Jean and La Maison De Rhodes. There's also a Mercure, which is excellent.
Days 2 - 3
Troyes is perhaps the most surprising stop on the itinerary. Tucked behind an ordinary industrial area is a perfectly preserved working medieval town, filled with modern shops and restaurants, all somehow crammed into the timbered, higgledy piggledy buildings. Narrow, cobbled streets and small squares cluster around the cathedral, and tiny passages lead to hidden bars. After staying overnight spend a morning wandering through Troyes and lunch in the town, then set off back to Heuchin, taking the Route Nationale.
Take a break just south of Dijon at one of Europe's largest service stations Relais de Servotte near Beaune. If you have the time, stop off in Beaune itself, a delicious little town, right in the centre of Burgundy wine making. After around 4 hours driving you should arrive in Limonest. We recommend the L'Ermitage, which is on Mont Cindre overlooking Lyon and the Monts D'Or. Each room has views of the Monts D'Or and the restaurant is excellent. It has an indoor and outdoor pool and is just 15 minutes from Lyon. It's much easier to stay here than brave the sometimes slow moving of rush-hour Lyon at the end of a long day's drive.
This is the last leg of journey and takes you down the A7, alongside the Rhone, through spectacular gorges and the delicious countryside of Provence, before dropping down to the sparkling Cote D'Azur on the A8.
After approx 1hr 20 mins take a break at Aire de Service Pont-de-l'Isère, near Valence. You can break again, after about 3 hours from Limonest, at Aires De Repos de Ventabren near Aix-en-Provence.
NB: Although driving south is a great way to get to start your holiday, it's important to remember that around the last weekend in July and first weekend of August, the A7 from Lyon to the South can get very busy. Either try to travel on different days, begin early, or come prepared with snacks, drinks and plenty to keep the kids entertained.
The French for traffic jam is Bouchon, which may well be signalled on the many large electronic information boards.
The “Peages” (Toll booths) take credit cards. Remember that payment will be on the passenger side. The lane signed CB (Carte Bleu) is where you can pay by card, as long as it has a microchip (no need for PIN).
Bison Fute gives information about roadworks and traffic jams, and other general information. http://www.bison-fute.equipement.gouv.fr/en/road-information-in-france-r2.html* Days best avoided: First Saturday of July, last Sunday in August, 15th July & 15th August.
Days 5 - 6
Your journey ends either in the beguiling landscape of Provence, with its hilltop towns and Roman history, or down on the sunny, but eccentric Cote D'Azur, perhaps around Nice, Cannes or Frejus. There's so much to see in this area. There's villages such as Eze perched on a cliff edge, there's the saturated colours and glitz of Cannes and there's the Italian influenced Nice, once home to great artists such as Matisse. Inland there's the fragrant town of Grasse, famed for it's perfumes. Whatever you choose you'll easily pass a week or two here. Click the Home Away logo for a selection of self-catering French villas.