Make the journey south part of your holiday, rather than like a scene from the Gumball Rally...
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.
CALAIS to CERGY (approx)174 miles 3hrs £50.00 inc tolls
Take the ferry from Dover or Eurotunnel Le Shuttle from Folkstone and join the A16 autoruote (L'Europeene) to Cergy Pontoise, on the northern outskirts of Paris. This a simple drive, through classic, rolling French countryside with distant villages, pretty towns such as Amiens and church spires piercing the horizon. It only gets busier as you reach the outskirts of Paris.
Just north of Abbeville you can take a break at the excellent Aire de Baie de Somme, which has its own little nature reserve. There's another service station, Aire de Hardivillers, south of Amiens.
We recommend the Hotel Mercure Cergy Pontoise Central, which has a pool and kids under 15 go free if sharing their parent's room. The hotel is easily reached from junction 9 of the A15. By RER Cergy is only 40 minutes from Chateau Les Halles, right in the heart of Paris near Notre Dame, the Left Bank, Le Marais and Les Halles.
Days 1 - 2
Take the RER right into the heart off Paris, getting off at Chatelet Les Halles. The myriad streets of Les Halles and Le Marais, fizzing with life, are close by whilst Notre Dame, the Seine and the famous Left Bank are all just a short walk away. One of our favourite bars on the Left Bank is La Palette.
Days 2 - 3
CERGY - LIMONEST / LYON (Approx) 310 miles 5hrs £60 inc tolls.
This morning, you head South on the A6 Autoroute du Soleil. This section of the route reminds you of just how big France is, with vast fields stretching away either side of the motorway. You'll pass near Auxerre, and after about 2 hours, stop at the Aire Soleil Levant, near Auxerre, for a break.
You can also take another break further South, at one Europe's largest service stations, Relais De Servotte, near Beaune - or perhaps take a picnic and stop at Aire de La Foret near Bligny Sur Ouche. If you feel you have the time, turn off into the historic towns of Beaune or Chalet - sur – Saone.
The centre of Lyon can get congested so, after a day's driving, we recommend that you stay just outside in Limonest. The L'Ermitage hotel has a pool and a great view over Lyon and the Monts D'Or. The restaurant is also excellent.
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 3 - 4
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.