When my wife and I decided on a French Alps family holiday the original intention was to fly. However summer flights are less frequent and more expensive than winter flights. So we looked into catching the ferry and driving across France. We were equally impressed by the potential savings and how ‘short’ the drive should be.
The Rees family includes myself, my wife and our two sons, who are three and one. We would be spending five days in Avoriaz and a further five in Les Arcs. The plan was for me to do some mountain biking, my wife and I some hiking and to spend lots of time in the great outdoors as a family. This article is purely about the journey of driving a Kia Carens across France. Reviews of the activities and destinations will follow.
Planning to drive across France
A combination of expensive flights and inconvenient times meant that flying to Europe for our French Alps family holiday would be expensive and difficult. Needing to take everything for two adults, a three year old and a baby would mean spending a small fortune on luggage alone. We could make it more affordable with very early morning, or late evening flights, but this would guarantee serious disruption to the boys routine, making for a difficult journey.
Looking into driving across I found that from Dieppe to Avoriaz would take about eight hours. Which in comparison to the flight time is huge, however when you factor in all elements of the journey the door to door timings are not so radically different:
- Getting to the airport: Gatwick is one hour away from us in Newhaven
- Parking at the airport: Allow 30 minutes to get parked and transfer
- Need to be at the airport two hours early to check in
- Contingency for delays (traffic, nappy changes, parking problems etc) 30 minutes,
- Flight time just under two hours
- Security and collecting luggage allow one hour
- Collecting hire car, sometimes quick but often a queue allow one hour
- Drive to resort two hours
- Total 10 hours
- Getting to Newhaven ferry terminal: five minutes
- Need to be at the ferry 45 minutes early
- Contingency for delays 10 minutes,
- Ferry crossing to Dieppe four and a half hours
- Drive across France to the Alps 8 hours
- Dinner stop one hour
- Short breaks for toilet stop and to change driver 30 mins
- Total 15 hours
So in theory driving to the Alps would only take 50% longer than flying.
Flying with two young kids is always difficult. Mainly because you are constantly disrupting them so they can’t settle, if this is outside their normal routine it has the potential to lead to a meltdown (either child or adult). Dealing with kids and lots of bags at airports is particularly hard, as is getting kids through airport security. All parents know a flight can be good or bad with one kid, but the chances are that with two one of them will kick off.
In comparison to flying, driving has a lot less disruption as you stay in the car for most of the time. Getting onto the ferry with kids is a little difficult, but we used the pushchair and had a large day bag. On a ferry there is plenty of room to play and it is a lot less restrictive then being on a plane.
I am sure you are all thinking that eight plus hours in a car with two kids is going to be a nightmare. To tackle this we planned to do the majority of the driving after the kids bed time, meaning they will be sleep most of the journey and ‘are we there yet?’ would be limited to the adults.
Newhaven to Dieppe ferry crossing
The Newhaven to Dieppe ferry is run by DFDS Seaways who also operate routes from Portsmouth to La Harve and Dover to Calais. We caught the Newhaven ferry as it is very convenient for us – we can actually see it from our garden. It would also be the most convenient ferry for people travelling anywhere between Worthing to the west, Eastbourne to the east and Crawley to the north. For those driving from London or further north it is roughly the same as getting to Portsmouth or Dover.
With the Ferry leaving at 10:30am we were able to get ready without a rush and left our house at about 9:15. Although it is always worth printing out the booking confirmation, physical tickets are not required as the car number plate is used to find your booking. From arriving at the ferry terminal we were checked in and in the boarding queue in under twenty minutes with no fuss.
We boarded the ferry – with much excitement from our three year old – at around 10am and were sat in the cafe area less than an hour after leaving our house. With high chairs available for young kids and plenty of room to spread out we set about keeping the kids entertained.
When it came to nap time for our one year old I put him in the pushchair and went for a walk, which is much easier than trying to get a kid to sleep on a plane. The ferry even has a soft play area, it is small but very useful to burn off excess energy and eat up some time.
The crossing passed without incident and even arrived in Dieppe half an hour early. Disembarkation was fairly swift and we passed through passport control not long after 3pm local time. All in all a relaxing way to travel. The crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe cost just £112 and can be booked at www.dfdsseaways.co.uk.
Review of driving a Kia Carens
Before I get into the drive I wanted to talk about the car I would be driving. Although our 12 year old Citroen Picasso would probably make the 500 mile journey we were lucky enough to borrow a Kia Carens from the Kia press fleet. Having not driven a new car for a long time this was quite a treat.
The Kia Carens is a compact seven seat MPV with individually folding seats providing versatility. For a car with a big interior it is surprisingly small, shorter than our Picasso and much better looking. It is designed with families in mind so was the perfect ride for our French Alps family holiday.
There are three different versions of the Kia Carens with a variety of engines and transmissions meaning there are six models. We lucked out with the top of the range Kia Carens 3 Sat Nav which comes with a 1.7 litre CRDi turbo diesel engine. With a long motorway drive ahead, I was more interested in the efficient 61mpg than the 10 seconds from 0-60mph, but the latter certainly made it fun to drive.
With a 500 mile drive ahead I took some time to ensure I had the seat comfortably set up. With ten-way power assisted adjustability there are a lot of configurations, but I soon found the perfect set up for me. Comfy I set off for a familiarisation drive and to start my review of driving a Kia Carens.
My first surprise was how quiet the Kia Karens is. With the windows up I could barely hear the engine, which was a little off putting. Particularly when Kia’s Intelligent Stop & Go system switches the engine off while you are stationary – without the red ‘AUTO STOP’ light on the dashboard it would be hard to tell. Fortunately when you touch the clutch to put the car back in gear the engine comes back on, a great fuel saving innovation.
With built in Sat Nav, rear reversing camera, auto lights, auto-wipers, integrated media options through blue tooth or USB I expected that driving a Kia Karens across France would leave me dreading getting back in my own car. I was right! The Carens is smooth to drive and eats up motorway miles surprisingly quickly.
The handling is light but precise and was put to the test in the winding mountain roads. A great feature is the side lights which come on when you are turning sharply in that direction illuminating the edge of the road where your headlights miss. Heading up the steep mountainous roads the powerful engine helped keep our speed up, I know our Picasso would have laboured.
The built in Sat Nav is very good, with a much bigger screen than you get from windscreen mounted Sat Nav’s it made for very clear directions. The easy to use adjustments meant I could safely zoom in or out while driving. It has nice features such as live traffic updates, suggested route changes and showing where petrol stations are.
The Sat Nav really came into its own when we came across a poorly sign posted diversion in Paris on our way home at two in the morning. Having lost the diversion signs it navigated us through central Paris (we saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and crossed the Seine) to rejoin the ring road further on. Without this we would probably still be trying to find our way out of Paris.
To conclude my review of driving a Kia Carens, I will say that for the first time in my life I am now considering buying a new car, rather than going down the used car route. With their industry leading, seven year, 100,000 mile warranty you know Kia believe in the cars they make. And with prices from £17,095 to £23,650 (the model we drove) it is a lot of car for a reasonable price. You can find out more at www.kia.co.uk.
Review of driving across France
Although I expected the boys to sleep, I was still anticipating a difficult journey as 500 miles is a long way. However driving 500 miles in France is not like driving the same distance in the UK. The roads are quieter, the other drivers more considerate, and the roads are better maintained.
The main difficulty when driving in France is the motorway tollbooths which of course are set up for left sided drivers. A problem for us British, particularly when the passenger is asleep. However using the Liber-t automatic toll paying system solves this problem. You just need to purchase the Liber-t tag, which sits in your windscreen and communicates with the tollbooth sensors, allowing you to drive through without stopping.
Not only does this save waking a sleeping wife, but it saves the hassle of finding change, or using your card. Furthermore it saves you foreign currency card fees as the bill is paid by direct debit on a monthly basis. It also helps reduce petrol consumption as at most booths you can use the fast lane where you just slow down to 30kph.
Using Liber-t you pay the same toll price as normally. However you do need to pay a 6€ (+TVA) annual account management fee and 5€ for each month that the tag is used, up to a maximum of 10€ in any subscription year. In addition to this there is a 20€ refundable deposit and 10€ set up fee. So it is not the cheapest option, but on a long journey like ours the petrol and card fee savings mount up. But in my opinion it is worth doing for convenience alone. You can find out more at www.saneftolling.co.uk.
On the way to our French Alps family holiday, we travelled from our home in Newhaven to Avoriaz in 13 and a quarter hours, and this included a one hour dinner stop when we got the boys ready for ‘bed’. A couple of years ago on a package ski holiday to the French Alps, our journey with flights took just over 12 hours door to door.
The cost of driving was £66 in diesel and £65 in tolls, meaning that to get my family of four to the French Alps and back cost £374 (including the ferry). Flights alone were going to cost around £350 and with luggage would come to around £500. You also need to add airport parking (£70), petrol getting to the airport (£10), transfers to resort (£160). In total it would have cost us at least twice as much to fly.
So driving across France for a French Alps family holiday does saves you a fortune, while not taking that much longer than flying.
Would I self drive a French Alps family holiday again?
The 500 mile drive was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. The French roads are efficient and fast. Using the Liber-t tag it is very easy to deal with the tollbooths. The ferry from Newhaven is a very convenient option for us, but most people in the south have a ferry terminal within an hours drive.
Travelling by ferry is a much more relaxing experience than flying, particularly with young kids. All in all it was a surprisingly nice way to travel to a holiday. And of course the next day family Rees was hiking up a mountain.
Perhaps we were lucky, the kids slept most of the way, we were driving a new, top of the range Kia Carens, and didn’t experience any problems. I am sure if something went wrong it would be a terrible journey. But then flights can get delayed or cancelled, transfers sometimes don’t turn up and with any travelling things can go wrong.
So would I self drive a French Alps family holiday again? YES!