Are we in France yet? A first hand account of driving to the Alps… with kids!

610. A26. A5. A31. A6. A43. N90. To anyone who has driven to the Alps the above combination of numbers and letters are instantly recognizable as the miles and route from Calais to Bourg Saint Maurice. Give or take a mile or two here or a detour there. There are of course a myriad of transport combinations to the French Alps and I feel like I have tried them all. Except one. All on my own with two kids of 3 and 1 and a half….

You see, my wife brings home the bacon and I look after our children. So I figured I’d get the kids out to the Alps and settled in resort over Christmas so not to stress out my overworked and over-socialized wife. It seemed like an honorable plan at the time.

“Are you sure? Ooooh don’t you think you’ll kill one of them?” “It’s a very long way you know.” “What will you eat? Will you stop on the way?” “How about the tolls? How will you reach across the car and grab the tickets?” All real life responses when people heard what my plans were for Christmas.

Off we set at 05:30am on Sunday morning. South West London to Dover. Except #2 demanded three boiled eggs and solders with his dad and godfather at 04:45. That first part was easy and they all slept. I drove and listened to two hours of Flashman getting expelled for boozing and then exiled to the army for rogering.

“Are we in France yet?” Negative. All aboard the Spirit of Dirty Ships for breakfast at the Captain’s table, a chase round the deck, a go on the motorbikes, a couple of bathroom trips and we’d be in France for the next leg. Other than #1 refusing to leave the slot machines while one man won £172 – in pound coins and another couple win £154 – in pound coins, the ferry was a good [if slightly dirty] break from the driving. Then back downstairs to the car and away we went.


In car entertainment? A small tablet for #1 and anything sticky for #2. I tried a bit more Flashman but his roistering got too much so I moved to my wife’s audiobook recommendation. ‘The Girl on The Train.’ 30 minutes of that and I was about to leap out the window so I tried to listen to music – which interfered with #1’s movie UP.

So silence up front for me.

Shrieks of delight can be heard in the backseat from #2 as he covered his whole face with stickers. “Are we in France yet?” Affirmative.

Aside from the obvious benefits of driving such as autonomy, no airports and no queuing there’s also the possibility of stopping halfway at a fancy restaurant and stuffing one’s face. “Well you’ll have to just eat sandwiches in your room, I suppose.” Never. I was to arrive in Beaune and we would all stuff our faces.

First our hotel and a relaxing bath was on the cards, along with a progress call to Head Office. Dinner was surprisingly a breeze – besides a few stares from diners as #2 sucked the garlic butter from my snails and gave them back. Then came the sorbet.

What to do with three cabin fevered, sugared people on the quiet streets of Beaune on a Sunday evening? Rampage around the main square taking in the Christmas lights of course. We went to bed very happy.

christmas lights france

Day two saw us at the breakfast table for 9:30. Croissants everywhere, some coffee, more boiled eggs and the right side of disapproving looks from management. We even had time to chase each other around the supermarket. That was less fun when #1 failed to heed my warning about running off. I chased her and came an embarrassing cropper on the slippery floors between the maché and the bananas. One of us was furious and the other was tickled pink.

The drive up the Tarentaise valley was the best part. There was snow in the shadows and that meant we really were in France. And genuine excitement was replaced by hysteria as we pulled up to the flat and there was snow on the ground to play with. It occupied the children long enough for me to unload the car in one go. Bliss.

Like a long walk to the top you only ever recall the view so really I cannot say if the journey was a success but we made it. The children were resilient and fun to hang out with too, which is always a bonus. As for the tolls? Follow the Ski Club’s advice and get you one of those auto open gadgets. Now that will make you smug.

What next? Teach #1 to ski. Easy…. Right?

Written by James Hallett


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