To a certain extent, each trip means going into the unknown, even if you drive, or fly to a destination you know, choosing the same means of transport. Lost luggage, delayed train departure or a flat tyre. This time it was no different – there’s a whole bunch of events which kinda keep us amused on our way. But, I like the unpredictability, as it’s these unforeseen memories that we retain forever.
Dover to Calais ferry crossing
The first such memorable event was a surprise we had on a ferry from Dover to Calais. We were surprised at the whole lot of travelers. And it was a nice surprise. Despite the holiday rush, we traveled in the middle of the week, so the ferry took a dozen of trucks and about 15 passenger cars. The conditions were really comfortable, the weather was great (it was the hottest day in the UK in 2016) and, for the first time, there were restaurants without queues (sadly, we didn’t buy anything – the only thing Jan wanted to eat was spaghetti bolognese from the kid’s menu, which was served in a tiny bowl, half-filled with pasta – to sum up, there were four bites of it for £5 and it was heated in a microwave – after all it was only a DFDS ferry and apart from that I don’t like being cheated).
Where to sleep on the way to French Riviera?
As we got off the ferry, which was about 9 pm, the sun was still well above the horizon and the traffic on A16 motorway was low. And it was supposed to be like that all the way till Orleans, located south west of Paris where we had booked a hotel. During our trips to France we always stay at an F1 hotel. Usually, it’s about 2/3 of our trip to the Riviera: in Grenoble or in the region of the central massif. But this time, as it was late when we got off the ferry, we had to make a stop a little bit earlier. You need to be reasonable, which comes with age – as you get older, you don’t want to put at risk the health and life of your family, by irresponsible drive at 2 or 5 pm when the driver’s body is most tired and when you can most easily fall asleep behind the wheel. Even though I wasn’t tired (the drive from London to Calais, 1.5h on the ferry and 4.5 hours from Calais to Orleans is nothing extraordinary), I couldn’t sleep and fell asleep late, at about 3 am.
After 4 hours of sleep, we were ready to go on with our trip, heading towards la Mer. It was a warm and sunny day, so we got into a car without breakfast – we always have it at the first gas station on the way. Butter Croissant and a cup of strong espresso – that’s my fuel till lunchtime.
Avoid tolls on Autoroutes
The route we planned was supposed to be a compromise between high charges for motorways (they’re mostly toll roads in France – about €10/100km) and the driving time (a trip from Calais to the French Riviera – areas around Nice – takes about 13-15 hours).
The route I planned by sheer accident coincided with the route that I found in one of the online travel guides about-france.com.We drove through Orleans and then, driving along toll-free roads, we headed towards Clermont Ferrand, where you should drive onto A75 motorway, which is free up to Montpelier (except for a fee for the Milleau Bridge – of course provided you want to drive through it, otherwise you can simply bypass it, by driving into a side road in front of the bridge, going through a valley and then driving onto A75 motorway again, leaving the bridge behind you). But, we decided to get off the motorway, turning on junction 20, and take a shortcut through La Puy, getting to the entry to A7 motorway in Montemilar and then to A8, somewhere near Aix-en-Provance. This decision was based on what we saw in our road atlas – there were green strips along the road, marking beautiful views on one or the other side of the road. The next important factor was that the route (N102) was toll-free.
In fact, we had a choice – we could either drive to Montpelier and then pay a charge entering A9 motorway (it’s a must, cause driving local roads along the French coast during the holiday season is a suicide), then go through Nimes, Arles and Aix-en-Provence to reach A8 and go on to Antibes, or simply take a picturesque route described above.
The first part of N102 isn’t extremely breathtaking. It wasn’t until later in the trip, a dozen kilometres before Montelimar, that the road meandered along the slopes in the area of Aubenas and the views were absolutely stunning. Even though every now and then we encountered a lorry and it was really hard to overtake it (we forgot that it was midweek), beautiful views totally made up for this inconvenience. The area is strewn with picturesque campsites, which are usually located in quiet valleys of mountain rivers. All three of us promised ourselves that one day we would come there and spend a few days together. And we’ll definitely sleep under canvas! Jasio will have fun.
When we entered A7 motorway, the remaining part of the route was a pure formality, and, except for a 15-minute traffic jam (I just don’t get it – how they are formed if there is no accident at all), the drive to Antibes was calm, quick and without any problems at all.
The route through La Puy was definitely the second unexpected part of our trip, but in this way we got to know another road to the south of France. So if you’ve got more time and are fond of seeing great views out of the window of your car, get off A75 and go to A7 through La Puy (of course, provided that you don’t mind trucks if you plan to go in midweek).
If you value comfort and speed – take A75 up to Montpelier and then head towards A8.
The distance from junction 20 on A75 to Antibes in both versions of the route is about 310 km and the charges for toll sections of motorways in both cases amount to about €25. It will take 1 hour longer if you choose the road through La Puy.
Where to buy cheap petrol or diesel in France?
And last, but not least, a tip. Fuel in France is about 20-25% cheaper than in the UK, so it pays off to choose a French gas station. After getting off the ferry and entering A16 in Calais in the direction of Bologne, you shouldn’t fully enter the motorway, as after about 500 meters you should exit it (that’s the first exit after you get onto it) – on a small roundabout take the second exit (the first exit leads to the hospital) and go straight ahead for about 1km. To the left, you’ll find a Carrefour market with a self-service gas station. Self-service gas stations at supermarkets are the cheapest and it pays off to get off the main road to tank up your car about 15% cheaper. But, remember that you can only pay with a chip card.