Forget the fees of flying with skis: driving to the Alps can often work out cheaper and more ecological, especially with four or more people in the car. It also allows you to pack as much luggage as you want and there's no waiting around for trains, taxies or coaches to and from the airport.

Access to a car in the Alps also enables you to take daytrips to surrounding resorts, towns, and cities. Self-catering guests can also save money by accessing out-of-town supermarkets which are considerably less expensive than resort shops.

The cost

Eurotunnel is offering journeys to Calais from £58 each way, per car this winter and ferry company MyFerryLink is offering crossings from £23 each way.

MyFerryLink recently researched the total costs for a family of four travelling to Chamonix in France on a week-long holiday, comparing driving with flying. They concluded that it costs from £263.32 self-drive; £625.41 with easyJet; and £662.59 with British Airways. 

Prices were based on a week-long break in January. The self-drive cost included ferry fare, fuel, and motorway toll costs from Calais, while for the flying costs included airfare, ski carriage, parking at the airport, rental car from airport and fuel costs. 

MyFerryLink's driving to the Alps video:

Ferry or Eurotunnel?

When driving to the Alps, you must chose between taking the ferry or Eurotunnel. Time-wise, the Eurotunnel wins hands down, taking you from Dover to Calais in just 35 minutes, while a ferry service like Sea France takes a little longer at one hour and 15 minutes.

A five-day return ticket starts from £42 return on Eurotunnel and £38 return with SeaFrance. SeaFrance claims you can save 60 percent by taking a ferry instead of a flight.

Driving checklist

Remember to drive on the right!

Take car documents (driving licence and your original Vehicle Registration Document)

Carry out essential checks before setting out (oil, water, brake fluid, and tyre pressure)

Make sandwiches at home and store them in a cool box to save on expensive motorway food

It is now mandatory to carry certain equipment when driving in Europe. It is compulsory to carry a GB sticker, a warning triangle, a headlamp converter, and a high visibility jacket (except Switzerland) for each person in the car in France, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland.

The high visibility reflective jacket must be accessible from inside the vehicle (not kept in the boot) and must be used in the event of a breakdown. Both jacket and triangle must conform to EU standards and the driver should wear a high-visibility vest when he or she exits the car. Failure to have a triangle or high-vis vest in the vehicle will result in a fine for each offence. All compulsory equipment is available to buy at Halfords.

Snow chains

You're supposed to carry snow chains in the Alps (France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy) even if you don't need to put them on. Police can stop and fine you if don't have them (unlikely though). Motorways and major roads are fine without snow chains. You'll only need to put chains on if there is heavy snow on the mountain passes, so probably a good idea to email or ring the tourist office the day before you go.

If you don't want to buy snow chains, they're available for rent. Service stations with snow chains have signs marked 'Service de Chaines Neige' or 'Schneekettendienst'.

Vignettes

Vignettes are required when driving in Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. A vignette is a road tax disk in the lower left-hand corner of the windshield to indicate that road tolls have been paid.

Vignettes can be purchased at petrol stations at the border of each country and most are available for short-term periods: €7.70 for 10 days in Austria; €9.50 for 10 days in Czech Republic, €5 for seven days in Bulgaria, €3 for seven days in Romania, €4.90 for seven days in Slovakia, €15 for a week in Slovenia, and €27.50 for 12 months in Switzerland. There is no required road tax disc for Germany or tolls to condend with.

Note: Driving through France on motorways costs approximately €70 in tolls. It's much cheaper to go through Belgium and Germany instead to avoid all tolls if you are driving to the Alps in Austria, Switzerland, or Italy.

Next article: Car winterising and snow driving tips

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