In an earlier blog I talked about the joys of Eurostar, this time we are all about the delights of driving.
I’m going to assume you have never driving in continental europe before, if you have then some of the following will be familiar territory. Before you set off please make sure you have your full driving license, your car insurance certificate and the ownership papers for your vehicle. If, like me, your car is owned by a leasing company you will need a permission slip to take it out of the country.
I am also going to assume you are not intending on driving into Paris itself so you WILL NOT need a Crit’Air sticker which certifies your vehicle reaches a certain emissions standard (https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/news/motoring-news/law-change-for-uk-drivers-in-french-cities/) which ONLY applies if drive in the areas mentioned in the RAC article in the above link.
Also, this article concerns crossing by ferry from Dover and the subsequent drive. You can get yourself down to Dover, that bit is not my problem!
Ok, so it is stupid o’clock in the morning, you have arrived at Dover docks. I prefer to travel with P and O Ferries (POferries.co.uk) however DFDS (http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/DFDS/Ferries)sail from Dover to Dunkirk. P&O have a series of options when you book and early booking is advisable. I am a big fan of priority boarding to be first on and first off, there is also the option for the club lounge upgrade and a supplementary charge for WiFi whilst on board. To keep the price down you can set a fixed time to sail or you can have a flexible booking. We tend to stay overnight in Dover the night before we sail so use a non flexible ticket from Dover to Calais then a semi flexible return as it gives a 4 hour window in case of delays.
At the docks you will be directed through a series of booths, first up is French passport control immediately followed by UK. It is not unheard of for them to be unmanned, in which case drive on through. It is equally likely for there to be substantial queues so allow plenty of time. Check on Port of Dover for updates.
Once through passport control you are guided by very clear signage towards check in. HM Customs sometimes random check and will pull a vehicle into the large building on your right if they feel the urge although this generally happens to vehicles arriving in the UK but not very often!
Approaching the check in booths.
Drive to a booth with a green tick indicating it is open and ensure that it is for the company you are using (P & O or DFDS). They use number plate recognition softwear and will quickly identify you. You will be given a ticket identifying ferry and lane number and a hanger to go on your driving mirror. Follow the signs to your allocated lane.
Once in your lane sit and wait to board! Well not entirely. Driver you have some jobs to do.
- Fit your headlight beam deflectors
- Put your GB sticker on the back
What? you have forgotten what you need for diving in France?
You will need:
Hi Vis Vests for each passenger (ensure one is in the vehicle for the driver)
Breathalyser (legal requirement but check the website for exact guidance)
If you haven’t got them then either buy them on the Ferry or from the terminal building. You can’t miss this building!
Excuse the lack of daylight, it was at 5.30 am!
About 20 to 30 minutes prior to sailing you will board. Drive on, park and head off the car deck. Make a note of the floor and the colour of the stairway. Don’t forget to take anything you need as you will not be able to get back to your car until the ship has arrived in Calais or Dunkirk.
Once on the Ferry I always go for breakfast. Lots of overpriced options for feeding the troops but I can’t pass up on my last chance for a full English breakfast for a few days.
Deck plans are everywhere, we last travelled on The Pride of Canterbury.
There are plenty of lounges and it is always nice to go up on deck and say goodbye to the UK!
The onboard shop can sell things much cheaper than you can buy on the mainland yet strangely they do not.
Have a mooch around then sit and pass the time!
Shortly before docking you will be asked to return to the car decks. People do crowd around the stairs so watch out for little ones!
Arrival in France.
Apart from driving on the wrong side of the road speed limits are the biggest differences. You can legally go at 80mph on the motorways so long as it isnt raining. If weather is inclement the speed limit drops. Look on the RAC website above for guidance. As you leave the docks follow the signs for Paris, Lille, Arras and Reims.
The motorways in France are fab, fast and straight. There are various routes to DLP but my preferred one is A26, A1, A104 and A4. There are tolls and you approach the toll booths about 20 minutes from Calais.
Take the ticket and drive on. Follow the signs for Paris and Charles De Gaulle airport after joining the A1. Shortly after the airport (2 and a half hours or so after leaving Calais you leave the toll system. Pay by card is quicker.
Joining the A104 (La Francillien) is slightly tricky, Follow the signs for Marne La Vallee. You will see your first sign for Disneyland Paris around here. The A104 is a fast and hectic road but you are not on it for long. Leave onto the A4 following the signs for Reims.
Nearly there, exit at junction 14 for Disney and you’re almost home!
There are two types of rest stops in France, full service areas and very basic picnic areas with hole in the ground type toilets. Make sure you have loo roll in the car and ladies may wish to use a Shewee. These basic toilets are not always the cleanest of places…
The full service areas often have great restaurants as well as the usual fast food stuff. We normally stop as Assenvilliers as it is roughly half way on the A1.
I can recommend driving, it is straight forward, quick, you can bring back lots of shopping and the French motorway system is so much better than the UK one!