How easy is it to drive to the Alps and go cycling? Good question.
The answer is: easier than you think.
I am going to use Calais as the start point and Alpe d’Huez as the destination, even though you are probably saying to yourself “but I don’t live in Calais”.
I know you don’t live in Calais, but the chances are that, wherever you start, you are going to enter France there.
It is 9 hours driving to Alpe d’Huez from Calais. That’s the time you’ll spend on the Autoroute at 80 mph, 130 kph. You’ll have to add your stops to get your total journey time.
A good strategy is to think of this as 3, 3 hour stages.
3 hours is an easily manageable time to drive and if you can share the driving it’s even better. This means a journey with two stops because the last stop will be your destination.
Let’s say you live in London, I know you probably don’t but just humour me for a bit, and you are around 2 hours from Dover or Folkstone.
Ferry or Tunnel?
Your first decision: Car Ferry or the Tunnel? They both have their pros and cons when driving to Alpe d’Huez.
The Car Ferry enables you to get out of the car and walk around. There are restaurants where you can get a meal and you can wander around the shops.
On the other hand there are fewer sailings and it does take longer to do the crossing.
The tunnel has more crossings and the journey is much quicker, only 30 minutes, thus getting you further down the road quicker.
On the downside, although you can get a meal at the check-in, its a slightly more of a snack, burger kind of experience. And, although the crossing is only 30 minutes, you are stuck in your car with nowhere to go and nothing to see.
Personally, I always choose the Tunnel but I am lucky enough usually to travel between two addresses that can easily be done in a day, 12 hours normally.
I would say that organising and managing your food and fuel stops are key to making good time on your drive to the Alps.
Open roads means stress-free driving
Once you arrive in Calais its a quick drive to the beginning of the A26 Autoroute where you can wind the car up to the speed limit. Remember its 130 kph in the dry and 110 kph in the wet.
You may have already made a decision on your route based on your satnav or phone recommendations. I can tell you that some systems and routes are better than others.
Here is Google’s suggestion. I would say that you should avoid going anywhere near Paris as big cities can produce traffic jams seemingly out of nowhere.
Over the years I have driven all the routes and I recommend following Google’s suggestion though I have always taken the A39 at Dijon. The A6 between Beaune and Lyon is one of the busiest roads for trucks in Europe. It is, therefore, a stressful piece of tarmac on a drive to the Alps.
Once on your way, you’ll get to Reims after about 2 and a half hours where the A26 joins the A4 briefly. If you are looking for cheap fuel as you pass Reims, you can exit the A4 at Junction 23 and fill up at the Leclerc supermarket before re-joining and continuing.
The A26 departs from the A4 to the South soon after Reims and passes through what I always think of as France’s prairies.
The landscape is open, almost treeless and gently undulates as you drive through the grain belt. France is Europes biggest producer of wheat and this is where most of it is grown.
When I drive to the Alps, I always stop at the Services at Junction 20 on the A26, Sommesous. It has the usual eye-watering expensive fuel, Shell if that’s important to you, and a restaurant, shop, etc.
I stop there because it’s an easily driven distance from Calais, about 3 to 3.5 hours’ drive and because the restaurant is quiet most of the year. You can usually park close to the building too which is a plus when it’s raining.
Follow the signs to Grenoble
Once back on the road, you just keep following the signs to Grenoble. The A26 ends and becomes the A5. A bit later and it becomes the A31. The autoroutes just flow from one to the other, you just follow the signs to Grenoble.
Next junction is the one for the A39 which I always take to avoid the A6 and its crush of trucks. Its a really quiet autoroute with little traffic most of the time.
Eventually the A39 becomes the A40 and then the A42. Just follow signs to Grenoble until you get to Grenoble!
When you get to Grenoble and through the final péage booth you head down the A480 (you are already on it ) and get off at Junction 8, Stations des Oisans.
Follow the road, it goes directly to Le Bourg d’Oisans which is at the foot of the climb to Alpe d’Huez.
You might like to consider various timing strategies for your journey. When to start and where and if to stop.