We are always trying to find the quickest routes to drive across France without paying tolls when we are planning to explore somewhere further afield in Europe. The reason for this is that we tend to travel for about 6 weeks at a time, then return home back to work to earn some money before heading off again. Although we are both self-employed and could therefore effectively take as much or as little leave as our finances allowed we quite like 6-8 weeks away as it gives us time to really explore an area but at the same time we are not away from family and friends for too long. So although 6 weeks is a long time it is isn’t long enough to take a couple of weeks each way meandering across France.
The other reason we are always driving across France is that we always use the Eurotunnel to cross the channel. We have looked at ferries but we travel with Finn our rescue Collie cross and we are particular soft about putting him in a kennel on a ferry or leaving him for too long in a car. The tunnel is only 35mins and we all stop together in the comfort of our campervan, you do not need to check-in hours before and I pay for it using Tesco Clubcard vouchers (apart from Finn’s fare, he is classed as an extra, the cheek of it). One downside of using the tunnel is there is usually a longer drive on the continent to get to wherever we are heading, which on this trip is Northern Spain. As I have already said we plan to be away for a few weeks so do have the option of using non toll roads to travel through France rather than having to use the quicker but much more expensive toll motorways. That said, we still like to travel fairly quickly so we have as much time as possible to explore the area that we have mapped out for that trip.
There is a website that we use that gives you great options on driving through France without paying tolls. It gives great routes which are either completely toll free or hybrid routes where the site gives suggestions where it says it is worth paying to hop onto a toll road at certain points, for example to by pass a large city. On this trip we mainly followed their suggested route from Calais to Southwest France with a couple of diversions for overnight stops.
We travelled from the UK on a late evening crossing, The reason for this was that it enabled us to leave home after work and miss the traffic on the dreaded M25 to get to Folkestone. We could have stopped at a site in the UK and got an early tunnel but we find it is much easier to find places to stop in France so we travelled across that evening.
In France the route we followed was
We (ok, we is the royal we, as Andy drove and I did the map reading) drove from Calais to just south of Bordeaux in 3 days and following the website Through France without tolls website we paid €13.90 for the short stretches that we completed on toll motorways.
As we arrived in France in the early hours we only drove for about 45 mins to get away from Calais before we stopped for the first ‘night’ at Stella Plage (N50.475110 E1.577280). We use a couple of Apps to find overnight stops, Campercontact and Park4night and this Aire de Camping-car is listed on both and free to stay at. There are 20 spaces nestled behind the sand dunes on a dead-end road. As we arrived in the early hours all the places in the official aire were full but there was already a couple of campers parked on the sea front so we joined them.
Our second night was in Villedomer (N47.544660 E0.887400) a stunning little village only a few miles off our route at another Aire de camping-car. The village is worth a little walk round, a light refreshment of the liquid variety from the local bar is highly recommended together with our first French cake from the patisserie. For a longer leg stretch you can head out of the aire across the little bridge and up into the woods surrounding the Chateau. The Aire has 8 places and you can pay for electricity if you wish. It is advertised in Campercontact as free but in high season there is now a charge of €8.44. Toilets and showers are included in a new facilities block on an old campsite just the other side of the playground by the aire. The fee is collected around 8 pm.
Our third stop was about an hour before we were aiming for, due to an unexpected long delay as a result of a lorry shedding its load and stopping to rescue a dog from the middle of the road and trying to find his its owners. I am pleased to say a very old blind dog with dementia was successfully reunited. We ended up stopping at Gastes Aire de Camping-car(N.44.328460 W-1.153390) at a cost of €9. There are 55 places all fairly spread out with free water. There are great cycle and walking paths with a lake beach only a few hundred meters away. In August I can imagine it is really busy but we had no trouble finding a spot in September.
Our forth stop which was planned to be our third if we had not being delayed yesterday, was Aire de camping-car Soustons plage (N.43.775320 W-1.410340) on Lac Marin. The aire was €16 a night including all amenities and electric. If you are planning on stopping here it is well worth having a splitter for your hook up cable as we had to do some negotiations with our Swiss neighbours to share a hook point, who were already sharing with their French neighbours! You can pay for one night and then get a code to extend if you decide to stop longer which is what we did as the weather was so lovely. The great news is that the beach and the nearest lake beach to the Aire are both dog friendly so Finn our dog was in heaven as he had lots of swimming. The Aire is EXTREMELY popular even in September and is quite tight with the maximum number of 80 motorhomes in. There is a barrier entry system so we parked up first and did a walk round to check there was a space that we were happy with before we paid to go in. There is a walk around Lac Marin which is very popular and is about 5km long. If you are walking with a dog who cannot keep out of the water just be aware that the beach closest to the main resort on the opposite side of the lake to the Aire is not dog friendly. As the weather was so lovely we spent a couple of days relaxing at Soustons Plage before heading into Spain and touring Basque Country. Blog post coming soon on our adventures in Spain.
So hopefully that answers the question why we were looking for the quickest route to drive across France without tolls. As well as finding a quick route we also made a purchase before we left of a new coffee percolator so we can fuel ourselves during the drive on strong coffee and cakes of course. I also bought a great new collapsible coffee mug which I am very impressed with.