Monday, 2 February 2015

Driving to the UK (to transport that wine) Part 1

The subject of driving to the UK from the Midi comes up quite frequently with friends and acquaintances in both physical and social media environments. Sometimes the context is driving vs. flying. Assuming flying implies the need for a hire car then, all things being equal, fly for a trip of less than three weeks as costs should be less and travelling time is reduced. Of course there are many determining nuances to consider – number of travellers, luggage needs and pets, convenience and cost of a UK air route, age and size of car, the number of willing drivers and any plans to visit elsewhere en route. Perhaps, and this is a wine blog, the ability to bring back wine will be the most critical of all.

What surprises is how many who drive always treat the journey as a rally, only stopping for fuel, loos, leg stretches and to rotate drivers. Avoiding overnight accommodation and even meal costs makes this tactic economical and does maximise the time spent in the beloved south.

This post covers the express driving routes to the main channel ports. Part 2 proposes detours and wine friendly stopovers for those wishing, even if only occasionally, to take two or more days crossing France.

To/from the central France – A75, A20 or A7?

Without contemplating a major detour around the hexagon or a seriously sedate crossing the Massif Central there are realistically three routes between the Languedoc-Roussillon and central France. Between the centre and the main Channel ports more variations are available, but again broadly three routes.

Taking the A75 is the obvious route when based in the centre of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Packed with stunning mountain scenery for over 250Km and featuring two passes over 1000m it is, bar the wonder of crossing the Millau bridge, toll free as far as Clermont-Ferrand.

To the west picking up the A20 north of Toulouse also carves through hilly terrain and is toll free for much of the route after Toulouse.

Finally to the east is the A7 up the Rhone valley to Lyon and beyond. The downsides of this route are many. The Rhone valley is an industrial and transport artery making for plenty of indifferent scenery. The A7 is also perennially busy, Lyon has to be negotiated and there is no relief from tolls. Nevertheless, this can be the last route to suffer winter weather and is the quickest way for wine lovers taking in the Burgundy, Jura and Champagne regions.

Location in the Languedoc makes a difference when time is of the essence. Anywhere where Carcassonne is nearer than Narbonne makes the A20 the main contender. East of Montpellier and the A9 starts to look more attractive to avoid back-tracking. In between the A75 is the obvious choice.

Paris or not

Traversing Paris well out of rush hour makes it the quickest route. A popular option avoiding the notorious Périphérique and the boring lorry bulging A1 uses the relatively new A86 tunnel on the west side of Paris. Heading south take the A16 from Boulogne to Paris. At the end the A16 turn right onto the N184 and soon after left onto the A115 that joins the A15 just before the A86 turnoff. At the end of the long A86 tunnel section take the N12 west and then the N10 south west. At Ablis pick up the N191 to the A10 and on to Orleans. It’s complicated, but friends always go this way.

West and East around Paris

Avoiding Paris the most popular route is to the West via (direction south) Rouen and Chartres before joining the A10 autoroute north of Orleans. After Orleans the A71 leads to Bourges and the A75 at Clermont-Ferrand. For the A20 turn off the the A71at Vierzon. This route does have slower bits – Rouen, around Dreux and Chartres where heading though town is as quick as the long bypass. In between is mostly quiet toll free dual carriageway, but use the A16 péage between Boulogne and Abbeville.

The route to the east involves the A26 from the channel ports via Reims and Troyes and if avoiding Paris is an option for Lyon and Montpellier. A scenic and toll relieving alternative with some attractive open country is to go from Troyes to Auxerre and on to the Loire valley at Cosne-Cours and the heart of Sancerre country. Head down to Nevers and Moulins (mostly dual carriageway) then cut across to Saint-Pourçain and pick up the autoroute just north of Gant to join the A71.


  1. Great topic as ever. Summer we like the A75 but the thought of wintry weather at the high altitudes and those rollercoaster sections persuaded us to go east this time. We did Lyon on a Sunday morning and got through very quickly which was a pleasant surprise.
    Totally agree about not racing and enjoying a night or two to visit other regions. We had pleasant stays in Troyes and Burgundy, strongly recommend a Chambre d'Hote at Ladoix, Les Demoiselles with restaurants across the road making it convenient. Plus they sell a few local producers' wines.
    As we live in County Durham we tend to stay near Calais to give us a day up the crowded A1 in the UK. We have tried many places around there an dsome are fine without exciting.

  2. I have one tip coming up about 1h15m from Calais.
    Was the restaurant at Ladoix the Terrasses de Corton Alan?

  3. Indeed Graham. Busy both nights even in the depths of December and January. The food is good, nothing more really but the wine list is very good and very well priced. It was handy to walk over the road as the car was loaded and we didn't want to leave it in Beaune which has so many good restaurants now.