Travel: Taking the easy way out: Driving a car to the Alps is not the struggle it used to be. Chris Gill shows the way

Having a car with you in the Alps can be fun, ecologically unsound though it may be. Getting a car to the Alps is something else.

But year by year the journey is becoming less of a grind and more of a pleasure, thanks to continuing improvements in the motorway networks in the Alpine region and in northern France. Many skiers now judge that the benefits of driving outweigh the hassle, even for a one-week trip.

The French Alps draw most motoring skiers from Britain. They are slightly closer to the Channel than Austrian resorts and offer plenty of self-catering accommodation.

Paris is the first stumbling block on the thrash southwards. Or it was. If your starting point is convenient for the short Channel crossings to Calais, the thrills of the peripherique - the frantic motorway that encircles the centre of Paris - can now be avoided by taking the A26 motorway through Champagne to Troyes, going on via Langres and Dijon to Beaune, where the traditional route is resumed.

This option is very slightly longer (around 15km) but certainly quicker. Its other attractions are clear: it is hassle-free and offers a refreshing change from the familiar landscapes of the Somme, the Oise and Burgundy.

If you're duty bound to spend a day at Euro Disney before it closes, you'll have to tangle with Paris to a degree. You don't have to go in as far as the peripherique if you're prepared to navigate countless complex interchanges to the east of Paris. Personally, I prefer the short, sharp shock.

We bumpkins in the west of England and Wales have little interest in driving across half of Britain to get to Dover when ferries from Portsmouth or Southampton can deliver us to French ports - Caen and Le Havre - that are closer to Paris than Calais. For us, the alternative to the peripherique is dodging around Greater Paris on a mixture of motorways and dual carriageways, and, the last time I did it, some messy little bits where the big bits don't quite join up. Get a map that is right up to date.

At the Alpine end of the journey, the northern French resorts in and around the Chamonix valley are now accessible with ease: turn left on to the A40 just before Macon, and Bob's your oncle. Calais to Chamonix is about 900km (560 miles), of which all but the last 20km is on motorways. Call it nine hours plus stops.

Those bound for the mega-resorts further south have up to now faced an unpleasant choice between carving a path through Lyons or putting up with a drive across country to get to Albertville or Chambery. Great news: the motorway bypass to the east of Lyons is complete, meaning that the journey from Calais to Albertville is now motorway all the way - with the exception of a short stretch through Chambery. And the road beyond Albertville was famously improved for the 1992 Olympics.

Swiss resorts seem to divide into those that can sensibly be reached via Geneva (mainly in the Valais), and the majority that are better reached via Basel - also the best route for the Arlberg resorts at the western end of Austria. But bear in mind that even the Valais resorts can be reached easily via Basel, thanks to the car-carrying shuttle trains through the Lotschberg tunnel.

My policy in planning a route to Basel is simple: keep out of Germany as long as possible. This is because my grasp of German is weak, the petrol stations rarely take credit cards and because when I'm cruising at 90 mph I like to be surrounded by other cars doing 70, not 110.

So I use the French motorways via Reims and Metz, and enter Germany via Strasbourg, the crossing of which involves a short and fairly painless excursion outside the motorway network, and perhaps a last meal before leaving civilisation. The route from Calais is either all French motorways (with tolls) or a mixture of French and free Belgian ones. For distance, there's little in it.

When the French build a motorway linking Langres and Belfort (near Basel), West Country-dwellers may be tempted to drive to Basel via the western Channel crossings and Paris; until then the M25 and Dover are probably more attractive.

If you're aiming for central and particularly eastern Austria, Germany is pretty well inescapable. Despite improvements to the road through the Tirol, the more direct route to Kitzbuhel is Karlsruhe-Stuttgart-Munich-Kufstein. The main area of choice is how to get to Karlsruhe: French motorways via Reims and Strasbourg, or Belgian and German ones via Bonn.

Getting to many Italian resorts by car is unappealing: first go to Milan, then turn back towards the hills. But thanks to the Mont Blanc tunnel the resorts of the Val d'Aosta (Courmayeur, in particular) are not much further away than Chamonix. And thanks to the Brenner pass motorway, Selva is only a couple of hours beyond Innsbruck.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable