The Better Way to Drive South in France From England

If you’re heading south into France from the UK this summer and your journey involves Le Mans, Paris, Bordeaux or any part of the southern reaches of France, then we have to share with you our preferred method of crossing that water between the UK and France.

And best of all, it doesn’t involve the M20, anywhere in Kent, or even a Tunnel.

Instead, it involves a leisurely crossing from Portsmouth to one of a range of destinations along the coast of Northern France, using Brittany Ferries.

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We hate the M20. Quite likely, we are not alone this and these days we rarely start a road trip across Europe by driving through Kent. If Northern France or the south west is the objective, we know of several far more civilised routes to enjoy crossing the water before embarking south.

Angouleme town hall beautiful and historic

Brittany Ferries operate from the south coast of England into northern France and Spain. Historic Racer contributor Mike Marrot has written before about reaching Northern Spain by ferry before driving to the south in his Cayman GT4. For us, the chance to drive aboard in the early evening, enjoy a meal and a good night’s sleep before arriving refreshed in France the next morning is a far more attractive proposition that doing battle from Dover to Calais.

A chance conversation led to the writing of this blog article. We were amazed that several owners of classic and historic cars, all of whom enjoy touring the continent, were unaware of the fact that there are options away from Kent and Calais. So if you want to travel to France in a more relaxed way, read on.

Sailing from Portsmouth, there are several options for arriving into France. If you’re based in the south of England, you may well wish to take advantage of the faster, shorter crossings that operate via Sea Cat in summertime. For us, based in Yorkshire, we prefer to break the journey in two and enjoy time on board overnight.

Ferry food and accommodation can sometimes be a random experience from Dover, but one thing we enjoy with Brittany Ferries is the French style cuisine that is consistently good on board. The choice of arrival ports is diverse, with options all along the Brittany coastline including Caen, Le Have and Cherbourg. Our personal favourite is St Malo. Arriving into the old fishing port early on a summers morning is a great way to start the journey. St Malo itself is worthy of a visit, the old walled town once the home of 19th century pirates, was also occupied by German forces in World War Two.

Couldn’t resist a filming stop in St Malo

The French Autoroutes are incredibly efficient. Anyone used to driving on the UK’s congested, works ridden network will think they have died and gone to heaven the first time they collect a Peage ticket and drive through the barrier. And indeed, if you wish to drive and cover ground quickly, the French toll roads are a good option. Beware of the perfectly surfaced, congestion free roads, though. We know at our cost that the Gendarmes are very active indeed on the Peage.

However, in our view you are missing out if you take the toll routes. If you are driving south through France on holiday, it surely makes sense to make the journey part of the holiday? Whether you have an MPV full of children or a 911 Cabriotlet just for you and your loved one, we suggest you stay off the toll routes. You can read more ideas for driving in France from LeMans to Tours, which is a beautiful drive itself.

We have driven regularly all the way from St Malo to Bordeaux without onto using a toll road, along the way enjoying some beautifully historic French towns and very reasonably prices Plat de Jour.

Everyone who enjoys visiting France will have a personal favourite route. Why not share you down in the comments below?

Disclaimer – We have worked with Brittany Ferries in the past, though this article is unsponsored and is our genuine, honest opinion. You can check sailing times and book online here.

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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