Monday, September 12, 2011

On the Road to Provence (+ the checklist!)

Luggage and art kit in my Citroen Picasso at the Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal
complete with breakfast muesli for 3 weeks!
You'd think all the plans I needed to make for a painting holiday in France would be about how much art stuff can I could get in the boot.  After all you do want all your kit out of sight!  Plus I am a long time "everything including the kitchen sink" specialist so it's always a bit of a worry.

However there's a bit more to it than that! The long list of "things to do/bring" get a lot longer when you take your own car.  For those contemplating doing the same thing (and so I have a record for next time!) here are some tips about things to think about if you go on a sketching trip via car in France.

Plus a map of my route and some comments on what happened en route.

Taking a car to Europe

Bear in mind that taking your own car is a lot more complicated than hiring a car when you get there.

Here's a checklist for those who have never taken their car to Europe and driven there before - and for me for next time so I don't have to try and remember it all!
  • Get insurance cover for driving the car in Europe (probably automatic if you have comprehensive cover but almost certainly worth checking)
    • Notify your insurer of your holiday dates 
    • Check what you should do if you have an accident while abroad (some will send you a checklist)
    • Check cover re replacement car/transport in the event of an accident
  • Buy vehicle recovery for Europe. What you do here largely depends on your attitude to risk and the size of your pockets.  I did some investigating and decided I felt safest paying a bit more and going with what always used to be known as AA 5* and is now known as European Breakdown Cover
  • Make sure you know the laws about driving in Europe. Do NOT assume that what applies in the UK is all you need to worry about in Europe. Many countries have additional requirements and differences in the law.  
Speeding offences attract an on the spot fine of up to approx £500
  • Avoid being caught out for failing to have the right kit with you when driving in Europe. (Here's a checklist Driving in Europe - Are you legal?) BUY:
    • headlamp beam adapters - and remember to apply them!
    • a reflective yellow emergency.  Keep it in the passenger part of the car (in the boot doesn't count. Now I know why Citroens have so many cubby holes!)
    • a warning triangle for erection in the event of an accident
    • a spare set of headlight bulbs
    • a first aid kit
    • GB plate
Motoring LAW in France and many other European Countries now requires all vehicles to carry a Warning Triangle and a Reflective Vest.
  • When driving in Europe it helps if you 
    • drive a French car (it's why I buy them) in France and 
    • make sure your car registration plates include the EU/GB icon
  • Buy a satnav and make sure that it has maps for Europe (not all do) - this was one of the most intelligent decisions I made this summer!  Being a georgrapher and loving maps, I had carefully tended my ever growing map collection for years.  However I was hugely impressed with the satnav's ability to get me from one place to another with the minimum of fuss.  (I bought the WHich Best Buy - the Garmin nuvi 3760 and even managed to impress some men with its iPhone like size and characteristics!)
  • Investigate the alternative options for crossing the Channel.  I'd always gone by ferry before now - and it's a long drawn out process.  This time I went by Eurotunnel and I couldn't believe how fast it was.  Trains depart every 20 minutes and they only take just over half an hour to get there!  Having done it once I'm never ever going back to the ferry.
Eurotunnel: The ramp down to the train
I'm about to enter that black hole at the end of the train!
  • Find as many maps as possible for finding the Channel Tunnel. Notwithstanding your satnav, if you take the wrong exit you're lost in the middle of a nightmare of roads in Calais which do not tell you where to go if you are a car driver wanting to cross the channel. It's also very confusing because the ferry port is not the same place as the Tunnel. My satnav insists on knowing the post code and of course they only supply a post code for their offices which are not at the same places as the Chunnel/Le Shuttle terminal for cars! I also couldn't get the supplied coordinates to work with my Garmin satnav - but these are they for those of you with TomToms!
    • travelling from the UK GPS coordinates: Latitude: 51:05:44N (51.09559), Longitude: 1:07:19E (1.12207)
    • travelling from France - GPS coordinates: Latitude: 50:56:21N (50.93906), Longitude: 1:48:52E (1.81446)
  • Do NOT try and detect mobile radar if travelling in France. You could end up with your car being impounded. A satnav which detects and announces stationery radar which is publicised does not count.
  • Inform your bank - tell your bank and credit card companies that you will be using their cards while in another country. That way they won't think your plastic has been stolen!

The Route to Provence

On the right is a map of the route I took.

Essentially if you're travelling on your own as I was I'd recommend a couple of stops unless you're very young, energetic and completely bonkers as it's a approximately 1,000 kilometres (11-12 hours of driving).  I broke it up into two long days and what was supposed to be a shorter day and stopped off south of Reims - at Epernay on Day 1 and east of Lyons on Day 2.

I also drove most of the way on autoroutes.  It's not the most scenic way to see France but it is the best way to cover the distance - most of the time.

I would also recommend staying on the outskirts of  major towns   The last thing you want to with after a long drive is one way systems and the heavy traffic associated with a rush hour.

Do check the settings for your preferences on your satnav.  Mine determined that I needed to do a major detour around Valance when it decided it needed to comply with my preference for slow-moving traffic - which landed me in yet slower moving traffic!

If I did the journey again I think I'd try and avoid the weekends as I personally found the juggernaut lorries easier to deal with than vast numbers of French people trying to go to the coast!

Day 1 - London to Epernay

This involved a drive down to Folkestone to pick up the train through the Channel tunnel and then across across the great big field which is northern France on the autoroute A26. Via the Chunnel and the A26 autorooute that was a journey of 283 miles - which was estimated to take 5 hours 34 mins (exclusive of breaks and waiting around!)

En route I passed many very historical places such as the location of the "Cloth of Gold" meeting took place between the English and French Kings many moons ago.  Plus I kept seeing the names associated with the battles of the First World Wars - the Somme, Vimy and Lens.

The BMW Lads inside the Eurotunnel Train
I did this sketch of what I'm calling "The BMW Lads" while I was sat in my car travelling under the English Channel!  Now I bet there's not many people who've tried that as a place to sketch...

I couldn't work out why there were so many flash and fast cars at Folkestone and on the train.  I lost count of the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and BMWs.  Then I got to the first service station at Calais and I finally twigged that it was the eve of the Le Mans 24 Hours race - beloved of all boys with fast toys.   Vast numbers of fast cars and chaps talking engines and what their next car is going to be!

My next post is from Epernay and one of the best meals I had in France.

Previous posts about my French Sketchbook 2011
See also the Four Go Painting in Provence blog 


  1. Your car is so organised! You are very brave, I don't think I'd undertake a drive like that on my own even if I could. Much prefer trains and planes for solo travel, though it does limit what you can carry (have to manage without the meusli!)

  2. I've driven all over France and Germany on my own. I even once drove from San Francisco to San Diego on my own - so this wasn't too difficult!

    I get so frustrated with the baggage allowances changing all the time and the "rip off" charges by the air travel companies who try to sell cheap deals. This way I've got what I want and can take as much or as little time as I like! :)

  3. I am so glad you decided to share the whole getting there experience with us. Having read what you were taking before the trip started, I'm in awe of how much you managed to pack into the trunk! I agree it's so much easier to get what you want there if you can travel by car.

  4. A great checklist and tips Katherine. The links will be invaluable, so I am going to bookmark this post.

    Re banks: Barclaycard now say you don't have to tell them if you are going abroad, however they proceeded to ring my home number everytime I used it in Cuba recently :?

    btw love the sketch


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