In previous articles, we have discussed whether you can take your caravan skiing and how to get it ready to go. Here we’re looking at how to get you, your family and your caravan to your destination safely and some options for overnight stays on the way.
All routes and stopovers discussed are of course useful and accessible for campers and motorhomes, but are not necessarily the quickest as they are tried and tested for winter caravanners.
Individual driving experience and preference varies hugely. For some, Europe offers hundreds of miles of uninterrupted motorway, predictable driving conditions, and relatively quick access to some beautiful mountain scenery. For others it is an unknown morass of variable driving laws, confusing road networks, eclectic regional driving styles and distances that are way too big to contemplate!
Most drivers who have experienced a summer continental trip by car before will probably not find the prospect of heading down to Austria and Italy to go skiing in the middle of winter too daunting, but add a caravan into the equation and your journey can look very different indeed. Also, if it’s your first driving trip abroad, a little bit of extra planning will provide some additional confidence and a realistic expectation of what the journey will hold in store for you. The most important thing is not to over-estimate how far you and your co-driver can tow in winter in one day. I always allow two full days for the trip to Austria from home, and I am only 90 minutes from the Chunnel!
We’re breaking this guide into two main parts by destination – getting to:
- Germany, Austria, Central and Eastern Italy
- France, Switzerland, Pyrenees, and Western Italy
Germany, Austria and Central/Eastern Italy
If the school holidays are dominating the planning for your caravan winter sports trip, then time is of the essence and your Sat Nav and Google maps might well be leading your preparation.
This of course will have cost implications, as the French toll motorways will treat you as a class 2 vehicle and charge you accordingly, but taking the A26 to Reims, the A4 to Strasbourg, & the A35 into Germany is an easy route from Calais and only 400 miles to where you join the German motorway network.
However if you only have a week to spare and you are happy to pay tolls, 400 miles will take you a long way towards the French resorts.
Alternatively heading towards Belgium from Calais, or if you are starting your journey from Dunkirk, Ostend or Zeebrugge, leads you to the toll free and very accessible routes through Germany.
Speed and Towing
An important difference between driving you car solo, perhaps your motorhome, and towing your caravan is an inability to drive at average motorway speeds.
Your car/caravan power to weight ratio may also have a limiting effect on progress as well as winter road conditions, and all the extra stops you might need for fuel, hungry children, and rest. It is also worth considering the topography and carriageway conditions on your chosen route as well. The ageing A8 between Karlsruhe and Munich has sections of two-lane motorway on some tortuously long hills that for years have been exacerbated by road works designed to fix the problem. Fine if driving a fast car or powerful Motorhome as the outside lane awaits, but no fun if towing a caravan and trapped in the slow lane with dozens of HGV’s crawling along with you. Happily the upgrades for this motorway are due for completion by 2023, which will improve matters for caravanners, but in the meantime other options might be preferable.
Routes Through Luxembourg
Some praise first for routes through Luxembourg. Apart from a very well maintained road network, reasonable traffic volumes, and (at time of writing) the cheapest fuel prices in Europe, Luxembourg is an attractive and less hilly route between Belgium & Germany avoiding the worst of the Ardennes. Using the E42, E411, & E25 will take you to the south of Luxembourg City and then onto the A8 in Germany via the A3 and the A13. 285 miles from Calais to the German border and no tolls!
The downside to this route is that it does lead to the A8 and the delays for caravans south east of Karlsruhe. A similar route into Luxemburg is the E40, E25 via Brussels and Liege. The Luxemburg route is a good option for caravanners however for weekend travel, especially on Sundays, as driving restrictions in Germany take the majority of HGV’s off the road from midnight on Saturday for 24 hours.
There are really only two ways to cross into Austria with a caravan in winter:
- Using the Fernpasse from the A7 autobahn and the 179, or
- via Munich from A8/A93/E45
If you are heading for ski resorts to the east of Innsbruck; SkiWelt, Kitzbuhel, and SkiCircus etc. then the Munich route is the best option.
For access to Italy over the Brenner Pass and Austrian resorts to the west of Innsbruck, the Fernpasse is the quicker and more direct route to take.
There are however two exceptions to this. The Fernpasse can be affected by heavy snow, which causes occasional closures and adverse driving conditions. It is an HGV route, so quickly cleared but worth checking before you commit.
To do this look at these two excellent websites that offer ‘live’ conditions, before you commit to the A7 south of the autobahn junction with the A8. If the conditions are poor, keep going to Munich.
At the peak of the season it is also possible to see queues up to 20 miles long backing up on the A7 waiting to go onto the Fernpasse on a Saturday morning. Generally it is best to avoid between late afternoon on Friday and Sunday lunchtime. As long as you are aware of the Fernpasse risks, it remains a very good option for caravanners. In over 20 years of driving to Austria in winter, I have only ever once not been able to use the pass, but I do check every time.
For caravanners, the following routes are a useful compromise to manage hills, congestion, and HGV traffic as effectively as possible.
- Take the A16 into the E40 and follow through to Brussels
- Stay on E40 taking the E313/314 round Aachen & onto the A4 towards Koln south
- Follow the A4 until it meets the A3, which you take towards Wiesbaden & Wurzburg
- South East of Wurzburg at the junction with the A7, turn south all the way to Fussen where you pick up the 179 Fernpasse
- When you are southbound on the A7, check conditions on the Fernpasse whilst still north of Ulm, as you can take the A8 east of Ulm to Munich should you need to change course
For Munich routes:
- Ignore the A7/A3 junction and stay on the A3 to Nurnberg
- Take the A9 to the Munich ring road A99
- From the A99 take the A8 into the A93
- Cross the border into Austria at Kufstein
Stopovers for Germany, Austria and Central/Eastern Italy
It is possible to use autobahn service areas in Germany if you are content with the associated security risks and traffic noise, but whilst I have done this numerous times, the increase in recent years of HGV’s parking up for the night makes finding space a real challenge.
With a couple of exceptions, caravanners cannot use Aires and Stellplatz as overnight stopovers, which makes finding a campsite essential for a break in the journey. They are few and far between in winter but online directories such as Alan Rogers and ACSI will point the way. Tried and tested options are:
Camping Memling, St Kruis, Bruges – (Calais 70 miles)
- Automated site with online booking system and entry up to 2300hrs.
- Close to fuel
- Nearby supermarkets, restaurants
- English speaking vet
- Bruges centre about 20 minutes walk
- Barrier opens at 0700hrs so ideal as a first or last stop on your trip.
Stellplatz Aachen, Brandhoferweg 11, 52066 Bad Aachen – (Calais 215 miles)
- Operated by Aachen city council this Stellplatz style campsite where caravans are welcome
- Open 24/7 and is easily accessed from the A4 autobahn using the A44 link road
- Aachen centre is about 20 minutes walk with shops and restaurants nearby
- The pitches are quite generous and easy to manoeuvre into in the dark
Camping Eisenbachtal, 56412 Girod – (Calais 325 miles)
- Situated about 5 miles from Junction 40 on the A3 south east of Koln this is an excellent caravan stopover
- English speaking owner Siegfried Wolf has created a large drive through area behind his reception building, which allows caravans to park up overnight without unhitching the car
- There is good EHU access and an excellent pub/restaurant directly behind the campsite
- It is possible to access the site late in the evening by phoning ahead
- There is no barrier on the site entrance so early morning departure is permitted
- Siegfried does not have a website, just a Facebook page, but you can phone him to book or advise of late arrival on +49 6485766
Camping park Ohmbachsee, 66901 Schoneburg-Kubelburg – (Calais 345miles)
- A useful option if you are using the Luxemburg route as this site is situated about 5 miles from junction 11 on the A6 autobahn
- It is open until 2100hrs every day and has a very good on-site restaurant, which is open until 2130hrs
- One note of caution, if you have a very long caravan, there is a risk of grounding on entry to the pitch areas especially in the dark
Wohnmobilplatz Sportstudio Fussen. Abt-Hafnerstrasse, Fussen – 10 minutes drive from the start of the Fernpasse (179)
- Situated just a few minutes from the A7 autobahn, this is a rare Stellplatz that accepts caravans
- It is worth spotting it on Google maps before arrival, as there is another Stellplatz on the same road, which is for Motorhomes only
- The parking area is in the car park of a caravan repair shop and is also used as overflow parking by the members of the sport studio across the road where you pay the camping fee
- 16 amp EHU and good shower and toilet facilities are on site
- Supermarkets and fuel are close by with Fussen town about 10 minutes walk away
Der Freistaat Caravan Centre, Ohmstrasse 8, 85254 Sulzemoos
- Claiming to be one of the largest caravan and motorhome dealers in Europe, Der Freistaat has a Stellplatz, which is open to caravans and free of charge
- Coin operated EHU)
- It can be accessed from junction 77 on the A8 and is only 15 miles from the A99 Munich ring road
- It is open 24/7 and you should expect to hear fellow travellers departing early to beat the morning traffic around Munich
Hotel & Camping Bauer Keller, Kraftbucher Strasse 1, 91171 Greding
- Situated less than a mile from junction 57 on the A9 south of Nurnburg, this is a very good stopover site
- Parking is Stellplatz style on hard standing with units often queued in lanes when busy
- If there is sufficient space available it is possible to park with the car still attached
- The hotel restaurant is excellent
- Late arrival and early departure is common
- One note of caution: Motorhomes have a habit of squeezing in front of you if space is at a premium when arriving late. If you are looking to leave early you may need to advise them to allow you sufficient space to manoeuvre
France, Switzerland, Pyrenees and Western Italy
There are a number of well-travelled routes through France to the major ski resorts, with many caravanners opting for the toll motorway system, as it is usually quicker and often the shortest route.
From Calais using A26 to Troyes, then A5, A31, A39 past Dijon to Bourg en Bresse where you join the A40 towards Geneva, will take you to Camping Le Giffre in Samoens in 540 miles which is around 12 hours towing plus stops.
Alternatively A26 to Arras, then A1 via Paris and A6 to Macon where you can pick up the A40 is almost the same distance but can be very busy on the A1 around Paris.
A useful website for calculating toll charges in France is via Michelin which also has a good app for your phone. The Troyes, Dijon route will probably be cheapest at about 100 euro each way,
These routes are also useful for western access to Switzerland via Geneva, Chamonix and the Mont Blanc tunnel for Italy’s Aosta Valley and Cervino and further south for the Three Valleys, Vanoise and Valloire areas and Western Italy via the Frejus tunnel.
Alternatively if you have a little more time there are many good toll-free routes through France using the RN network and the older dual carriageway routes between major towns. Using A16 & A25 from Calais to Lille, then A23 to Valenciennes will allow you to access the D934 & D936 and the N2 at Marle, from where the D1044 will take you to Reims.
The N4 & N67 will take you to Chaumont and the A31 and D996 to Bourg en Bresse and the A40. Much of this route is on dual carriageway or good main road and is toll free to Bourg en Bresse. It is about 20 miles further to Samoens than by the toll route, though it is cost effective to use the AutoRoute once on the A40 as well. It will take longer as you will go through a number of towns and use several ring roads and a lot of variable speed limits. An excellent website to help understand route selection, driving in France generally, and the best options for Spain and the Pyrenees is About-France.
It is also possible to travel through to Switzerland toll free using the Luxembourg route described earlier in the article and taking the A31 from the A3 south of Luxembourg City. Basel is 460 miles toll free on this route from Calais.
Stopovers for France, Switzerland, Pyrenees and Western Italy
Camping Sorel, Orvillers-Sorel – (Calais 125miles)
- 35 miles SE of Amiens
- Just 5 miles from the A1 AutoRoute, set in grounds adjacent to Chateau
- Good stopover Restaurant open in season.
Camping Sevron, St Etienne du Bois – (Calais 440 miles)
- About 10 miles NE of Bourg en Bresse and the junction of the A39 and the A40
- Good stopover with early departure possible
- Local village within walking distance but limited shopping and restaurant options
Camping Fraiteux, Plombiers les Bain – (Calais 400 miles)
- Close to N57 about 20 miles south of Epinal
- Ideal for the toll free eastern route to Switzerland
- Good overnight stop, but some steep hills on the approach
- Limited shopping and restaurants near the site
- Friendly owners, good electric and free Wi-Fi
Camping de Foret de la Tesse, Grosbout 16240 – (Calais 380 miles)
- Situated between Poitiers and Angouleme
- 5 miles from N10 and non-toll route to Spain for Pyrenees
- About 25 minutes from A10 AutoRoute
- Recently developed site with friendly British owners
Lastly – a few tips on EU driving rules for caravanners
Most sections of motorway in Austria are toll, and you will need a vignette sticker in your car. These are available at most filling stations close to the border and are only required for your car. You can purchase a digital version in advance from Asfinag online, but you must do this at least 16 days before you cross the border.
In Switzerland a motorway vignette is also required, but for both car and caravan. They last for up to 13 months dependent on when you buy them and will cost about £70 for your car/caravan combination.
If using toll free routes in France be careful to understand the speed limits of the roads you are driving on, it is easy to get it wrong and fines are cumulative. For minor infringements fines start at €45, but if you get caught again it will be €90 and so on. The easiest mistake to make is in villages where the limit will often be signed at 50 kph (31mph) or less. The speed limit applies however from the name sign to the village when you enter the area and not where the first speed limit notification sign is located. A speed camera will often be found at the entrance to villages close to the village name sign and some distance from the speed notification sign. Do not rely on the speed camera detector in your Sat Nav, as they are illegal in France. You have been warned!
It is definitely worth noting the rules on using Dash Cams.
Speed limits for caravans vary widely across Europe and there are different restrictions for car/caravan combinations where the weight exceeds 3500kgs. The link below gives you an idea of the current situation, but changes are made regularly, so checking the rules before you go is advised.
Weights and Measures
To calculate your weight combinations add the fully laden weight of your car to its approved towing limit.
Honda CRV 2.2 CDTI – GVW= 2160kgs, Towing Limit = 2000kgs, Gross Train Mass = 4160kgs.
So any caravan towed behind this car regardless of weight falls into the over 3500kgs speed limits. In fact the rule will apply to the majority of car/caravan combinations.
If your journey takes you into Spain at any point and your car/caravan-combined length is over 12metres, you must display HGV style marker boards on the rear of your caravan. They should be aluminium and marked to the correct EU standard. Don’t buy plastic or self-adhesive, as there are anecdotal reports of Spanish local police issuing fines. To attach without leaving marks or drilling your van use Command waterproof picture hanging strips. You can buy these on Amazon here.
For bespoke support for your caravan trip to the slopes please contact; firstname.lastname@example.org
Drive Carefully and have a great trip!