One of the visitors to my website, Steve from Oxford, has very kindly written an extremely thorough article about his regular drive to spain from the UK. This article is highly informative for anyone taking this route for the first time, or who regularly drive to Spain and would like to try a new route.
You can read about his experiences below. If you have any questions about Steves article he has set up an email address especially to answer your questions. You can contact Steve at drivetospain at domail.co.uk - obviously replace the "at" with "@"
Over to Steve.............
We have a villa in Torrevieja, 30 mins south of Alicante and have travelled there by car a number of times.
Our first road trip was last summer 2010 and we took almost the same route as you, with the exception that we went to Paris via the A16, Calais road towards Rouen for an hour before leaving the Rouen road towards Paris. We found the travel around Paris delayed us a little, though we were there at 1 am so not too bad but we also got held up in traffic for some considerable time around Barcelona where we were passing at about midday.
I wanted to make the journey as painless as possible and avoid the 'are we there yet' syndrome so I planned the journey beforehand to eliminate as much boredom as possible, DVD players built into the headrests and charged DSi's and iPod's to keep everyone entertained, with plenty to drink and eat.
Where as you stop overnight, to try and break up the journey we travel continuously through the night and this works very well.
We live near Oxford and try and catch a train (Eurotunnel) about 9 - 10 in the evening thereby arriving in France before midnight. The younger ones are all awake for the train and normally fall asleep within an hour or so of the drive in France while the older ones are often awake until 2 or later, though this is only 1 or so with the change in clock times.
After the delays experienced on our first trip around Paris, Perpignan and Barcelona I looked at what other road routes there were and tried the west coast route which I must say I have found to be considerably easier driving while the scenery driving through the Spanish hills/mountains is much nicer than the drive via Barcelona and with very little traffic by comparison.
We have done this route three times this year and typically drive about 85mph using cruise control, but most importantly for us, we have the journey time from Calais to Torrevieja down to about 16 hours with our arrival mid afternoon the day after we leave, less than 24 hours door to door, I have found this works really well with the kids sleeping overnight as they're normally awake travelling for no more than about six hours at any one time.
People ask me about the drive overnight, but I have found this is easier than people may imagine. Typically I'll try and get a couple of hours in the afternoon and a snooze on the train (Eurotunnel) and then an hour or so while my wife drives the first hour or two in France towards Rouen. Remembering that we are an hour behind so even after a day at work, for her the time is not normally any later than 1 am but 2 in France. When I take over I'm fully refreshed and within a couple of hours the day is starting to break and we're driving in day light for the rest of the journey, far less tiring and I'll often drive well into Spain before Susan has another go, by which time she has had several long naps, tolls permitting.
The route of our journey is now;
Diesel is far cheaper in Spain than France, though looking at your journey seems you filled up off the motorway at a good rate.
If you haven't been this year (2011), diesel is far more expensive. On motorways in France is 1.45 euros - 1.54 euros and in Spain is about 1.28 euros where as last year (2010) was only 1.08 euros
In May half term (2011) the cheapest I found in France was 1.26 euros at Carrefour or unmanned stations but as we're on the motorways you don't want to be spending 30 mins trying to find a Carrefour, especially at 4 in the morning.
That said, I have found a cheap Esso right on the route in Rouen, 1.30 euros per litre. I fill up here.
Then the next stop is normally around Bordeaux often when kids are starting to wake, so works out to be a good time for a short rest stop. We'll often just get a third of a tank here and then stop a couple of hours later for a complete fill up with cheaper diesel in Spain, the kids often want another toilet break and from here we'll just about get to Alicante while keeping the fuel costs to a minimum.
I normally reckon our overall travel costs are just under 1K (pounds), that's train, fuel, tolls, etc. In our opinion, not only is this route an easier and nicer drive, the toll charges are considerably less at approx 90 euros while the overall travel time is quicker, even though it is about 50 kilometres longer.
Finally, I use a Garmin Sat Nav (Nuvi 1340) for driving abroad, and this was the route that it chooses to take automatically, I can't imagine other Garmin units going a different route but Tom Tom's and others may well choose to direct you to the A1/E15 from Calais and via Paris so travelers may wish to pre-programme Rouen as part of their route.
Anyhow, that's a summary of our driving experience.
Another pointer for people taking currency or paying by credit card.
I use a pre-paid currency card which you can top-up by simply logging onto the cards site, just like Internet Banking and the funds are normally accessible within an hour of the top up. The card I use is FairFX though I also have a Post Office card and a TravelEx card, but I have never seen anyone provide a better rate than FairFX. http://www.fairfx.com
Further information on French Toll Roads
Steve has put together some great information regarding toll payment options and the costs you can expect to incur when using this route.