Drive to the Pyrenees

From the UK

If arriving from the UK into Calais, via DFDS Seaways, P&O Ferries or from the Eurotunnel terminal, there are four est ablished routes to the Pyrenees, depending on where you are heading:

ForMidi PyreneesMidi PyreneesPyrenees WestPyrenees East
ViaParis, Orleans, Limoges & ToulouseRouen, Le Mans, Poitiers & ToulouseRouen, Poitiers, Bordeaux & PauParis, Bourges, Clermont Ferrand, Millau Bridge & Montpellier
Distance686 miles 728 miles747 miles705 miles
Time11 hrs, 30 mins12 hrs, 45 mins12 hrs, 8 mins11 hrs,15 mins

The drive can be arduous if you aren’t used to driving long-distance or if you have young children in the back of the car. But it’s entirely achievable and it means you have flexibility over what you take and how you get around while you are there.

The cost of driving to the Pyrenees

A return journey to the Pyrenees will cost around £500. This includes:

  • Eurotunnel (around £130 if you book in advance)
  • Tolls (between £100 and £170 depending on which of the 4 routes you take.
  • Fuel (around £250 depending on your wheels and your load)

This does not include breakdown insurance, accident in Europe cover, travel insurance, journey food or coffee to keep you awake.

Eurotunnel will offer you breakdown insurance and travel insurance as an optional add-on to the price of the crossing. However, it is usually cheaper to buy breakdown & accident cover through your UK breakdown insurers and car insurance company. There is usually very little difference between the price of a yearly European breakdown cover policy and one for the duration of your trip. If there’s a chance you will take your car to Europe more than once, it’s definitely worth buying an annual policy.

The RAC, The AA and Green Flag all do good-quality European Breakdown and European Rescue policies. If you have an existing policy with them, make the call to ask about extending your cover. However, compare their price with the competitors. Your existing policy company may not necessarily have the best deal on European breakdown cover to offer you.

Eating en route

French service stations are generally a decent experience. There are plenty along the way offering decent food, services, play areas for children, play areas for dogs and even gardens to take a walk and wake yourself up if need be.

Eating at the service stations will drive the price of your journey up, especially if there are a few of you to feed. A hot meal can make all the difference in a long drive – particularly during winter drives to the Pyrenees. However, a cool bag packed with a picnic, combined with a few essential coffee stops is the most economical way to go. It’s also makes for a nice stop during the summer months, when the sun is blasting down on the French service stations and pt stops.

Stopping points

We’ve come to be familiar with the service stations en route to the Pyrenees over the years. These are of particular note:

Aire-jardin de Causses du Lot

It is on the edge of the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy and has been treated to some funky French architecture and landscaped gardens to offset the simply  stunning scenery. It makes for a fabulous breakfast stop on the return journey or a good picnic spot on the way down. There’s also plenty of room for the children, dogs or you to run about if you have fizzy legs by this stage.

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Relais de Commingues

With the foothills of the Pyrenees in sight at the end of a long-hard slog through the entire length of France, the Relais de Commingues can provide just the ticket for the last stop before the final leg of the journey. Whether it’s petrol, breakfast, lunch or a picnic you want, this is a good stopping place to plan into the journey.

The service station itself is of little interest but behind the Total garage sits wide open spaces to run about in and a whopping great big tourist information centre for the Haute Garonne, with a shop selling all sorts of local produce, and a simple museum displaying lots of interesting information about the local area. It also has a pleasant, airy and spacious restaurant with interesting views onto the Pyrenees.

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Millau Bridge

At 363m high, Millau Bridge is the highest bridge in the world. It spans 2,500m, and costs €7,40 to cross (€6.40 out of summer months). It is closed to pedestrians but there is a viewing station and picnic spot at the northern end. It’s a stunning stopping point; if only to marvel at what engineers and architects are capable of if they let their imagination run wild.

Go over this:

Millau Bridge, drive to East Pyrenees via A71/A75

Stop here:

Millau Bridge picnic stop

To see this:

Millau Bridge to East Pyrenees via A71/A75

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By far one of the most amazing roads in France, Millau Bridge was designed by a genius partnership between British Architect Norman Foster and French Structural Engineer Michel Virlogeux. The Bridge opened in December 2004 but took nearly 20 years to achieve. The bridge spans the Tarn river valley and was built to solve severe traffic  problems through the medieval town of Millau on the route from Paris-Spain, where five hour tailbacks were not uncommon during summer months. The bridge to connect two sections of motorway was first mooted in 1987. It took four years to make the decision to build the Millau Bridge. Long periods of consultation. design and contract tendering resulted in work finally starting on Millau Bridge in 2001. Millau Bridge cost nearly €400m to build. Watch the Megastructures Documentary to see the making of the Milau Bridge.