Ski-drive holidays are growing in popularity. wheelworldreviews Editor DAVID HOOPER reports on a wintry drive across Europe to the Italian Alps.
LAST year we flew to Milan, from Humberside airport, changing planes in Schipol, Amsterdam. We changed planes, but one of our cases didn’t – and it had our skiing kit in. We then endured a two-plus hour transfer to the ski resort at Macugnaga, near the Italian/Swiss border, with an Italian chauffeur.
Coming home, we had a five-hour wait at Schipol for a connecting flight back to Humberside.
Our friends, on the other hand, enjoyed a trouble-free drive across Europe, so with terror alerts, strict rules on what you can and can’t take on a plane and so on, we decided to try driving this year. There were three families in three cars, and the plan was to convoy it down to Italy.
To avoid the long haul to the south coast, our journey started with a short drive to Hull after work on Thursday evening, to join North Sea Ferries’ Pride of Hull ship for the overnight crossing to Rotterdam. We arrived at the dock, and were directed onto the car deck of the ferry, from where we took our overnight bags and found our comfortable cabin, with four bunk beds and its own shower room, which was to be our home for the night.
Once on board, we met up with our friends for an excellent meal in Langan’s Brasserie, while the kids watched a film in the ship’s cinema.
We enjoyed a smooth crossing and the next morning found ourselves in Rotterdam, raring to get started on our 650-mile drive south to the Italian Alps, via Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland and finally Italy. A good map is essential for any long trip, and we took the AA’s Road Atlas of Europe with us and were glad of its clear mapping and easy to follow pages. The book covers 47 countries and 77 city and urban route maps, as well as highlighting visitor attractions and crucially for us, ski resorts. For those unfamiliar with driving in Europe, another AA book, The European Drivers Handbook, is packed with useful information and is worth having in the glovebox to check speed limits or rules of the road you are unsure of, especially if you are travelling through several countries, as we were.
Travelling with my wife and son, I chose Peugeot’s recently updated 4007 GT for our trip. With switchable four-wheel-drive and a torquey 2.2-litre diesel engine, it was the perfect choice, as it runs in two-wheel drive most of the time, which avoids wasting fuel driving all four wheels when you don’t need to. A flick of a dial on the centre console brings all four wheels into play, while a further twist will lock the four-wheel-drive system if the going gets really slippery.
The 4007 range has recently seen the addition of a six-speed semi-automatic double clutch gearbox which features Drive or Sport modes, or can be used a sequential by using the gear paddles on the steering wheel.
I chose the manual version, which has benefited from an interior upgrade which includes new edging trim on the instrument panel visor and a chrome trim finish on the air conditioning controls, but the most noticeable change is to the multi-function display between the speedo and rev counter dials which has bright new LCD colour graphics.
By the time we got off the ferry and cleared customs it was about 9.15am. We picked our way carefully through the sprawling Europort, and as we settled into driving on the “wrong” side of the road, the miles began to quickly clock up. We soon crossed the border into Belgium, but our first hold-up came on the Brussels ring-road, thanks to a LDV van which had broken down in a tunnel entrance. It cost us an hour we could ill afford, which meant it was a late lunch at the first stop for fuel in Luxembourg at around 2pm.
From there, with my wife at the wheel, we were the middle of the three cars which had a few miles between each of them thanks to the traffic jam. After crossing the border into France, we made use of the 130kmh limit on the quiet French motorways, paying the tolls as we went.
The temperature on the car’s dash varied from zero to -5 degrees as we travelled. We reached the Swiss border at Basel at around 5pm, having caught up with our friends, and were waved through the border control as we had our Swiss road tax sticker displayed on our windscreen, which saved time. We arranged to wait for the third car at the second Swiss services where we enjoyed an expensive, but strong coffee before tackling the last 250 miles of the trip.
Thanks to more roadworks, the motorway between Basel and Bern was like the M25 on a Friday night – and cost us another hour in a jam. We headed for Brig, via Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva, and the car train through the Simplon tunnel. Thanks to the delays, we just caught the last train – we were the last car to get on at 10pm. You simply pay 13 Euros and drive on. It was very narrow and I had to fold the 4007’s door mirrors in. When you reach the back of the queue, you park your car with the handbrake on, and off it goes. Half-an-hour later, after watching our friends’ new Mercedes ML bobbing around like a cork, we arrived at Iselle, in Italy, on the other side of the Alps. We waved our passports at the Italian border guard who just waved us through. We were nearly there, and I was desperate for fuel. It was about 11pm by now, and we found a closed petrol station. We eventually worked out how to feed a petrol pump 20 Euros, which dispensed fuel to that exact value into the Peugeot’s tank, importantly, with an anti-freeze agent in the fuel.
The last leg of the trip was the drive up the mountain to the ski resort. We finally arrived at our accommodation at midnight, threw our stuff in the rooms, parked the cars and collapsed for the night.
The skiing was great, and it was handy to have the car in the resort. It’s split tailgate was ideal for perching on while we got our incredibly stiff ski boots on and off. All too soon though, it was time to come home and the return trip was quite different.
We drove over the Simplon Pass in Switzerland, which was a spectacular drive, climbing to around 7,000ft according to the 4007’s altimeter, before trying another tunnel train from Goppenstein to Kandersteg, which was larger than the first, and noticably smoother.
After an overnight stay in Mulhouse, in France, we headed for Strasbourg, before crossing an eerily deserted border post into Germany and letting the Peugeot stretch its legs on the infamous German Autobahn’s reaching speeds of just under 120mph for a brief spell.
We passed Frankfurt, Koblenz, Bonn and Dusseldorf before crossing the Dutch border, skirting around Eindhoven, Breda, Dordrecht and finally Rotterdam, before parking on the ferry at 6pm for the return crossing on the Sunday night.
The children in our group had taken their school uniforms with them and were dropped off at school on Monday morning, only slightly late, while we went straight to work.
It was a great trip, and the 4007 never missed a beat during its 1,400 miles. It was comfortable, quiet and with its four-wheel-drive ability, surefooted in the snowy and icy conditions we encountered when around a metre of snow fell on our resort during the week we were there. It averaged around 36mpg overall, and I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone. It’s a brilliant family car.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
MODEL: Peugeot 4007 GT 2.2 HDi 156 FAP.
PEUGEOT 4007 RANGE: From SE 2.2 HDi 156 FAP (£24,145) to GT 2.2 HDi 156 FAP (£27,945).
ENGINE: 2,179cc, 156bhp four-cylinder engine, driving four wheels through 6-speed manual gearbox.
CO2 EMISSIONS: 185g/km.
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 124mph. 0-62mph in 9.9 secs.
ECONOMY: City: 30.7mpg.
Fuel tank: 60 litres.
INSURANCE: Group 13.
WARRANTY: 3 years/60,000.