Family holiday in France

2 adults, 2 children (11, 9) from Birmingham, staying near Avignon


First snag when planning travel by Eurostar is that you can only check fares and book three months in advance. Hence the slightly unlikely scenario of a fortnight's family holiday in April.

Travelling out on a Sunday, back on a Saturday, the cheapest fare for our family of four on the Eurostar website from Birmingham Moor Street to Avignon was £893.50 return in First Class/Leisure Select. Why this upmarket ticket? On the dates I chose, the standard class ticket on the way out would actually cost slightly more, while on the return this was the only fare available. Leisure Select includes free meals and champagne, so this looks something of a bargain. Involving two changes (London and Paris), the journey takes around 10 hours each way. Hiring a Ford Focus for two weeks at Avignon station would cost £353, so the total comes to £1,247.


There are no flights from Birmingham to Nîmes (the nearest airport to Avignon), but Ryanair would fly our family there from East Midlands for £163.84 including taxes and charges. Even after adding £48 for cases (£6 per case each way) and £24 for check-in (£3 per person each way – you can’t use free online check-in if you have hold luggage) – the total comes to just £236. Car parking adds £55 and car hire is the same £353 as at Avignon, making £644 in all.


Birmingham to Avignon by car via Dover-Calais is 815 miles. If our family has a Focus diesel doing 40mpg, fuel will cost about £180 and tolls £107. The ferry costs around £100, depending when you travel (P&O £110, SeaFrance £99) or Eurotunnel £162 – all fares are for the middle of the day. So you could do it for about £386, plus the cost of a hotel for the night in France each way – say £75 a night, making it about £540 in all.

That price would make it the cheapest option, as you don’t have to hire a car at the other end, and of course you can take as much as you can pack in the car: even the family pet, if you like – if it has a pet passport). Of course, if you or your family hate driving, it’s a non-starter, but if the travel, ferry, hotel and some shopping and picnicking count as part of the holiday, it could be a good bet.

Spain in summer

Go to Spain in the summer and the sums are completely different. If the same family heads for a villa in Moraira on the Costa Blanca at the start of the summer holidays, four Saturday flights from Birmingham to Alicante (19 July/2 August) cost £776 from Monarch. Car hire is £217 and two weeks’ parking at Birmingham is £45. That’s £1,038 in all.

By car, the cost of a SeaFrance crossing rises to £114, though Eurotunnel comes down to £133. The distance is 1,317 miles, costing around £300 in diesel and £158 in tolls. Add £300 for two hotel nights each way and the total adds up to £872. That’s usefully cheaper than flying, but you’re spending four days travelling instead of a few hours.

And the train? Well, Eurostar fares probably remain similar to July levels, and four return tickets from Girona (just across the border from France) to Alicante total £233, so around £1,150 looks a fair estimate for the whole trip – though you’d need to break the journey with an overnight stay in the south of France each way (£150). Add car hire in Spain and you’re looking at £1,500 in total.


Don’t take these figures as anything more than a rough guide, because the cost of plane and ferry tickets varies wildly according to the day and time you travel. I’ve assumed the whole family shares one hotel room for overnight stays: separate ones would bump up the cost considerably. And while the cost of driving looks quite good in these examples, remember that the fewer people travelling, the better the cost of plane and train tickets looks.

Finally, I’ve added nothing for car costs other than fuel. That’s realistic if you’re using a company car, but if it’s your own you should really factor in an allowance for wear and tear, maintenance, extra depreciation and so on.

While Eurostar looks a great idea for a weekend break for two in Paris or even the south of France, it stills looks too expensive for family holiday travel, especially if you’re heading beyond France. It’s worth doing the sums, because you never know what special deals will come up, but for the time being at least, driving looks the best bet for anyone who’s trying to give up flying.

All prices correct as of February 2008