Over the years I have driven up and down between the UK and Italy many times - I've even cycled from London to Rome once. We're often asked for tips on the best routes and for good places to stay so here is some advice.
Why drive at all?
The open road, driving through several different countries, seeing the Swiss Alps - there are plenty of good reasons for turning the traveling into part of your holiday. The route can go through France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland - each with its own special character.
Children enjoy the adventure, particularly if you build in plenty of stopping points and interesting pauses - we once found a fantastic Dinosaur museum in the middle of Switzerland entirely by chance, and new restaurants are always fun!
Airlines are notorious for hiking prices up for the school holidays, as well as for Saturday flights. Driving down can actually end up being cheaper than flying.
If there are 4 of you in an average family car you will spend around £ 175 in fuel and tolls. The Eurotunnel crossing is around £ 90 one way. Then you will have your hotel and meal costs on top of this - a hotel in Lucerne will cost around £ 250 for a family room for 4.
Imagining you're leaving on Friday the 12th of July, the one way trip would cost £ 265 + £ 250 = £ 515
Flying from London to Pisa with EasyJet on the 13th of July would cost around £ 500 one way. But once you add luggage, book seats so you can sit together and then hire a car for a week, the total is £ 812 - so a clear saving. (figures calculated on 19-06-19)
Flying is not a green way to travel and many families are trying to keep their carbon footprint low. Driving is not as green as traveling by train but is still more efficient than flying - here are some rough thumbnail calculations.
There are several choices open to you. I'm going to assume you're starting from Calais as that's where most people end up crossing, wherever you started from in the UK - and I'm going to use Casole d'Elsa, the best village in Tuscany (where I grew up!) as my final destination:
The Straight line
The straightest line runs from Calais past Reims, Strasbourg, Lucerne, through the Gotthard Tunnel, past Milan, down to Bologna and then across the Apennines to Florence
A high mountain pass on small roads - this used to be my favourite way to go when time was not pressing. It's very similar to the Mont Blanc route save that you go a little further south and drive over the Mont Cenis pass.
Head east! This routes curves east through Belgium and than down on the German motorways, which can be exhilarating or terrifying depending on your take. German motorways are busier than the French ones, but you do go past Aachen, so could pop in to see Charlemagne's throne room.
* To cross Switzerland you also have to buy a vignette, approximately 36.50 EUR - or 40 Swiss Francs
How long will it take?
Taking the straight line route as a benchmark, it can be done in a (long) day. I recently left Tuscany at lunchtime and stopped for the night 50 miles from Calais. Had I left in the morning I could have been back in London in the late evening.
But we're discussing making this pleasant, and that can mean one or two stops at least.
Day 1 (Thursday)
Head for Reims or Laon on the first day. From Calais it will take you around 2 and a half hours to reach Laon, 3 for Reims. Laon in particular is a beautiful and interesting city, as well as being small enough to get in and out of easily.
Day 2 (Friday)
From Laon you can reach Lucerne in around 6 or 7 hours. Lucerne is a lovely town to pass an evening in, with a footbridge over the river and plenty of good restaurants.
Day 3 (Saturday)
Time to drive through the Gotthard tunnel and head south toward Italy! Try to time your drive to miss the rush hour on the Milan ring road then head on down towards Bologna and Florence. If you were going to Lucumone, for example, and left Lucerne at 9:30 after a leisurely Swiss breakfast, and had a stop for lunch, you'd be there at 5:00pm, just in time for an aperitif round the pool.