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A wise start to a Continental drive has for some years been the Dover-Dunkerque crossing. Now under the DFDS banner, following sale of the Norfolk Line operation by Maersk in 2010, it has a number of advantages:

▪ it's primarily a freight service, but nonetheless provides comfortable accommodation for motorists

▪ it doesn't normally take bookings from coach operators, so you rarely find large groups filing up the on-board lounges

▪ it brings you into the (admittedly ugly) port complex some 15 miles west of Dunkerque proper, but just 10 minutes off the toll-free autoroutes of this corner of France. It's ideally situated for journeys into Belgium and points eastward, but it's also at the start of the A25 to Lille, a reasonable alternative to the the peage A26 from Calais to Arras.

▪ it's cheap!

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Getting off to a great start!
Two route recommendations to get you under way, once you've driven the 5km or so from the port at Dunkerque to J53 on the A16 autoroute. In both cases just carry straight on to the D600 ...

heading south into France: stick with the D600, an easy, limited-access single carriageway road, for 20km + to St Omer, which makes a great stopping-off point before hitting the A26 for points south and west;

heading for Belgium: an appealing quiet alternative to the first half hour of busy autoroute driving around Dunkerque is to turn left just after the A16 junction towards Broukerque; from there the D17 becomes the D13, the turn right at the second canal bridge on to the D52. This soon becomes a delightful, dead-straight road aiming for the attractive hill-top town of Cassel - definitely worth a short stop. It's only then another 9km to pick up the A25 halfway along, or you can continue on good ordinary roads into Belgium, past Poperinge (of Toc-H fame) and pick up the Belgian motorway network at Ieper.