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Travelling home through France on the last weekend in August

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Hi all!
I'm presently on holiday near La Rochelle with my delightful wife and two children. This is the first time we have taken the ferry and then driven down through France to our charming countryside rental. So, I'm a complete newbie to French traffic, roads etc, etc. Consequently, I was completely taken by surprise when after a pretty smooth run from St Malo that started at 8.30am, we hit Nantes and had the most horrific crawl around the periphique for two hours. Afterwards, fine and shot through to our destination. However, on talking to a local who heard that we are travelling back on Saturday 31st August, he mentioned that this was the last day of the holidays and the whole country would be on the roads. We have to catch a ferry from Le Havre and need to check in by 4pm latest. I had previously thought that leaving at 9am would be fine! I am now wondering whether I should inflict a 4am rise on my family to be on the road by 5am before the masses descend and clog everything up. Or will everyone have the same idea? Will it really be so bad?

Any suggestions as to the best way to make sure I don't miss our ferry?

Many thanks in advance.

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