A Guide to Monschau Christmas Market by Driving Dad

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Driving Dad Matt Hyotte is no stranger to taking a European road trip. Since moving to the UK over 10 years ago, he’s loaded up his car and has explored the best of Europe, with his wife and 3 boys in tow. He recently wrote his guide to the Champagne region (featuring a tree top Champagne bar), but now the weather is getting colder he’s letting us in on the know about one of the best hidden gem Christmas markets. When the temperature drops, the leaves start to change colour and the chunky sweaters come out of the back of the closet, it’s clear Autumn has arrived. And for us, Autumn’s arrival means planning our annual road trip to one of Europe’s Christmas Markets. The Christmas season just isn’t complete without a weekend of steaming mugs of gluwein and hot chocolate, crispy potato pancakes and roasted chestnuts. A quick internet search will pull up lists of the largest and most popular Christmas Market destinations in Europe, however many of these cities are too far for a weekend drive. And whilst the atmosphere of a city Christmas Market is undeniably festive, the small-town Christmas Markets can feel more authentic than their larger counterparts. After a hike to Monschau castle, although I use the word hike very loosely… Credit: Driving Dad For those looking for one of the more off-the-beaten-track Christmas Market experiences within a manageable drive from Calais, look no further than a magical town in the little known Eifel region of Germany. Monschau Where in Germany: Aachen Drive from Calais:840km / 3h 57m Just under four hours from Calais and just over the Belgian border into Germany (seven minutes over to be exact) lies the village of Monschau. If you were to try to design the perfect set for a Christmas Market, it would be difficult to create a better backdrop than here. The half-timbered, slate-roofed houses that make up the medieval town centre are nestled in a shallow valley which is overlooked by an imposing 13th century castle. Not exactly 11 pipers piping, but some pretty serious horn blowing. Credit: Driving Dad Monschau's pedestrianised old town is small and one can walk the cobblestone streets from end to end in about 12 minutes, even with children in tow. The river Rur winds its way through town, flowing under the delightful bridges that connect the different parts of the old town and ensuring the sound of rushing water is never out of earshot. If you're lucky there will be a dusting or more of snow to complete the perfect wintery scene. The Monschau Christmas Markets have the traditional craft and food huts clustered throughout the town that one expects in Germany. However, in addition to the ubiquitous bratwurst, currywurst, mulled wine, lebkuchen and kasespatzle, a few gastronomic treasures set Monschau apart. I could stock up on wine and food and stay here all winter! Credit: Driving Dad First, Monschau is home to the Senfmuhle Monschau (Monschau Mustard Mill) which has been producing mustard since the late 19th century. They have a shop right in Monschau’s old town where you can sample and buy over 15 types of mustard (highly recommended is the fig mustard and beer mustard), or you can tour the mill itself, which is located on the edge of town. Second, Felsenkeller is Monschau’s 19th century brewery that has been converted into a museum. The small museum is worth a tour and whilst the beer (Monschau Zwickelbier) is now brewed off site, you can still taste a litre or two of it at the brewery’s restaurant. Finally, the one hut not to miss at Monschau’s Christmas Markets is the homemade schnapps hut. Choose from over 20 flavours of schnapps, all made in Monschau, which you can drink on site or buy in a bottle to take home. Guaranteed to warm you up on the coldest December nights. Before you set off, check out when the Monschau Christmas Market is open here. For the kids For the past few years we have packed up the car and headed to Germany. Credit: Driving Dad A great midday activity for the kids is a hike up to the Burg Monschau, Monschau’s 13th century castle. While this is not a particularly strenuous or long hike, it’s important to wear appropriate footwear as the paths can be slippery in winter. Though the castle is not open to the public, the sweeping views of the Monschau are well worth the climb, particularly at dusk, when the street lights illuminate the historic buildings. Belgian beer side trip Given the proximity to Belgium, a quick stop en route to Monschau is perfectly justified. And a mandatory side trip for Belgian beer lovers is the Kerkom Brewery in Sint Truiden. A short 10 minute detour off the E40 motorway, the Kerkom Brewery has been brewing beer since 1878. They currently brew about 10 different beers, some of which are seasonal. If you’ve timed your December visit right, the aptly named Winterkoninkske (Winter King) beer, their dark winter ale, will be available. Half the fun is getting there! Credit: Driving Dad But at 8.3% alcohol, make sure you aren’t the one driving the final hour to Monschau. Conveniently attached to the brewery is a country pub, complete with a pot-bellied wood burning stove (to ward off any chills the beer cannot) which serves hearty Flemish specialties that pair well with their beers. Are you ready to live the Christmas spirit in Monscahu? Be inspired by Driving Dad and book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best prices.

What to do in Annecy, the enchanting ‘Alpine Venice’

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Annecy is nestled above the Regional Natural Park of the Bauges Massif, north west of the lake where it takes its name. A beautiful and historic city in the region of Haute-Savoie, it serves as the perfect destination for a road trip. The city is bursting with tangible history and is regarded as one of France’s most enchanting towns. Annecy Where in France: Haute-Savoie Drive from Calais: 840km / 7h 15m The exterior of the historic homes, restaurants, bakeries and boutiques in Annecy all boast the unmistakeably French shades of peach and rose. In fact, it is Annecy’s colour and vibrancy that first hits you as you arrive. The ancient city is set around a network of peaceful canals, making a coffee stop at one of the many quaint cafés a very tranquil experience. And it’s thanks to these canals that Annecy has earned its reputation as an 'Alpine Venice'. The Palais de l'Ile and canal on a summer’s morning. Vieille Ville One truly unmissable feature Annecy has to offer is its Vieille Ville, which translates to ‘old town’. Infused with buckets of antique charm, this section of the city is the best place to wander if you find picturesque cobbled streets, serene canals and pastel-coloured architecture pleasing to the eye. The old town is also where you’ll find Annecy’s most famous structure, the Palais de l'Ile. An ancient prison that now acts as a museum and a unique spot to take a holiday snap! Be sure to visit Vieille Ville on a market day to get the full rustic and continental experience. Tuesdays are the day best suited for lovers of fresh farm produce such as cheese and wine, while Fridays and Sunday mornings boast a broad variety of local goods. However, if you’re more interested in trinkets, antiques and crafty bits and pieces, the markets (usually) held on the last Saturday of the month are unmissable. Market days in Annecy’s old town (especially the monthly antique market), are popular with residents of Geneva and vacationers on holiday in other, nearby Alpine resorts, which helps to provide a great atmosphere when flitting through the stalls. The antique market in Annecy’s Vieille Ville (Old Town). Chateau d’Annecy As well as the beautiful buildings and soothing canals, visitors flock to visit this delightful slice of French heaven and step inside the walls of the ornate, Château d’Annecy. The castle is, at first glance, an elegant marriage of medieval defensive and decorative architectural styles and was the residence of the counts of Geneva during the 13th and 14th centuries. During WWII it was used as a military barracks and even a hiding place for French Resistance fighters. Later, in the 1950s it was officially classified as an historical monument and today it serves as a thrilling museum, filled with regional art such as medieval sculptures, Savoyard furniture, Alpine landscape paintings, and other works of contemporary art. A visit to the castle also grants breath-taking panoramic views from the rooftops of the Vieille Ville to The Bauges massif Regional Nature Park. The regal and historic, Château d'Annecy. Europe’s Cleanest Lake Lake Annecy is regarded as Europe’s cleanest lake and is a huge draw for tourists. Locals will tell you that it earned its reputation of cleanliness because of strict environmental regulations introduced during the 1960s. The stunning lake is 27.6km squared in size, making it the third biggest body of water in France. Experts believe the lake to have formed around 18,000 years ago when the large alpine glaciers melted. The small mountain rivers of Ire, Eau morte, Laudon, Bornette and Biolon, all feed the lake whilst it slowly flows into the Thiou River that cuts through the city centre. Visitors mainly venture to the lake because of its superb swimming conditions. The water is clear and can be enjoyed via the many beaches that surround it, each as clean as the lake itself. The water temperature is perfect during the summer months, creating plenty of opportunity to try your hand at the numerous water sports on hand, such as powerboats and pedalboats that can be rented by the half-hour. Boat excursions are also very popular for those who like to remain dry, ranging from lunch cruises to short round-trip cruises. More information can be found on the lake’s official website. Pedal boats atop the waters of Lake Annecy. When to Visit It’s the summer months that are indeed the most popular with visitors, with July typically being the busiest month. If you don’t mind sharing the sunshine with a crowd though, a day of wandering through the old town before taking a plunge in the lake really is a summertime dream. The region is also home to plenty of hotels, many with their own pools, meaning a swimming costume should definitely be on your packing list! However, Annecy is much more than just a sun-seekers city, with tourists also flocking during the later summer months and even throughout Autumn. The lake itself is warmed by the sun over the hottest months and maintains enough heat to provide a pleasant swimming temperature right up until the end of September. Some visitors prefer visiting during this period, as well as in October as the air is noted as being freer of clouds, providing better views of the surrounding mountains. The clear sky over Lake Annecy during the Autumn. Our advice when travelling is to stop at the towns and villages of Arras, Troyes to the historical city of Dijon along the way. Be sure to book your next road trip with us in advance to take advantage of the best possible fares!

Discover the winding vineyards of The Loire Valley

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The Loire Valley is pure French splendour. With style and renowned wine in ample measure, it’s the perfect region to escape to. When you next fancy a glass of wine, spare a thought to explore where it’s made in the stunning Loire Valley – then start planning your trip! Loire Valley Where in France: Loire River, Central France Distance from Calais: 500km / 5h No matter how high you set your expectations, the Loire Valley will exceed them. Poised between northern and southern France, the now UNESCO World Heritage Site was an important strategic geographical point for French royalty and aristocracy throughout history. Therefore, the region is abundant with hundreds of opulent estates, crenelated towers, soaring cupolas and glittering banquet halls. The Loire Valley also boasts plenty of sophisticated cities and towns, ideal for checking off the list on a long and exciting road trip. Orléans, Blois, Tours and Angers are all included within the area’s limits, as well as 42 beautiful châteaux and dozens of villages and vineyards that serve as even more reasons to visit. Every sight to see in the Loire Valley attests to thousands of years of rich architectural and cultural history. Chateau de Chambord, the largest castle in the Loire Valley. Vineyards What the Loire Valley is most widely known for is its outstanding wines. Whether you’re a fan of red, white, rosé or sparkling, you’ll have tried the produce from this area. After all, plenty of famous wines such as Saumur, Chinon, Muscadet, Layon, Touraine and Vouvray are produced here. A visit to the region will see you discover unique grape varieties, vineyards, appellations and plenty of opportunity to meet the wine makers themselves. While visiting the various vineyards you can immerse yourself in their tourist cellars and wine shops, while some even boast museums. Many of the vineyards in the region are recognised by the "Vignobles & Découvertes" (Vineyards and Discoveries) label, a sign of approval from the French wine tourism board that helps to guarantee your excursion as well-suited for the oenophiles among you! The Vignobles & Découvertes sign of approval makes it easier to find great accommodation and food whilst in the Loire Valley, as many hotels and restaurants are also accredited. It’s common in local restaurants to find helpful menus that suggest wine pairings as well as local produce to sample. The label also recommends to you a variety of remarkable heritage sites, activities and events on offer, enabling you to discover regional gems and get the most from the Loire Valley. Vineyard at the medieval castle, Château de Saumur. France’s longest wine route The river Loire is the second longest in France, falling just behind the Rhine, but France’s longest wine route stretches out over 1000km and of course is found in the Loire Valley. There are more than one thousand vineyards open to the public, including 400 specially accredited wine cellars, where the winemakers will greet you and allow you to taste their produce. The heritage behind the wines is also important, which is why the vineyards are always near to the cities, villages and towns that gave birth to them. View from Chinon Castle on the valley of the Venant The Loire by bike The great benefit of travelling through France by car is that you can bring along kit and equipment to help you really make the most of each individual destination you visit. This is certainly the case when visiting the Loire Valley because of the fantastic cycling routes. Bringing your bicycle along for the ride is a great idea, because of the region’s plentiful cycling tracks and routes. The La Loire á Vélo cycling route, is an 800km stretch in the region that is in fact a portion of the EuroVelo 6 route, that links the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. If 800km sounds a little much, there are also plenty of shorter suggested routes along the river, while simply hopping on your two wheels to see where the wind takes you is also common practice. Cycling alongside Château de Chenonceau. A sophisticated stop off Before checking your bike’s gears, packing your suitcase or brushing up on your wine tasting skills, you’ll need to work out your route from Calais. You might want to head straight there and arrive as quickly as possible, or you might want to map out some stops along the way. Take the A16 from Calais before joining the A28 at Abbeville, then head to Normandy’s capital region, Rouen. A stop at the age-old city is the perfect opportunity to soak up one of France’s unsung gems. Rouen is a city steeped in tangible history with architecture comprising of Gothic churches and medieval half-timbered houses, a great chance to visit a beautiful city before enjoying the wide open space of the Loire Valley. Whether you’re a connoisseur of the world of wine, a keen cross-country cyclist, or just fancy taking in some of the glorious French countryside, head to the Loire Valley. Book your next breathtaking French road trip with us now to ensure you take advantage the best possible fares.

Soak up the seaside village of Étretat

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Étretat is a breath-taking village that beckons both trendy Parisians and English tourists. Attracting the likes of painters and writers for years, the cliffs of Étretat continue to pull in tourists who want to admire the stunning views. Being a short distance from Calais, the coastal drive down to Étretat makes a perfect destination to visit by car, too. Étretat Where in France: The Alabaster coast, Seine-Maritime, Haute-Normandy. Distance from Calais: 270km / 3h The small and delightful village of Étretat is found on France’s northern coast within the Seine-Maritime department of Haute-Normandy. Despite its small size though, there is plenty to keep you entertained if you feel like leaving your world behind for a few weeks. Thanks to its position on the Côte d'Albâtre, or Alabaster Coast, this stretch of white cliffs and pebble beaches are easily explored, from the fishing village of Le Tréport to historical port Le Havre. Natural Beauty The village is a sight to behold, framed by its dramatic coastal scenery and two cliffs that seem to set the boundary for where it begins and ends. The natural allure and relationship the village has with the sea has inspired painters for centuries, including Camille Corot, Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet and even Claude Monet. The incredible needle and elephant at Falaise d'Etretat. Étretat has been a fashionable haunt for metropolitan Parisians since the 19th century. During the early years of their fascination with the town, they built extravagant villas that today add buckets of charm and sophistication. The destination seems to have never gone out of style and still swells with visitors from around the world every weekend throughout the year. To the French, the beauty of the cliffs along their Northern coastline is held in the same regard as The White Cliffs of Dover to the English, this is no coincidence as they’re both made from the same brilliant white chalk. The most distinct and recognised section of the cliff face has been artistically dubbed, ‘Cap Blanc-Nez’, which translates to “Cape White Nose”. Depending on your route from Calais to Étretat, there’s plenty of opportunity to hop out and observe these awe-inspiring cliffs while stretching your legs. Best enjoyed on foot Once settled you’ll undoubtedly want to grab your walking shoes! Whether you’re a wanderer who likes to find their own way, or a serious hiker who leaves no stone unturned, Étretat has you covered. There are a number of natural wonders in and around the area that simply must be enjoyed first hand, including the three arches found in the nearby cliffside. Porte d'Aval and the Porte d'Amont are visible from the town, but the Manneporte is the third and biggest arch that requires seeking out. This provides you with the perfect opportunity to flex your French tongue and ask a local for directions! From a German WWII bunker nestled in the cliff face at Falaise Aval, a popular walking route begins where visitors can head in the direction of the famous ‘L’Aguille’ or “The Needle”, a 77m high pointed rock formation. The climb - when safely approached - allows you to enjoy magnificent views over the channel. Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde atop the cliff face at Plage à Etretat. Another rewarding stroll is to visit the ornate Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. The chapel was built in 1856 following a mission preached by a ‘Father Michael’, who had allegedly found a written note from the Virgin Mary herself at the site. The building was sadly destroyed during the German occupation in 1942, but then resurrected in identical fashion in 1950. Nestled at the top of Falaise d'Amont in Étretat, the church is a short yet steep walk from the town. There is also a golf course aptly named ‘Golf d’Étretat’ that overlooks the bay, providing breath-taking views and wild coastal conditions to challenge even the most seasoned player. The town also has a delightful promenade that spans across most of the beach. Promenade sur le Perrey provides the perfect setting for a stroll and is the viewpoint from which the two nearest cliff arches can be spotted. It’s ideal for those without hiking boots. The golf course and clubhouse on the cliffside. Getting wet The coast here runs along the English Channel, which flows from the Atlantic Ocean. This means that it can get a little chilly, yet not too chilly for the local residents who enjoy a good swim in the summer! Of course, the temperature really isn’t much of an issue when you pair it with a beautiful sunny day. For some of you, taking a dip isn’t very appealing regardless of the weather, but for others it’s an integral reason to visit Étretat. If you need convincing, the water is the most alluring shade of blue, as well as being incredibly clear and clean. To make the most of the summer months, the pebbled beach along the promenade is home to a water-craft rental company offering catamarans, windsurf boards, funboards, paddleboards and kayaks. Paddling out into these shores at high tide offers the unique experience of getting up close and personal with the three arches and the standalone, L’Aguille (the needle). This is the perfect location for both experienced water sports hobbyists as well as complete novices. The short drive from Calais allows seasoned enthusiasts to bring as much equipment as they need, otherwise the local surf school will lend you a board and teach you how best to use it. Visit the Normandy Tourism site to find out more. Colourful kayaks on the pebble beach at Étretat. So how about it? Do you fancy a short, beautiful drive along the French Northern coast, kayak in tow? Whether you’re planning a short or long stay, getting active or just taking in the sights, Étretat is the ideal destination for a getaway. Book your next adventure with us now to take advantage of the best fares.

Lucerne is true Swiss beauty

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Lucerne or ‘Luzern’ to the local population, has all the ingredients of a gorgeous, quintessentially Swiss city. With gorgeous buildings and ancient walkways over the water, you’ll want to explore every inch of this beautiful city. The Heart of Switzerland Where in Switzerland: Canton of Lucerne Distance from Calais: 769km / 7h 45m Renowned for being a particularly safe city, Lucerne is a diamond found in the heart of Switzerland. Its central location within Switzerland makes a perfect base for driving to the country's main attractions. The small city also has a lot of character, thanks to its spectacular scenery. Sitting at the edge of Lake Lucerne and surrounded by majestic mountain scenery, you’ll have no trouble remembering what country you’re in. One particularly spectacular drive is through the Gotthard Pass (sometimes referred to as St. Gotthard Pass). Take the A2 south from the city centre and in an hour, you’ll find yourself cruising through the jaw-dropping mountain pass that traverses the Saint Gotthard Massif. The road is a vital link between northern and southern Switzerland and was made to fit the winding landscape. An insider’s tip is to try and hit the pass as the sun is setting (or rising if you’re an early bird), in order to witness as much of its beauty as possible. St. Gotthard Pass at sunset A Tangible History According to legend, an angel guided the city’s first settlers to a certain spot using a beam of light from the sky. They were then instructed to build a chapel in honour of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of fisherman and sailors. It then, appropriately, grew to become a small fishing town. There is no single language used by Swiss people, in fact the population is comprised by a mix of German, French, Italian and Romanish speakers. Lucerne’s population speaks German for the most part (Almennic Swiss German Dialect, to be exact) so brushing up on your Deutsch is a good idea before hitting the road. The city’s rich history is everywhere to be seen when strolling around and it reflects this multicultural sentiment. There’s architecture to behold from a variety of different periods and certain gems that cannot be missed. The Kapellbrücke (which directly translates to ‘chapel bridge’) is a covered wooden footbridge that spans across the river Reuss. It was built in 1333, making it Europe’s oldest wooden covered bridge, as well as the oldest surviving ‘truss’ bridge. It contains a number of paintings dating back to the 17th century, some with fire damage caused in 1993 still visible. Kapellbrücke over the river Reuss The Bridge is a fine example of Lucerne’s well preserved medieval architecture, with other examples including the Old City Wall or Musegg Wall. The oldest section of the wall dates back to 1386 and it remains mostly intact to this day. There are four towers along the wall that are open to the public; Schirmer, Zyt, Wacht and Männli. The oldest city clock was built by Hans Luter in 1535 and can be found in the Zyt tower. Because of its status, it’s set to chime every hour one minute prior to all the other clocks in the city, which allows the residents to hear the old bell distinctly. There are numerous walking tours provided in the city that feature historical hot spots for the history buffs among you. But if history and architecture isn’t your thing then the city’s galleries are sure to strike a chord. The Rosengart Collection Lucerne has an impressive collection of pieces including the works of Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and 23 other artists from the age of Classic Modernism and Impressionism. Lastly, the Bourbaki Panorama Lucerne is a joy to behold for everyone. The museum is home to a unique cylindrical painting from 1881 by Edouard Castres depicting the Frano-Prussian war. The Geography Lucerne is surrounded by ample natural beauty in the form of tranquil lakes that have sustained the city, and mountains that have safeguarded it for generations. Although enjoying their spectacular beauty at a distance allows you to take it all in at once, some of you might like to get a little closer. The fastest, easiest and most relaxing way to reach the 7,000ft summit of Mt. Pilatus is to take a ride on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. Hop onboard the carriage and wind your way through various tunnels and alongside various cliff faces for 30 minutes as you climb to the top. The steepest cogwheel railway in the world, Mount Pilatus Lake Lucerne has a number of boat tours that utilise an impressive variety of vessels from historic paddle steamers to modern motor boats. Put your feet up as you look out over the endless blue. Hiking/Skiing The city’s surrounding mountains also offer the perfect opportunity to hike and ski your worries away. In the summer months when the snow is nowhere to be seen, tourist and locals alike dust off their walking boots and head to the hills! You can join a guided tour, head out as a family or on your own, there are plenty of tracks and routes to suit all abilities. See the official Lucerne site here to help you decide what walk would suit you best. Mt. Pilatus looming above the clouds In the winter months the landscape is covered in a spectacular blanket of powdery white snow. There are no less than 24 snow sport resorts nearby, all accessible by car. When it comes to skiing, your kit is extremely important, so enabling yourself to pack as much as you can into your car is ideal. There are trains and boats that run between resorts also, although we’re sure you’ll prefer to wind through the Swiss hills while enjoying comfort of your own car. The official Lucerne site has plenty of information on the region during the winter. Whatever time of year you visit, Lucerne is equipped with enough natural beauty and age-old culture to leave you feeling as though you’ve experienced somewhere unlike anywhere else. So, if you’re feeling inspired to discover this stunning city for yourself, remember to book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best fares.

Camping with a view in France

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Camping gives you the freedom to explore at your leisure, with the unique opportunity to choose precisely what sort of view you want to wake up to. Something you just can’t get from a hotel! France is a big, beautiful country with vastly different landscapes wherever you travel. Travelling by car means you can see the best of every region, from the snow-capped peaks of the Alps, to the wild beauty of the Provence countryside. Huttopia Bourg-St-Maurice Where in France: Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Drive from Calais: 967km / 9h The campsite Number of pitches: 108 camping pitches and 45 glamping units The Huttopia Bourg-St-Maurice campsite has something for everyone, including your pets. There are plenty of lovely pitches to choose from if you’re bringing your own tent, caravan or motorhome. Alternatively, you can choose from the permanent glamping options available on site, including safari tents, gypsy caravans and chalets. The campsite is open from late May until late October, and there is a swimming pool on site that is heated, which means you can enjoy a dip even in the chillier spring and autumn months. There is also a playground for children, as well as many other activities including volleyball, boules, table tennis and table football to keep the whole family entertained. A view from the hills down to Bourg-St-Maurice. You’ll also find a shop selling all the essentials, a library with a great range of holiday reads, and a central lodge with free WiFi and internet access. If you fancy exploring the wider area, there is plenty of tourist information available at reception, and friendly staff to offer advice. The area Savoie department, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes With the dramatic scenery of the Alps all around you, for the outdoorsy types, this is the ultimate destination. There are hundreds of kilometres of hikes and walking trails to explore in the region, with several lovely walks to set off on directly from the campsite. For thrill seekers, put your mountain bike on your roof rack, or else hire one locally, as there are a number of exciting downhill rides to conquer. The local scenery of the Savoie is simply breath taking. The local town of Bourg-St-Maurice is completely charming, with its pretty wooden buildings and baroque chapels. While you’re visiting the town, be sure to try some of the local dishes on the menu at the little restaurants. Raclette and tartiflette are particularly popular in this region, both of which involve rich gooey cheese melted over potatoes, sometimes served with onions and lardons. Hearty and delicious, and just what you need if you plan to hike up and down those big beautiful hills! Camping La Serre Where in France: Aigues-Vives, Occitanie Drive from Calais: 1,061km / 10h The campsite Number of pitches: 48 very large camping pitches The pitches at Camping La Serre are lovely and big and feel nice and secluded with trees offering shade. Whether you’re bringing your tent, caravan or campervan, you’ll instantly be made to feel welcome, and you can even bring your dog along with you. There are also 14 wooden chalets on site, or for something a little different, there’s even a wooden treehouse that will comfortably sleep a family of five. The campsite is open from April until the end of October, and no matter what time of year you visit, the on-site nature reserve is sure to delight. 15 acres of natural woodland have been dedicated to the project, and campers are welcome to walk the trails and learn about the natural flora and fauna. Also on site, you can take advantage of the good sized pool, badminton courts, and football pitch, and there’s even a little eco-museum looking at the local farming history. In reception, you’ll find a range of helpful leaflets, guides and maps of the local area, and the owners are also on hand to answer your questions. There are lots of hiking and cycling trails in the local area, so why not bring your bike with you too. Spend a day exploring the charming town of Foix with its medieval castle. The area Ariège department, Occitanie Nestled at the bottom of the foothills of the Pyrenees, a short drive from the borders with Spain and Andorra, Ariège is one of the most unspoiled areas in France. With wild, untamed landscapes dotted with pretty little towns, the roads throughout the area offer unparalleled views. There are loads of villages and attractions to explore from your campsite as a base, but the nearby city of Foix is particularly worth visiting. The skyline is dominated by the medieval silhouette of the 10th century Château de Foix with its crenelated towers, and the town below is everything you’d expect and hope for from rural France. Stroll the winding lanes browsing shops beneath ancient wooden arches, or simply pull up a chair at one of the many cafés that spill out onto the streets and take the time to watch the world go by. Huttopia Gorges du Verdon Where in France: Castellane, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Drive from Calais: 1,089km / 11h The campsite Number of pitches: 136 camping pitches The team at Huttopia Gorges du Verdon welcome everyone, including the family pets, whether you’re bringing your own tent, caravan, or arriving in a motorhome. There are 136 pitches to make your own, separated and shaded by shrubbery and trees, as well as many wooden chalets and tents that you can hire from April to October, before the campsite closes down for winter. Castellane is famous for the striking rock face towering above the town. The whole family will be kept busy with a range of activities on site, such as bowling, boules, volleyball, table tennis and table football. There is also a playground for children to let off some steam, a lounge with free WiFi so you can stay connected with friends and family, and a communal room for relaxing in front of the TV and making some new friends. Huttopia Gorges du Verdon also benefits from being situated on the banks of a river and is therefore able to offer an exciting array of water sports, as well. You can go on a canoeing or rafting adventure, swim in the open waters, and even try your hand (and patience!) at fishing. The area Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur A short drive down the road from the campsite is the beautiful ancient town of Castellane, with written records showing that people have lived here since the 10th century, but artefacts have been found locally that date back as far as 6,000 BC. The local history is fascinating, with cave paintings and Bronze age tombs discovered in grottos in the area. Marvel at the natural beauty of the Gorges du Verdon. No matter what you do, you just can’t leave without having visited the campsite’s namesake, the Gorge du Verdon. It’s about an hour or so in the car through picturesque scenery, and more than worth the trip. Often considered the most beautiful river canyon in France, it’s about 25km long and 700m deep in places, with the river culminating in spectacular fashion where it flows into the lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. If you’re feeling inspired to jump in the car and head off in search of a campsite with a view, remember to book your tickets with us as early as possible to take advantage of the best fares available.

The French Riviera

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The French Riviera is an opulent slice of south-eastern French coastline cooled by the Mediterranean. It stretches from Marseille to Menton and even includes the regal microstate of Monaco. The region - ‘Côte d'Azur’ to the French - is ideal for cruising cliff-top roads, sunbathing on glorious beaches, flitting through quaint local markets and of course, yachting. Around 320 days of its year are blessed with glorious Mediterranean sunshine, providing ample time to enjoy the 115km of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and no less than 3,000 restaurants! In short, this part of the world is sun-drenched, seductive and oh-so French. A Divine Location The geography of this coastal belt is truly exceptional. The mountainous national parks of Verdon, Luberon and Préalpes d'Azur stand tall to the north, protective and breath-taking, while the endless blue of the Mediterranean Sea glistens to the south. If you were to flex your French tongue and ask a local, they would certainly direct you to any of the vantage points that provide astounding views of both. With ancient olive groves and fields of native lavender, there’s plenty to fuel the produce sold at the weekly local markets. Almost every town in the region boasts a bustling square teeming with stalls offering the goods, as well as spices, soaps and various handmade crafts. And if you’re looking to get up close and personal with the spectacular landscape and rolling hills, you can take part in plenty of afternoon excursions including vineyard visits, hiking trails or cycling routes. Like the stunning Gorge du Verdon, the deepest canyon in Europe. A colourful soap stall in Marseille. Yachting Through the Years But perhaps you’re looking to take advantage of the sea? The French Riviera does after all host 50% of the world’s superyacht fleet, with 90% of all superyachts visiting the region’s coastline at least once in their lifetime. In 1872, the Prince of Wales at the time paid his first regal visit with his royal yacht, appropriately named, ‘Britannia’. He would frequent the French Riviera during its long summers until he became King Edward VII in 1901; presumably he was too busy from then on. Other royalty and high-ranking aristocracy throughout history have also favoured the Côte d'Azur as a holiday destination. Queen Victoria visited many times as well as Napoleon III of France, Leopold II of Belgium and even Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Although it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th century that the first influx of upper class British tourists descended upon the Côte d'Azur, all eager to visit Europe’s latest fashionable health resort. Unmissable Marinas To really soak up the grandiose yachting culture, we recommend visiting the many marinas and ports across this beautiful stretch of coastline. Cannes is another popular yacht charter destination with many ports, the most desirable of which is Vieux Port (650 yacht berths), which occupies a prime spot at the foot of the historical Le Suquet. Although very busy during the various festivals the city hosts throughout the year, the rather apt Cannes Yachting Festival is definitely worth experiencing. Panoramic cityscape of Vieux Port, Marseille. Nice is the fifth largest city in France and home to Port Lympia. The blue waters of the 500-berth port create an idyllic setting when paired with the red of the surrounding terracotta roofs. Nearby is the lively Old Town area (Vieux Nice) and splendid seafront promenade. Enjoy a plethora of restaurants and superb artistic and cultural attractions including the breath-taking opera house, Opéra de Nice and the grandiose Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Blue waters of Port Lympia, Nice. Mandelieu-La Napoule is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes. Port La Napoule (917 yacht berths) and Port de la Rague (560 yacht berths) are the two ports you’ll find here. The local beaches of Plage du Sable d’Or and Plage Robinson provide a healthy untouched paradise, each having been awarded the Pavilion Blue (Blue Flag) label for environmental cleanliness. L’Oasis and La Palmea are two Michelin-starred restaurants nearby, both with stirring views of the harbour especially at sunset. The province of Mandelieu-La Napoule. Boat Tours Although chartering a luxury yacht in the Côte d'Azur would indeed be the perfect way to spend a summer, popping from port to port in a privately-owned vessel is not quite a hobby that everyone can pursue. Luckily, there is plenty of opportunity for you to experience the thrill by taking part in an exciting locally-run tour. That’s right, you too can enjoy the same pleasures as Victorian aristocracy! Prices really do vary when it comes to sailing along the French Riviera. You could pay under €20 to share a cruise for an hour, €100 to sail around in a private yacht with your own personal skipper, or over €40,000 to rent a superyacht for the day. Luckily, there are options to suit any budget, no matter how small or large. A view of Cannes Bay. We’ve scoured the region to provide you with some of the boat tour businesses that operate in the area. Viator is a very handy TripAdvisor-owned company that lists plenty of the available excursions, while there are more options on the French Riviera tourism site. For those looking to really splash out, you can rent a luxury yacht or join a more lavish tour with Talamare. Where you wish to visit in the French Riviera will affect the length of your drive from Calais. You can get to Marseille in less than 9hrs 30mins, or a trip to Monaco would take you around 11hr. The fastest route either way would see you pass through Lyon and soak up plenty of the delightful French countryside. So, how about it? Throw caution to the wind and make the Côte d'Azur the destination of your next Eurotunnel road trip! Just remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best prices available.

Explore the south of France in the Cévennes

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The Cévennes is home to a sprawling landscape of mountains, forest and cave complexes – it’s the perfect getaway for intrepid hikers and weekend explorers alike. If the tourist routes are not for you and you don’t fancy stopping off in Paris for a stroll along the Seine, you can visit the Montagne de Reims Wildlife Park as you drive south from Calais. There’s plenty to explore in a day here, with 250km of hiking paths through the park’s four unique terrains. Roughly halfway along your journey, you can discover the Great Lakes of the Forêt d’Orient, and spend an afternoon fishing in the Lac du Temple, sailing on the Lac d’Orient or swimming at Port Dienville. Admire the beautiful scenery of Cévennes. From here, it’s plain sailing through Dijon and down to Lyon, before beginning your drive through Lozère state and into the lush landscape of the Cévennes. There are more than 60 campsites across the park to choose from, so pitch your tent and plan your first route. If it’s scenic trails through dramatic gorges you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. And if the Alps or Pyrenees are a little ambitious for you, the hilltops of the Cévennes feature a range of hiking trails and cycle paths to suit every ability. An explorer’s dream Hiking route: GR70 Stevenson trail How long is it: 225 km from Le-Puy-en-Velay to Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille The famous GR70 Stevenson trail provides the setting for the 1879 book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes and is named for the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. If you’re bold enough to follow in some of Stevenson’s footsteps, take the Cévennes trail uphill through the woods to 1308 metres, and you’ll emerge into the peaceful meadows and scrubland of Le Moure de la Gardille. Keep rising further up with the mountain and you’ll find yourself at the 1702 metre peak of Mont Lozère, the jewel of the Cévennes, while an unmissable view across bas-Languedoc opens up before you. Explore the countryside along the Mont Lozère hiking trail. If you’re looking for a slightly less strenuous way to see the area, you can rent a canoe in the lovely Medieval castle town of Florac. Your picturesque paddle through the River Tarn’s gorges in the north-west of the park will be mapped out by buildings rising straight up from the water, as the river snakes through the breath-taking clifftop town and alongside hidden hamlets and dramatic cliffs. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all easy going in this canyon: there’s still plenty of opportunity to get your adrenaline pumping, with kayaking, caving and climbing just some of the activities on offer. On the history trail Rich in history, the Cévennes is home to several Medieval villages, all easily reached by its hiking trails. Officially one of France’s most beautiful villages, La Garde-Guérin is on an isolated, rocky plateau above the Gorges de Chassezac in the north of the park, which has been home to the fortified village since the 12th century. Its little cobbled streets are perfect for walking tours, just like the granite-scattered riverbeds of Le Pont-de-Montvert, around a 25km journey south-west of La Garde-Guérin. This town – one of the stops Stevenson made with his donkey guide – is a little livelier, with souvenir shops and cafés to help get you going again, before your four-and-a-half-hour trek west along D998 to Florac. The architecture of Le Pont-de-Montvert is classically French. To the north of the park is the town of Mende. It’s the perfect place for a daytrip, where you can while away the hours touring its 16th century cathedral, impressive monuments and Medieval houses. North of the old town, even the Notre-Dame bridge dates to the 13th century, while parts can be traced back to 200BC. Take a two-hour drive south and you’ll find Belmont-sur-Rance, a scenic Medieval village perched on a hilltop with beautiful views of the Monts de Lacaune. It’s surrounded by natural beauty and perfect for exploring on bike. Continue south and find yourself at the mouth of the Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park, home to lakes, mountains and breath-taking views of the Mediterranean Sea – well worth the 25-minute drive to Lacaune. Gorgeous gorges and heady heights There’s plenty to keep all the geography and geology buffs among you happy, too. The gorges of Cévennes are cut westwards by the Loire and Allier valleys and east and south-eastwards by the Ardèche, Chassezac and Cèze rivers, leaving beautifully characteristic channels in the limestone that lies beneath the hills. If you venture further out, you can visit the Grotte des Demoiselles at the southern edge of the park. This cave complex in the Hérault valley was once known as the ‘Grotte des Fées’, named for the fairies that were said to live there. It’s easy to feel the magic flowing between the stalactites and stalagmites, especially inside the 120-metre-long and 52-metre-high Cathedral Cavern. There are open underground railway tours of the caves that are available throughout the year and are operated locally. Discover the beautiful rock formations in Les Grottes des Demoiselles. If all this talk of walking is a little too low-energy for you, maybe some winter fun is more your speed. Mont Aigoual in the south-west is the Cévennes’ highest peak, and while spring and summer explorers get to work on the 4,000 steps to the top, winter visitors are more interested in navigating their way down 9km of slopes when the Prat Peyrot ski resort wakes the mountain up from late-December to mid-March. With 12 runs ranging from beginner to advanced, there really is something for everyone. Plan your next holiday in the stunning Cévennes and enjoy a family adventure with thrills, culture and endless of scenic beauty. Just remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

Find paradise in Pays Basque

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Pays Basque or ‘French Basque Country’ is a region rich with history and culture. A passionate pairing of pastoral scenery and roaring coastlines. If you’re looking for somewhere new and exciting within France, the region is the perfect destination. It differentiates itself while maintaining typical French beauty. Pays Basque Where in France: South, between the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees. Drive from Calais: 1,091km / 10h 15m Much like the scenery that comes to mind when imagining Marseille, Nice or Southern France in general, Pays Basque is equally as idyllic with miles of stunning, untouched coastline, delightful hotels and great surf spots. But, the 500-mile distance and the Pyrenees mountain range are but a few factors that separate Pays Basque from the quintessential South of France. Pays Basque countryside, with the Pyrenees in distance. Although French in Nationality, the people of Pays Basque and their ways are far more akin with those of the Southern Basque Country, found in Northern Spain. The entirety of the Basque region shares a language and a heritage that is said to be one of the oldest in Europe, predating even the Romans. History states that after conquering the Celts in Gaul (the Roman term for what is now regarded as mainland Europe), Julius Caesar found the Basque people south of the River Garonne. The Roman’s originally dubbed them the ‘Aquanti’ people. The sport of ‘pelota’ is a passion of the people and an invention that seems to be exclusive to the region. It resembles both Lacrosse and Squash and its nature was outlined in a documentary made by Orson Welles entitled, ‘Land of the Basques’. The French Basques are even credited with the design of the modern-day beret. French Basque men wearing ceremonial dress. Biarritz Where in France: Nouvelle-Aquitaine Drive from Calais: 1,065.8km / 9h 30m The French Basque country is considered to be more rural and unaffected than its Spanish counterpart, with less industry and more agriculture. The jewel in the crown of France’s Basque coast is undoubtedly Biarritz. The seaside city is the glistening cocktail of half ritzy coastal resort and half summer surfers’ hang-out. It was also once the preferred getaway for Napoléon III and his Spanish-born wife, Eugénie de Montijo during the mid-19th century. The feeling in the air is of La Belle Époque (The Beautiful Era) with a lot of the architecture hailing from this period of 1871-1914. The region seems to have kept up the optimism and economic prosperity brought about the flourishing art scene. This coupled with a healthy dose of art deco can leave you feeling as though you’ve travelled back in time. Biarritz also has its fair share of Brutalist and Modernist buildings. The movement seemed to sweep across France in the mid-20th century with concrete being a cheap and reliable material, ideal for rebuilding a war-torn Europe. Whatever your architectural taste, there is plenty of beauty to behold with the white sand beaches, azure waters, delightful cafés and enticing restaurants. The marina at sunset, Biarritz. One experience unique to Biarritz is tasting the delicious, ‘Le Beret Basque’ from Miremont Patisserie. The small and deliciously indulgent mousse-filled treat is a must for first-time visitors. The name comes from the cake’s likeness to a beret, and it was inspired by local men being recruited as soldiers during WW1. The men would leave their berets behind for their wives and girlfriends before adorning helmets and heading for the front line. The owner of the patisserie, Joseph Miremont had the idea to create the cakes to console the heart-broken women. Surfing in Biarritz With favourable and steady sunny weather, Biarritz throngs with tourists during the summer months. Many flock to the city to take advantage of the perfect surfing conditions the Bay of Biscay has to offer. The city is blessed with sizeable swell all year round and is regarded as one of Europe’s most famous, exciting and reliable surfing destinations. An experience that lives forever with those who indulge, is to brave the waters during the early evening. With the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees silhouetted in the far distance, you’ll think you’ve paddled out to heaven itself. A surfer heads out into the water. Biarritz Surf Training, Côte Des Basques Whether you’re a seasoned pro or someone looking to try their hand, Biarritz has you covered. Plage de la Côte des Basques is a beautiful beach just south of the city centre and home to the Biarritz Surf Training surf school. They’ve been teaching on the beach for 30 years and cater for all levels, as well children as young as 5. The months of July and August are usually best for newbies, with good waves but nothing too monstrous. Although, be advised that this is also the busiest period. For the daredevils among you looking for the most thrilling experiences, we suggest visiting during September. The water is still warm from the beating summer sun, the tourists are in small numbers and the waves start to pick up the power. They usually reach around the 6-foot mark as the Autumn creeps in and a 3/2 full wetsuit is the norm. The neighbouring beaches of La Milady, Plage des 100 Marches and Plage de la Petit also provide the same conditions, meaning a short walk in either direction could grant you with a secluded surf spot. So, if you’re looking to experience exceptional natural beauty, age-old and unique culture as well as guaranteed good surf, Pays Basque is the destination for you! Book your next adventure with us now to take advantage of the best fares.

Discover Brive-la-Gaillarde camping

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There’s something so liberating about camping. It must be the possibility that you can just turn up somewhere new, pitch your tent, and call it home for the night. With almost countless different places you could visit, how do you know where to start? Well, for starters, you want to choose somewhere scenic and close to places of natural beauty and interest. The weather may also be a factor, so heading somewhere where there’s less chance of rain may be high up on your list. With these things in mind, you can’t go wrong with a camping trip to the charming little town of Brive-la-Gaillarde. Brive-la-Gaillarde Where in France: Nouvelle-Aquitaine Drive from Calais: 765 km / 7h 20m Nestled in a quiet corner of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in Central France, once you get past the bustling outskirts, you’ll find yourself in the pretty village-like centre of Brive-la-Gaillarde. The shops and houses are a warm yellow tone, thanks to their sandstone building blocks, which gives the town a romantic air like something out of a fairy tale. As you wander the streets, you’ll find that they all, pretty much, lead to the Collegiate Church Saint-Martin de Brive in the centre. Construction of the current church started around the 11th or 12th century, although, there was a church on the site as early as the 5th century. Excavations between 1986 and 1988 revealed old walls and even a tomb, believed to belong to Saint Martin the Spanish, to whom the current church is dedicated. The Collegiate Church Saint-Martin de Brive In more recent history, Brive-la-Gaillard was a regional capital of the Resistance during World War II, and seat to several major movements including the Armée Secrete, or Secret Army, and the Mouvements Unis de la Résistance, or the United Movements of the Resistance. Brive-la-Gaillarde was also the first town in Occupied France to liberate itself, which took place on 15th August 1944. These days, Brive-la-Gaillarde is most famous for its local market, attracting sellers and shoppers from all over the local region. There’s a market three times a week, held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and it’s a real centre of gastronomy, boasting some of the finest local produce around, so foodies rejoice! Attractions around Brive-la-Gaillarde On market days in particular, Brive-la-Gaillarde can get a little busy, so if you fancy a little road trip to escape the crowds, there are plenty of great local attractions to visit in the area. Les Pans de Travassac It’s always interesting to learn something new, especially if it’s about something completely separate from your day-to-day life. And for the majority of people, a visit to Les Pans de Travassac, about 20 minutes’ drive north from Brive-la-Gaillarde, will provide them with just that sort of new experience. Learn about the history of slate mining at Les Pans de Travassac Les Pans de Travassac offers a unique opportunity to discover the world of slate mining that has been present in this exceptional location since the 17th century, making it the oldest slate mine in the region. Visitors will learn all about this sadly dying trade and the skill that goes into it from the knowledgeable guides. The mines are open every day throughout July and August, but only on Sundays and public holidays during the shoulder seasons from May to October. The guided tours last about an hour and a half and start at 1:30 pm but check ahead of visiting to ensure they’re going ahead. There is a small fee, as well, for joining one of the tours. Les Jardins de Colette About 17 minutes’ drive north-west of Brive-la-Gaillarde, you’ll find Les Jardins de Colette, the beautiful landscaped gardens of the French author Colette in the grounds of the home she shared with her husband, Henry de Jouvenel. Whether you’re a fan of the author and her work, most notably Claudine at School, or are more interested in seeing the maze and all the flowers, you’re sure to have a wonderful day out. Part of Les Jardins de Colette dedicated to the author’s most famous work As previously mentioned, there is a maze in the grounds, but this isn’t just any old maze. It’s shaped like a giant butterfly and measures about 5,000 m2. To add to the adventure, there’s a game for children to play as they work their way round, helped out by a bulldog and a cat mascot, and learn more about the author. There are also a number of distinct landscaped gardens, such as the Childhood Garden, the Wild Garden, and the Sensory Garden to name just a few. There is a small entry fee for adults, which is reduced for retired visitors, students and children, with very young children up to 3-years-old admitted free of charge. The gardens are open every day in July and August, with reduced timetables in the shoulder season from April to November. For more information on opening times and prices, check the website ahead of visiting. Campsites around Brive-la-Gaillarde There are plenty of scenic campsites to choose from in the countryside around Brive-la-Gaillarde, all of which would make a fantastic base for exploring the local area. Camping Le Coiroux Drive from Brive-la-Gaillarde: 19.8km / 32m There are 182 plots set in this shady 160-hectare Le Coiroux campsite, 97 of which are available for you to pitch your tent at, with the remaining 85 dedicated to permanent accommodation options. Pets are also welcome to stay in the rented accommodation options here, as well as in your private tent, which isn’t always the case in France. Set amid a picturesque forest on the shores of a lake that you can swim in, you couldn’t hope for a better location. If you don’t fancy a dip in the lake, there is also a pool and paddling area for kids to enjoy. The whole family can also take advantage of the many additional activities, including table tennis, water sports, archery, and discos for kids and teenagers. The countryside around Brive-la-Gaillarde is simply stunning Camping du Lac du Causse Drive from Brive-la-Gaillarde: 12.3km / 24m There are 117 plots in the grounds of Camping du Lac du Causse, with 61 rental homes and 56 dedicated to tent pitches, with pets welcome in both options. There are all the usual amenities provided on site, such as laundry facilities. Another scenic campsite, Camping du Lac du Causse is nestled on the edge of Lake Causse in which you can swim, or the campsite also has an outdoor pool for your enjoyment. A nearby activity centre provides access to water sports include kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, and pedalo hire. Alternatively, there are around 250km of hiking trails criss-crossing the area for you to explore. If you’re feeling inspired to set up camp near Brive-la-Gaillarde for your next holiday, don’t forget to book your tickets with us early in order to take advantage of the best rates.

Experience the wine harvest in Bordeaux

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If you consider yourself a lover of wine, you’ll no doubt hold the Bordeaux region in Southwest France in high regard. With regimented rows of grapevines lining the rolling hills of vineyards as far as the eye can see, it’s an oenophile’s paradise. One of the most interesting times of year for wine lovers is undoubtedly the harvest season, but the city of Bordeaux itself has plenty to offer all year round. Bordeaux Where in France: Gironde, Nouvelle-Aquitaine Drive from Calais: 867km / 7h 50m When somewhere gets the seal of approval from Her Majesty, you know it’s special. After her last visit to Bordeaux, the Queen remarked that the city is “the very essence of elegance”, and of course, she wasn’t wrong. The Miroir d'Eau in front of the Place de la Bourse is most spectacular at night. Around half of the city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest urban area of anywhere in the world. It exudes charm with its majestic 18th century architecture, nowhere epitomises the grandeur of Bordeaux as perfectly as the Place de la Bourse. With regal airs reminiscent of Versailles, the elegant symmetry of the Palais de la Bourse is really brought to life by the Miroir d'Eau in front of the building, particularly at night when the reflection in the shallow water is illuminated. Bordeaux is home to many beautiful churches, but none quite match the splendour of the Cathédrale St-André. The oldest section of the cathedral dates back to 1096, but most of what you see dominating the skyline is from later additions made in the 13th and 14th centuries. The main attraction for visitors is climbing the 231 steps up the 50m-high Gothic tower to be rewarded with panoramic views of the city below. There are also often concerts held in the church where you can go and see live music. Admire the views from the Gothic tower of the Cathédrale St-André. Before you head out of the city to explore the vineyards, pay a visit to the Cité du Vin museum dedicated to wine. The building itself, beautifully situated on the banks of the River Garonne, has been thoughtfully designed to resemble a decanter, clad in silver and gold metal that catches the light just right. Inside you’ll find sensory exhibitions covering everything from grape varieties and cultivation methods, to new trends and famous personalities. The tour ends with a glass of wine or grape juice to whet your appetite before exploring the region further. How to make the most of the Bordeaux harvest season The Bordeaux wine harvest begins in early September and is one of the best times to visit the châteaux of the region. The sun is still beaming its warmth down upon the countryside, and the vineyards are alive with activity. As you can imagine, there are numerous beautiful vineyards in the Bordeaux region to choose from, each with its own unique qualities and reasons to visit. At some, you can join in with the harvest – be warned, though, it’s hard work – whilst others simply offer expert-led tastings. The wine harvest season begins in early September. Maison du Vin de Saint-Émilion This is the wine school of the Saint-Émilion region and the perfect place to start your visit, whether you’re a seasoned wine enthusiast, or new to the game. The oenologists at the Maison du Vin de Saint-Émilion will talk you through all the basics, as well as some of the finer points for more advanced tasters. There are a number of short courses for you to choose from on which you’ll learn what to expect and look out for when tasting specific wines, which will steer you in the right direction for the rest of your trip. Head to their website for more information. Château Pape Clément One of the oldest wine estates in the region, you can feel the history of Château Pape Clément emanating from every grape at this stunning vineyard. The first harvest dates all the way back to 1252, which means that fine wines have been produced on the estate for over 750 years, however back then it was known as the Domaine de la Mothe. Your visit to Château Pape Clément will really be brought to life with one of the tours or workshops they offer their guests. From simple wine tastings, ranging from three to eight wines, to more elaborate pairings with cheese, to winemaker workshops where you’ll learn to make your own souvenir bottle, you won’t soon forget your visit to this estate. The iconic Château Lafite Rothschild as seen on the labels of some of the world’s finest wines. Château Lafite Rothschild For one of the most exclusive tours in the region, visit the spectacular Château Lafite Rothschild vineyard. The wines from this estate were the first of only four to be classified in Bordeaux’s coveted Premier Cru, or First Growth, grouping in 1855, the highest ranking bestowed on wine. Places on vineyard tours are limited to just 15 people, so make sure to book early. You will explore the estate in all its grandeur before being invited to taste some of the finest wines in the world in an unparalleled experience. If you fancy buying a souvenir bottle to take home, however, be prepared to pay for quality. If all this talk of wine has whet your appetite and inspired you to drive down to Bordeaux, remember to book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best fares available.

From Calais to Slovenia on a pawsome adventure!

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Where’s the farthest destination you’ve travelled to with your pet? Bloggers behind World Wide Walkies Jackie and Mark and their four Cavapoos have explored as far as Slovenia, all in one caravan and here to inspire your next adventure. When I arrive in Calais, I love the sense of freedom – a whole WORLD within reach. You could drive to Outer Mongolia if you wanted to. Our plan was a little more modest. We Brits love France, yet there is so much on our doorstep. So, with our caravan (that we’ve named Kismet) and Les Quatre Cavapoos, we decided to explore Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia before cruising home via Italy. In fewer than 1000 words, I can’t give the low-down on these wonderful countries. However, I have picked out some highlights for you! Rothenburg ob der Tauber Where in Germany: Franconia, Bavaria Drive from Calais: 767.1km / 7h 39m Fairytale city I was promised; fairytale city I got. Rothenburg is truthfully THE most beautiful place I have ever visited. Who needs Disneyland when real places like this exist? My hubby was right when he said; “We have reached the Kingdom of ‘Far Far Away’!” Rothenburg is one of the most beautiful places we’ve travelled to. There are 42 towers on the medieval walls surrounding the town (42 - the answer to Life, the universe and everything!). We walked the walls with the dogs and were treated to beautiful views of the Tauber valley. It was 27°C at 9am but thankfully, the walls and gardens were gloriously shady. If, like Wizzard, you ‘Wish it could be Christmas Every Day’ then Rothenburg is for you. It boasts the largest Christmas Village in Europe, which is open all year round! We had our photo taken with the larger-than-life wooden toy soldier outside the Christmas Village (above). Of course the dogs went down a storm as usual, Germany is very dog friendly and our four-legged friends were allowed on trains, subways and into most restaurants (with some restaurants and shops even bringing your pets some water). The Saxon Swiss National Park Where in Germany: Saxony Drive from Calais: 990.7km/ 10h 32m On the border with and continuing into the Czech Republic, The Saxon Swiss National Park is definitely a destination to get on your bucket list! In Germany (like France) dogs aren't often allowed off lead in National Parks. In the Saxon Swiss, however, the Tourist Information will tell you routes and areas where dogs can run free. The stunning Bastei Bridges towers 194 metres above the Elbe River. There are 1200km of well-marked walking trails on the German side. The ‘Malerweg’, or ‘Painters’ Way’ is a long-distance walking route through the area where certain parts are dog friendly. A Julia Bradbury Walk takes in many of the must-sees, like magnificent castles at Hohnstein (home of puppetry), Königstein Fortress and Bastei Bridge, which is built into the rock – there’s plenty to see in the area! To connect with nature, there are many curious ‘Lord of the Rings’ landscapes; walk in the ‘Lost World’ of Uttewalder Grund, hike the glorious Polenztal Valley or see whether you think that the fabulous sandstone rock formations towering above the River Elbe compare to those in Monument Valley! Colditz Castle Where in Germany: Saxony Drive from Calais: 880.8 km/ 9h 16m We’ve seen the film, played the board game and now – we have sat in the famous prisoner’s courtyard in Colditz Castle. It was amazing to actually visit such an iconic place where the dogs were allowed in the castle and on the guided tour too. It was a lovely, cool walk through the forest from the campsite to the castle; passing through a dilapidated tier garden. Dogs were allowed both in Colditz Castle and on the guided tours. There are 1000 years of history in the walls of Colditz Castle so there is a lot to discover, but the few years of WW2 dominate. My favourite exhibit was a collection of watercolours and excerpts from the diary of William Faithfull Anderson, a prisoner of war in Colditz from 1940-1945. It was a really personal story. I particularly loved his painting of the prisoners relaxing in the courtyard and his description of “a human sundial” chasing patches of sunlight around! The Most Beautiful River in the World Where in Slovenia: Western Slovenia Drive from Calais: 880.8 km/ 9h 16m There are plenty of off-lead walks near our campsite in Slovenia. The moment we entered Slovenia, my jaw dropped. (It only re-clenched again as we descended the many hairpins of the Predel pass!) At 1156m, all we could see from the top of Predel were the bright, white limestone peaks of the Julian Aps soaring into the air over deep chasms of emerald green, far below. The pyramids were once faced with limestone so that they shone out in the landscape; this was more impressive. I took the dogs for an evening walk from Camp Soča (a dog-friendly campsite we stayed in). As I turned the corner from an unassuming little path, I thought I had been transported to paradise. The river Soča wages the hefty claim of being ‘The Most Beautiful River in the World.’ As the track opened out and I was greeted by the deep turquoise waters of the river bordered by golden shallows, edged with pale beaches and pure white stones where the river emerged from a steep gorge with walls like polished alabaster, I was not inclined to disagree! I hope that this has given you some inspiration to explore a little further from home. The Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) and the Castle Road (Burgenstraße) both take in Rothenburg. ‘SLOVEnia’ is the tag line for the Slovenian Tourist Board. If mountains, lakes, caves and castles float your boat, you will truly LOVE it! There’s a world out there for your pet to explore! Feeling inspired? Start your next pawsome adventure with your pet by booking your tickets with us early and taking advantage of the best prices.

Summer in the Alps with your four-legged friend

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Grab life over 50 blogger Emma Hetherington shares her French Alps itinerary, bringing along her Jack Russell Jacob too for a pawsome holiday. With our grown-up kids all working this summer, we decided instead to take our dog Jacob along on our latest holiday to the French Alps. We chose Le Shuttle to get to France as it meant we could stay in the car with the dog during the journey. And what a joy! With a bit of preparation before we set off, and given the French are very dog-friendly, we discovered a great four-legged holiday companion. We were concerned it might be a long drive for our miniature Jack Russell Jacob (680 miles to be exact) from Twickenham to the French Alps. But with a bit of planning for dog-friendly stop-overs along the way it was actually really enjoyable and stress-free for me, my husband John and Jacob too. And the rewards of the stunning scenery when we got to mountains - and the sunny, Alpine outdoors for Jacob to run around in - more than made up for the long journey. Outbound Stopover – Arras Where in France: Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France Drive from Calais: 108.9km / 1h 15m Arras makes a brilliant first stop, which is not far from Calais. No more than a couple of hours from Calais, we stopped overnight in a dog-friendly Ibis hotel right in the centre of this beautiful market town. With its two huge squares, surrounded by narrow, tall, medieval-style houses, there were plenty of streets to explore and outdoor cafes and restaurants to take in the lively summer evening nightlife. Although the original wooden houses in Arras were destroyed during the course of two World Wars, the town has kept to the spirit of the originals in the rebuilding. At the Ibis it did feel strange the first time we walked Jacob through reception, into the lift and up to our hotel room. But this is France. And they love dogs. French Alps destination - Thollen-les-Memises Where in France: Haute-Savoie, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Drive from Calais: 881.4km / 8h 35m There’s no bigger ‘walkies’ destination than the French Alps! This pretty, rustic village ribbons its way up a quiet road above Evian Les Bains in the Haute Savoie. Offering stunning views across Lake Geneva and lots of invigorating walks in the mountains, it was a perfect spot to meet up with the whole family for a week. Staying in a Swiss-style chalet, nestled underneath the towering cliffs of the mountain above, Jacob loved it. He happily travelled in the cable car from the village into the peaks above, exploring Alpine meadows filled with the sound of tinkling cow bells and lots of interesting and very different smells from back home in Twickenham. Doggy days out Evian Les Bains Just down the winding mountain road from Thollon-les-Memises is the famed spa town of Evian. This is a lovely place for a day out with a dog. There are plenty of opportunities to amble around the pretty streets, explore its Art Nouveau spa building, lake-side hotels, cafes and casino. We took the rickety funicular railway up the hill for more views over Lake Geneva to Lausanne. As you’d expect in France, most of the local cafes were very happy to accommodate a dog whenever we stopped for a coffee or a glass of wine. Ancient Yvoire A tiny, walled town on the French shores of Lake Geneva, it is worth a visit if you’re in the area – just be prepared to share the place with a lot of other visitors during the summer! John, myself and Jacob in Ancient Yvoire. Geneva Big cities generally aren’t great when you have a dog in tow. But there is plenty of lovely outdoor scenery to admire in Geneva and of course the lake shore itself to walk around. It took us about an hour to drive across the border to Geneva from Thollen. Jacob enjoyed the views of the Jet D’Eau (the giant fountain in the lake itself) and was very happy to ride-along on the tourist train that took us up into the ancient heart of the city, accompanied by an interesting commentary about the history of the place. Return Stopover – Troyes Where in France: Aube, Grand Est Drive from Calais: 396.4km / 3h 49m On the return journey at the end of our holiday we chose another historic town about three hours drive north from Evian Les Bains to stop over. The Ibis here was bigger and more modern than the one we stayed in Arras – but gave the same warm welcome to the dog. Unlike Arras, Troyes has kept its original medieval buildings. It’s very charming with its wonky, wooden-framed houses, old churches and of course plenty of cafes to watch the world go by. Historic Troyes is also a very dog-friendly destination. It turned out that Jacob is a born traveller. What impressed us most was how he handled lots of different types of transport. It didn’t occur to me to think about this before we set off – but as a nervous dog he doesn’t usually take well to unfamiliar and noisy surroundings. Yet on every mode of transport he tried, from a clunky funicular and hooting steamboat to swaying telecabine and crowded tourist train, he didn’t make a murmur. Could it be that he so appreciated being included on this trip to France that he decided to behave? We’re looking forward to taking him with us again. He’s a great travel companion. If Jacob’s pawsome travels has left you (and your furry friend!) feeling inspired, Remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best prices.

Hike in the hills of Le Hohwald

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Hiking doesn’t have to be a strenuous expedition about conquering great peaks, and surviving on nothing but Kendal mint cake for three days. It can be just as enjoyable going for a more leisurely stroll that only takes a couple of hours, leaving plenty of time for a well-deserved, long lunch. Not too far from the border with Germany is the bucolic village of Le Hohwald, nestled in the French hills like something out of a fairy tale. It’s a relatively easy scenic drive from Calais, and will make the perfect basecamp for the whole family to hit the trails and explore the great outdoors without the need for an oxygen tank! Le Hohwald Where in France: Bas-Rhin, Alsace Drive from Calais: 578km / 6h 15m The main attraction of Le Hohwald is its location amid the trees at the base of the Vosges mountains. There are numerous walking and cycling trails leading into the forests and up and down hills starting from Le Hohwald. But before you leave the town, it’s definitely worth having a quick look around first. The village of Le Hohwald may be small, but it’s perfectly formed The architecture of the houses is gorgeous. They look like something that you’d see on a box of chocolates or fudge, with their pretty painted shutters, timber details, and pleasing symmetry. The Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité church is particularly charming and worth a visit for its peaceful atmosphere and lovely frescoes. It won’t take very long to explore, as Le Hohwald really is very small, but it’s the perfect place to stretch your legs after a long drive. Once you’re feeling refreshed, head back to your accommodation, put your boots on, grab your map and bag of supplies, as it’s time to set off on an adventure. The Col du Kreuzweg hike Just because a hike is easy, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s short or boring. The Col du Kreuzweg hike is proof of that. This route starts and ends in the same place, making it great as a morning or afternoon loop. It’s about 5.5 miles long, or just less than 9 kilometres, so you’ll definitely feel like you’ve achieved something, without completely wearing yourself out, making it ideal for younger children as well. In total, it should take you around 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete, or a little longer if you like to stop for snacks or rests. Hiking is the best way to make the most of Le Hohwald’s stunning location Depending on which direction you go, you will either face a long, slow ascent with a shorter, steeper incline on the way back, or a shorter but more challenging hike up hill to begin with, and a more leisurely walk back downhill. For the sake of your thighs the next day, we’d recommend starting off gently, and taking advantage of gravity’s helping hand with the steeper homeward stretch! The Champ du Feu hike If you’re after an easy route that will take you and the family the whole day to complete, then hiking from Le Hohwald to the Champ du Feu is the trail for you. Again, this route is a loop, which saves having to drive or organise public transport for getting home again. Coming in at around 10.3 miles, or 16.6 kilometres, you will definitely need to make sure that you are well stocked with supplies before setting out. As well as lunch, make sure you have plenty of snacks and drinks to keep you going, as you’ll be hiking for at least 6 hours to complete this route. At the summit of the Champ du Feu route, look out for the interesting sculptures Whichever direction you decide to walk this trail, your journey will be pretty similar. As far as trails go, this one is quite symmetrical with its ascents and descents. If you set off anti-clockwise, you’ll reach the highest point slightly quicker, at 4.6 miles or 7.4 kilometres in. Attractions to look out for en route In the local area, there are a couple of great attractions to look out for. Plus, it’s always nice to have a goal or a marker to aim for at different points along your hike to break the walk up a little. About 2 miles outside of Le Hohwald, hidden amongst the trees, you’ll find the beautiful Cascade du Hohwald. There is a viewing area with a picnic bench where you can sit and admire the waterfall whilst having a spot of lunch or just a rest. It’s definitely worth pausing here for a short while, though, to appreciate the natural beauty of the place. The beautiful waterfall just outside of Le Hohwald In the middle of the Champ du Feu region, and actually in the middle of a roundabout, is the iconic observation tower, which has become the local emblem. The tower stands at 1,099 metres above sea level, and is the highest point of the area, making the views from the top really spectacular. You will also notice signs in the local area for the Parc Alsace Aventure, which is the local adventure park. If you fancy visiting on another day, it’s a short 8-minute drive from the centre of Le Hohwald. There are loads of fun activities here for the whole family, including an assault course through the trees, zip lines, paintball and archery. All of the activities have different admission rates and opening times, so check the website before you go. If you’re feeling inspired to get back to nature and make the most of the great outdoors, an adventure holiday in Le Hohwald will tick all the boxes. Just remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

Family friendly fun when camping in Saint-Clément-des-Baleines

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Everyone’s favourite childhood memories involve a family camping trip, right? To make your family’s holiday memories extra special, pick a campsite surrounded by natural beauty in a picturesque location such as Saint-Clément-des-Baleines on the Île de Ré in France. Saint-Clément-des-Baleines Where in France: Île de Ré, Nouvelle-Aquitaine Drive from Calais: 736km / 7h 10m The commune of Saint-Clément-des-Baleines is made up of five little villages: Le Chabot, Le Gillieux, Le Godinand, Le Griveau, and La Tricherie. It is one of 10 small communes on the Île de Ré, which means ‘isle of ferns’ because of the marshy fenlands that divide the island just off the coast of La Rochelle on the mainland. The lovely little village of Saint-Clément-des-Baleines. Saint-Clément-des-Baleines in particular gets its name, rather tragically, because of the whales that used to get stranded en masse on the beaches of this part of the Île de Ré during their seasonal migrations. The word ‘baleines’ is French for ‘whales’. Thankfully, this no longer happens, but the place name has stuck, as have the names of several local businesses and attractions named in honour of the whales. Saint-Clément-des-Baleines is the perfect basecamp for a family holiday on the Île de Ré, with plenty of lovely campsite options to choose from. Campsites around Saint-Clément-des-Baleines There are four main campsites local to Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, including La Plage, La Côte Sauvage, Les Pérouses, and of course Les Baleines. Each campsite has its own unique charms and benefits, so you’re sure to find one that’s perfect for your next family holiday. Camping La Plage La Plage has been rated four-stars, and has 138 pitches surrounded by shrubbery for privacy and partial shade. Its location is hard to beat, with the sea just 100m away from the campsite and a nature park just a little further. There’s an outdoor pool, surrounded by sun loungers if you fancy a day away from the beach, and there are plenty of sports and activities available to keep everyone busy, from pétanque, basketball and table tennis, to horse riding and even a sailing school nearby. Campsite La Côte Sauvage Two-star campsite La Côte Sauvage has been recognised as ‘eco-friendly’ since 2009, and offers a large choice of 351 pitches. The campsite doesn’t have its own pool, but it couldn’t be closer to the beach if you fancy a dip in the sea. There are a number of other activities available on-site, though, such as volleyball, boules, a games room, and arts and crafts centre. There are also plenty of cycling trails just waiting to lead you off on an adventure. The stunning sands of the Plage de la Conche des Baleines. Les Pérouses du Pare The smaller Les Pérouses offers just 52 sites at its four-star campsite, making it feel much cosier than some other options, with a combination of mobile homes, chalets and tent pitches. Les Pérouses also doesn’t have a swimming pool, but the sea is only about 400m away. On-site, you can enjoy a traditional game of pétanque, or challenge your family to a table tennis tournament. Les Baleines The three-star campsite of Les Baleines is mid-range in size with 185 plots, 24 of which are mobile-home accommodation and the rest are available for your tent or motorhome. You’ll find mini-golf and table tennis available on site, as well as loads of fun activities nearby including scuba diving and horse riding excursions. See the sights of Île de Ré From your campsite in Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, you’ll find yourself in the perfect spot for visiting the attractions of the whole of the Île de Ré. And because of its small size, you can even explore the island on your bikes, if you fancy a break from driving – and don’t worry if you didn’t bring your own, there are plenty of places you can hire bicycles from. Pretty much on your doorstep, and certainly the most prominent feature on the horizon, is the lovely Phare des Baleines lighthouse. Alongside the lighthouse itself, there is also a museum and the old tower that you can visit. There is a small fee to enter the attractions, but the surrounding park is free to visit if you just fancy admiring the structures from the ground with an ice cream in hand. The view from the top of the 60m lighthouse is definitely worth the climb, though! The striking black and white bell tower in the heart of Ars-en-Ré. While you’re up there, you’ll have a great view of the nearby commune Ars-en-Ré. The most famous landmark here is the black and white 15th century bell tower, which is part of the 12th century Church of Saint-Étienne. Aside from it simply being aesthetically striking, the reason that the bell tower is painted this way is that it was used as a marker for sailors, helping them to navigate around the treacherous coastline. You may not be able to see it from atop the lighthouse, put further along the island towards the mainland bridge is the fascinating Fort La Prée. Built in 1626, it’s the oldest fort on the Île de Ré and served as its primary defence before the construction of the citadel of Saint-Martin-de-Ré later in the century, but remained a tactical stronghold afterwards as well. There is a small fee to enter, and for a little extra you can join one of the guided tours. A classic house on the Île de Ré. And whilst you’re on the island, you simply have to spend a day in the aforementioned town of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. Surrounded by 17th century fortifications, almost every house in Saint-Martin-de-Ré has shutters painted one of 16 shades of officially approved blues and greens. It may seem a little limiting, but the overall effect is very beautiful, particularly when these shutters are contrasted against the vibrant hues of the hollyhocks that grow rampantly all over the town. To make the most of it, you don’t have to go with a specific activity in mind. Simply stroll around aimlessly, and enjoy your surrounds at your leisure. If you’re feeling inspired to eschew the mainland in favour of a more laidback island pace, the Île de Ré is the perfect place to do just that. Remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares available.

Driving Dad’s Guide to the Champagne Region

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Matt Hyotte, otherwise known as Driving Dad, moved to the UK over a decade ago and has been enjoying European road trips since. Together with his wife and 3 boys, their on the road adventures have attracted over 11,000 followers on Instagram. Are you looking to conquer Europe by car? Here’s Driving Dad’s tips for enjoying one of the most popular areas in France; the Champagne region… Less than a three hour drive from Calais lies the Champagne region of France, an area whose world-famous beverage of the same name is produced. But for many travellers driving further into the Continent, the most they will see of Champagne are the signs along the A26 motorway for the junctions to Reims and Epernay, cities synonymous with champagne production, and quick glimpses of Champagne’s sprawling vineyards. Much has been written about champagne…and Champagne, and the region offers endless activities for champagne lovers and connoisseurs. If your interests lie in top end champagne then there are 17 villages with the “grand cru” designation (the highest designation in Champagne) and 43 “premier cru” villages (the second highest designation). This translates to hundreds of top tier champagne producers without even taking into account the thousands of smaller producers populating the region. In short, if you can’t make Champagne a destination, it is certainly worth a quick detour. The Perching Bar Champagne tastings have acquired the reputation of very formal events, and fairly so. Champagne producers and drinkers alike take their champagne seriously. But for those looking to combine a nice glass of bubbly with an element of adventure, there exists the perfect champagne bar. A treehouse toast | Credit: Driving Dad The Perching Bar is located in the Foret de Brise Charrettes, fittingly just outside the grand cru-designated town of Verzy and conveniently located only 15 minutes off the A26/A4 motorway. What makes this champagne bar particularly distinctive is not the type or quality of champagne it serves, but that it is in a tree house, 20 feet above the forest floor. True, it is a treehouse fit for some of the region’s top (as well as most interesting) champagnes, but it is a treehouse nonetheless and one of the most engaging, if not most enjoyable, places to drink a glass of champagne (or two). Getting to the Perching Bar is an adventure in itself. After exiting the motorway and driving through the winding streets of Verzy, you veer off onto a gravel road that runs along the top of a local vineyard. This gravel road soon turns into a one-lane dirt road that winds through the forest and dead ends in a clearing, where, if not for the wooden barrel with an arrow pointing up a pine needle covered hiking trail, you might think you were lost. An inside view of the Perching Bar | Credit: Driving Dad A five minute hike later (while not strenuous, leave your high heels and loafers at home) and welcome signs of civilization, in the form of a small wooden ticket booth and the distance sound of clinking glasses, emerge. Champagne Road Trip Access to the Perching Bar costs €16 per person, which includes a glass of champagne and an introduction by one of the resident champagne experts to the champagne on offer that day. After purchasing tickets, a series of suspension bridges and wooden platforms built into the forest lead to the treehouse bar itself. It takes some navigating as only one person is allowed on the suspension bridges at a time, but upon arrival, you are immediately rewarded with sweeping views of the local vineyards and the village of Verzy. In nice weather, the wrap-around deck provides an excellent vantage point to take in these views. Or opt for the indoor seating consisting of chairs swings complemented by a hanging ice bucket for quick access to your bottle of champagne. Either way, it is guaranteed to be one of the most unique champagne drinking experiences you’ve had, in Champagne or elsewhere. Enjoy the vineyards from above | Credit: Driving Dad The Perching Bar is open from April to late November and select dates outside these months. Opening times vary depending on the season and reservations in the peak summer months are highly recommended. Group tastings and food can be pre-arranged. Children under 12 are not allowed in the bar. For designated drivers, remember France allows 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood, instead of 0.8 as in the UK. For the kids An added benefit to the Perching Bar is that it is adjacent to the Parc Arboxygène, an outdoor adventure park also located in the Foret de Brise Charette, with ropes courses, zip lines and suspension bridges. Trained instructors will take your kids through the park while you happily sip your champagne at the Perching Bar. (Or reward yourself with a bottle of champagne after you complete one of the rope courses). Are you ready to enjoy a glass of champagne in the trees? Start your next Driving Dad inspired road trip and book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best prices.

Le Soleil Camping in Argelès-sur-Mer

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There’s something so freeing about camping. It must be the simplicity of it all, and the proximity to nature – things we often take for granted in this day and age! So, if you’re looking to embrace the great outdoors, but still want a balance of cultural activities and time spent on the beach, you can’t really go wrong with this campsite. Le Soleil Camping Where in France: Argelès-sur-Mer, Pyrénées-Orientales Drive from Calais: 1,161km / 10h 45m When it comes to locations, it’s hard to beat Le Soleil campsite. Situated right next to the beach in attractive ‘garden’ surrounds, this 10-hectare plot has 830 pitches and 136 mobile homes, all of a good size, so there’s plenty of room for the whole family, including the dog! There are all the usual amenities on site, such as laundry facilities, wifi, power supplies, and some little shops and places to get food and snacks. For fun, there is a large 1500m² pool complex with slides, water games, and a paddling area for the little ones. There are also loads of outdoor activities to keep everyone entertained, from boules to badminton and volleyball, and there’s even a climbing wall! For kids, there’s a playground, bouncy castles and trampolines, and teenagers will love the beach bar parties and discos. Argelès-sur-Mer The closest town to Le Soleil campsite is Argelès-sur-Mer at about 4km away, which is even close enough to walk to if you fancy stretching your legs after a long drive. However, if you think you might want to do a bit of shopping, definitely take your car as that will feel like a very long walk home with heavy bags! The bell tower of the 14th century Notre Dame del Prat church. The main point of interest in the town is the lovely little 14th century church, the Notre Dame del Prat. Inside, there are some pretty stained-glass windows, religious icons, and a beautiful high altar, and if you have the chance, the views from the bell tower are stunning. Also, on Saturdays, there’s a local market that pops up and surrounds the church. Just to the south of the town, you’ll find Parc de Valmy. Set in six hectares of landscaped gardens, at the heart of the park there is a lovely château, somewhat reminiscent of the castles you read about in fairy tales. You can take tours around Parc de Valmy, and your guide will tell you a little more about the history of the place, as well as pointing out some of the more unusual flowers and plants found in the grounds. On a sunny day, the gardens surrounding the château make the perfect setting for a picnic and there’s also a playground at Parc de Valmy to keep the kids occupied. If you plan your day right, you could visit the local market in town on a Saturday morning, and take your delicious treats with you for an al fresco feast for lunch. The château at the heart of Parc de Valmy is reminiscent of fairy tale castles. Afterwards, perhaps you could pop next door to visit Les Aigles de Valmy, or the Valmy Eagles Park. You can learn more about the beautiful birds of prey they have in residence, as well as see them in flight at one of the falconry displays that they put on throughout the day. And if you’re feeling brave enough, you can even undergo some falconry training yourself at one of their workshops! National Park Day Trips If you fancy a day trip away from the campsite, there are a couple of great national parks in the area that are great for hikes, picnics and cycling. A little over an hour’s drive north of Le Soleil is the Natural Regional Park of Narbonnaise in the Mediterranean. Home to all manner of species of mammals, insects, and birds – including flamingos! There are organised trips and tours that you can take, or there are plenty of well signposted hiking trails to follow. Enjoy the peaceful beauty of the Natural Regional Park of Narbonnaise. There is also a rather unique attraction in the form of the ‘shipyard of marine carpentry’, where you can meet a team of experts who restore maritime vessels such as old schooners, and reconstruct ancient Roman boats. All their projects are carried out using traditional marine carpentry techniques, keeping the heritage and culture of the area alive. Even if you aren’t actively into boats, the work that they do will easily leave you impressed. Alternatively, you can take the slightly longer 1h25m drive to the Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees. Similarly, there are numerous stunning hiking trails to conquer, and incredible wild animals to look out for, but there are also several other attractions that are completely unique to the area. The region has been known for its natural thermal springs since Roman times. There are five local establishments where you can enjoy the waters and their individually unique properties, some of which are famous for curing skin complaints, others for rheumatism or respiratory ailments. A stroll around the walled town of Villefranche-de-Conflent is like taking a step back in time. There are also two Fortifications of Vauban in the area, which are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mont-Louis and Villefranche-de-Conflent, the latter of which used to be considered Spanish territory. Around the borders of France, there are actually 12 of these sites, but nowhere else are there two so close together. For anyone interested in history, these picturesque fortified towns are a must-visit. If you’re feeling inspired to pack up the car and hit the road in search of adventure, you won’t find much better than a camping holiday in Argelès-sur-Mer. Just remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares!

Enjoy a break from the city in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

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City life is great. There’s always something to see or do, and it’s a melting pot of different cultures from around the world. But every now and then, all you want to do is escape and run to the hills! If that sounds like your idea of heaven, then set your sat nav for Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. Bellegarde-sur-Valserine Where in France: Ain, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Drive from Calais: 778km / 6h 45m The town of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine is a relatively new one, formed by imperial decree from Napoleon III on December 6, 1858. Sat at the confluence of the Rhône and Valserine rivers, and in close proximity to the Swiss border, Bellegarde-sur-Valserine opened up to major industrial developments once a railway station had been constructed in the middle of the 19th century. Numerous companies set up along the banks of the two rivers to take advantage of their hydropower, such as paper mills, spinning mills, and sawmills. Then, in 1883, Louis Dumont built a dam on the Valserine river, which generated enough energy to make Bellegarde-sur-Valserine one of the first towns in France with public electric lighting. The river flowing through Bellegarde-sur-Valserine is just beautiful. Today, the town’s main attraction, as well as its proximity to Switzerland, is that it is an ideal base for exploring the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Jura, or the Upper Jura Regional Natural Park. The perfect setting for getting back to nature and leaving the stresses of city life behind. Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Jura No matter what time of year you visit, there’s something to keep everyone happy. In the winter, the Haut-Jura attracts snowboarders and skiers, particularly cross-country skiers, and during the summer months, walkers from all over the world come to ramble through the meadows and up the scenic hills. The area is also perfect if you fancy trying out water sports such as white-water rafting or kayaking, or even a more leisurely afternoon spent fishing. The Haut-Jura region is resplendent with rolling hills and glittering lakes. There is seemingly no end to the ways in which you can explore the 1780-sq-km Haut-Jura Regional Park. There are thousands of km worth of walking routes, which can also, along some routes, be explored on mountain bikes or horseback. If you don’t have your own bike (or horse for that matter!), you’ll find plenty of places you can rent one, and local stables who organise group horseback riding tours. You can find out more at one of the local tourist information offices. If after all that fresh air and exercise you’re in need of a hearty snack to keep you going, the Haut-Jura is also home to a thriving cheese-making industry. The region’s three most famous cheeses are Comté, Morbier and Bleu de Gex, and after a day of trekking up and down hills, you’ll have earned a plate of all three – with a side of fresh local bread and a glass of wine to wash it down, of course! Dairy farmers have been grazing their herds and making cheese in these hills for centuries. Camping around Bellegarde-sur-Valserine If you’re planning a visit in the warmer months, there’s no better way to experience this stunning little corner of France than by camping. There are a number of great campsites in the area, so you’re spoilt for choice really, but we’ve put together this brief guide to point you in the right direction. Camping du Signal 35 pitches, on 1 hectare Located between lakes and mountains, this little campsite has everything you need such as water, electricity and internet access. The pitches at Camping du Signal are a decent size, and separated by hedges for a little extra privacy. As well as the 35 pitches available for setting up your own tent or caravan, there are also 11 set up for you, which include little cottages and mobile homes. Dogs are permitted on site, but not inside the provided accommodation. There are communal showers on site, as well as special areas for your baby and disabled access. Kids will be kept entertained with tennis courts, a slackline, indoor play area, Pétanque and other outdoor games. Camping Les 12 Cols 101 pitches, on 2 hectares Nestled 800m above sea level on a plateau of meadows and forests, is the Camping Les 12 Cols site. There are some lovely new facilities available, including a large common room with a fireplace – particularly welcome in the winter months – as well as a library, bar, and computer area. Outside, you’ll find a swimming pool, playground, table tennis, and volleyball to keep the whole family happy. The terraced campsite has 101 pitches, ranging from 90m2 to 130m2, all equipped with wifi, water and electricity, and separated with hedges and shrubbery. You can also rent accommodation on site, but as is generally the case, dogs are not permitted to stay inside. Camping Les Gorges de l’Oignin 123 pitches, on 2.8 hectares In terms of location, you couldn’t really ask for a more beautiful spot than Camping Les Gorges de l’Oignin. Built on terraces at the edge of the Lac de l'Oignin, this is one of the most scenic and peaceful campsites in the area. There are 123 pitches, separated by hedges under dappled shade, with a beautiful view of the lake below. There are also some lovely chalets and mobile homes on site to rent, if you don’t have a tent or caravan. There are the usual amenities such as water and electricity, as well as wifi around the bar and terrace. You can also have fresh bread and pastries delivered, if you order them the day before, and there’s a shop where you can restock on all your basics. In the summer, there’s a lovely little water park, as well as volleyball, football, boules, golf, and fishing. There’s also a kids’ club for 6-12-year-olds, where they can learn crafts and make new friends. So, if city life is getting a bit much for you, jump in the car and head for the idyllic escape of Bellgarde-sur-Valserine and the Haut-Jura. Just remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

The home of Robert Tatin

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In an otherwise typical corner of France, there lies a whole world of amazing temple-like statues reminiscent of the ancient figures you might find in the temples of Asia or South America. Welcome to the wonderfully creative world of French artist, Robert Tatin. Who is Robert Tatin? Born Robert Émile Ernest Tatin on 9th January 1902 in the town of Laval. His early life was spent largely surrounded by women, being brought up by his mother, grandmother, sister and nurse, as well as nature and astronomy, all of which became recurring themes in his work in later life. Robert Tatin began studying painting from the age of 14 when he took art classes at the Perrine School in Laval, which also included sculpture, enamels and ceramics. Not having very much money, when he moved to Paris in 1918 to further pursue his career, he enrolled in the free classes of Vilvoski at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and evening classes at the École des Beaux-Arts. The entrance to Robert Tatin’s home and the main art gallery. Throughout his life, Tatin never stopped studying and learning new craft skills, and received great critical acclaim and numerous awards. In 1930, he started up a business in his hometown of Laval, offering services such as carpentry, painting, interior decorating, amongst others, which was the beginnings of what is now the Robert Tatin Museum. In 1962, Tatin moved to a place called La Frénouse in Cossé-le-Vivien, not too far from Laval, and started creating his masterpiece. He continued working on his incredible ‘environnement d'art’ right up until his death in 1983, and it has remained unchanged since. The Robert Tatin Museum Where in France: Cossé-le-Vivien, Mayenne Drive from Calais: 523km / 5h 10m When you first enter the Robert Tatin Museum, your first encounter will be with the ‘Alley of the Giants’. Along a path about 80m in length, are 19 towering statues that tell the story of Tatin’s life and important discoveries. Representing his childhood, there’s a statue of Joan of Arc and Vercingetorix, who was a tribal leader of the Gauls, both of which link to his study of French history. His growth into adolescence and later life are marked by statues relating to mysticism, and questions of ‘Being’ and ‘Having’. The statue of Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc, representing Tatin’s childhood. His adult life, and the development of his career as an artist, is represented by statues of the most prominent influences on his work, including Pablo Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, Auguste Rodin, and Jules Verne, to name just a few. Of course, the entire museum is built around the house that he lived in with his wife, which today serves as a gallery. Inside, you’ll find his studio where the weird and wonderful creations all around you were born, as well as examples of his early work. Because the house itself is so small and fragile, only small guided tours are permitted inside. Also, look out for the tombstone in the garden marking the artists final resting place. The magical Garden of Meditations, reflecting our journey through life. From the small garden in front of the house, you can continue on to what is probably the most popular part of the museum. Centred around a still and peaceful pool of water is the Garden of Meditations. Around the edge, the twelve months of the year are represented in line with the direction of the rotation of the earth. To the north of the garden, you’ll see a large 6.5m tall statue called ‘Notre-Dame-Tout-Le-Monde’, linking heaven and earth. And to the east and west, you’ll find the ‘Gate of the Sun’ and the ‘Gate of the Moon’, respectively. The whole garden is designed to reflect our journey through life, and the pursuit of meaning and wisdom. The dragon is not a demon, but a guardian of knowledge. The magic and wonderment of the Robert Tatin Museum continues with more captivating sculptures, such as the dragon, and ‘Gate of Giants’, and there are also rotating temporary exhibitions held in the Barn. Over the years, numerous exhibitions have looked at a variety of different aspects of the artist’s work and interests, and they all strive towards a common goal. In accordance with the final wishes of the artist himself, the museum is there as a living, breathing space to ensure that contemporary art remains an important part of culture, and to inspire new artists. And after a walk around the house and gardens, you will be left feeling nothing if not inspired! The Gate of the Giants represents five great artists. Visiting the museum The Robert Tatin Museum is open throughout the year, except for the month of January, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. From the 1 June to the 31 August, the museum is open every day of the week from 10am until 7pm, but otherwise, it’s closed on Tuesdays and opening hours vary, so check the website ahead of your visit. Ticket prices vary, depending on whether you wish to explore the house as well as the rest of the museum, and there is different prices for adults, children, families, and other groups. As these are subject to change, see the website for more information. If you’re looking for something a little different that will leave you feeling inspired to create, look no further. And don’t forget to book your tickets across the Channel with us early to take advantage of the best fares available.

Hiking in the Gorges du Verdon

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Few places come close to the jaw-dropping scale and natural beauty of the Gorges du Verdon, often hailed as ‘Europe’s Grand Canyon’. Dramatically cutting through 25km of the Haute-Provence, revealing its limestone core beneath the surface, right the way up to the Alps, there’s no better way to experience it than on foot. The Gorges du Verdon Where in France: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Drive from Calais: 1,121km / 11h 30m The history of the Gorges du Verdon dates back millions of years ago to the Cretaceous period, which is also when the Alps were formed. Massive geological activity caused tectonic plates to shift and fracture, resulting in the sheer cliffs and deep valleys you see today. Some of which are 700m tall, which is over twice the height of the Eiffel Tower! The Verdon Natural Regional Park is great for water-sports as well as hiking. In 1997, the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon, or Verdon Natural Regional Park, was established, encompassing 180,000 hectares, preserving the landscape and the wildlife that inhabits it. The park also attracts numerous tourists, especially given its proximity to the French Riviera, who come in pursuit of kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking. When it comes to hiking in the Gorges du Verdon, you are absolutely spoiled for choice. It really depends on what you’re looking for, whether it’s a relatively short and easy walk over a couple of hours you fancy, or a more rigorous trek over a day or two. Either way, the Gorges du Verdon can cater to all your wildest walking dreams! By far the most popular route, however, is the Sentier Blanc-Martel, or the Blanc-Martel trail. Hiking the Sentier Blanc-Martel Generally speaking, a car is an absolute necessity whilst you’re on holiday in this region, and the same goes for this hike. Now, technically, the Blanc-Martel trail is a one-way walk, however the local taxi companies are used to giving tourists a lift from one end to the other, so that’s not really a problem. There is also a local bus service from the end of April until the end of August, but be warned, it is quite sporadic, so you could end up waiting a while. The best way to walk this iconic route is from Châlet de la Maline to Point Sublime. It’s up to you which end you leave your car, we recommend driving to the finishing point, and arrange for a taxi to pick you up from there and take you back to the start. Try to aim to leave your starting point relatively early, by about 9am. Few places on Earth can boast as beautiful scenery as the Gorges du Verdon. Before you set out, make sure you have plenty of food and water, as you’ll be walking for a good few hours. At a leisurely pace, this walk should take you about seven hours, with short breaks for lunch and photo ops. It’s also a good idea to pack a small first aid kit, just in case, and it goes without saying to make sure you have strong and sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots. You’ll also need a torch towards the end of the route. From Châlet de la Maline, begin the leisurely descent, and follow the gentle zig-zag path until you reach the first viewing platform for a short rest and to admire your surroundings. Back on the main trail, keep following the path right to the bottom. In total, this first stretch shouldn’t take longer than an hour, even if you stop for a good 10-15 minutes’ rest. The waters running through the Gorges du Verdon are absolutely crystal clear. At the bottom, follow the markers directing you towards Point Sublime, which follow an easy route through the trees, and there are even a few places where you can access the river. Be extremely careful, though. You’ll probably notice some warning signs on the banks, as this is because the river is controlled by a dam. At any given point, without warning, this dam can be released, causing the water to rise incredibly fast, so don’t linger too long at the water’s edge. Now that you’ve reached the bottom, naturally you’ll have to climb back up to the top, but don’t worry, it’s not particularly steep. Keep gradually ascending along the path, until you reach the highest point of the trail, and another even more spectacular viewing point. From here, the walk will continue for another few hours, so look out for places to stop for a rest and to refuel on lunch and snacks. The Blanc-Martel trail may be long, but it is worth the effort. Towards the end of the route, you’ll come to a couple of tunnels. As before, just stick to the signs directing you to Point Sublime, and mind your footing in the dark, as there are a couple of ankle deep puddles just waiting to fill your walking boots with icy cold water! This is when your torch will come in handy. The second tunnel is longer than the first, but there are little viewing windows dotted throughout. Once you’ve cleared the tunnels, your final destination is a short distance away. Over the other side of a bridge, you’ll come to the ‘Parking du Couloir Samson’, cross the pavement and continue your ascent left. The markings aren’t as clear here, but the path is solid, and at the top, you’ll find your final opportunity for photos and a canteen selling what will probably be the most delicious cold drinks you’ve ever tasted! Take the time to pat yourself on the back, and admire the views one last time before driving back to your hotel or tent, if you decided to camp in the area. Take the next day to enjoy a well-deserved rest. You will have definitely earnt it! If you’re feeling the urge to hit the trail and explore some of nature’s most beautiful scenery in France, remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

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