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.

Hiking the Cap d’Antibes trail

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The Côte d'Azur is so named for good reason. The crystal-clear waters of the Cap d’Antibes are the definition of sparkling azure blue. To really make the most of this stretch of coastline, head out of the main town, hit the dusty trail and hike out to the best viewpoints. Antibes Where in France: Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Drive from Calais: 1,211 km / 11h 50m People flock from all over the world to bask in the sun-drenched splendour of the French Riviera, and stroll along the beach admiring the beautiful yachts and the beautiful people on board. The town’s beauty has also attracted some famous admirers over the years, including the author Graham Greene, and the artists Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso. Picasso, in fact, featured the town in many of his works, and even has a museum dedicated to him there now. It goes without saying that the curation of the Musée Picasso focuses heavily on the artist’s work of Antibes, but after recent renovations it has been re-contextualised and positioned in a broader perspective of Picasso’s life. Lose yourself down the pretty streets in the town of Antibes. For a taste of ‘real’ Antibes, head into the old town, and get lost amid the maze of cobbled streets. Try to navigate your way to the Marché Provençal, a beautiful old local market housed beneath a 19th century roof. Head out early, as it’s only open until 1pm, but whilst you’re there you can pick up all manner of delicious morsels to rustle up some lunch. Admire the view from the old sea walls while you eat, and build up an appetite for a good, long walk along the rugged coastline below. Hiking around the Cap d’Antibes Whether you’re a seasoned pro, or a bit of a hiking rookie, the Cap d’Antibes trail is accessible to everyone. The route is about 4.8km in length, and will take you around two hours to complete, with an ascent and descent of 30m. All in all, nothing too strenuous, but so worth it for the views. You’ll start and finish at La Garoupe beach, where you can park your car just behind the beach itself. From here, head to the end of the beach and start to follow the footpath round towards the wild headland, in the opposite direction to the town of Antibes. Keep following the wide path, and you’ll come to a stunning cove with views of the Côte d'Azur that will take your breath away. There are numerous postcard-perfect bays all around the Cap d’Antibes. Keeping along the path, which will change shortly after this first cove into a paved path, and next you’ll come to the Cap Gros. All along the coast, you’ll find pretty bays and inlets of the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen. And on your other side, some of the biggest, most beautiful houses and villas in the area. Continue around the headland, past a couple more bays where you can stop off for a refreshing dip – or at least a paddle – until you come to the Baie des Milliardaires d'Antibes, or the Bay of Antibes Billionaires. From here, take the path inland, which will lead you back to La Garoupe beach where you started. Take a dip in the crystal clear waters of this little slice of paradise. It goes without saying, but take care when walking along this coastal path. It’s mostly safe, and without hazard, but after rain or particularly rough seas, the path can get wet and slippery. There are handrails along the majority of the route, but take your time nonetheless, which will also give you more time to enjoy the natural beauty of the place. If you’ve got itchy feet, and can’t wait to set off on your next walking adventure, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more scenic route than the Cap d’Antibes trail. Just remember to book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best fares across the Channel.

The medieval magic of Carcassonne

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The silhouette of Carcassonne looms big against the sky as you approach. Its imposing fortified walls leave no room for guesswork as to how it’s still standing after all these years. Granted, a lot of restoration was carried out by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc from 1853 to 1879, but this town was built to last. Carcassonne Where in France: Occitanie Drive from Calais: 1053km / 10h 20m Carcassonne sits on top of a hill next to the Aude river in the middle of an historic trade route linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. The area of Carcassonne has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, but it was really the Romans who recognised its strategic importance. It was later taken over in the 5th century by the Visigoths, who formed the city itself. It then passed from hand to hand, as various successors and conquerors took control, until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. The medieval fortress underwent extensive and faithful restoration in the 19th century, and in 1997 it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. An aerial view of Carcassonne and its strategic hilltop position. Carcassonne is the second most visited place in France after Paris, which makes it an absolute must-see. Fortunately, much of the citadel can be visited for free and without the need for a tour guide. You can visit both day and night through either the Narbonne or the Aude gateway, the latter of which offers particularly spectacular views across the open plains. Château et Remparts The town is surrounded by two walls topped with defensive battlements, with a total of 52 towers keeping watch. If you want to walk on the ramparts themselves, you have to pay to enter the Château et Remparts. Ticket prices vary for adults, students and groups, so check ahead of visiting. Similarly, opening hours vary throughout the year. To make the most of the Château, give yourself at least an hour to explore the exhibition rooms covering over 2,500 years of history, the keep, and the internal and external defensive walls. The ramparts are divided into two sections, the northern Gallo-Roman rampart and the western medieval rampart. Both offer spectacular panoramas of the surrounding landscape, across the Montagne Noire and the Pyrenees. La Porte de Aude, or the Aude gateway is simply stunning. Musée de l'Inquisition This one may not be for everyone, but for those with a morbid sense of curiosity or an interest in medieval history, it’ll be right up your street. The Museum of the Inquisition is dedicated to the instruments of torture used in France from the 12th century up until the French Revolution. A tour of the museum will take you through dungeons and chambers filled with all sorts of nasty things, explained in fascinating detail in French, English, Spanish, Italian and German. The way that the museum has been curated isn’t just for the sake of telling a gory tale, but rather to denounce the intolerance and fanaticism that reigned at the time. If nothing else, it’ll make you glad to be alive in this day and age rather than back then! Ticket prices vary for adults, students and children, but the museum is open all year, seven days a week, between 10am and 6pm, extended to 8pm in July and August. Basilique Saint-Nazaire Often referred to as the ‘Jewel of the City’, the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire is truly stunning. From the outside, you can admire the striking Gothic-Romanesque architecture, but the beauty of the church is really best appreciated from the inside. It is thought that this site originally had a church on it as far back as the 6th century, but the current basilica can be dated to the late 11th century after Pope Urban II blessed building materials before construction in 1096. Gothic alterations were made in the 13th century, as well as general renovations in the 19th century, so it really is a church of the ages. The Basilica of Saint Nazaire is even more stunning from the inside than it is from the outside. Inside, particularly on a sunny day, the stained-glass windows will take your breath away. The central window in the choir dates back to 1280, one of the oldest in France, and depicts the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Place Carnot In all honesty, what you end up doing in Carcassonne doesn’t really matter. The magic of the place permeates everything, so even if you just spend the day strolling around hopping from café to café, browsing the shops en route, you can’t go wrong. If a relaxed day of wandering the streets of this ancient town sounds like your idea of heaven, make sure you head to Place Carnot. This is where all the local Carcassonnais gather and meet up with each other. The Neptune fountain in the centre of Place Carnot. In the centre of the square is a beautiful fountain with a marble statue of Neptune stood pride of place. And on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings, there’s a lovely little market selling fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Feeling inspired to discover the medieval citadel of Carcassonne? Be sure to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

Journey into Padirac Cave

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No one is quite sure when the chasm of Padirac Cave, or Gouffre de Padirac, was formed, but the ‘how’ of the matter is that the ceiling of the cavern below collapsed, revealing this large hole in the earth. It is known that the cavern existed in the 3rd century, but other than that, it’s a bit of a mystery, which has led to some colourful mythology surrounding its existence. Local legend has it that the chasm was formed by the devil himself, who kicked his heel into the ground and challenged Saint Martin to cross it. He said that if Saint Martin succeeded, then he would spare the souls of the peasants he was about to drag to hell. With that, Saint Martin spurred on his faithful mule, and leapt clean over the great hole in the earth. It is said that you can still see traces of the hoof marks today! Standing at the bottom gazing toward the sky makes you really appreciate the cave’s vastness. Padirac Cave Where in France: Lot département, Occitanie Drive from Calais: 814km / 7h 55m With a diameter of approximately 35 metres, or 115 feet, standing at the edge of the entrance to Padirac Cave will take your breath away. To visit the cavern below, you will have to descend 75 metres by lift or stairs, before entering the cave system, which goes on to a depth of 103 metres, or 338 feet. Take a boat through the labyrinthine chambers of the cave. Once you reach the bottom, you will be guided to the boats which will carry you into the heart of the cave. You will glide over the peaceful rivers, weaving in and out of cavities in the rocks, which themselves take on surprising shapes reminiscent of certain types of mushrooms, casting eerie but beautiful silhouettes and shadows. As your journey continues along the river, you’ll come to the rippling waters of Lac de la Pluie, the lake of rain, where you will quite literally find yourself being rained on. Water permanently runs down the walls and stalactites here, including the Grande Pendeloque, a massive 60-metre-high stalactite. The sheer scale of the stalactites in Padirac Cave is breath taking. You’ll then disembark the boat at the edge of the main cavern, before following the walking tour into the ‘Salle du Grand Dome’, a vast cathedral-like space that will have you gazing around yourself in wonder. At its height, the ceiling reaches 94 metres and is bejewelled with crystalline clusters formed over millions of years. Once you’ve walked through the rest of the cave, you’ll find yourself blinking against the brightness of the natural daylight, left with a sense of awe at the natural beauty you have just witnessed. Practical information The tour of Padirac Cave will take about an hour and a half, and so the ticket office closes 90 minutes before the end of the day. The cave is open every day from late March until early November, generally from 09:30 until 18:00, but check the exact dates and times ahead of visiting. A visit to Padirac Cave will stay with you and the whole family for years to come. Ticket prices for adults are €13.50, children aged 4 to 12 are €9.50, and kids younger than 4 are free. You can buy tickets online in advance, which is advisable in the busier summer season, or pick them up on the day at the ticket office. There are also audio guides available in English, French, German, Dutch and Spanish, as well as audio guides specifically designed for children. There are also a number of special ticketed events available throughout the season, including afterhours tours and music concerts. One particular highlight is the ‘Explorer Tour’, which will take you through at night, guided through the dark by the light of your own lantern, just how Édouard-Alfred Martel would have discovered it in 1889. One last tip, the caves remain at a constant temperature of 13 Celsius throughout the year, so remember to take a warm jumper or jacket with you! If you’re feeling inspired to venture underground and explore the wonders of Padirac Cave, remember to book your tickets with us in advance in order to take advantage of the best fares.

Hettie’s Pet-Friendly Guide to the south of France!

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Family-run business Hello from Hettie create bags and accessories (including pet accessories!) that are all made and produced in Britain. However when it comes to taking time off the family pack up their car and their four legged friends and head for the south of France to relax. Here’s mum of the family Siân’s pet-friendly guide to the local area. It’s the beginning of another year and time to start planning holidays. We are a dog family and love that they can come with us too. We are fortunate enough to have a second home in France, in the beautiful Tarn-et-Garonne region in the south west. Dogs will just love to explore the french woodlands in the South of France. It is important to be well prepared for such a long journey, taking everyone’s comfort into account. (The dogs are pros at this now, sleeping most of the way, staring at the Eiffel Tower on the Paris Périphérique with nonchalance.) Hettie’s packing essentials for pets: Big bag with everything to hand Bottles of water Treats Poo bags Food for dogs (and humans!) Collars and leads (including some longer leads so the dogs can run in grassy areas) Passports   When we get there the dogs just slot into their other life, lying by the pool and in their favourite shady spots out of the sun. But they like to get out and about too and here are a few areas they can enjoy. Caylus Drive from Calais: 914.5 km / 9h 4m Explore the historic commune of Caylus with your pet. Our house is in the department of Tarn-et-Garonne, near the pretty village of Caylus, and the stunning St Antonin Noble Val in the Gorge d’Averyon. The Sunday market here is extensive and draws visitors and locals alike. There are many wonderful dog walks right on our doorstep, many of them marked with the yellow PR signs. The little tourist building by the lake at Caylus, or any of the tourist offices in St Antonin and Caylus, can sell or supply books and maps with the walks marked. The scenery is stunning - stone walls and crosses, pretty cottages with bread ovens, small churches, and plenty of space for the dogs to roam. The Aveyron River and gorge are wonderful to walk along, watching the kayaks paddle leisurely downriver, and have a paddle in the water. St Antonin Noble Val Drive from Calais: 912.2 km / 9h 4m Courtyard outside the Beffroi Tentations restaurant in St Antonin. The Sunday market at St Antonin is a must, and many people take their dogs, although in high season it is extremely crowded in the narrow streets. A perfect solution is to sit in a dog friendly bar/cafe such as Le Gazpacho and watch the world go by with a croissant, café au lait, and bowl of water for the pups. Most of the restaurants are happy to welcome well-behaved dogs. A must is the Beffroi Tentations, which sets up in a gorgeous medieval courtyard - great food and ambience, and an outside venue to take the dogs. Montauban Drive from Calais: 909.1 km / 8h 55m The Place Nationale in Montauban is a must-see destination with your pet. Other picturesque bastide towns of Najac and Cordes are also well worth a visit. Again great places to stroll with the dogs and stop for an ice cream and a coffee. Although Montauban is the capital of the département and being built mainly of reddish brick it’s not to be missed. The Place Nationale is classed as one of the 10 most beautiful squares in France. Sit in one of the restaurants in the square and people watch. Does the south of France sound like your pet’s kind of holiday? Start your next pawsome adventure with your pet by booking your tickets with us early and taking advantage of the best prices.

Castles of the Loire Valley

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Every now and then we all need to escape reality. And there are few places as perfectly set up to do just that than the Loire Valley in France. With its grand palaces and fairy tale castles, you’ll find yourself transported to a fantasy land of kings and queens, balls and lavish parties, and generally living in excess. Throughout the Loire Valley, there are over 100 châteaux open to the public, amongst which there are a number of incredibly famous castles. There’s the Château de Chambord, which is the grandest house in the Loire Valley, and one that almost everyone has heard of. There’s Château de Cheverny, which was the inspiration behind Marlinspike Hall, the country house belonging to Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin. And then you also have Château de Chenonceau, which is almost half house, half bridge. The palatial Château de Chambord, possibly the world’s most famous castle. But let’s take a drive off the beaten track, and explore some of the equally exquisite, but slightly less well-known châteaux of the Loire Valley. Château d'Ussé Where in France: Indre-et-Loire, Centre-Val de Loire Drive from Calais: 559 km / 5h 10m As we’re exploring the land of real-life fairy tale castles, it seems fitting to start with the Château d'Ussé. It is this grand château that was the inspiration behind the enchanted castle in Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, as well as serving as inspiration for Walt Disney when he was creating his Disney Castles. The fairy tale castle of Château d'Ussé, home to Sleeping Beauty. Sat happily at the edge of the Chinon forest, there has been a fortification of some nature on this site since the 11th century. The château fell into disrepair until the 15th century when it was purchased by a captain-general of Charles VII. Many alterations and restorations took place over the next two hundred years, resulting in the beautiful structure you see today. Château d'Ussé is open every day from 11th February to the 4th November, between 10am and 6pm and until 7pm in the main season from 31st March to 30th September. Ticket prices vary, so check ahead of visiting, but children under 8 years of age go free. There’s also a fun game for kids to play as they tour the château, collecting clues around the story of Sleeping Beauty. Château de Montsoreau Where in France: Maine-et-Loire, Pays de la Loire Drive from Calais: 544km / 5h The Château de Montsoreau is completely unique to the region in so far as that it’s the only château built directly on the riverbed of the Loire river. Where it is positioned is at the confluence of the Loire river and the Vienne, which is also the meeting point of the historic regions of Anjou, Poitou and Touraine. Château de Montsoreau, the only castle actually built on the Loire riverbed. In 2014, a project was started to turn the château into a museum of art and language, and in 2016, Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art opened to the public. It’s a privately run museum, founded by Philippe Méaille, French contemporary art collector and owner of the world’s largest collection of Art and Language works, which make up the permanent collection. The Château-Museum is open every day from April until November between 10am and 7pm, and then in the winter, the hours are reduced from December ‘til January to between 10am and 5pm. Children under 5 years of age go free, otherwise there are several ticket options available, so it’s best to check the details ahead of visiting. Château de Villandry Where in France: Indre-et-Loire, Centre-Val de Loire Drive from Calais: 528km / 5h In some cases, as with the Château de Villandry, it is not the house but the gardens that do the talking. And in this case in particular, they talk very loudly indeed! Aside from the Palace of Versailles, the gardens at the Château de Villandry are some of the finest examples of French formal gardens in France, the beauty of which is achieved in the symmetry and order over nature. The gardens at Château de Villandry are some of the finest in France. Over the course of history, the gardens of the Château de Villandry have been chopped and changed, and fallen into various states of disrepair. It wasn’t until 1906 when Joachim Carvallo purchased the property and poured vast amounts of energy and money that they were restored to their former Renaissance glory. Amongst the formal gardens, you’ll find a water garden and a vegetable garden, as well as the ornamental flower gardens, all laid out in formal patterns marked out by low box hedges. Both the château and gardens are open to the public, and have been since 1920 when Carvallo opened it up to share the splendour of the place with the people. Opening times vary from month to month throughout the year, with the château closing for major public holidays, but the gardens actually remain open every single day. The website has a comprehensive list detailing the various dates and ticket prices, which makes planning your visit as easy as possible. If all this talk of châteaux and splendid surrounds has got you dreaming of your next escape, remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares available.

Your Guide to the Dordogne

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Amongst the rolling hills of the French landscape, down in the southwest corner, lies the eminently charming department of Dordogne. For the British, this region has long held a special place in our hearts and captured our imaginations, and it’s not very hard to see why. A little history Dordogne is one of the oldest departments in France, being one of the original 83 created on 4 March 1790 during the French Revolution. The boundaries of the department roughly mirror those of the ancient county of Périgord, which dates back to the days of the Gauls. The name Périgord comes from the Gaulish word for ‘four tribes’, which is how the area was originally split, and Dordogne is still actually divided, in some respects, into four Périgords reflecting this. There’s the Périgord Vert (Green), Blanc (White, Pourpre (Purple), and Noir (Black). Each is named after a distinguishing feature unique to each region respectively. Périgord Vert is rich with verdant valleys, rivers, and streams. The Périgord Blanc region is white limestone plateaux. Périgord Pourpre is famous for its wine. And Périgord Noir is so named for its woods of oak and pine. Périgord Vert Main town: Nontron Drive from Calais: 756km / 7h 35m As you’d expect from a region named for its beautiful rolling hills, and lush greenery, pretty much anywhere you go you’ll find yourself surrounded by picturesque scenery. There is no shortage of pretty little towns to visit either. One particular highlight is Brantôme, just 20 minutes’ drive down the road from the main town of Nontron. The happily situated Abbey of Brantôme. Nestled in a wide bend alongside the river Dronne, which is spanned by five elegant briges, Brantôme has earned itself the nickname of ‘the Venice of Périgord’. Hours can be whiled away strolling along the winding streets of the town, or admiring the stunning architecture of the Benedictine Abbey of Brantôme, founded in 769 by Charlemagne no less! The bell tower of the 11th century abbey is notable for being one of the oldest gabled Romanesque bell towers in all of France. There are also caverns below the natural rock foundations that you can visit. Périgord Blanc Main town: Périgueux Drive from Calais: 780km / 8h Although it may be less visited than the other Périgord regions, Périgord Blanc still has some real gems to be explored. Périgueux, the capital of Dordogne as well as Périgord Blanc, has been in existence since Neolithic times. As you’d expect, the town is rich with history, with sites dating back to Gallo-Roman times, as well as architecture surviving from medieval and renaissance times. The iconic domes of the Périgueux cathedral. The most famous landmark in the town is undoubtedly the Cathédrale Saint-Front de Périgueux. Modelled on St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, the towers and domes of the church are iconic, the latter of which were actually resized for symmetry by Paul Abadie in the 19th century. Only the bell tower and the crypts remain unchanged since the 12th century. Elsewhere in town, you can visit the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, which has been turned into a park, and the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum protecting an archaeological site of a Gallo-Roman house, the Vésone Domus, where you can see remarkably well preserved mosaics and wall decorations. Périgord Pourpre Main town: Bergerac Drive from Calais: 882km / 8h 30m You can’t visit the Périgord Pourpre without sampling some of the famous local wines, and Bergerac makes a great base for exploring the region. You’ll find vineyards all along the river, with the right bank being characterised by terraces with the vines grow on sandy, stony and alluvial soils, and on the left bank many of the vineyards are planted on limestone soils on the sides of hills. The two most renowned wines of the region are Pecharmant red wines with their unique flavour and elegant aroma, and Monbazillac white wines, characterised by their sweetness made from handpicked grapes only affected by ‘noble rot’. Château Monbazillac in the Périgord Pourpre wine region. If you’re not so into your wines, the Périgord Pourpre region also follows the lower part of the Dordogne River, where it becomes wider and slower, making it ideal for water pursuits such as canoeing or boat trips. There are plenty of places in the region around Bergerac that you can hire a canoe or kayak, and it’s probably one of the most unforgettable ways to explore the rivers and the idyllic towns and villages. Périgord Noir Main town: Sarlat-la-Canéda Drive from Calais: 820km / 8h 10m Last but by no means least, we have the Périgord Noir region, which is actually the most visited region of the Dordogne. All along the river flowing through the Périgord Noir you’ll find beautiful towns, and captivating castles. This part of the country is as close to stepping into a French fairy tale as you can get. Perched atop a cliff, towering 150m above the river, is Château de Beynac with 900 years of history. Across the river in the distance you can see the medieval fortress of Château de Castelnaud. The beautiful Château des Milandes, home to Josephine Baker. By far one of the prettiest castles in the area is Château des Milandes. And what is particularly unusual about this castle is that its most prominent time was actually during the 20th century thanks to Josephine Baker, famous music hall talent and agent of the French Resistance. She began renting the château in 1940, later buying it in 1947, and it was here that she housed people in support of the Free French effort led by Charles de Gaulle. There is so much to see and do in the Dordogne that you’d need a lifetime to explore everything. Well, there’s no time like the present! If this guide has inspired you to set off on your next adventure, make sure you book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

The best golf courses in Northern France

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2018 is looking set to be a big year in the golfing world, particularly in France. So, if you’re feeling inspired to get in on the action across the Channel and hit the links for a couple of rounds, Northern France is the place to go. The Côte d'Opale, or Opal Coast as it’s known in English, is a stunning stretch of coastline in Northern France, running from the Belgian border down to Berck. So, when you travel with us, you’ll drive straight off Le Shuttle right into the heart of this beautiful region. This northern coastal area has long been popular with tourists, both French and English, and so has a number of charming little seaside towns and attractions to draw you in. If you’re into bird watching, drive down to the southernmost commune of Berck-sur-Mer. Berck is ideally situated for visiting the Parc du Marquenterre, a stunning ornithological nature reserve. And that’s not the only thing you’ll spot in the skies! Berck-sur-Mer is also home to an international kite festival, which takes every year in April. Play golf until the sun goes down on the Côte d'Opale At the other end of the Côte d'Opale, you’ll find Bray-Dunes, France’s northernmost commune, and the location of the northernmost point in the entire country. If you’re a fan of WWII history, head down to the beach at low tide and you’ll find the wreck of the Devonia, abandoned in 1940 when the British left Dunkirk. But undoubtedly, the main attraction of the Côte d'Opale is the many beautiful golf courses it has to offer. 1. Golf de Wimereux Par: 72 Length of course: 6,150m Drive from Calais: 33.3km / 0h 28m Built in 1901, and later rebuilt after WWI, the Wimereux golf course is one of the oldest in the area. If you’re a fan of a Scottish links course, you’ll love this location. Situated right by the sea, Golf de Wimereux was designed to complement the rugged natural beauty of the area. This undulating course boasts wide fairways and outstanding greens, and has hence played host to some international events and is considered one of the best links courses in France. And on a clear day, from some of the holes you can even see the white cliffs of Dover in the distance. Golf de Wimereux is one of the oldest golf courses in the area On a good day, you just might make par, but when the wind picks up, watch out for the seventh hole. If the weather gets the better of you, we recommend heading back to the clubhouse with its warm environment and excellent food. 2. Golf d’Hardelot Les Pins: Par 73, 5,929m Les Dunes: Par 72, 5,713m Drive from Calais: 54.9km / 0h 42m One of the biggest attractions of Golf d’Hardelot is the fact that there is not one, but two stunning courses, each offering something very different. Les Pins is a beautiful, technical course in stunning forest surrounds, and its sister, Les Dunes, offers breath-taking sea views along the course. Not only is Les Pins beautiful, it’s also a challenging technical course Les Pins has hosted some major national championships, and offers an excellent standard of play. The course has undergone extensive renovations recently, which you’ll certainly benefit from. The par three holes are particularly great. You’ll also encounter some of the biggest bunkers around that can prove challenging to get out of. Golfing enthusiast and YouTuber Mark Crossfield recently took on the course along with Coach Lockey, Rory Anderson and Dan Hendriksen.   Les Dunes is the shorter course of the two, which may come as a welcome break if you’ve been touring the area for a few days. Les Dunes isn’t the hardest course in the Côte d'Opale area, but with its undulating landscape it isn’t the easiest either. Depending on the time of year that you visit, you may find the greens a little slow, but this shouldn’t affect the overall quality of play. 3. Aa Golf de Saint-Omer Le Val: Par 73, 6,218m La Haute-Drève: Par 31, 2,038m Drive from Calais: 42.5km / 0h 31m The courses at Aa Saint-Omer Golf Club offer something a little different. Each overlook the beautiful Aa Valley, but with the choice of 18 holes or 9 holes, there’s a course to suit even the most time-poor travellers. The 18-hole course hosts the second biggest national championship in France, so you’re guaranteed a good round. It’s incredibly hilly in places, so you may want to hire a buggy, and it will certainly challenge your long game. The hills offer some quirky holes, and you’ll find the density of the grass on the fairways to be superb, as well as some excellent quality greens. For those looking to work on their short game, the 9-hole course won’t disappoint. Whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced player, you’ll find some technical challenges to help you work on your game. Another benefit of the Aa Saint-Omer Golf Club is the wonderful on-site hotel from our partners at the Najeti Group, which means you can fit even more golf into your trip! The Najeti Hôtel du Golf sits alongside the course, with stunning views over the 18th hole, and their restaurant offers a wonderful gastronomic menu after a long day of golf. If you’re feeling inspired to take on one of the nine beautiful golf courses of the Côte d'Opale, take a look at Golf en Côte d'Opale for more details. And be sure to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

Things to do in Eindhoven

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Often overshadowed by the likes of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Eindhoven is one of the Netherlands’ unsung heroes. Few people realise what a hidden gem the city is. As a focal point for art, design and technology enthusiasts, driving to Eindhoven offers plenty to inspire its visitors with the city’s ingenuity and inventiveness. Eindhoven Where in Europe: The Netherlands Drive from Calais: 291km / 3h For over a century, Eindhoven has been a hub of technological developments, and every year, thousands of design enthusiasts the world over descend upon its streets. Amazingly, as the fifth largest city in the Netherlands, it wasn’t actually until the industrial revolution that it even became a city. Since then, however, Eindhoven has flourished into a nerve centre for European innovation and technology, fostering the young talents at the Eindhoven University of Technology and the Design Academy Eindhoven. Take a stroll around the quaint city centre As you might expect from its reputation as the design capital of the Netherlands, Eindhoven attracts many people interested in admiring its architectural verve, visiting its design hotspots and attending its many technological events. It’s easy to see why many are charmed by Eindhoven’s entrepreneurial tenacity, and it’s hard not to feel inspired by the creativity the city often celebrates. Van Abbemuseum The Van Abbemuseum boasts an impressive collection of modern art, including masterpieces from the likes of Picasso, Kandinsky, and Chagall, as well as more recent works by contemporary artists. The museum was originally established in 1936 by local magnate Henri van Abbe, after whom it is named. He was an avid lover of modern art, and wanted somewhere to enjoy his passion close to his place of business in Eindhoven, and he went on to donate a great many of the works on display. Spend an afternoon amongst the masters at the Van Abbemuseum The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11am until 5pm all year round, except for New Year’s Day (1 January), King’s Day (27 April) and Christmas Day (25 December). Philips Museum The Philips Museum explores the fascinating entrepreneurial history of the Philips family business, which saw what started off as a humble lightbulb factory grow into the giant electrical appliances brand we know today. It is actually thanks to the Philips factory opening in 1891 that Eindhoven became as big and important as it was after the industrial revolution. Whilst touring the museum, you can discover all sorts of fun inventions created by Philips over the years, and there’s even a fun game for the kids to play, themed around innovation, discovery and invention. The Philips Museum is housed in the former Philips Lightbulb Factory The Philips Museum is also open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11am until 5pm. The museum is closed on New Year’s Day (1 January), Carnival, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, King’s Day (27 April), Whit Sunday and Whit Monday and on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (25 and 26 December). Dutch Design Week Eindhoven If you’re in any way interested in design, it’s worth pencilling in a reminder in your diary to check out Dutch Design Week Eindhoven. It takes place every October in the city, and draws design aficionados from all over the world to what is actually Northern Europe’s biggest design event. What makes Dutch Design Week Eindhoven particularly special is that its focus is on the designs of the future with an emphasis on experimentation and innovation. During Dutch Design Week, there’s inspiration everywhere in Eindhoven There are hundreds of locations across the city, with something to appeal to everyone including exhibitions, lectures, networking events, and debates. Each year, there is a slightly different theme to the week, but the designs on show are always about solving problems for the present and future. Tickets to the Van Gogh-Roosegaarde Bicycle Path If you’ve brought your bikes along, or even if you’ve hired some whilst you’re there, you simply have to go for a cycle along the 1km trail between Eindhoven and Nuenen. During the day, it’s part of the lovely Van Gogh cycle route, linking various places of interest and heritage connected with the famous Dutch painter, but at night it becomes something really special. Take a late night bike ride down the world’s first glow in the dark cycle route Opened in 2015 for the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, this is the world’s first glow in the dark cycle route. It was designed by contemporary Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde and created with thousands of blue and green LEDs that resemble Van Gogh’s famous ‘Starry Night’. Eindhoven and its many inspiring things to do are just a short drive away. If you’re planning a visit, don’t forget to book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best fares.

Exploring the ‘Green Venice’ of France

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We don’t know about you, but as the weather warms up, all we want to do is head outdoors and get lost in nature. There’s nothing quite like driving out to the country and getting away from it all. And there’s nowhere quite like the Marais Poitevin en Vendée to do just that. Where in France? The Marais Poitevin is an extensive area of marshland, actually covering three ‘departments’ in western France in the Pays de la Loire and Nouvelle-Aquitaine regions, the Vendée, Deux-Sèvres, and Charente-Maritime. From above, you can really appreciate the intricacy of the canal network How far from Calais? As with any drive, there are a couple of different routes you can take, depending on whether or not there’s anything else you’d like to see en route. The fastest route to the Marais Poitevin is 692km via Rouen, Le Mans and Angers, and will take about six and a half hours. Alternatively, you can drive via Paris, Orléans, Tours and Poitiers, which is a slightly longer route at 705km and will take closer to seven hours. A very brief history During medieval times, local Benedictine monks began draining the area that was once the Gulf of Poitou to form the ‘marais’ or marshland. The land was reconfigured, creating canals and dykes, with the expert help of the Dutch, to keep the sea at bay. To this day, there is still a thriving farming community in the area, cultivated by the monks hundreds of years ago. Stroll around the peaceful remains of the Abbaye de Maillezais There are still sites around the marshes where you can see the remains of where the monks lived and worked. There’s the beautiful, ruined Abbaye de Maillezais, the most striking feature of which is the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Maillezais, which would have been at the heart of the abbey. The site was first built on in the 10th century, with the cathedral itself not reaching completion until the 15th century. A little over two hundred years later, the site was abandoned at the end of the 17th century, and since feel into disrepair, and eventually ruin. Getting back to nature The Marais Poitevin is one of the most diverse natural habitats in France, attracting hundreds of species of birds, and is a favourite spot of many migratory species, making the marshes a favourite spot with many birdwatchers and naturalists! People travel from all over the world to enjoy the rich tapestry of fauna and flora native to the area. Exploring by boat offers the best chance of spotting the local wildlife There are more than 250 species of birds, over half of which actually nest in the marshes. As well as this, 44 species of mammals, 23 species of amphibians and reptiles, 322 species of fish and over 700 species of wild flora have been recorded. One of the best ways to see the local wildlife is by a very local mode of transport. You can hire one of the traditional ‘barques’ or flat-bottom boats, along with a skilled boatman, to punt or row you around the canals. Because the boats are quiet and slow, given that they’re man-powered rather than motorised, you’ll have a much better chance of spotting one of the five species of heron in the area, or perhaps one of the pretty grey and black-spotted insects, Rosalia longicorn. If you’re really lucky, you might even spot one of the notoriously shy European otters! Find out more Depending on which part of the Marais Poitevin you’re visiting, you’ll find various different local tourist offices where you can find information on boat hire, bike hire, the local flora and fauna, and upcoming local events. You’ll never want to leave once you’ve experienced the idyllic lifestyle of the Marais Poitevin For more information on the Abbaye de Maillezais and the surrounding area of the Vendée, head to the Office de Tourisme Sud-Vendée Marais Poitevin. And for more general information on the area as a whole, you can’t go wrong with the tourist office of The Marais Poitevin Regional Nature Park. If you’re feeling inspired to set the sat-nav for Green Venice, and we can hardly blame you, remember to book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best fares.

5 Places to explore in the Côte d’Opale

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Long stunning beaches, gastronomic delights and fascinating history - you’d be forgiven for mistaking this as the south of France. Instead it’s the Côte d’Opale region in the north! We’ve teamed up with Office de Tourisme du Touquet-Paris-Plage en Côte d'Opale to uncover 5 places that are not to be missed. Named after the iridescent grey light from the sea and sky, tourists have been travelling to La Côte d’Opale (the Opal Coast) since the Victorian era. Its seaside towns have kept much of their vintage charm and they still attract plenty of beach-goers today. However, despite how well you may know the area, a few places might have missed your radar and are definitely worth making a return trip for. (Or an ideal short break away, for your first introduction!) 1. Le Phare de la Canche Where in Côte d’Opale: Le Touquet Drive from Calais: 70.3km / 1h 1m See the best views of Le Touquet and the surrounding region at Le Phare de la Canche! Credit: letouquet.com If you’re up to the test of climbing 274 steps then you’ll be rewarded with one of the best sights of Le Touquet. La Phare de la Canche (lighthouse) gives you an unmissable view of Le Touquet and on a clear day, you’ll be able to see the three regions of Normandy, Picardy and Nord-Pas de Calais from the 360 degree viewing platform. In excellent weather conditions, your view might even stretch as far to see the familiar sight of the English Cliffs! At the very least you’re guaranteed a stunning panoramic of where the land meets the sea and its surrounding countryside. Like many of the unique villas in Le Touquet, the lighthouse building is also registered as National Heritage in France. 2. Nature watching Where in Côte d’Opale: Baie de Canche & Baie d’Authie Drive from Calais: 92.2km / 1h 13m The Côte d’Opale is blessed with not one but two beautiful nature parks. Baie de Canche is situated east from Étaples-sur-mer and is a protected area of 45 hectares that’s teeming with wildlife. You can explore this area alone, or for a more unique experience we’d recommend a guided tour that will take you to observe migratory birds and even allows you to taste edible plants from the river’s mouth! Further south, near to Berck-sur-mer, is Baie d’Authie, where you can bask in the sun with the company of seals. Two species of seals can be seen from here and in certain months as many as forty have been spotted on the sandbanks! A colony is believed to have settled here as far back as 1890, as shown in a dated Francis Tattegrain sketch. 3. La Charteuse de Neuville Where in Côte d’Opale: Montreuil-sur-mer Drive from Calais: 71.1km / 58m All along the coast you can enjoy endless landscapes. Credit: La Chartreuse de Neuville Steeped in history, La Charteuse de Neuville’s story began 700 years ago when the Count of Boulonge decided to build a monastery at the foot of the ramparts of Montreuil-sur-mer. After some failed attempts, it was finally completed after 3 years of building and is now the biggest Carthusian monastery in France. Thankfully when the Carthusian Order came to an end the building wasn’t left to disrepair. It served as a printing office from 1905, then transformed into the largest Belgian civil hospital during the First World War in 1914. Today its history continues, as it’s currently the largest construction site "Monument Historique" in France, with works beginning in 2016 with a competition date in 2020. This might not sound too appealing, but the site and its gardens are still otherwise open to the public, including the interior of the old monastery. Do check dates and times on the website for access. 4. Étaples Military Cemetery Where in Côte d’Opale: Étaples Drive from Calais: 60.7km / 47m You’ll find the largest military cemetery in France at Étaples. Credit: letouquet.com The site where the Étaples Military Cemetery stands today, which is the largest CWGC cemetery in France, was unforgettably placed in the First World War. Once a complex of reinforcement camps and hospitals, it was the largest British military base in the world (at its peak 100,000 troops were housed here). With a total of 11,500 graves, you can walk through the past of the First World War and discover its history, architecture and construction. (An English brochure is available from the Étaples Tourist Office). 5. Vallée de la course Where in Côte d’Opale: Montcavrel Drive from Calais: 67.3km / 58m The Vallée de la course will take you through picturesque villages and scandalous history. Credit: letouquet.com Following the route of the Vallée de la course will take you through some of the most picturesque French villages in the region. The river runs through watermills, mansions, churches and old farms, but has also seen some rich history. Among one of the more remarkable buildings it runs past is the 18th century Louis XV castle Château de Recq! Further north you’ll find more royal history at Auberge d’Inxent; an inn where the Duke of Windsor used to visit his infamous mistress, Wallis Simpson, to be far from curious onlookers. Whether it’s your first, second or third visit - the Côte d'Opale region has many hidden gems for you to uncover. If you’re feeling inspired discover these and more book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares. Top image credit: letouquet.com

The perfect day out for kids

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There’s no need to worry about trying to fit lots of activities into one day so the whole family is happy. These great days out, inspired by some of the world’s most influential cartoonists and illustrators, are guaranteed to keep everyone entertained. Parc Asterix Where in Europe: Paris, France Drive from Calais: 249km / 2h 20m First, we visit one of the most celebrated French/Belgian cartoon characters. Asterix is the brave, if vertically challenged, warrior who is always first to volunteer for whatever perilous mission that will help save his village from the invading Romans. As if the wild rides at Parc Asterix weren’t enough, you can even meet your favourite Asterix characters. Credit: Asterix® - Obelix®© 2017 Les Éditions Alvert René/Goscinny - Uderzo The adventures of Asterix and his many friends have been famous children’s stories since they were first published in 1959. Created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, they are so popular that the stories were reimagined as a theme park, our first stop on our tour of the best family cartoon activities in France and Belgium. Parc Asterix is the ideal day out for all Asterix fans. Your favourite characters are constantly wandering around the park, so there is plenty of opportunity for you to meet your childhood heroes. And the highlight for us are all the hair-raising rides, including the new Pégase Express, a super-fast ride that takes you on some exhilarating twists and turns. Hergé Museum Where in Europe: Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium Drive from Calais: 236km / 2h 30m Hergé, the pen name for Tintin creator Georges Prosper Remi, is such a prominent figure in Belgium that his life’s work is displayed in a beautiful museum. Hergé Museum is a must-visit for everyone whose childhood was shaped by the young investigative reporter, and his faithful companion, Snowy. All fans of Tintin need to visit this beautifully designed museum. Much like Hergé’s particular eye for detail and clean, concise lines, the museum is a beautiful modern structure. It’s a huge slab of a building, sat juxtaposed against the green woods that surround it. In the museum, you can see the real drawings by Hergé, as well as photographs, and original plates. The galleries and exhibition spaces are designed so you feel like you’re walking through Hergé’s creative life. MOOF Museum Where in Europe: Brussels, Belgium Drive from Calais: 201km / 2h 20m There aren’t many cartoon characters more easily recognisable than the Smurfs. The little blue people, sporting their white hats are famous the world over. Created by Peyo, the alter ego for cartoonist Piere Culliford, are like mini Belgian celebrities. MOOF Museum is a cartoon lovers dream! Come here to be transported to the Smurfs magical world. They are so famous that they are the centrepiece of the MOOF Museum. MOOF stands for Museum of Original Figurines, and is the place to come for all cartoon fans. The Smurfs are one of the main draws, and the outside even has a giant statue of a Smurf leaping over his toadstool house. The museum doesn’t just celebrate Belgium comics, though. American comic-book characters such as Batman are also featured in the museum, so if you’re more into your edgy comics than the wholesome Smurfs, then you’re still guaranteed a great day out. Does one of these cartoon themed days out seem like something your family would love? Book your tickets with us in advance to get the best price. Top image credit: Asterix® - Obelix®© 2017 Les Éditions Alvert René/Goscinny - Uderzo

Walk in the footsteps of legends

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Throughout history, Europe has led the way in both the arts and sciences, making ground-breaking discoveries, and composing timeless symphonies. So why not spend your next trip across the Channel visiting the places that inspired some of these important works – you may even find a little inspiration of your own! Claude Debussy Where in France: Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Île-de-France Drive from Calais: 284km / 2h 50m Achille-Claude Debussy was born on 22 August 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a pretty little suburb just outside of Paris. He first began learning the piano at the age of seven, and quickly showed exceptional talent, entering the Conservatoire de Paris at just 10 years old. He went on to become one of the most prominent and influential pianists and composers of his time, and is still regarded as one of the most important figures in Impressionist music. Debussy spent a great deal of his life in Paris, but if you really want to get to the root of his genius, a visit to his hometown is a must. Sitting on the left bank of the River Seine, next to the Forest of Saint-Germain, Saint-Germain-en-Laye is just how you might imagine a chic French town to be. With its residential streets of houses painted in an array of shades of creams and whites, and laidback café culture and boutique shops, you can easily while away the hours strolling about. Admire the stunning views of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. If you only have time to do one thing during your visit, though, you simply must see the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye and its beautiful grounds. It was once a royal palace and is now home to the Musée d'Archéologie Nationale, or the National Archaeological Museum. After you’ve delved into the fascinating history of the exhibits, why not spend the rest of the day exploring the gardens and enjoying the views of Paris in the distance. Marie Curie Where in France: Passy, Haute-Savoie Drive from Calais: 874km / 7h 30m Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska in Warsaw, Poland, it wasn’t until she married her husband Pierre Curie, a fellow scientist and instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry, that she became known as Marie Curie. One of the most notable scientists in history, Marie Curie conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, discovered radium and polonium, the latter of which she named after her homeland. Marie Curie was also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win a second time and is still the only woman to have ever won two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences – Physics and Chemistry. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. Quite the résumé, don’t you think! Lac Vert, Passy, with its scenic mountainous backdrop. To follow in her footsteps you could, of course, head to Paris, but for something a little more off the beaten track, set your sat-nav for Passy up in the Alps near the Swiss and Italian borders. This peaceful, picturesque town is where Marie Curie spent her final days. Stroll the little cobbled streets of the town, marvel at the breath-taking views of Mont Blanc, and take a trip down to the stunning Lac Vert, or Green Lake, for an invigorating walk. Henri Becquerel Where in France: Le Croisic, Loire-Atlantique Drive from Calais: 678km / 6h 20m Marie Curie didn’t achieve her greatness alone. Not only did she work alongside her husband, Pierre Curie, but also the brilliant mind of Henri Becquerel. Born in Paris into a family with a long line of physicists, he was actually the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. A fellow Nobel Prize winner, the work that Henri Becquerel and the Curies pioneered the treatments that we use to cure cancer today. Becquerel discovered that radioactivity could be used in medicine in 1901, when a piece of radium that he had left in his pocket burned his skin. This then led to the development of radiotherapy, which has since saved countless lives. So influential was he as a scientist that he’s even had a crater on both the Moon and Mars named after him! The seaside town of Le Croisic is postcard perfection. If you’d like to walk in his footsteps somewhere a little closer to home, however, head to Le Croisic, a little seaside town on the Atlantic coast of the Pays de la Loire region. Becquerel spent his final days here in 1908, and it’s just as beautiful today as it was then. Le Croisic is a busy fishing town, with some of the finest seafood in all of France available. In fact, Le Croisic is France’s main centre for cockle farming, so you’re definitely in for a culinary treat! And if you’re here with the kids, take them to Océarium, an incredible aquarium where they can learn all about the sea life of the Atlantic. Has all this talk of genius captured your imagination? If you’re feeling inspired to discover more of France, don’t forget to book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best fares.

The stunning shades of pink in France

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After a long cold winter, the days are finally getting longer and warmer. And as spring approaches, we’re in the mood to celebrate not only the arrival of blossom in the trees, but all things pink. Join us to explore France’s prettiest pink destinations. The Camargue salt flats Where in France: Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Drive from Calais: 1051km / 9h 30m The South of France is a fair drive from Calais, but the Camargue salt flats are well worth the trip. You’ll find them just south of the city of Arles, between the two arms of the Rhône delta and the Mediterranean Sea. The area is rich in natural beauties, with both flora and fauna adapting to the high saline conditions. One particular draw for nature lovers is the diversity of birds that flock to the area, particularly in the spring. And in keeping with our pink theme, the Camargue salt flats are actually home to hundreds of pastel hued flamingos! Admire the many natural shades of pink found in the Camargue salt flats. It’s not just our feathered friends showing off their best pink colours, but the salt flats themselves too. The reason behind their pretty colour is down to a type of bacteria found in the brine water. The Halobacteria microbes thrive in these intensely salty conditions, which would ordinarily kill off all life forms, and when they bloom they colour the water around them. Depending on conditions, this can vary from a soft baby pink, right through the spectrum to a deep crimson. As well as marvelling at this natural wonder, you’ll find plenty to keep yourselves occupied on a visit to the Camargue region, which is particularly good for horse riding. The area is known for its indigenous white horses, and there are plenty of treks you can go on. Alternatively, you can hit the trails on foot or two wheels, if that’s more your thing. Côte de Granit Rose Where in France: Côtes-d'Armor, Brittany Drive from Calais: 650km / 6h 30m This beautiful, 30km stretch of coastline runs from Plestin-les-Greves to Louannec, and as the name suggests, is famous for its pink-hued rock formations. To really appreciate the splendour of the Côte de Granit Rose, try to time your visit for a sunny day when the sparkling turquoise waters contrast best with the pink granite. Take a walk along the beautiful pink coast of the Côte de Granit Rose. As you’d expect, there are plenty of coastal activities to enjoy for the whole family. Relive your childhood and explore the rockpools, looking out for little fish darting between the shadows. Or you could bring your bikes with you, or hire some locally, and take to the cycle paths to explore the Côte de Granit Rose at a leisurely pace. There are also a number of charming little towns to discover, offering the best of rural life with local markets and pretty churches to visit. Parc de Sceaux Where in France: Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France Drive from Calais: 307km / 3h When you think of springtime, one of the first things that springs to mind, if you’ll excuse the pun, is all the new growth on the trees, and the flowers that come with it. In particular, the perfumed pink clouds of blossom bursting from the cherry trees. Now, you might associate cherry blossom with Japan, but you don’t have to travel that far to enjoy the beautiful ‘Hanami’ cherry blossom festival. Visit the cherry blossom at Parc de Sceaux just outside of Paris. A short drive outside of Paris will take you to the beautiful Château de Sceaux, set in the middle of some truly stunning parkland. This historic house and its grounds are wonderful to visit any time of year, but in the spring, their orchards of Japanese cherry trees are breath-taking. It’s advisable to arrive early, as it’s a very popular celebration. Come prepared with a picnic blanket, plenty of snacks, and of course, your camera! During the Hanami festivities, generally around late March and into April, but this varies with the weather, there will be plenty of activities to keep you entertained. You can try a kimono on for size, or perhaps master the delicate art of origami. Feeling inspired to plan a pretty pink-themed getaway to France? Make sure you book your tickets with us in advance to take advantage of the best prices.

See Belgium from high to low

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Join us for a journey through Belgium like no other. Starting at the highest point, Signal de Botrange, and heading down to Belgium’s only national park, before diving underground to The Remouchamps Caves. Signal de Botrange Drive from Calais: 350.1km / 3h 32m While not known as a mountainous country like neighbouring France, that doesn’t mean that Belgium doesn’t hold some allure for climbers. Belgium’s highest point is located in Waimes, just over three and a half hours from Calais. At 694 metres, Signal de Botrange may seem like a warm up for more experienced hikers, but if you are a beginner or are a very reluctant climber, then it’s ideal. Disappointed that their highest point didn’t reach the more impressive 700 metres, the Belgians built the six metre Baltia Tower for visitors to climb to reach the coveted height. The highest point in Belgium comes complete with a tower and restaurant. It’s a gentle hike to the top, in fact from a distance it looks almost flat, so there is no need to worry about a strenuous climb. If you do need refreshment when you reach the top, there is a restaurant there, serving all sorts of well-deserved comforting treats. You can also pay a visit to the nearby tourist office too, and pick up some information on what else you can get up to on your holiday. Hoge Kempen National Park Drive from Calais: 298.2km / 3h Under the green canopy of Hoge Kempen, you are surrounded by peace and beauty. At Hoge Kempen National Park, you have the chance to explore the vast natural wonderland of Belgium’s only national park. At 5,000 hectares, and with five different gateways, (each with great transport access and parking) there is something for every type of adventure-seeker. Kattervennen is ideal for those who love to horse ride, as the area is perfect for trekking through. For those who aren’t confident horse riders there are riding lessons, so you can soon be trotting happily through the park. This area of the park is also home to a botanical garden, a draw for all budding horticulturists. If that’s not enough, you can also spend the afternoon getting to know the animals at the petting zoo. Lietberg is the quirkier gateway, and its visitors are encouraged to walk barefoot on the grass, woodchips, stone and even through water. This is probably an activity suited to those travelling in summer, as the Belgian winter can be very chilly. After taking your barefoot walk, pop into the insect museum, and learn more about the smallest creatures in the park. Children and those young at heart will love Pietersheim, where you can go on a magical journey along the gnome trail. There is also a small animal zoo, filled with the cuddliest farm animals. The park isn’t just for nature lovers, those who are interested in old trains will love Station As. Travel through the park on small train, so even if you are short on time you can still see the wonderous natural landscape. There is even the opportunity to stay the night on an overnight train. It wouldn’t be a nature park without a large space to hike, which is why Meehelse is one of the most popular areas of the park. It’s designed for long walks, and is overflowing with fauna and woodland creatures, so be sure to keep your eye out. The Remouchamps Caves Drive from Calais: 320.3km / 3h 12m Not only can you explore the caves, but also sail through an underground river. Credit: zoetnet Finally, it’s time to burrow deep underneath Belgium, to the mysterious Remouchamps Caves. Cavernous is ironically too small a word to describe the caves, one part is even known as The Cathedral as it’s so large. The Cathedral is the first part of the caves you will explore, after a walk underground. After exploring The Cathedral, you then go on a voyage through the rest of the caves on an hour and a half boat ride through the underground river, the Rubicon. As if sailing though a mysterious river isn’t magical enough, if you look closely you can spot the translucent niphargus shrimp glowing in the darkness. With a history dating back 8000 years, the caves have had a diverse past. They provided shelter and protection during WWII and in true European style, they were also used as a wine cellar. Are you feeling excited at the prospect of a Belgian adventure? Remember to book your tickets in advance to get the best prices.

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