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.

Spectacular museums of Belgium

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For centuries, Europe has been at the forefront of great historic discoveries and therefore has some of the world’s best museums. And Belgium in particular is no exception. Young or old, you’re sure to discover something new that will surprise and delight, helping to create holiday memories that will last a lifetime. Atomium Where in Belgium: Brussels Drive from Calais: 195km / 2h 5m The Atomium was originally built for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, and has since become a landmark building in the city and is now also a museum. The structure itself is actually quite a marvel, designed to represent the shape of an elementary iron crystal, only magnified to 165 billion times its actual size. Explore the tunnels of the amazing Atomium in Brussels. Credit: © 2018 – www.atomium.be – SOFAM Belgium It’s made up of nine spheres, five of which are open to the public, all of which are linked with 20 interconnecting tubes containing either lifts, escalators or stairs to explore the interior. Inside the Atomium, you’ll find a permanent exhibition taking a look back at the history of the structure and what it represented in post-war Belgium at the time. There are also a number of temporary exhibitions to discover, and as these often change, it’s best to check their website before you visit to see what’s on. The main draw for most visitors are the beautiful panoramas from the top sphere, and you can even book a table for dinner and enjoy the view with your meal. It’s a good idea to book in advance, though, as the Atomium remains Brussels’ most popular tourist attraction. Historium Brugge Where in Belgium: Bruges Drive from Calais: 117km / 1h 30m Housed in a beautiful neo-Gothic building on the Markt (market square) in the centre of Bruges, the Historium Brugge takes its visitors on an immersive trip back in time. The audio and visual tour is about an hour long, taking you back to medieval Bruges in 1435. There’s a bit of a love story to set the narrative scene, which is great for visiting couples and families alike. Step through the doors of the neo-Gothic Historium Brugge, and step back in time to 1435 There’s also a VR experience to really make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, as well as a special Family Trail full of interactive experiences to keep kids entertained. Round your visit off with stunning panoramic views of Bruges and the Markt with a locally brewed beer in hand at the terrace at the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café. Generally speaking, Historium Brugge is open from 10am until 6pm every day, but do check ahead of visiting in case it’s closed for a public holiday. Euro Space Center Where in Belgium: Transinne Drive from Calais: 320km / 3h 15m Out in the picturesque Belgian countryside, you’ll find the fascinating Euro Space Center, a museum dedicated to all things space-related. It’s the perfect day out for the whole family, particularly if you’ve got any budding astronauts in your midst. And if you’ve got time to spare, you can even extend your visit to two days, and take part in a special mission! Head to the Euro Space Center for an out-of-this-world experience! credit: Euro Space Center If you fancy going all out, and making someone’s space-travel dreams come true, why not take a look at some of the longer planned out mission activities. You can choose from one or two day experiences, learning everything about becoming an astronaut, and even training on Moonwalk simulators. You’ll also get the chance to learn a little rocket science and build your own miniature rocket! If you’re a bit pushed for time, though, don’t worry – there are plenty of activities to get involved with independently. As well as the fascinating planetarium and the incredible 5D space show, you can still experience what it feels like to walk on the Moon or Mars in a reduced gravity environment. Opening times vary depending on the season, so it’s best to check these out before you go, particularly in the winter months, when the Euro Space Center is often only open on weekends. If your interest has been piqued and you feel inspired to set off on your own adventure of discovery, make sure you book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares available. Top image Credit: © 2018 – www.atomium.be – SOFAM Belgium

A look into… Alsatian cuisine

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When you think of your favourite foods, they tend to fill you with a feeling of warmth, comfort and happiness. The food in Alsace has the exact same effect, making it one of France’s best-loved foodie regions. From Calais, it’s about a six-hour scenic drive into the heart of the region, so if you set off early you’ll be just in time for lunch! Coq au Riesling As far as the eye can see in Alsace, there are gently rolling hills striped with vines. Not only does this paint a pretty pastoral picture, but it also means that the region is replete with delicious local wines, which are equally great for cooking with as they are drinking. Explore the rolling hills of the Alsace region and all they have to offer. One dish in particular that is a favourite with locals in Coq au Riesling, a delicious, hearty meal of chicken cooked in white wine. Traditional recipes call for whole birds to be used, but thighs and leg joints work just as well, so it’s really up to personal preference. Next, you add vegetables, including onions, leeks, garlic and mushrooms, and you can also chuck in some chopped up bacon if you want to add a little more depth of flavour. For the sauce, a medium-dry Riesling is ideal, but any other medium-dry French white can work just as well. Thicken the sauce up with a little single cream, and leave to simmer. You can also add thyme or bay to the sauce if you like, and don’t forget a good sprinkling of parsley when serving. Tarte flambée You simply cannot visit the region of Alsace without trying this local favourite. Tarte flambée, or flammekueche as it is called in the Alsatian dialect, is somewhat similar to a pizza. It’s traditionally rectangular in shape, although is sometimes round, made of a thinly rolled out bread base, topped with crème fraiche or fromage blanc (which is similar to fromage frais), onions and lardons. Also known as ‘flammekueche’ in Alsatian, tarte flambée is a delicious local treat. Tarte flambée is traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven, and it’s said that the dish was actually used to test how hot the oven was getting, as at its peak, it’s the perfect temperature to cook this flatbread treat in just one to two minutes! You’ll find tarte flambée available all over the Alsace region, and they’re also easy enough to recreate at home for a quick bite to eat. Baeckeoffe Another great comfort dish from the Alsace region is Baeckeoffe, which is very similar to a casserole in that everything is chucked together into a big pot, and slowly cooked over the course of the day. Traditional Baeckeoffe is the perfect dish for lazy weekends and cold nights. The origins of this dish actually stem from the Jewish community of the region, and a traditional Hebraic dish, the cholent or hamin. As the use of oven is prohibited during Shabbat, Jewish women would prepare their Saturday meals on a Friday afternoon and give them to the town’s baker to keep warm in his oven until the following day. The word ‘Baeckeoffe’ actually translates as ‘baker’s oven’, which is a fitting name for this dish, and it’s often topped with a bread lid over the casserole dish. Inside, you’ll find a warming stew of potatoes and onions, combined with chunks of beef, mutton or pork, simmered in local Alsatian wine. Ingredients such as juniper, leeks, thyme, garlic, parsley and carrots are also often added for additional colour and flavour. Pâtes d’Alsace Pasta noodles are another traditional food from the region, and also fit snugly in the ‘comfort’ category. Recipes for the traditional ‘Pâtes d’Alsace’ have been found dating back as early as the 15th century, and they don’t differ much from how the pasta of the region is made today. What makes Pâtes d’Alsace unique is that it’s made with a large quantity of eggs, and doesn’t include the addition of water. Alsatian spätzle or knepfle is not to be missed. As you can imagine, the local pasta comes in all shapes and sizes, but one of the stand-out local dishes is spätzle or knepfle, depending on the part of Alsace you’re visiting. This type of pasta is dense, similar to gnocchi in texture, and is most often served as a side dish. There are a few variations of this dish, but you’ll most often find them served with a cream sauce, mushrooms and bacon lardon. Simple and delicious. Are you feeling inspired to visit the French region of Alsace, and can’t wait to tuck into some of the local specialities? Remember to book your tickets with us early in order to take advantage of the best prices.

Hidden gems of the Netherlands: Delft

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Just a short three-and-a-half-hour drive from Calais, with its peaceful canals lined with medieval buildings, you’ll find the beautiful city of Delft. This charming little city is perfect for a short trip or weekend break, and packs just as much of a cultural punch as Amsterdam, just on a smaller, more intimate scale. Vermeer Centrum Delft High on your list of must-see attractions is the fascinating museum dedicated to the life and work of Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer. He may not be as well-known and instantly recognisable as say, Monet or Picasso, but you’ll no doubt be familiar with his most famous piece, Girl with a Pearl Earring, which inspired the book and film of the same name. Inspiration isn’t hard to find in beautiful Delft During his lifetime, he was relatively unknown, and faded into obscurity after his death in 1675. It wasn’t until the 19th century that his work and mastery of light was recognised, and he has since come to be recognised as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. The Vermeer Centrum Delft is open seven days a week, except for Christmas Day, and there is an admission fee for adults, students and children aged 12 and older. There are free guided tours in English on Sunday mornings, and there’s also a café and a shop for all the refreshments and souvenirs you need. Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles Another of Delft’s most famous exports is their blue and white pottery, or Delftware, which has been in production since the 16th century. The most famous and highly sought after period is from circa 1640-1740, when a shortage in Chinese porcelain boosted the popularity and creativity of Delftware. Pick up a charming souvenir from the Royal Delft shop The Royal Delft Experience is housed in the last remaining earthenware factory from the 17th century, and offers a look at the history of the Dutch pottery trade, and a glimpse at the skill that still goes into crafting these beautiful ceramic wares. Royal Delft is open daily, with reduced hours on Sunday, and it’s closed on 25th and 26th December, and 1st January. Children aged 12 and under go free, and there is a reduced ticket price for 13-18 year olds and students. Oude en Nieuwe Kerk There are many lovely churches that you could pop into in Delft, but there are two in particular that stand out. The Oude Kerk, or Old Church, and the Nieuew Kerk, or New Church. The crooked tower of the Old Church is best seen from the canal As you may have guessed from the name, the Old Church is the oldest of the two, built in 1246. Back in those days, the church was known as St Bartholomew’s, named after the patron saint of its founding father Bartholomeus van der Made. During the centuries that followed, the church underwent some major expansions and developments to become the magnificent gothic basilica that we see today, but there is still a distinctly medieval feel about it. The other main church in Delft, the New Church, is only new in relative terms. Construction actually began in 1381, but it wasn’t completed until 1655, almost 300 years later. Both churches are famous for their respective towers, and they also each have important tombs housed within them. The Old Church’s tower stands at 75m in height, and has come to be known as ‘Scheve Jan’, or ‘Crooked John’ in English, as subsidence from the surrounding canals has caused it to lean roughly 2m from the vertical line. You’re not allowed to climb the tower, but inside the church you’ll find the tomb of Delft’s artist in residence, Johannes Vermeer. The New Church offers stunning views from the top of its tower The tower of the New Church is taller at 108.75m, to be precise, which makes it the second tallest tower in the Netherlands. Fortunately, as this tower isn’t wonky, you can climb the 376 steps to the top, if you’re feeling energetic. It’s well worth the hike, as on a clear day, you can see all the way to Rotterdam and The Hague! If stairs aren’t your thing, spend some time admiring the stunning interiors, and don’t miss the tomb of William of Orange whose effigy has been carved out of white marble, along with his faithful spaniel who lies at his feet. You can buy one ticket to visit both churches, and children 5 and under go free, although they are not allowed to climb the tower and older children must be accompanied by an adult. The churches are both open daily, Monday to Saturday, but are closed on Sundays for religious services. Check the opening hours before you visit, as they change seasonally. If you’re feeling inspired to plan a little getaway or short break to explore Delft and beyond, remember to book your tickets with us in advance to get the best prices.

Kobee the Dog’s Guide to Germany & Austria

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Looking for a new destination to holiday with your dog?  If you haven’t thought about taking your dog to Germany let Kobee the Shih Tzu inspire you with his favourite destinations in Germany and Austria. Although Kobee the Shih Tzu may be small, he loves going on big road trip adventures with his family to Europe. Having travelled with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle a total of seven times, he’s explored countries like Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. However, it was the latter 2 countries that particularly caught his eye.  If you’re looking to take your pet’s paws further this year, find out more about Kobee’s adventures in Germany and Austria. Nuremberg, Germany Drive from Calais: 814.3 km / 8h 25m Explore the medieval streets of Nuremberg with your pet. One of Kobee’s favourite places to visit is Nuremberg, which usually consists of a stop-off in Luxembourg for one night.  The long journey is worth it though when reaching Nuremberg, being Bavaria’s second largest city it’s both beautiful and dog-friendly.  There are a number of very dog-friendly hotels (Kobee recommends Mövenpick Hotel Nürnberg) and plenty of outdoor seating areas. Thankfully, dogs are allowed inside some of the city’s cafes, restaurants and department stores (supermarkets are an exception), so you don’t have to leave them alone in your accommodation.  Getting around the city is easy too as dogs are also allowed to travel for free on the trams, railways and the city’s U-Bahn (underground rail system). If you’re staying in Nuremberg for a long break, Kobee recommends a day trip from here to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  A well-preserved walled medieval town – taking your furry friend for a walk along the ramparts is not to be missed!

Unique places to celebrate Valentine’s Day

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Once you’ve recovered from the festive period and settled into the new year, the next big date in the diary is Valentine’s Day. Why not celebrate with something other than roses and chocolates, and head to Europe for a Valentine’s Day to remember. Minnewaterpark Where: Bruges, Belgium Drive from Calais: 112km / 1h 20m Bruges is renowned for its romantic charm, and it’s not hard to see why. Strolling along its pretty streets, crossing gently arching bridges over tranquil canals, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d found yourself in a fairytale. In short, photogenic Bruges is perfect for a romantic Valentine’s Day getaway. Go for a romantic stroll around Minnewaterpark in Bruges. In the south of the city, you’ll find the beautiful little park of Minnewaterpark, and at its heart Minnewater Lake, or the Lake of Love. There is a legend surrounding this serene body of water, that there was once a girl called Minna who was in love with a warrior from another tribe called Stromberg. Her father forbade her from being with her lover, so Minna ran away into the nearby forest. When Stromberg heard about what had happened, he took off at once to look for her. At length, he eventually found her, but poor heartbroken Minna was so exhausted from running for so long that she died in his arms. The lake and the surrounding park is named after this tragic heroine, and it is said that any lovers who cross the bridge over Minnewater Lake together are destined to have eternal love in honour of the love between Minna and Stromberg that was cut short. Champagne region Where: Reims, France Drive from Calais: 274km / 2h 30m If you can’t help but swoon at the thought of classic romance, then a short break to France’s Champagne region will be right up your street. But if you’re thinking that there’s nothing more to do than visit vineyards and quaff a couple of glasses of bubbly, you are sorely mistaken. Gaze in wonder at the awe-inspiring Cathédrale Notre Dame in Reims. One of the best places to explore the region from is the charming city of Reims, famous for its breath-taking Gothic cathedral, the Cathédrale Notre Dame. The site of numerous coronations of kings and queens throughout history, the centuries of history, pomp and circumstance are palpable here. There are also two statues of Joan of Arc, one inside and one outside the cathedral. It’d be a shame to visit the area and not even have one glass of fizz. If you’re staying in Reims and don’t fancy driving out of the city to a vineyard, head to the headquarters of Taittinger. It’s about 1.5km from the city centre, which means you can either walk or get the bus. It’s a draw for history lovers, too, as part of the cellars are actually housed in 4th century Roman stone quarries. If you are looking for a quick day trip from the city, though, the maison of Moët & Chandon is a short 40-minute drive from the centre, where you can join one of the frequent tours of the labyrinthine cellars. Le Chemin de la Corniche Where: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg Drive from Calais: 411km / 4h 20m More often than not, our favourite memories of time spent with loved ones are those spent enjoying the simpler things in life. Something as humble as going for a walk, hand in hand, somewhere peaceful where you can just enjoy each other’s company can stay with you forever. Enjoy a romantic stroll together in Luxembourg City. This is particularly true when you find yourself in settings as beautiful as the Chemin de la Corniche in Luxembourg City. This stunning walkway has been called the ‘most beautiful balcony of Europe’, and runs along the 17th century ramparts of the city. Take a leisurely stroll along this short promenade and enjoy the panoramic views below, which are beautiful at any time of day. You’ll find plenty of pretty photo opportunities to take advantage of to remember your romantic Valentine’s Day for years to come. Feeling lovestruck and inspired to explore Europe’s most romantic destinations? Remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best prices.

Discover Normandy in Spring

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Spring is a beautiful time of year in France, no matter where you are.  The sun has risen from its wintertime hibernation, the flowers are beginning to bloom and the scent of summer is in the air. If you’re looking for some springtime holiday inspiration, Normandy, on France’s northern coast, has lovely beaches, diverse towns and famous attractions – including Mont-Saint-Michel and the Bayeux Tapestry – Normandy is top of our list this spring. Here are a few reasons why. Festival of New Circus Forms: SPRING When: from mid-March to early April Drive from Calais: various locations in Normandy / appro. 3hrs If you like your entertainment to be a little left field, make sure you book tickets to at least one performance from the Festival of New Circus Forms. Taking place at locations throughout Normandy, the festival showcases all kinds of unique acts, and is mixture of circus acrobatics, art, music, dance and theatre. Come prepared to be blown away. Black Pudding Festival When: every third weekend of March Drive from Calais: 366.5km / under 4hrs Sample Mortagne-au-Perche culinary speciality; le Boudin noir. Every year, Mortagne-au-Perche – a small town in the Orne Department of Normandy – hosts a celebration of Boudin (that’s black pudding to you and me). Often regarded as the black pudding capital, Mortagne-au-Perche’s festival includes cooking demonstrations and eating contests, while the main event is a competition to find the best black pudding in the world. Delicious! Tulip Festival When: every April Drive from Calais: 343.4km / under 3hrs 45mins Admire the colours of more than 30,000 bulbs, narcissuses and grape hyacinths at Château de Vendeuvre. Set in the gardens of one of Normandy’s most beautiful castles, Château de Vendeuvre, the annual tulip festival showcases over 100 varieties of tulips, alongside narcissuses and grape hyacinths, amassing to around 30,000 individual flowers. Stroll through the spectacular gardens, amongst the colourful flowers, soaking up the springtime sunshine. Once you’re finished in the gardens, explore the château and its museum. Easter Festival/Deauville Music Festival When: mid to late April Drive from Calais: 292.5km / under 3hrs 15mins The Easter Festival takes place in the seaside town, Deauville. Running for over 20 years, the Deauville Music Festival (or Easter Festival, as it is also known) offers a jam-packed programme of spectacular classical music that’s guaranteed to impress. From Mozart violin concertos to Schumann quartets, the festival is a delight for the ears, and a must for the musically inclined. Don’t miss out, book your tickets today. Whelk Festival When: late April Drive from Calais: 460.3km / under 4hrs 45mins Enjoy delicious seafood at Pirou. Situated as it is – on France’s north coast – Normandy is abundant with fresh seafood and shellfish all year round. If you’re after a springtime seafood fix, make your way to Pirou for its annual Whelk Festival. Browse the many stalls, where you can sample all kinds of locally-caught seafood, and grab a seat at the open-air concert on Sunday. It’s a great day out for the family. Plan your spring getaway with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. Travel from Folkestone to Calais in just 35 minutes and you’ll be Normandy within a few short hours. Book your tickets with us in advance to get the best price.

Cosy up in France and Belgium this winter

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We may be in the depths of winter, but there’s no need to hide away from wanderlust. It may be pretty chilly, but Europe still has lots of cosy wintry pursuits to warm up the start of your year. Don’t let a change of temperature stop you from planning your next road trip – there’s still plenty of heart-warming experiences to be found! Spa Town: Plombières-les-Bains, Alsace A stroll through the town of Plombières-les-Bains is almost as relaxing as their hot spring spas. Credit: alainalele. After the party-filled month of December, it’s a gentle start to the new year that you’ll want. Just a little recovery time to rejuvenate and start to feel more like the real you. And the perfect way to do this? A long dip in a thermal spa, of course! France is home to lots of thermal spas, but we’ve narrowed your search down to Plombières-les-Bains, in the Alsace region of France, just under a six-hour drive from Calais. For thousands of years, the town has been famous for its hot thermal springs, and visitors come from all over the world to plunge into the healing waters. If you make the journey here, you’ll be in good company – Napoléon III and the Dukes of Lorraine have all sought out the thermal spas. Let the hot water soothe away aches and pains, especially if you’ve been a little too enthusiastic on the dancefloor at the work Christmas party! The health benefits of thermal spas also increases circulation and reduces blood pressure, helping you to completely de-stress and enjoy the rest of your holiday. Plombières-les-Bains is a typically pretty French town, nestled in the middle of stunning hillside scenery. If you can drag yourself away from the thermal spas, then a day walking around the quaint town, stretching your newly healed muscles will do you the world of good. Stay warm when you ski: Avoriaz Glistening white snow, cosy log cabins and a mug of something hot and tasty- there’s nothing better. If you’re the kind of person who is more interested in bringing in the new year in a slightly more active way, then skiing is the choice for you. Wrap up warm against the cold (we recommend full 80s-style ski suits) and whizz down those mountains to your heart’s content. In the evening (and let’s be honest, afternoon too), it’s the resort bar where you will spend much of your time. But after a long day of skiing and socialising, it’s a dreamy, cosy chalet that you’ll be looking forward to. Imagine a cold, dark night where the sky is illuminated by stars, and you are all cuddled up in your chalet, warming by the roaring fire. In Avoriaz, eight hours from Calais, you can treat yourself to luxury wood panelled lodges with views of the snow-covered mountains. A horse drawn carriage: Bruges One of the dreamiest cities in Europe, Bruges is an ideal destination for a winter’s break. At all times of the year, Bruges is celebrated for its beauty. But there’s just something about it in the winter, with the medieval buildings bathed in an amber-orange glow from the street lights, and rooftops dusted with frost or snow that make it feel so magical. Of course, you could just wrap up against the elements and take a night time stroll through the town, but where is the fun in that? Instead, cuddle up with your loved ones on a horse-drawn carriage and see Bruges the way it was meant to be seen. The drivers have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Bruges, and act as great tour guides pointing out the historic and notable buildings that you’ll ride past. And seeing as it’s Bruges, you won’t be short of iconic spots to see. Are you feeling the urge to head to one of these destinations and get all wrapped up and cosy? Then you can be there quicker than you think when you travel with us. It’s only 35 minutes from Folkestone to Calais. Make sure you book your tickets on our site to ensure the best price.

Driving to Bouillon

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Located next to the rich greenery of the Ardennes, Bouillon is the perfect place for all outdoor lovers. Walking through the luscious green forests during the day, then relaxing with a local beer at one of the vibrant bars at night. This is the place to come if you want to leave feeling fresh and rejuvenated. What to see in Bouillon Bouillon Castle A must-visit is the ancient castle nestled in the Ardennes. The Ardennes is understandably one of the biggest draws to visiting Bouillon, being only a 40-minute drive from the centre town. However, it’s not just the forest-like wonderland that makes this area of Belgium so famous. A strong medieval history is present in Bouillon, which you can immerse yourself within when you visit Bouillon Castle. The history of this castle goes back over a thousand years, although first mentioned in 988 many believe that the castle was here long before this. In the 11th century it was inherited by Godfrey of Bouillon, a Frankish knight and leader of the first crusade. After his inheritance, it was passed around various members of nobility before its ruins were opened to the public. If you visit from March to October, daytime visitors will be treated to an incredible display from the swooping birds of prey. However, for a more spooky atmosphere you can visit in the evening for a torchlit tour. The crumbling grey rocks of the castle stand out beautifully against the jade hills and fields that surround it as well as the tranquil Semois River, a lovely place to enjoy a picnic during the winter months. Musée Ducal As Godfrey of Bouillon is so integral to the history of Bouillon, his life is covered extensively in Musée Ducal located just below the castle. The museum is spread out between two historic mansions, and is a must-visit if you want to learn more about the town and its influential residents. It’s not just Godfrey of Bouillon that takes up the exhibition space though, you can also see Islamic and Byzantine artefacts alongside maps from the 1600s. Godfrey of Bouillon is an inspirational figure in the town. Discovering the history of a city is the best way to really get to know it. With such detail in their collections, you can get an intricate look into what life would have been like back then for the people of Bouillon. The Semois Valley The Semois river is the beating heart of the Ardennes, and is one of the most popular attractions of Bouillon. Famous for the ethereal blue mist that rises from the water at dawn, it is an iconic feature of the town. Head to the river to relax on the banks on a warm afternoon, or following it on a brisk stroll. If you are more of an adventurer at heart, kayak through the water for some incredible holiday memories. A peaceful afternoon walking the Semois Valley is a perfect day. Where to eat in Bouillon Les Rempart This is a small, friendly restaurant favoured by the locals. Hearty Belgian dishes can be found on the menu, perfect if you have spent your day exploring the great outdoors. Many places in Bouillon close on Monday night, but Les Rempart stays open, so you won’t go hungry. Where to drink in Bouillon L’Estaminet Bright, cheerful and busy with locals, if you are looking for a bar away from the tourist traps, then this is the one for you. There is a small selection of local beers for you to try, giving you a proper Bouillon night out. Where to stay in Bouillon Ile de Faigneul As you will be staying in the vast beauty of the Ardennes, it would be a shame not to fully embrace the great outdoors and go camping. Ile de Faigneul is only 25 minutes from the centre of the town, where you will be surrounded by rolling hills, ancient trees and the tranquil fresh air that has made this area so desirable. Weather in Bouillon Bouillon’s weather varies drastically from summer to winter. In the sunny months, it can rise above 20°C, but in the winter, it can go below freezing. It can be quite rainy all year round, so no matter when you go make sure you bring your best waterproofs. Getting there and around: It’s only three and a half hours from the Calais terminal to the beauty of Bouillon. You take the A16 to the A25, E42 and E411. Then just continue on the N89 to Bouillon. You will find lots of free parking in the town, so no need to worry about having to park miles away from where you need to be.

New year, new things to do in Belgium

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As the year changes over, we all start to look forward to more experiences, and discovering new places. Did you know that incredible, quirky destinations are just a stone’s throw away, in Belgium? Vlooybergtoren, Tielt-Winge Drive from Calais: 252km / 2h 40m The amazing engineering that created Vlooybergtoren is reason enough to visit. Credit: Stokkestijn In the town of Tielt-Winge, there sits Vlooybergtoren, a staircase that needs to be seen to be believed. Designed by Close to the Bone, a Belgian engineering firm, Vlooybergtoren is a staircase that leads to nowhere, and demonstrates the incredible things physics and engineering can achieve. The 33ft high staircase is completely unsupported, only staying upright because of the heavy base, the only part of the structure that touches the ground. The weight of the base anchors it so that even in the strongest winds, the staircase won’t topple over. The tower is also fitted with ‘vibration dampeners’ that prevent it from shaking when people climb to the top. You might ask yourself, why is the staircase here? Incredible though it is, why would you climb it? The staircase actually sits on the same location as an old viewing tower, which burnt down (this is why Vlooybergtoren is metal, and therefore fire-proof). The view from the top of the staircase is incredible, and looks out for miles over the Belgian landscape, including the ‘fairy tale forest’ , Kabouterbos. Jacques Chocolate Museum, Liege Drive from Calais: 296km / 3h Find out more about Belgium chocolate, and take home as much as you can carry. It wouldn’t be a trip to Belgium if chocolate didn’t feature in some way. And what could be better than a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type of experience? In the annexe of the Jacques Chocolate Factory, you’ll find the chocolate museum. Jacques is one of Belgium’s most popular chocolate brands, so learning about this iconic brand is a great way to discover more about this chocolate-loving country. The factory shop is, naturally, filled to the brim with delicious Jacques chocolate, and all for a lot less than in the supermarkets. Thank goodness you drove there, so you can take back as many sweet treats as you want! C-Mine, Genk Drive from Calais: 292km / 3h Discover amazing art and culture at these old mines. Credit: Karen Baijens Diving into the cultural hub of Belgium is easier than you think when you visit C-Mine in Genk. The town was a hub for artists, and was known for its natural beauty, as well as three large mining sites, known as C-Mine. The mines were eventually closed in the late ‘80s, but that didn’t mean the vast place was put to waste. Instead it is now an exciting space where designers and artists exhibit, including revolutionary minds like Tim Burton. C-Mine also hosts film screenings and music performances alongside the art exhibits, so make sure you check the upcoming events before you visit. If you are just as interested in mining as you are in the arts, then make sure you check out their exhibition on the mining history of Genk. Are you surprised about the amount of different activities you can get up to in Belgium? It’s easy for you to take to the road and explore this amazing country, it’s only 35 minutes from Folkestone to Calais. Make sure you book your tickets with us in advance to get the best price. Top image Credit: BriYYZ

Best places to go in the New Year

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Once Christmas and New Year have passed, you might find yourself feeling those winter blues. But with so many wonderful destinations in France, there are plenty of things to look forward to during January and beyond. The underground river of Labouiche Where in France? Ariège, Occitanie Drive from Calais: 1,047km / 9h 30m Visit the nearby Château de Foix Discovered purely by chance by a local doctor in 1908, the underground river of Labouiche, or the Rivière Souterraine de Labouiche as it is known locally, has been open to the public since 1938. It’s actually Europe’s longest navigable underground river that’s open to the public, so it’s really quite unique. You can take a tour along roughly 1.5km of the river in a barge that your guide will pull through caves and chambers by ropes hanging from the cavernous ceiling. The caves are 60m below the surface, so as you can imagine the geology surrounding the river is fascinating. On the tour, you’ll be guided through a labyrinth of varying landscapes, culminating in the beautiful waterfall Cascade Salette, plunging into a crystal clear turquoise pool. If you want to stay in the area, the nearby town of Foix is a charming choice. The beautiful 10th century Château de Foix dominates the town’s skyline, and houses a fascinating museum, dedicated to the history of the surrounding Ariège region. The tickets are inexpensive, and you can get discounts for students and families. In the winter months there are even further reductions, so make sure you check before visiting.

The ultimate ski checklist

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Whether you’ve been skiing since before you could walk, or you’re planning your first foray onto the slopes, our ultimate ski checklist will have you covered. The ski season As far as Europe goes, the ski season doesn’t really kick off until December, but if you find yourself unable to wait that long, you can still hit the slopes in the early season during October and November. Generally, early season skiing is limited to glacier areas, and can be a bit hit-and-miss due to the unpredictability of the weather. If you do manage to get lucky with an early snow fall, however, you’ll benefit from much quieter slopes. It also tends to be cheaper in the early season, for both accommodation and lift passes. You may even be lucky enough to spot national ski teams in training, as they like to get out there as early as possible, and will drop everything for that first dumping of fresh powder. Tignes, France, is one of the best destinations for early season skiing Austria and Switzerland are best for early season skiing, as there are several resorts open from the beginning of October. In fact, in Austria, the glacier areas of Sölden and Stubai have been known to open as early as September, providing the conditions allow it. In France, Tignes is the only resort to open at the start of October, and is considered one of the most reliable areas for early snow. It’s suitable for all levels of skiers and snowboarders, catering to everyone from beginners to experts in equal measure. From December, it’s a different story, with ski resorts all over Europe open for business, welcoming skiers and snowboarders right up until April, so there’s plenty of opportunity to carve up those slopes. What to pack When you go on any sort of trip, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and make a list of everything that you’ll need to pack. But when it comes to skiing, it’s even more vital. Ski clothing and equipment can be quite pricey, so you’ll kick yourself if you end up having to buy twice! Don’t forget that you can’t hire goggles at ski resorts Clothes Warm knitwear – layering is key, and natural fibres tend to be best Warm socks – bring more than you think you’ll need Base layers – it’s up to your preference of traditional thermals or modern layers Gloves, scarves and hats – remember it’s cold even when you’re not up a mountain Comfy shoes – there’s no need to exacerbate any blisters you might get from your boots Wellies – or other suitable waterproof footwear Slippers – for padding around your chalet Swimwear – in case you fancy a dip in a hot tub Smart-casual outfits – in case you fancy treating yourself to a nice dinner one evening Coat – you may not always want to wear your ski jacket Ski equipment Skis or snowboard – you’re not going to get very far without these! Ski poles – don’t forget to take them with you to and from the slopes Ski boots – make sure they fit properly, otherwise you’ll be incredibly uncomfortable Ski socks – at least three or four pairs Helmet – make sure you get it professionally fitted Goggles – you can’t rent these, so make sure you buy before you go Ski jacket – or any warm, waterproof and breathable jacket Salopettes – these should also be warm, waterproof and breathable Ski gloves – or mittens if you prefer Glove liners – for when it’s very cold Balaclava – essential for extremely cold conditions Neck warmer – the more layers the better, really It’s particularly important to be well prepared if you’re heading off piste Useful extras Backpack – for carrying all your essentials around Sun cream – you can easily get sunburn on your face and lips whilst skiing Lip balm with SPF – again, the sun can be strong, and the cold can chap your skin First-aid kit – make sure it’s well stocked with all the essentials Deep Heat – your aching muscles will thank you for this one Insurance papers – always keep your paperwork somewhere safe and accessible Passport photos – in case you need them for your lift pass Lift pass – check and check again that you have this on you Avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe – essential if you’re heading off piste Map and compass – so that you can always work out where you are Multitool knife – you never know when you might need a blade or tools Hand warmers – cold fingers make everything so much more difficult Ankle, knee or wrist supports – in case you need extra support or strain something Water – make sure you’re always well hydrated Snacks – for a little pick-me-up energy boost A general rule of thumb for skiing is that it’s always better to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared. With this checklist at your disposal, though, you should have absolutely everything you need to have the best skiing holiday ever. If you’d like more tips and packing inspiration, take a look at our video with Brogan Tate, in which she shares some of her favourite tricks, including packing cubes and a handy supply of sweets at all times!   If you’re already mentally packing your bags and loading up the car, don’t forget to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best offers on fares.  

Europe’s favourite winter warmers

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When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than a plate of hot food to warm you up. No matter where you are in Europe, you’re sure to find a local dish, more often than not with a hearty portion of butter or cheese involved, to warm the cockles. Tartiflette Where’s it from? Savoie, France Drive from Calais: Chambéry, the capital, is 866km / 7h 46m A delicious, indulgent tartiflette is just the thing after a day on the slopes! Originating from the Savoie region of the French Alps, Tartiflette is the perfect antidote to a day spent out in the cold walking up hills, or skiing down them. The main ingredient is sliced potatoes, which are combined with bacon lardons, sliced onion, garlic, butter, cream, and the star of the dish, copious amounts of reblochon cheese. As far as traditional dishes go, tartiflette is relatively modern, being developed in the 1980s in order to promote sales of reblochon cheese. It was inspired by the much older dish, péla, also from the Savoie region and very similarly made, but without the addition of cheese. Baeckeoffe Where’s it from? Alsace, France Drive from Calais: Strasbourg, the capital, is 621km / 5h 43m This Alsatian specialty dish is guaranteed winter warmer. Inspired by a traditional Jewish dish called Cholent or Hamin, the Alsatian dish Baeckeoffe is a typical French winter stew. It’s made with sliced potatoes and onions, beef, mutton and pork, marinated in Alsatian white wine and juniper berries, and then slowly cooked in the oven. You may also find carrots, leeks, thyme, parsley and garlic added for additional colour and flavour. Translated from the local dialect, the name Baeckeoffe means ‘baker’s oven’, and traditionally, that’s where this dish was cooked. In the local villages, people would take their casserole pots filled with meat, potatoes and vegetables to the local baker in the morning after all the bread for the day had been cooked. The baker would cover the pots with a bread dough lid and slowly cook them in the still-warm oven, and they’d then be collected later in the day for the families’ dinner. Raclette Where’s it from? Valais, Switzerland Drive from Calais: Sion, the capital, is 847km / 8h 12m Delicious melted raclette cheese is scraped on top of new potatoes. Raclette is the name of both the cheese and the dish it is used in. It originally comes from Switzerland in the Valais region, but its popularity has spread into France and it can also often be found at Christmas markets in the UK. The dish is made by melting half-wheels of raclette cheese under specially designed grills, which are then scraped (which is where it gets its name – the French for ‘scrape’ is ‘racler’) on top of piles of new potatoes, served with cornichons, little pickled onions, and charcuterie. It may only be in recent years that the dish has really risen in popularity, but it can actually be dated back to the 13th century. It is mentioned in medieval writings from convents in German area of Switzerland, and was commonly eaten by peasants, as it was low in cost, but high in nutritional value. Perfect for keeping out the cold! Gromperekichelcher Where’s it from? Luxembourg Drive from Calais: Luxembourg City, the capital, is 411km / 4h 5m The name ‘gromperekichelcher’ is certainly a bit of a mouthful, but it’s worth practicing your pronunciation if you’re planning a trip to Luxembourg this winter. The smell of these delicious potato fritters fills the air at winter markets throughout the little country, and it’s well worth joining the queue to find out what the fuss is all about. Gromperekichelcher is predominantly made with grated potatoes, mixed with finely sliced onions or shallots and parsley. Eggs and flour are then used to bind the potato mixture together before they’re shaped into patties and fried off. They’re quite similar to Switzerland’s famous potato röstis, which are another popular winter dish across Europe. Speculoos Where’s it from? Belgium or the Netherlands Drive from Calais: Hasselt in Belgium, famous for their Speculoos, is 280km / 3h Speculoos are the ultimate festively spiced biscuits. There is definitely a recurring theme across Europe when it comes to winter dishes, which seems to be the humble potato. But if you fancy something a little different that will sate your sweet tooth, then take a trip to Belgium, home to the delicious festive biscuit speculoos. They’re also equally popular in the Netherlands, where they are spelled speculaas, and there is much debate over where they actually come from. Whichever variety you choose to enjoy, they’re largely made the same way with a mixture of festive spices including nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and anise. The town of Hasselt in Belgium, however, is famed for its special local version created by Antonie Deplée in 1870, which is a kind of almond ‘bread’. Has all this talk of food made you hungry to explore Europe and its best dishes? Book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

French Christmas traditions

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France is only a short trip away across the Channel, but when it comes to Christmas, our traditions often seem miles apart. And depending on which part of France you’re in, you might find something other than turkey on your plate at Christmas dinner, and open presents on a different day entirely! Let the festivities commence Generally speaking, here in the UK Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December, and that’s when we all sit together and swap gifts. The only discrepancy tends to be whether your family opens their presents before or after Christmas dinner. Well, in North and North-Eastern France, children receive their presents much earlier in December on the 6th, which is St Nicholas’ Day. There is an old folklore story told in France about three little children who get lost and captured by a wicked butcher, Père Fouettard. Fortunately for the kids, St Nicholas rescues them, which is how he became the patron saint of children. And so, every year on the night before the 6th December, children leave out a boot or a shoe for St Nicholas who gives out gifts, sweets and gingerbread to all the good children, and Père Fouettard leaves the naughty ones lumps of coal. Children in France leave shoes or boots out for St Nicholas to fill with gifts Elsewhere in France, families exchange presents on Christmas Eve, which tends to be the biggest day of celebrations throughout Europe. Some families in France even wait until the 6th January, which is Epiphany or ‘Three Kings Day’, to give their gifts to each other. Why a shoe and not a stocking? The favourite British tradition of the Christmas stocking isn’t really a thing in France, as it’s replaced by children leaving out their shoes and boots for St Nicholas instead. Both traditions come from the same place, however. According to the story, St Nicholas threw gold coins or gold balls through the window or down the chimney (depending on the version of the story) of a needy family. They landed in the family’s shoes or stockings, and this now represented by chocolate coins in gold foil and oranges, respectively, which are traditional stocking fillers. Everyone’s favourite meal of the year Whether you’re a fan of sprouts or not, it’s safe to say that Christmas dinner is one of the best meals of the year. Not necessarily just for the food, but also because it’s a time when you get to sit down and enjoy spending time with your family and friends whom you might not get to see as often as you’d like. And in France, as with present-giving days, the big Christmas meal is often eaten on a different day, as well. Turkey is traditionally served stuffed with chestnuts in France The prevailing tradition in France is for everyone to sit down together and feast on the 24th December for a long, often luxurious meal called a réveillon. This tends to start in the evening, sometimes following a day of fasting, and goes on until midnight and beyond. As well as turkey served with chestnuts, you may also find lobster, snails, and oysters on the table, and for dessert, a Bûche de Noël, which is a chocolate yule log. All of this rich food is accompanied by fine wines and champagne for that little extra indulgence, and it’s traditional to sing carols and songs around the table. As you can imagine, Christmas dinner is a lively, merry affair in France! What else is served at Christmas dinner? In Provence, there is a delicious tradition of 13 desserts served at Christmas dinner, which represent Jesus and his 12 disciples. There is usually a mix of figs and dried fruit, as well as a traditional cake called the pompe à l’huile, which is bread-like in texture, and made with olive oil and flavoured with orange blossom. If you find the charm, or the fève in your slice of galettes des rois, you get the crown! Another festive cake eaten in France is the galette des rois, or cake of kings, which is enjoyed particularly at Epiphany on the 6th January. Made of puff pastry filled with frangipane or apples, a small charm or bean called a fève is hidden somewhere inside, and if you find it in your slice you are crowned king or queen for the day! Do you and your family fancy celebrating Christmas a little differently this year? Book your tickets with us early to get the best price on fares!

The best Christmas markets

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There’s a reason that there’s a song about Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year, and in Strasbourg it’s really not very hard to see why. We sent our friends Aimee and Craig from Kinging It on a festive adventure to the French town to discover why its Christmas market is one of the best loved in the country. The journey From Folkestone to Calais: 35 minutes It was an early start for Aimee and Craig, who drove down to Folkestone from Barry in Wales. But Aimee in particular didn’t mind, as long as it meant she didn’t have to worry about getting sea sick! Neither Aimee nor Craig had travelled with us before, so they were really excited to experience Le Shuttle for the first time – so much so that on their way home, they actually watched a documentary on how the Eurotunnel was constructed! There are lights strung up all around Strasbourg’s catherdral Strasbourg Christmas Market Where in France: Bas-Rhin, Grand Est Drive from Calais: 621km / 5h 30m Once Aimee and Craig arrive in Strasbourg and checked into their hotel, it was time to start exploring the town and its festive Christmas market! They set themselves a number of challenges to make the most of their time there. On their first evening in Strasbourg, the first challenge they set each other was to find the ugliest piece of Christmas clothing which the loser had to wear all night. The second challenge was to find the best cake or pastry, and guess how much the other person paid for theirs, with the winner getting to eat both treats! There are so many beautiful baubles for your tree The next day, the challenges continued, starting with a contest to find the best Christmas ornament under €10, and then the best Christmas tree topper for their family tree back home. You’ll have to watch the video to find out who wins, though! The Christmas market in Strasbourg is comes every year until the end of December, so there’s still time to visit if you’ve been inspired by the Kinging It video! If you like Strasbourg then you’ll love these Christmas markets! If you’re feeling all festive and want to visit a Christmas market in France, but won’t be able to make it to Strasbourg, there are plenty of other beautiful markets you can visit to do some Christmas shopping. Metz Christmas Market Where in France: Moselle, Grand Est Drive from Calais: 633km / 6h 30m Metz cathedral lit up at Christmas time The second most popular Christmas market in France after Strasbourg, the Christmas market in Metz is spread across the city in five different areas. You can shop for baubles and tree toppers, delicious festive treats and mulled wine, and unique Christmassy souvenirs. Reims Christmas Market Where in France: Marne, Grand Est Drive from Calais: 274km / 2h 20m The stunning cathedral in the centre of Reims is illuminated, adding to the festive glow and magic of the city at Christmas time. You’ll find all of the usual favourites at this Christmas market, such as classy glass decorations, garlands, chocolates, and steaming cups of mulled wine to keep the cold at bay. Licques Christmas Market Where in France: Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France Drive from Calais: 21km / 30m This has to be one of the more unusual Christmas markets in France, if not the whole of Europe. Every year there is the ‘Fête de la Dinde’, which is a live parade of turkeys through the town centre. The town also puts on an incredible food market where you can buy lots of festive treats to eat. You’ll find unique gifts for everyone at a Christmas market Bordeaux Christmas Market Where in France: Gironde, Nouvelle-Aquitaine Drive from Calais: 868km / 7h 40m If you happen to be further south in France, a trip to Bordeaux to visit their Christmas market is definitely in order. Enjoy a warming cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine as you browse the selection of unique gifts from over 150 exhibitors and vendors, which will ensure everyone on your Christmas list gets something special! There’s still time to pop across the Channel for a bit of Christmas shopping, and when you book your tickets in advance with us, you’re guaranteed the best price.

The best places in Belgium to take your pet

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Here in the UK, it’s safe to say that we are a nation of pet lovers. So, it’s important to know that when we take our pets on holiday with us, we’re going somewhere equally welcoming to our cats and dogs. Fortunately, just over the Channel, Europe is full of pet lovers, too, and nowhere more so than Belgium. Enjoy dog-friendly beaches in Knokke-Heist Where in Belgium: West Flanders Drive from Calais: 1h 30m / 135km There’s plenty of open space for your dog to run free on the beach at Knokke-Heist If your pooch loves nothing more than diving into the sea in hot pursuit of their favourite tennis ball, or kicking up the sand behind them as they race down the beach, you’ll find yourself in luck in Belgium. Many of the beaches along the coast of the North Sea are open to your four-legged friend. Generally, during the off-season months from October to May, you’re welcome to bring your dog any time of day, but in the summer, it’s often restricted to morning and evening walks only. One of the best beaches along the coast is Knokke-Heist, where you’re not only allowed to visit at any point during the day between October and March, but the whole beach is leash-free! And as well as hours of fun on the beach for the dogs, the charming little seaside town has plenty to keep you and the rest of the family entertained. There are some particularly lovely little art galleries to wander around, as well as local boutiques and shops selling everything from high-end goods to novelty souvenirs. Walkies in the High Fens Where in Belgium: Liège Drive from Calais: 2h 50m / 296km Wooden boardwalks lead you through the beautiful marshes of the High Fens The Hautes Fagnes, or High Fens as we call them in English, are Belgium’s largest protected nature reserve. There are a number of trails and walks you can set out on for the day, varying in length and difficulty, however, you should check beforehand which areas you’re allowed to walk your dog. Environmentally, the High Fens are incredibly diverse, with the landscape ranging from dense woodland to beautiful heathland, via swampy peat bogs. Which route you choose will depend on your own levels of experience and fitness, as well as your dog’s! As you’d expect in any nature reserve, the High Fens are divided up into different zones in order to preserve the delicate ecosystems, so dogs aren’t allowed everywhere. The zones are always clearly marked, though, to help you. Zone D is forbidden to everyone, in Zone C only people accompanied by an authorised guide can enter, and in Zone B there are no dogs or bicycles allowed. That said, anywhere that isn’t specifically marked off is free to roam for you and your pooch. The High Fens offer a treasure trove of new scents and sights for your dog to explore, with an adventure just waiting to be sniffed out around every corner. A day out in Rivierenhof Park Where in Belgium: Antwerp Drive from Calais: 2h 5m / 204km Sterckshof castle looks particularly magical in the winter months credit: Torsade de Pointes  On a visit to Antwerp, you’ll no doubt notice that there is a distinct shortage of green space in the city centre. And although dogs are more than happy to pootle around town with you, and relax outside coffee shops, they really love nothing better than letting loose in a great big outdoor space. The good news for you and your pooch is that there are a couple of stunning public parks a little further out in the suburbs of Antwerp. One of the loveliest of which is Rivierenhof Park. Rivierenhof is the largest park in Antwerp, covering a massive 132 hectares, which for comparison is not much smaller than Hyde Park in London. That’s plenty of space for your pet to have a run around and stretch their legs. There are a number of canals running through the park, as well as a few larger ponds and a river, so watch out if your dog is a fan of swimming! As you and your dog explore the park, you’ll no doubt discover that it’s also home to a couple of castles. There’s the 16th-century Rivierenhof castle, which looks out over a pretty pond that stretches out in front of the grand house. And also Sterckshof castle, which is actually a 20th-century ‘replica’ of an older castle! Has all this talk of exploring the great outdoors got your pet’s tail wagging? Book your tickets with us to explore all that Belgium has to offer – and the earlier you book, the better your fare!

Drive to Leuven

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Visiting Leuven It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes Leuven so special, there are so many layers to this often (unjustly) overlooked city. The streets are lined with intricate, imposing gothic architecture and from September to June, the many bars and restaurants are full of students, taking time out from their studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. In fact, joyful student merriment has been a part of Leuven’s culture for hundreds of years- since 1425, to be exact, when the university was opened. Of course, Belgium is famous over the world for its beer, and Leuven wouldn’t be the quintessential Belgian city it is without a brewery. Theirs is the most famous of all; the Stella Artois brewery. If you only have a day to spend in Belgium, Leuven is one of the best places to visit. Everything that makes Belgium the vibrant, quirky, playful destination that it is can be found in the Gothic architecture studded streets. What to do in Leuven Stadhuis The Stadhuis is a must see when you come to Leuven- you’ll be missing out if you don’t marvel at its gothic architecture. A daily hazard of visiting Leuven, we feel we must warn you, is the risk of hurting your neck from craning to the sky to admire the Gothic archictecture. Of course, the buildings that you’re looking at are so breathtaking, you won’t mind or notice. One of the most famous (and therefore magnificent) examples of Leuven Gothic architecture is the Stadhuis. This detailed gold and black building has been the centre of politics in Leuven for over 600 years. The exterior is decorated with turrets and statues, interwoven in its elaborate design. Like the university, the Stadhuis has been a part of Leuven for generations, since its creation in the 15th century. You can learn more about the history of the Stadhuis and Leuven at the permanent exhibition inside. St-Pieterskerk Another must visit is the beautiful St-Pieterskerk, an ancient church that has stood the test of time. We aren’t the only ones who want to celebrate the architecture of Leuven. UNESCO World Heritage have listed the belfry of St-Pieterskerk on its coveted list. Once again, this is a building that has been in the heart of Leuven for many years. First built in 1425, people come from far and wide to admire the rood screen and pulpit, a staple of European churches from this era. The church is also home to Dieric Bouts’ masterpiece, ‘The Last Supper’. This is the only painting by Flemish primitive that is still on display in its original location. As you would have gathered, the history and culture of Leuven is still incredibly important to the locals, and everywhere you go, you will be enchanted by some part of Leuven’s history. M Van Museum One of the unique aspects of Leuven, is its mix of old and new. Despite it being an old town, the youthful, vibrant student feel has imbeded itself into the streets and buildings. Almost as a reflection of this, the M Van Museum displays works of art and artefacts from Leuven’s past and present. 15th century art sits with today’s modern pieces, in rooms as breathtaking as the art. The exhibition rooms are decorated with patterned wallpaper and rich oak floors and doors. Or they are more minimal with huge blank-canvas white walls, so all the attention is on the art. As with all museums worth their salt, M Van Museum always has fascinating art exhibits on, so make sure you check out what they are showing before you visit. Stella Artois Brewery When in Belgium, you drink beer. Belgian beer is one of the country’s most famous exports, and naturally they are very proud of their craft. Many towns and cities have at least one brewery, but Leuven is home to the daddy of them all: Stella Artois. The brewery is open for tours, where you can discover the history of Stella Artois, some of the secrets to its brewing process, and naturally enjoy a cold, frosty glass at the end of the tour. You never know, with all your new-found brewing knowledge, you might detect even more flavours to the beer. The famous ‘Fountain of Wisdom’, or ‘Fonske’, near the centre of town represents the students of Leuven. Where to Eat in Leuven University cities are the places to go to experience fun, quirky, and easy-on-the-wallet restaurants. Leuven has these by the bucket load, but one of the most popular is De Werf. The walls are covered with paint rollers and other decorating equipment, and the designers deliberately left rooms unfinished, to continue the theme. It’s not just the décor that has the building site theme. Food is served in lunchboxes, and colourful plastic plates- keep an eye out for the little jokes hidden in the menus. As this is popular with the university students, you will definitely experience a fun and lively atmosphere. Where to Drink in Leuven To a slightly chicer establishment now. Mattiz Is the kind of bar that looks like it was made for Instagram. This is a tapas and cocktail bar, where the food and drink are as photogenic as they are delicious. This is a great place to come at the start of the night, and tuck into a couple of plates of tapas so you’re ready to party into the early hours. If you go in summer, try to get a seat on the terrace that overlooks the town. Where to Stay in Leuven In a city like Leuven, where its history and energetic vibe makes it so special, the ideal way to experience it is to live like a local. Renting an apartment with Your House Apartments is the way to do that. Decorated so they won’t look out of place in a home décor magazine, you can stay in the large apartments with modern furnishings and all the amenities you want, including private on-site parking and free Wi-Fi. Weather in Leuven If you are planning on spending a few summer days in Leuven, you’re in luck, as the average temperature often reaches around 24°C during June to July. If it’s a winter break you’re after, you will need to wrap up warm to brace the lows of 0°C. But, Leuven is so beautiful, that the frost will only make it prettier. Getting there and around: Don’t be fooled by thinking crossing the border will make the drive longer. It’s only two and a half hours from our Calais terminal, and what luck- there are no tolls! Take the A16 to the E40, then leave on Exit 18-Herent from E314. After that, follow the N26a to Mathieu de Layensplein. There are plenty of places to park, with around ten car parks in the centre of town, and a little less on the outskirts. There is free parking but this tends to include a longer walk to the main points of interest, so it’s probably best to keep some Euros on you for the parking meter. Save money for parking and souvenirs by booking your tickets with us early- it’s the best way to get our best fares.

The best shopping destinations in France

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When you think of shopping in France, you probably immediately think of Paris. It is true that the capital is up there as one of the world's greatest shopping cities, but there are plenty of other fabulous destinations to spend some cash and spoil yourself if you fancy a change of scene. Rue Sainte-Catherine Location: Bordeaux, Nouvelle-Aquitaine Drive from Calais: 8h 10m / 877km The Rue Sainte-Catherine is famous as one of the world’s best shopping streets. Photo by Alain Muller. Bordeaux's famous Rue Sainte-Catherine is often hailed as Europe's longest pedestrian shopping street at just over 1.2km in length. So, if you think of yourself as something of a serious shopper, then surely this street is up there on your list of personal shopping challenges. The main draws for shoppers visiting Bordeaux are the department store, Galeries Lafayette, and the shopping arcade, Galerie Bordelaise, built in 1834. You'll also find all the most popular high street shops along the Rue Sainte-Catherine, such as Zara and H&M, as well as lots of local French brands. Once you've exhausted all that the local shops have to offer, you might like to explore the rest of the city, half of which is actually UNESCO listed, making it the largest World Heritage site in a city. Head to the Miroir d'Eau, the world's largest 'reflecting pool', for an iconic holiday snap in front of the Palais de la Bourse. And whilst you're in town, you can't pass up the chance to try some of the world-renowned local wines. There's no better place to learn all about the wine-making process and culture than La Cité du Vin, which you can get to by tram on Line B, or drive to in your car as there is plenty parking nearby. Annecy Flea Market Location: Annecy, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Drive from Calais: 7h 30m / 837km Explore the market stalls around the canals in Annecy. On the last Saturday of the month, if you drive down to Annecy you'll be in for a treat, as this is when the town hosts their local flea market. This isn't your average flea market, as professional sellers and artisans travel from all over to sell their wares, including art, crafts, clothing, and plenty of curios and antiques. The stalls are set up all over town, lining the streets and canals, so the shopping experience is also something of a walking tour. Whether you're looking for vintage furniture, a one-of-a-kind piece of art, or even a pair of antique wooden skis, you're sure to find it here. All that shopping and bargain hunting is hungry work, so it's important to stay well-fed and watered. If the weather's mild enough (or not, if you don't mind the cold!), a picnic on the waterfront of Lac d'Annecy will be a meal you won't soon forget, as the crystal-clear waters offset by the backdrop of the Alps is a view sure to stay with you. If it does happen to be a little too chilly for you, there are plenty of great restaurants in town that serve delicious local food, and you can enjoy the views on a lake-side walk instead. Marché des Halles de Menton Location: Menton, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Drive from Calais: 11h 43m / 1,274km The colourful little town of Menton is as pretty as a picture. The Marché des Halles de Menton was built in 1898, and has been used as a market hall ever since. You'll find some sort of market here almost every day, except for Mondays, selling a variety of clothes, toys, flowers, and most famously, food. The local produce is truly incredible, and there are about 40 or so stands for you to browse and choose from, making it tricky to know where to start – but what a lovely predicament to find yourself in! If you're lucky enough to be staying in the local area and have access to a cooker, just imagine all the recipes you can try out with those fresh ingredients. But if you prefer to leave the cooking to someone else, you can always enjoy a meal at one of the many local restaurants. If you really feel like spoiling yourself, book a table overlooking the sea at two Michelin-starred Le Mirazur, which currently boasts fourth place in the world's best restaurant list. If your tastes are a little simpler, sample the homemade delights at Maison Martin et Fils, tucked away just behind the covered market. Wherever you dine, you're guaranteed a feast, and given Menton's location on the southern coast of France near the Italian border, the weather is always pretty mild. So, after dinner you can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the beach to walk off your food and take in the views of the pretty paint-box town reflected in the calmly lapping waters. Have you got the urge to shop 'til you drop? When you book your tickets with us early you get the best price, which means more spending money!

Driving to Granville

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Visiting Granville If you are dreaming of visiting Monaco, but wish it could just be moved north by a few hundred miles, you are in luck. The town of Granville, in the Manche region of France has been nicknamed 'the Monaco of the north', thanks to its coastal location, and rocky landscape. With a population of just over 13,000 this is a more intimate town to visit, but ideal if you are really looking to be engulfed in proper Northern French culture, and skip out on anything too touristy. What to See in Granville La Maison Dior La Maison Dior, home of Christian Dior is one of the most popular attractions in Granville. Credit: Philippe Fauvel. As Granville is the northern cousin to Monaco, of course the town is going to be adorned with sophisticated glamour. There's no name that drips with as much French sophistication as Christian Dior, so naturally Granville's history is tied with the iconic designer. Christian Dior, born in 1905, was raised in the seaside town of Granville. Being Christian Dior, of course he didn't fade into the background; he was raised in an incredible pink mansion, known as La Maison Dior that looked out over the crystal blue sea below. The mansion is now an intriguing museum, a must-visit for fashion connoisseurs, or anyone who is fascinated with the history of one of France's most famous figures. Monsieur Dior's mother, Madeline, was determined to have the blush-pink house as soon as she saw it, and spent many years carefully sculpting it to perfection, much like Christian would do years later with his elegant haute-couture creations. Christian was so fond of his childhood home and town, that Granville crept into his own creations. Light pinks and grey, the colours of his childhood can be seen in his classic designs, and he named a perfume after Granville, scented with notes of rosemary, pine and thyme. The house often hosts exhibits celebrating its eponymous founder, so check out what's on before you visit. Carnaval de Granville The annual carnival in Granville takes over the streets for five fun-packed days. One of Christian Dior's inspirations for his designs came from the annual Granville Carnival which is still celebrated to this day. In fact, this carnival is so legendary that it has been included in the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The celebrations last for five fun-packed days, leading up to Shrove Tuesday. The mayor hands the town's keys to the King of the Carnival, a paper maché figure, and the celebrations begin. The carnival is very important to the town, with 40 floats paraded through the streets. The floats can take as long as six months to create, and many members of the community join together to make the festivities as wonderful as the years that precede them. With its sea-facing location, cod fishing used to be one of the main industries of Granville, and the fishermen would leave the town around Shrove Tuesday to catch all those tasty fish, so the carnival was there last chance to celebrate before heading off on their mission. Granville Beaches The inviting and rich blue sea at Granville is not to be missed. Of course, a must-do in Granville is to spend a day (or two, or three…) at the sandy beaches that make up the coast of Granville. It was at the end of the 19th century that Granville became one of the more popular seaside resorts in France, and its popularity hasn't slowed down. If you love to swim in the salty, fresh sea water then don't worry about timing the tides. In the 1960s, a retention pool was created at the Donville-les-Bains part of the town. More of a sun-worshiping beach goer? The warm golden sand of Granville is the perfect place to lounge, get bronzed, and dig into your holiday read. The Upper Town If you can pull yourself from the beach, then the town is great place to spend the day. Not wanting to be outdone by larger French cities, Granville's Upper Town has many interesting and cultural places to stop by, perfect if you want to discover more of the history of Granville, and what makes it such a special place to visit. Dotted amongst the striking Upper Town homes are art galleries, museums and chic shops. The Richard Anacréon Modern Art Museum takes you on a journey through 20th century art, featuring works from Picasso, Derain and Claudel. If the proximity to the sea has got your mind racing about what might be swimming in the depths below, then a visit to the Le Roc des Harmonies, the Granville aquarium will answer all your marine questions. Where to Eat in Granville Granville's history and classic style is embedded into its streets and shops, and this is no truer than at Picorette, a delightful tea room and restaurant on Rue Saint Sauveur. Fresh, homemade meals, pots of tea and traditional French pastries are the order of the day, with a cheerful service to match. If you fall heavily in love with the food, you can buy some treats there to take home with you. Where to Drink in Granville In a small town, you have the happy opportunity to become close with the locals. One of the best ways to do that is to visit smaller bars and pubs, and get chatting. Winnibelle is one of those tiny bars that has a welcoming feel. Go for the dry white wine, and mingle with the residents. Where to Stay in Granville In such a historical town, surely you would want to stay somewhere that is a part of the history. If that's you, then Hotel des Bains is the dreamiest place you can rest your head. It was built in 1881, right on the seaside. It is a quirky red and yellow building, with amazing views of the sea. You can also bring your pets with you!  Weather in Granville In June and July, the temperatures can reach up to around 22°C, with a low chance of rain, meaning that there will be plenty of beach days. In the winter time, pack your coat as it is quite chilly, at 4°C. Make sure that coat is waterproof, as it's likely you'll have to duck through some showers. Are you excited about seeing Dior's real life home, and wandering through this exquisite town? Book your tickets early with us to get the best fares. Getting there and around The fastest route from our Calais terminal to Granville is just over four hours, but this does include toll roads. You can avoid the tolls, but this will add an hour onto your journey. Take the A16 from our terminal, and continute to the A84, taking A28, A29 and A13. Then follow the D924 to Granville.

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