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.

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.

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.

6 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! 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. 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. 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.

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.

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

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