French Odyssey Part 1 – Tunnels & Trains   4 comments

Now I’ve finally got up to date with NEARLY all my summer activities, the big one remains. I’ve got lots of adventures to write-up so I’ll be splitting our main summer holiday to France into several posts. One of the main reasons I write my blog is to share my experiences, thoughts and plans with the wider world in the hope that inspires others for similar adventures and they can use them to plan their own trips. I thought I’d kick off the posts with some background as to why we planned the trip the way we do and brief bit about the start of the journey. You might think that part is not worth a write-up but for me, the holiday begins as soon as I get in the car outside my house and ends when the car pulls up on the drive when we get back. Everything in between is all part of the holiday experience and worth remembering for me.

In previous years we’d been holidaying in Cornwall and Brittany, primarily as the kids enjoy beaches with waves and rockpools, and not entirely coincidentally so I can get some surf-kayaking in. However Jane isn’t really a cold weather person and was pining for a holiday in the sun. The cost of conventional sun holiday in the school holidays for a family are astronomical so we decided to try the South of France by car as we’d been there before the kids were born and had a pretty good time. I’m lucky that my job provides a car and free petrol so the transport costs are small, just motorway tolls and the channel crossing. We didn’t fancy trying to drive the whole way in a day like we did in years gone by so the idea of 3 week trip with a few days to drive through France each way was born.

We booked up the same fantastic property in Provence as last time (more of this in later posts) and used the Eurotunnel to get across the channel. The cost of a ferry has gone down dramatically in the last few years (we only paid £70 return last year) but this year my Tesco vouchers meant I could use the Eurotunnel for free.

For our stopovers, we use a combination of cheap motels in the B&B chain (a French Travelodge clone) and the Logis de France chain, a collection of individually owned hotels. The B&B Hotels are basic but cheap, clean and reliable with a french style buffet breakfast to get you underway. They are always in the major towns and cities near the main roads so dead handy for a stopover. When we head away into more rural areas we use the Logis Hotels which are more traditional and we’ve always had really nice rooms. They vary in cost from roughly the same as a cheap B&B through to more expensive in the better known places like Chamonix.

As northern France isn’t really to our taste we put in a long 6 hour drive on the way to/from the channel to get us to the more interesting areas. From then on we can spend pretty much a whole day doing some proper holiday stuff with a short 1 hour drive to get us to our next stopover. On both trips we’ve had no major problems with any of the hotels apart from a few minor navigation problems although living out of a suitcase gets a bit tedious after a while. Worth the trade-off though as we’ve had some great days out on our way through France and anything is preferable to sitting in airports waiting for QuesyJet to delay your flight or any number of ways they have made air travel such a deeply dispiriting experience.

So pre-amble over. After sneaking off work early (don’t tell the boss) we hit the road for one of the longest legs of the whole journey down the Channel Tunnel terminal.


Kids excited, Daddy weary

We prefer to get over the channel and spend the first night in France so we can get a good start the next day. The terminal was deserted and we were in France within an hour of getting off the Motorway. I hate the tunnel crossing, it’s hot, stuffy and claustrophobic but at least it was quick (and cheap!).


The novelty wears off

It was a stunning evening so rather than go straight to our B&B hotel in Boulogne we took a stroll on the coast at Cap Blanc Nez just south of Calais.


View south towards Boulogne

The views of the cliffs the coast and back across to Blighty were superb with a gorgeous sunset thrown into the bargain.


Bye Bye Blighty for 3 weeks

There is a massive war memorial and the cliffs are honeycombed with old wartime bunkers and emplacements.



The coast is much nicer than I imagined with lovely rolling hills and pretty towns as well as the coast itself. ED over at Beating the Bounds spent a week on this part of the coast this summer you can see the first of his posts on this area here. It would be well worth a visit sometime but for now we had to be satisfied with an hour’s walk before we headed to our hotel for the night. We were on our way.

What can I tell you about the drive through northern France. Not much really, pleasant but un-diverting so we just hit the motorway and ticked off the miles while D ticked off the road atlas pages, L watched endless movies and Jane learned her lines for her upcoming play. There was brief excitement as we glimpsed the Eiffel Tower in Paris and travelled through the brand new and eerily empty new A86 tunnel under the city.


Paris - well under it on the A86

I’d been worried about the traffic and getting lost but we breezed through and were out into the flat and rather featureless expanses of northern France before you could say pain chocolat.

Nice thing about French motorways is they put rather pleasant picnic areas with kids play areas ever 20 miles or so which breaks up the journey.


There is always time to play

The Jones family plan their holidays with military precision so we are equipped with in-car fridge and brew-making capability for that perfect picnic every time (I watch too much TV and too many adverts as you can tell). The previous year I’d informed the kids how you could see the climate change as we travelled south, increased temperatures, bluer sky that sort of thing. Obviously it got colder and pished it down all the way! This year it had been sunny since we left home and it did indeed get hotter as we travelled south. By the time we arrived in Clermont Ferrand it was in the high 20’s and glorious. The weather remained that way for almost the entire 3 weeks

Problem with stopovers is you have to unpack and repack the car every day. This situation is not helped by the fact that L takes a large assortment of dolls and cuddly toys on holiday with her. They all have to be carried up to the room and back as well and guess who ends up with that chore! They all have to be cared for in their own specific way and Jane is often found putting the dolls to bed! Sometimes the dolls are more trouble than the kids but they give us a laugh from time to time


Jessie goes to bed

We could see the silhouette of the Puy de Dome from under a clear night sky from our  B&B hotel room.


Puy de Dome

Tomorrow it was time to abandon the driving and do some proper holiday stuff. A walk up a volcano and down into the crater no less. Exciting eh! Read on here…..

To whet your appetite further watch out for further posts on Provence, the Cote D’Azure, Verdon Gorge, Chamonix Alps and the Jura Mountains


4 responses to “French Odyssey Part 1 – Tunnels & Trains

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  1. I drove to Barcelona myself last October and found myself just ticking of the miles through northern France. Kept away from the motorways though to make it a little more interesting with the sat-nav taking me through some strange single track roads and small villages. Getting to and from my destination I count as a big part of my holiday and I love driving to the continent.
    Nice pic from the deserted tunnel


    • Hi David. I quite enjoy the driving in Fance, watching the scenery change and listening to some tunes on mostly empty roads. Whenever it gets busy we just dive off onto the local roads. Mind you I am blessed with with two trouble free children since the discovery of portable DVD players and gamnes consoles. The only thing L says in a long journey now is “It’s finished” 🙂

      I still find road tunnels rather exciting for some unknown reason. This one is very odd as it’s cars only so it feels the roof is right on top of the car. I got Jane to take a video in the tunnel but I thought it was a bit too sad to upload it to youtube!


  2. “listening to tunes” has just remind me of the French radio station Musique, I had forgotten about that. Was a good companion through the trip. French radio on the whole was pretty poor though. Watching the scenery change the further south and west I went was nice as the farmland gave way to vineyards and the vineyards gave way to more vineyards with the Pyrenees a beautiful backdrop. And the weather getting warmer with every mile.


    • I never thought about the radio, always assumed it would be just endless Europop, but I’ll give that station a go next year. I normally put together an MP3 CD of my favourite tracks of the moment, gives me several hours of tunes without having to change the CD. On our journey it was farmland to sunflowers to vineyards, to limestone scrub to maquis before we saw the sea near Montpellier


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