19 September 2010


I have written before about our mode of travel to our little house in France. Generally it takes about 12 hours door-to-door by car, 9 hours of which are actually spent on the road, the rest of the time being taken up by stops to stretch our legs, have a bite to eat, or waiting to board the train .

Crossing the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford at 6am.

Lately we have favoured getting up very early and driving to Eurotunnel at Folkestone without a stop, or with just one stop if needed. In August this worked very well. We got up at 3 am and were on the road within the hour, having packed the car the previous evening. I made a flask of coffee with the remains of our milk, stashed a large bag of sandwiches in the cool bag, disposed of the last few items in the fridge and away we went.

Boarding the train at 7.30 am.

The weather was cool and drizzly but as it was Saturday morning we had a clear run and arrived at Folkestone early. Luckily there were spaces on the next train and we made the crossing 40 minutes earlier than the time we had booked.

I am always impressed with Eurotunnel. So far, we have made dozens of crossings and rarely have we been delayed. Even when they are phenomenally busy, the staff are polite, helpful and friendly. I can really recommend them.

Stretching our legs at 9.15 am in Northern France.

We were in France by 9.00 am and it was still cool and dull but we had a short break at one of the first services beyond Calais. We have used this stop several times as there is a large field next to the filling station where we can let Lulu off the lead and she can have a good run around. We enjoyed some sandwiches and hot coffee from the flask and after half an hour we were back on the road.

Mayhem on the motorway

By 10.00 am we knew we were in trouble. There was a massive traffic jam on the motorway at Le Touquet. Traffic going north was at a standstill for miles. We hit the back of the queue going south soon afterwards as we got near to our exit at Abbeville. This was most unusual. Normally there are no hold-ups and the roads are quiet. We did the same journey on the same Saturday last year so what was the problem?

Then we remembered. Last year we had travelled through the night, arriving at Le Grand-Pressigny at 8.30 am, thereby missing any traffic completely. This year we were in the thick of it, travelling on one of the busiest weekends of the year for holday traffic. A high proportion of the cars had UK plates.
So we decided to leave the motorway and do what we used to do when we travelled everywhere by motorcycle. We went the pretty way.

Taking a break near Vendôme at 3.00 pm. It was 34°C.
We bipassed Rouen and went through Les Andelys, Evreux, Dreux, Chartres and rejoined the motorway just north of Tours. It was a long day. We arrived chez nous at 5.30 pm, two hours later than we had intended. But we had saved more than 30 euros in toll charges and had seen bits of France that we loved and had explored many times before. Interestingly, the journey was also four miles shorter. In years gone by we would have made the journey over two days on the bikes, stopping somewhere to camp for the night or treating ourselves to the luxury of a hotel room, a bath and a good dinner.
We did our usual shop for essentials at SuperU in Descartes, called at the butcher in Le Grand-Pessigny for some meat and the boulangerie for some bread. The temperature was 34°C.
We were all so happy to be back. The sun was shining and it was so lovely and warm.
Just before our holiday we had been very busy at work and at home, getting the house ready for the decorator to move in while we were away. It was a huge effort and we were more than ready for a relaxing holiday.

Lulu deserved a bit of her favourite St Maure cheese after such a long day..

The house was in great shape. Alex and Nicole had made sure the garden was at its best. Nick decided to barbecue the chops and chipolatas from the butcher and we really enjoyed our first holiday meal. We sat on our little terrace until it was dark. The swifts and swallows entertained us and when they went to bed the bats came out for a while and did the same.

We were not too late to bed. On the one hand we could have sat for hours into the night, enjoying the warmth, the peace and quiet and the prospect of two whole weeks of relaxation. On the other hand, the journey had taken its toll. It was two hours longer than usual because of our detour and we were exhausted. Except for Lulu, who had slept most of the way. Soon after the church bells had chimed ten o'clock, we took Lulu up the hill for her last walk then went to bed.


Moonlight over our garden. The calm before the storm.

At 4.00 am we were woken up by the most amazing thunder storm. For a whole hour the noise was incredible. Lulu had been sleeping downstairs and usually thunder doesn't bother her but after one particularly loud bang she shot upstairs and whimpered outside our room, asking to be let in. We read in the local paper a couple of days later that some buildings in Le Petit-Pressigny had been damaged during the storm.

The next day, the weather had changed. It was much cooler, a mere 20°C. It started raining as we set off for the market in Descartes. But we really didn't care, we were on holiday.


  1. We envy you, only 12 hours (LOL).
    Our trip earlier this year was close on 36 hours. How lucky are you? And how lucky you are to have a home in the Loire, oh well, we can dream and keep on reading your blog before our next trip.
    Nice piccies BTW.

  2. Leon - you must really, really love France to go to so much trouble to get there. Especially as Australia is full of wonderful places where you could take your holidays.

    I do think we are very lucky. Each time we turn the key in the lock my heart skips a beat and I still don't take it for granted.

  3. Jean, great post. It is interesting to see how others make the same journey! We have got into the habit of crossing at about 9pm and stopping over near Boulogne. We then set off at about 5am and if we make really good time and one short stop (we haven't got a dog - yet) we can be at the Intermarche in St Maure around 10.30, and home in Le Petit-Pressigny shortly after. We might give your method a try too as it cuts out the overnight stop.
    The storm...... was fantastic! We were woken by the thunder and opened the curtains to see the lightning. I told Tim to turn off the computers. He did, but didn't unplug the router. There was a flash followed instantaneously by an almighty bang, and we knew it was close but didn't realise how close! A barn and contents about 200 m away were destroyed by fire. We didn't see anything but learned the next day that half of the village were out watching, and doing what needed to be done. Thankfully no one was hurt, but I suspect the owner and near neighbours were shocked and lost some precious possessions. We lost out router, and our neighbours said that France Telecom were providing everyone with new 'liveboxes', but we had unfortunately brought ours from the UK.
    Keep posting Jean, as it is really helping us to settle into the area, and your love and enthusiasm for it is infectious!

  4. Gaynor - it was the most spectacular thunderstorm I have ever experienced, even rivalling the one we had when camping in the Auvergne a few years ago. It was so close and so loud, I imagined the château tumbling down on us any minute. It must have been so frightening for your neighbours.

  5. Strange how things are so different for people. I hate the tunnel not just because I am claustrophobic, but also because we have had many delays!! I will take the ferry any time. I am surprised about the motorway being jammed at Le Touquet, but then I always go down the N1 off the motorway as we have friends on that road not far from Boulogne. We also miss out Rouen, but we go off onto the N29 going through Yvetot and then South to join up with the N28 to Le Mans. It may not be the shortest route but we have found it by far the quickest as it is always almost empty of traffic. Diane

  6. Diane - in our experience the tunnel is far more reliable than the Dover to Calais ferry. We had so many delays and bad experiences on the ferry, the last one being that, having arrived at the port in good time, well ahead of our check-in time, the check-in staff were so slow that by the time we got to the front of the queue we had missed our boat. The check-in person was extremely rude and not at all apologetic. So, having had a long and hard journey to get there, we then had to wait for the next boat, which was late.

    We vowed we would never travel by P&O again, and we haven't. The other reason for using the tunnel is that we don't much like the idea of leaving our dog in the car by herself on the car deck. On the tunnel you stay with the car.

  7. We also do middle of the night or small hour travelling back to France - and Mr FF is on his way back now in fact from Brittany. He went there for 24 hours yesterday because he wanted some French atmosphere - crazy or what.

    We're with you on car travel all the way - it's much the best way for people who love their dogs as much as you and I do.

    Lovely photos.

  8. Gaynor & Jean, I shot out of bed and unplugged ours and the Livebox when I was woken by the thunder.... then one thunderclap went off 'right overhead'... or so it seemed [flash and bang almost simultaneous].
    The cats loved it... sitting in the window watching the 'fireworks'... the storm was all round us [definately towards you at Petit-P... but also lighting up the sky over toward Chaumussay and towards Grand-P]. I think it went down the Aigronne valley eventually.
    I got up and went and made some tea and joined the cats!!

    Gaynor, Dabs.com are doing the Cisco Linksys router for around £30 at the moment.

  9. What a lovely travelogue your do, Jean! So nice to get to know France a bit better.

    So nice also that you took "the road less travelled." Four miles shorter and €30 richer. But two hours slower. On the other hand, with whom would you have preferred to spend those two hours?

    And thanks for visiting this old Bear's blog.

  10. I have never had a problem with the ferry....... I have to say if I had an animal of any kind with me I would use the tunnel despite how I feel about it. Diane

  11. I'm a fan of Eurostar too. When I lived in Amsterdam, I used to drive to the tunnel and often arrived erly for my booking train. They always waved me onto the next train. Polite and efficient - just wished that the loos weren't quite such a long walk on the train ;-)

    Looks like you have your route cracked. Just wish I could have said the same thing about the M1 on the weeked!
    Mad x

  12. Your post made me 'homesick' for France. How I wish I could just jump into the car and drive to Amboise ... I'm not sure my boss would be happy about it, though! ;)

  13. Martine - it's funny how you can be homesick for somewhere that isn't really home. Although it feels distinctly like it when we're there.

  14. Hi Jean
    Very interesting. We always go by Ferry (Portsmouth / Caen or StMalo) and then have a 2hr drive. It is getting very expensive however, and we are thinking of Eurotunnel or the like and having a 5/6 hr drive and arriving a few hours earlier than the ferry route. Fly and car hire is another option now that most things are already over there. I can have a return flight next month from East Midlands to Dinard for £32. As I miss the place already, I'm likely to be on that plane.

  15. I have only travelled on the Eurostar train twice. First time from Waterloo to Paris with my ex femme and most recently to Calais on a coach (I was amazed how it got on the train) and a big group of us then drove on to Lille, stopped overnight and then carried on down to Karlsruhe in Germany. I really enjoyed reading this travel piece and the pictures. Lulu looks sweet waiting for her cheesy treat. The thunder storm sounds exciting.