Our trip around France.

The idea of travelling around France in a car with your boyfriend and his 2 best mates might not appeal to some gals. And to be honest when it was decided that that would be our main summer holiday it didn’t appeal to me that much. But it turned out to be so fun, chilled and we made so many happy memories (thanks guys).

Wedding photo by @curiousprovence

The whole plan came about as Max and his friend Joe were asked to be groomsmen at a wedding in Provence. The wedding of their uni friend Luke and his Fianc√©, El. I’ve never really been to France before, except for Disneyland Paris and a half day in St Tropez on a cruise, so was pretty excited about the idea of a long weekend in Provence, flying in and out, a nice hotel and a really chill weekend to kick off the summer. But this was all a bit flattened when Max announced he was going to drive…

I’m sure Max won’t mind me saying that he’s not a good flyer. He told me pretty early on when we started dating that he didn’t like it but he’s also spent summers in San Francisco and Sweden so I didn’t think he could be THAT scared. But then we flew to Copenhagen in 2016 and I saw it for real, he didn’t speak to me or make eye-contact with me from entering Manchester airport to getting out the airport in Copenhagen, except to snap at me when I tried to make up some reassuring figures about unlikely it is that the aeroplane will go down. So really I shouldn’t have been THAT surprised that he’d much rather spend hours and hours driving than hopping onto a plane. He is also very attached to his car.

To make the straight drive down to the town of L’isle-sur-la-Sourge, where the wedding was, would have taken 15 hours from Leeds which would’ve been a long slog but not impossible, I guess. But then we wouldn’t have been able to see much of France which seemed a bit of a waste. So instead we planned an 8 day roadtrip that would break up the driving and allow us to see some of prettiest towns and cities in France while still having a long weekend in Provence for the wedding.

At first the plan was to travel in 2 cars, me and Max and then Joe and Chris (Max’s other good friend who Joe chose as his plus 1 for the wedding). But it was decided, to save money on petrol and the tunnel, we would squeeze into 1 car. We were so glad that we did too as the road tolls were a killer and something we didn’t really budget for.

We set off really early on Monday the 23rd to drive 5 hours to Folkestone to get the 13.20 shuttle through the channel tunnel. I’ve never been to the tunnel before and was expecting something really industrious and cold. And yeh, ok, the actual shuttle and tunnel are like that, I mean how festive can you make a tunnel going under the sea, but what I didn’t expect was the holiday vibe, organisation, and airport style terminal with restaurants and shops. I don’t know why I was so surprised by that. As it was the first Monday of the summer holidays it was busssyyy and our shuttle was delayed roughly an hour but it didn’t matter to us. The shuttle was not at all like I had expected, it was so easy, fast and efficient. It felt magic driving out in France 30 minutes after we set off. Honestly, my parents were missing a trick taking me to Disney World all them times when I was little, I’d have been quite content with a return journey in the car on the Euro shuttle (joking obviously, I love you Mickey).

Once we’d arrived in France we drove 4 hours to our first stop, Bernieres-sur-Mer in Normandy. Like most of the places we stayed we had booked our accommodation on Air B & B (that thing that I still really love and Max is still quite sceptical about). We’d booked a 3 story holiday home with 2 big bedrooms. It was beautiful, and in the the prettiest little town near the sea. We were so knackered though, and feeling so grim from hours and hours and hours in the car. After I quickly went out to take some sunset pictures we just ate the baguette, ham and cheese we’d bought from a supermarket en-route and stuck to beers and games in our little house.

The next morning we set off early to Mont St Michel. It was around a 2 hour drive from our overnight stop but was somewhere we all wanted to see. Mont St Michel is a castle on its own island just of the Normandy coast, kinda like Holy Island. It’s very beautiful to look at and is set up really well for tourists. Everybody parks in the car park and then can either use the free shuttle to the island or pay to take a horse and cart (or walk which would’ve been quite achievable on a cooler day). At the end of your trip to the Island you just have to pay for your parking which was quite reasonable. You would also have to pay a little more to go into the castle, we chose not to because the whole appeal really was looking at the castle from the outside. On the island while working your way up to the castle you walk through beautiful tiny streets with little shops, restaurants and creperies with colourful signs and cobbled floors. I thought it felt quite Disney, but I’m starting to realise Disney is now so deep-routed in me I see everything as a little bit Disney. After having a wander and admiring the views we then took the shuttle back to the mainland for some lunch before setting off to La Rochelle.

It was a long 4 hour drive to La Rochelle but was very much worth it. I think La Rochelle was my favourite place that we visited and I’d love to go back for a longer holiday. We booked to stay at Hotel St Nicolas, a pretty mid-range hotel a 5 minutes walk from the port. We checked-in a got changed before heading out for the evening to celebrate Max’s birthday eve. La Rochelle really is beautiful and a lot more lively than I expected, there were street performers and market stalls and the bars and restaurants were all overflowing into the streets, it was so sunny and the atmosphere was great. We had a lovely night drinking beers and eating really good food. We chose to eat on Rue St Jean du Perot, the street recommended to us by the receptionist in the hotel. The street was pretty, booming and had musicians playing accordions all the way down and seemed to be where everyone in La Rochelle was heading to, despite this it was all still really reasonably priced with most restaurants offering set menus.

The next day we set off for Bordeaux, 2 hours from La Rochelle. We had decided rather than heading into the city we’d head for a restaurant in the vineyard area for Max’s birthday lunch. When travelling I use tripadvisor a lot to plan where to eat, I’ve got this weird phobia of wasting a holiday meal opportunity on somewhere not that great, so always try to find the best, even if just for a sandwich or a coffee and cake. Where we ate that lunch time was a place I’d found on tripadvisor, and the reviews were right to be so good, the food was great. They did struggle with us being English though but luckily showing 4 fingers and saying ‘burgers and beers’ is pretty universal. How lucky that there isn’t really much variation in different languages in the words for beer and burger. After the burger I the accidentally ordered a very extravagant dessert platter, no idea how that happened but was very happy it.

That night we were staying in 2 different places, Joe and Chris had hired their own villa while me and Max had booked to stay in a Vineyard Chateau.

I’ll giggle for ages thinking about how excited Joe and Chris were for their villa with a pool and how much Max was trying to rearrange our plan so he could have some time in their pool. Only to find they were actually sharing the pool with the family who lived with in house and the families 14 year old twin girls were in the pool the whole time.

Me and Max were staying at Chateau de la vieille Chapelle, a place recommended to us by a friend. There are only 3 rooms at the chateau and only 2 in the chapel itself. We were lucky to get a beautiful room in the chapel. The rooms were huge and really tastefully decorated with beautiful views over the courtyard and the river. The bedroom and bathroom were all in one room which freaked Max out a little but I actually quite liked. There was a toilet, in its own corner with 3 walls around but no door, I see why, it was in a nook of the roof of the chapel and it would have been hard to tastefully put door on and I really didn’t mind it, (there were more private toilets in the courtyard), but Max was traumatised…I’ll explain more in a minute.

At 6.30 every evening in the chapel they do a complimentary wine tasting of the wines they make on their vineyard. The owner did the tasting with us, he was fresh from a day at the vines and covered in squashed grapes and mud but it was lovely to be with a guy so passionate about good wine and his own produce. The wines really were amazing, I’m not a massive non-fizzy wine fan, and especially not keen on drinking red (usually I just use it for bolognaise sauce), but their reds really were delicious and so fruity. We tend to run a gin and beer only flat at home but got all wrapped up in the wine hype and ended up buying a lot of bottles of their wine to bring home with us (my pasta sauces are going to be even more banging for the next year).

After the wine tasting we made use of the chateau’s beautiful sunny courtyard and sat out and read and ate the snacks we’d bought earlier that day (link back to this in a sec). Before heading back to our room to shower and enjoy the feeling of the chapel, and watch a few episodes of Dark Tourist on Netflix (you need to watch, so good!)

So here’s a sub story. Key points: the toilet in our suite didn’t have a door. Snacks had been in the car a while and it was hot. Most snacks were fine, crisps, baguette. Max took a risk and tried the butter that had gone through a few heat processes while sitting in the boot. French butter is a lot more dairy and heavier than ours and it didn’t settle well in his tummy and there was an interesting event next morning. Let’s just say we’re closer now than we’ve ever been and the morning in the chateau after the dodgy butter and with the toilet without the door will be story that will mentioned through our entire relationship. But we’ve come out the other side and we can have a good laugh about it.

Don’t worry about him, literally a couple of hours later he was pulling over to pick himself up a baguette and a pain au chocolat.

That day we headed to Carcassonne. We had hired a villa for the night through Air B & B, 10 minutes drive from central Carcassonne. We dropped off our bags and headed into the city for a wander. Carcassonne is a pretty city dominated by the castle on a hill in the centre. There’s also a street with multi-coloured umbrellas hanging above which is a must see, so pretty! We had a good wander, took plenty of photos, stopped for a drink and picked up some groceries before heading back to our villa for dinner , cards agaisnt humanity and a few hours of being eaten alive by bugspray-defying mosquitos.

From Carcassonne we travelled to L’isle-sur-la-Sourge where the wedding was held, 4 hours from Carcassonne. We hired another villa through Air B & B for us to stay in for the long weekend. That evening we went out to celebrate the wedding eve with Luke and El and the wedding guests at a really lovely restaurant in the town. L’isle-sur-la-Sourge was a lot bigger than I was expecting with loads of bars or restaurants, it would be a great place to head to back to if we ever holiday in Provence again! Although getting around was a little tricky, we obviously relied on taxis when Max was drinking and they were a bit thin on the ground. There was one uber, opening the uber app was just watching one guy drive around and when we did get through to someone his wife rang us and said he was at home but he’d get ready and come and get us, before just cancelling a few minutes later.

The next day was the wedding day. Max and Joe has to head to the venue earlier to get into their suits and do some groomsman duties so me and Chris had a lazy morning reading and sunbathing before being picked up by a minibus to head to the venue. The wedding was just outside L’ilse-sur-la-Sourge, on Luke’s family’s property. They’d turned a big field into a perfect outdoor wedding space. It was so hot that day but we stood with hand fans sipping champagne waiting for the ceremony to start. I am very emotional at weddings, I cry at Say Yes to the Dress, Don’t tell the Bride, soap weddings, I just love them, so invite me to yours if you want a token sobber. Luckily, I had sunglasses on and a really good waterproof mascara so think I got away with it. We had such a lovely day celebrating in the sun, drinking really good wine, playing beer pong and enjoying the lovely atmosphere.

It was a late night, so we literally did nothing the next day, except read, catch up with Love Island on my Ipad (important), eat carbs and sunbathe. That night though I did have a real paranormal experience…

The villa was very modern but was a converted out-house in it’s past life I would say, definitely a converted something, built between two houses. Me and Max had our bedroom door open as the air con hub was in the main lounge where Chris was sleeping. I was woken at 3 a.m. up by something stroking my leg (wasn’t Max, he was flat out at the other side of the bed), to sit up and find the TV in the living room on the no signal screen with the remote next to it, so it couldn’t have been that Chris had rolled onto it by accident. I lay there sh*t scared for 40 minutes, too scared to wake Max as he has a big drive the next day, the TV turned off after 40 minutes only for the shower to turn straight on for a few minutes (not dripping- ON!). It was very freaky. I was too scared to go for a wee so lay there, busting, until the sun came up at 6. I don’t think I believe in ghosts but it was all just a bit weird.

We had a massive drive the next day, 7 hours back up to the champagne region to stop-over on our way home. We stopped for Maccies of course, no roadtrip is complete without them, me and Sophie pretty much travelled round New Zealand from McDonald’s to McDonald’s. We were staying in a town called Verzenay, in a one roomed Air B &B in someones converted garage. It was smart, and had everything we needed, but very cosy, and cosy isn’t something you really look for when its 35 degrees. That day, from a supermarket, we picked up the most extravagant cream-filled, chocolate topped brioche tear and share which I think was the highlight of that long day in the car.

The next morning we drove back to Calais to catch the tunnel home. It wasn’t so busy that day and we arrived earlier than expected, so we were offered an earlier shuttle home which was a great help, as we still had a lot of driving to do on the other side. Those travelling days were hard, even I, the backseat napper and Netflix watcher, was exhausted so I can’t imagine how Maxie was feeling. Once we were home in our flat in Leeds we got a Thai takeaway and I think were asleep before 10.

Max drove around 2500 miles that holiday and didn’t complain once, he wasn’t even ever in control of the music or podcasts we were listening to. What a good guy. Such a good job I didn’t see Mamma Mia 2 until I came back, otherwise those car journeys would be very different…

Tips for if you’re planning a similar European Roadtrip:

  • Be prepared for the tolls! When we could we dodged them on smaller country roads but in times we were on a stricter time limit we had to grin, bare it and pay it. They can only be a couple of Euro’s but were often above 20, most only accepted card too.
  • When travelling in a group of more than 2, hiring a whole villa through Air B & B is cheaper than booking out more than one hotel room. The only place this wasn’t the case with was in La Rochelle. Booking.com were offering a special discount on the day we were booking and all of the available whole house Air B&B’s were far from the port which is where we wanted to be, so only on that occasion did a hotel work out better.
  • If travelling over the summer holiday period book your tunnel slot and accommodation plenty of time in advance, by May I was realising Air B & B choices for 4 people were thinning out a bit in certain areas.¬†
  • Take a pillow from home to get comfy and sleep in the car (mainly because it passes the time), except of course, if you’re the driver.
  • If travelling in the Summer, check the Air B & B’s have air con, the majority don’t but you can usually find one that does, if you want to get a good nights sleep, it’s a must!
  • Never underestimate the importance of bug spray and citronella candles for an evening if travelling in the summer.
  • If you’re ordering beef, even if you like it medium/rare , ask for medium/ well- done! They tend to cook beef for a lot less than we do! I love it quite rare and really like steak tartare but I think the boys were quite shocked by very red burgers!
  • Whenever you have wifi download as many readly magazines, podcasts, games, audiobooks, netflix shows as you can to keep you entertained on the really long car trips.
  • Eat as much baguette and brioche as you possibly can.
  • Don’t eat butter that’s been sitting in a hot car all day when you’re staying in a suite in a chapel without a toilet door (Max!).

Katie x

(You can see more photos from our trip in the Instagram highlights, there’s a whole highlight for France! @katiejade_natterfornowtblog)