Driving through France, Route 2

Route Two. Languedoc, Midi-Pyrenees, Northern Spain and Catalonia.

The second of our two-day routes through to the south of France, may be new to you, mainly because it takes you close to Paris, and if you are not heading for the French capital, you will want to give the whole area a wide berth, except that not only is the route through the centre of Paris just as convenient to reach the south of France and Northern Spain, but there is also so much to see.

Day One – Calais to Peronne
Leaving Calais is not difficult, all routes are well signposted and for this route you need to follow signs for the A26 to Reims and Paris. Go past Arras and take the A1 towards the capital and exit at sortie 13.1 for Peronne. Peronne is not only a convenient place to stop for lunch on your journey, but it may provide you with an interesting insight into life in a French town post war, we are in the Somme. Peronne was pretty badly hit in the 1st World war and its story is told in the museum within the castle; if you have time it is well worth a visit. The town has a couple of good restaurants that can be recommended, Hostellerie des Remparts on the Rue Beaubois and the Auberge La Quenouille which is further out of the town on the A17 towards to Arras.

Day One – Peronne to Bourges
Back on the Autoroute and heading towards Paris. As already mentioned this route takes you past Paris, not through, so here is how. As you approach Paris you will begin to see signs for Bordeaux, stick to Bordeaux throughout and you will arrive on the southern side of Paris in 45mins, depending on traffic of course!  Keep following the signs to Bordeaux until you reach Orleans and then follow signs to the A71 towards Bourges and Clermont-Ferrand.

You will shortly be coming up to Vierzon, here you can choose to divert to the Dordogne, Midi-Pyrenees or Toulouse area by following signs to Limoges and stopping the night in a pretty village called Argenton-sur-Creuse. Recommendations include staying at the former Posthouse, renamed Le Cheval Noir. Double rooms are available from £45.

If you are heading to Languedoc and beyond, stay on the A71 until sortie 7 and head to Bourges. Bourges is one of the most charming towns in all of France. During the 100 Year’s war, Charles VII was based here and much of its history is still etched into the very fabric of this town, with its half-timbered buildings and architecture. Ensure you visit St Etienne cathedral and Jacques Coeur palace by day and by night – take an illuminated walk around alleys and courtyards.

A great place to spend the night is Best Western Hotel d’Angleterre on the Place de Quatre Piliers or try Les Bonnets Rouges off Rue Bourbonnoux, where you will also find the restaurant D’Antan Sancerrois. All these and more can be found on the Bourges official tourism office www.bourgestourisme.com.

Day Two: Bourges to Aumont-Aubrac
Heading south from Bourges towards Clermont-Ferrand and the expanse of land called the Massif Central is our next destination. Soon you will reach Lozere, where you will be driving at altitudes higher than any peak in England or Wales.

I was in awe of the motorway stretch south of Lyon, but here it is even better, you literally feel like you are on top of the world. The village of Aumont-Aubrac, 200 miles south of Bourges, is a charming stone village, which unlike a few others around, has a great restaurant at Hotel Grand Prouheze.

Day Two: Aumont-Aubrac to Collioure
Millau Viaduct - Tarn Valley, FranceYou are approximately 2 to 4 hours from your destination in the south of France, longer if you are heading into Northern Spain and Barcelona. Around 1h 30 mins south of Aumont you will come across the Tarn Valley on the edge of the Cevennes National Park, and the Millau Viaduct which spans the valley beautifully, some believe it spoils the landscape, but judge for yourselves.  The best place to see this magnificent structure is from the town below that gave the viaduct its name.

 

As you head down towards Languedoc, you pass vast plains that are home to sheep, whose milk produce Roquefort Cheese. Depending on where in Languedoc you are going to, you should begin to plan your own route, the road from here heads to Beziers and further south to Collioure, Argeles sur Mer and to the border with Spain. I leave the journey here with a little known fact, Languedoc produces more wine each year that Australia.

Drive Safely.

Driving Route to the South of France One can be read here

Meet the Gite Owners: Isabel Lootens, La Moulinal

 

In the latest in our series of interviews with Gite owners, we meet Isabel Lootens, a Belgian who has made a corner of the Lot-et-Garonne her own with La Moulinal gites.

Meet the Gite Owner

Q: How long have you lived / owned your gite in France?
We have bought the gites in 2006. We had been traveling a lot to France before and had been dreaming about buying our own little paradise for a while. When we saw the domain, it was ‘love at first time’: exactly how we had dreamed it!

Q: What do you love about France?
We love France because there are so many things to see. Nature is wonderful, the country is rich on history. There are mountains, sea, woods, picturesque villages, vibrant cities, good food, lots of activities to do, …

Q: What made you choose the region in which you have settled?
We especially love the south-west of France, more in particular the Lot-et-Garonne. In this part of France one can enjoy the sun from early in the year. Spring is beautiful, with lots of sunshine and the beauty of the awakening nature, with lots of flowers, blossoms and green fields. Summers are warm with beautiful long evenings on the terrace. Also September and October are very enjoyable with lots of sunshine.

The Lot-et-Garonne is a hidden gem in France, also called ‘little Tuscany’, with its rolling hills, sun flowers, medieval villages (bastides). The region is just south from the better known Dordogne region.

Excellent wines, foie gras, local fresh fruit and vegetables that you can find on the local markets are some of the products of the region. Enjoy the many restaurants, where you get outstanding quality for your money, or enjoy the atmosphere of an evening market, the Lot-et-Garonne is all about good life.

If you like to relax in an unspoilt environment, in a region full of history, where living is good, sun is abundant and evenings are long, come to the Lot-et-Garonne.

Q: Tell us three things you like best about your Gite
– The gites are quietly hidden in the green, but still close enough to the nearest village
– The gites are full of character, with everything you need to have a relaxing and comfortable stay
– We love our big sun oriented pool and pool area where you can soak up the sun from april on

Meet the Gite Owner

Q: What one thing would your previous guests say about your Gite?
Delightful and relaxing stay in charming houses! Great setting, fantastic pool! Feeling fully rested!

Q: What is your favourite attraction near to your Gite?
Walk the streets of the nearby medieval villages (Monflanquin, Villereal,…), visit castles, cycle along the ‘canal du midi’,…

Q: What’s the oddest thing about the French culture that you’ve experienced?
Opening hours of shops are not always as client oriented as I would love them to be (closed between noon and 2:30pm for example)

Q: Which do you prefer and why – Entrecote Frites, Fish ‘n’ Chips or a good curry?
As a Belgian I love a good entrecote-frites, but there are so many other things I love to enjoy when being in the Lot-of-Garonne, where fresh fruit, vegetables, quality meat, foie gras, excellent cheeses, wines, … are part of the package!

Thank you Isabel. Visit the website: www.gites-lamoulinal.eu

Don’t forget your Breathalyser kit

 

As we reported last year, the French Goverment passed new legislation requiring all cars travelling on French roads to carry a breathalyser kit.

The law came into force on July 1st 2012, but a continuous shortage of kits made available to buy, meant this requirement was not enforced until March 1st 2013.

They are now available in quantity. If you are planning to take your car across to France, make sure you purchase one, ideally before you arrive.  You can now buy them at your local Halfords store, Halfords Online or via www.alcosense.co.uk.

See our French Roads section for more information on how to prepare your car for driving in France

Orléans and Joan of Arc

 

Visit the house of French heroine Joan of Arc and see her story told in the cathedral’s stained glass. Joan of Arc recaptured Orléans from the English in 1429 after an eight-month siege, and the city is now strongly associated with her name. But even before this, Orléans was the site of decisive battles. From the early days, when the city stopped the hordes of Attila, through the Wars of Religion and the Revolution, and finally during World War II, Orléans suffered much destruction. Its focus is now on industry, but it is also a lively university city. Visit the Orleans Tourist Information site

References to Joan of Arc abound in Orléans’ road names, house names, statues and museums. You can visit the heroine’s house, the Maison Jeanne d’Arc, in place du Général de Gaulle, which is now a museum dedicated to her life. The annual festival celebrating Joan of Arc’s lifting of the siege takes place from 1 May to 8 May, with a medieval market, a folklore parade, concerts and fireworks. Stained-glass windows in the dramatic Cathédrale Sainte-Croix tell the story of St. Joan. The cathedral, overlooking the river Loire, took more than 600 years to build and has some fine carved panels.

Orléans was badly damaged during World War II, so much of it is relatively new. But there are still plenty of examples of impressive Renaissance architecture and half-timbered buildings. In the Renaissance Hôtel Groslot, on place de l’Étape, the sumptuous interior includes several remarkable pieces of furniture. The Musée des Beaux-Arts, at 1 rue Fernand Rabier, is also worth a visit.

To the south of the city is the Parc Floral de la Source. There are many attractions for children here, including an outdoor play area, an animal park and a small train

The best time to visit Orléans is the end of April and beginning of May, just as the weather is getting warmer and before the full flood of visitors. You can also enjoy the Joan of Arc festival (1 May to 8 May). Parking in town can be tricky so look out for the electronic signs that tell you which parking areas still have spaces.

Thinking of visiting the Loire Valley? Stay in one of our Gites

Meet the Gite Owners: Jill Kirby, French Activity Holidays

 

Jill Kirby, owner of a fantastic chambre d’hôte in the Pyrenees, tells us about life in France, the Pyrenees, and buying meat from her neighbours.

Chambre d'Hote, Pyrenees

Q: How long have you lived / owned your gite in France?
This is our second year here. I have lived and worked in France for over four years whilst looking for the perfect place and we have finally found it.

Q: What do you love about France?
Mainly the glorious weather and the relaxed way of life we now lead but I also adore the food, wine, lack of traffic on the roads and not forgetting the most picturesque countryside.

Q: What made you choose the region in which you have settled?
Originally I was looking in another area but I came to the Gers with work and instantly fell in love with the scenery. We have horses and it is perfect riding country with hardly ever the need to go on a road. From a practical point of view we are an hour from both the Pyrenees and also the coast, and we have no less than five airports within two hours.

Q: Tell us three things you like best about your Gite
The first has to be the views, we are in an elevated position and have views of the Pyrenees to the south and beautiful countryside as far as the eye can see to the west.

The second thing is that we have no neighbours to speak of so it is extremely peaceful, and the third is our land and being able to have our horses at home – something we could never do in the UK.

Chambre d'Hote in the Pyrenees

Q: What one thing would your previous guests say about your Gite?
We have had so many positive comments but one thing that keeps being mentioned is the warm welcome and generous hospitality you will find here.

Q: What is your favourite attraction near to your Gite?
Wine tasting at Chateau Viella is not to be missed, especially as you can explore the gardens around the chateau. A bit further afield are the Pyrenees so you are spoilt for choice – thermal spas, cable cars up the mountains, Lourdes cathedral…..

 

Q: What’s the oddest thing about the French culture that you’ve experienced?
Fetes always start really late and then carry on all through the night – the same goes for weddings, village meals etc. Sometimes you don’t start eating until 11pm!

Q: Which do you prefer and why – Entrecote Frites, Fish ‘n’ Chips or a good curry?
Easy – entrecote frites. We buy our meat direct from the farmer next to the house and the steaks are the best I’ve tasted anywhere.

Thanks Jill. Visit the website at: FrenchActivityHolidays.com.

Meet the Gite Owner: Carolyn Curr, Le Maison Bleue

 

Carolyn Curr is the owner of Le Maison Bleue – an 18th century holiday cottage and bed and breakfast in the south of France.

Le Maison Bleue

Q: How long have you lived / owned your gite in France?
We have owned our French country home for almost 7 years, this is our 2nd season running our gite and B&B and we are loving it. It took a long time to do the works required, we were careful to maintain the long history and traditional character of the house and used authentic materials such as lime plaster to ensure its integrity. We are both from England and worked in local government previously, I am from Cumbria and Nick from the West Midlands.

Q: What do you love about France?
We love village life in the south of France, growing your own produce brings you closer to the seasons, the way the church clock and the comings and goings of the swallows mark the passage of time, the friendliness of local people and the way there is always time to stop and chat.

Q: What made you choose the region in which you have settled?
We chose southern Languedoc as it still feels very much like the “real” south of France, and it’s easy to get to, Carcassonne and Toulouse are only about an hour away, other airports are within a couple of hours – Perpignan, Beziers and Montpellier. We wanted an all year round destination, long, hot summers and in winter we are only 40km from downhill and cross-country skiing. Loads of walking and cycling from the door, some guests leave their car for much of the week.

Languedoc views

Q: Tell us three things you like best about your Gite
We love the location of our gite, on the peacful village square by the beautiful old church
Guests love dining on the private first floor terrace to the sound of cowbells
The luxurious claw foot bath is a major hit

Q: What one thing would your previous guests say about your Gite?
Guests often comment on the “delightful mix of old and new”

Q: What is your favourite attraction near to your Gite?
Mirepoix is about 10mins drive, its stunning medieval square hosts the weekly market, the best in the region and everything you need for a marvellous self-catering holiday. A 2hr lunch in one of the cafes on the square is mandatory.

Q: What’s the oddest thing about the French culture that you’ve experienced?
French people can be very formal, after 30 years living side by side some have not progressed to the bissou and will only still shake hands, and wouldn’t dream of dropping by on their friends without an invite. I used to be a bit exciitable and launch straight into the cheek kissing, I have learned to be more restrained, although the chaps didn’t seem to mind too much!

Q: Which do you prefer and why – Entrecote Frites, Fish ‘n’ Chips or a good curry?
Hec, a good curry if I am really honest. There are some things you miss, the great British pub being the main one.

Thanks, Carolyn

Visit the website of Le Maison Bleue: http://chezmaisonbleue.co.uk/en/

 

Brittany Ferries launches new Portmouth to Le Havre route

 

Brittany Ferries has launched a new cross-Channel route from Portsmouth to Le Havre in Normandy.

The new fastcraft service will run four days a week, from Thursday to Sunday, and takes just 3 hours 45 minutes to make the crossing.

Brittany Ferries crossing to Le Havre

With a 7.00am departure from Portsmouth and arrival in Le Havre at 11.45am, we think the crossing is ideal for day trips – you can be in Normandy for lunch!

Le Havre is Brittany Ferries’ most easterly route, making it particularly convenient for those heading for the east of France, Paris, Disneyland Paris, and the Alps.

UNESCO-listed Le Havre is an intriguing destination in its own right. Attractions include a two kilometre beach right in the town centre, a host of museums (including the biggest collection of impressionist art outside Paris), several shopping centres and a wide range of good restaurants.

Le Havre, France

Visit the Le Havre section at BrittanyFerries.com.

Event: Rendez-vous aux Jardins (31 May to 2 June, nationwide)

 

More than 2,000 public and private gardens unlock their gates to the public for one weekend as part of “Rendez-vous aux jardins”, a nationwide event celebrating the majesty and heritage of green spaces across France.

Dordogne chateau gardens

The annual celebration of “Gardens and their Creators”, which runs from Friday 31 May to Sunday 2nd June, sees parks and gardens put on a large variety of activities for visitors, including guided tours, workshops, exhibitions, children’s games, late evening openings hours, musical walks, poetry, performances, special lighting and film projections.

Visit the official site to see who is taking part by region: www.rendezvousauxjardins.culture.fr/les-visites-et-activites/par-region/

 

 

 

Meet the Gite Owner: Elizabeth Marriott, Gites2France

 

Elizabeth Marriott is the owner of Gites2France – a fabulous farmhouse and two gites in the Poitou Charente region of France. Here she tells us more about her life in France.

Gites2France in Poitou Charente

Q: How long have you lived / owned your gite in France?

We have lived/worked in France for over eleven years. John is a true ‘Artisan’ and has renovated and restored many ancient French houses. Some of our guests, impressed by our gites, have even enlisted John to carry out work in their own homes.

Q: What do you love about France?

We started visiting France twenty years ago for holidays with our young family. We loved the peaceful countryside, easy driving on near empty roads, beautiful sandy beaches, quaint villages and friendly French folk. Tasty French food and superb wine completed the picture then and still does today.

Q: What made you choose the region in which you have settled?

The Poitou Charentes is situated in a warm microclimate & is second only to Provence for sunshine hours! Temperature ranges between 25 and 35 degrees C for most of the holiday season (end of May to mid September}. Travel to our region is easy, as we have no less than six airports to choose from. Those wishing to take the ferry can reach us between 4 hours and 6 hours 30mins drive from the French ports, perfect drive times for families with young children. We also offer discounted Brittany Ferries crossings so our guests often enjoy a ‘mini overnight cruise’ before reaching us refreshed and ready to enjoy their holiday.

Q: Tell us three things you like best about your Gite

Our gites are family friendly inside and out. We have created accommodation that we would have loved to stay in when our children were small.

Q: What one thing would your previous guests say about your Gite?

The following guest comment is typical “A big thank you – we had such a relaxing week – friendly hosts, a charming property with a lovely pool and gardens, all in a wonderfully peaceful rural location, with the added bonus of a great play barn to keep children of all ages entertained!”

Q: What is your favourite attraction near to your Gite?

La Vallee des Singes (monkey world) wander from islet to islet in this parkland setting and observe the monkeys roaming free in this beautiful cage free habitat. Both young & old enjoy visiting this delightful attraction.

Q: What’s the oddest thing about the French culture that you have experienced?

Car parking is free during the two-hour lunch break in our local city centres ! Well, it goes without saying that food is very important here  🙂

Q: Which do you prefer and why – Entrecote Frites, Fish ‘n’ Chips or a good curry?

Curry has to be our favourite due to the sheer variety available (when we visit the UK that is).

 

Thanks Elizabeth. Visit the website of Gites2France.

Rennes – Brittany’s cosmopolitan capital city

 

Brittany’s cosmopolitan capital city is a modern metropolis with a lively medieval heart. In previous centuries, the city played an important role in the region’s political struggles. seeing Rennes is often compared negatively with some of the more picturesque destinations in Brittany, but a day spent here can be rewarding. Inside the modern, industrial shell are some fascinating medieval streets in the old town, along with excellent museums and grand civic architecture.

Rennes’ tourist office is a good place to start a visit, as you can pick up a map marked with a walking route covering the main sights (French only), and a leaflet on the city’s history (English). After exploring the old town, wander through the Parc du Thabor for a change of pace. These large gardens were once the grounds of a Benedictine abbey.

Musée des Beaux-Arts, 20 quai Émile Zola
This art gallery has paintings ranging from 14th-century Primitives to Impressionists and members of the Pont-Aven school. Artists represented include Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso. Look out for a powerful canvas by the 19th-century artist Luminais, depicting the legend of Ys. The Musée de Bretagne currently stages exhibitions in the same building, although it is due to move to the city’s Nouvel Espace Culturel in 2005. Exhibitions focus on Brittany’s culture and history and range from archaeological finds to displays about the corsaires (pirates).

Cathédrale St-Pierre, rue du Griffon
Rennes’s cavernous cathedral, with its vast dark marble pillars, dates from the 19th century. Don’t miss the 16th-century Flemish retable in the fifth chapel on the right. Its 10 panels, full of human interest, depict scenes including the birth of Mary and the marriage of Mary and Joseph. The delightful rue de la Psalette, curving behind the cathedral, is a medley of beautiful half-timbered 15th-century houses. Psalette was the local word for the cathedral choir, and it is said that the street resounded with their singing.

Place des Lices
This square once hosted jousts, although since the 17th century its main focus has been as a market place. Today, there’s an open-air Saturday vegetable market (ends 1pm), and a meat market in the impressive covered hall. Near here, on the edge of the old town, is Portes Mordelaise, a fine gateway with a restored drawbridge. It dates from 1440, when the city walls were enlarged, and was intended as a ceremonial entrance to the city.

Place de la Mairie
In the spacious place de la Mairie you can admire the magnificent Hôtel de Ville (town hall), designed by Jacques Gabriel in the 18th century. The huge clock tower, known as Le Gros, links two curving side wings. From here, look down towards the elegant Pal is de Commerce in place de la République.

Chapelle St-Yves
The converted Chapelle St-Yves now houses the tourist office, where you’ll find a permanent exhibition on the history of Rennes and its trading links. It is also worth visiting for its impressive beams and the restored carvings in the chapel.

Palais du Parliament de Bretagne
The former seat of the Breton parliament is north of place de la Mairie. Ironically, having survived the fire of 1720, it almost totally burned down in a fire in 1994. Restoration has now finished and its intricate timber-framed roof and beautiful coffered ceilings look as impressive as before. Look up to see the gilded figures that top the building.

Rennes shared parliamentary power with Nantes and Vannes during the Middle Ages, becoming the undisputed Breton capital during the time of Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514). From then on it played a key role in Brittany’s political struggles, including rebellions against the heavy taxation imposed during Louis XIV’s reign, the Revolutionary Terror and the German occupation in World War II. The city was almost entirely demolished by fire in 1720 only the area between the market square (place des Lices) and the city’s two waterways escaped. It was subsequently rebuilt in severe classical style. The city’s population has doubled since World War II to nearly 250,000. The figure is boosted by students at the two universities and the prestigious medical school. Commerce and industry flourish, and the headquarters of car manufacturers Citroën lie just outside. The city feels more French than other Breton towns.

Place Railier du Baty, a pleasant square near the cathedral, is a good place to sit and enjoy a coffee. Beware of traffic, even in streets or squares that appear to be pedestrian-only.

Meet the Gite Owner: Tony Conlan, La Cour Cottages

In the first of a new series we talk to Tony Conlan, the owner of La Cour Cottages, two cottages and two converted barns on the border of southern Brittany and Loire Atlantique.

Gite in Brittany

Q: How long have you lived / owned your gite in France?

We have owned La Cour since 2005.

Q: What do you love about France?

The food, the wine, the people, the sun, the sense of space, the relaxed approach to life and the empty roads!

Q: What made you choose southern Brittany?

We had searched for many years throughout France for a rural idyll to call home and had never quite found the right one until we visited La Cour. We always loved the unique Breton culture and were particularly attracted by the microclimate in this Southern area of Brittany offering sunnier climes than more northern areas. We were instantly captivated by the wonderful old cottages and barns which still enchant us even now after enjoying eight very happy years here. The area surrounding La Cour is designated as a protected area of natural beauty. We knew that La Cour would always be a very special place to stay. Thankfully the previous owners were looking to retire and so our dreams became a reality.

Q: Tell us two things you like best about your Gite

1/ The situation in a rural hamlet and yet only a 1km from the village with its café bar and boulangerie and within easy reach of all the beaches and attractions.

2/ The gites offer the wonderful original charm of their 17th century origin whilst also providing all the modern conveniences for a relaxing holiday.

Q: What one thing would your previous guests say about your Gite?

They absolutely love the large selection of bicycles from kids to adults (and 2 child seats!) which always seem to create many happy memories of discovering the countryside around the cottages.

Q: What is your favourite attraction near to your Gite?

The swimming lakes with beaches! Perfect for picnics, swimming and messing about on the water.

Q: What’s the oddest thing about the French culture that you’ve experienced?

Faire la bise or the greeting with a kiss still remains a mystery for us. Our French friends have explained the “rules” many times on how many kisses one should offer on each cheek and to whom, however, we still find ourselves in awkward situations! It has sometimes taken us 15 minutes just to greet everyone, it’s pretty daunting when you arrive in a room with 20 or so people. By the time you have greeted everyone it’s nearly time to make the tour again to bid your farewell! We have found that a good sense of humour normally overcomes most tricky situations!

Q: Which do you prefer and why – Entrecote Frites, Fish ‘n’ Chips or a good curry?

Despite our love of traditional Breton food, we still enjoy a good curry and have taken great pleasure in introducing Tikka Masala to our French neighbours and friends, they love it, although they are still a little sceptical about lime pickle!!!

Thanks Tony.

The Sistine Chapel of Prehistory – Lascaux, Dordogne

Lascaux is referred to as the ‘The Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’. Visit Lascaux to venture back to pre-historic times and see replicas of cave paintings around 17,000 years old. The original Lascaux cave system was discovered in 1940 by local schoolboys after their dog disappeared down a pothole. What they encountered underground was one of the world’s most significant pre-historic sites; its walls alive with vibrant cave paintings.

The original cavern, a short distance southeast of the town of Montignac, in the Dordogne, is sadly no longer open to the public. The carbon dioxide from visitors was destroying the paintings and a film of greenish micro-organisms was creeping steadily across the walls. Lascaux Caves, DordogneUsing sophisticated 3-D plotting techniques, and new advances in resin and ferro-cement technology, experts created an exact replica some 200m away, and the second Lascaux is what today’s visitors experience. Even so, the whole re-created cave structure looks, and even feels, authentic.

During your visit to the Dordogne you can learn more about the techniques used by the original artists as they worked by the light from stone lamps. They mixed mineral pigments to achieve the desired shades and often allowed the natural contours of the rockface to accentuate the forms of the animals depicted.

Speckled effects were achieved by blowing diluted pigment through plant stems to create gradual tone. Even if the original intent behind the pictures remains a mystery, the overall effect is fantastic.

Need somewhere to stay in the area? Try searching amongst our Dordogne Gites

 

Rouen – the historic capital city of Normandy

Normandy’s capital is a city of cobbled streets, tall timbered houses and Gothic churches, captured by the painter Monet in his Rouen Cathedral series. Joan of Arc was executed here, and the heart of Richard Coeur de Lion is held in the cathedral’s crypt.

The Romans established a settlement on the site of today’s Rouen in the 1st century ad, calling it Rotomagus. In the Middle Ages, Rouen became the seat of the Dukes of Normandy, who won the English throne in 1066. Later, it was at the heart of the Hundred Years War between the French and the English. Rouen - Capital City of NormandyOne of the most famous episodes of the war took place in May 1431, when Joan of Arc, after reviving French fortunes in the siege of Orléans, was burnt at the stake at the instigation of the English. Merchant trade has been key to Rouen’s development over the centuries, funding many of the timbered and gabled tradesmen’s houses in the city. The city was heavily bombed during World War II and many historic buildings needed meticulous renovation. Today, Rouen has the fourth largest port in France, despite being so far inland. The city sits on the Seine, 86km from the estuary at Le Havre. The contrast between the working docks along the river and the Gothic spires and quaint old streets of the city heart is amazing.

Any trip should begin opposite the cathedral with a visit to the tourist office, housed in Rouen’s oldest Renaissance building, the former tax collector’s office, dating from 1509. Cathédrale de Notre-dame, Rouen’s cathedral is one of the great churches of France, known across the world thanks to painter Claude Monet. Monet worked on the paintings from the second floor of what is now the tourist office. The cathedral’s Gothic architecture spans 400 years, from the mid-12th to early 16th centuries. No visit to Rouen is complete without a stroll under the 14th century Gros Horloge, a huge, one-handed, ornamental clock mounted on a sumptuously carved arch straddling the road of the same name. Once part of a nearby belfry, the remarkable timepiece was moved to its present position in the 16th century, after locals complained that it was impossible to see the clockface in the narrow streets.

As mentioned above Rouen is also the city of Joan of Arc, and the tales surrounding France’s greatest folk heroine would alone be lure enough for visitors. On the place du Vieux Marché, a short stroll from the Gros Horloge, a large cross marks the spot where Joan of Arc was executed. The nearby Église Jeanne-d’Arc is a stunning combination of modern slate and copper work on the outside, with light from Renaissance stained-glass windows within. The windows were salvaged from the earlier church of St-Vincent, destroyed during World War II. The wonderful contemporary sculpture was inspired by the saint’s martyr’s pyre. The remains of the two towers in which Joan was imprisoned from Christmas 1430 until her execution in 1431 can be seen on rue du Donjon.

Visit Rouen during the last week in May to take part in the Joan of Arc festival, which usually coincides with the city’s main cultural festival. On the Sunday closest to 30 May local children throw flowers into the Seine from the Boïeldieu Bridge, the spot where Joan’s ashes were scattered.

Please use this link to read more about Normandy

Futuroscope launches a bar above the clouds

Futuroscope is giving visitors the chance to the hit the heights by opening Aerobar – a snack bar that is 115 feet up in the air.

Up to 12 people can share the experience, catching the bar at ground level before being lifted to the clouds with their feet dangling free.

The ultra-modern, 23-ft airship lifts twelve visitors twelve storeys into the air on board a twelve-foot-diameter pod.

This “next-generation” bar is a unique opportunity to experience a drink or snack while admiring spectacular views of Futuroscope, which is one of France’s most popular theme parks.

Find out more about Futuroscope.

Types of holiday accommodation available in France

A holiday in France has much to recommend it but nothing more so than the huge range of accommodation options. 

If you want total luxury and convenience (and don’t mind paying for it) then a hotel is probably for you. If, on the other hand, you want maximum entertainment at minimum cost, then a tent or mobile home on a campsite will provide the perfect solution.

Personally we prefer to get away from it all and have loads of privacy in a gite, where we can come and go as we please.  Bear in mind that standards vary considerably from extreme luxury (with a price tag to match!) to more basic rustic holiday homes. So ensure to check that the property you are booking will meet your requirements.

Find more information on accommodation types in France:

Hotels: Advice on convenient hotels for overnight stops, hotels in Paris and hotel booking services.

Gites: A huge range of rental agencies, private gites and inside information on our favourites.

Campsites: See the best sites we have stayed on and details on many others.

Chambres D’Hotes: Some of our most memorable experiences have been in family homes – check the best here.

 

Focus on Pierre & Vacances

Pierre & Vacances is the largest provider of self-catering accommodation in France, with more than 40,000 apartments in over 200 resorts from Brittany to Biarritz, Calais to the Cote d’Azur and from Normandy to Nice.

Whatever French family holiday you have in mind, Pierre & Vacances will have a property to suit! Choose from beach apartments with swimming pools, multi-activity resorts with free kids clubs, ski apartments, hotels on golf courses, or luxury aparthotels in Paris and Disneyland.  Browse now to save on your vacation!

 

Here’s a taste of Pierre & Vacances’ different types of accommodation:

Pierre & Vacances Holiday Villages: A Pierre & Vacances Holiday village is a perfect destination for families. Located by the sea or in the countryside, there’s a wide range of accommodation available. Holiday resorts also offer fantastic swimming pools and a huge choice of activities including golf, tennis, sailing, archery. There are also restaurants, shops and entertainment on site. And children’s clubs are free!

Summer holidays: Pierre & Vacances has accommodation in all the popular sun spots in France. Choose from apartments with balconies to villas with gardens. Most of their accommodation has access to fantastic swimming pools. Fancy something different? We have some great apartments in Spain, French Caribbean and Tunisia.

Ski accommodation: Pierre & Vacances is number one for self-catering ski accommodation in France with over 100 residences in 40 French resorts. This includes Pierre & Vacances Premium residences with luxury extras such as in-house chefs, spa treatments and heated indoor pools, steam rooms and Jacuzzis. We have accommodation in the most central locations in all the popular resorts including Val D’Isere, Meribel, Couchevel and Avoriaz .

Short breaks: Looking for a city break? Pierre & Vacances has just under 30 Adagio city aparthotels all over Europe, including Paris and Eurodisney.

Introducing Pierre et Vacances

Since 1967, starting with the key development of the Avoriaz ski resort in the French Alps, Pierre et Vacances has not stopped playing a significant role in European tourism.

Today, the travel company offers various types of accommodation in France from Residences and Holiday Villages to Aparthotels.   The range of facilities and activities on offer is immense and will ensure your holiday has everything it needs to be memorable.

Accommodation in France is currently offered in the following areas:

Alps
Alsace-Lorraine
Brittany
Centre
Mediterranean – French Riviera
Normandy
North Picardy
Paris – Île-de-France
The Loire Region
Poitou-Charentes
The Pyrenees
South West France

What’s new at FranceForFamilies.com

Welcome to the new look FranceForFamilies.com. We’ve had a bit of a revamp since the last time you saw us, but our changes were long overdue and will help to make our site even more helpful and easier to use. Here’s why:

  1. Search Function: at last, we’ve included one, so you can quickly search for properties by location, type and the number of people it will sleep.
  2. New Look: more than simply changing colours and adding a new logo, we’ve made the site easier to read and navigate around, helping you to more useful information quickly.
  3. Property Information: we have created new property listings for all our featured holiday homes, with more information and pictures helping you to find the right properties quickly.
  4. Property Reviews: we want your feedback on holiday homes in France, which is why we have launched a reviews section, so you can tell us about the gites you stay in.
  5. More Region Inspiration: we’ve added some great new articles about regions in France, listing our six highlights for many of your favourite destinations. Read more in the France Regions section.
  6. New People: you may notice a few new faces appearing on the site. That’s because a new group of families have taken over the helm – Will, Jo, Pete and Dan have, between them, lived, worked and holidayed for years in France, so you’ll be getting their views and reviews in the future.
  7. New Owner’s Section: if you have a holiday home in France that you’d like to promote to our visitors, we’ve created a new section to get you up and running as quickly as possible. Find out more in our section for Owners.

But please rest assured, we have the same love for France as the previous incumbents, so what won’t change is our commitment to helping more families enjoy holidays in France.

So, things we dare not touch

FranceForFamilies.com has been built over almost 10 years on the honest reviews of families travelling to France, so all of those comments and information remain intact, helping you to find really useful information on regions, attractions, restaurants and places of interest across this magnificent country.

We hope you enjoy the new site. Please give us your comments, ideas and suggestions – simply email them to dan@franceforfamilies.com.

6 reasons to visit Provence this summer

With its scented lavender fields and ancient villages, chic seaside resorts and spectacular Alpine scenery, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is one of the most diverse regions of France, with an attractive climate all year round. Whatever your family enjoy doing, you’ll find it here.

There is delightful scenery in the Luberon and many other dramatic features such as Mont Ventoux, the Gorge du Verdon and the wild expanse of the Camargue. Artists are drawn to the area by the quality of light, which adds a golden hue to the natural vistas – famous artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Monet have all worked in the area.

Here are six of our favourite features of Provence.

 

Confused about the ‘Priorité à Droite’? We explain…

This famous feature of French driving etiquette still causes confusion today despite it being less common than in days gone by. The problem is this: If you are driving along a road, anyone joining that road from your right hand side has priority over you. They don’t have to stop, you do…..even if you are travelling at speed!

Read more about the Rules of the Road in France

Read about why the Dordogne remains a popular destination for many

The Dordogne region is one of the most popular holiday destinations in France. Although the Dordogne has no coastline for ‘bucket and spade’ holidays, there are wonderful rivers for canoeing and swimming, as well as sandy river beaches.

The scenery is dramatic and interspersed with pretty towns and villages, both in the hinterland and along the Dordogne and Vezère rivers, plus innumerable châteaux, caves, museums, picnic spots and viewpoints.

Read more about what to see and do in the Dordogne

 

Why taking the Ferry is still a great option for channel hopping

Ferries have always been the traditional way to get to France although now there is Eurotunnel, and of course budget airlines. But the ferry still makes a great way to cross the English Channel. Onboard most ferries there are great opportunities to shop, relax or have a meal to avoid having to stop in France. Our personal favourite is to take an overnight Ferry from Portsmouth to the north coast of Brittany…it’s almost like combing a mini-cruise with your main holiday.

The only drawback is that it’s not cheap. Below we list the main ferry routes and give advice on which ferry option to consider depending on what you are looking for. As well as links to all the main ferry companies.

Read more about Taking the Ferry to France

Preparing your car for driving in France

Checking that your car is ready for a long journey is always a good idea.  However, if you are planning to take your car across to France this year, there are a number of standard and special requirements you need adhere to.

Firstly, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for tyre tread (don’t forget the spare!), tyre air pressure, lights, oil, water and brake fluid. Make sure you have a full tank of petrol. We know people try to arrive on the other side of the channel with an empty tank as petrol is cheaper in France – but we don’t recommend this; you won’t save a fortune and besides it is not that much cheaper anymore.

You need to ensure you have the following for your car: GB sticker (if you don’t have it already on your number plate, spare light bulb set, beam deflectors (so you don’t blind oncoming traffic with your lights), first aid kit and fire extinguisher.  New from

Read more about preparing your car for driving in France