Wednesday 12 September 2018

South of France | Travel With Dogs

Last week my husband and I, and my Mum, and our combined 5 dogs, took a trip down to the South of France that I have wanted to do for such a long time. Ever since having dogs I’ve really wanted to take them on a trip abroad and France has always seemed like the perfect option. 

Andy and I love to travel but we always miss the company of our dogs whenever we go anywhere without them. We’re lucky that my Mum usually looks after them when we do go away and that has given us a lot of freedom in the past to do the trips that we want to do. But equally we do try to have one dog holiday a year and in the past we have opted for places like Devon and Wales which have been great, although not always weather dependable.

I’ll admit that organising this trip and the dogs ability to travel abroad did feel like a minefield at times. They all had to have rabies vaccinations and pet passports which were issued by our vets. We also had to make sure they were added to our Euro Tunnel booking which certainly racked up the price a bit (The Euro Tunnel Pet Travel Scheme Compliance Checklist is a useful read). Furthermore, I had to find an English speaking vet in France who could administer a worming tablet to them before returning to the UK. There’s a lot more to think about when travelling with dogs and if you are considering it then I’d really recommend reading the up to date DEFRA regulations and speaking to your vet.

When it came to booking accommodation it was pretty easy to find a dog friendly Air BnB in the South of France. My initial idea was to stay close to St Tropez, however when comparing prices it seemed much more affordable to stay an hour away from the coast and in Provence. The prices around the Cote D’Azur seemed ridiculously expensive and when I discovered that nearly all of the beaches are not dog friendly during the Summer season it made even less sense to stay there. In the end we opted for a modern villa, Villa Cesaria, near Aix En Provence which is only 40 minutes from Marseille and the southern coastline.

Initially we thought we’d make the drive down to Provence in our car but then when considering the distance, and that we would have the dogs with us which would mean multiple stops, we soon realised that it would be better to split the drive down over two days and stay one night half way on the way down. This then led to us thinking about a motorhome and making more of an event of the journey. The idea that we could have everything we needed in a motorhome felt really appealing and meant that we wouldn’t have to find anywhere else to stay on the way as we would be driving in our own accommodation. 

Having never even stepped inside a motorhome before I was both excited and hesitant about this addition to our trip! After a quick google I came across New Marque Motorhomes and before making any decisions we decided to pay them a visit and check out the motorhomes for ourselves. As soon as we done this we were both pretty sold on the idea of making the journey in a motorhome! Any concerns that I had soon disappeared and it felt like a bigger adventure we just couldn’t pass up.

Ok, I’m going to keep it real here - adding a motorhome onto our already pricey holiday made this trip so much more expensive. I guess most people would just stay in the motorhome opposed to having a villa as well but the idea of staying in it for a week with my Mum and 5 dogs just wasn’t appealing to me at all! I’m no camper, or glamper really, and well I need a proper space to call home.

Prior to this trip I’d spoken to a couple of people who’d said they’d done this journey door to door in one day and having now done it myself I have no idea how they managed it! By the time you factor in rest breaks and food stops the hours pass by so quickly and we found it very difficult to stick to the journey time Google maps was predicting for us.

On our way down to Provence we took the fastest route and stopped half way on our journey for a night near Troyes. We booked into Camping Le Lac d’Orient which was a fantastic site in a really picturesque location. The site is close to a huge lake with a man made beach which the dogs just loved! It's also worth noting here that you can just park up your car or motorhome here for a night for free without actually booking into the camp park. But if you do want access to motorhome facilities like water and electricity then I would recommend booking into a site. The next day we continued our journey further south and onto our final destination of Aix En Provence.

I have to say I was overjoyed to reach the villa by this point! The motorhome was fun and definitely made our journey with the dogs easier, but after having been in it for two days I was more than ready to move onto the villa. I definitely started to feel cabin feverish after having spent so long on the road. My husband however said he would have been happy to carry on driving and to have stayed in the motorhome!

Our week in Aix En Provence was really lovely and we were blessed with amazing weather the whole time. We had a gorgeous swimming pool and a huge garden for the dogs to play in. It was everything we could have wanted and more!

We enjoyed a beautiful day out to the nearby coastal town of Cassis which I would highly recommend. It was the most perfect spot for lunch and mooching around cute boutique shops. Plus there's a great little beach there too!

When in Cassis you are also very close to the Calanques which are absolutely breathtaking and certainly what I would say is a must see if you are in the area. I think the best way to see them is by hiking or by boat, neither of which we had time for so we decided to drive up close to the first one - Calanque de Port Miou. I think this is the only one which is close to a road so this was the only one we were able to make a quick detour to see. And I'm so glad we did!

We also enjoyed an afternoon out in Marseille and spent a few hours exploring the streets there. I did have hopes that we would maybe drive a couple of hours out to visit Cannes and St Tropez but ultimately we didn’t have enough time to fit everything in. We did however make a visit to a wine tasting vineyard at Chateau La Coste as this was recommended as a must do activity when in Provence. 

I really don’t have much to post in the way of vegan food recommendations because it was a real struggle. As we were self catering and the restaurant prices seemed very expensive we did choose to make our own meals and eat at our villa for the majority of the week. When we did try to eat out it seemed really challenging with a lack of translation on the menus and even vegetarian options seemed to be very limited.

We did however find a decent veggie cafe in Marseille, Grain De Sable, and on checking the trusty Happy Cow app this city definitely seemed to have more options than where we were staying.

On our journey back to the UK we decided to take the more scenic route home through the Rhône Alpes and via Sisteron and Grenoble. I’m so glad we did this because the scenery was just stunning! We didn’t see much on our way down but coming back totally made up for this. I don’t think I have ever experienced such picturesque and breathtaking scenery! We made a point of stopping a few times to take some photos and take it all in. There were also so many camp sites along the way so if you are a camper then this is the route for you.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the extra cost of the road tolls. Some tolls were cheap and between €2-€5 and others were as much as €40! The road tolls are everywhere in France and this was an extra expense. And, if like us, you make a wrong turn it could turn out to be a really pricey mistake. I think in total and for the whole trip we paid nearly €200 in road tolls alone. The good news is they accept credit cards which did make it a lot easier but this is definitely something you need to make sure you budget for when taking this road trip. 

France is definitely geared up for road trippers and along every route we took there were always decent rest stops (Aire's) and a service area was never too far away. Their roads are also pretty much in excellent condition and great for driving on.

This trip certainly felt like an adventure I will always remember. It’s hard to believe such places are so close to the UK and readily available to drive to. I think especially if you are wanting to get abroad and soak up some sunshine with your dog/s then this really is a superb option to consider.

Have you ever taken your dog/s abroad? 
I’d love to hear some of your own experiences and destination recommendations! 


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