We made a last minute decision to spend a week in France in the campervan…would we get stuck in traffic and miss our ferry? Would we eat our bodyweight in baguettes and croissants?
We never travel in August, ever. Why? Because the cost of travel is insane and the traffic is well known for being ridiculous. But, in an attempt to spread out our annual leave, we ended up booking a couple of weeks off in August with no real plan of how to use it.
As the time got closer, the weather wasn’t looking great for a break in the UK so we booked to go to France. Going on the Eurotunnel would mean selling a couple of kidneys, so we booked the ferry from Dover to Calais instead.
In the lead up to our trip, there were endless reports of queues as the British public fled to Europe at the earliest opportunity. Would we suffer the same fate on the first weekend of August? We hoped not, but to reduce the risk of getting stuck on a motorway we played our journey tactically.
We booked a Sunday morning sailing from Dover and travelled to Canterbury on the Saturday afternoon. This meant that we missed all the traffic and had an easy drive to our overnight camp.
New Dover Road Park and Ride
Our first night ‘away’ was spent at the New Dover Road Park and Ride on the outskirts of Canterbury. It’s a 25 minute drive from here to Dover so is an ideal stop-off point for the night. In the corner of the park and ride is a section dedicated to motorhomes, but you can actually park anywhere in the car park. It’s only £8 for the night (£4 per day, midnight to midnight) and you pay at the barrier exit.
It’s a very peaceful place to park and there’s a lovely pub called the Old Gate Inn just a couple of minutes walk away which does fantastic food. If you want a stress free way to arrive in Dover then bear this in mind! We zipped into the port on the Sunday morning for an early ferry crossing with no issues.
How did you decide where to stay?
Given that we were only in France for one week, we decided to stay in northern France to reduce our travel time. Before leaving, we did a little search on Google for family friendly cycling routes in the area. The France Velo Tourisme website is great for this; you can search the whole of France for different kinds of cycling routes and paths. We set our sights on the Somme Cycle Route which is ideal for families as it follows the Somme River for 195km and is nice and flat.
Chateau des Tilleuls
Before leaving the UK we booked the Chateau des Tilleuls campsite in advance for 3 nights. We liked the fact that it was a short ride to the Somme Cycle Route and had great facilities for our little boy Ollie. Although we’d never stayed there before and based our choice on the Google reviews and campsite website, we weren’t disappointed. The site was excellent. The campervan pitches were a very generous size, the toilet facilities were nice and modern and there was plenty to do on site. There was a lovely pool which included a separate kids pool with a slide which Ollie loved.
As well as the pool there was a little adventure playground, inflatables, a couple of trampolines, a football / basketball area, a tennis court and a fab little shop, bar and brasserie on site. The site was set in the grounds of a small chateau and was really well looked after. Despite it being August and busy with people, everyone was very spread out and it was still very peaceful, especially at night.
Access to the Somme Cycle route was a 10-minute ride, 5-mins of which was on a busy road outside the site. We cycled into Abbeville on the Monday which was a bit underwhelming. Abbeville felt tired and wasn’t the prettiest of French towns so we didn’t stay long. The cycle route however was excellent; nice and flat and well maintained. Cycling on Tuesday into Saint-Valery was way better; it’s a pretty little town popular with French tourist and is right on the coast. Again, the route was superb along a nice wide path which hugged the river all the way into the town.
Peeved in Péronne
On Wednesday we left our relaxed life at the Chateau to head further inland along the Somme Cycle route. The idea was to ride a bit more of the route in a different location but the weather had better ideas. As we got closer to Peronne the temperature hit mid-30’s, so by the time we got to our site we could only sit in the shade and try to stay cool. In hindsight we should have booked an extra night at the Chateau!
We stayed at Camping du Port de Plaisance which was right on the River Somme and the cycle route. It had a fun little pool which we made use of when it cooled down a bit later that afternoon. With reports of thunderstorms the next morning, we decided to pack up the next day and head north east to avoid the extreme heat.
Beware of the car parks
With no real plan of where to go next, we left Péronne and headed to the city of Arras to be tourists. We found a nice big car park just outside the city and as were were putting Ollie in his pushchair, we did a double take. Amy noticed council workers putting a height barrier up at the carpark entrance which meant that we’d be trapped!
Using her best French, she managed to persuade the guys to remove the barrier so that we could make a swift exit. They kindly showed us a better place to park which saved us from being overnighters in Arras. After our heart rates returned to normal we took a leisurely stroll into the city and enjoyed waffles in the sun.
Just keep swimming
Where should we go next? We Googled campsites with a pool nearby and found Camping La Paille Haute. Similar to the last site, we just drove up and asked if they had a space available, which luckily they did. We found a nice shaded pitch in a corner so that Ollie was less able to do a runner and settled in for the afternoon / evening.
It was a lovely site with a great pool (including a separate kids pool), adventure playground, pétanque pitch, mini farm (chickens and mini pigs), bar and restaurant. Ollie had back to back swimming days and came on leaps and bounds with his confidence in the water. It was great to ‘sea’ him ‘dive in’ to new adventures and ‘bouy’ did he have a good time (sorry about the puns, I’m cooking on the M25 on the way home).
With only two nights left before our return ferry from Calais, we headed to the North East corner of France, close to the border with Belgium.
Google helped us to find a campsite with TWO pools – one indoor and one outdoor. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise until we got there that it was a static caravan site and not a campsite for motorhomes. Gutted. Back on Google and off to Camping Perroquet instead.
We pulled up at the barriers of the site with our fingers crossed. The men on the barrier couldn’t tell us if a pitch was available; we had to wait until 2pm for the reception to open. We spent 10 mins walking around the site which looked lovely. No pool, but it was close to the traffic free path to Dunkirk and to the beach. At around 215pm the receptionist decided to put in an appearance and thankfully we were first in the queue of 15 people also looking to book a pitch.
Luckily, they gave us a place to stay for 2 nights so we settled in. In between down time we took a family bike ride into Belgium, a walk along the beach and a walk back along the bike route, an afternoon eating waffles and plenty of fun on the campsite adventure playground. The site was large, but stretched over a long, narrow area and to get around there was a mini train that you could jump on for free.
On our final morning, we packed up after two fun days at Camping Perroquet and zoomed off down to Calais. It was only 40mins to get there so we’d probably use that campsite again as a final destination before heading home.
Once we were checked in to the port, Ollie and I went for a walk to the port ‘facilities’. They were dismal. Dover’s facilities aren’t fantastic, but at least there’s a WHSmiths and Costa coffee where you can stock up on things before sailing. Calais had a couple of vending machines for snacks and a drinks machine which was broken. The loos were okay – I was expecting a scene from ‘Trainspotting’ but I was mildly surprised.
If your name’s not down, you’re not coming in
As a treat on the way back, we paid to go in the ‘Club Lounge’ on the ferry which was lovely. It’s right at the front of the ship on Deck 8 so you get a great view. You also get unlimited food and drink (including alcohol) which kept Ollie occupied for 1.5 hours. The seating is very comfy and the crossing was smooth so it was a fantastic treat.
Well its only 136 days to Christmas so I guess we better get our Xmas annual leave sorted! Merry Christmas!!