Road Tripping In France With A Larger Family (But The Same Sized Hatchback…)
A few years’ ago, we took a fantastic road trip down through France: Eurostar from London; hire car in picked up in Paris; drove to the Riviera via the Alps; flight back from Nice.
With some ‘parental leave’ bagged as a result of child #2 arriving last September, we saw this as an opportunity to try and re-live some of those carefree moments cruising through the continent.
Except this time there are some added characters: a 3 year-old who thinks he’s a ninja rabbit (don’t ask…), a 4 month-old with unreasonable feeding demands, and a 37kg golden retriever.
We had meant to upgrade our car to something more suitable, but this is not a period of our lives where both time and money are in short supply. So, our trusty hatchback would have to do.
We’ve been thinking about getting in touch with Hyundai to see if there’s some kind of record we have broken when it comes to the amount of ‘stuff’ we have fitted into an i30. We have really tried to travel ‘light’ but somehow we really have packed this car to it’s absolute max. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but the load looks something like this:
Roof box: iCandy buggy base, iCandy basinet, Buggyboard, inflatable child’s bed, child’s bicycle and helmet, bucket and spade, picnic blanket.
Boot: Bag of clothes, bag of shoes/boots/sandals/etc.., dog food bowls, bag of cuddly toys, wet dog food, reflective jacket, warning triangle, ‘Snuzpod’ cot (dismantled), dog.
Rear seats: more bags of clothes, nappies, formula, toys, baby monitor, washbags, bottle steriliser and bottles, breast pump, passports, baby medical books, dry dog food, computer, Kindle, tablet.
Stuffed around the front passenger: all of our coats, change bag, guidebooks.
Various cubby holes around the car: carbon monoxide detector, kids DVDs, USB cables, extension cable and continental adaptors, kids snacks, more toys.
We took the Eurotunnel from Folkestone, a crossing we have relied on over the past few years since we had a dog. Their dog walking area is like something you would see on an agility competition at Crufts. It’s brilliant. They even allow dogs into part of the terminal building.
An overnight stay near Calais and we headed down to the Loire Valley, pulling up in the town of Loches for a few days. We can genuinely say that we found everywhere extremely friendly and were welcomed wherever we went, despite it being out of season and being very much the odd-ones-out. We would thoroughly recommend it. Some highlights included:
- Market Day (Saturdays and Wednesdays): Bustling stalls set out everything from cheese to shoes, and the town really came to life on the Saturday we were there.
- Royal Palace and Dungeon: Two large buildings which tower over the town from their raised position, which can be visited on one ticket (10 Euros). A lot to get around for a 3 year old, but great places to run around and some fantastic views from the top.
- Parc Aquatique Natureo: Brilliant swimming facility with three indoor pools and one outdoor pool. First time swimming for our four month old and he loved the bath-temperature water.
- Loches Jardin Public: Well-kept, beautiful little park in the town centre with a great play area.
- Les Prairies du Roy: Just beyond the park, countryside great for walking the dog.
- Loches Forest: A few kms out of town, but with a good mix of long paved paths without traffic (ideal for cycling) and woodland trails.
- Boulangerie Gibaud: Buy their Pain au Chocolat Amande. Unbeatable.
- Sforza Pizzeria: Very family (and dog) friendly pizzeria in the middle of town. They made a kids pizza in the shape of a face (which was a winner!).
- Cafe des Arts: Croque Monsieur on the square in the sunshine was a real treat.
- Cafe de la Porte Picois: Casual, local, friendly cafe/bar.
AirBnB is our friend. And perhaps we have been a little too reliant on this particular service given that we have subsequently found very reasonable places through other sites (e.g. Expedia). But for a family which requires two separate bedrooms, adequate parking, doggy friendly lodging…..it’s second to none in terms of being able to easily search for properties which fit our special blend of requirements. We found a fantastic house in Loches on AirBnB and have a few other places lined up for our trip. Having said that, we’re currently writing this from The Ace Hotel just south of Valence, and had a great pizza over the road in the (dog friendly) L’art Terre. It’s on a retail park on the outskirts of town, but for an overnight stop near the motorway heading south, it’s fitted the bill perfectly.
WHAT WE LEARNT SO FAR…
- Always have snacks to hand when driving distances.
- Download a playlist of kids songs to your phone. Make it long and varied enough so you don’t drive yourself crazy. Alternatively just put Baby Shark on repeat and watch your partner’s head explode.
- Plan long drives in advance with breaks, lunch stops, etc… We’ve done two +500km days. The first was horrific. The second was hard but ok with some careful toilet/breast feed/lunch pre-planning.
- Always have snacks to hand. Always.
- A small overnight bag with essentials (pyjamas, baby monitor, bottle, nappy, etc…) avoids major car re-packing.
- Play games! Our 3 year old has loved us setting him a ‘treasure hunt’ each day where he has to find a number of things we’ve told him.
- Everything takes way longer than you think it’s going to with a long road trip. And that’s ok!