Years in the making, the day had come and we were off. The car was packed, the dog was strapped in and grumpy AF... and we were, as always, late.
It felt like such a grand romantic notion to roar off into the distance to start an adventure... but we got as far as the Dartford tunnel before realising we hadn't packed any snacks, the dog hadn't magically overcome his car shakes, and one of us was feeling sick. Yaaaay.
For someone who doesn't really like being in cars a 20 odd thousand mile road trip possibly wasn't the brightest of ideas... but when one of you can't fly or take the train without being stuffed into a bag, it really was the only option.
We thought the Eurotunnel would be a total ballache with Indy, but actually it was super easy and everyone was oddly cheery. You don't even have to get out of the car on the way out - just have your paperwork to hand. We found the Eurotunnel site the most straightforward source of info re travelling with your dog as it seems to have avoided going into a pre-apocalyptic/Brexit meltdown.
The whole experience was really straightforward - turn up; follow instructions; load up on food; get overly stressed about picking lanes; pick the wrong lane; get on the train... then about 40 mins later you're in France.
That first night's stay is key - you want to go far enough into France to feel like you're getting somewhere, but without being totally knackered. We've done the trip back and forth a few times and have a few suggestions for the best (and worst) places for a stopover.
So in order of faves:
1) La Bouille
Our favourite stop off is definitely this pretty little village on the banks of the Seine, just outside Rouen, about 2.5 hours from Calais.
The Bellevue is a proper old school hotel with a great restaurant. In the summer you can eat on the terrace overlooking the river, and when it's cooler they have a cosy dining room. The food is good, service is great and you don't feel like you're being ripped off - which is a massive bonus in France. It's quirky, a little rickety and charming for it.
A couple of hours from Calais and a bit of a detour off the main routes South, make this a strong stop off option. It's a great place for a leg stretch with sea-front, harbour and town options.
The town is nice enough with plenty of restaurants. We stayed at really lovely apartment although hotels are definitely easier for a one nighter. Don't rule it out though as self check-in and on-street parking were definite wins.
About 2.5 - 3 hours from Calais this touristy little town is a well known stop off and very popular with the motor-homers. It's exactly what you'd expect from somewhere on the tourist trail - pretty, bustling and a little overpriced.
Restaurants line the harbour and are all fairly samey. We stayed at the Ibis, about10 min walk from the harbour, which was comfy and clean and totally soulless...but what it lacked in charm it made up for in plastic mouldings. Crucially though it had a car park which meant that at the very start of our trip, when we gave a shit about our car, we could stare lovingly at it from the window.
Now to be fair we didn't stay in Rouen centre as it felt like a drag to hack into the middle, go to sleep, and hack back out again - so we stayed in the Campanile just outside. It wasn't the prettiest of areas, but we stopped off at La Bouille for dinner on our way through and just used the hotel as a place to sleep. As with most big chains it was comfy, clean and perfectly fine for a night but you wouldn't want to spend a weekend there. Easy to get up and off in the morning. It's a good back up to La Bouille.
5) Saint Quentin
Nope. Just don't do it. It's under 2 hours from Calais, but other than that it has nothing to recommend it - especially to booked a big trip. Admittedly we were there in bad weather, which never helps, but even in the sun I can't see how this would feel like anything other than the rough end of a UK town. Couldn't find anywhere for dinner (didn't fancy the kebab shop) so ended up with a takeaway curry. Meh.