A visual treat and a gastronomic feast...
To reach Calais, you can take either the ferry from Dover Eastern Docks or Eurotunnel Le Shuttle from Folkstone. The ferry takes around 90 minutes and you have to arrive at least 45 minutes before departure. There are a choice of ferries with DFDS, P&O and MyFerry all having regular sailings. The ships are modern with cafes, bars a shop and plenty of seating areas. Although the sea crossing takes longer than Eurotunnel the price tends to be cheaper and you get the wonderful view of the White Cliffs fading away as you head towards France. You also get an idea of just how busy the Channel is.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, though more expensive (booking ahead gets you the best prices), is quicker than the ferry and not subject to the varying weather conditions of the sea. Certainly, during the winster months, it's a good option. The journey takes about 45 minutes with a 45 minute check-in time.
CALAIS – LILLE (approx) 70ml 1hr 30mins £17 inc tolls.
Take either the ferry or Eurotunnel Le Shuttle across (or under) the Channel to Calais.The A26 is well signposted at the port and it's only minutes before you're driving towards Lille on the autoroute. Arrive in Lille around late afternoon, before the main rush hour starts, and settle in to your hotel (we suggest the Couvent Des Minimes), before going for dinner in one the many excellent restaurants in the old town, which is just a short walk away.
Days 2 - 3
Lille is quite enchanting and often a revelation to people who hadn't previously considered paying a visit. Take your time wandering through the old town, with its exciting shops, cafes and restaurants. Have lunch at Cafe Le Voltaire before taking the Metro to the Baths at Roubaix, now a museum housed in the splendid Art Deco building. On Sunday's there's a great flea market at Wazemmes (visit La Brulerie for a delicious cup of tea) and across the first week of September Lille hosts La Braderie, one of Europe's biggest "brocantes". In the evening go for a drink at La Part Des Anges or Fifi's.
LILLE- TROYES (via Laon) (approx)210mls 3hr 45 £70 inc toll
After an early lunch, it's time to head South to the medieval town of Troyes, driving through the chalky, undulating landscape of Champagne. North of Reims, stop in Laon, with its magnificent medieval cathedral. Laon is close to the autoroute and there's parking around the cathedral, so it's easy to spend a couple of hours having a coffee and patisserie and exploring the old town.
Arrive in Troyes at tea-time, settle into your hotel (we suggest either the Hotel De La Poste or the Relais St. Jean) and go for dinner and drinks in the old town. There are plenty of restaurants and bars. Chez Maximes is good for crepes, but it's nice to simply wander and pick what takes your fancy, as many of the menus have English translations.
TROYES - LYON (approx) 235ml 4hrs Toll £23.42
From Troyes, it's an easy drive south through rolling French countryside to Lyon. Break the journey at one Europe's largest service stations , Relais De Servotte, near Beaune, or perhaps take a picnic and stop at Aire de La Foret near Bligny Sur Ouche. If you feel you have the time, turn off into the historic towns of Beaune or Chalet - sur - Saone.
Arrive into Lyon by late afternoon to avoid rush hour, as traffic can be heavy in the centre of Lyon, Once checked in to your hotel (we recommend Novotel Lyon Confluence, Hotel Cour Des Loges and Hotel Le Royal) you'll have time for dinner in one of Lyon's wonderful restaurants around Rue Merciere or in Vieux Lyon.
Days 4 - 7
Day 1 Lyon
After checking in to your hotel your love affair with Lyon can begin. For dinner go to the traditional Brasserie St.Georges, near Perrache station, for Art Deco splendour and classic French cooking.
Day 2 Lyon
After breakfast, food lovers should head for Les Halles Paul Bocuse, an indoor market showcasing the very best of local produce, with breath-taking displays of cakes, chocolates, wine, meat and cheeses. Stop for coffee or a glass of champagne at one of the many bars. It's also a delightful place for lunch.
The central area of Presqu'île, between the two rivers- the Saone and the Rhone- is where the main shopping district and excellent restaurants are to be found, amongst regal 19th century architecture. Or wander up to Croix-Rousse, once home to the silk workers of Lyon, now colonised by artists, craftpeople and independent boutiques.
In the evening you can go for dinner on Rue Meciere, a pretty street packed with restaurants in the Presqu'île area, or go to Cafe Julliette in the fashionable 6th Quarter for a drink.
Day 3 Lyon
Enjoy breakfast or mid morning coffee at the beautiful Café Des Negociants and take a wander along the banks of the Saone where every morning there is a gloriously jolly food market. If the weather allows, buy a picnic and enjoy lunch by the river.
In the afternoon head for the Old Town, behind the cathedral of St Jean Baptiste de Lyon, with its timbered, tumbledown buildings and cobbled streets of restaurants and shops. Take the funicular railway up to the impressive Basilica, for panoramic views over the city, and walk back down hundreds of steps, before a coffee and cake on the Rue St Jean.
Have dinner at Les Bouchon Des Filles for an exciting taste of traditional Lyonnaise cooking with a modern slant.
LYON - MELUN (approx) 260ml 4hrs 30 Toll £24.59
After your time in Lyon, start the drive up to Melun, on the outskirts of Paris. You can break at one Europe's largest service stations, Relais De Servotte, near Beaune, or perhaps take a picnic and stop at Aire de La Foret near Bligny Sur Ouche. If you feel you have the time, turn off into the historic towns of Beaune or Chalet - sur - Saone.
Arrive in Melun, to the south of Paris and have dinner in one of the many local cafes and restaurants. There are a number of hotels in the area, one of which is La Closerie Des Trois Marottes, which is a small boutique hotel set in an old farm house around a courtyard.You could also have dinner in Paris as the RER takes right to the heart of the city in just 25 minutes.
Days 7 - 8
After breakfast, again take the RER into central Paris. Paris is one of the great cities of the world and there's so much to see, it's difficult to not feel overwhelmed. One option is to walk across to Notre Dame before exploring the shops, cafes and restaurants of the famous Left Bank. The Jardins De Luxembourg are beautiful and a perfect place to sit and simply watch the world drift by. Once you've spent the day exploring this wonderful city, have dinner before returning to your hotel in Cergy.
MELUN - CALAIS 200ml 3hrs 50 Toll £17.57
Leave Melun for Calais. Once you're past the traffic around Paris, this is a simple journey through open classic, French countryside. Amongst the rolling hills and dainty, pointed Cypress tress, you'll see plenty of brown signs that remind us that this was one of the main areas of fighting during WW1. For lunch, stop at Arras, a delightful town with easy parking and plenty of excellent cafes in the Place Des Heros outside the town hall. Remember, when planning your journey, that you'll need at least 45 minutes to check in at the ferry and Eurotunnel ports.
Take the ferry and after ninety minutes or so, you'll see the white cliffs of Dover appearing on the horizon. You'll be back in Dover in plenty of time to be home by bedtime, as you gain an hour going back to England, ready to start planning your next trip.
Remember you can take the Eurotunnel too, if you'd prefer to avoid travelling by sea. Check in is simple and it takes just 45 minutes.
Taxis are available to take you the short distance to Dover Priory railway station.