Its been 2 whole weeks since we returned tired, weary and sun kissed from a wonderful week in France. We did far too much driving and ate a little too many croissants (if that is even possible) but France was very pretty, and whilst we only scraped the surface of it, it was a wonderful week away together with my parents and ticked off two of our travel goals for this year – to have a beach holiday and to see Paris.
We decided to visit France on a whim this Summer as we had initially envisioned a beach holiday (possibly in Croatia, Spain or Malta) and Paris in the Autumn time. But with budgets a little tighter right now, we realised France was not only a very cheap option, but would enable us to see Paris as well as the coast and hold the added bonus of visiting a few war cemeteries to round it all off too. And so we decided to go – it was quite possibly the cheapest holiday we have had outside of the UK!
We decided to take the ferry to France as it was a lot cheaper than flying and also meant that we could have a car to see more of the things we wanted to (and not have to hire one or pay for luggage – bonus). But you could also save money on a similar trip by travelling by bus from london to Paris and booking in advance. Either way, there are many cheap options to travel to France and Paris.
Despite a lot of driving between Newhaven and Yorkshire – it was overall a lovely and new experience to travel ferry. But, no matter how much we plan to have a relaxing holiday, we are always wandering and end up trying to see as much as we can in each area. So yes, we did a lot of driving whilst there which I think if we were to go again would need to be lessened, but here is what we squished into our week in France – the highlights!
Catching the Ferry and our AirBNB
We got a morning ferry (9am) to Dieppe which meant we left Yorkshire about 1am! The ferry was a smooth crossing and whilst Nathan slept to recover from the drive down, I tried to prevent the kids falling overboard as we admired the views of the English Channel! It was nice to have mum and dad with us to chat and help out too, and whilst we were all wrecked, we were also very excited for our French adventure.
Once in Dieppe, we had a pit stop at Lidl (of course) and we were then back on the road to drive a couple of hours to a small town about 40 mins from Versaille called Nogent-le-Roi. Here we spent 2 nights in a wonderful 3 bed AirBnb – it was comfortable, trendy, had private parking and little garden, and the location was ideal for both Versaille and Paris. It was most definitely one of the best we have stayed in – I really really liked its style and layout!
Nogent-le-Roi was a lovely place to wander around too and we enjoyed exploring it’s little streets on our first night in France. It was everything I envisioned for a French town – old houses, shuttered windows, stone bridges and little winding roads, with a small Chateau on the hill.It was such a lovely and picturesque place to have as our base for a 2 nights.
We were up surprisingly early the first day – excited to see both Versaille and then onto Paris I expect! We decided ahead of time to park in Versaille where we would visit the palace and then hop on a train into Paris (there was no way we were navigating traffic around Paris!). But, in hindsight we should have had a full day in Versaille and a separate day in Paris, because once we arrived, we realised how many lovely things there were there to explore (it is such an impressive place!).
We parked right next to the main train station (Gare de Versaille) which I read and understood immediately thanks to high school french! Here parking was literally half the price of parking at the palace (costing us about 15 euros for like 8 hours) and It was a lovely 5 minute walk up to the palace through a wide walkway lined with trees and very safe. The palace of Versaille was breathtaking to see and I loved the astonishment we all had as we caught our first glimpses of it, both driving in and walking up to it!
Due to our budget we didn’t go inside, but wandering outside is more than enough to amaze you. Another bonus, and something I loved about Versaille is that the gardens for the palace are free (unlike here in the UK) and this revelation was quite possibly the most exciting thing of the day. We spent a good hour or 2 strolling through the magnificent grounds – admiring the views and feeling so delighted to be there. They are so vast and stunning that we could have easily spent the entire day just exploring fountain after fountain, and garden after garden. To give you an idea of their size and beauty it’s good to note that they have little golf buggies you can hire or a land train that will take you round them – again, we wish we had known all of this and planned a day exploring them with a golf buggy (lots of fun) and seeing more of what Versaille has to offer. A morning at the palace and then a quick stop at our churches temple (LDS Temple, Versaille) was a wonderful introduction and time well spent there!
I really wanted to fall in love with Paris and feel that vibe that so many people talk of when they go – but I just didn’t! Of course it was exciting to see the Eiffel tower – to stand beneath it and be in awe of it. But whilst it was exciting to be there and explore, I didn’t love it quite as much as other european cities we have travelled (and I am okay with that!).
My favourite part of Paris was probably the Jardins du Trocadéro which sit across the river from the Eiffel tower. The fountains are spectacular and offer a great view of the tower, as well as a refreshing paddle for the kids on hot summer days!
A ticket from Versaille to Paris was about 14 euro each and enabled us to use the metro too once there. I thought that the kids were a lot cheaper but the woman (who was annoyed that I kept asking her questions whilst she played on her phone) charged us the same price – so you might want to check on that if you go. It wasn’t a long journey either (like 5 stops or something) and was relaxing to leave the car in Versaille and get into Paris effortlessly. The kids found it exciting to see the Eiffel tower as you curve around into the city and the double decker train was a novelty for us all.
We walked from the station to the Eiffel tower (a 15 minute walk for most… about 45 for us with kids and lunch on the way at Subway!) admiring sites such as a mini Statue of liberty on the way. Like we do in most european cities, we used the metro to get around. It is cheap, quick and adds to the experience (especially when Daddy got stuck with Alice at one station and we were in another!!!). Using the metro enabled us to get around to all of Paris’ highlights in one afternoon, checking The Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre Pyramids and The Eiffel tower all off our list (as well as some random wandering around the streets to explore too).
It was a great afternoon and whilst I would have liked to have had time to explore its old quarter where the little cafes and cobbled streets are (what I picture in my mind for Paris) as well as the Moulin Rouge and other highlights, for an afternoon with Kids, it was great to scratch the surface and embrace all of it’s famous highlights before catching the train back to Versaille and snuggling down in our little AirBNB!
Le Mans was such a lovely place to stop at on our way from Nogent-le-Roi to the Vendee coast (where we had a Eurocamp booked for 3 nights). The gothic cathedral and old quarter were every bit what I hoped to see when travelling in France and they were a delight to wander around.The winding cobbled streets and old buildings gave us all that joyful feel and the kids enjoyed exploring too and playing with all of the drinking fountains.
When we arrived it was market day in the square beneath the cathedral. We sampled a few things and then climbed the stone stairs behind the fountain and explored the cathedral and old quarter. We were only there for a couple of hours – to get lunch and break up our 5 hour drive, but it was most definitely worth it. Parking near the leisure complex was about 2 euro for the time we were there and an easy 2 minute walk to the market square.
We arrived in Vendee Friday evening where we had 3 nights camping in a caravan on a small Eurocamp – This enabled us time for more adventures by the beach and plenty of time to swim and play in the fabulous pool facilities they had. We didn’t do a whole lot during our time in Vendee, other than what we had hoped to do, which included relaxing, several visits to the pool, a BBQ and visits to the beach/swim in the sea! It was so pretty and such a lovely chilled weekend. I loved being in the sea, seeing the beautiful coast and we all loved the mint on site pool.
War Cemeteries nr Caens
We of course had a bit of drive back to Dieppe from the coast (which made us think we should have done the coast first and then across to Paris, meaning only a 2 hour drive back at the end and more time to see Versaille) but we broke up the journey by stopping off at a couple of War Cemeteries near Caens. War history is one of the most intriguing for me (next to medieval) and as anticipated this was such a humbling experience and a very moving end to our trip. I don’t have a lot of words to write about it, other than saying that this short visit opened my eyes and gave me so much more perspective.
Whilst there, a German woman I chatted to said “these are all my family because they give me life”! What a beautiful perspective to have of all those who fought for us. I hope one day soon to go to Dunkirk to see relatives and more war graves – they deserve the respect and visit at the very least and I welcomed the opportunity to teach our children a little more about the cost of war!
France was better than I expected, but Paris was a bit of a let down (despite been a lovely day too). It was so wonderful to have time together, in mostly lush weather and to explore another new and exciting part of the world. We enjoyed having Grandma and Grandad with us and they were a lot of fun with the kids and nice to hang with too. Having never been to France before we have certainly learnt a few things for next time, but overall it was a lively 6 days away travelling and a place we hope to go again (just with less driving), to deepen our experience in each area!
Another fun adventure and another reminder that you don’t need much money or need to spend lots in order to have a wonderful family holiday and travel experience together! Au Revoir!
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