I got a good few questions when we came back from France about how it had been travelling with our dog so I decided the best way to answer them all was to just write a blog post about it. If you're not planning a trip to France with your dog sometime soon then please be assured that I won't be offended if you don't stop to read. But for those of you who are interested, I hope you find it useful!
I also thought it would be useful to give you a little bit of background in case it helps you to make your decision about taking your pet or not. Our dog, Bob, is a golden retriever. He's 3 years old, has never had any problems travelling in the car with us and has been on several UK holidays since we've had him, with varying travel times of under an hour to over 4 hours. Whenever we know we're going any distance we generally plan to drive for 2 hours and then stop to let him have a break, stretch his legs and so on. He sits in the back seat of our car, on a large hammock type cover that protects the entire back seat and is generally attached to a harness that clips to the seatbelt holder.
It's probably also worth adding that he's super chill and just goes with the flow. He's also a big lad weighing in at 42 kilos and takes up a LOT of floor space! So now you know a bit more about Bob, let's get into the useful information!
The first thing you'll need to do is get a pet passport. You organise this with your vet - we made an appointment approximately 3 weeks before we were travelling as dogs are also required to have a rabies injection which will cover them for returning to the UK. The whole appointment took almost an hour as the vet has to fill out all of the details in the passport, you have to check it all over to make sure it's all correct, and the rabies injection probably took seconds. It's worth noting that Bob had no side effects from the injection at all. The fun fact is that you don't need a photo for the passport, but there is a box if you want to put one in. I was so tempted!
Planning your trip
We used Home and Away and Trip Advisor to book both of our holiday gites. Both websites are great for selecting pet friendly places to rent and we had no problems finding anywhere. We specifically wanted a garden that was enclosed so that we could let him wander around freely without having to worry about him getting out. Both places were absolutely brilliant and had big gardens that he loved roaming around in so we hit gold both times!
We travelled via EuroTunnel as from previous experience we've found it the quickest and easiest way to get to France. When you book you can include that you are travelling with your pet. There is an additional charge that is applied each way that was £19 (at the time of writing). This payment covers the access to the Pet Exercise area on the UK side - this was absolutely brilliant. It was a really big space with various things for the dog to jump in/on and also had a water tap and a big shaded area if you're not a big fan of bright blue skies and sunshine. On the way back (France side) the exercise area is much smaller but I think the real charge for the French side is to go through the pet check-in but more on that later.
What to take
This bit is probably more personal to your dog as it depends if they have their own bed, towels and so on. Bob mainly sleeps on the floor (we learned very early on there was no point in paying lots of money for expensive beds as he sleeps at the bottom of the stairs on the cool wooden floor!) so we took a fleece blanket with us that we take on all our trips (so he has something familiar about home), his towel (to dry him off after swimming), 4 of his favourite toys (what can I say, he's a big daft golden retriever who loves his bears!) and most importantly, all of the food that we would need.
All of my advanced reading (I'm a big researcher) recommended that you take the usual dog food with you as diet changes can lead to upset stomachs and you don't really want that on your holly-bobs! We feed him a combination of dried food and tins (each to their own, please keep any opinions about our food choices to yourself) so we had to take a LOT of stuff with us to cover 16 days away! Luckily we have lots of space in our car. As it turned out, the Pedigree tins we use were readily available in the French supermarkets and for a similar price.
We also took our usual snacks (he mainly eats dog biscuits) and 3 refillable water bottles to ensure we could keep him well hydrated. Don't forget your feeding bowl/water bowl too!
We live in the North East of England so it's quite a big trek down to Folkestone for the tunnel. We decided to break it up by leaving one day early and travelling down to Blyth to stay in a Travelodge. It's worth noting that the staff there were absolutely brilliant, super helpful and even offered to fill up our water bowl for the dog. As for Bob, he'd never stayed in a hotel before so despite his initial excitement, he soon calmed down and crashed out on a towel we put down on the floor by the side of the bed. We fed him in the morning from his bowl while we enjoyed a Costa breakfast from the service station next door.
Travelling through the Tunnel didn't seem to phase him at all (it definitely helps that you're sat in your own car as if you're driving) so I can highly recommend this as a way of getting to France. Once we were through to the French side we stayed in a B&B Hotel in Calais - again very dog friendly, big room with lots of floor space for big dogs. It was super basic but don't be put off - for a one night stay before you continue on your journey I can definitely recommend. Top tip: the Poivre Rouge restaurant next door do takeaway (ask for 'emporter') so you can grab a burger and eat in your room.
Woop you're in France!
We stayed in Normandy so our journey time was really decent. We stopped a couple of times to ensure leg stretching/water breaks but mainly we just got on with it. One of the best things about France are the number of Airs that you can stop at, and a lot of them have lots of grassy space and picnic areas, as well as your more typical service station offerings - absolutely perfect for dogs and their humans too.
We loved it! Overall there were very few limitations about where we could go with him, but this probably had more to do with the places we decided to visit. We went to a forest so we could find a lake for him to swim in, we went into local towns for market days, coffee stops and pastry runs, but we were mainly there to chill out and relax so it wasn't a great hardship that we couldn't go into galleries, museums etc. We found a couple of great local parks that I think were probably local secrets too as we were definitely the only tourists there!
Our biggest day out was to Mont St Michel. As a 'gros chien' he wasn't allowed on the navettes (shuttle bus) so we walked it. It was approx. 2.5km and it was blazing sunshine! We'd deliberately planned it to arrive early to avoid the midday sun and I have to say he did brilliantly. He's never seen so many people in one place before (we don't take him into towns or anything like that so he is rarely exposed to big crowds) but he really did take it all in his stride. There were lots of places around where you could grab shade and water bottles and there were a good number of other dogs there too so we weren't alone. We couldn't go in to any of the places with him (which is of course fair enough) so after we'd looked around we took him to the beach to have a plodge about in the sea.
When we got back we returned to the big park near the visitor centre. We found a huge tree with shade and all lay down for a rest! The two hours that we spent under that tree were probably some of the most enjoyable of the whole holiday! There were lots of places around to grab food and drink and after some ham and cheese from our sarnies and more water fill ups, Bob laid down under the tree and went to sleep, and I'm not ashamed to admit that we dozed for a while too.
Remember to get your tapeworm tablets!
The number one rule that you can't forget is that you need to visit a vet when you're in France, before you return home, to get the tapeworm tablet and the health check. All this information is added in to the pet passport and clears you for coming back to the UK. As you've probably guessed by now, I did some research beforehand and contacted the owner asking if there was a nearby vet they could recommend. They did just that and the whole experience was very simple.
We were lucky as the vets spoke English, but we'd prepared ahead by putting what we needed to say in to Google translate. They offered a drop-in appointment session and we went along at that time and basically waited our turn. The whole thing probably took 30 minutes in total, including our wait time. It was also incredibly reasonably priced. 6 Euros for the tapeworm tablets, the health check was 16 Euros and there was no consultation fee - imagine that!
I would definitely recommend planning ahead for this bit. If you can't find out from the owners, the internet is always going to be your friend. I looked up the vets we were going to, translated the site and already knew about the drop in session times. We popped in and asked anyway when we were in the town one day and went back the following day for our appointment. Simples!
The EuroTunnel Pet Check
As with all EuroTunnel services, the pet check was incredibly efficient. Follow the paw signs as you arrive (cute!), park up and head into the building. You show the passport, you scan the dog for the microchip and they give you a pass to put on your window when you travel through. All very easy and super quick. The pet area was slightly disappointing as it was much smaller than the UK side and was also in the blazing sunshine with no shady parts, but we let Bob have a sniff about, and he had a drink of water and a wee so it was all good.
And that's it!
The all important question is will we do it again? We think so...we realised quite early on that he didn't really like changing where we slept every night, and he seemed to find the move from one place to the next quite unsettling, but if anyone has any suggestions how you explain to a dog that it will be okay, I'm all ears. We've talked next time about maybe going in a camper van so that we were sleeping every night in the same place? We're not entirely sure. One thing is for certain, we definitely weren't put off by it but equally we would have a serious think about how to do it without moving around as much.
If you're off to France with your four legged friends, I wish you a very happy holiday indeed. Can I come with you...I miss it already...