A dog-friendly roadtrip to the French Alps
With our grown-up kids all working this summer, we decided instead to take our dog Jacob, along on our latest holiday to the French Alps. And what a joy! With a bit of preparation before we set off, and given the French are very dog-friendly, we discovered a great four-legged holiday companion. If you are thinking of taking your dog to France, we hope our experience will inspire you.
1 Preparation and packing for a dog
Meeting passport and travel requirements
It’s not difficult taking your dog to France. But we did find we needed to be sorting out Jacob’s travel docs a few months before we set off. A dog (cat or ferret…not sure why the third one is listed on government websites?) has to be microchipped, have all its vaccinations up-to-date and have a rabies jab before the vet can sign off on a pet passport. Our local vet Sarah also flagged that we would need to find a vet in France to administer a worming tablet at least 24 hours before we returned to the UK.
Going by car meant I could pack all Jacob’s home-from-home doggy stuff, along with a few extras for holiday.
- a new, up-to-date ID tag for Jacob’s collar – with both our mobile phones on it (with the UK country code +44) – just in case he got lost
- a portable, canvas water bowl (essential for long, hot walks in the mountains and car journeys)
- a few toys so he felt at home in our rented chalet
- an old dog cushion to keep Jacob’s ‘undercarriage’ warm when sitting on cold pavements . This item was an absolute winner on this holiday – see next section on ‘creating a safe place’ for more info.
- an adjustable car restraint lead that clipped from his harness direct into the seatbelt socket. It meant he wouldn’t go flying in an accident. But it was long enough for him to pad around a bit on the back seat without getting in a complete tangle.
2 Creating a safe place for Jacob
As a Jack Russell, Jacob clearly sees his job is to be highly anxious, nervy and often very barky when in unfamiliar territory. We weren’t sure how this was going to work on holiday. Luckily I took with us an old dog cushion we normally put on the sofa at home and this turned out to be Jacob’s comforting, safe place where ever we went. Whether we were people-watching in Evian, sailing across Lake Geneva, or eating out in a local restaurant, the minute the cushion went on the floor, Jacob happily settled down on it and stayed quiet. AMAZING!
3 Travelling and stop-overs
Shuttle or ferry when taking your dog to France?
We chose the Shuttle over the ferry to get to France as it meant we could stay in the car with the dog during the journey. It’s also a very quick way to get across the Channel. Everything we’d read about the ferry seemed to suggest we’d have had to leave him in the car on his own and we knew this would be distressing for such an anxious dog.
Free doggy facilities
It was a real bonus to discover the facilities for dogs at the Folkestone Shuttle terminal. There is a big, fenced-in play area with an obstacle course, a podium to make your pampered pooch feel like a winner and a sheltered seating area if the weather is too wet or too hot. A lovely lady on duty awarded Jacob a rosette and a free bag of treats! We were very impressed at how easy they want to make taking your dog to France.
France is much more dog-friendly than the UK when it comes to hotels. We chose the Ibis hotel chain to take an overnight break in, both on the way to the French Alps and the way back. We’d read good things from other dog-travellers.
Stopping in Arras :(first red arrow on map): As we’d caught quite a late afternoon Shuttle on the start of our journey, the Ibis in Arras was a welcome stop only an hour and a half from Calais. The hotel was really central. Our basic room was pretty small but clean and the staff were very happy to welcome Jacob. And it was literally a minute to the centre of this picturesque old town with its two huge squares surrounded by narrow, tall, medieval-style houses. The original wooden structures were destroyed during the course of two World Wars – but they have kept to the spirit and ‘look’ in the rebuilding. We loved this place so much – and it’s so easy to get there – that we’ve decided to return for the Christmas Market in December.
Stopping in Troyes: On the return journey at the end of our holiday we chose another historic town about three hours drive north from Evian Les Bains to stop-over in (second red arrow on the map above). The Ibis here was bigger and more modern than the one we stayed in in Arras – but gave the same warm welcome to the dog.
Unlike Arras, Troyes has kept its original medieval buildings. It’s very charming with its wonky, wooden-framed houses, old churches and of course plenty of cafes to watch the world go by.
4 Planning days out in the French Alps
Walking in the mountains.
Although Jacob’s nine-year-old legs are a little stiff these days, he totally loved walking in the Alps. We didn’t over-do it with our treks and he got a spring back in his step.
There was so much for him to sniff and explore in the beautiful Alpine meadows above the village of Thollon Les Memises where we stayed. We know the place well as my parents used to have a small ski flat there back in the day. The village has grown quite a bit since then but it’s still retains much of its rustic charm. And the mountains above it are stunning.
Visiting Evian Les Bains.
Immediately down the mountain from Thollon is the spa town of Evian Les Bains. This is a lovely place for a day out with a dog. There are plenty of opportunities to amble around the pretty streets, explore its Art Nouveau spa building (which seems to be under renovation), lake-side hotels, cafes and casino and take the rickety funicular railway up the hill for more views over Lake Geneva to Lausanne.
Steaming across Lake Geneva to Yvoire.
We had to catch a regular ferry from Evian to Lausanne to pick up the restored 1915 paddle-steamer that was going to take us up the lake to the tiny, medieval, walled French village of Yvoire. Travelling on the water was a great way to see the mountains from a different perspective. The boat itself was pretty impressive too in all its restored, nautical glory.
The paddle steamer offered a relaxing and peaceful hour on the water before hitting, what in the summer, is very busy Yvoire.
A tiny, walled town on the French shores of the lake, it is worth a visit if you’re in the area – just be prepared to share the place with alot of other visitors during the summer!
A day out in Geneva.
While John headed off with some of the family to CERN (that of large hadron collider fame – see John’s contribution below) I went with my parents on a trip to Geneva in Switzerland – only an hour down the busy lake-side road from Evian, taking Jacob with us.
With only a couple of hours to spare there, we jumped on board a little tourist train to take us around the key sights in the centre of the old town. It gave us a flavour of a fascinating, historic city that has so much more to its name than the Red Cross and United Nations.
Check out Jacob’s holiday video…
5 Dog-free days out
Because we had lots of family with us on holiday we had the luxury of being able to do a couple of trips without Jacob, leaving him in safe keeping back at the chalet.
I confess I didn’t know much more about this world-famous silent comedy star than what I’d seen as a child in the odd black and white film on TV. But this new museum (set in and around his family home in Switzerland near Montreux) turned out to offer the most enjoyable and fascinating insights into the ‘Little Tramp’s’ astounding professional and personal life. Using mocked up movie sets, a new ‘studio’ building literally walks you through his meteoric rise to fame from a poverty-stricken childhood in 19th century London to becoming a Hollywood legend in the 1920s and beyond. What I couldn’t get over, watching beautifully restored footage from his most famous films, was how contemporary and modern his humour was. It could have been Monty Python in black and white!
His former home is also open to the public. Filled with pictures and home movies, this building focuses on his private life, his family life in Switzerland with his fourth wife, Oona Chaplin and their 8 children. Chaplin’s World offers a fantastic day out for a whole family – young and old. And it left me wanting to learn more about this intriguing man who achieved so much after such a terrible start in life.
CERN (John’s day out)
“While Emma was visiting Geneva with Jacob – and her mum and dad – I went to the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It’s the biggest, most complex and expensive scientific instrument ever built. It straddles the French/Swiss border and is 27km in circumference. It’s also home to some 6,000 scientists and engineers from all over the world. I’ve always been interested in science so this was a real treat for me.
The good news is that they managed to save some of the $13 billion it cost to pay for some excellent guides and the tours are free. You just need to book in advance. The tour takes about 2 hours and you will see the very first device they built here back in the ’50s. It’s decommissioned now so the control room plays host to an impressive 3D slide show with commentary.
You will then be taken to the ATLAS control room. This is where all the clever bods sit and watch and wait for the results from the collisions of protons screaming round the LHC at near-
light speed. You don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate what’s going on here but if you have technical questions, the guides are more than capable of answering them.”
CERN Website: http://visits.web.cern.ch
6 Returning home with your dog
There’s one thing you have to do in France before you can bring your dog home at the end of your holiday – and that is take them to a French vet to have them administer (and certify they’ve done it) a worming tablet. This has to be done within a specific window of time. That is no earlier than 7 days – and no later than 24 hours – before returning to the UK. One of our friends told us they hadn’t understood the 24 hour thing and turned up for their Calais crossing thinking they could get a local vet to give their dog its tablet just before they got on the ferry. They were made to stay another night in Calais in order to meet this restriction – that the dog had swallowed the tablet at least 24 hours before returning to the UK.
We took Jacob to a vet in Evian a couple of days before we were heading back to the coast. Sorry to say Jacob bit the vet and drew blood. If only I’d gone armed with a bit of cheese to bury the tablet in, I’m sure I could have given it to him with the vet looking on……..next time I will!
When you get to Calais you also need to go to a special pet check-in area. All very well run by Le Shuttle who have a friendly team on hand to check Pet Passports are in order and send you on your way home. Taking your dog to France – and coming home – is really straightforward with a bit of planning.
A mutt of many transport modes…
All in all though Jacob was a fantastic travel companion. What most impressed us was how he handled lots of different types of transport. It didn’t occur to me to think about this before we set off – but as a nervous dog he doesn’t usually take well to unfamiliar and often noisy surroundings. But on every mode of transport he tried, he didn’t make a murmur. See if you can work out how many he experienced during our road trip to France.