Hello charming hotels and chateaux stays in France

You may have to come to the Stopover Connections website when searching for self-catering accommodation in France. This post explains why you won’t have found what you’re looking for.

The background to Stopover Connections

If you’re a regular visitor to the Stopover Connections website, you can’t help but notice that we have been making some important changes to our pages.Charming B&B in the Dordogne area of France

Stopover Connections has always been and will continue to be your go-to specialist for bed and breakfast accommodation in France.

B&Bs in France have been at our core, ever since we established our original reservation service for bed and breakfast accommodation in France way back in 2000.

Over the years, many of our partner B&B hosts in all areas of France have asked us if we wouldn’t mind adding their gites and self catering accommodation to our pages. Yes, why not, has always been our reply! We do like to be accommodating.

Changes to our accommodation in France model

However, after a thorough review of our business we have decided that we will no longer be featuring self-catering accommodation in France on the Stopover Connections website.

Charming hotel in Alsace FranceInstead, we’ve listened to the feedback you’ve been giving us.

You’re wanting more luxury B&Bs, more chateau accommodation and especially more charming hotels in France.

It would be rude of us not to heed this call!

So, over the coming weeks you will see more such charming accommodation being added to the website in order to satisfy this demand.

So far, our range of chateau stays in France is proving the most popular choice, which is understandable! Many of you are also enjoying our growing range of charming hotels in France, as you appreciate the additional facilities that you will often find in a hotel.

Chateau stays in France

Moats, towers and dungeons at a chateau stay in FranceMany chateau B&Bs and chateau hotels in France represent superb value for money, many are family friendly and some also welcome dogs.

Not all chateau stays are luxurious, expensive affairs, although of course there is always that option if you are seeking a special romantic stay.

A stay in a chateau in France is the opportunity to soak up a fascinating slice of French history. Many chateaux have been in the same family for generations and the owners are always passionate about their fascinating heritage.

Children will be captivated by moats, towers and even dungeons, whilst adults will find the history of these old buildings completely fascinating.

Charming hotels in France

Charming hotel near Chamonix in the French AlpsOur partner charming hotels in France are all carefully selected as we know how discerning you are.

They all have to have that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, a certain French charm, an option of superb food and always the warmest of welcomes.

We avoid anonymous chain hotels like the plague. Family-owned charming hotels in France offer the visitor an experience that can’t be replicated in the bigger chains. It’s that experience that is at the heart of our philosophy.

From great value hotel auberges which are just perfect for that one night stopover to luxurious charming hotels for a pampering short break, we will be bringing you an unrivalled choice of hotel accommodation in France for every occasion and every budget.

We do hope you enjoy our new direction. We’re sure you will!

 

 

 

The revival of craft beers in France

France is renowned worldwide for its vineyards and its tremendous variety of wine. However, beer? The brewing of craft beers in France is rapidly gaining in popularity but will craft beer ever replace wine on the French table?

Craft beer brewing in France

Copper brewing vats for beer makingWonderful smallscale micro breweries are scattered throughout France producing a huge variety of award-winning craft beers to delight any beer connoisseur.

Beer brewing is a traditional activity in France. In the early 20th C there were over 2000 breweries in France. Indeed, most communes had their own little micro brewery to satisfy local demand.

However, with industrialisation and the decline in rural populations, interest in the art and tradition of brewing wained and many breweries closed their doors.

Thankfully, in the past few decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in micro brewing. Many small craft breweries have revived traditional brewing methods and now produce unique and top quality craft beers.

Craft beer breweries in NE France

Fresh hops used in maing artisanal beerThere are around 40 artisanal craft breweries in the north east of France. Craft beers are to NE France what wine is to Bordeaux and they even have their own Appellation Contrôlée designation.

The climate of NE France and also its soil and underground springs provide ideal conditions for the cultivation of barley, wheat and hops, those essential ingredients in the production of beer.

The Pas de Calais region is known for its traditional ‘bières de garde’ which means ‘keeping beers’. These strong pale ales have their roots firmly in rural France.

They were originally brewed in farmhouses in winter  when temperatures meant fermentation was subdued and bugs kept at bay.

The beer was then conditioned during the spring and used to nourish and sustain farmworkers later in the year as they toiled in the fields.

The ales are usually a copper or golden colour and, as the name suggests, they were brewed for maturing or cellaring for a period of time, just like a grand cru red from Bordeaux!

After the beer has fermented it is cold conditioned for a further  2 weeks or more and then bottled.  The ABV range should be between 6% and 8.5%, so they’re not for the faint-hearted

The Castelain artisanale brewery near Lens

Ch'ti beer de garde The Castelain family is one of the best known craft beer brewing familes in NE France.

They have been transforming water into beer for over 90 years at their brewery at Bénifontaine near Lens and the Belgian border

The brewing knowledge has been passed down through the generations and today their ‘garde’ beer continues to win awards worldwide.

Their Ch’ti beer is probably their best known craft beer and is made from local Flanders hops.

It is conditioned for between 6 and 10 weeks which gives it its complex aMuseum and shop at teh Castelain breweryroma and flavour.

They have an excellent facility which is open to the public. Visit the eco museum section and learn all about the family’s brewing history.

You’ll also learn the brewing secrets for the famous bière de garde and have the opportunity to taste a freshly brewed beer at the end.

It’s possibe to purchase the full range of speciality beers from their shop and even order kegs of beer for that special occasion you’re planning for the summer. They also sell other excellent regional products which you should try.

Off the wall craft beers in France

The traditional ‘recipe’ for beer in France is for the brew to contain at Christmas craft beers in Franceleast 50% barley, water, hops and yeast.

However, over recent years, various alternative ingredients have crept into the mix such as fruit juice, spices and vegetable colours.

Many artisanal and craft breweries in France produce speciality beers for certain times of the year. One of the most widely seen speciality beer is Christmas beer,  brewed in October for maturation by the festive period.

Christmas beers are richer, maltier and hoppier than most and contain orange peel plus those traditional Christmas spices of cinnamon and ginger.

Craft beers and French acceptance

Although the number of craft breweries has doubled since 2010, beer consumption in France is a long way from becoming mainstream. The average French person will still prefer a glass of wine with their meal and this isn’t likely to change any time soon.

However, many craft beers are aged in barrels which makes them more acidic, light and refreshing and therefore excellent aperitifs. This could well be the artisan brewer’s door to wider acceptance within the French household!

5 essential reasons to spend Springtime in France

Springtime in France is a special time of year. It is with some relief that we wave goodbye to winter and welcome in this new season which is fresh with the promise of warmer days and delicious food. Discover France in the spring and enjoy all that this early season has to offer.

Fresh spring produce

Springtime in France is marked by gariguette strawberries at marketEating seasonal produce is at the heart of French life.

Here, fresh produce is generally bought and sold according to the rythmn of the seasons and Nature’s natural cycle.

I love the way that this is reflected in the increasingly colourful village market stalls in France.

Fresh new flavours include asparagus, rhubarb, spring chard, fava beans (known as broad beans in the UK) and spinach.

Personally I always look forward to the appearance of the first gariguette strawberries on the market stalls in April. They have an incomparable flavour that is worth every extra cent that their pricetag suggests.

In restaurants, springtime is marked by a creative awakening as fresh flavours replace the heartier richness that are part and parcel of a French winter. In spring, healthier, lighter dishes such as asparagus wrapped in Bayonne ham delight the tastebuds and egg-based dishes reflect the hens’ increased activity at this time of year.

Warm springtime sunshine in the south of France

Sunny springtime in FranceThere may still be a night time nip in the air but daytime temperatures in springtime may reach the heady mid 20s, especially in the southern half of the country.

Springtime in France is the time to top up the vitamin D levels after the darker days of winter.

It’s the ideal time for hiking in the moyenne montagne and foothills of the Pyrenees where spring wildflowers of all colours carpet the meadows and woodland floors.

The fresh clean mountain air and exercise come as a welcome change from being cooped up indoors during the winter months. It awakens the mind and body and restores the spirit and is the best prescription possible for shaking off those winter blues.

But be warned, it’s easy to underestimate the strength of the sun in the south of France even in springtime. Shorts and shirt sleeves mean the risk of sunburn is ever-present. Dig out that suncream that has been languishing in the drawer since last summer and be sure to bring it on your springtime holiday in France.

Easter in France

Easter shop decoration in FranceEaster is one of those occasions at which the French excel. It’s an important holiday and a traditional time for families to gather together.

‘Chasse aux oeufs’ or Easter egg hunts are put on throughout the country.

Head to the Loire Valley for your Easter break and take part in an Easter egg hunt in the grounds of one of the many family-friendly castles in the area, such as the Chateau du Rivau

Easter is also a time for creative shopkeepers to let loose with seasonal window displays of rabbits, chickens, eggs and flowers. Artisanal chocolate makers are in their element too, creating not only rabbits and chickens but also bells or ‘cloches’ out of chocolate too.

France is an intensely Catholic country and tradition dictates that church bells fall silent between Good Friday and and Easter Sunday to commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection. The enjoyment of chocolate bells on Easter Sunday is a nod to this religious tradition!

The return of migrating wildlife in France

Stork nestbuilding in AlsaceThere is no surer sign of a turn in the seasons than the sights and sounds of returning wildife.

One of the most iconic is the white stork, that symbol of new life and fertility, which returns each year to nest on the rooftops and chimneys of Alsace in eastern France.

Storks are synonymous with Alsace, thanks in no small part to the stork conservation centre in Hunawihr. You must make a point of visiting the centre if Alsace is on your itinerary this year.

In many towns and villages in Alsace, horizontal cart wheels have been placed on the top of poles and chimneys to serve as a base for stork nests. It is quite a sight when these big birds return to their nests en masse in the springtime.

Cheap travel to France in springtime

Cheap flights to France in springtimeSpringtime is still in the tourism off season. Even over the Easter holidays travel is still considerably cheaper than in the summer months

Whether you are travelling to France by plane or by ferry, there are some great deals around.

Accommodation in France is also great value in the springtime as low or mid season tariffs still apply.

Treat yourself to a short break, or why not a proper holiday, and enjoy all that springtime in France has to offer.

 

3 Essential Tips for Travelling to France

So, you’ve decided to visit France. Good call! It’s a beautiful and varied country. Follow our essential tips for travelling to France and it will be a stress-free experience.

Getting around

Our no. 1 tip, right here, is don’t rely on the sat nav! Or at the very least, don’t use it in the traditional way of entering a postcode to get you to where you need to go.

Beware of sat navs when travelling to France

Don’t rely on in car satellite navigation devices in France.

Whilst this in car device comes into its own when driving on the autoroutes and in towns, don’t even think about using it for macro navigation in the French countryside.

French postcodes are 5 digits and can cover tens of kilometers. Your holiday rental may be in an idyllic situation but if you rely on a sat nav to locate it using postcode information alone, you could have a very frustrating start to your holiday in France.  This is not good for family relations!

Don't get lost when travelling in France

Relying on the sat nav when travelling in French countryside is a recipe for getting lost

Many houses don’t have a house number or a name and even delivery drivers have problems locating specific addresses. So, navigating by address is also a non starter!

The solution? Get the GPS coordinates for your destination. Before you leave home, go to Google maps and put those coordinates into the Search box so you can see in advance where you need to be going. For added peace of mind, go to Streetview for an on the ground picture.

Using GPS coordinates when travelling to France

Using accurate GPS coordinates is the best way to get to your destination

Ready to hit the road? Make sure you know how to programme the coordinates into your sat nav device! They may be in decimal format eg 4.2262626,3.738228 or in Lat/Long format and each device will be different. If you’re picking up a rental car, ask at the rental desk for help using this important feature of the sat nav

As a backup, print off good old written directions and use in conjunction with the Google maps app on your smartphone.

Follow these steps and you’ll be starting your holiday in France off on the right foot.

The Language

It’s easy to be daunted by the idea of booking a holiday in a country where you don’t speak the language. But don’t worry,  if you don’t know your fromage from your grenouille, there are some surprisingly easy ways to get around the language barrier.

Ways to overcome the language barrier when travelling in France

There are some great tools out there to help you communicate in France

The Google Translate app is free and is one of the most comprehensive language apps out there. Simply download your target language (French of course) to your tablet or smartphone and make sure you have selected the offline version before you leave home. This way you won’t have to rely on a good internet connection in order to use its functionality.

One of the most useful features of the app is its ability to translate words that it sees through the camera. Just point it at that menu and voilà, you will at last be able to make a food selection with some authority!

via GIPHY

At a more basic level, before you go, it’s vital to learn the basic vocabularly required to be polite in France. Politeness is at the heart of French society and I touched on this in a previous blog post.

Before you launch into a conversation or ask a question of any French person, be sure to say ‘Bonjour’ or, if it’s the evening, ‘Bonsoir’. Using ‘s’il vous plait’ and ‘merci’ go without saying and a breezy ‘Bonne journée’ or ‘Bonne Soirée’ always goes down well as you take your leave.

Getting online

Naturally if you are travelling to France and you absolutely must be online while you are away, you will have checked before booking that WiFi is available at your accommodation. But there’s WiFi and there’s WiFi. What if you arrive and the WiFi signal is too weak to pass through those thick old stone walls? Stress and frustration ensues!

Free WiFi when travelling in France

Free WiFi doesn’t mean the signal is strong enough for you to have reliable internet access

Depending on how critical internet access to you, it may be worth contacting your network provider to see if they have a data bolt-on you can use while overseas. Some networks may even, for a daily fee, allow you to use your regular data allowance when travelling.

Do your research before leaving home and you should be able to access the internet anywhere

It is also possible to buy a data only European sim card such as this one from worldsim.com but for this to work you should ensure your handset is unlocked and ‘world compatible’.

If you’re using a laptop rather than a mobile device then a USB data stick may be the best solution. However, you’ll need to check that you have a good 3G network at your destination before this will work.

Lastly, have you heard of a Wibe? This is a Wireless Broadband Extender which boosts an existing WiFi signal. Mini WiFi extenders are available and well worth the investment if you are a frequent overseas traveller.

If you’re planning on travelling to France on holiday or for business it pays to do plenty of pre-trip research. That way you can enjoy a stress free trip and return home ready to plan your next visit. Happy travelling!

 

Pancake day in France

When is pancake day in France celebrated?

Pancake day in France is always celebrated on the 2nd February. Known as la Chandeleur in France, it is also a Catholic holiday which comes under the name of Candelmas and takes place 40 days after Christmas Day. In the Catholic calendar the date commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem.

Crêpe Day

Needless to say, Pancake day in France also goes by the name of crepe day! For two weeks prior to the celebrations, the ingredients for making pancakes are given a prominent place on supermarket shelves, usually right near the checkouts.

Crepes for dessert on pancake day

Flour, eggs, milk, lemon juice and that well known chocolate hazelnut spread usually take centre stage along with bottles of cider. What has cider got to do with pancakes, you may ask? Well, the Brittany region is most associated with crepes and this just happens to be one of the main cider-producing regions in France too. But don’t make the mistake of drinking your cider from a glass. Oh no, it has to be drunk from a bowl, don’t you know!

Brittany cider is drunk with crepes on pancake day in France

In days gone by, the making of crèpes was a way to use up last seasons’ flour before seeds were sown for the coming harvest. It is thought that their round shape is symbolic of the sun and the return of daylight after the long winter days.

This light is what allows precious seeds to grow into the crop which will produce next year’s flour. This could be one of the reasons why Candelmas is also known as the Fête de la Lumière, or festival of light. The word Chandeleur actually stems from the word chandelle which means candle.

Candles to celebrate Candlemas day

On pancake day in France you shouldn’t simply stuff your face with pancakes at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Oh no, you should wait until at least 20h00 before whipping up that batter and christening the crepe pan.

Making crepes on pancake day on France

Traditions on pancake day in France

The French being the French, there are of course many customs associated with pancake day. One of the most widely held belief is that of the gold coin. Hold a gold coin (you have a few of those lying around, I’m sure!) in your writing hand and a crêpe pan in the other, and flip the crêpe into the air. If you manage to catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will be prosperous for the rest of the year.

How do you like your pancakes?

Are you a traditionalist who prefers just a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar in your pancakes? Or are you more of a chocolate hazelnut spread and banana sort of person?

Bananas and chocolate spread on pancake day in France

Or why not go the full hog and have a delicious crepe suzette doused in grand marnier and topped with Chantilly cream….. mmmm

elebrate pancake day in France with crepes suzette

 

Travelling to France with a dog – the essentials

The UK rules and regulations concerning pets, travel and vaccinations have the sole purpose of ensuring that no nasty diseases are brought back into the UK by people returning from the European continent. If you are thinking of travelling to France with a dog or a cat, there are therefore some important things you need to know before you go.

Travelling to France with a dog

Travelling to France with your dog or cat should be a hassle free experience

Your pet must be micro-chipped

Before your pet has any vaccinations it will need to be microchipped by a vet. The vet must annotate the pet’s microchip number in the pet passport and date it prior to any vaccination date.

If your pet was microchipped some time ago it would be worth asking your vet to check that the chip is still readable. If you are travelling to France with a dog and the chip can’t be read at the port then you may be refused entry. Nobody wants that inconvenience and hassle!

microchipped dog

Checking dog microchip. Photo courtesy Sternrenette CC BY-SA 3.0

If your vet can’t read your pet’s microchip then he will have to re-chip your pet who will then have to be re-vaccinated and issued with a new pet passport.

Even if your pet’s old microchip can still be read it’s worth asking your vet to check that it meets current ISO standards.

Your pet must have a valid pet passport

Your cat or dog must have a valid pet passport in order to return to the UK after your holiday in France.

Dog pet passport

A pet passport is essential for travelling to France with a dog

The pet passport is issued by your vet and details your pet’s microchip number and all of the vaccinations that your pet has been given. It’s obviously an important document so make sure you keep it somewhere safe but not so safe that you can’t remember where you put it!

Note that since 29 Dec 2014, the details of the vet issuing the passport must be included in the passport.

Vaccination against rabies

If you are travelling to France with a dog, your pet will only be allowed entry if it has been vaccinated against rabies. The details must be recorded in the pet passport and should include the date of the vaccination, date the booster is due and the batch number of the vaccination.

Record of vaccination against rabies

Make sure your dog’s rabies vaccinations are properly recorded

The rabies vaccination has to be given at least 21 days before you are due to travel back to the UK. Booster vaccinations are due annually. All rabies vaccinations for pets must be clearly recorded in the pet passport.

Treatment against tapeworm

Your pet must be treated for tapeworm (echinococcus) no less than 24h and no more than 5 days before your return to the UK.

Dog vaccinations pet passport

Treatment against tapeworms is essential before you return to the UK with your pet

For this you will most likely need to visit a vet in France. If you are staying with one of our dog-friendly B&B hosts they will be able to make an appointment for your dog to see a local vet. Mention it when you make your accommodation booking and we will ensure the necessary arrangements are made.

The rules and regulations for travelling to France with your dog or cat have been relaxed over recent years which makes the whole experience much less onerous for the pet owner. Just ask your vet if you’re not sure about anything.

Making sure your pet’s paperwork is up to date and that the microchip is readable will ensure you enjoy a hassle-free holiday to France.

An Adventure Holiday in France -Where You Should Go

Some people need more from their hard-earned holiday than just lazing by the pool or sitting on the beach.

If you’re one of those adventure-loving people then you’ll be delighted to hear France is a big country, a varied country with almost unlimited possibilities for adventure holidays of all sorts.

An adventure holiday in France will create lasting memories and memorable experiences that you can pull out of your memory bank in those moments when life starts getting you down.

Adventure holidays in the French mountains

The mountains of the Pyrenees are a veritable year round adventure playground.

Find adventure in the mountains of the Pyrenees

But they also provide that oh so important opportunity to switch off, de-stress and re-charge the batteries.

The mountains are good for the soul. I’ve heard it so many times.

I experience it myself on a regular basis.

Maybe it’s the pure mountain air, maybe it’s the peace and quiet, or it could quite simply be the shere beauty of Mother Nature. Pyrenees hiking adventure holidays

Combine this pristine environment with off the beaten track adventures and you’ve got the recipe for an unforgettable experience.

Whether you enjoy exploring the great outdoors on two feet, two wheels or on four legs, in summer or in winter, the mountains are a fabulous place in which to unwind and de-stress.

The risk? Only that you’ll end up boring family and friends forever after with your photos and stories!

The Adventure Creators

Adventures in the Pyrenees mountains

The Adventure Creators is our new venture based in the mountains of the French Pyrenees.

Just like Stopover Connections it is a very personal business.

It is made up of a team of experienced and knowledgeable local folk whose overriding aim is to share their passion for the very special Pyrenees environment with you.

If getting away from the crowds, discovering unusual wildlife and flowers and exploring an unspoilt and breathtakingly beautiful environment appeal, pop on over and check out the website.

Horse riding adventure holidays

The Castillon horse on a Pyrenees horse trekking holidayHorse lovers will fall in love with the Castillon breed of horse.

Along with the jet black Merens, these horses are native to the Ariege Pyrenees and were bred for the mountain environment.

Sure-footed, hardy and with a kind and gentle temperament, they cope easily with multi day horse treks in the Pyrenees mountains.

A horse trekking holiday in the Pyrenees is a special experience for any horse-lover.

It’s a wondeful way in which to explore the beauty of the high mountain environment of the unspoilt Pyrenees.

Walking holidays

Hiking on an adventure holiday in France

If adventures on two feet are more your thing then discover the wilder side of life on a guided multi day walking holiday in the Pyrenees.

Our guides take you off the beaten tourist paths to discover the wilder side of both the French and Spanish Pyrenees.

You’ll discover the territory of the brown bear in the central Pyrenees as well as that of chamois and ibex too.

Birds of prey such as vultures and eagles frequent these skies.

If you’re very lucky you may spot the endangered Lammergeier with its distinctive spoon-shaped tail too.

Mountain biking adventures

Pyrenees MTB adventure holiday in FranceMountain bikers are not forgotten in the Pyrenees either.

The Adventure Creators specialise in guided mountain biking holidays simply because the local guides know all the best unmarked local tracks and trails that you wouldn’t otherwise discover.

The Pyrenees have some of the finest singletrack, some of the most sustained riding and of course some of the very best views that you can hope to find.

Women’s mountain holidays are incredibly popular in the Pyrenees and always a good giggle!

Winter adventure holidays

Snowshoeing adventure holiday in France

Adventures in the mountains of France are not confined to the summer months.

After all, who doesn’t like a snowy winter adventure.

The mountains of the Pyrenees are a winter sports playground and not just for the ski enthusiast either.

If you don’t know about all of the other non-skiing winter holiday adventures that are possible, it’s about time you were enlightened.

Snowshoeing adventures

Snowshoeing adventure holidays in FranceIf you’re a keen hill walker then strap a pair of snowshoes to your walking boots and explore the winter wonderland.

Snowshoeing is my very favourite winter adventure activity as you can reach so many places that are simply not accessible on skis.

Snowshoeing is accessible to everybody with a reasonable level of fitness and you don’t need to learn any particular techniques to enjoy a memorable day out in the snow.

Ski touring

Ski touring adventures If you’re a fit, experienced resort skier who gets bored easily, boy you must experience a backcountry ski adventure!

With skins attached to your skis and a free heel you’ll be guided up (yes, up!) into the high mountains where your efforts will be rewarded with breathtaking descents and equally breathtaking views.

 

Mix and match adventures

The Adventure Creators are experts at tailor making all manner of holiday adventures so that you get the active holiday that you want.

If you don’t see the adventure holiday that you want on the website, just ask. Your very own adventure holiday will be tailor-made for you.

Happy Adventuring!

 

 

Top 5 stress busting tips for the journey to your ski holiday

So how do you turn the annual stressful, tedious journey down to your winter ski holiday into something remotely bareable? After all, you dread it every year and it never gets any easier. Read on for some tried and trusted stress-busting ideas.

A ski resort in the Alps

Treat your drive down to the ski destination as part of your holiday and arrive refreshed

Plan your journey to your ski holiday

Google maps is my go to resource for journey planning. It’s such an incredibly powerful tool and I find the Street View function invaluable when I am travelling. Being able to get a visual on that important autoroute exit or the location of that vital refuelling stop en route helps to avoid navigation errors that will cost time and stress.

Google maps journey planner

Google maps is a great tool for planning your journey to your ski holiday

Mappy is also excellent and will calculate the cost of your journey including tolls and a rough idea of the fuel you are likely to use.

For live traffic information, I can’t recommend the Bison Futé website highly enough. It enables you to plan your route to avoid sections of autoroute on which there are roadworks or road traffic accidents and find out how meteorological conditions may affect your journey. Yes, it’s in English too.

The website also gives information on peak travel days which you should try and avoid if you want to enjoy a hassle free drive to your ski resort.

The Bison Fute website

The Bison Futé website is the best site for live traffic information Plan your journey breaks in advance

Plan your journey breaks in advance

The French autoroutes website is a goldmine of information, a great resource for your journey through France en route to your ski holiday. It includes autoroute webcams, live traffic information and details on the numerous service areas that are scattered across the autoroute network.

When planning your journey break, you should understand the difference between an Aire de Service and an Aire de Repos. It can make a difference to your stress levels, believe me!

You’ll find the full service stations every 25kms or so. They are always indicated well in advance. The signs for the full service areas include pictograms of the facilities that you will find there such as fuel, food and cashpoint. If you are desperate for fuel or didn’t think to bring food on your journey then aim to stop at an Aire de service.

French service station sign

A sign for a French service station or Aire de Service. Pic courtesy of Google Streetview.

However, if all you need is a pee stop and somewhere to eat your packed lunch/picnic, look out for the Aires de Repos. These very pleasant, clean and practical Aires typically just have toilet facilities and picnic tables. That’s pretty much all you need for a relaxed short pit stop, after all.

They’re usually set well back from the autoroute and have plenty of space for stretching your legs. Some include play areas for children too. Look out for the signs on the autoroute which simply include a pictogram of a picnic table and maybe also a WC sign.

Picnic area sign on a French autoroute

A typical sign for a picnic area on a French autoroute. Pic courtesy of Google Streetview

Plan your refuelling stops

The price of fuel at motorway services is ridiculous. But get smart and you won’t have to pay such crazy prices.

You can save as much as 0,30€/ltr by filling up at one of the major hypermarket service stations just off the autoroute, literally just off the autoroute! They are all available 24h/24h and all take the major credit cards.

Hyoermarket refuelling

Save a packet by refuelling at hypermarket service stations just off the autoroute

Before you leave, you’ll know roughly how many miles you get out of your tank, so plan that fuel stop using the hypermarket websites such as Leclerc and Intermarche.

Or if you prefer to fill up as you go, download one of the hypermarket fuel apps before you leave home. Find the best fuel stations along your planned route and even work out just how much that full tank will save you by filling up off the autoroute. The Intermarché Carburant app, for example, is available for both iPhone and Android.

Intermarche fuel app

The Intermarché Carburant app is great for planning your fuel stop

Plan an overnight stopover

Get your holiday off to the right start by arriving at your ski resort relaxed, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to hit those slopes.

It’s a good 8-10 hour drive down to the Alps from the north eastern ferry ports of Calais and Dunkirk. It’s doable in one hit but why drive all that way in one go when you can make a stopover part of your holiday.

Bed and breakfast near Calais

Choose a B&B near Calais that does evening meals if you expect to arrive late in the port

France is a big country and it’s so easy to underestimate distances. As a rough guide, it’s 3 hours straight down the autoroute from Calais to Reims in the Champagne region. If you’re heading to the Alps for a ski holiday over Christmas or New Year this is your chance to stock up on some bubbles!

B&B near Troyes in Champagne

Stay at a family friendly B&B 3h30 from Calais

If your plan is to get a few more miles under your belt before stopping for the night, head on down to Burgundy. Count on 5 to 6 hours from Calais to Dijon which will leave you with a 3 to 4 hour journey next day if you are heading for Chamonix

Family friendly B&B near Dijon

Break your journey with a stopover at a family-friendly B&B near Dijon in Burgundy

But carry on down the autoroute for another hour towards Macon in southern Burgundy and you can enjoy the most sublime stopover experience.

Wine estate B&B in Burgundy

A stunning family friendly B&B on a vineyard estate near Macon in Burgundy

This stunning B&B is set on a vineyard estate and is perfectly placed just 4kms from exit 29 of the A6 autoroute. Unbelievably it is family friendly and children are very much welcome here. The beautifully restored guest rooms and family suites have all the comforts you could need for a great nights sleep.

The B&B gets bonus points for the amazing evening meals and the opportunity for you to sample and buy some of the estates delicious Pouilly Fuissé wine.

Conclusion

With a bit of planning and the right tools, a stress free drive down to your annual winter holiday in the Alps is possible. The resources and information is out there if you know where to look and the right people to ask.

 

Autumn bounty in France

Summer, with its colourful bounty of fruit and vegetables, is a distant memory. It’s the greens, oranges and reds of autumn produce that now fill market stalls in villages throughout France. This is after all the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and the fruit is particularly bountiful this year.

Autumn squashes and pumpkins

My particular favourites are the vast array of winter squash that one sees on the market stalls in the Autumn. All that farm manure has clearly paid dividends. Giant pumpkins and warty winter squashes of every shape, size and colour take pride of place.

Autumn squash at market

Every colour of Autumn squashes is appearing on the market stalls in France

All over France you will come across Fêtes de la Citrouille, festivals celebrating the humble winter squash. Here, you’ll discover a huge variety of squashes and gourds including what must be the ugliest of all squashes, the warty Musquée du Maroc. Despite its appearance it tastes quite delicious oven-roasted with nothing more than liberal quantities of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Warty autumn squash in France

A particularly ugly autumn squash at a Fête de la Citrouille in France

The Chateau du Rivau in the Loire Valley holds an annual Fête de la Citrouille in the beautiful grounds of this Renaissance castle. At this celebration of all things winter squash, the organically grown squashes from the chateau’s own potager naturally take pride of place. Events and entertainment for adults and children alike make for a full day out if you happen to be in the area.

Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes

Winter squash are celebrated throughout France in the autumn, here at Chateau du Rivau

Mushrooms and funghi

Autumn is also the time of year when you’ll notice villagers disappearing into the woodland carrying only a wicker basket and a sharp knife. They emerge some hours later, their baskets over-flowing with golden girolles, earthy cèpes and other edible boletes.

Wild funghi are prized n the autumn

The search for the best girolle or chanterelle mushrooms is on

Enquiries as to where you may find such bounty are invariably met with a very vague, very gallic wave of the arm in the general direction of the woodland ‘là-haut’. You won’t find many locals who are prepared to divulge their secret mushroom locations!

Chanterelle or girolle mushrooms

The almond scented girolle or chanterelle fungus is a French delicacy

Next day, at market, the reason for their secrecy becomes apparent.  There they are behind their tables of mushrooms which are sold for a fine price, thank you very much!

Mushrooms on market stall in France

A huge variety of edible fungus is sold on market stalls in Autumn in France

Apples

We always look forward to the new season apples which appear on market stalls from the end of September. Apples fresh off the trees are crunchy and crisp. They bear no resemblance to the bland, tasteless imposters that are imported out of season from the other side of the world.

New season local apples

New season freshly picked apples at the local market. Particularly delicious this year.

Check to see if there is a pick your own apple orchard in your area. Family members of all ages love picking apples straight from the trees. The only challenge is not to pick too many!

Apple picking in France

All ages can enjoy picking apples from an orchard in France

Naturally there is a celebration associated with apple season. In many villages in France, the Fête de la Pomme is an annual event which brings together whole communities in a frenzy of apple collecting, fruit pressing and juice bottling.

Pressing local apples

Local apples are pressed using traditional methods

On a good year, villagers bring trailer loads of apples collected from their own orchards. The apples are sorted by hand, ‘scratted’ and the pulp transferred to hessian sheets before being pressed between wooden lats. The resulting juice is bottled and pasteurised. Freshly pressed apple juice, despite its colour, is the most delicious apple juice you will ever taste!

Apple juice bottling in France

Bottling freshly pressed apple juice at the Fête de la pomme

The Espelette chilli pepper

You may have heard of the ‘Piment d’Espelette’, the red chilli pepper that is grown in the Basque area of SW France. It’s a mild chilli that holds both AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) and AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) status.

Espelette chilli peppers

The production of Espelette chilli peppers is tightly controlled

Only chillis that are grown in 10 defined communes in the Basque country are entitled to use the name. Tight regulation surrounds the conditions in which they can be grown, harvested (they have to be picked by hand) and even how they can be sold.

Yes, of course there is a Fête to celebrate the harvest of the Espelette chilli pepper. At the end of October the streets of the village of Espelette come alive with the Fête du Piment. The brotherhood of the Espelette chilli pepper (la Confrérie duPiment d’Espelette) is the driving force behind the festival. Aren’t they a colourful bunch?

Confrerie du Piment d'Espelette

The Brotherhood of the Espelette Chilli Pepper

During the festival, market stalls line the streets selling a huge variety of produce containing the chilli pepper. Cheeses, mustards, sauces, oils and even jams, you’ll be amazed at the variety of products into which chilli can be deliciously incorporated.

Other seasonal bounty that you will find on market stalls in France includes chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, figs and even saffron. For each there will be a Fête. This is France after all.

The good bed and breakfast host

September marks the end of the summer season for bed and breakfasts in France. Many B&B hosts are reflecting on the holiday season that has been and wondering what they could have done better.

Whenever our clients return from staying at one of our partner B&Bs in France, we always ask them for their honest feedback. After all, we have a vested interest in ensuring that the accommodation that we propose meets our high standards.

A welcoming B&B in the Ariege Pyrenees

The best B&Bs in France are a home away from home

So what qualities make for an excellent B&B stay? We think we have a good idea.

The warmth of the welcome

First impressions count. When you arrive at a bed and breakfast you want to be made to feel welcome. A good B&B host truly enjoys having people to stay in their home and it shows. They are sociable and friendly and conversation flows freely and easily. It’s the ‘home away from home’ experience that people remember above anything else after they have stayed with a good B&B host.

Good bed and breakfast hosts are warm and welcoming

A welcoming B&B host is someone who enjoys receiving people from all over the world into their home

You may have driven a long way to arrive at your B&B, possibly in hot summer temperatures and are in dire need of some refreshment when you get there. The best B&B owners’ welcome extends to offering you a welcome drink on your arrival. A chilled beer, a glass of wine, a soft drink or maybe a good old cup of English tea. Now, it’s time to relax and unwind.

Knowing what space to give

B&B guests appreciate the unobtrusive host. They should be on hand should you need them, discreetly present and never ‘in your face’ constantly asking ‘is everything OK?’

Good bed and breakfasts hosts give guests space

Guests appreciate a discreet B&B host and some space to relax

The good B&B host understands that guests need their own space in which they can switch off from their hectic lives. This is their holiday after all. They appreciate some garden space in the summer and a dedicated B&B guests’ living area inside for cooler days.

Thoughtfulness

The good B&B host is perceptive and thoughtful. They don’t wait to be asked if they have a bib for the baby or if there’s some fridge space for those bottles. Anticipating guests’ needs comes with experience. It’s an invaluable skill and one that is very much appreciated by B&B guests.

Good B&B hosts anticipate a guests needs

A considerate B&B host will anticipate a guests needs such as providing a bowl of water for your dog at this Calais area B&B

If you are travelling with your dog, you’ll appreciate the B&B owner that has considered your pooch too. There’s a bowl of water ready and yes, the garden is enclosed so that your dog can’t wander off. Here’s a towel with which to dry off your dog after that wet walk. Such thought and consideration will be remembered.

Food

Our clients simply love our B&B hosts that provide a breakfast that goes beyond the basic continental. In particular they enthuse about our partner B&Bs that offer homemade French toast drizzled with maple syrup, home made pastries and also fresh fruit from the garden at breakfast time.

The good B&B host goes the extra mile at breakfast

The best breakfasts include homemade jams, sweet treats and freshly brewed coffee

The B&Bs that provide evening meals are always popular. After all, it can be a bind to have to get back in the car to go out to eat. Those B&Bs that use local and home-grown produce in their cuisine are always appreciated. It’s a great way to give visitors a flavour of the area and to showcase regional specialities too.

Homegrown fruit and veg always go down well with B&B guests

Meals that are created using homegrown fruit and veg always go down well with B&B guests

Where they don’t offer evening meals, a thoughtful B&B host may offer a taxi service to their favourite little local restaurant. They know that their guests would appreciate a glass or two of the local wine with their meal. It’s not too much trouble and after all, you’ll remember such gestures in the future, won’t you.

Room comfort

The good B&B host changes the bedding in their guest rooms every few years before the mattress becomes uncomfortable. Yes, it’s yet another expense, but they know that ‘si on dort bien, on est bien’. A good night’s sleep is more important than anything, after all.

A comfortable bed in a B&B guest room

A good B&B host uses the best quality mattresses and changes them regularly

The thoughtful B&B owner also understands the importance of good quality bed linen. They won’t scrimp on the cotton sheets, oh no. A choice of pillows may also be provided, soft and firm. After all, no two B&B guests are the same.

It’s the little touches that count

You’ve come away on holiday but, darn it, you forgot to bring your travel adaptor and can’t charge any of your devices! Don’t worry, your thoughtful B&B host has provided one in your room already. There are also some homemade cookies on the courtesy tray and complementary toiletries in the bathroom. How thoughtful is that.

Bathroom toiletries in the B&B

Providing toiletries in the bathroom is a small but important touch that B&B guests appreciate

One of the most appreciated gestures that a B&B host can make is the placement of a vase of freshly cut flowers in the guest rooms and public spaces in the B&B. Everybody loves the colour and scent of flowers from the garden indoors, don’t they.

Local knowledge

If you have chosen a B&B in France as a base for a longer stay, the local knowledge is invaluable.  Good B&B hosts know where all the good restaurants are, which vineyards and wine cellars are open when and where to go for the best walks in the area.

Hiking in the Auvergne

B&B hosts in the Auvergne love to share their favourite walks with guests

They make it their business to keep up to date with local tourist information. If you have a question they can’t answer they will know someone who can.

We like to think that Stopover Connections’ partner B&Bs in France go the extra mile where hospitality is concerned. The constant feedback that we receive from guests ensures that our high standards are maintained.

We are proud of the quality of accommodation that our hosts’ provide. We are delighted that you in turn appreciate the quality of these places that truly do provide a home away from home during your travels in France.