Instead, you can take a weekend break to Lille. Lille is only just over an hour’s drive from Calais. You can eat well, do some sightseeing and stock up by buying your food and drink from local shops.
Calais is easy to get to; you can catch the ferry from Dover which takes 90 minutes or take the Eurostar from Folkstone which has a 35 minute crossing.
Once you reach Calais, leave the shoppers behind. Put your beret at a jaunty angle and head towards Lille on the A16.
Where to stay
You won’t be short of places to stay in Lille. We like the hotels in the centre around the Grand Place. It’s also known as the Place de General Charles de Gaulle. It’s right in the city centre and it’s the perfect place to sit at a pavement café and watch the world go by.
If you want a room overlooking the main square, then stay at the Hotel Bellevue because it’s the only hotel in Lille with this view. It’s also a great location because there are plenty of bars and restaurants on the doorstep.
If you don’t mind a short walk into the town centre try L’Hermitage Gantois. It’s close the Lille Belfry, slightly out of the town centre. After being on your feet all day you can relax in the hotel pool or take advantage of their spa facilities.
The Hotel Clarance in the Vieux-Lille has a beautiful garden. There’s fruit trees, herbs, organic vegetables and beehives. The food they produce is used in their Michelin starred restaurant, La Table.
If your hotel doesn’t have parking it’s worth asking if they have any agreements with the local pay and display car parks. The one we used is behind the Grand Place, attached to Les Tanneurs commercial centre.
Things to do
Back down on the riverside at the Saracens Head, you can also hire canoes or kayaks to go up the wide, sweeping Wye. It’s great fun, absolutely breath-taking in the right weather, and the boat hire guys will come and collect the boat when you get to the dock at Monmouth, so you can have an adventurous trip on the river followed by pubs and shopping in this pretty and bustling town. Perfect.
Talking of bustling, be a little wary of the Symonds Yat area in peak periods, especially if you’re taking a motorhome down to the campsite there. It can be absolutely heaving with people and cars, and the road is tight and narrow getting down to this wonderful and popular riverside playground.
For other things to do, check out Ross-on-Wye for another pretty little town full antique shops from the dusty and dim to the bright and hipster. Once you’ve bought that quirky wrought-iron fire-poker you desperately need for your centrally-heated semi-detached house, go and get something to eat at No3.
This restaurant has a great menu of high-class European dishes. It feels intimate and posh, and everything is outstandingly delicious, yet it won’t break the bank. It’s the best of all worlds, really. They even do great cocktails and wines, too, so maybe allocate some taxi money for this outing.
For a bit of culture and to get rid of the hangover, Goodrich Castle is a splendid, slightly fallen-down castle only a few minutes from Ross. Enough of this English Heritage site it is standing that you can climb the tower and look out over the views, and get a clear grasp of just how stoically resplendent it would have been before bits of it got blown-up in the mid-17th century. It’s got just the right balance of historic interest, spectacular views, and wide-open spaces leading into creepy dark corridors. Kids will have a ball, and hopefully learn something as well.
Another good thing about all of this, is that it’s all within about 30 minutes or less of each other, mostly along windy, hedge-lined roads with more of those heart-warming cottages to admire along the way.
It’s certainly an area that requires a car if you want to enjoy the full extent of what it can offer, so if you fancy a bit more wilderness or some great driving roads, head west. You’ll soon be spearing into Wales towards Abergavenny, and then aim for Crickhowell The Bear is a good pub for a comfy room and a hearty meal if you want to stay here) and the looming mountain above it.
Here, you’ll find windswept solitude and distant horizons. Perfect dog-walking territory if you’ve got a four-legged friend along, and there are loads of dog-friendly self-catering places in Wye and into the Welsh borders for that, too.
For anyone holidaying in the car, with or without kids and pets, the Wye valley and surrounding area is one of convenience that can hand you wilderness, luxury and culture or anything in between. Convenient it may be, but compromised it’s not.