After the farce of France being on the ‘amber plus’ list due to high infection rates in La Reunion — a French territory in the Indian Ocean, 6,000 miles from Paris — the Government’s U-turn to allow trips without a return quarantine for the fully vaccinated has been met with a collective cry of ‘magnifique’!
For francophile holidaymakers and owners of second homes, this is the moment many have waited for — as has the beleaguered travel industry. France is, after all, Britain’s second most popular tourist destination after Spain: in 2019, before the pandemic, 3.6 million of us travelled there between July and September.
The new rules take effect tomorrow at 4am. For a last-minute escape by car, perhaps a getaway to the north of the country makes sense. Here, we have picked some of the best breaks just across La Manche.
Le Touquet is a glamorous seaside resort near Calais. It has a famous expanse of beach and is filled with boutiques
Glam Le Touquet, not far from Calais, is famous for its expanse of beach and 1920s heydays, when Noel Coward and the ‘smart set’ came. But the towns of Somme Bay a little farther along the coast are charming, lesser-known lovelies.
Saint-Valery-sur-Somme lends itself to strolls in the floral old town and the quayside market, cycling or going for a swim at Cayeux-sur-Mer, with its pleasant beach.
Don’t miss: Book a Baie-de-Somme walking tour with English-speaking Maxim, an expert on local nature (visit-somme.com). Do the return leg by steam train — binoculars essential for birdwatching.
Where to stay: Cottages-de-la-Croix-l’Abbe, St-Valery-sur-Somme, is a cluster of three self-catering gites sleeping between four and six; from £600 a week (cottagescroixlabbe.fr).
THRILLS AND CHILLS
Make magical memories with family or friends at Disneyland Paris. Pictured is the resort’s hotel
Just over two hours from Calais, the area around the Compiegne forest offers a varied break. There’s plenty to do on the doorstep: a treetop adventure park, Pierrefonds Castle, Chateau de Compiegne. Theme parks Disneyland Paris and Parc-Asterix are within an hour’s drive. Paris itself is less than an hour away by train.
Don’t miss: Visit the forest clearing to see the rail carriage and museum where the World War I armistice was signed.
Where to stay: L’Instant in Morienval is a self-catering gite sleeping 15, from £3,260 for four nights (french-weekendbreaks.co.uk).
There is plenty of culture in the medieval streets of Troyes. Pictured is an old baker’s house
THE RULES WHEN VISITING FRANCE
From tomorrow at 4am, France will be on the amber list — so fully vaccinated travellers will not have to self-isolate on return to the UK. However, an antigen/lateral flow test will be required before returning, as will a PCR test on day two. These rules also apply for those aged under 18.
France is only accepting fully vaccinated travellers — see ‘entry requirements’ at gov.uk. Children under 12 with an accompanying double-jabbed adult can travel freely. Children aged 12 and over accompanied by fully vaccinated adults must have proof of a negative result from a PCR or antigen test taken within 24 hours of travel. Fully vaccinated adults need not take a test before travelling to France.
When it comes to the famous fizz from north-eastern France, it’s the swanky names such as Taittinger in Reims and Moet in Epernay — about a three-hour drive south-east of Calais — that get all the glory.
Instead, tour deeper south into champagne country for quality and authenticity at off-the-beaten-track producers such as Champagne-Monial, in a former monastery overlooking village vineyards. For less sleepy days, there is good shopping and plenty of culture in the medieval streets of Troyes.
Don’t miss: A visit to Essoyes, the summer home of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, where there is a dedicated visitor centre (champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk).
Where to stay: Camping-La-Forge-de-Sainte-Marie, in Thonnance-les-Moulins, is a campsite with mobile homes; pitches from £235 a week (laforgedesaintemarie.com/en).
With lush landscapes full of timber-framed houses and apple orchards, Normandy — on the northern coast — is best known for its historical sights, from the Bayeux Tapestry to the D-Day landing beaches.
But the area packs a punch for art too: visit Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny, with the famous water lilies, and more of the places where he found inspiration at nearby Rouen.
Don’t miss: Grab a picnic at the market in Les Andelys — with local cider and pungent camembert — then head up to Richard the Lionheart’s castle, Chateau Gaillard, for sweeping views of the mighty River Seine.
Where to stay: La-Ferme-des-Isles in Autheuil-Authouillet is a boutique B&B, from £417 for four nights (lafermedesisles.com).
LURE OF THE LOIRE
An easy three-hour drive from Caen, the Unesco-listed ‘garden of France’ is where two of the country’s most iconic symbols meet: fairytale chateaus . . . and rosé.
Let’s explore: A visit to the spectacular Chenonceau Castle in the Loire Valley is a must
Plan days combining both. A visit to eye-popping Chateau-de-Chenonceau — its reflection dazzling in the waters beneath — is a must. Then amble along the River Cher to Montrichard for a tasting at Monmousseau winery.
Don’t miss: Include Fontevraud on your itinerary. It’s Europe’s largest abbey, with contemporary twists such as modern art and virtual-reality tablets bringing visits to life.
Where to stay: Domaine-de-Chateaufort in Langeais is a self-catering chateau sleeping up to 18 people; from £9,930 a week (domainedechateaufort.com).
Gallic charm: ‘St-Malo is a contender for France’s best-looking ferry port,’ writes the Daily Mail’s Lucy Shrimpton
HOW TO GET THERE
- A crossing for a car and up to nine passengers on Eurotunnel is from around £250 return (eurotunnel.com).
- Brittany Ferries has Portsmouth-St Malo crossings from around £460 return for a car and up to nine passengers (brittany-ferries.co.uk). Portsmouth to Caen and Cherbourg, Plymouth to Roscoff and St Malo, and Poole to Cherbourg also available.
- P&O Ferries has Dover-Calais crossings from around £220 for a car and up to nine passengers (poferries.com).
- DFDS has Dover-Calais crossings from around £250 return for a car and up to eight passengers (dfds.com).
- Eurostar is set to increase its current severely pared-down services — returns from London to Paris this month are from about £160 (eurostar.com).
- Skyscanner shows Ryanair Stansted-Bordeaux returns from £56, or British Airways Heathrow-Paris returns from £130, both this month (skyscanner.net).
- More information: france.fr/en; uk.ambafrance.org.
With grand maritime mansions and ramparts overlooking golden sands, St-Malo is a contender for France’s best-looking ferry port: just roll off the boat, park up and head straight for the beach. Brittany has always been a favourite with Britons and no wonder. There are boutique shops galore, boat trips, mast-filled quaysides and the Grand Aquarium.
When you venture out by car, medieval Dinan and la belle epoque Dinard are the nearby musts.
Don’t miss: Discover the wellbeing benefits of seawater therapies. Try a seaweed body-wrap or even a whole spa day at Les-Thermes-Marins spa in St-Malo.
Where to stay: Hôtel-le-Grand-Bé, St-Malo, has doubles from £615 for four nights (legrandbe.com/en).
BRITTANY FOR KIDS
Leave the ferry in Roscoff and you’ll soon discover there’s no happier child than one with a fishing net in one hand, a crepe in the other: that’s why the Celtic-flavoured département of Finistere in Brittany’s far west is a favourite with families.
Think rocky coves, sandy beaches, granite cottages, abundant seafood and stripy sailing tops — rather like a French Cornwall.
Don’t miss: The riviera resort of Benodet on Finistere’s south coast has horseriding, sailing, surfing and mini-club play activities for little ones right on the beach.
Where to stay: Camping Port de Plaisance, in Benodet, has chalets/mobile homes sleeping four-plus from £634 a week (yellohvillage.co.uk).
The coastline south of Nantes and north of La Rochelle is in the département of Vendée, known for attractive fishing harbour St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, big beach resorts such as St-Jean-de-Monts, and marshlands dotted with fishermen’s cabins on stilts.
It is also home to holiday island Noirmoutier, where the whitewashed houses with their blue shutters could make you think you were in Greece.
Don’t miss: Include a day inland at France’s historical theme park Puy du Fou, known for its spectacular shows.
Where to stay: Domaine-le-Sherwood in Notre-Dame-de-Monts has beachside villas sleeping four-plus from £1,179 a week (kombak.eu).
OH, ILE DE RE!
Head to fortified St-Martin-de-Re where you can watch the elegant French go by and saunter around chic shopping streets
Don’t be put off this excursion by the cost of the toll-bridge from La Rochelle on the mainland; see it rather as the measly entrance price for one of France’s most idyllic (and sunny) islands. Expect turquoise sea, long golden sand beaches and charming seaside towns such as fortified St-Martin-de-Re, where you can watch the elegant French go by and saunter around chic shopping streets. Almost everyone cycles everywhere, thanks to a network of flat paths passing oyster stalls, salt marshes and fabulous beaches including Le-Bois-Plage, all of which are completely safe for children of all ages.
Don’t miss: Enjoy a sundowner and low-key outdoor concert sitting on the harbour edge in the gorgeous little port of La-Flotte.
Where to stay: Palais-des-Gouverneurs residence in St-Martin-de-Re has apartments/studios sleeping four from £1,083 a week (pierreet vacances.com/gb-en).
Seek out market days in characterful old towns such as Sarlat-la-Canéda (above) for truffles, goat’s cheese and more
OK, so this one’s a bit of a drive south . . . but here’s a département in France’s south-west where you can find your off-button. Spend days fishing, canoeing and taking dips at safe river beaches. Seek out market days in characterful old towns such as Sarlat-la-Canéda, Bergerac and Perigueux for truffles, goat’s cheese, heaps of sweet strawberries and walnuts.
Don’t miss: The prehistoric cave-art at Lascaux IV in Montignac.
Where to stay: Huttopia Sarlat has glamping options, sleeping four to six from £489 a week (europe.huttopia.com/en).