A dog’s life on a drive across Eu­rope

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

I’m not sure whose idea it was to drive across Eu­rope for three days with nine pieces of lug­gage and a dog. We were head­ing from Lon­don to Wen­gen, a ski re­sort in Switzer­land, and my grown-up son (Nick) and the dog (Boss) are insep­a­ra­ble, so it must have been one of them. Frankly, I was dread­ing it. Le Shut­tle, pet pass­ports, four ho­tels, mo­tor­way tolls, 18 hours with my wife each way. I wasn’t even sure our an­ti­quated sat­nav worked abroad.

Well, it did. And that wasn’t the only sur­prise. I’d never used Le Shut­tle at Folke­stone, but it’s a re­mark­able op­er­a­tion, ef­fi­cient and stress-free – and the ANPR soft­ware recog­nises the car and flashes up a wel­come mes­sage with your name. No­body no­ticed the dog (but then it was leav­ing the coun­try, tak­ing its germs with it) and the train be­gan its 35-minute jour­ney ex­actly on time.

The first leg – the A26 to Reims – took less than three hours with hardly any traf­fic, no re­pair work, smooth sur­faces and a speed limit that of­ten rose to 130kph (80mph). Per­haps the (toll) sys­tem forces driv­ers on to smaller roads, but at just € 60 for the en­tire jour­ney I was happy to fork out. Even the petrol pumps are fully au­to­mated, so there’s no need to queue. Why don’t we em­brace this tech­nol­ogy in the UK?

We were com­pletely re­laxed four hours later when we ar­rived at our first stop, a lovely ho­tel in the mid­dle of cham­pagne coun­try – Do­maine Les Crayères (le­scray­eres.com) on the out­skirts of Reims. This per­fect lit­tle chateau, set in ex­ten­sive grounds, still feels like a pri­vate home, with sump­tu­ous fur­ni­ture, chan­de­liers, strik­ing coloured wall fab­ric, de­cent art and an­tique mir­rors. The dog was wel­come – in both our room and the at­trac­tive pav­il­ion restau­rant.

We were a 30-minute walk – or walkies – from Reims it­self and strolled in the fol­low­ing morn­ing. Reims cathe­dral can­not be missed. Built in the 13th and 14th cen­turies, it is un­clut­tered and ethe­real, with lovely stained glass by Marc Cha­gall (it lost most of its orig­i­nal win­dows in the First World War). A mil­lion vis­i­tors come here ev­ery year, but I was al­most alone as I strolled along the beau­ti­fully lit nave with or­gan mu­sic play­ing softly all around. Dogs are wel­come al­most ev­ery­where in France – the French at­ti­tude is more lib­eral than ours – but, rea­son­ably, this does not ex­tend to churches.

And so on to Stras­bourg, which I’d cho­sen with a ruler and a pin. I had no idea how beau­ti­ful it was (it’s a World Her­itage site, which should have been a clue). The glory, for me, is the in­ter­play of roads and the Ill river (a trib­u­tary of the Rhine) that sur­rounds it, turn­ing the cen­tre into an is­land. Cob­bled streets and tim­ber-framed houses – some from the Mid­dle Ages – and the great cathe­dral of Notre-Dame sud­denly give way to an­cient bridges with the wa­ter churn­ing past. Stras­bourg prides it­self on its Christ­mas mar­ket, which has spread like ivy.

We stayed at the Ré­gent Petite France (re­gent-petite-france.com), a for­mer ice house near the city cen­tre, which has friendly staff but is a lit­tle over-mod­ernised. We didn’t have time to en­joy its sauna and ham­mam. That’s the trou­ble with a trip like this.

He’s the Boss: strik­ing a pose on the slopes

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