Where to stop en route to the Dordogne
If you’re driving down to the Dordogne this summer with children, here are two ways to make the journey more bearable.
My parents have lived in the Dordogne since the late 90s, so I have quite a bit of experience of the long drive down. Since having children, it’s been even more important to break the journey and have a proper leg-stretch, especially as our youngest gets travel sick if he’s in the car for longer than two hours at a time. Over the years we’ve found a couple of gems that break up the journey without adding too many unwanted miles or minutes to the journey.
Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Caen
We used to take the night boat at 22.45, which gets in at 6.45 am. Passport control seems to take between 30 mins and 1 hour these days (slow clap and an eye-roll for Brexit…), so you tend to be on the road by 7.30 am. It’s a bit of a killer, as Brittany Ferries don’t seem to stop their tannoy announcements until gone midnight and like to wake you up at 4.30 am to make sure you don’t miss out on spending money in their café before you go….
Our preferred option these days is to take the afternoon ferry crossing, which leaves Portsmouth at 14.45 and gets into Caen at 21.30 (though it still feels like 20.30 British time). After passport control, we set off around 22.00 and drive the first stretch of the journey to Alencon. We arrive around 23.30, stay overnight in the B&B Hotel, and leave again the next day around 9 am. You won’t get to your final destination any earlier using this method, but you will get a longer night’s sleep, and there’s something weirdly ingenious about their four-person mezzanine rooms where every square centimetre is put to use.
The first address to type into your Sat Nav in the morning is:
Parking gratuit Sainte Radegonde, Tours
This tiny and very easy detour from the A10 adds just 7 minutes onto your overall journey time, but it’s the perfect place to stretch little legs. The carpark is free and relatively shady. There’s lots of open parkland and a big children’s playground with an area for toddlers, as well as more challenging equipment for bigger kids. The French seem to favour gravel for their playground floors, rather than the bouncy tarmac we’re used to, but the perimeter is fringed with shady trees and plenty of benches. There’s also a zip wire and some adult gym equipment in a separate area, if the adults want to do more than just spectate.
They have a water fountain between the car park and the open parkland section, which is handy for refilling drinking bottles, and there’s a small toilet block. Unfortunately, it consists of one squat cubicle and one regular toilet that you wouldn’t want your bottom to touch anyway, but then this is France after all. Sell it to the children as an authentic cultural experience!
The next address to type into your Sat Nav is:
This stop adds 9 minutes onto your overall journey time, but every second will be worth it! A series of river islands are linked by bridges, providing an abundance of picturesque picnic spots. There’s a children’s playground on one side, but they’ll be just as entertained by paddling in the shallows (there’s even a section with a lifeguard on duty in the summer holidays).
We usually stop at a bakery somewhere en route to pick up supplies (remember: you want to do your bakery shopping before 1pm in France, so don’t leave it too late!), but there’s also a very pretty restaurant on site, Restaurant Le Réjallant. This being France, lunch is strictly between 12 and 13.30, so you’ll need to plan your journey time accordingly. We’ve only eaten there once. As is sadly the case across much of provincial France these days, it was all a bit 1990s Masterchef (timbales, carpaccios of anything other than beef, stacked items with moats of coulis…). I much prefer the flexibility of a picnic, unless the weather is completely against you.
After that, it’s only another couple of hours for us to get to our destination between Perigueux and Bergerac. Depending on where you’re staying in the Dordogne, it may be a little more or a little less, but at least you’ll have enjoyed a proper break along the way!