Our Family Road Trip to La Rochelle, France
There's nothing quite like a family road trip, and one of the best ways to see France at its finest is behind the wheel. What is surprising is how much of the country's most traditional attractions - gourmet food, the world's best wine, astonishing history and stunning architecture - are within a doable drive from other parts of Europe and the UK via Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal in Folkestone.
My husband Stuart and I, plus our two children set off from Hampshire - and after a short dash on the other side through pretty Normandy, crossing some incredible viaducts over gaping valleys, found ourselves in Rouen.
The Normandy capital and port city is a treat. The ancient town centre is characterised by tall, leaning, timbered buildings in pretty pastel shades. We wandered into the square where Joan of Arc was martyred, which has a small garden, a statue, and a striking, asymmetrical church in her name. Inside are modern, curved pews and fabulous stained-glass windows. From here, we walked up to the imposing Cathedral Notre Dame: its artworks and tombs are inspiring. Rouen has a great food culture, too, so we filled up for our onward journey.
La Rochelle is more than 400 miles from Calais, but the countryside is so lush and beautiful - all rolling hills and picturesque vineyards - that we barely noticed the time tick by. The ancient naval port itself is a jewel on the sea, and there are nuggets of history everywhere, such as cannonballs built into the kerb at the fine old quayside. We climbed to the top of the tower to get the best view of the city, then enjoyed the sandy beach and walks under pine trees - before hitting the cafes for ice cream.
The kids loved pottering in the oyster beds at low tide. You can't go far without seeing signs for freshly picked oysters and we wolfed down fish and moules mariniêres.
Next day, we went two hours north to Angers. Not well known as a tourist town, this unexpectedly delight - nestled on the edge of the Loire Valley - is dominated by a chateau surrounded by a grassy moat, now planted with a formal knot garden.
We wandered the ramparts, marvelling at the view of the river, and weaved through apothecary herb gardens and vines. The children enjoyed running up and down the towers and along the walls, and in the castle cellars. We were also amazed by the breathtakingly 14th-century Apocalypse Tapestry. Its individual sections illustrate the Book of Revelation in graphic detail and is fascinating for older children.
After more great cuisine, we headed home, the perfect long weekend over.