Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Paris En Famille Part One

With the end of the year looming are you starting to think about planning your next family holiday? Although it can seem a bit previous to have things booked up months in advance family holidays and reckless spontaneity don't really mix. There are inconvenient things called school terms that get in the way for one, and the likes of Ryanair et al aren't really thinking 'family market' when they release those cheap flights to 'Stockholm' (by which they mean a former military airport about 50 miles from Stockholm) that leave at four in the morning and return sometime after midnight. No, those days of reckless holiday abandon are gone and careful forward planning is what's called for when holidaying en famille. Planning early even makes it much more realistic to squeeze in a mid-year mini break, too, as we found last year when we enjoyed a fantastic, bargain-busting long weekend in Paris. Here's how we did it...

You probably know that you can get all kinds of things with your Clubcard points, trips across the Channel being one of them. Tickets on the Eurotunnel are pretty reasonable at the best of times, but with a few Clubcard points in your back pocket you can cover your crossing completely free of charge - a great way to claw back some reward on all those miserable hours spent trawling the shelves of your local supermarket.

So why the tunnel and not the Eurostar? Firstly you can't use Clubcard points on the train, though obviously it is much more convenient for reaching the centre of Paris. We were doing Paris on the cheap, and by that I mean super, super cheap! Factoring in Eurostar travel for 2 adults and 2 kids, plus return train tickets from Bristol to London wouldn't have tallied with our minuscule budget. That said, getting to Folkstone is not in the least convenient - in fact the journey there from Bristol was by far the most wearisome part of our journey. We ended up booking a really early crossing (to squeeze the very most out of our sojourn) and staying at the Premier Inn right by the tunnel the night before, which I'd really recommend if you don't want travel stresses boiling over before you've even left Britain.

Once in Calais you’re looking at a three hour journey time to Paris. Part of the reason for us driving to France was that we decided to try out a Eurocamp site that had been recommended to us and which was touted on the website as making a great option for families wanting to explore the capital or Euro Disney. The International is located in a pleasant suburb to the North West of Paris and is open between April and November. We visited in April and stayed in the basic mobile home which was perfectly ample for our needs over the 3 days we were there. We paid just £120 for two nights accommodation - yep, you read that right, £120 for all four of us for two nights and three almost full days in Paris. That's why we went for this option. You'd be hard pushed to find anything in central Paris that comes close to this budget price for a family of four. 

My concern was that cheap might equal totally inconvenient, with Paris temptingly close yet annoyingly difficult to get to. But what they say on the Eurocamp website is true - you really can be in Paris in just over 20 minutes' journey time from the International. It's ten minutes to the local train station on foot and then a super-speedy train ride deposits you at the Champs-Elysee in around 20 minutes. Trains are frequent and run until late at night. It's important to work out how many trips into town you'll be making during your stay as it can work out cheaper to buy a 'carnet' of tickets instead of buying day returns for each trip. 

In terms of the site itself and local surroundings I can't give you much of an in-depth review as we used the International very much as a base rather than exploiting any of the on-site facilities. Furthemore, we stayed out of season - it was the coldest April on record for some years and we spent all our time on site huddled in our mobile home rather than exploring the site and local environs. But from what we did see, it's a well-organised, clean site, with easy access to the supermarkets and restaurants of the local town. Maison Lafitte is a fairly quiet, affluent suburb which I'm guessing would offer cheaper options for eating out than central Paris. Again, we didn't hang about much here but I'd imagine it provides some welcome calm at the end of a busy day's sightseeing in the capital. 

We had an amazing, surprisingly successful time in Paris and bolted on a few extra days in Picardy so we could make the drive to the continent a bit more worthwhile. I'm going to write a second installment about what we got up to in Paris and during rest of our trip in my next post, but in the meantime if you'd like to find out more about the Paris International site visit the Eurocamp website here. 

You can find out more about using your Clubcard points on Eurotunnel crossings here, and check out prices on the Eurotunnel here.

Related post: Paris en Famille Part Deux
Related post: Eurocamp holiday to Spain



  1. Being able to just pop over to France is the one thing that I really miss about living in Kent, we use to go over all the time just because we could. I hope ypu had a great time and thanks for linking up to #ThriftyThursday :-)

    1. Thanks for the comment Gina! I can imagine it must have been great living so close to the tunnel for trips to France. Our kids (9 and 5) really enjoyed Paris and the drive over there wasn't nearly as bad as we'd anticipated. Will definitely do it again!

  2. What a brilliant way to see Paris and save a small fortune, The idea of staying 20 minutes away and just getting the train to the city each day is great.

    Laughing at your comment about Ryanair flights to Stockholm. We did that last year and the bus in from the airport actually worked quite well - lots of scenery to pass the time. I suspect people travelling to the UK get just as frustrated when they land at London Stansted and realise it's miles away too!

    Thanks for adding this post to the BritMums travel round-up: it was a super read :-)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Trish! I must admit to being a bit of an impatient traveller - I like to get where I want to go as quickly as possible! But I agree that Stanstead must feel equally as inconvenient for people arriving in the UK.

      I love travelling with children and the fact that you can still do it on a limited budget is great. I am hoping to revisit Paris again next year!


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