One Man & His Dog Discover How Pet Friendly France REALLY Is!
Have you ever wondered how simple it would be to travel around Europe with your dog using only public transport?
In the last edition of K9 Magazine, travel writer Paul Wojnicki and his family found out just how dog friendly Prague, Budapest and Venice were, much to the delight of their 5 year old Jack Russell, Falco.
In this edition, their journey unfolds as they continue their adventures.
After a good night’s rest on the overnight Thello train from Venice we arrive in Paris to find one of the most topsy turvy cities in the world, as far as dogs go. We spot dogs in bakeries, cafes, shops and bars. But rather bizarrely most parks have large signs outside them saying “no dogs - even on a leash”, in French of course.
That said these rules are widely ignored and Parisians seem to adopt the attitude that the rules don’t apply to their dog. Consequently we notice dogs being led around in most of the parks they are supposedly not allowed in. We also see dogs emerging from the metro with their owners, which is also supposedly off limits.
Still, we don’t take any chances and stick to using the RER service, which is best described as an express underground service that serves Paris city centre and the suburbs. It’s nowhere near as comprehensive as the Metro but it does cut out some of the longer walks between sights such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. It also provides access to some of the more interesting suburban areas such as the palace of Versailles and the Disneyland area.
At the Eiffel Tower
We spend three days exploring the city, taking in the usual sights such as the Eiffel tower, Champs Elysees, Sacré Coeur, Arc du Triomphe and Notre Dame. The insides of most of these attractions are of course of limits but in all fairness they are probably more photogenic from outside. Obviously it’s a shame that we can’t enter some of the more famous museums but even the Louvre seems just as popular outside as it is inside, with its famous glass pyramid. In fact Falco becomes something of a tourist attraction in his own right when he decides to cool off in the waters around the Pyramid, much to the crowds delight.
Making friends at the Eiffel Tower
On day three we use the RER to travel to Disneyland Paris, where we meet some of Alena’s family, who live in Paris. They love Falco and are happy to stay with him for the day while we take Harrison and Ella into the park. Not everyone, of course, has family living in the City of Light but that needn’t stop them bringing the dog along to Disneyland. Fortunately the park has an Animal Care Centre, where dogs can be dropped off for the day while their owners enjoy the park, a very clever idea that hopefully will take off over here one day.
We stay with the family for the night and then wake early the following morning to catch the superfast, and super cheap Ouigo service to the south of France. Ouigo is a new-ish service designed to compete with budget airlines. French trains are so fast- as fast as the more famous Japanese Bullet trains- that the south of France is only around a three hour train ride away.
At the Louvre
We ride the train, which costs the grand total of €60 for the whole family, to Nîmes, which is famous for its Roman ruins. In fact there are few places more accessible for dog owners wanting to see Roman ruins than the south of France.
Our first stop is the the 1st century the Arena of Nîmes which is a magnificent sight. It takes Falco a mere five minutes to tug us from Nîmes train station to the arena- and that includes an aborted attempt to start a family with a local Bichon Frise. Once there we discover that the arena is extraordinarily well preserved and still used for concerts and events today, though the original capacity of 24,000 has been reduced to 10,000. Falco is not allowed inside unless we put him in a carrier but we decide that the exterior is a enough for us and remarkably without a tourist in sight.
After a ten minute photo session, Falco is eager to explore the rest of the city so we walk north for half a mile to Maison Carré, a well preserved fifth century Roman temple. We’re allowed all the way up the stairs, right to the threshold of the temple’s interior but after this point dogs are not allowed unless they’re in a bag. Fair enough, it’s a nice place to stop for a photograph and a glass of local wine in one of the many cafes across the square anyway.
At the Maison Carré
Once we’ve finished our wine, and the waiter has fussed over Falco, we head to les Jardins de la Fontaine. As the French name would suggest there are a number of fountains in these gardens, not to mention some of Nîmes’ most important Roman ruins - like the remains of a Roman baths, beautiful statues and a ruined 2nd century temple. The gardens extend over several levels, with waterways at the bottom, subtropical plants in the middle and the Tour Magne on the summit. This 98ft high Roman monument dates back to 15 B.C and is the largest of a chain of towers that once punctuated the city's 7km-long Roman ramparts. Entrance to the park is free and dogs are welcome almost everywhere.
It’s Falco’s favourite part of Nîmes thus far and there are plenty of other friends for him to socialise with- not to mention lots of shady trees and plenty of water to cool off in, aqua baby that he is. It is summer, but fortunately France is so dog friendly that I needn’t pull my- ever present- water bottle from my rucksack as almost every cafe and bar is happy to serve us water when we stop for a drink.
Pont du Gard
The following day we ride the local bus to Pont du Gard- a massive Roman aqueduct just a short distance from Nîmes. With three tiers, thirty five arches and almost three hundred feet in length, the aqueduct is an awesome spectacle; especially when you consider its age. We walk its entire span, then stroll along the riverside and let Falco run in the nearby hills. It’s a hot day- almost 28 degrees- so we stop for a swim in the river afterwards, taking note of the currents due to recent rainfall and staying in the shallows. For lunch we decide to enjoy a proper meal at one of the restaurants overlooking the famous aqueduct, but we could quite as easily have taken a picnic and eaten it on the pebbled beach instead. While there we discover that the admission fee we paid was actually for the museum- compulsory in the ticket price for all guests visiting in the day time- while visitors that arrive once the museum is closed can explore the area free of charge. We also learn that it’s possible to stay overnight at Motel Le Clos De La Cerisaie with your dog if you’d prefer to explore the gorges in the area a little longer.
The following day we take the train to Arles, where Van Gough spent the last years of his life and where he was at his most productive. The yellow house that he lived in was destroyed in the Second World War, but fortunately the Roman ruins, including an amazingly preserved amphitheatre, were not.
In Roman times Arles was capital of Roman Gaul, Spain and- rather bizarrely- Britain. It now feels like an open air museum in many ways and thus it’s perfect for dog owners to explore the town on foot. The highlight of the town is its amphitheatre, which is even more impressive than the one in Nîmes. It’s so large that we cannot possibly miss it and, though the original 20,000 capacity has been vastly reduced, it still holds live events today. Alas, Falco is not allowed inside the arena or the classical theatre next door but they are well worth visiting for the exteriors alone, and Falco seems to take great delight in squeezing his nose between the bars of the gates outside the classical theatre, while we watch the artists rehearse tonight’s performance.
There are more Roman ruins in this region of France, lots of them in fact, but our time is running low and we have to return home sooner or later. So we catch a local train to Avignon, which was the capital of the Catholic Church during the early Middle Ages when the Popes fled the corruption of Rome. The palace they built, ‘Le Palais des Papes,’ is the world’s largest Gothic edifice. Again dogs are not allowed inside but its more impressive from outside in any case. The vast rooms are virtually nowadays, while the massive exterior has to be seen to be believed.
The following morning we catch the Ouigo service back to Marne la Vallee (Disneyland) station to catch up again with Alena’s for the evening. The wine flows and the conversation turns to the ridiculous situation regarding Eurostar and dogs.
By this point in our journey we’ve travelled on more than 20 different rail services in eight different countries, many of which were international services. If we didn’t have Falco with us we could simply book a direct 2 hour service from Marne la Vallee (Disneyland) to London and be home without any fuss whatsoever. Instead we have to catch a one hour train to Lille, followed by a two hour train to Rotterdam. From there we catch a 30 minute service to Hook of Holland and then an overnight ferry to Harwich. Finally we’ll have to catch a train back into London.
Don’t get me wrong, all of these services are excellent, but it would be a whole lot simpler if we could catch the Eurostar instead. I understand that not everyone would want to be on a carriage with dogs, but that could be said of all the other international services we’ve used without any issues whatsoever. I also understand that there would be a cost implication in scanning dogs and checking the pet passport before re-entry to the UK, but the ferry companies and Eurotunnel seem to manage okay. Besides, Eurostar could simply operate the service once a day and would only need to pay someone for a couple of hours before the service runs to scan the animals.
With this in mind, I’d like to propose that Eurostar look into the possibility of running- on a trial basis at least- one train a day that can carry a limited amount of dogs (in a designated carriage, or even onboard kennels). The service could run from Ebbsfleet or Ashford to Calais or Lille, to boost passengers using these stations. Petitions have failed in the past to get Eurostar to agree to allowing pets between London and Paris but nobody has ever suggested using Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Calais or Lille as the stations. Perhaps the MPs in these areas could look into boosting their local economies on dog owners’ behalves.
Getting there and around
Ouigo operate a daily service from Marne la Vallee (Disneyland Paris) to Nîmes and Avignon that takes under 3 hours and costs from €10 per adult each way and €5 for children. Dogs larger than 6kg cost €30 each way but that still only comes to €120 return for two adults, two children and a dog.
Pont du Gard can be reached by local buses, which allow dogs on board. Arles is 30 minutes to an hour away depending on which local train you take.