Millions of dog owners have taken advantage of Pet Passports since their introduction. But for one reason or another, most people have chosen to stick relatively close to home venturing to northern France, the Low Countries and perhaps northern Spain, using one of two pet friendly ferry services.
But travelling to the French Riviera, or Côte d'Azur as it’s also known, on the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France, is relatively cheap and easy to do by rail.
What’s more, you can even take your car with you, according to travel writer, Paul Wojnicki.
Alongside his family and their dog, Falco, he visited the region this summer. Here’s how they got on.
Paris is relatively easy to get to for dog owners, with or without a car. It usually takes less than three hours to drive there from most of the major ports in Northern France.
Once you’ve got to Paris the rest of the country becomes accessible by rail. I’ve written before about the delightfully inexpensive Ouigo service that will whisk you to the south of France in around three hours, from ten euros per person.
But this year we decided to use the Intercities du Nuit night train that leaves Paris every night at 8pm and travels all the way to Nice via Cannes, as well as a number of other major destinations on the Cote D’Azure.
What to do when visiting Cannes with your dog
We decide to base ourselves in Cannes, which until fairly recently was a simple fishing village. These days of course it’s one of the most glamorous coastal towns in Europe. Famous for the Cannes Film Festival when A-list actors and directors line the famous steps of the Palais des Festivals.
Falco doesn’t have the faintest interest in films, and to be honest nor do I. So, we bypass the Palais des Festivals and head straight from the train station to the nearby Novotel, where the friendly receptionists allow us to deposit our bags until our room is ready.
We then head to the port to check out the action.
It’s still only 9am when we reach the marina and many of the superyachts’ occupants are being served breakfast by their waiters, while they watch the Riviera waking up. Falco takes a quick dip between two of these yachts and an elegant looking lady on one of them laughs, then holds up their own miniature Jack Russell and shakes her head to suggest that there’s no way hers would go in the water.
We wave goodbye and head around the corner to the closest thing we can afford to a superyacht on the French Riviera - the ferry to Îles de Lérins.
Secluded islands & Mediterranean views
There’s quite a queue to get on the boat and I’m a little worried that the islands might not be the secluded paradise I’ve read about. Still, we decide to get onboard and after a twenty minute hop across the water we find ourselves on the pine scented isle of Ste Marguerite.
There’s a rocky cove immediately to our right with perfectly blue water, which is all of Falco’s dreams come true, so we let him swim for ten minutes or so while the other passengers disappear into the woods.
By the time he’s had his dip, the boat has departed again and it’s as if we have this corner of the island to ourselves. Still, we’re determined to explore a little and set off through the forest ourselves, following one of the trails with no real idea of where it will take us.
Twenty minutes later, and after a steep incline, we find ourselves at a ruined castle that Falco isn’t allowed inside. The ruins from outside are picturesque enough and the view of the Mediterranean below is like a dream, with yachts dotted in the azure sea and the cities of Cannes, Antibes, Monaco and even nearby Italy clearly visible from this height.
It feels like a shame to leave the view behind but we’re here to swim together so we walk down the steep steps until we reach a secluded cove where we are sure Falco’s presence in the sea won’t bother any other bathers. And there we spend the next couple of hours, endlessly swimming and drying off, swimming and drying off. The kids and Falco are in heaven.
We neglected to bring a picnic, so head to the port where there’s a bar and a restaurant to enjoy lunch before returning to our own little stretch of paradise.
What Monaco has to offer dog owners
The following day we head along the coast to another place famous for its oversize yachts and undersize dogs – Monaco. It’s full of both!
There’s not much in the way of beaches here though and once again Falco has to take his dip between multi-million pound yachts.
We also discover that many of the parks here don’t allow dogs either.
Still, you don’t visit Monaco to play fetch in the park, you come to peek at (or swim between) the superyachts and admire the astonishingly picturesque city behind them.
Falco does both while we take photographs of him and the kids, then we all head off to the Palais Princier (Prince’s Palace) which rewards us with a panoramic view overlooking the Port and Monte-Carlo.
Unfortunately, we arrive just after noon and consequently miss the changing of the guard at the front of the palace.
Still, we’ve had a fun morning here and now it’s time to hit the beach again.
We do this at nearby Villefranche Sur Mer, which is situated in one of the most beautiful bays in Europe with colourful houses cascading down the hillside toward the clear blue waters.
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This gem of a town should be on the lips of dog owners everywhere
Villefranche Sur Mer is a small town and the train station is right next to the beach so it’s perfect for those travelling without a car. It’s also one of the few towns on the French Riviera with a dedicated dog friendly beach.
We find the dog section at the western fringe of the main beach, which is just a ten minute walk from the train station.
The water is crystal clear and warm, perfect for swimming together and this particular section is uncrowded, even though we’re in the height of summer season.
There’s even a kayak and paddle board rental just around the corner so Harrison, Falco and I decide to go on a mini voyage along the coast, while two year old Ella and her mum wave from the beach.
It’s fantastic fun and the highlight of the trip. We count five other dogs swimming, besides Falco, and three more sitting quietly on the beach. It would make the perfect holiday destination for British dog owners, yet we appear to be the only ones here.
Don’t get me wrong, northern France is full of treasures, but for those willing to venture a little further you might just find yourselves coming back every summer once you’ve brought the dog to Villefranche Sur Mer or the Lérins Islands.
Practicalities: What to do & where to book for dog friendly travelling
High speed day services and slower night trains can be booked on trainline.eu
If you want to take your car with you to the south of France but don’t want to drive, then it’s possible to put it on the train too.
It’s a separate overnight train but you can pick the car up the following morning at Nice. Just remember to book your night train to Nice instead of Cannes.
If you’d rather not take your car overseas then the easiest way to get to Paris is on the DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe.
Foot passengers can transport dogs on this service, then use the trainline website to book tickets from Dieppe to Paris. Passengers further north can use the DFDS pet friendly cabins from Newcastle to Amsterdam and then use a high speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris.