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Driving from Calais, France to Italy

We are about to embark on a Grand Adventure to Europe with our dog for a year (yes we are applying for Italian Visa's in two weeks). July 20, we are taking the QM2 to England with our lab, then crossing the channel and picking up a leased car in Calais. Final destination is Verbania, Italy on Lago Maggiore. We have reservations at a B&B about 45 minutes out of Calais the day we pick the car up.

So question is how would you plan a 2-3 night road trip between Calais and Lago Maggiore with a dog. What should we see along the way, where should we stay? We've to Provence and Paris but nothing between Calais and Italy. We Love wine and good food. Thinking Reims to tour Veuve Clicquot, but other than that, open to ideas. Switzerland?
Anyone have a good app for B&B's in France? (and of course we need dog friendly)

Thanks in advance for suggestions!

Posted by
20153 posts

You may have thought of this already, but how are you (and puppy) getting from Southampton to Calais?

Which way is your 45 minutes out of Calais B&B?

If you go through France the autoroutes are nice and smooth and expensive.

I'm cheap so I usually drive through Belgium and refuel in Luxembourg. Then if I were going to Maggiore I'd enter Switzerland at Basel - remembering the Swiss Vignette for CHF40, good for a calendar year plus the previous December and following January - and down to Italy.

The tunnels between France and Italy cost a fortune - more for one trip than a Swiss Vignette for 14 months - and the French autoroutes are really expensive too. But then you see I am cheap.

If you had plenty of time (you have a year but it sounds like you are rushing) there are a million things to see on that journey and it can be done through France avoiding a lot of the tolls but still having a hoot.

For greatest speed you could go A26 Calais - Reims - A4 Strasbourg - A36 Basel (or cross the Rhine at Strasbourg and A5 south). Remember that while the French Autoroutes are 130 kph most of the way, if there is rain the speed limit drops to 110 kph.

So, over to you for more detail please.

Posted by
20153 posts

B&Bs in France - AirBnB (taking sufficient precautions), Booking dot com, Logis de France.

Posted by
1786 posts

Nigel, you are not cheap! You are frugal and smart. Why waste money on the unnecessaries when you can spend it on yourself? How many excellent meals would the tolls buy? Cheers!

Posted by
7719 posts

This is not what you are asking about but just to make certain, can your dog disembark in the UK? I thought there were very strict quarantine rules.

I hope you have a wonderful experience!

Posted by
578 posts

I don't have advice about the drive but I would love a report about the trip, or monthly installments, starting with a prologue: how did you choose this location for 12 months and what are your plans?... ;p

Posted by
1642 posts

I'm interested in the part about "applying for visa in two weeks". I'd save energy on logistics until that part is settled. Based on my sparse knowledge of the requirements for a visa...the OP won't be concerned about road tolls.

Posted by
1024 posts

We've hired a company called Pets2Go that will drive my husband I, our dog and luggage via the Eurotunnel with door to door pickup and drop off.

B&B is southeast, not too far off A26. Picked this one because they have grounds surrounding the Chateau where we can wear Barley out sprinting after a ball.

Can you provide the routes/cities to drive through Belgium and Luxembourg to Switzerland? We are thinking maximum of 6 hours driving per day. Not rushing but I believe we need to register at the Police station within 8 days of arriving in the Schengen per visa requirement. So thinking about 3 days -2 nights to drive.

No quarantine needed. The QM2 follows specific UK requirements, and we have to provide all the right paperwork when boarding the boat in NY. Once we are in Southampton, we'll go to a vet for an EU pet passport.

Jessica, When we booked our cruise 15 months ago and decided to spend a year in Europe with our dog, we made a list of what we wanted in a place to live. Ocean or Lake, lots of safe walking, dog friendly, not a complete American tourist town (makes it more expensive), must have a train station as we won't have a car, not too far from a major airport and major train station. Wanted a town with about 5-15K population- big enough during off season to not be boarded up. Good and inexpensive wine.

We currently love living in Monterey County, CA and take Barley to the beach to run, swim, or we take long walks along the bay, and hiking. So we looked to duplicate something similar in Italy.

I started searching dog friendly beaches in Italy and identified 4-5 towns along the Adriatic and Mediterranean as possibilities. Also looked at the lakes region and focused on Lago Maggiore, as not as expensive or American touristy as Como (RS only mentions Stresa as a day trip from Milan). Did a lot of google street view research.
So we planned a three week trip to Italy on April 1 to find "our town" and a place to rent. Plan was to start in Verbania, then Italian Riviera, Tuscany coast, and end up on the Adriatic Coast. Our trip started and ended with Verbania. Miles of pedestrian pathway along the waterfront. Ferry terminals that can be taken (with dogs) up and down and across the lake from Switzerland on the north to Acona on the south. Very dog friendly (poop bag dispensers all over). Train station is a short bus ride away (dogs allowed on buses and trains). View of the Italian Alps. In the week we were there, we came across a few Brits, Germans, and Swiss, but not one American. We found an apartment to rent in the Verbania Pallanza city centre, very bright, modern, fully furnished, huge balcony and view of the mountains, and two blocks from the lake shore. Direct bus from Milan Malpensa from April - October. 1 1/2 hour train to Milan Central. Also temperatures in northern Italy on the lake are not nearly has hot as further south. And December, January and February are actually the three driest months, cool but still above freezing.

Check out google street view (it's better in person).

Posted by
20153 posts

All good - thanks for the detailed answers.

It is rare to find somebody going to Calais so informed.

It sounds like you are well informed and have done good planning.

I, like the poster above, am cringing a bit at just 10 weeks to get an Italian visa. I hope it goes very smoothly for you.

A16 Calais - or nearby your B&B - to A25 at Grande-Synthe just before Dunkerque (careful, very sharp corner, hidden cameras all along the A16, speed limits up and down) to Lille (avoid rush hour), Calais to Grande-Synthe also known as E40, from there for a long way also known as E42. From Lille A27 to the border, then in Belgium the road continues as E42/A8 and onto E42/A16 north of Tournai and then the E42/A7 all the way through Mons to E42/A15 over Charleroi to Namur where you turn south onto the E411/A4 which changes to E25/A4 between Bastogne and the Luxembourg border. At Arlon on the border it becomes the A6.

Now from Luxembourg (cheapest fuel in central and western Europe, state set prices the same plus or minus a couple of tenths of a cent per litre, even at motorway services or mom and pop filling stations or anywhere else, and all brands) you can stop or visit Luxembourg, Trier (next door in Germany) or Metz (just south in France). Or continue various routes to Schengen (where the visa is named for) picking up the A8 as you cross into Germany to Saarlouis and A620 to Saarbrücken then signs down to free bit of the French A4 to Strasbourg. Or from Trier, onto the A1 as it winds through the forests to Saarbrücken and to the A4. Better to follow GPS in this area and following signs than trying to follow road numbers in the Saarlouis and Saarbrücken area.

Then the E25/A4 into Strasbourg. Then either E25/A35 to St Louis just at Basle/Basel. Or follow the E52 over the Rhine at Strasbourg via Kehl in Germany to the (in)famous A5 which runs (yes, runs) all the way south to Basel. You could visit Baden Baden or stop into the Black Forest (Gengenbach is close, a great stop and close to Strasbourg).

There are many ways to skin a cat going through Switzerland, including Luzern, or the Berner Oberland, including putting your car on a train under the Alps from Kandersteg - or a long car tunnel called the Gotthard. Your choice, when you pick a route we can chip in further.

Switzerland driving - slow DOWN in tunnels, don't exceed the usually 80 kph limit, both for safety and saving your pocket fine money; and that Vignette mentioned earlier.

One final thing for the moment - you say that you are renting a car for this road trip but then you say that you won't have a car when settled??? Just curious - if you are dropping this car in Italy after you and pooch move, are you aware of the huge drop charges for renting in one country and returning in another? Or have we got the wrong end of the stick? Also, do you know that for the French and Italian parts of the drive all drivers require an IDP?

Posted by
1024 posts

Richard and Nigel,
The SF Consulate states that most Visa applications are processed in 20 days. However since the Elective Residency Visa is the most scrutinized, they have 60 days to process. The visa appointments on May 2 were scheduled in November, and just confirmed them on line today. I've burned through $300+ in ink cartridges printing copies of everything we need for the appt. We are crossing our fingers that we just get our passports back by July 19. Unfortunately, we can't apply more than 90 days in advance of arrival date in Italy. And yes it would have been great to delay booking our travel until we had the visa, but kennels fill up fast on the QM2, and when we booked in Feb of 2017, the soonest voyage that had two available kennels for our large Chocolate Lab was the July 20, 2018 voyage.

Plan B is to play the 90 days in Schengen/90 days out in the unlikely even we are not approved for our Visa.

Our adventure has been in the planning stages for years so now we are down to the logistic details.

Nigel, Thanks for the details on the route. I'll start plugging into google maps and am sure I will have more questions.
We are actually leasing a Citroen car for three weeks. Even with a drop off in Milan, it's cheaper than renting a car for a week with an Italian drop fee, and full insurance is included on a lease.

Posted by
6782 posts

Plan B is to play the 90 days in Schengen/90 days out

That is not quite the correct rule. It is "90 days in any 180". You can exit and re-enter the Schengen Area as many times as you like, so long as you never at any time have more than 90 days in the last 180.
Avoiding the Schengen Area limit for a whole year would be difficult. The only countries not in the Schengen Area are the UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia etc., and Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. See this map:
And since departure and arrival days count as full days, and also count as full days in the countries you are travelling from or to, you would have to spend longer outside the Schengen Area than inside.

We found an apartment to rent in the Verbania Pallanza city centre

What will happen to this apartment if you have to be staying elsewhere for over 50% of the time?

Posted by
1024 posts

I just read to post on drive by posts, so here’s our update.

Thanks Nigel for the detailed route!

We just received our Italian Elective Residency Visas yesterday! So we will be living in Verbania Italy for at least a year as of August.

Posted by
7719 posts

Congrats Karen! Having gone thru that process — and all the printer ink — myself, you must be relieved! Now the application for the permesso when you arrive in Verbania.

Posted by
1024 posts

Laurel, do you still live in Italy?
Rick in Rome’s website has a great guide on completing the permesso application.

Posted by
20153 posts

Do you mean Ron in Rome?

Just be careful with Ron's website - he left Rome a few years ago (unless he's moved back which would be news) so some of his info may be a little dated. Unless there has been a change he's doing his own high-end travel agenting and doesn't have a lot of time to keeping up the pages.

Laurel left Rome a little while ago after several years there and keeps in touch.

Fun Fact Number 27 - when Laurel was living in Rome she had two lovely old cats (or should I say they had her), which I had the all too rare privilege of cat-sitting. You have your pooch, she had the cats, animal lovers all.

Posted by
136 posts

I just read through Nigel's route. Excellent directions, Nigel!

I note that you will be near some excellent sights along the way. You might consider to deviate from the route here and there and have a 3-day grand tour of great sights and towns with just about 5-6 hours of driving each day:

Day 1 - Calais-Bruges-Ghent-Brussels-Luxembourg (5 hours)
Day 2 - Luxembourg-Trier-Strasbourg-Colmar-Basel (5.5 hours)
Day 3 - Basel-Bern/or Lucerne-Interlaken-Verbania (6 hours)

You add about 4-5 hours when compared to the fastest route, but you get to see the best of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. With plenty of daylight and 3 full days to drive, you can still spend enough time to take in each sight and see some of Europe's highlights. With good planning, you could likely do a couple of city walks each day (and break up the driving) and grab lunch or dinner before or after in an excellent setting. Enough to whet the appetite and prioritize future travel plans.

FWIW, if I had an extra day or two, I would add a stay in Strasbourg or Colmar and in Interlaken/Bernese Oberland area. That would give me enough time to enjoy some of the highlights a bit more. Something like this:

Day 1 - Calais-Bruges-Ghent-Brussels-Luxembourg (5 hours)
Day 2 - Luxembourg-Trier-Strasbourg (3.5-4 hours)
Day 3 - Strasbourg-Colmar-Lucerne-Interlaken (3.5-4 hours)
[Day 4 - Interlaken/Bernese Oberland (rail only-into the Alps)]
Day 4 or 5 - Interlaken-Zermatt-Verbania (4.5 hours)

Or, because I'd be within day-trip/short-trip striking distance of Zermatt and Interlaken from Verbania for the next year, perhaps spend more time in Strasbourg/Colmar and the Black Forest or Lucerne. Or perhaps add a stop on the Rhine or Heidelberg ...or, skip Alsace, the Black Forest, and Switzerland entirely for now and focus on Burgundy (further from Verbania than Switzerland).

Posted by
1024 posts

We arrived in Southampton Friday and will leave Tuesday morning to Calais.

Nigel (or anyone else) we are working on nailing down our drive and hotels once we leave our B&B SE of Calais Tuesday morning. We want to spend the next two nights in Bastogne (we enjoy WWII history).

1) Our B&B is called Château de Moulin le Comte, 44 rue Principale, 62120 Aire-sur-la-Lys, Franc (45 minutes SE of Calais.)
Any suggestions besides google maps route for our drive on Wednesday to Bastogne? (Only 3+ hour drive)
2) Bastogne to Verbania, Italy. This drive will be 9+ hours, so if you can give us string of towns to get from Bastogne and through Switzerland, would be great. We'll probably get an early start (7am) and make a few stops along the way so we arrive about around 7pm). Halfway stop for a relaxing lunch? Other small towns for short pit stops?

We decided to not do any major sightseeing in Switzerland as we will live so close by train.

Thanks for any suggestions.

Posted by
193 posts

Karen, can't help with your route but just wanted to flag that there have been some horrendous delays at Folkestone for the Eurotunnel this weekend just gone. Seems to be under control now but if the heat goes up again just be wary of the potential for a couple of hours delays.

Posted by
1024 posts

Thanks for the heads up. We've heard it's been really hot here, but today in cool and Raining. We've hired a van service (Pets2Go) that will pick us up and take us across on the Chunnel. Pickup is at 8 am so we should have plenty of time to pick up our lease car before 6, even if there are delays.

Posted by
20153 posts

Tuesday may be OK for the Eurotunnel. I had a problem - 6 hour delay returning from France due to a power failure - in June but my last run last week was fine.

We just got home last week a couple of days before the misery began. They had massive cancellations, 5 hour delays with people sitting on the side of the M20 queuing to get checked in followed by 3 hour delays boarding. If I had been involved I wouldn't have been happy.

But with the massive heat wave broken for a few days, air conditioning which failed on the Eurotunnel trains looked at, the weekend flooding past now, and cool weather forecast for at least Monday and Tuesday you may be lucky. I'm that knowing you are transporting a woofer they won't make you wait in the sun.

I hope you have a great trip with Barley. I'd like to be able to follow your progress.

By the way, have you seen that due to a new law, if you get off the autoroutes in France - maybe the first day - single carriageway roads, one lane each way with no divider, now have a reduced speed limit of no more than 80 kph where once it was 90 kph.


Posted by
20153 posts

I see from your other post that you have arrived in France.

Do tell, how did the crossing go?

Posted by
766 posts

Karen, glad to hear your trip’s well underway. I’ve been looking at your blog, hoping for updates. What a grand adventure. Can’t wait to hear about your transatlantic trip and the travel after that. Buon viaggio!

Posted by
1024 posts

We arrived in Italy a little over two weeks ago and thought I’d update the end result from this post.

We were picked up at the B&B in Southamption around 8am and arrived at the UK euro tunnel crossing about 11:00 with a train time of 11:50. Weather wasn't hot so no backed up traffic. We were dropped off at the pickup place for Citroen lease car outside of Calais at 1:30. Kind of a sketchy area, but they programed a gas station in a better area off the freeway for us to fill up on the GPS. Then an hour later we arrived at the dog friendly B&B.

We decided to stop for two nights in Bastogne, only a 3 hour drive from the B&B, and found a dog friendly hotel in the center of Bastogne with free parking in the back. We visited both the 101st airborne museum, in town, and the war museum just out of town. Both were well worth it. Since we had to take turns in the museums (and our dog), we realized that visiting museums, churches, etc. will take more than double the time. I waited on a bench under the shade of a large tree with a woman from the Netherlands and her two labs. Her husband and mine cane out of the museum at the same time, about 2 1/2 hours later.

Two days layer, we followed Nigels’s advice through Luxembourg , Germany, France, then Switzerland through the 17 km Gotthard Tunnel. It Took an extra hour with traffic merging to one lane and tunnel metering lights. I think we only spent around €14 Euros on tolls in France and the €40 vignate sticker in Switzerland. It was hot, 36c driving through Switzerland! Arrived in beautiful Verbania on Lago Maggiore at 7pm.

Tomorrow we return the lease car to Milan and will take the train back to Verbania.

Posted by
1024 posts

Now that we are settled in Apartment and have internet, I’ll spend time updating Barley’s blog and post a few updates on the trip report section