Have dog, will travel! A guide to stress-free continental travel with your pet

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Travel blogger Vanessa Munnings got a new puppy a few months ago and confesses to being rather obsessed with him! Here she writes about taking her puppy on European trip and offers advice to anyone thinking of doing the same.

I got a new puppy a few months ago and I’m rather obsessed with him.

So, when I was trying (and failing) to wrangle working/travelling/studying family members into looking after him for a few days while I flew to Stuttgart to visit a dear friend pre-Christmas, I was delighted when it was suggested I drove to Germany and took him with me. Why didn’t I think of that?

Never having actually taken a pet abroad but having heard about other people’s expensive/stressful experiences, it wasn’t without some trepidation that I organised my crossings and Googled what the requirements are for taking your dog to the continent from the UK.

Various questions raced through my mind: was I bonkers to consider taking a puppy not even seven months old yet on a European road trip; was it wise driving all that way on my own in December, of all months; what if I experienced problems at the border as Pablo, my rescue pup, has a Spanish passport and I don’t; was it wise to get him out of his home routine and would it be a nightmare getting him back into it when we returned from our adventures?

That said, I am so grateful to my beloved for suggesting I took my big eared canine wingman with me, as it was the loveliest of trips and a perfect bonding experience for us both. Rather than do it in one blast, I opted to overnight in France on the way there and back. Not only would it mean I would be more rested, it gave me the chance to stay in my favourite place – Le Touquet-Paris-Plage.

Le Touquet is west of Calais, when I should have been travelling south-east, but when I compared travelling from Calais to Stuttgart to Le Touquet to Stuttgart, the driving time was roughly the same. Therefore, I opted to go somewhere I know and where I feel safe, rather than booking somewhere en route that I didn’t know, which gave me peace of mind, being a solo female traveller.

About my travel companion

But first of all, a little bit about my bestie. Pablo is a podenco whom I adopted from Brighter Days Rescue in the UK, after the sudden loss of our beloved flat coated retriever, Monty, earlier this year. Brighter Days is a small charity in Staffordshire, UK, committed to rescuing and rehoming dogs from unfavourable conditions abroad. Their primary focus is rescuing dogs in Romania, where many are stray and subject to abuse and neglect, although they take dogs from other countries too.

Brighter Days had taken Pablo (then called Danny) from Puppy Rescue in Spain, after the tiny little mite was found on his own in amongst bins in southern Spain, completely alone and covered in fleas and ticks. Heaven knows what had happened to his litter mates and mum. Nobody had shown any interest in him, which baffles me (but I am thankful for that now).

If you don’t know the breed, podencos, which range in size from a dachshund to a greyhound, are known as the invisible dogs of Spain. According to Hope for Podencos, at the end of each hunting season, it’s estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 Spanish hunting dogs are dumped, abandoned or killed every year.

Most of them are abandoned by the side of the road but some are punished for poor performance or simply for ‘sport’ by being killed in the cruellest of ways. I won’t go into details here, but Google heralds all kinds of horrors. Most of these perfectly healthy dogs are under the age of two and many of them will be pregnant.

So basically, Pablo, who now has a wardrobe of coats and a comfy bed in every room in the house, has landed on his feet and will be loved until the day he dies! We are besotted with him.

I did attempt to adopt a rescue dog in the UK, but failed due to not being able to find one which was cat-friendly or other charities not being prepared to hold on to a dog for me, until I was able to get there to view it. So, I gave up and looked to Brighter Days. And thank heavens I did. The adoption process was simple and the people lovely. I cried when I first saw Pablo and instantly knew he was for me.

Pablo is a blessing and came at just the right time for us; the loss of Monty having left a big dog-shaped hole in our lives. Pablo must’ve had a brilliant start with his foster families in Spain and the UK, as he has never had any ‘accidents’ in the house, isn’t a chewer and his only issue is being slightly timid around other dogs. We are working on that by giving him plenty of love, socialising him and taking him to puppy training. He’s incredibly affectionate, intelligent and eager to learn.

Believe when they say that a rescue dog takes three months to settle into its new home. Pablo had a few minor quirks while settling in (nothing major) but we overcame them with some advice from Brighter Days.

Enough of me waxing lyrical about my new baby. Here is some advice about travelling to the continent from the UK with a pet:

What’s the best way to travel to Europe with a pet?

To me, this is a no-brainer. It has to be via Le Shuttle (formerly the Eurotunnel).

When you arrive at the shuttle terminal at Folkestone, you’ll see signs for pet reception and there are designated pet exercise areas too, although your dog is allowed into the terminal building (not in duty free). As mentioned, I was nervous about Pablo having a Spanish passport and me having one of the new British ones, but I needn’t have been. We were only in pet reception for a matter of minutes. I simply handed over his passport for them to check, they handed me a scanner for his microchip and we were away.

I’ve travelled on Le Shuttle numerous times and quite often, if you arrive early and the train is not heavily booked, they let you on an earlier crossing. No paperwork is necessary, as you just drive up to the barrier, it recognises your number plate and lets you through.

This was the first time I’ve ever had a delay, which was due to a technical fault, but I would rather be safe, so was happy to wait in the terminal, Pablo getting plenty of attention, until it was swiftly sorted and we were able to board.

Within minutes, we were in France. At just over half an hour, it’s so much simpler and quicker than getting a ferry. I have childhood memories of ferry journeys to the continent and lasting visions of rushing to find a seat on deck (often we didn’t manage and had to stand or sit away from one another), waiting anxiously at the top of metal stairs to get to the car decks towards the end of the crossing, the catering being diabolical and queuing for what felt like an eternity to get off, anxious to get on with my holiday. That’s not to mention the state of the loos when there was a rough crossing (not everyone has sea legs).

All that may have changed now and I gather that ferries also have pet lounges on board, but getting Le Shuttle makes life so much easier – and faster.

One friend of mine was easily convinced he’d be able to see dolphins out of the window of the train when beneath the Channel and we also once came across some confused charity workers, going out to give blankets and food to migrants in camps near Calais, who thought the stairs to the floor above in the two-storey train would lead them to the non-existent buffet car. No, it was just full of more cars.

There’s no buffet car on board, but there’s no need. The crossing is so quick. I get excited every time I get to the terminal. It feels like your holiday has begun.

You pay a flat fee for the car, not the number of passengers, and a crossing in December cost approximately £125 each way. Keep an eye out for special offers, book well in advance for best prices and you may pick up a bargain for a short stay.

What do you need to do to prepare to take your pet to the continent?

First of all, can I please clear something up? Who takes a ferret on holiday to France? The UK government gives advice on taking a dog, cat or ferret overseas. There’s also a tick box on the official form at pet reception upon which you need to declare how many ferrets you’re bringing back into the UK.

I’ve only ever known of one person who’s had ferrets and I am 99.9% certain she has never taken them kayaking along the Dordogne or even shopping in Paris. I live in hope of seeing one at Le Shuttle terminal one day, though.

The following is going to sound more daunting than it actually is. Believe me when I say, it’s actually very simple and, once you have all of your ducks (or ferrets) in a row and your dog has all of the vaccinations that it should have, you’ll sail through pet reception.

When heading to mainland Europe from the UK, you need to ensure in advance that your pet has:

A microchip

A valid rabies vaccination

A pet passport or animal health certificate

A tapeworm treatment (see below)

I am lucky in that Pablo came with his own passport, in which all of his vaccinations are recorded. He’s been to more countries than some people I know, to be honest, and more than 60% of US citizens!

A quick Google search tells me that a pet passport costs around £180, although costs vary from vet to vet. By contrast, a friend recently took her dog to her holiday home in Brittany and I understand the animal health certificate cost around £250 – and you need a new one every time you travel. Someone else told me the one for her cat took around three weeks to arrive, so make sure you plan well in advance.

Most importantly, your dog won’t be allowed back into the UK if a vet hasn’t given it a tapeworm treatment and it hasn’t been recorded it in their passport or health certificate. The treatment has to be done every trip and must be given no fewer than 24 hours and no more than five days before you return to the UK.

If you are going for a long weekend, have it done by your own vet before you leave or make sure you can get an appointment at a vet surgery overseas, before you return.

In Germany, my friend booked Pablo into her local vet surgery in Sindelfingen, a suburb of Stuttgart, and the treatment cost around €50. He’s now registered at the surgery, if we go back, to make things simpler. They were also very useful in letting me know that Pablo was due his vaccination for distemper, so I had that done too (total cost for both treatments: €90) to avoid there being any problems at pet reception on our return.

I’ve been with a friend when she’s brought her dog back to the UK and a French vet had recorded the tapeworm treatment on the wrong page of the passport, meaning it was touch and go whether her dog would be allowed in. Thankfully, we caught them on a good day.

Seatbelts for dogs are obligatory on the continent, just as they are in the UK.

What are French roads like?

Excellent. Once through the tunnel, I drove from Calais to Le Touquet (43 miles) and then onwards to Stuttgart the next day (465 miles) and we didn’t come across a single traffic jam or hold up in France. The same can’t be said about German roads and it felt like one set of roadworks after another.

You’d be forgiven for thinking there’d been a zombie apocalypse at times, as you drive through France, as the roads are often seemingly empty.

The French authorities have erected random pieces of art along some stretches of the autoroutes, aiming to break the boredom, and there are large brown tourist signs which tell you a little bit about towns you sail past.

In France, there are two types of autoroute service stops, or ‘aires’, and it’s well signposted how far away you are from the next one. First of all, there are the regular ones, where there’s a petrol station, restaurant and loos. You can often get a good meal at these – not just a tuna sandwich and bag of crisps – as the French like to eat properly. More often than not, there’s also a Paul or something similar.

The second type of stop has an unmanned toilet building and picnic tables. The friend I was going to visit keeps a table cloth in her car at all times for these stops and I have one now too. Even on the autoroutes, the French know how to eat!

The old-fashioned French holes in the ground, where you had to hover and hold your nose, seem non-existent now. Jingle Bells was playing in French in the loos at one of our toilet stops which made up for the lack of loo roll (take tissues with you). They were all very clean and satisfactory and make good rest stops for dogs.

I knew I was over the border with Germany when the flow of traffic grew heavier and the Peugeots, Renaults and Citroens were replaced with BMWs, VWs and Mercedes.

I was needing to fill up with fuel by the time I crossed the border and wrongly assumed there would be a German equivalent of an ‘aire’ every few miles, like in France. Service stations didn’t seem as plentiful in Germany and I ended up having to search for a petrol station on my sat nav and venture off the main road and into a town.

What’s the speed limit on French motorways?

In France, the speed limit varies depending on the weather conditions. In dry weather, the top speed on autoroutes is 130kph (80mph), which drops to 110kph (68mph) if it’s wet.

Speed camera detectors are illegal in France and have been since 2012. If you’re caught with one in your vehicle, you could be fined up to €1,500. The authorities can also confiscate your car and device, so watch out.

While the UK was a member of the EU, French authorities were able to ask the DVLA for details of UK drivers so they could enforce speeding fines. After Brexit, those rules no longer applied (at least there’s one potential benefit). As a result, UK drivers are now less likely to be fined. However, a word of warning, you can receive on-the-spot fines and I know of someone who received a hefty one.

I wrong assumed that, like the super-efficient Germans, the roads in Germany would be rapidly free-flowing. While there is no speed limit on the autobahns and it can be a bit of startling when a Porsche tears past you at great speed, not all roads to Stuttgart were autobahns and at times were exceedingly slow. German roads are very comparable to those in the UK.

I also discovered that, when someone flashes you as you’re indicating to overtake, it isn’t necessarily an invitation to pull out, as it would be in the UK. It means ‘stay in your lane’. At least it did in my case. I didn’t pull out, but nearly did, which led to much gesticulating (not from me).

Also, don’t expect a ‘thank you’ gesture or flashing of your hazard lights if you let someone out. That doesn’t happen!

Are toll roads expensive?

While French autoroutes are marvellous, they don’t come without cost. Let me tell you, though, it’s well worth it. The cost of tolls for the French leg of those 465 miles was €45, although I bought a Ulys toll tag which meant I didn’t have to get out of my righthand drive car and run around to the machine on the left to pay the charge at every toll. It simply beeps and the barrier lifts, which also means no queuing. You can also opt for a subscription for Spanish, Portuguese and Italian toll roads.

Unlike other tags, there’s no monthly cost if you don’t use it and your toll fees simply come out via direct debit at the end of the month. It works in some car parks too.

Order yours well in advance. It took over a week to come and arrived on the evening before I was due to leave. Phew!

Luckily Pablo was fine with the noise the tag made, although my friend’s dog was so scared of the beep that they had to do away with theirs.

Is France welcoming to dogs?

Much more so than the UK. Germany too.

Most restaurants in France allow dogs in, hence many of them seem much more well behaved. I dare say you’d be asked to leave it your dog was unruly, though.

In Le Touquet, Pablo and I were welcome into bars The Globetrotter and my favourite Le Quento, although being a puppy and having had lengthy car journeys, I had a takeaway crepe from Aux Mignardises (delicious) rather than a sit down meal and kept on the move, to tire Pablo out and keep him occupied.

Be a responsible dog owner and take plenty of poo bags with you, although quite a few people don’t bother.

We chose to stay at the pet-friendly Novotel Thalassa Le Touquet on both legs of our journey, where I’ve stayed at a few times before, but never with a dog. The hotel is literally built into the dunes, directly on the beach, so, on arrival, I was able to take Pablo for a bracing walk on the sand (and also before we left) and fill our lungs with sea air.

For me, it’s by far the best hotel in Le Touquet – from the views from the sea-facing rooms to the extensive breakfast. The hotel is at the far end of Le Touquet, so it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the centre of town, along a flat promenade, and it’s a lovely walk.

Some original old mansions remain on the sea front, but there are many newer apartment blocks which must have glorious views across the Channel from the higher floors. This might be due to the fact that 2,000 bombs dropped on Le Touquet during WWII, devastating much of the town. It’s hard to imagine now, but the little town was occupied for four years during the war and the seafront was a military zone. Much of the old charm remains in the town, though.

At its liberation in September 1944, Canadian troops arrived in the deserted town amid devastation and the press described Le Touquet as “France’s most heavily-mined town”. It’s hard to believe any of that now, as Le Touquet is, to me, simply the most peaceful and happy place I can imagine.

On arrival at the hotel, there’s a large and spacious, modern reception, with enormous windows making full use of the stunning views across the opal-hued sands and out to sea. Dogs are really made to feel very welcome and Pablo loved watching other dogs with their owners, surfers and kite surfers on the beach, from our private balcony.

There are rooms facing the dunes and car park which are cheaper, but get a sea-facing room if you can and wake up to soft shades of pinks, blues and cream.

As mentioned, breakfast is a fabulous self-service spread, served in a dining room which has large sea-facing windows, so you really feel part of the outdoors. No dogs are allowed in the dining room, so Pablo stayed in the room and slept after our beach walk.

The hotel, one wing of which is an Ibis and the other the Novotel (rooms in both are good), has a large swimming pool, again, with fabulous views, and a tranquil Seawater Spa, where treatments have a sea-based theme. Before setting off, it was such a treat to have a few treatments, which left me feeling very zen and set me up for the final leg of my journey.

A dune-facing room starts from £138 per night, if you book via the Accor website and become a member. You get points when you do, which means you can redeem against future stays.

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat. Pablo was amazing and took it all in his stride. He settled back into his home routine immediately. I think he was just happy to spend time with me – and me with him.

Special thanks to Novotel Hotels and Le Shuttle for their generosity and hospitality.

You can read about more travels from Vanessa and guest writers at The Sun Lounger and follow her on InstagramFacebook and TikTok.

The post Have dog, will travel! A guide to stress-free continental travel with your pet appeared first on Wellbeing Magazine.

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