Not long ago, I fell in love with France after visiting Berck-sur-Mer with my school. As soon as I saw the beautiful rolling hills and cute little villages on our drive down from Calais, I decided that I would return and explore this stunning country even further. Little did I know that this opportunity would come along so soon, but yesterday I found myself back in France, tearing through the countryside with another group of kids, four colleagues and two hilarious coach drivers.
My second journey in France was a long one with no time to stop and rest – I had to be at school for 5:15AM, and we were due to return at midnight – and a part of me was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as the first time. I’m a girl who likes sleeping and sitting down, so the thought of running around after a bunch of excitable Year 7 & 8s for that long filled me with dread! Luckily, the kids were well behaved and nothing about the trip was too taxing, despite the jam-packed schedule we had planned.
I managed to get a little sleep on the coach between my hometown and Dover, where we boarded a ferry. This is the second time I’ve been on a ferry (ever, I think?) but this time I didn’t get a chance to go out on deck and get some snaps of the White Cliffs. Instead, my colleagues and I headed to the restaurant area and made the most of the breakfast food on offer. It was a nice group of people, five women, and we actually had a really good laugh as we sailed over to Calais. The kids pretty much left us to it and went off to explore on board, and then we all reconveined and headed back onto the coach.
As we made our way to our first stop, it wasn’t just the scenery that was entertaining me; our two drivers, Kev and Sean, were absolutely hysterical! They chatted away to us and to each other and were so funny that I soon ditched my music so I could listen to them instead. As well as being so funny, they were also really nice guys, which made me feel in safe hands as we weaved our way through some pretty tight country lanes.
First up was a trip to a traditional French bakery, Maillard Stéphane in Neufchâtel-Hardelot, where we were given demonstrations of how to make several baked treats including baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat. The kids even got to have a go at making some croissants, and we all left with goody bags containing one croissant and one pan au chocolat. I also bought a baguette to take home.
After the bakery, we were due to visit a snail farm, Les Escargot du Bocage in Airon-Saint-Vaast, but we were running ahead of shedule, so we ended up parking up in Montreuil, a gorgeous little town nearby. I fell in love with Montreuil before I’d even stepped off the coach. Its narrow streets were awash with fairytale charm and traditional French Gothic architecture. My colleague Harriet and I broke off and went to explore on our own, initially to find a toilet, but we ended up winding through Montreuil’s quaint streets, finding plenty of adorable buildings to photograph and even a tiny dog who woke up from a deep sleep to let me rub his belly. I wish I could have taken him home with me!
An hour later we headed over to the snail farm. This was the part of the trip I was the most dubious about. I knew it would involve a “taste test”, and I wasn’t down for getting involved with that at all! I know that snails are a delicacy in France, but there was no way I was going to put one in my mouth! We were given a talk about how snails grow and how they eventually end up in all sorts of foods including soups, pates and quiches. We were then taken outside to meet the snails. I decided to brave it and hold one, and despite being a little bit gross and slimy, I actually quite enjoyed it.
Once we’d all washed the slime off our hands, we were gathered around on benches and trays of the snail foods were brought out. I was quite impressed with how many kids actually tried the foods, as I had expected them all to be too grossed out. Of course, I didn’t try anything, and neither did some of my colleagues. Those who did found the taste quite disgusting, but a few of the kids actually liked it.
Next up was a trip to a chocolate factory, and here is where we encountered our first glitch of the day. As we were driving out, it became apparent that we had been given the wrong address. We almost headed 100 miles in the wrong way, but luckily, Kev and Sean realised something was up before we’d strayed out too far. Eventually, we ended up at the right place, Chocolaterie de Beussent, albeit a little late.
The first part of the tour took place in a shady area outside the factory, then we went inside and were shown how to make various chocolates including bon bons and chocolate rabbits. We were also able to taste raw cocoa and some of the finished chocolates.
On the way out, we passed through the shop where several of the kids and staff members bought some chocolate treats to take home. I didn’t buy anything as I was worried it would melt in the heat, but it was interesting to see how many different types of chocolate they sold there.
It was now time to head towards our final stop, Cite Europe, a shopping centre near Calais. We didn’t have an awful lot of time there before we had to board our return ferry, but there was enough time to grab a few things to take home. I picked up some jam, chocolate, cheese and sushi before meeting up with everyone else to head home. Our journey on the ferry wasn’t quite as calm as before as there were several other noisy school parties causing havoc in the bar area, and a few of our kids were feeling sick, but we got through it!
By this time, I was starting to feel quite tired, but I felt really pleased with how the day had gone. On the coach, I sat back, listening to Kev and Sean’s epic banter as the sun disappeared. We finally arrived back at school at 10:30, which was a lot sooner than we’d expected, and I got a lift home from Harriet. I fell asleep pretty quickly last night, and I’m certainly feeling the effects of my busy day today. It was completely worth it, though, and I’m even more in love with France than I was before. I may well have to plan a getaway of my own…