road trip through france, dover dunkirk champagne, chateau d'etoges
Road trip through France Day 1: Dover - Dunkirk - Champagne. Photo: Mark Alexander

Today is going to be a long and challenging day, involving a lot of driving and quite possibly – a lot of crying en route too. I am taking on a huge project, all on my own and the thought of it scares me. It’s all for a good reason though and I hope that by keeping this road trip diary, I will inspire you to get on an adventure of your own.

The plan for today is to get to Dover, catch the ferry to Dunkirk and then drive to my hotel which is somewhere in the middle of Champagne. It should take me 5.5 hours of solid driving and 2 hours on the ferry. So, let’s go on a road trip through France!

As expected, nerves got the better of me when I got up at 5 in the morning. My stomach was so tight and convulsed that I could barely breathe. The hot and cold shower didn’t help to relax my nerves and neither did the coffee. I couldn’t eat breakfast either and I left earlier than needed.

Getting in the car and putting Dover into the SatNav shifted my attention away and that helped me relax. The drive to the port was uneventful and quite easy as there was hardly any traffic that early in the morning. I had the radio on and I felt quite excited about the next two weeks and my French adventure.

There were no queues for the ferry either and I was soon parked up behind the other cars that were waiting to board the boat. So far, so good!

As soon as I boarded, I wasted no time finding my way into the Premiere Lounge. There was nobody else there and I had the whole lounge to myself. I made myself comfortable with a cup of latte and a plate full of macaroons! My favourite flavour is the pistachio, so I made sure I had plenty of them 🙂

Then I had another latte and some pastries, then the same again, and before I knew it, I was in Dunkirk.

Driving on the “wrong” side of the road was one of my major concerns. Fortunately for me, it was unfounded. As soon as I got on the road, I somehow managed to switch to driving on the right-hand side of the road. Of course, I was alert and paid extra attention, particularly to the roundabouts but it wasn’t as difficult and as nerve-racking as I thought. The rest of the day was uneventful and after a few hours drive and a coffee/snack stop at Arras, I was driving up between the trees on either side of the track leading up to my first hotel.

Here’s a Google Map of my first day’s route. Please note that I chose to avoid paid roads and motorways.

I’ve always wanted to stay at a French château and this certainly lived up to my expectations: a 17th century chateau with towers, complete with a moat, an orangery and landscaped gardens with fountains and quite a few terraces.

MORE: Le Château d’Etoges in Champagne, France – an hotel review

It didn’t take me long to make myself comfortable and settle in. The weather was lovely and my room overlooked the moat and one of the gardens, so I decided to go out for a walk. I couldn’t help but imagine myself living there, even if I had a small room in the basement somewhere.

Panic attack at a Michelin star restaurant in a French château

I felt quite hungry after my walk and was beginning to look forward to dinner. The restaurant was just as good. It was in the orangery which was on the other side of the moat. When I arrived, the waiter knew who I was and he escorted me to my table which was on the side of the fireplace at the far end of the room.

It was quite busy but the room was big and the tables were spread far enough apart to prevent you from overhearing the conversations between the other diners. Everyone was smartly dressed and happy. There was one party of four and the rest were couples celebrating a special occasion as you would expect at a Michelin star restaurant.

Too good to be true? Read on… My nibbles and drink arrived and I was taking it all in, then it hit me that I was on my own! I got very hot, beads of cold sweat ran down my face, struggled to breath and I felt like I was about to faint. I was having a panic attack and all I could think about was that I needed to get out of there. The waiter escorted me to the terrace, sat me at one of the tables and made sure I was OK.

He then brought my drink and nibbles and gave me some privacy to pull myself together and enjoy the rest of the evening. I couldn’t go back in and was happy to skip the rest of my dinner. He insisted I should stay and have a bite to eat, and set up a table in a private room for me. I eventually came back to my normal self and was able to enjoy the rest of my meal.

So what happened to me? Looking at the other diners, all couples and celebrating, got to me and upset me. It reminded me that I had no one to share this special moment with and that set me off.

I couldn’t wait to get to my room and sleep it off!


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