An A to Z of the British invasion of France, 1997

Simon Calder twins towns to view options for `grandes vacances'
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The Independent Travel
The French feelgood factor est arrive. Liberated by cheap francs and low fares, millions of British travellers are making plans for crossing the Channel this spring and summer.

Yet when you start planning a trip, the complexity of planes and boats, trains and tunnels proves baffling. So to show you how to get from A to B, moins cher, The Independent has created a unique A-Z of ways to reach destinations all over France. Some of the methods help you to take advantage of brand-new (or yet-to-be-introduced) services, while others will simply save you money.

All fares shown are returns, and include applicable taxes. They are quotes obtained anonymously by telephone researchers on Thursday and Friday this week. Company contacts are given opposite.

Aberdeen to Antibes

Strange but true: Luton is the new gateway to Europe. Low-cost airlines such as Debonair and easyJet have turned the Bedfordshire airport into an important air hub, especially for Aberdonian sun-seekers. A flight connection at Luton on easyJet can get you to Nice for pounds 168.40 return. The good news is that Nice airport is just a 10-minute cab ride from Antibes. The not-quite-so-terrific news is that the flight schedules mean you must spend a night in Luton in each direction.

Birmingham to Bordeaux

The global HQ of National Express coaches are in Birmingham, so not surprisingly there is a good deal by bus to from the Midlands to the Medoc. The bus company will get you to Victoria Coach Station in under three hours for a modest pounds 12; then Eurolines has a direct overnight service to Bordeaux for pounds 99, allowing you to compare the 17th-century Rue du Loup with the 20th-century Bullring.

Cardiff to Charles de Gaulle

BA 7805, one of the more wayward flights in the British Airways timetable, wafts from Aberdeen to Paris by way of Belfast City and Cardiff-Wales airports. If you buy a World Offer ticket from Cardiff to Charles de Gaulle by 26 March it will cost pounds 116.40 - only a fiver more than the first class train to London. It is tricky to make a case for the main Paris airport being a destination in its own right, but the sturdy old aerodrome of Le Bourget -halfway into Paris - houses one of the great unsung museums, devoted to Air and Space.

Dover to Dunkerque

The Sealink between these two ports has been broken. Instead, nip up the Kent coast to Ramsgate and take the new Holyman Sally fast ferry to Dunkerque. Starting on 15 May, the Australian-made catamaran is scheduled to take 75 minutes. A car plus five people costs pounds 151 for any length of stay on selected sailings all year (with restrictions on Friday and Saturday departures in July and August).

Edinburgh to Epernay

In theory, this trip is easy. The Rail Shop's brochure boasts of through trains from Britain's cities to Paris this summer, as it did last year, but the promise has yet to be kept. There is some hope that direct Eurostar trains from Edinburgh and Glasgow via the East Coast main line will finally begin in June. Timings and fares for the through trains to Paris have yet to be calculated, but expect an introductory offer of pounds 99 - with a journey time of eight hours from Edinburgh. Bolt on pounds 10 and 75 minutes each way to Epernay; you can reach the maison of Moet with just a five- minute walk between Gares du Nord and de l'Est in Paris.

Folkestone to Foix

Few ferries serve Folkestone's handsome harbour any more. Instead, burrow beneath the Channel on Le Shuttle. Pack your car with up to eight other people, and you all get to Calais in 35 minutes for pounds 149 in April or May. To reach the fine town of Foix in the Pyreneean foothills involves a drive of 1,000km (625 miles), possibly arduous with nine in a car. Still, the A20 through France, speeding the journey south, is being improved faster than is the A20 through Folkestone.

Glasgow to Grenoble

Go from the Clyde to the Alps via Essex. At the end of this month, Flightline begins operating flights from Stansted to Geneva; tickets are being sold through Plus Travel for pounds 122 return through the summer. Bolt on a Ryanair return from Prestwick to Stansted for pounds 70, including a rail ticket from Glasgow Central or any other Scottish station, and you will be within 60 miles of Grenoble. But with the pound having appreciated even more against the Swiss franc than vis-a-vis the French currency, perhaps you'd best rester in Geneva.

Huddersfield to Honfleur

A "supersaver" rail ticket from the West Yorkshire town to Portsmouth costs a whacking pounds 56.50 -more than many Channel crossings with a car at this time of year. Without special offers, P&O's Portsmouth-Le Havre ferry costs a modest pounds 20 for foot passengers if you take a midweek daytime sailing. You need not actually arrive on foot: the ferry company will let you take your bike free on the boat. Hope for a favourable breeze for the ride across the mouth of the Seine to the still-pretty fishing village.

Ipswich to Ile de Re

Even from East Anglia, motorists will find it facile to reach the small island that launches itself into the Atlantic from the intensely serene port of La Rochelle. A voyaging seagull, flying directly down from Suffolk on a straight-line route to the Ile de Re would glide above the harbour of Newhaven. From here, a high-speed Stena ship will whisk terrestrial travellers across to Dieppe in a couple of hours for pounds 48, for a five-day, two-person trip. Migrating gulls and drivers would both do well to avoid Paris en route to the silvery island of sand dunes and marshes, speckled with a few trees. The terrain, you may conclude, is remarkably similar to Suffolk, but the coast is punctuated with a few more nudist beaches.

Jarrow to Juan les Pins

Tynesiders should travel to the Cote d'Azur by way of Brussels. The official advice from the Official Airlines Guide is to take the Metro from Jarrow to Newcastle airport, fly on Sabena to the Belgian capital, then take a flight to Marseilles - from where fast, frequent trains shuttle along to Juan les Pins. Local discount agents such as Dawson & Sanderson (0191- 257 1777) can get you there and back for pounds 222.

Kidderminster to Kayserberg

To travel from the carpet capital of Worcestershire to the village whose biggest boast is as the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer is, surprisingly, a piece of patisserie: take a train to Birmingham airport to connect with the Crossair flight to Basel (pounds 217). Basel, of course, is a Swiss city. But a geo-political wrinkle places its airport firmly on the French side of the border, with a land corridor to the Swiss city that gives it the name. When you leave the airport, you choose whether to enter French or Swiss territory. Choose France, take the bus into Mulhouse and a train onwards to Colmar; Kayserberg is on the outskirts.

Luton to Le Touquet

Thameslink takes you via Blackfriars to Bromley South, where you find bus 320 to Biggin Hill International Airport. The Kent airport's sole scheduled service is on Love Air to Le Touquet, fare pounds 135. After a short hop, walk from the airport to the geriatrically glamorous resort in 15 minutes.

Manchester to Menton

A British Airways Boeing 737 has flown between Manchester and Nice for many summers. But this year, the flight has turned into a charter. When BA decided to cut the link to the south of France, the tour operator Unijet took it over. So starting on May 24, Mancunian rugby fans can make tracks to Menton easily for pounds 219; just take the train from Nice to the final resting place of William Webb Ellis, who departed for the great scrum in the sky from Menton.

Newcastle to Nancy

Brussels intervenes again for Tyneside travellers to Lorraine. Hull to Zeebrugge on P&O North Sea Ferries (pounds 106 for a car and driver for five nights) cuts out much of the motoring, and provides free motorway driving through Belgium and Luxembourg - tolls begin only at the French frontier.

Oxford to Orleans

The Thames to the Loire is mostly navigable by water, but hitching could be quicker. Students who don't mind a slow getaway should thumb along the M40, swerve around London on the M25 and continue to Folkestone on the M20. A "Paris, please" sign will earn you blank looks or derision, but could get you a free ride through the Channel Tunnel and on to the French capital. The patience of a saint such as Joan of Arc will help on the hitcher's graveyard that is the Boulevard Peripherique, but you might manage to thumb from Oxford to Orleans for pounds 0.

Pimlico to Paris

Apart from hitching, the lowest fare remains Hoverspeed's pounds 27 bus fare from Victoria (a short walk from Pimlico) to the Gare du Nord. You arrive later than Eurostar folk, but richer. Don't forget your passport.

Queen's Park to Quimper

If, instead, your bedsit is in London NW6, take the tube four stops to Paddington. The Golden Hind Pullman gets you to Plymouth, and the overnight Britanny ferry (pounds 66 per person in a two-berth) to Roscoff. By dawn you are in Britanny; even with the uncertainties of transports ruraux you should make Quimper by elevenses. In the city that boasts a Musee de la Crepe, celebrate with a pancake as mid-morning snack.

Reigate to Rennes

Air France has cut many of its services from Britain, leaving only Paris and Strasbourg. But the range of regional destinations on other airlines is still wide - especially to Britanny. Bus 727 from Reigate deposits you at Gatwick, with departures to Brest, Nantes or Rennes on Brit air for pounds 142.50

Sheffield to Strasbourg

Would you believe you can fly from Sheffield to Strasbourg? Didn't think so, especially since South Yorkshire has no airport. But head along to Humberside for Air UK's departure to Amsterdam and a connection on KLM to the home of the European parliament. Steel yourself for the fare: pounds 220.

Tamworth to Tours

Reports of the demise of the shipping industry at the hands of the Channel Tunnel are exaggerated. The straight-line school of motoring directs you to the Britanny Ferries link from Portsmouth to Caen (well, Ouistreham, nine miles north). If you hold the course steady, the journey south to the Loire even takes you down the back straight of the Le Mans racing circuit, masquerading as the E502. In July, you plus up to four co-drivers and a car can get across the Channel for pounds 140.

Upminster to Uzes

Upminster, with its 900-year-old church and medieval tithe barn, has almost as much history as the old hilltop town of Uzes. But while the medieval French settlement forms a neat triangle with Nimes and Avignon, Upminster loiters alongside Dagenham and Romford. Still, Heathrow is only a pounds 3.20 tube ride away. Air France's "hub and spoke" system to provincial France involves a tiresome bus transfer between Paris airports, but with persistence Avignon is accessible for pounds 178.60.

Virginia Water to Vincennes

Eurostar may still be recovering from the Channel Tunnel fire - and Waterloo from this week's electrical blaze -but the fixed link between England and France is still the best bet from the Home Counties to the Ile de France. Reckless travellers will allow three minutes to connect at Waterloo from South West Trains to Eurostar (not counting the 20 minute check-in). Use the direct Disneyland service (pounds 79), and transfer magically at the Royaume Enchante to RER line A to the Chateau de Vincennes - no messing around on the Metro.

Watford to Wimereux

For destinations in the Boulogne banlieue, Hoverspeed is the best bet - its SeaCat purrs across from Folkestone in 55 minutes. A day return by train from Watford Junction to Folkestone costs pounds 18.10, and if you catch the current Cat's special offer (until the end of April) you can reach Boulogne for the day for just pounds 2 . The bus from Boulogne takes 20 minutes for a modest 7F, to reach Wimereux, four miles north. This winningly friendly resort, with a prim fin-de-siecle promenade, is still woefully overlooked by daytrippers.

EXeter to Aix

You don't have to be a planespotter to enjoy this journey, but it helps. The morning departure from Devon to Jersey on a Shorts 360 gives you plenty of time to connect with the departure to Paris (and, indeed, the chance to see a good portion of Jersey while you wait for the flight to the French capital). A De Havilland Dash 8 dashes you to Charles de Gaulle, where you face another long wait for an Airbus A320 to Lyon. The airport is on the TGV high-speed line to the south, so you can complete the trip by land at velocities almost as fast as some of the planes used for this tortuous trip. British Airways' long-suffering fares unit computes a price of pounds 260.50 to Lyon, with the change out of pounds 300 getting you the rest of the way to Aix-en-Provence.

Yeovil to Yerville

By this stage in the alphabet, you will have collected almost every crossing on the Channel. The misnamed Britanny ferry from Poole to Cherbourg costs pounds 80 for a five-person, five-day trip, leaving you to lope through Normandy to this placid ville.

Zennor to Zonza

From one extreme in England to a far-flung corner of France. Zennor is a village near Land's End, Zonza a hamlet north of Porto-Vecchio in Corsica. A land journey, using ferries where necessary, covers 1,000 miles. In contrast, St Ives is but three tempting miles away.

Cross-Channel contacts

Air UK: 0345 666777

Brit air: 01293 502044

British Airways: 0345 222111

British Rail International: 0171-834 2345

Brittany Ferries: 0990 360360

Crossair: 0171-434 7300

easyJet: 0990 292929

Eurolines: 01582 404511

Eurostar: 0345 303030

Holyman Sally: 0990 595522

Hoverspeed: 01304 240241

Le Shuttle 0990 353535

London Transport enquiries: 0171-222 1234

National Express: 0990 808080

P&O North Sea Ferries: 01482 377177

P&O European Ferries: 0990 980980

Plus Travel: 0171-259 0199

Rail Shop: 0990 717273

Ryanair: 0541 569569

SeaFrance: 0990 711711

Stena Line: 0990 707070

UK rail enquiries: 0345 484950

Unijet: 0990 114114

None of the numbers above is a premium-rate service - but to call the French tourist office in London, on 0891 244123, you pay 50 pence per minute.

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