That we weren’t going to drive all the way to Barcelona with two small kids in one day was very clear in the early stages of our planning. Where in the middle of France we would stop was not.
In my head at the time, France was Paris and…whatever else. Chateaus and vineyards. Though we stayed in Lourdes and watched a stage of the Tour de France in Pau 9 years ago, I really had no grasp of what in the world there was to do in France. So I did some research to find a place to stop that would be fun for the kids.
Then I found a cogwheel train up a dormant volcano and knew I had found my answer.
We arrived at our sparsely-equipped (but cheap) apart-hotel just north of Clermont-Ferrand (where Michelin was founded) around 8:30pm, after a good 12-ish hours on the road. There were rest stops, fuel ups, tolls, wrong turns. Bertie howled the last 45 minutes or so, and no one blamed him. At least there was a rainbow ahead of us as we drove through the lovely countryside.
[By the way, planning a day of driving around the sleeping/eating schedules of small children seems easy. But it doesn't work.]
After failing at our first ever dual-bedtime-room-share attempt, and waking a couple of times, and starting our day early, we headed to the Panoramique des Domes station to catch an early train and be on the road to Barcelona by lunch.
The train was very modern, and the view over Clermont-Ferrand as it climbed the volcano was lovely. The kids didn’t care.
We didn’t realize that the top of the volcano was covered with paved trails (or we would have brought the stroller) in addition to a more rugged downhill trail. There also weren’t really any railings along the trails, which is fine if you aren’t 14 months old and still prone to tripping on your own feet. We decided to walk around to ogle the view (as best as we could with the impending rain) and then hit the restaurant for lunch.
The view of the chain of dormant volcanos was stunning. We brought Terry the Traveling Teddy Bear from Walden’s school to snap photos. (This was the only place we took one on the whole trip. Oops.)
The kids wanted to eat before lunch time. Of course. When a 3- and 1-year old want to eat, you feed them. Unless you like the sound of whining and crying. So they had snacks to tide them over, which was good because the restaurant didn’t open until noon and we didn’t have lunch on the top of the volcano anyway.
Bertie wailed most of the way down. And off the train. And through the train station. And while lying in a bed of clovers while Jon grabbed some sandwiches from the cafe in the station. And all the way to the car in the rain. YAY FOR FAMILY VACATION!
Then he took a BIG nap, and 8 hours or so later we arrived in Barcelona.
In short, poor Puy de Dome suffered from our inexperience in traveling with our small kids. Nice idea. Bad timing on our part. If we were to stop in the area again, we would have allowed time to hike some of the trails lower on the volcano, or elsewhere in the Auvergne region. We were at the edge of a large regional park that looked like it had a lot to offer. I’d say “maybe next time!,” but… you’re going to discover that I don’t intend to drive my family from England to Spain again.
Stay tuned for more tales from the road!