Dover-Calais ~ two new ferry services

Norman Spirit, the first ship on the new DFDS Dover Calais route

This year it should be easier than ever to find a convenient way to cross the channel for your Sandboys holiday.  The Dover-Calais route is likely to be served by two new ferry companies, replacing the now defunct SeaFrance line.

The first new service to be announced is the DFDS Dover Calais service which will start on February 17.  DFDS already operate the successful and popular Dover Dunkirk service (formerly Norfolk Line) and are now teaming up with the French LD Lines on the shorter Calais route.

The new service will be operated by two French-flagged vessels, including LD Line’s Norman Spirit (pictured).

A second ferry will be added to the Dover Strait as soon as a suitable vessel becomes available, DFDS said in a statement.

“As we have also previously announced, we will hire 300 staff at sea and ashore in addition to those we already employ,” said DFDS. “The process of hiring people, many of these being former SeaFrance staff, has already started.”

DFDS are confident that the new joint-venture will not affect its existing service in any way.

Eurotunnel, the operators of the Channel Tunnel, have also announced plans to introduce a seaborne cross-channel service, with the acquisition of three, now out of service, SeaFrance vessels.

The former SeaFrance ships are large and comfortable, but their decor and furnishings had been allowed to become rather scruffy and neglected by SeaFrance , which had long been known for its poor standard of customer service and abysmal standards of essential navigation and safety equipment maintenance.

Eurotunnel hope to establish themselves as the majority partner in the venture that would revitalize the Calais-Dover route by employing a number of former SeaFrance employees.  For their customer’s sake, let’s hope they don’t bring the old SeaFrance culture with them.

More competition on the route should ensure keener prices, so we hope our Sandboys holiday customers will benefit from savings and a better service.

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Yesterday’s tide at Fort Mahon was a big one.  The tidal range – vertical height difference between Low Water and High Water – was 9.97 metres (32 ft).

To put this in perspective, imagine yourself standing in the garden of a two storey house, with a pitched roof, that someone has foolishly built exactly on the low tide mark.  At low tide the ground under your feet would be just damp.

Six hours later, at high tide, the house will have disappeared from view and you will be floating so high above it you won’t be able to touch its highest point with your feet.

Fortunately tides are easily predictable and the range rarely varies from forecast heights.  Fort Mahon takes advantage of these large ranges by making use of the vast expanse of fine sand that they expose for recreation.

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French TV visits the Sandboys region!


This is a French TV programme about the Baie de la Somme region near where we live, and where our Sandboys seaside holiday houses are situated. The programme is in French, but we’re sure you’ll like the pictures and you’ll certainly be able to reproduce the delicious recipes, even if you can’t catch everything they say.

The hotel restaurant “Les Tourelles,” where they filmed the cookery demonstration, is about 15 minutes drive from the Sandboys houses in Fort Mahon, so you can eat the same dishes you see cooked here!

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Gite guestbook comments ~ and some chocolates

Gite cleaned, prepared, and ready for guests

It was a busy Saturday yesterday, as all three of our gites changed over on the same day.

This happens from time to time every year, of course, but not so often as you might imagine. Although our changeover day for the houses in the summer season is Saturday, we frequently have families staying two weeks in one or other of the gites. This tends to reduce the number of 3-way changeover days.

Gite cleaned, prepared, and ready for guests

This gite is ready for guests arriving!

Another factor is that the Garden Studio gite is let by the night at all times of year. Guests can arrive and leave on any day of the week and stay for anything from 2 or 3 nights up to 2 or 3 weeks, so the majority of arrivals and departures there are not on Saturdays.

But every now and then we have the whole lot to do on one day. This time, though, our guests did make it a lot easier for us. The Van De Rijts who were in the Garden Studio left at about 0830 to travel to Holland, so we were able to get into the apartment and have it thoroughly cleaned and prepared by soon after 1000.

Mr and Mrs Van De Rijt had left us a very kind comment in the Garden Studio gite guestbook, saying they had enjoyed a wonderful time and would be returning for another holiday. On top of that they left us a lovely gift of some rather special chocolates from the local patissier/chocolatier.

Then it was off to Fort Mahon, where although the De Boeck family weren’t quite ready to leave Sandboys Pearl, the Taylors had already left Dune and we got of to a prompt start with our cleaning, maintenance and gite preparation.

The Taylor family had clearly enjoyed their stay and left some kind comments in the guestbook, as well as a very nice letter – from which we would like to quote:

Dear Patrick & Sue

Sorry we didn’t get to meet you but we had to leave just ater 9 to get our shuttle – and a long drive to Cornwall!

Had a great time though and everything in the house worked really well – extremely well equipped compared to many holiday properties we have stayed in.

Lovely area – we usually go to Brittany but the cheap tunnel crossing makes this a really good alternative.

Many thanks,
The Taylor Family

Our thanks to the Taylors for such a glowing reference!

Finally we got to Sandboys Pearl at about 1230 and were sufficiently ahead of schedule to stop for a sandwich (we made them before we started work in the morning) and a drink. The De Boecks, too, had left a very kind comment in the gite guest book – although as it was in Dutch I could only guess at some of the words. However, what was clear was that they loved the house and they had had a good time in Fort Mahon. Their final sentence translates, “Thank you for this nice house which made our holiday”.

So this week the gite housework wasn’t as hard as it could have been, and the rewards, the comments, the letter and the chocolates, were even kinder than expected.

There was still the laundry, ironing and office work to do, of course.

Owning and running gites in France – that’s the life!

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Euro Holiday Value

restaurant Terasse

I love the BBC and am extremely grateful to be able to tune into BBC 1, 2, 3 and 4 through a free-sat receiver here in France.

I rarely look further than the beeb’s listings when planning a night-in in front of the box and to keep up with the news I join Bill and Sian on most mornings. I do however feel that sometimes they get the wrong end of the stick especially when reporting on comparisons between the UK and France because I reckon I know better!

Today (it must be a slow news day) they are discussing the expense of holidaying in the Euro-zone and I suppose that they may have a point when looking at the prices of eating out in say Venice or many of the Mediterranean resorts. Here in the Pas de Calais however, it is very different. Our local shops and restaurants are not in it for the fast buck to be made during a short 8 week season they cater to an all year round trade which seems to make for good value for money.

I must admit that when sterling fell against the Euro around 3 years ago I started to “do a shop” when passing Tesco or Sainsbury’s on my way back from the occasional visit to the UK and I must admit that for around 18 months I considered I was a few quid in. After that I began to notice that what used to cost around £80 was creeping up to 90 then it nudged 100 and finally on my last trip I shelled out £120, it was then that I actually started to make proper comparisons. Of course there are things that I just can’t get in France, baked beans and Marmite to mention just two but for those items that I can substitute or if I can get the same thing here I am back to confining my shopping to our French supermarkets.

Wine, cheese, pate croissants and bread are cheaper, better and tastier in France. A simple baguette is subsidised by the state so will cost you only around 50 pence and French wine is still a bargain, if you search the supermarket shelves you will find a very decent tipple for next to nothing. I have discovered in our local branch of lntermarche, a palatable Muscat Sec for just 1 Euro 80 centimes.

General tourism wins hands down too, entrance fees to most tourist attractions compare very favourably with those in the UK and if you’re visiting a city for culture and sight seeing, remember, in France you don’t have to negotiate heavily congested roads. You just glide through the picturesque countryside of France until you reach your destination then joy of all joys  parking is easy and usually free or cheap.

For a short time petrol seemed cheaper in the UK but now prices are a bit lower here and if diesel is your vehicle’s tipple you will find it well worth waiting to fill up in France.  Which brings me to crossing the water, whichever carrier you chose I am absolutely sure that it will be more enjoyable than the usual “airport experience”, it’s cheaper too and even helps with your carbon footprint.

I think what sums it all up for me is that the top hotel in Fort Mahon, Hotel La Terasse, which has an excellent restaurant, offers a 3 course menu for less than 16 Euros and in most cafes you can sip an excellent coffee for a little over one Euro. Yes France is a great place for a family holiday or a break for couples it’s easy to get to and will not break the bank – so what are you waiting for an invitation from Sarkozy?

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Good Boulangerie News

A couple of months ago there was a fire at one of the boulangeries in Fort Mahon.

 “C’est normale”, as they say here – naturally, every now and then a bakery will catch fire.

Fortunately, in this fire, no-one was hurt.  Unfortunately it was at the best bakery in Fort Mahon – in fact, the best bakery in the whole region.  Many times our guests have told us how much they love the bread from the Banette bakery opposite the Post Office in the Avenue de la Plage.  We already knew about it, of course.  We travel out of our way to Fort Mahon to buy our own bread there.  My personal preference is for the “Baguette Tradition”, also known as the “Tradi”, (this is not the standard baguette, you have to specify “tradition”) but there are many other types of loaf to try, all of them delicious.  Even their standard baguette is better than any other baker’s hereabouts.

After the fire the bakery closed, but after a few weeks the owners managed to find and rent an empty shop in the next village down the coast, Quend, and opened up to their Fort Mahon regulars.  Business, however, was not too good, as they obviously lost all the passing trade they had before, and many of their local customers simply could not travel to the new shop.

The good news this week is that they have partially re-opened the fire-damaged premises and are selling their wonderful bread in Fort Mahon again.  Refurbishment of the rest of the old shop should be completed soon so that they can show off all their delicious cakes, tarts and pastries, as well as the bread, in a fittingly high-class boulangerie setting.

By the way, Banette is a chain of franchised bakeries, all using flours and other ingredients from a common supplier, so you would naturally expect that they would all be able to produce exactly the same bread.  It doesn’t work like that in France – somehow these bakers all manage to produce a totally individual product.

It makes buying the bread more fun when you can try loaves from dozens of local bakers and make up your mind which you prefer.  If you’re only staying at a Sandboys gite in Fort Mahon for a week’s holiday, though, take it from us, the Banette shop opposite the Post Office is Number One!

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Restaurant and holiday weather update

We eventually managed to go back and eat at the Restaurant “Les Freres Caudron” at Rue.

The food was good brasserie standard, and the servings generous.  The house white was a very reasonable Chardonnay.  It’s a big restaurant and, on the Saturday evening when we went, it was absolutely packed.

This might explain why the service was rather too slow, so that after two courses and a long wait we decided to skip the desert and go home for ice-cream and coffee.  The price was reasonable and the surroundings comfortable – until we had waited so long the chairs began to feel a bit hard – so we have only the service to complain about.  Perhaps this was a particularly busy nght, or maybe they were short-staffed, but whatever the reason, Les Freres Caudron will have to up their game if they want to compete with the impressively high standards of service and value you’ll always get at our favourite restaurant, La Terasse at Fort Mahon.

The restaurant at the Hotel La Terasse at Fort Mahon Plage

The seafront restaurant at Hotel La Terasse - excellent service and good value always.

We’ll no doubt be checking out Les Freres Caudron again soon, and will hope to see a marked improvement, as it’s always good to have several equally good, economical, and reliable restaurants to choose from when you’re on holiday.

Today saw the departure of the Sylvesters who had, they wrote in the Visitors’ Book, enjoyed an excellent week at Sandboys Dune.  Even the weather was good, they said.  It certainly was – yet another week passes with no rain and the grass in Fort Mahon gardens is so dry, yellow and shrivelled it’s almost disappeared.  Fortunately France seems rarely to run out of water in its reservoirs, though, and there’s no talk of hosepipe bans or any other limitations on use yet.

Let’s hope the weather stays good for our next arrivals, the Woottons, the Herberts, and the Smarts. Perhaps they’ll be able to recommend some other restaurants.

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Prestigious awards for gites! Sandboys Pearl wins unbeatable 4 stars!

Gite guest book with complimentary comments

The Brett family award Sandboys Pearl a 4-Star rating!

The most important rating or classification that any gite proprietor can earn is not one that’s rubber-stamped by the local authority or a state-run tourism department.

 Nor is it one that’s awarded after inspection by some Michelin-like arbiter of standards.

Of course, it’s nice to have some sort of official recognition, together with the badges you can display on your brochures and website, but the only quality rating that really matters to holiday gite owners is the opinion of the families who come to stay in our houses.

That’s why we were delighted again this week to receive one of the most coveted awards in the holiday gite business – an unsolicited 4 Star rating awarded by a real family who stayed in our pretty gite, Sandboys Pearl, the smaller of our two seaside houses at Fort Mahon Plage.

So thank you to the Brett family – we accept your award with gratitude and humility.  We’ll keep working hard to provide really good holiday value, and we’ll continue to maintain each Sandboy gite to the highest standards of cleanliness, equipment, and comfort, so that every family will, we hope, always find that we’ve attended to every detail that might help make their holiday the best they’ve ever had.

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It is rewarding work being a gite owner

It’s always nice to hear from our guests when they have enjoyed a holiday in one of the Sandboys gites.

This week we’re feeling happy because it’s still early in the season and we’ve heard from two families who have just left the Sandboys houses after enjoyable holidays.

First, Elke and Joop and their family from Belgium, who stayed at Sandboys Dune, left some very nice comments in our Visitors’ Book and also a note asking if they could book another week at Dune later in the year.  Of course we were delighted and we’ve already reserved their dates in July.

Kettle family comments in Sandboys Pearl guest book

Next it was the Kettle family, Peter, Amanda, Max (age 4) and Chloe (5) who left Sandboys Pearl today after their second long weekend this year.  They left a long note in our guest book, telling us what a great time they had – again – and how much they loved the place.

Last week the charming Gogo family presented us with a very nice flowering houseplant on their departure.

We hope we’ll see all our happy guests come back time and time again.  It’s the best reward we could have for our small efforts.

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