For me, one of the deciding factors in buying a dog was the introduction of the pet passport. I love dogs, but I love travelling as well, and the thought of being restricted to a week’s camping in Britain with its notoriously unpredictable weather was enough to put me off the idea completely.
‘But you can always put them in kennels,’ my friends would say. ‘No chance,’ I’d curtly reply. ‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’
And that’s how I first started researching pet travel options. I’d like to be clear from the start and note that you aren’t going to find any package holidays to Greece or the Costa Del Sol with a major travel agent but you can, with just a little digging around, find lots and lots of much more interesting ideas.
How to get to the continent
The ferry from Hull to Rotterdam or Zeebrügge is pretty straight forward but the DFDS Seaways crossing from Newcastle to Amsterdam is easily the most convenient crossing for travellers in the north of England looking to travel to Holland, Germany and even Italy. The ferry docks at Ijmuiden, which is less than an hour from the Dutch capital and around three hours from Dusseldorf and Cologne in Germany. The on-board kennels are clean, comfortable and there’s always plenty of other dogs to keep Fido company. They even allow foot passengers, so it’s the only real option if you’re worried about driving overseas.
Getting around the continent
Once you’ve landed in Holland you have a choice of fast, efficient motorway network or fast, efficient trains to get you around. Day tickets for dogs cost just €€3.10 no matter how far or often you travel. If you’re wanting to travel further afield then the high speed Thalys or ICE networks can have you in Cologne or Paris in around three hours and Brussels in less than two hours.
From Paris it’s possible to take the very comfortable Thello sleeper train to Milan, Verona, Lake Garda and Venice in Italy. Or on the super-fast TGVs you can get to the Mediterranean in the south of France in just three hours. Night trains from Cologne and Dusseldorf will take you to Verona, Vienna and Innsbruck in a private sleeper cabin for as little as £200 for a family of four with a dog.
Where to stay
My favourite hotel group in Europe is the Accor brand – who almost universally accept dogs. Their brands include Novotel, ibis, ibis Budget, Mercure and many others so there’s something for all budgets. If you prefer independent hotels or something a little less chainy then try using the filter options on TripAdvisor or booking.com, who both allow searches for dog friendly hotels.
For accommodation with cooking facilities you might want to consider a holiday rental. Home Away have a policy of actively targeting dog owners – their YouTube advert actually brings a tear to my eye – and they boast more than 180,000 properties in Europe that are willing to consider pets.
Pet passport aside, you’ll need a number of other items to make sure your overseas trip goes smoothly. Personally I’d never let Falco off the lead abroad without a pet tracker of some description – I’d hate to think I lost him anywhere, let alone a foreign country. If you’re driving make sure your sat nav has European maps on it (some models come with France or European maps as standard). Don’t print directions and think you’ll be fine – the directions don’t adjust when you take a wrong turn somewhere.
Once you’re at your destination and exploring the area you’re going to need a rucksack or similar to carry your water and bowl. You could use an inflatable bowl for ease of transport. If you’re travelling in the winter months bear in mind that some countries require you to have winter tyres fitted – check with the AA for individual requirements for all European countries. Finally if you’re travelling in summer, make sure you have an air-conditioned car. It’s no fun for either of you if you don’t.
Finding a vet
If you travel overseas with a dog you’re going to need to visit a vet in order to be allowed back to the UK again. Current regulations require owners to worm their dogs (with a registered vet) one to five days before returning to the UK. There are two ways you can find a vet, the first of which is to find your destination on Google maps, then use the ‘search nearby’ option to find a vet in the area. The second option of course is to buy France: A Woof Guide or Europe: A Woof Guide by yours truly, which are both available on Amazon.
A little inspiration
Venice, Milan and Verona
Italy is wonderfully dog friendly and in the summer you’ll be dining al fresco everywhere, so finding somewhere to eat is never a problem. Venice and Verona are delightful cities to just walk around, enjoying the architecture and sights. Lake Garda is also close by if you fancy a beach break. The Thello night train departs Paris nightly at 19:59 and arrives the following morning at 09:35. The train also stops at Verona and Milan.
Not only is Cologne the hub of a fantastic network of local and international rail services to Italy, Switzerland, Austria and France, it’s also a great destination in its own right. The world famous cathedral is undoubtedly the highlight but the old town and the Rhine are just as beautiful. Take the cable car across the river to get a birds eye view of the city (dogs allowed) then take a cruise along the Rhine on one of KD Lines daily sailings to nearby Konigswinter, where you’ll find spectacular hilltop castles and a view that Lord Byron immortalised in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
The mountains, lakes and castles of Austria and Slovakia
Slovakia is one of the most dog friendly countries in the world. I’ve yet to come across a restaurant that’s said no when I’ve asked if Falco could sit with us. There are some fantastic mountains and castles to be enjoyed and things are distinctly cheaper than in neighbouring Austria. Both countries have spectacular mountain scenery and imperial castles. Austria also has lakes near Vienna that are warm enough for you to swim together in the summer. The auto-zug (auto train) leaves Dusseldorf nightly for Vienna, from where it’s possible to explore the region in your own car. Both countries require a permit to drive on the motorways, but these are readily available in service stations.
While it’s possible to travel to Rome overland, it’s a lot easier to travel to Nîmes and the surrounding Roman ruins in Languedoc and Provence. The amphitheatre at Nîmes may be smaller than the Coliseum but it is still a magnificent sight, and with a fraction of the crowds in the surrounding area. You will also find Maison Carré, a well preserved fifth century Roman temple in the city, and the Jardins de la Fontaine that house the remains of a Roman baths, beautiful statues and a ruined second century temple.
If that isn’t enough for you then nearby Pont du Gard is a massive Roman aqueduct that boasts three tiers, 35 arches and is almost 300 feet in length. It is a truly spectacular sight, especially when you consider how old it is. Need more? How about another magnificent amphitheatre in nearby Arles, or the former Papal residence in Avignon. Who needs to visit Rome anyway?
Nîmes is just a three hour train ride away from Paris and the Ouigo service from Marne la Vallee (a.k.a. Disneyland Paris) costs from just 10 euros each way, plus 30 euros for larger dogs. The city is compact and easily navigable on foot. Dogs are allowed on local trains to Avignon and Arles, and on local buses to Pont du Gard.
Paul Wojnicki is a freelance travel journalist and the author of France: A Woof Guide and Europe: A Woof Guide. Both titles are available on Amazon.
First published: September 2017