European Road Tripping with our Diggy Dog: UK to Malta

Last year my husband and I made the decision to move from our home in Nottingham (UK), to the sunny Mediterranean island of Malta. One of our first considerations when making the move was how to transport our gorgeous cocker-spaniel, Poppy. She is exceptionally soft, both fur wise and emotionally, so putting her on a plane would have likely traumatised her sensitive soul. With that in mind, we decided she would join us on our European road trip, travelling in the back of our Seat Leon in the comfort of her own bed.

After locking up our home in Nottingham for the final time we set off for ‘Le Shuttle’, the car train which would take us from Folkstone (UK), to Calais (France). Poppy looked rather confused as we drove onto the train, to be honest so was I—you drive into a train! But she soon settled after sharing a chicken sandwich with us. The train journey went smoothly, partially because we had paid for a flexi ticket, which meant we were greeted with a “free” lunch and could board straight away, well worth purchasing.

Le Shuttle – car train

On arrival in France our first stop was Lille. We all loved this city! The sweet, independent boutiques and cute cafes made it a joy to walk through. On our first evening we enjoyed delicious limonchello and white wine cocktails and attempted to share oysters with Poppy, but turns out she’s not a fan. She much preferred the next day when we went to Jardin Vauban, a pretty English- inspired park with lots of space to run around and stepping-stones to hop across the river.
Jardin Vauban, Lille, France

The next day we set off for Paris, stopping in the quaint rural towns of Compiegne and Rully. Due to the pandemic the roads and villages were deserted. The still atmosphere made us feel as though we were on a film set, privileged to have been invited behind the scenes.
Rully, France

Arriving in Paris was a totally different change of scene. The bustling city was nothing like the quietness of country villages. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel room, and letting Poppy check out the view from the window, it was time to go exploring.
Paris, France

We visited all the usual tourist attractions: Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower, The Lourve. We couldn’t actually go into any of these places because of the fur baby but it was great to see the infamous landmarks with hardly any tourists about.
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Our evening in Paris was spent in Montmatre, a picturesque place where local artists gather on the cobbled streets. Poppy sat with us whilst we enjoyed our cliché evening meal of French onion soup and snails, finished off with a beautiful lavender crème brulee – to die for!

Montmatre, France

Our onward journey would take us through Fontainebleau and Avallon before arriving at the next country on our trip—Switzerland. We had been told that a 45-minute drive away from Geneva was the must-see town of Annecy in France, so we spent just one evening in the capital, indulging ourselves on decadent chocolate milkshakes at the Haagen-Dazs café before getting a fairly early night for another full day.

Avallon, France

Thank you to everyone who recommended Annecy! It was breath-taking. Lake Annecy was particularly spectacular with its crystal-clear waters and vast Alpine mountains interlocking in the distance. We hired a pedalo to enjoy the view whilst having a refreshing dip. Poppy joined in the swimming after some encouragement, although I think she was more worried about us drowning than she was about taking in the scenery.

After spending a couple of hours enjoying the lake, we agreed it was time for lunch and wandered into the town. We were spoiled for choice with restaurants and cafes to choose from! Most of them can be found alongside the canal. The word ‘canal’ in my mind conjures up images of shopping trolley infested brown water. But not in Annecy! Even the canal had beautiful turquoise waters, with those impressive mountains as the backdrop. If I were a duck, I would immigrate from Manchester to start a new life there.

Annecy, France

The end of a wonderful day in Annecy signalled the beginning of the next leg of our trip—onwards to Italy!

We stopped in Bonneville for a blueberry muffin breakfast before beginning the spectacular drive through the Alps. The scenery was so stunning, I felt like I was overdosing on beauty! Driving along the open roads towards the snow top mountains, watching paragliders fly in the air like eagles was unforgettable.

Bonneville, France

The scenery was cut off for about 15 minutes as we drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy. The first place we stopped in the fourth country on our trip was in a little town called Irvea, where we had a quick lunch. Sipping our coffee, I noticed an incredibly well-dressed man sat opposite us—is he gay or European? It was confirmed, we had arrived in southern Europe, the natural habitat of the metrosexuals.

Ivrea, Italy

With paninis in our bellies, we made our way to Genoa. So far on our trip we had stayed at hotels, however, tonight we were staying at a small farm situated at the top of a very windy, narrow road. On arrival we were greeted by the owner—an old, Italian lady who didn’t speak any English. Luckily, my husband speaks a bit of Italian and understood that a homemade meal would be ready for us that evening. After taking a quick nap, we spruced ourselves up a bit and walked to the front of the farmhouse where we found a table set up for two, facing a gorgeous night-time view of the harbour with twinkling lights of the city.

Genoa, Italy

In the morning, Poppy had a good sniff around the farm, and I visited the piggy wigs before we set off for Corniglia, one of the five colourful towns of Cinque Terre. After almost an hour of driving along the twisting roads, going up, up, up, we finally arrived. Our accommodation for the night was a surprisingly peaceful sanctuary set amongst the buzzing bars, restaurants and boutique shops.
Corniglia, Itaky

It was a short stay in Corniglia as less than 24 hours later we were on the road again, this time to Sienna. We stopped in Pisa for a classic photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, then spent the afternoon in Florence, admiring the impressive architecture and enjoying another yummy pasta dish.

Pisa, Italy

We had planned to venture into Sienna but our hotel was situated north of the city in a place so beautiful that we didn’t want to leave. Set in the Tuscanny countryside, Colle di Val d’Elsa is a medieval town with the most romantic and tranquil atmosphere, a perfect escape from hectic, modern life.

Colle di Val d’Elsa, Sienna, Italy

The next morning, we made our way to the nearby Fiume Elsa waterfalls. Poppy had a little swim whilst we enjoyed the shade from the leafy trees before beginning our three-hour drive to Rome.

Fiume Elsa waterfalls

We bought tickets for a pet friendly hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the capital city so Poppy didn’t have to get her paws hot walking all day. With the breeze blowing between our hair (and ears) we took in the scenery of Rome and stopped off at the ancient ruins and Colosseum. That evening we had dinner in the Piazza della Rotanda, soaking in the atmosphere of cheerful tourists enjoying their travels after months of quarantining.

On the hop-on-hop-off tour bus, Rome

The next stop on our trip was Sorrento where we stayed for one night. We wandered into town from our hotel, passing all the lemon themed boutiques: lemon soap, lemon perfume, lemon jewellery! Amongst all the lemons, Poppy found a cocker-spaniel ornament: “Mummy, I am so beautiful that they have made me into a statue”.  Thinking we were all lemoned out we had an evening meal of pasta and wine, finished off with… you guessed it! A limonchello shot. What else, right!?

Sorrento, Italy

The next morning it was time to begin our journey to the stunning Almalfi Coast, where we would stay in a town called Ravello. On our way there we stopped in Positano for lunch; a sophisticated village, with fancy restaurants serving up quintessential Italian food. However, I did find a not-so-sophisticated piece of plastic in my spaghetti (who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?).

Positano, Italy

Our accommodation in Ravello was a sweet family-run hotel, with breath-taking views of the mountains and nearby villages. The breakfast here was honestly the best breakfast I have ever had! Drinking freshly made coffee and fruit juices, and eating homemade pastries whilst enjoying that view was definitely my happy place.

Ravello, Italy

As we were the only guests staying at the hotel, the owner let us spend the day by the pool with Poppy. She somehow knew that the pool wasn’t a natural body of water so didn’t go for a dip. It was the perfect place to relax before setting off to Villa San Giovanni where we would catch the ferry to Sicily!

Ravello, Italy

We chose to stay in the beautiful hill top town of Taormina in Sicily. Poppy came with us for cocktails and snacks at a cool bar where the seating area is the cobbled steps of the street. It was the ideal place to watch the world go by as the sun set. Once we had finished all the nibbles, we went for a stroll past the shops selling handmade crafts, and bars filled with people chatting and laughing away.

Taormina, Sicily

The next day was a big one, it would be the day we would arrive in our new home—Malta! We took Poppy to the vets so her passport would be ready for the authorities to check upon arrival and then made our way to the ferry at Pozzallo. As soon as we stepped out of the car we could feel the air was different. The humid sea air reinforced that we were a long way from the UK! As we waited for the ferry we had a drink at one of the port’s bars and James noticed they were selling Cisk, Malta’s national beer. We’d almost made it!

Pozzallo, Sicily

The ferry journey from Sicily to Malta is over four hours long, so we paid for Poppy to go in an air-conditioned pet cabin as she wasn’t allowed upstairs with us. She has serious separation anxiety, crying even if one of us goes to the toilet, so we were worried about leaving her, but she seemed ok when we picked her up at the end of the journey.

Sicily ferry

When leaving the ferry, the Maltese authorities checked Poppy’s passport and flashed their torch in the back to see her. Upon seeing her bed with copious pillows to make sure she was comfortable, they called her a queen and said we were ok to go.

That was it. We had arrived. It was an epic drive through Europe and we made memories I’ll cherish forever. Since our arrival in Malta in September 2020 we have bought our own place in Mellieha, north of the island and we are all enjoying our new life on this sunny Mediterranean island!

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