01449 773600 Parents Login

French and History trip June 2023

By Stephen Banks

The real driving force behind this trip from the conception of the idea to the final execution was Madame Davis. It was her drive, energy and practical, patient organisation that got us on the road to the Loire.  Her fluent French and knowledge of the country was invaluable on many occasions. 

At 2.30am on Saturday 24th June the 37 students and four staff arrived at school to find not one but two 53 seat luxury coaches awaiting us. This was unexpected but better to have two coaches than none! There had been a booking glitch by the company acting on our behalf and this was soon sorted out and we all boarded the Greys of Ely coach and got acquainted with Andy, our driver for the trip. 

The sun rose on a cracking, warm summer’s day as we made good time to catch our ferry. The English Channel was as calm as a millpond and students and staff were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast onboard. After disembarkation we were soon on the smooth, fast and beautifully un congested A16 Autoroute heading for Paris and our first stop of the tour. 

After a brief diversion to book into the StayCity hotel and unload our bags, Andy whisked us into the very heart of Disneyland Paris where we would remain for a little bit of downtime. Having established a clear meeting point and time, the students zoomed off, heading first for the more ‘adult’ adrenaline rides. Mrs Foss and Mr Jordan skipped and giggled as they went in search of some ‘challenging’ gut churning rides. Madame Davis and I had a nice sit down and a cold drink, followed by ice cream. We did the tame ‘wussy’ rides, the sort of gentle experiences designed to aid digestion before nodding off. 

The group had a fabulous time in Disneyland and it was a happy but tired bunch that returned to the hotel much later that night. The Year 11 boys had been so excited they had plain forgotten to eat anything. Fortunately the hotel had a late snack bar. 

After a really good buffet breakfast at StayCity we clambered aboard for the next leg of the journey south to the Loire. It was a baking hot day, well over 35C by the afternoon and the coach aircon had to work really hard to keep us all comfortable. We arrived at the gorgeous Chenonceau Château for our booked visit. The interior is impressive, especially the long gallery, but the true beauty of the place is the location with the bright white masonry elegantly spanning the river Cher. This was the sort of place the rich and aristocratic came to feast, hunt, show off and conduct illicit love affairs. Our group restricted themselves to some showing off and a little light picnicking. We stayed for less time than planned, mainly because the heat by 3-4pm was intense and the students were in dire need of a dip into a cool pool. In the late afternoon we set off for our accommodation at the Villa Bellagio near Amboise. 

After checking into rooms there was time for a very welcome cooling dip in the pool before getting ready for a short trip into Amboise to enjoy dinner for 41 at a restaurant. We enjoyed some al fresco dining by the Loire and spent a couple of hours chatting and enjoying the atmosphere on a still very warm and starry night. That night, after a very long day, everyone slept very soundly. 

The next morning after a swift breakfast it was off to Amboise to visit the Chateau Clos Luce, the final home of Leonardo da Vinci and the home of an extensive display of his works and designs in a beautiful, quite intimate chateau set in a lovely garden with shade and meandering streams running through it. By the time we left, the heat was building again and we set off in small groups to explore the beautiful town of Amboise. After a stroll and some drinks we all bought something for a picnic lunch and then boarded the coach for a ride to the Chateau of Chambord. 

Chambord is the largest and most impressive of the pleasure palaces in the Loire. The Chateau is truly immense and was built by the contemporary of Henry VIII, King Francois I as a hunting lodge. We had decided that we wanted a picnic in the parkland and a group photo with Chambord in the background. Once again the heat of the day caused us to bring our departure forward and to go off in search of a local outdoor swimming area. We found such a place just a few miles away. Unfortunately this was to prove a frustrating visit for the boys on the trip. The girls had no problems, but the boys long style swimming shorts fell foul of some very strict French rules and they were not allowed in the water. We gave the girls half an hour in the pool and then headed for a local supermarket to buy ingredients for dinner. 

The evening of day three of the trip saw roommates across all 14 rooms working together to create the evening meal. I must say that I was both surprised and impressed by some of the culinary skills on display. I was less impressed with some of the clearing up afterwards, but let us pass lightly over that!

Day four saw us going even further south to Futuroscope near Poitiers. The fast Autoroute made it a quick journey and we arrived just as the park opened. This was a real contrast to Disneyland Paris. It is a vast and quite open site with a large lake, lots of raised walkways and some striking architecture. The park offers 4D experiences rather than ‘rides’ with moving seats, 360 3D, wind and rain effects, vibrations and surround sound. You truly get to feel what it is like to pass through the eye of a tornado. 

We returned to the villa for more swimming in the pool and our evening activities. The activities included fiercely competitive table tennis, boulle and some torrid and merciless games of cards. It was all great fun, we made loads of noise, got tired out and eventually retired to bed about 11pm. 

We left the Loire as we arrived, in blazing summer heat and headed towards the Channel. The journey was smooth and uneventful with only one stressful moment when the Channel Tunnel people found that our booking had been accidentally cancelled. A quick call to the company who made the travel booking on our behalf soon sorted this hitch out and we were soon zooming beneath the English Channel. We arrived back at school just one hour later than intended. 

Our driver Andy was a star throughout the trip, he was helpful, good with the students and always good humoured. Mrs Foss and Mr Jordan were fantastic and showed irrepressible energy and cheerfulness. Most things went to plan, there were no big disasters, no one got lost and there were only minor scrapes and bruises for the first aid kit.
Above all the students were a joy to be with and it was truly inspiring to see the spirit of caring comradeship between them.