Blown Apart by France; Sam Ryall Wets His Whistle with a Glass of the Good Stuff - but Still Finds Time to Sample a Bit of French History!

Article excerpt

Byline: Sam Ryall

I DON'T know whether it was the glitzy video montage or the glass of Champagne but I was feeling a bit light-headed.

Around me stood six other tourists, all transfixed at a TV screen that was showing a publicity video, promoting Pannier Champagne.

Images of beautiful people with perfect teeth flashed before us while the seductive voice of a woman tempted us with phrases like "tumultuous quivering". It was difficult to stifle our childish embarrassment but the intoxication was inescapable.

It's easy to get carried away while you're on holiday, especially in France, and it's never been easier to get there.

At a time when the popularity of air travel is at an all time low, Eurotunnel Motoring Holidays are offering an ideal alternative.

They have teamed up with tour operator Cresta to provide a tempting range of selfdrive breaks to France, Belgium and Holland.

Between now and August 2002, you can discover the continent in your own car. All the holidays are within easy driving distance of the Eurotunnel Terminal in Calais and with a journey time of only 35 minutes platform to platform, you can go where you want, when you want.

My destination was the picturesque Aisne departement, two hours south east of Calais.

The nearest city is Reims, a name wellknown to Champagne drinkers, but the jewel in Aisne's crown is the medieval town of Laon.

Here you can wander for hours, walking around the town walls, seeing ancient Egyptian treasures at the museum of archaeology or resting your feet at one of many cafes and bars.

For the more energetic, there's the opportunity to climb the imposing Notre Dame church, which offers sweeping views across the town and vineyards beyond. But beware, the climb to the top is via a perilous spiral staircase, which seems to go on forever.

From the top, on a good day and with a fair wind, you can probably see the Parc Nautique de l'Ailette near Chamouille, which is about 15 minutes' drive south east of Laon.

This 450-hectare park offers a range of watersports and other outdoor activities, including swimming, sailing, canoeing, pedalos, walking and a children's play area. You can hire a range of accommodation from a Louisiana-style mobile home to a waterfront apartment, or rough it in a tent or caravan.

But if it's a hotel you're after then book a room at the three-star Mercure Laon across the other side of the water. There are 58 ensuite rooms, offering satellite TV, tea and coffee making facilities, minibar and balcony with lake view. Downstairs there is a restaurant, bar, pool (open May to September), small gym and sun terrace. From now until December 31 it costs pounds 113 per person, per night - based on two sharing - but if you stay for three nights or more you'll get one night free. …