Holidays are coming, it is inescapable! As a self-dubbed festive enthusiast, I was finding after such a tumultuous year I was struggling to find my Christmas cheer so it was decided drastic measures needed to be taken. A Christmas market visit was needed, but this time Winter Wonderland was just not going to cut it, I needed a European Christmas market tour to bump start my Christmas cheer. With only 3 days and 3 destinations on my hit list I didn’t have time to waste at airport check ins and departure lounges, so with the help of Citroëns C4 Cactus, my journey for festive fulfilment became a road trip.
Day 1 – London to Bruges
The early bird catches the worm as they say so we were up bright and early, inspecting our new wheels, an aptly festive red very swish little number. With all the travelling I do for work, it is ridiculous but I still have not quite mastered the art of capsule packing, so the glory of driving and having the C4 Cactus’ roomy boot means I didn’t have to edit, into the car it all went.
And we hit the road, travelling from London to the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, the journey had begun!
The Eurotunnel is so easy, I swear will never fly to France again, from check in to hitting the roads in Calais in 45 minutes, it’s that easy. And so began my slightly dodgy navigation skills, thankfully assisted by the cars satnav 7 inch tablet screen that is the home to its on board computer system. I am not going to lie we did get a little way laid once I realised I could also use this to connect to my iPhone music library, but everyone knows a road trip is only ever as good as its playlist! This aside we made it to the quaint streets of Bruges in an hour and 30 minutes.
Bruges is Disney-esque in its cuteness! Cobbled winding streets opening out to squares of Christmas markets, just follow the smell of Gluwine and tinkle of festive music, my festive spirit was rising already! Having not visited Bruges at any other time of the year, I simply can’t picture it, this place was made for Christmas, indeed a lot of stores are solely dedicated to decorations, oh the glitter so much glitter! Be sure you take a moment away from shopping to enjoy a hot chocolate whilst watching the ice rink on the main square.
Day 2 – Bruges to Brussels
Back in the car for our next stop! I am starting to feel very at home in the Cactus, not only have mastered the controls as easy as they may be, I have come across two phone charging points, perfect for the mini-breaking couple arguing over music vs social media usage of limited battery reserves (on the central panel and inside the passenger glove box just so you know).
After another hour and a half on the road we reach the outskirts of Brussels and like with any city the traffic is pretty intense and the roads confusing to say the least. However expert my driving is I am thankful for the innovative panels either side of the C4 Cactus, known as Airbump, which is a shock-absorbing collection of airbubbles. To be honest I didn’t originally realise they had a practical function, I simply thought they were an urban design led addition. Which when you think about it makes quite a lot of sense, you have a cover on your phone to protect it, why not your car? And just like a phone case you can personalise your car as they come in different colours. That being said, we did luckily manage to escape without out so much as a scratch and make it to our hotel. In keeping with the design and colourful array of the Cactus C4 we were staying in the Pantone hotel in the rather fancy Louise area of the city, moments away from the luxury shopping hub containing the stores of all the top designers, great spot for window shopping.
This being my first visit to Brussels the first thing on our agenda was join a walking tour, these free tours operate from Grand Place, fittingly under one of the biggest Christmas tree I have ever seen. It’s the best way to get your bearings whilst seeing all the major tourist sites in one swoop and get real recommendations from people that live there. At this time of year of course be sure to wrap up warm, or keeping supping on gluwine on your journey round, it’s a personal choice!
Chips are a fine art in Brussels particularly when dipped in mayonnaise, be sure to get a personal recommendation as to the best places to indulge. Always waylaid by food, now back to my original object, there are so many Christmas markets and parades dotted over the city in December, the best way to find them is wandering around on foot. As to evening activity, a special recommendation goes to Delirium bar in the same off-street as the Jeanneke Pis (the peeing girl sculpture to those less cultured of you) and the proud Guinness World Record holder for the having the longest beer menu in the world. Not being a connoisseur myself and being more that a little intimidated by the menu, I explained my Christmas quest and he recommended a selection of festive themed beers. Which I enjoyed with relish in the bustling yet friendly tavern atmosphere. So much so that the next day I stopped off at a supermarket to stock up for upcoming festivities – yet another benefit of driving. All in all I can’t say it was the healthiest of days but definitely one of the funniest and I did sing a Christmas medley on the way home!
Day 3 – Brussels to Lille to London
Realising I was still humming ‘Santa Baby’ whilst packing up the car, I knew the trips main objective was having its desired effect. I was lucky enough to be a passenger on this leg of our journey, the 2 hour journey to Lille for our final festive fix.
Now this has been a crazy weekend, so by this point we are feeling a little jaded (I had a very comfortable nap on the journey there so I can’t tell you much about the journey), so we were very thankful for the Cactus’s parking assist feature as it gives us a little less to worry about in the narrow French streets of Lille. It finds the space you just take care of the accelerator and brakes – great for on street parallel parking, which I pretty much forgot the knack of 5 minutes after I walked out the test centre with my brand new license in hand!
Lille was a warren of antique stalls full of treasures opening up onto a huge vintage Ferris wheel and festive installation that was simply incredible, not to mention the unrivalled views it gave us over the town whilst Christmas music tinkled out over the speakers. A rather picturesque end to our European road trip.
And in no time we are on our way back to Calais for the Eurotunnel then London – it is important to mention we did this whole journey on 1 tank of petrol, very economical considering the 500 miles we covered! Not forgetting the numerous Christmas gifts and abundance of Christmas cheer we brought back with us. Mission accomplished.
By Lucy Coghlan