My French holiday is in tatters thanks to an outrageous, illogical, sweeping knee-jerk decision

Sasha Slater
·5-min read
Aveyron is the rife with the kind of French idylls we all need right now - istock
Aveyron is the rife with the kind of French idylls we all need right now - istock

So the news finally broke that France had been placed on the ‘red’ list of countries that are unsafe to travel to. 

The timing – late at night and with barely 36 hours notice until D Day – couldn't have been worse. It is sheer insanity to force 400,000 British holidaymakers to choose between cutting their holiday short with a lemming-like last-minute flight across the Channel or enduring yet more time stuck at a home you're already sick of the sight of. 

My Scottish grandmother and Polish-Jewish grandfather fled the continent in 1939. They'd been living in Paris and ran for the border, getting the last boat out of Belgium before the Nazis arrived. I'm not saying this is the same. But it is a heavy-handed, illogical, sweeping and outrageous way to treat your citizens. Forcing us all to make hurried, panicky, expensive and stressful choices without knowing their repercussions.

At this moment, I’m supposed to be on a Eurotunnel train to Calais with my husband and daughter in the car. My brother-in-law, two teenage nieces and large rescue greyhound, were supposed to be joining us en route. We were going to drive down to the Loire and stay the night in a cheap and cheerful hotel in Chartres.

Then we were going to carry on for another six hours to join my parents, my sister and my 12-year-old son in our small farmhouse perched on a hill in deepest, darkest Aveyron. A safe place to be since there are currently a grand total of four people hospitalised with Covid-19 in the whole region. It was going to be a welcome, blissful break from the stress of London. Not any more. 

At 10pm last night our calm preparations exploded into chaos. First off, we considered going all the same and enduring the quarantine when we returned on the bank-holiday weekend. But my son begins at a new school that week and sending him in two weeks after term starts, having done a dollop of homeschooling, was clearly going to send us all spiralling into madness.

My husband’s been worrying about this since the threat of a French quarantine loomed, so he’d already booked flights home on British Airways for himself and our son on August 20 meaning they could isolate for two weeks in London before term started. Never mind if the poor husband only got five days on the continent. At least it would have been a holiday of sorts. 

Then my brother-in-law and nieces announced that they weren’t going to leave the UK - the idea of self-isolation on return was too much for a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old. So that meant my own 14-year-old daughter didn’t want to go to France either. Two weeks with exactly the people she’s been hunkered down with since February and no chance to socialise when she got home felt a bit much. 

I sympathised. My own craving for a hammock, a glass of Gaillac  and a battered old Jilly Cooper in the sunshine would have to give way. 

But a huge problem loomed. How to get my son home. Obviously, getting the son home was the top priority. I flew him out last weekend to spend a week with friends locally as he loves it down there as much as I do. He’s not bothered by the crappy wi-fi and lack of teenage kicks like the girls are. We flew to Toulouse and he and I had a couple of nights in our cottage, a quick swim in the river, a duck breast, and a spot of star gazing after sunset. Then I dropped him at the friends’ house and hared back to London to start work on Monday. It was easy-breezy. 

Getting him home has been the opposite. When my brother-in-law announced he wasn’t driving himself, his daughters and the dog down to the house, my sister bought herself a flight home today, swerving quarantine. But adding my son to her Easyjet booking could only be done by phone and she couldn’t get through. Would I or my husband have time to set off last night to drive to the farmhouse and back before 4am on Saturday when quarantine struck? Not a chance - even if we didn’t crash along the way. Booking new flights back was impossible with Easyjet and BA websites crashing with the overload of panicking holiday makers trying to get back before the guillotine fell. 

Could one of us fly out (easy enough - who’s booking tickets from London to Toulouse today?) and get the TGV from Toulouse to Paris and then the Eurostar to London? The timings were horribly tight. And the trains from Paris to London currently cost over £300 - and rising. We opened a bottle of wine and took a deep breath. Maybe our son should just stay in France for good? I’m told the French education system is a fine one. 

Eventually, he was rescued by our friends who managed to get through to Easyjet at 11pm and got him onto their booking home late on Sunday night. Yes, he’ll have to quarantine, but at least he’ll get to school on time.

And now I’ll spend the next few hours on hold to the AA, BA, the Chartres hotel and Eurotunnel trying to claw back some of the £1,000 we’ve spent so far on a holiday that is not to be.