It always baffles me that dogs, largely delightful, sensitive creatures, are forced to travel in crates in the aircraft hold, while Charlie Sheen is allowed to fly willy-nilly, and nine times out of ten in the main body of the aeroplane.Dogs might be a family member 50 weeks of the year, but try taking them on holiday and they’re an unsavoury suitcase that must be flown as cargo and deafened, oxygen supplied only if the pilot remembers to turn it on. And while airlines might let small dogs in the cabin, the Government insists they can stay there only while flying out of the UK. Flying home, it’s down to the hold with you, Fido.‘It’s a ruddy dog,’ I hear you say, ‘not a family member!’ Not a family member? It’s the one holding it together. And dogs don’t speak, making them smarter than most of my family.
Whitewashed homes in Comares, a town near Casa Amarilla, where Jane Bussman took the whole family – including the two dogs We have two dogs, Homer, a mongrel who has the joie de vivre of James Blunt with PMT. And Thistle, a tiny Maltese terrier with gammy legs. We spoil them rotten. Thistle spent six years locked in a freezing shed on a puppy farm, with 34 rotten teeth and arthritis, churning out puppies bought in pet shops.When we first got her, we gave her a bowl of food. She grabbed one nugget and hid under the sofa with it. She deserved a holiday and she’s not allowed to fly with us. It’s rabies, you see: we’ve never let it in.Our excitement, therefore, was practically rabid on learning that Brittany Ferries had pet-friendly cabins, sailing in style to Bilbao, Northern Spain. We’d be just a day’s drive from sunny Andalucia.
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Even better, looking for a pet-friendly house online, we got chatting to expat Clair Spettigue, who rescues dogs and also manages villas, including a place that sounded amazing: Casa Amarilla in the sub-tropical mountains of Axarquia. We were going on holiday – in a pack.Going abroad with dogs wasn’t too complicated – basically a rabies jab three or more weeks before you leave and a pill one to five days before you return, logging them in pet passports. All sorted by a vet.For parts of Europe (including Southern Spain), there’s a vaccination and special collar to protect against leishmaniasis – these jabs need to be started a minimum of ten weeks before you leave.At 7am we were on the dock. The smell of the sea and the sight of other dogs in the queue sent Thistle and Homer potty. It was not only easy but very pleasant: the Baie de Seine slipped out of Portsmouth, seagulls floating overhead.The crew were so friendly it took me a while to realise they were French. The dog-friendly cabins had comfortable beds and dog treats. Dog loonies had their own deck, where we sat in the sun watching England disappear with a glass of wine and the dogs at our feet. Life is too short to learn from your own mistakes, so here are ours: don’t leave seasickness pills in the car. And use the ship’s wi-fi. Roaming charges were abolished in the EU, but the ocean has not yet applied for EU membership.
Homer on his holiday to Spain gets some shade while wearing a large hat as he relaxes by the pool A Swedish scientist called Carl Linnaeus once said that what separates man from animals is self-consciousness. Swedish scientists should watch a dog trying to find a tree on a ship’s deck. He just wanted privacy. I stood in the rain for an hour, Homer desperate to go, but refusing. Thank God for the Spanish spaniel who saw this English dog and marked the deck as his, sending Homer into a frenzy of revenge. An artistic interpretation of the Battle of the Bay of Biscay.I was dreading driving, but the roads were empty and the views so beautiful that the hours flew by. Green fields turned orange as we cruised south, crumbling fincas whispering seductively about renovation projects.Dogs are always looking for their kingdom. It’s been a life of bitter disappointment for Homer, the Prince Charles of mixed-breed terriers. In Casa Rural La Ermita, Puebla de Almenara, high above olive groves, he finally found happiness. We broke up the drive with a night in this stunning 17th Century pilgrim’s rest, £36 for two in a picture-perfect monk’s cell with mod cons.We were welcomed and given a monastery to ourselves, with Nutella and espresso instead of hair shirts. When we left, Homer cried in the back seat for two hours.There was one glitch on the road trip. We forgot to pack a minor travel accessory: food. Villamayor de Santiago is a small town famous for goat’s cheese. There was no goat’s cheese. Or any food at all. A sign in a delicatessen claimed it had been open from 8am until midday, but there was no evidence.We found a Vietnamese shop with one watermelon. They refused to sell it, understandably. They said it was theirs. As we were leaving with a jar of bottled carrots, dog food and two Tetra Paks of Rioja Del UPVC, we saw a swinging sign that may have been a noose or a cheese. The cheese shop! A woman nervously agreed to let us in, one at a time, as we clearly had the look of schoolchildren who would take everything on the shelves and run away. My fear of conflict meant I ended up with an entire wheel of goat’s cheese. It was the finest cheese I’ve ever had. For the rest of the holiday, Homer stared at the cheese as if it was a holy relic. Indeed, it may have saved our lives.Andalucia gets 2,815 hours of sunshine a year, which, divided by 365, is a lot, probably. The dogs leaned out of the window, apparently in disbelief, as we climbed perfect hill after perfect hill until, there below us, was Casa Amarilla.
Jane with her two dogs Homer and Thistle, touring a village in Spain. The whole family including the pets travelled there by ferry I may have dreamt Casa Amarilla. But this is what I recall: a mini Moorish palace with a yellow tower. Walking through a garden of hibiscus flowers into a private courtyard with fruit trees. A swimming pool thousands of feet up, and more chill-out zones than an Ibiza nightclub. Grape vines over a tiled table for alfresco dining. All framing the perfect view of an unspoilt valley, for pity’s sake.Casa Amarilla was a ruin rebuilt by an English couple and is all about enjoying life – the view from the master bedroom is so epic they’ve made the bedroom epic too, with grand damask curtains to sweep back on the day. Up in the tower, there’s an Arabian bedroom with roof terrace for stargazing.Life was really good in Andalucia. Temperatures in the 30Cs, decent rioja for €3 a bottle and the local bar, El Nino, was a five-minute walk.Homer had a holiday romance. It began at breakfast when he ran in and stared at me for 20 minutes. This is dogspeak for ‘How many times do I have to say it? There’s someone outside!’ Standing in the flowerbed, grinning from ear to ear, was the most hideous female dog I’ve ever seen, with a tiny, pointed head, like a hyena bred with a mole. It was love at first sight. Homer whimpered in the flowerbed waiting for her every day from then on. She always had a revolting smile for him.I may have dreamt this part too, but in the evenings we heard bells and saw a herd of goats chased down the hill by a shaggy goatdog.I definitely dreamt Holly the organic veg lady, who dropped off huge boxes of glossy cherries, peaches and veg for €15. We gave up buying dog food, as Thistle developed a taste for pumpkin with raw mince, which gave her so much energy she learned how to climb stairs for the first time. Not down them though; she sat at the top barking for her bearers. Clair the manager answered even our most idiotic questions. We went to visit the two dozen soppy rescue dogs recuperating with her and husband Simon, waiting to be adopted in the UK and Spain via SOS Weimaraner.Here we learned of another way to get your pet on holiday: have a dog-lover pick them up from your home in the UK and drive them to the villa for you, leaving you free to fly. Clair and Simon handle the paperwork and drivers stop every four hours for passengers to have a cuddle and leave important messages on trees across Europe.On the last night, I was gazing at the view of the valley at sunset. I looked down to see that Thistle was gazing at the view as well. She started smiling, and for the next hour just sat smiling as she looked out of the window.I’m glad we took Thistle on holiday with us. Not long after, she started limping. Then her back legs gave way. She’d had a stroke. Now she’s actually better than before the stroke, because physio – us massaging her legs in the bath – stops her arthritis hurting. But it reminded me how short dogs’ lives are. We don’t have them for long. Enjoy them while you have them.
TRAVEL FACTS Brittany Ferries (brittanyferries.com, 0330 159 7000) offers crossings from Portsmouth or Plymouth to Santander or Bilbao. One-way fares start at £220 for two people with car and en suite cabin. One-way pet prices cost from £29.50 from the UK and £39.50 from Spain. To book Casa Amarilla, visit vineridgeretreats.com/casa-amarilla or call 01622 808318. Seven-night rentals start from £1,250. For transporting pets to Spain, see pets-trans.com. For car rental, go to budget.co.uk or call 0808 284 4444.