Northern France May 2007

We are taking our Motorhome, Deffy, on our first trip abroad with it and as a sampler we are going to travel along the northern coast of France to Brittany for 10 days then turn around and travel 10 days back.  Well that’s the theory.  We crossed the channel by ferry and traveled down to our first Aire at Fort Mahon Plage.

Fort Mahon Plage

There are 6 campers on the Aire and the wind is strengthening all the time.  Fort Mahon is very much a holiday resort and has not yet woken up from the winter.  We walked on the sand dunes taking our Border Collie Chase for a walk but the wind is blowing the sand and it feels like needles sticking in us.  During the night the wind strength increases significantly and we are worried as the camper is rocking alarmingly even though we have put the rear leg stabilisers down.

Le Treport from the Cliff Tops

I lay awake most of the night thinking we should get up and move to a more sheltered place.  At last its morning and when I look outside I see that all the other camper owners have moved their vans to point into wind and we are the only camper broadside on.  First lesson learnt.


From here we moved on to Le Treport a few miles along the coast.  The Aire is a good tarmac surfaced one with a fence running all the way round.  The town and sea front promenade are a few hundred mtrs away past the harbour.  There is a lift up to the top of the cliffs that give a marvellous view of the coastline and harbour entrance and a pleasant walk down.  

You could also walk along the cliffs.  Our next stop was at Honfleur – a gorgeous Aire just a short walk from the harbour and centre of the town.

The Harbour at Honfleur

You need to get here early as even with spaces for almost 100 campers it soon gets full.  Honfleur is one of those places that just seems to be in fashion.  You have restaurants, cafe’s and bars all around three sides of the harbour.

You have artists painting the various views, the old children’s roundabout, fishing boats in and out of the harbour all go towards making this one of the most popular resorts on the Normandy coast.  Climb the hill up to the church on top and have a look at the bell tower – its outside the church.  There is also the oldest wooden building in the area just back from the harbour.  There is seafood coming out of every restaurant and beware – coffee or beer served outside after 9pm incurs an extra €1.

 Granville from the Peninsular

Our next stop was Granville – there are two Aires here one on the outskirts of town and the other up on the peninsula overlooking the harbour.  This is the one to go for as it has incredible views over the town, coastline and into the bay near Mont St Michel.  It does get crowded though and can be a tight fit especially at weekends.  There is lots of history here with ancient canons and WW2 gun emplacements – even a museum.

Le Mont St Michel

From here we headed to one of my favourite places on this coast – Le Mont St Michel – this place is so photogenic at any time of day or night.  Everyone is directed to park in the one and only very large carpark where camper vans are asked to park at the north eastern side.  A little further to walk maybe but you pay the same rate as all the other cars yet you are allowed to stay the night.

Le Mont St Michel at Night

The Mont is a full days excursion if you want to see all the town and the church and it gets very busy during the day.  By staying the night you get the added bonus of seeing it all lit up at night and with a steady hand or tripod you can get some fabulous photos.  The town is rather dead at night out of season.  Watch out for high tide as it can flood the carpark – don’t worry there are large signs giving you the days and the carpark attendant advises you on arrival.

Our next place was Cancale – one of the major oyster centres on this coast.

Oyster Beds at Cancale

From the cliff tops you can see all the oyster beds stretching out into the sea with the oyster farmers driving tractors up and down even when their wheels are almost covered with sea water.  The town is well placed for selling oysters with many stalls on the harbour wall selling seafood at very realistic prices.  Naturally I had to try out a dozen or so – just to check up on their claims of course.     From here we moved on to St Malo which is probably our favourite place on this coast.

St Malo

There is so much to se and do here that our couple of days didn’t even scratch the surface however we have been here many times before.  The old town is enclosed inside a massive wall that you can almost circumnavigate – at least on three sides and is probably one of the better ways of assessing St Malo before taking the plunge and venturing inside.  By walking around the walls you can see the submarine pens of WW2, further round you can see the ferry post, harbour and beach, round a bit further and you have the northern beaches, islands that you can walk to at low tide and the submerged swimming pool.  The eastern side is blocked off and houses the town hall and other buildings.  Inside the walls the streets are narrow with most of the buildings four of five stories high making it tower over people.  There are outdoor and indoor markets, all along the southern wall you have restaurants encroaching onto the road with their seating areas.

 After 6pm the whole place comes alive with colour and the street vendors, entertainers and just about any type of music you can think off from the Andes to north Africa.  Outside the town you can walk around the sub pens but they are mostly derelict with many of the basins given over to marinas and private yachts.  More further afield is the Barrage across the river Rance and for the more energetic there is a longish coastal walk from old St Malo to the Barrage and back.  There are several Aires, none that we would call good and there there several campsites.  We use the municipal site on the peninsular at St Servan, by the side of the old fort.

 

St Jacut-de-la-Mer

We moved away to a relatively quiet place called St Jacut-de-la-mer.  Here you have good beaches and a chance to relax.  There are one or two sailing schools along the beach and there are hire centres for wind surfing, sailing or small motor boats.  After a little break we moved on to Cap Frehel – a pretty desolate spot but good for bird watching and walking.

We moved to what became our furthest destination – a small campsite near Paimpol however the early spring weather gave us cold weather tempered with constant drizzel and fog so we decided to head off back towards Calais stopping at one or two more places.  Our next stop was at Dinan – the twin town of Exmouth.  We parked at the Aire just outside the campsite of Camping Hallerais by the municipal sportshall and walked into Dinan along the picturesque river.

Dinan

Dinan has a very historic town centre with lots of old buildings, narrow streets and a city wall.  From the wall there are good views looking both inside and outside.    For those who don’t like walking there is a much closer Aire located just under the bridge below the city wall.

 

We made a detour to see the Normandy landings, staying on the Aire at St Honorines des Pertes.

 

The whole area is  very moving and reading just a few of the many plaques giving details on the landings leaves you feeling empty when realising how many soldiers and people died on the first few days after the landings.

Memorial of Normandy Landings

Visiting the American Cemetery again demonstrates the enormity of it all with literally thousands of head stones all in a row.  Very moving and sad but well worth the visit.

We were running out of time by now but wanted to spend another day at Honfleur before heading for Calais so back we went and even in the couple of weeks since we had been here there was a marked increase in activity – particularly at the Aire were we struggled to find a place.  A couple of very relaxing days where we walked up to the church on the hill to see the bell tower, walked along the river towards the estuary and found a great beach for Chase to romp around on.  On our way to this beach we passed a large park that was the centre of an exposition of local crafts, flowers and good food among other things – well worth the trip.

 

The White Cliffs of Dover from Escalles

 

Back to Calais, a trip to the Vet at Gravelines and a night on the Aire by the quay before moving off to Escalles to await our 24hrs period for Chase before catching the ferry back to UK and home.  A very good trip for us.  We learnt a lot about motorhoming on the continent, particularly about the French Aires – what a wonderful system – if only us Brits could get our act together we would certainly promote camper vans visiting UK.

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