We were really looking forward to our autumn trip this year as we had a few extra things on our agenda. First we were meeting up with our friends from Brighton and then on to the South of France to see our family and babysit with the eldest two while our son and daughter-in-law nip off back to UK for a wedding.
We left home on a Monday morning and having stopped at TyrePal for a replacement system, we crossed the channel late in the afternoon and drove for a further 80 miles finally staying at the Aire at Baie de Somme. Not our first choice but a good standby. Early the following morning we headed for the Aire at Beaugency to meet up with our friends.
We had an initial shock when we arrived the Aire was full and our friends hadn’t arrived, however after hanging around for half an hour we were rewarded when a couple of fellow MH’ers decided to move on leaving two spaces for us. The weather was kind (read sunny and warm without wind) and it didn’t take long for us to get out the BBQ and have the first of many outdoor picnics all washed down with a couple of glasses of wine.
We hadn’t intended to stay at Beaugency for more than a day or two but as the weather was so good we stayed 4 days before moving along the Loire to Amboise. Here we stayed on the Aire outside the camp site on the island in the middle of the Loire. Not sure we made the right move as the ground was a bit soggy and muddy.
From the Aire it is only a 10 minute walk into Amboise centre and it made sense to hop aboard the “Le Petite Train” and get a sense of what was on offer. Amboise is a bustling town and made all the more famous by Leonardo da Vinci who lived there for part of his life. There is a museum of his works with exhibits strung around the gardens. Leonardo was a very bright man having drawn up plans for many inventions that never saw the light of day until several hundred years after his death. Helicopters, Tanks, Double skinned boats were just some of his inventions.
We had read an article recently about Green Venice, an area of France that is dominated by canals and waterways and as we needed to pass by en-route to Isle de Re we decided to call in and stay at the Aire at Coulon.
Coulon is a thriving town/village that lives on tourism – all geared to the renting of punts so folks can row around the canals that surround the area. The Aire at Coulon is quite a large one with plenty of overspill areas. It has a service point and clean toilets, all within a couple of hundred meters of the main centre.
We cycled around the area first of all to familiarise ourselves with the various sights, then spent a couple of hours rowing around the canals. There are dozens of interlacing waterways and it would be easy to get lost without a map. You can of course opt for a guided tour and be taken around the canals with the guide doing all the work. There are several restaurants located around the canal areas all offering the local speciality – coypu – an oversized rat.
From Coulon we travelled west towards La Rochelle and over the toll bridge on to the Isle de Re.
This island is a real tourist hotspot that is geared towards the cyclist. There are dozens of kilometres of cycle paths that touch every village and beach on the island. We stayed at the camp site – Camping Soleil located some 400mtrs away from the town of Ars-en-Re. Ars is a very conveniently located place pretty central on the island, having its own harbour on one side and 800 meters the other way is a very pleasant beach.
The site itself appears very dark as it nestles beneath numerous trees and each pitch is cordoned off by bamboo and other trees. The restaurant there offers local food that is very good value for money – well worth a visit. We took the opportunity of cycling around visiting the lighthouse and the town of St Martin, notching up a record for us of 40 kms in one go.
We were now into our third week away and it was time to say farewell to our friends and head off further south in time to meet up with our family in Les Mayons.
We had such a good time meeting up with our friends and had spent longer than we intended, causing them to deviate from their plans to tour round Brittany but we all agreed we had a great time and hope we will meet up again soon. We had allowed a few days to get to Les Mayons as we wanted to pass through the Dordogne again to visit some of the places we missed on our last visit to that area.
By accident we came across the lovely Aire at Le Bugue, having decided we didn’t want to stay at Tremolat and we couldn’t find the Aire at Lalinde. It turned out to be a good move as this is a great place. It is pretty central for anyone wishing to tour the area, particularly if they have transport other than a bicycle. On the day we arrived at Le Bugue the town was pretty quiet with many of the local cafe’s, restaurants and bars closed – typical of many places in France on a Monday. Tuesday however was very different and the town was bustling with dozens of market stalls. The market was fascinating and must be one of the largest in the area, offering not only local produce but products from all over the region.
We used Le Bugue as our base and travelled around for most of our time on the Dordogne using Peggy (our MPS scooter) to visit old haunts and new places alike. It was great to be able to drive up into the hills around the Dordogne river, stopping at the various view points en-route. We backtracked to Tremolat for another look around and have to say the village was very pretty and charming.
We particularly like Sarlat and wanted to visit St Cyprien, Bezenac and also Domme. We passed through another great place – La Roque-Gageac. The heat was getting to us and we were grateful to be able to let the wind blow around us while riding Peggy. It seemed odd riding around on a scooter wearing only a tee shirt and shorts but it was far too hot to get wrapped up.
In all we covered over 150 miles poodling around on Peggy and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
We decided that Rocamadour at 60 miles was a little too far to drive to on the scooter then drive 60 miles back to Le Bugue as we would be passing Rocamadour in a couple of days in the camper so reluctantly we left Le Bugue a day early and went via Gourdon to Rocamadour.
Gourdon has a very nice Aire, has a lovely ancient walled town on a hill with stunning views all around. The climb up to the view point takes you past the village square with its arched galleries, housing the Marie, police station and flanked by the church. Well worth the stop.
At Rocamadour we stayed at the main Chateau car park along with around a dozen fellow campers and toured around the town in the late afternoon and evening.
You have choices from the main car park – you can use the Funicular to get down to the town, taking you inside the rock face.
You will have to change halfway down and use the ascenseur for the last piece. You can walk down the road or you can use the ancient path as the monks did hundreds of years ago. The path is in our view the better route down as on each bend the monks built a monument/statue depicting the twelve apostles. It’s also the most shaded of the outdoor routes. Rocamadour is a very interesting place with the village split into three sections.
At the top you have the Chateau that kind of hangs over the rocks above the village, offering stunning views of the village and surrounding area and in particular L’Hospitalet – the village that offers the best overall view of Rocamadour – day or night. In the middle you have the monastery and all the various buildings that made up the original village. Then you have the lower section that comprises of all the village and its here you will find the restaurants, shops and hotels etc. Beware of the steep stone staircase linking the main village with the monastery area. In hot weather this can be a killer.
Rocamadour at night from L’Hospitalet
We had attempted to visit the caves at Padirac on two previous occasions and failed. This was to be our final attempt before writing it off. I’m very pleased we didn’t as it was well worth the effort. For €9 you get to travel down 4 lifts, get assigned your own guide who takes you on a small flat bottomed boat along the underground river to the massive cave some 300 mtrs below the surface. From here there is a guided tour around the cave viewing a whole range of fossels and carvings made over thousands of year by water.
Gouffre de Padirac
Unfortunately flash photography is not allowed however I managed to get a couple of passable pictures. Then your guide takes you back in the boat to the foot of the lifts. All takes around 90 minutes and well worth it. Beware the queues in summer can be horrendous with 5 hour delays quite common.
We now had 2 days to reach Les Mayons leaving us two stops en-route and we decided to try out Pont de Salars however we moved on as we didn’t think we had covered enough distance and so went on to Millau. Unfortunately the Aire at Millau was full with the travelling circus in town so we finished up at La Couvertoirade a further 30 miles down the A75
This is a medieval Templar village and our sat nav nearly got us into trouble. It insisted we needed to go down this no entry road and as there didn’t appear any other way and the sign said locals were allowed so off we went and in 900mtrs we were there. Unfortunately we arrived at the rear of the village and had to sneak through a barrier to get to the carpark/Aire. Once there no problems and the village was quite interesting with a wall all around. You can walk on the wall if you go to the Tourist info Office. I must say the whole village went to sleep after around 7pm and the last tourist had left. But then it was now early October.
After a very peaceful night we set off aiming to stay at Carro, a nice Aire on the coast to the west of Marseille, however it was full with campers parked all over the place. We couldn’t believe it as it was October.
We then back tracked to another place we know called Port St Louis on the edge of the Camargue and again spent a peaceful night. Port St Louis is an odd kind of place in that they want camping-cars yet they have decided to move them away from the town centre by closing down the lovely Aire by the marina and creating a new Aire some 1000 mtrs along the canal du Rhone out of town. Sadly the old Aire is just derelict and quite frankly looks a mess. In typical French fashion the camping carists have decided to boycote the new Aire and create a wild camping spot across the canal much nearer to the marina. In a failed attempt to appease the camping car drivers they have covered up the payant machine that was wanting to charge €8 per night.
The next day gave us a steady drive into Gonfaron some 4 miles away from Les Mayons where we spent the next 16 days with our family.
Les Mayons is in the centre of the Maures region and is the main chestnut growing area in France and to finish off an excellent time with the family we attended the Les Mayon chestnut Festival.
The chestnut festival is held over 2 Sundays – usually the middle two Sundays of October and co-incides with other chestnut festivals in the area, notably Colobriere. It was incredible as we didn’t realise how many products are made from chestnuts. Beer, wine, liquor, ice cream, confectionery as well as a range of cakes and preserves, even honey. The village stalls were strategically positioned on the top end of the village and the “outsiders” were left with the bottom end and stall holders took note of residents that didn’t buy locally….. It was very impressive how many people turned up to visit the festival. There was line dancing in the streets courtesy of the Cote D’Azure branch of the Harley Davidson motorcycle club, who offered rides on the Harley’s for €5 a ride.
After a family breakfast we waved the kids off to school, said goodbyes to the rest of the family and set off for Avignon, arriving there in the early afternoon. We have visited Avignon several times over the past few years and it still has much to offer and more places to see. It is just something special to sit out in the Popes square, drinking wine or beer and people watch.
I don’t know why but Avignon seems to have its own micro-climate and apart from the Mistral always enjoys better weather than its surrounding regions. This visit was no different and we were able to sit out with our BBQ evening meal well past 9pm without the need for coats or fleeces.
The following morning after a leisurely breakfast we set off to see how far we could get and left it until mid afternoon before deciding on where to spend the night. As it turned out St Pourcain Sur Sioule won the day. You will hear me rabbit on about this place as it has to be one of the best Aires in the whole of France, quiet, by the river, individual pitches, lit up at night, tennis courts next door, EHU, full service point and all free (except for the EHU ) We normally walk up into town but this time we decided to walk along the opposite river bank as it was such a lovely evening.
Our next leg always presents a problem as at this time of year the few camp sites along our route tend to close at the end of September and for some reason there is a shortage of Aires between Orleans and to the North of Rouen so the problem is to either make it a long day and cover over 400 miles or split it into two in a ratio of 100/300. Again the decision was taken by the weather that unexpectedly turned foggy, followed by drizzle and a massive drop in temperature – 26 degrees by lunch time down to 10 degrees – a shock to the system. Off we set and made it all the way to Le Crotoy on the Normandy coast.
The Aire is ideally located however the council could have done a little better in their efforts to re-surface the Aire – they used rolled sand but unfortunately heavy camping cars have churned it up and it had obviously rained and it was like a mud bath. Le Crotoy must be one of the best places on that coast, if not the whole of France for seafood as it appeared every other shop was selling seafood of every type you could think of – including take away plateau des fruit de mer – all very reasonable.
From here it was but a short hop to Calais where we did the obligatory supermarket shop, fill up with the last of the cheap fuel and head for the ferry for our final leg home. All in all this trip was a real success. We experienced the best weather we have ever had, enjoyed the company of friends, spent lots of time with the family and saw several new places that have whet our appetite for planning the next trip…..
Time away: 39 days Distance Travelled 2374 miles Cost of ferry: £62 Cost of fuel: £642.81 Cost of LPG: £62.27 Cost of Tolls: £36.79 Cost of campsites £88.13 Fuel cost for Peggy £18.20
Exchange rate: £1 = €1.12