Sunday 14 July 2019

Cité Europe - homeward bound

Saturday 13 July 2019
Nido’s parked up with many other motorhomes on a busy Cité Europe car park.  We’ve only spoken to three other Brits in our 4.5 weeks away, including one last night and, come to think of it, we’ve hardly seen any British vans at all apart from the last couple of days.  We’ve done our shopping at Carrefour, eaten our supper and will have a final brew before prepping the van for the off at 0430 tomorrow morning.

We’ve enjoyed our few weeks away, seeing and doing some great things. If we had to pick one highlight each, for me it would driving up and wild camping on the summits of some of the iconic Tour de France mountains and Cols, with snow still on the tops and lovely, clean, fresh air.  For Cathy (and me too), I know she loved kayaking in the Verdon Gorge - perhaps this is something we’ll do more of in the future.  The heatwave in Provence and around the Camargue wasn’t fun and we had no choice but to cut our time short there and head north to cooler air.  But it’s the coast we’ve enjoyed too, particularly the Pink Granite Coast of north Brittany - truly spectacular.  When we return to France, we think we’ll spend a lot of time just in Normandy and Brittany and only venture a little further south if the weather’s not great.

We’re really looking forward to getting home and have lots to do, especially as we’ll be spending September in the USA, visiting our daughter and son-in-law; we’re really looking forward to that, in particular the week we’ve booked in a beautiful water-side house in Charleston.  After that, we’ll be UK bound for quite a while I think.  We’re planning lots of small trips to different parts of the country, focusing on country walking.  Maybe our next trip to continental Europe (depending on how the Brexit madness pans out), may see us turning left at Calais and heading for the Netherlands and Denmark.

Until then, thanks for reading my ramblings and happy travelling one and all! 

Berthed alongside the Seine

Friday 12 July 2019
Nido’s parked up at a lovely aire alongside the river Seine at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine.  Each pitch is grassy, facing the river and has plenty of space to spread out.  Our original intention was to head for a wild camping spot on the coast, but the drive in was a bit cloudy and rainy so, when we stopped at Pont l’Eveque for lunch,  some re-planning found this place. There’s about 35 pitches and it’s not too busy, considering it’s the Bastille Day weekend.  

A couple of French old boys were hanging one on last night, talking and laughing loudly until about 0100.  Combined with a late coffee at the restaurant last night, I didn’t get much sleep and was awake early. I wish I’d known who it was as I’d have got my own back this morning!  Still, it’s a rare occurrence and it sounded like they were enjoying themselves - I bet they had a ‘Pen Mawr’ (Welsh for hangover) this morning!

It was about a four hour journey here, broken with a lunch break, and we’ve not done much - just chill out, watch the ships and eat.  It’s still quite warm and the sun returned as we arrived, so we’ve sat outside most of the time.  It was nice to bump into Joanne also staying on the aire, who is @Trundelbus on Twitter and has a very good blog:  It’s always nice to put a face to a name.

A quiet night tonight, then the final run of about another four hours to Cité Europe in Calais tomorrow.

Proudly flying the Anglesey flag

Saint-Jean-le-Thomas - one of our favourite places in Normandy

Thursday 11 July 2019

Nido’s parked up at the aire in Saint-Jean-le-Thomas.  It’s at the bottom of the Cotentin Peninsula, with a huge, shallow bay that completely empties at low tide.  Across the bay is the iconic Mont-Saint-Michel, a place we’ve visited a couple of times.  We’ve stayed on this aire before and it’s one of our favourites.

We made a fast passage to here this morning, a journey of about 3.5 hours.  We’d made the decision to head home early, for no other reason than we’ve seen all the places we wanted to and have a bunch of things we want to do at home.  We live on the beautiful island of Anglesey - Ynys Môn - in a house we love within a quiet village, with lovely neighbours.  We have the garden to tend to and plan the next stage  of its development and it’s summer, so there’s plenty of sea swimming right on our doorstep.  We’re looking forward to getting back with the ‘Silver Slashers’ working in a team of volunteers each Friday to improve and maintain the footpaths and coastal path on the island.  Cathy is also involved with the local botany group, hunting out and recording rare plants.  I’m also become much more involved with the Anglesey Lowland Search and Rescue team - Môn-SAR - a fulfilling role helping find vulnerable missing people.  My neighbour has also just bought a road bike, so I now have a ‘roadie’ to go out for spins with; we plan to train over the year and complete next year’s Tour de Môn.  So, as much as we love France, we’re looking forward to getting home.  We’ve enjoyed this trip, seen some fabulous places and done some great things, like kayaking through the Verdon Gorge and wildcamping on the summit of Col du Lautaret at 2058m, surrounded by sheep and their guard dogs.  But it’s being back at the coast that we love the most - we’re ‘Coasties’!  So I think future trips will be spur of the moment bookings, particularly if the summer at home’s not great, and then it’ll be to more explore Normandy, Brittany, the Vendée and the Charente Maritime regions more.

Despite a cooler forecast, today was hot again and it was in the low 30s when we arrived here.  A quick set up and we were again heading down to the beach.  The tide was almost in so we had a quick swim.  The sea was very warm (it’s a shallow bay) but a bit ‘muddy’ and with large rocks so difficult to find our feet.  We had a bit of a wallow in the shallow water then helped each other out like a pair of oldies (as we probably now are!).  Back at the van for a brew and a shower, we again donned our best clothes - jeans, a loose Moroccan top and leather moccasins (ex-RN tropical footwear) for me!  - and walked back to the beach to the Le Jardin des Dunes restaurant, overlooking the bay and with a great view of Mont-Saint-Michel.  We had probably the best moules-frîtes we’ve ever had, simple and friendly service, with a pudding (cheese for me) in a lovely relaxed atmosphere with families around us enjoying their food and the evening.  If you come to this part of Normandy, I’d highly recommend the aire and the restaurant; there’s also an adjacent municipal campsite right on the beach.

Tomorrow we have another long run to a wild camping spot on the beach, before our final run into Calais on Saturday, with our tunnel crossing rebooked for 0720 on Sunday morning. 

Mont Saint Michel across the bay

View from our restaurant table

Wednesday 10 July 2019

The beauty of the Pink Granite Coast

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Nido’s parked up at a free aire in Pleumeur-Bodou, surrounded by several French vans.  It’s a still evening and everyone’s out cooking, chatting or playing board games - it’s a very nice atmosphere.  We’ve had a lovely relaxing day on the beach plus walking around the coastal path and the huge pink granite rocks.

Yesterday morning we left Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile heading north and planning to break our journey at Josselin, a town we’ve stayed in previously.  Still on the island, we stopped to photograph one of the salt pans and buy some of their salt - only €1 per kilo.  We made good time and would have arrived at Josselin around lunchtime, so decided to keep pushing on to get to the pink granite coast of northern Brittany.  So it was a longer travelling day and we arrived at the aire in Trévou-Tréguignec at about 1630.  A beautiful white sandy bay was just across the road, so we were soon changed and legging it across the wet sand to reach the sea at low tide.  The water was a lot cooler than we’ve been used to, fed from the Atlantic, but very refreshing and gin clear.  Wandering back, we noticed a restaurant next to the aire and decided to eat out tonight.  So showered and wearing slightly better clothes than our normal day to day clobber, we managed to bag a table outside.  Cathy had a steak and I had moules-frîtes, both delicious, followed by a creme brûlée and a chocolate pudding, which we shared.  The bottle of Samaur cremant sat outside the van beforehand, white wine with the meal and a couple of rum digestifs meant we were a bit squiffy when we returned to the van and a little less lively than normal this morning!

So this morning, we drove off to find a boulangerie, before heading for a large car park in Trégastel, where we enjoyed our breakfast and a pot of tea.  Lunch made and packed up with a towel, we walked the short distance to the beach.  The pink granite coast is about 22km long and is absolutely stunning.  The rocks have been carved over time into all sorts of shapes, some of several hundred tons seem to balance precariously on others.  We found a spot to spread our blanket and towels on the warm granite and had a beautiful swim in the cool, clear sea.  It had the feel of the Caribbean but also reminded us of the Isle of Mull and, of course, our lovely home island - a bit like Rhoscolyn or Trearddur Bay.  After our swim we took a walk along the coastal path, passing more outstanding sandy beaches and rocky coves.  Our final stop was on another amazing beach where we swam around the huge granite rocks, watching the youngsters tomb-stoning off them into the sea.  All swum-out we both enjoyed a snooze (and no doubt a snore!) on the sandy beach, before slowly heading back to the van.

We stopped off in Tregastel to get some cash and bread before arriving at our current aire.  The Breton language is very different to French - Celtic with more in common with Cornish and, in some cases, Welsh.  We recognised a few similar words to Welsh and noticed many of the roadsigns had been defaced by the Breton National Front (or whatever they call themselves!).  When queuing for the cashpoint I had a chat with an elderly gentleman and when I mentioned I was Gallois (Welsh - I’m not but it’s been fun saying I am!), he was delighted to meet a fellow Celt! 

Dinner tonight was a bavette steak, boiled new potatoes and salad, with a Sablé Breton Caramel cake for pudding - well it is my birthday so we needed some form of cake!  After a very ‘social’ evening last night, I suspect we’ll crash out early.  Tomorrow we start to head east, back towards Calais.

Salt pans on Noirmoutier-en-L'Ile

Trévou beach

Trévou aire

Pink Granite Coast at Tregastel

Fancy a dip?

Monday 8 July 2019

On Noirmoutier-en-l’île

Monday 8 July 2019

Nido’s parked up at an aire in the north of the island of Noirmoutier-en-L’île, close to the beach.  It’s quite a busy aire and earlier today we were all packed in, awnings partly out to catch some shade, but it’s emptied out a bit now. Even at 9.30pm, it’s still very sunny and warm and an hour ago I was swimming in the sea.

We enjoyed our day on the beach at Saint Vincent-sur-Jard yesterday, taking a picnic and our beach shelter, soaking up some sun and having a cooling dip in the sea.  Mid-afternoon we packed up and headed for an aire at Olonne-sur-Mer.  It was €8 per night including electricity and servicing; on arrival I plugged in and the electric worked straight away. It looked like a couple of vans had been here for a while, so I suspect the tickets aren’t checked by anyone from the Commune.  So I could probably have got away with not buying an aire ticket, but I’m too honest for my own good.  Besides, the village has provided this aire, so I believe in giving something back, paying the fee and using the local shops.  We had good long, hot showers to wash off the salt and sunscreen and I cooked a couple of pork chops on the cardiac, with a salad.  

This morning we woke very early and after breakfast stopped off at the Super-U supermarket for food and diesel.  I’ve noticed food and fuel are much more expensive in France these days and the budget’s taken a bit of a hit, but we have to eat and we have to move!  The drive to the island was about 1.5 hours, heading over a long bridge similar to but smaller than the one over to Ile de Ré.  The island has a feel of a mix of Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oleron, with muddy estuaries where wooden shacks and restaurants are selling the local oysters and mussels, either raw or cooked on the premises.  

Arriving at the aire I, along with a German, a Belgian and even a Frenchman (sounds like the start of a joke) scratched our heads at the payment machine - why do they have to make them so complicated to use?  All worked out in the end and I came away with an overnight ticket until 0900 tomorrow, although parking here during the day is free.  A quick lunch of prawns (always a special and enjoyable treat when in France) and bread, we were changed and walking along the coastal path toward a beach in the distance. The coast directly opposite the aire was rocky, so no chance of a swim there, but it only took about 10 minutes to reach a gap in the rocks and we were soon enjoying the clear, very salty and quite cool sea water.  We walked on to the large sandy beach, which reminded us of parts of Rhosneigr, Rhoscolyn and Trearddur Bay at home - we didn’t need to have come this far after all!

Back at the van, we chilled with a cup of tea before I made us a meal.  Later in the evening we popped down to the beach for another dip before returning to the van to spend the rest of the evening lazing around. We’re both feeling quite tired at the moment.  We’ve been in the sun quite a bit and travelling some distances over the last few days, plus we’ve been waking up early.  Hopefully we’ll catch up on some sleep tonight before heading toward the rose granite coast of north Brittany. 

Noirmoutier aire

Nice spot to sit and eat

Saturday 6 July 2019

The Coasties are back on the beach - and loving it!

Saturday 6 July 2019

Nido’s parked up at an aire in the seaside resort of Saint Vincent-sur-Jard, in the Vendée region. We’ve travelled a long way north since my last post and it’s SO much cooler and more comfortable.  We’ve walked, swam and relaxed more since we arrived late this afternoon than I think we have at any other time during this trip - we belong by the coast!

After leaving Le Malzieu-Ville yesterday, we drove to Vieillevie and stopped at an aire by the river Lot.  It was really still very warm and, despite a quick dip in the river, it wasn’t somewhere to try and cool off, so we decided to move on and keep heading north to escape the heat.  The cab aircon helped as the temperature climbed into the high 30s again.  I’d plugged in a point way up towards Brittany as a point of aim, and when we’d had enough driving, I pulled in and took a look at the Search for Sites and Park4Night apps, to see if any aires were close around us.  I found one in Chirac about 30 minutes away and we eventually parked up in this lovely quiet village, the only ones there.  The aire had a couple of picnic benches outside and some meadow and trees, so plenty of birds and wildlife.  It was still very hot - in the mid-30s at 7pm, so dinner was eaten outside at the picnic table, with a bottle of Languedoc red.  Cathy took a walk around with her camera while I caught up with some Môn SAR emails, sitting outside well into the darkness of the night.

At about 5am the next morning there was a massive storm with almost constant thunder and lightning and heavy rain, but we were safe and dry in the van and both drifted off to sleep again once it moved on.  Once up, we serviced the van and got back on the road.  In the village of Champagne Mouton (what a great name!), we found an excellent artisan boulangerie and I hopped out to buy a breakfast baguette, some bread and a couple of café eclairs - our naughty but nice treat.  There was a lovely little aire in the village so we stopped there for breakfast, before carrying on towards Aulnay, in the Charente region.  Several years ago (probably about 12 or 13 - I can’t remember), we holidayed in Aulnay, in a lovely little one-bedroom gîte with a wonky first floor!  We had a lovely time there so decided to return to the village.  As always, it looked completely different to how we remembered it.  It was stifling hot on the aire - 39’C - so we had a quick cup of tea, keeping the engine running to benefit from the air con, before deciding to punch on north to reach the coast.

This eventually brought us to this aire at Saint Vincent-sur-Jard.  This is very much a seaside holiday town.  The aire has 60 pitches but there were only about 8 vans when we arrived.  I paid the €9.20 fee and we parked up; within ten minutes we were changed, across the road, through the dunes and on the beach!  Although a little cloudy and breezy, the 32’C air temperature felt so comfortable after the stifling heatwave in the south. We so enjoyed that first sea swim in water that, to us, felt quite warm (we swim regularly in the Irish Sea!) but to the locals was decidedly cold.  At least we have a good tan, compared to some on the beach who I guess are on their first outing of the summer.

Back at the van I made some babaganoush and a tomato and garlic sauce to top the sliced bread I bought earlier - a tasty, vegetarian bruschetta meal eaten outside in the warm evening air.  Later we took a long walk along the beach, paddling in the sea and sitting on the sand watching families play, barbecue and enjoy the sunset.  Although a bit breezy, I’m sat outside in the warm air past 10pm, with plenty of light still in the air, listening to the waves crash on the beach.

Our plan over the next few days is to follow the coast slowly up towards Nourmoutier-en-l’Ile and then on into Brittany.  We’re loving being back by the sea.  We’re Coasties - we always have been and we always will be.

Vieillevie aire

Walking down to the River Lot from the aire

All quiet in Chirac

Preparing for dinner on that picnic bench

Breakfast in Champagne-Mouton

On the Beach!

Aire at Saint Vincent-sur-Jard. Beach just over the road

Thursday 4 July 2019

A quiet day in Thérondels

Thursday 4 July 2019

Nido’s parked up at another free aire in the small village of Thérondels. The actual aire’s on a large grass meadow next to the free service point, with views over the surrounding fields and hills.  On arrival we could see the meadow had been cut ready to turn and bale into hay, so not wanting to upset anyone, we parked on the adjacent grassy area by some picnic benches.  It’s a lovely quiet spot in a quintessential French village, which has a friendly feel about it.

This morning was misty and quite cool, so I actually donned a fleece to wander into the village for our bread and croissants.  After breakfast we took a walk around the village, through the three medieval gates in the thick, high walls that protected those inside.  The locals were about their business and the children playing in the school playground, so it was clear this place has a buzzing community.  We enjoyed our walk around the narrow, cobbled streets; remove the cars and cover up a few cables and it would be ready for filming a period medieval drama.  Back at the van, I emptied about a large bucketful of water out of the bottom of my bike cover, soaking my feet in the process, much to the delight of some old French chap passing by - we shared a laugh!  Servicing done we got on our way for the 1.5 hour journey to our current location.

It was hot and sunny so we ate lunch in the shade of the awning and spent the rest of the afternoon just chilling out.  The village dogs (well - three of them) lazily checked us out, walking around the van before flopping in some shade or taking a dip and a drink in the water-filled trough close by.  Cathy wandered around the village pond and wild areas to take some photos and I did a bit of research for our next stop.  She cooked a delicious paella (we brought the paella dish we bought in Barcelona) and after washing up and showers, we joined some of the locals for a perambulation around the village.  The bar/restaurant was open with a few of the old boys sat inside and, although the village shop was closed, it looks like we it may have enough items on our list to allow us to stock up here in the morning.

So not much done today.  I’ve enjoyed watching and listening to the hundreds of swifts flying overhead and, as the sun sets, expect to see the bats out soon.  But the mozzies are also out in force so I may need to retreat inside the van soon!

One of the gates in Le Malzieu-Ville


What I always wanted!

Another free and peaceful aire all to ourselves

Nido all on his own!