Tag Archives: France

France 2018 – to the Auvergne (maybe)

10th September (Day 1)
Off to the Ferry

And so we depart for France once again mes amis. Pardon my schoolboy French, I’m probably not even at schoolboy level having departed that beloved institution more than 40+ years ago.
Why the Auvergne? Well this is an area we have never been to before and we liked what we saw when we did some research – having said that we like what we see in France, full stop. Why maybe? This is the first time we have not really done any planning apart from thinking of the area – I did start to plan and realised that we could end up rushing down there and rushing back – ‘rushing’ is not what we want so we are being flexible with our journey. For our Dutch trip we borrowed an ‘Eyewitness’ book which we found so informative we thought we would buy one for France, this could be one reason we don’t get to the Auvergne. The second reason is we have joined ‘France Passion’ – places like vineyards (why not), farms, cheese makers, market gardeners, etc. where you can stop overnight, sample their wares with no obligation to buy. So, there is plenty ‘getting in the way’ of us getting to the Auvergne. We’ll see – follow us and you’ll find out.

11th September (Day 2)
Off to the Ferry (again)

An overnight stop just inside the M25 about 60 miles from Dover and a lunch time ferry meant we were not like chewed cardboard making a 6 hour dash (which we have done once before). A tad windy (no schoolboy jokes please) but the crossing was not too bad. A quick sprint through the Pays de Calais brought us to our favourite Calais ferry stop (in and outbound) – Embry (see here). I had e-mailed in advance to reserve a ‘spot’ – when we arrived there it was – our spot ‘Reserved for Ian’ – but I didn’t see the sign until the next morning – what a wally. A small beer in the sunshine before a quick walk down into the sleepy village (lots of property for sale) and back for supper and then a quick look at what to do tomorrow and off to bed.
Pre-ordered croissants and pain arrived at 8:00am – fantastic service from the owners. This little (posh) Aire is more like a mini campsite. Today we are going to try our first France passion stop at Cappy which is a market garden. Before that a lunch in a layby with a short walk to a view above a magnificent lake – as soon a I saw it with lots of birds on I decided to go back for the scope. A large group of dark ducks were on the lake – so scope on tripod I slowly focused on them – I thought these were a rarity – they were, what a find – a whole group of plastic ducks! A first for me. We did however spot at least 6 grebes dipping, diving and preening themselves – a glorious site in the scope.

This is the site of the very rare Plastic Duck – every twitchers dream

All who read the ‘It’s all about the hair’ blog will be pleased to know Janette’s hair has survived the lack of hairdryer / styler so far – she has gone for the Carol Klein (gardening guru) look.
We motored on to Cappy having fed the co-ords in to Mrs Garmin. She got us there easily (although once she did try to take us down a very small lane which is why we always have the map as a back-up). A warm welcome (remember these are working people not tourist guides) – some broken French from me and some broken English from Mme Degrendel and we were settled in. We bought some veg, got the cycles off Hilma and went down the Valle Somme along a canal – very pleasant.
Tomorrow off to Chateau Pierrefonds. Something else delaying us getting to the Auvergne!

Cappy locks looking back to the town

English couple (boat at rear) travelling France by boat. Like us their home is on their back! They are on the way to their winter moorings in Bruge – they also have a car so they are sorted!

To Alsace & back – Days 10 & 11

Rocroi to Embrey – 15th October

The last of our Kugelhopf was consumed at exactly 13:55hrs today. What the heck am I going to enjoy now?
On a more sobering thought we stopped en-route today just outside Arras where there was a British Cemetery dedicated to the fallen in the First World War.

First World War British cemetery at Duisanes, nr Arras

Many, many people have visited these special sites over the years, many, many tourist, motor-homers and residents cannot help but be moved by these beautifully manicured spaces of remembrance. Although sad, they are a fitting reminder of our past and worthy of an occasional visit to show our respect, also to remind us about the horrors of war. So many, so young, so sad – I do not know of anyone in our family who fought in either the first or second world war, yet I shed a tear for these brave young men, not only British, there were boys and men from all over the commonwealth and respectfully German graves as well. More than 3000 people are buried here, this a tiny plot given by the locals as a token of their respect for helping to liberate their country.

I do not know this person or their family – I just thought it fitting to remember him. Maybe at some future date I’ll look into his history.

I hope this is not an intrusion for the family.

Nothing I can add

Onward to Embrey – today was a 150 mile drive, I’m beginning to think this is about my limit when driving in France. Janette did offer to drive for which I am very grateful, I just prefer driving than being a passenger. Embrey is a wonderful little aire, about 50 miles from Calais. We came across the first British motor-homers, David & Joyce who were on their way home after a 10 week European trip which included Croatia. Seasoned travellers.
When we left Rocroi we tried to fill up with water from the Urba Flux point – what a nonsense, two euro’s stolen from the card and still no water came out. This was the first time we had attempted to use the service point at an aire, before we came away I was worried about these things – this did not fill us with confidence, however, we had plenty of bottled water, so was not really a problem. When we arrived at Embrey there was a ‘Fot Bleu’ machine so we gave this a go – much easier, a machine to dispense ‘Jetons’ bought with our euro loaded card, pop the jeton into the machine and hey – ho, easy peasy, we had some water.

Ferry back to UK – 16th October

Because we were only about 50 miles away and our ferry was at 14:00hrs we took a slow drive along the coast from Bologne to Calais. Neither of us had driven this before and it was an absolute joy. Such a change to hammering down the ‘peage’ worrying about getting to the ferry on time.
A beautiful day – gave Hilma a last drink of French Gazole, we then topped up our tummy’s with some pain-au-raisin as we stopped overlooking La Manche in glorious sunshine. We had never stayed in this region before and were very surprised by the diversity – just inland rolling hills and valleys whilst within a few miles dunes and beaches, definitely worth a couple of days stopover in the future. There I go, planning what to do next. Well I think at the end of a holiday that is a normal thing to do. We are already thinking about Ireland, Brittany and the Camargue – how are we going to fit it all in?
We will!

To Alsace & back – Days 8 & 9

Eguisheim to Millery – 13th October

So we leave the beautiful autumn golden vines of the Alsace to turn our noses North for our homeward journey. We are not in a hurry though, we are going to take 4 days to get back to the ferry and enjoy the slow drive back. Climbing out of the Rhine valley was gorgeous, this time of year brings a charm all of its own, the countryside bathed in a low light with the trees glowing, each one on their own autumnal journey. At the top of the climb (a few km’s of 6% but very manageable) we stopped for a coffee and Kugelhopf in a layby.

The Kugelhopf in all it’s uneaten glory!

Today we are off to an Aire at Millery (Lat: 48.8159N / Long: 6.12701E) situated just above Nancy and on the banks of the R.Moselle. Upon arrival there were 4 vans well spaced apart, by the time darkness fell there were 14! A bit of a squeeze. We had a little wander around Millery finding the old outdoor Lavarie that had been lovingly restored along with the church. There was some signs that the older residents were not in favour of such ‘rapid’ change with a huge sign on someone’s garage asking to sign a petition against the tide of change.

Fantastic timber work in the reconstructed Millery lavoire

The dodgy duo – enjoying the setting sun on the banks of the Moselle

The Friday night youths were out on their busy little hairdriers but by 10:00pm all had quietened down.

Millery to Rocroi – 14th October

An early mist greeted us coming off the Moselle which made the aire very atmospheric, someone had already left at 6:00am, someone else had launched a boat both of which woke me early. Cup of tea in bed then!
We did get off to an early start making sure our fog lights were working – but there was a snag. Although our pull-out bike rack has lights fitted it did not have a fog light, that was fitted on the main light cluster and was hidden by the bike cover. I didn’t feel comfortable traveling without the fog light on display (I’m sure the Gendarme wouldn’t approve) so off came the bike cover and the glorious fog light could now shine through the spokes giving the French tailgaters an ample view of Hilma’s bottom (note: not Hilma’s ample bottom).
A coffee break half way (with more Kugelhopf of course – Janette is going to get the recipe) and we decided to motor on all the way to Rocroi, set up camp and then have lunch. Upon reaching the edge of town we were stunned by this pretty little aire (Lat: 49.92347N / Long: 4.51705E).

Hilma sitting pretty at Rocroi

The Rocroi Aire – just below the town fortress walls

There were already some vans ensconced on the site but there was plenty of space. In ‘All the Aires North’ book by Vicarious Books it states there are 6 spaces – but clearly there is room for more. As I write this there are 8 of us and probably more to come if last night was anything to go by.
After lunch we decided to take a walk around the old town walls which in fact is a Star-Fort built by Henri II started in 1555 and gradually added too throughout the centuries.

The manicured walls and ramparts of the Rocroi star fortress

A fascinating walk, there are circuits for bikes around the outside and fitness exercise stations to work off all that Kugelhopf!

Janette – doing an impression of Olga Korbut (for those people of a certain age who remember)

……. and in final selection training for the SAS

The real Olga Korbut – for the avoidance of doubt

To Alsace & back – Day 7

Eguisheim to Husserain-les-Chateau (circular walk) – 12th October

Today we left the bikes behind and set off on our pieds. Boots laced up, rucksack full of food, drink and coats stuffed inside, off we set into some pretty moody looking skies hanging over the Vosges Mountains. The Alsace is the second driest place in France according to most of the reports I have read. Today was no exception, despite the threatening looking skies we managed to stay dry all day.

A moody sky over Eguisheim

The walk was about 6 miles incorporating – yes you guessed, vineyards and pretty villages along with a smattering of woods. Beautiful, this is such a peaceful area despite the obvious tourism, once again I would say that I am sure it would be heaving at the height of the season. Following the map, my GPS and some obvious French signposting we wound our way up to the hillside, the view of the Rhine basin opening behind as we climbed, sunlight drifting across the land lighting up the vines with a golden glow.

More moody skies – this time over over Les Trois Chateau. Yes they are vines all the way to the woods.

Just before midday we reached the village of Husserain-les-Chateau and managed to find a hotel above the village in the woods for our morning caffeine hit along with a ‘tarte du jour’ – I keep saying this “what’s not to like?”
This sleepy village has some wealth about it – plenty of fairly ‘newish’ properties with some magnificent views. It is well within commuting distance of both Colmar and Strasbourg, also we are pretty sure that many of the vintners earn a decent living here. If our friends back in our village can grow grapes and get about 350 bottles a year, imagine what some of these boys and girls are producing – eye watering. Prices for the Alsace wine bought direct from the producers range from £7 – £20 depending on quality, year of produce, etc.

Sun lighting up Colmar to the right

What struck us was just how clean it all is, villagers take great pride in their streets and their flowers, obviously vying for ‘best floral village’ and other such awards. A real pleasure to cycle and walk around, we would not hesitate to come back to this area again and spend more time here.

Our last look at Eguisheim before leaving


Moving on

We are off on our return journey tomorrow – we are taking 4 days to get back to the UK so again taking it as part of our holiday, not wanting to rush through this wonderful country. We have some Aires earmarked so let’s see what the next few days will bring. Goodbye Alsace!

No grapes in this one – I just loved the colours

To Alsace & back – Day 6

Open air grotto in Wettolsheim – a moving memorial to those lost in the Great War

Wettolsheim & Turckheim – 11th October

Today was our first cycle around the area – we had planned to cycle to Wettolsheim, walk around the market, buy some pain and vegetables and cycle back to Hilma. On arrival at Wettolsheim we came across a huge open air grotto – a memorial to the fallen in the great war, also something about children which we couldn’t quite make out.
On entering the ‘centre ville’ we found the market today was one stall – some ropey old veg. A quick visit to the boulangerie for our staple bread and croissants and a change of plan was needed. Looking at the map we decided to move on to Turckheim (which I remember our neighbour saying was a great place to visit). Less than half an hour later, on lovely flat and uncrowded roads following the ‘Route des Vin’ signs, we found ourselves in another walled medieval town. This one much bigger than Eguisheim and not quite so ‘twee’, yes still catering for us tourists but had a much more lived in feel.

Yet another beautiful border town street with a definite lilt to Germany. Note MORE vineyards in the background – they are everywhere!

More pretty buildings, more pretty flowers, more cobbled narrow streets and a few café’s and restaurants (what’s not to like?). A coffee was needed before we set off to explore the town on our bikes which didn’t take too long. The cleanest public loos I have ever come across – anywhere!
We decided to stop for lunch and had Tarte Flambee (thin pizza), a beer and Perrier, followed by another café before wobbling away again to find a supermarche to buy our veg. Just like at home in the UK it seems the small independent grocers are few and far between – I guess people rely more on the markets for their fresh produce.

Is it me or are the French more respectful of cyclists? They seem to be much more patient than their British counterparts and also give us more space (maybe not in Paris though?).
Finished off the day sat outside Hilma in the late sunshine, a glass of Reisling and a good book – later an end of day walk in the vineyards as the sun was setting – what a life – I want more of this!

Couldn’t resist taking yet another photo of the grapes!

Eguisheim to Turckheim cycle route (1:25,000)

To Alsace & back – Day 5

Eguisheim – 10th October

What a pretty little town – we did have a brief wander last night to get our bearings – stunningly pretty medieval town attempting to retain much of its original character (with some inevitable 21st century cheesiness).

Eguisheim – pretty as a postcard or chocolate box lid

One cannot deny though how proud the Alsacians are of the history, much of which we were to find out. This morning we went on 1.5hr self directed vineyard tour around the immediate area, what a joy, we are here in the Autumn with all the vines turning yellow, pink or red creating some very pleasant views. It is incredible to think that there is 172km of these vineyards and we were in one tiny part of them.

A beautiful morning walk – Les Trois Chateau on the hill

Pinot Gris or Noir?

Finishing the walk in town we bought some quiche tarts and a Kugelhopf cake. Taste and texture like a Chelsea bun but BIGGER, we only bought a small one to see if we liked it – guess what? WE DID! So we will be buying a LARGE Kugelhopf for our travels home.
Back into town late afternoon after digesting lunch and a few zzzzzz’s our next mission was to walk around the rampart sections of the town. These are not like castle ramparts but higher level streets making an elliptical shape surrounding the town. Originally there were two town entrances with people passing through two sets of gates each end (the first gate to collect your taxes before entering). A very interesting walk around with plenty of information points and pretty, pretty little dwellings. One can’t help thinking about what it must have been like to live their in the XV1th Century.

One for the door project (don’t ask)

Most of the houses have this type of magnificent floral display

Next on our shopping list was some of the Alsace wine. It’s not a wine we were familiar with so we definitely needed some tastings – I had earmarked some producers from Hugh Johnson’s little wine book and went in search.

Q: How many wine producers can you get in one town?
A: 35

Paul Ginglinger was our first stop – tasting several (hic) wines we chose 6 bottles of 3 different types and price range Reisling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris Pfersigberg . On to the next one Bruno Sorg. Janette was feeling a little light headed by the time we had tasted some of Bruno’s vino – this time we went a little more up market and bought 4 bottles of Reisling Florimont – packed with flavour. Carrying 10 bottles back to Hilma was hard work – now I’m going for a run – get rid of all those cake and wine calories. Tonight we will treat ourselves to a meal out so a prudent spending day needed tomorrow when we are planning to cycle to a local market.

More wine please

Part of the outer rampart street

To Alsace & back – Day 4

To Eguisheim – 9th October

Quite an early start for us, but before we set off the man in in his little smart car came and collected our 5 euro for the pleasure of staying overnight. The previous night was free – I think the difference here is you can stay longer than the 48hrs and there are more services (although you would be brave to use the showers)
Today was a shorter drive – a mere 120 miles to our intended destination. A small ‘deviation’ and then a stop to LeClerc for provisions (Leffe and bread – well maybe some veg and meat as well) with a lunch stop en-route all made for a pleasant journey. Whilst at the lunch we were glad we didn’t use the ‘frites’ van as the said owner take a pee behind his van – yuk!
Driving in to the Vosges mountains the rain came down quite heavily, the road gradually rising to a fantastic viewpoint, Hilma did a grand job of climbing the mountains. I must admit to being a little concerned as once or twice when stopping I have smelt a hot clutch – pas de probleme.
On arriving on the outskirts of Eguisheim Mrs. SatNav once again got us to the edge of town but wanted to take us through it’s very narrow streets, just in time we saw a sign for the campsite directing us around the outside. And a very pleasant little campsite she is. After the Aires though and our wild camping in Scotland it all does seem like they pack em in tight.
Funny, although the drive was shorter today we both felt really tired. We put it down to the ‘newness’ of being in Hilma in a foreign land and having to concentrate that much harder about everything.
Once we have this trip under our belt I’m sure we will settle into a pattern with future travels. At the moment, we can only compare it to the North Coast 500 trip – the daily mileages were less interspersed with 2 or even 3 day stops.

To Alsace & back – Day 3

8th October
Lac du Val Joly, Eppe-Sauvage

Before leaving our overnight stop we decided now that we no longer have Raggs we need to do some brisk walking (good cross-training to compliment my running). Walking down to the lake we found a mini entertainment complex rather like a smaller version of Center Parcs. Lots of activities that could be done in the high season with plenty of cycle and walking routes to suit all. A great place to stop, maybe for a couple of nights and explore the surrounding paths. That said I would think at the height of the season space would be at a premium. Even at this time of year there were 17 motorhomes on the site (could easily fit 30).
Because we were splitting the journey to the Alsace over 3 days we could choose our route without having to feel like chewed cardboard at the end of each day. The first part of today’s journey we had to negotiate our way through Verdun – Mrs. SatNav did a great job of getting us around the town, not sure we could have done it without her. Once out on the open road we revert to the Michelin regional maps at 1:200,000 (1cm = 2km) which I have to say (backed up by a road atlas) are good for getting an overview of the route whilst giving great detail. The problem with Mrs. SatNav is she wants to take us the most direct route which may not be where we want to go (or dare I say it, even suitable for Hilma’s girth).

Eppe-Sauvage aire

The view from Hilma – first night in France

Lac du Madine, Heudicourt-sous-les-Cotes

We aim for Lac du Madine (Lat: 48.93533N / Long: 5.71557) our 2nd overnight stop in France. Driving through some beautiful countryside with the maple trees turning a warm golden yellow also gave us a warm glow inside. The Aire is large, again near a lake which is an obvious magnet for holiday destinations. Although this site could easily take 50 vans there were only 5 vans spread around the site – all looks a little tired, beware the showers & toilets – better off in the van I reckon.

Dusk over Lac du Madine

Before supper went off for a 3 mile run near the lake on grass, through woods and good paths. Afterwards we both went for our constitutional walk with the bins, spotting a Great White Egret, hundreds of Mute Swans, Coots galore and the odd Gadwall. Slept like a log!

To Alsace & back – Day 2

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The Ferry – 7th October

Today was an early start – this was to be our first foray onto a ferry (sounds like a good soundbite – foray onto a ferry – I think I’ll copyright it and then the BBC can buy it off me for some exhorbitant fee and make some cheap ‘fly on the ferry’ documentary – or has that already been done?) with Hilma and to foreign lands not so far. France was calling.

Hilma waiting patiently at Dover – note the Euro light stickers in the wrong place!!

Nearly every motorhome blog one reads tells of how the French have got it sorted regarding motorhoming. Last year we bought the ‘All the Aires France’ books by Vicarious Books so was able to plan 2 stops en-route to Eguisheim in the Alsace, our planned destination.
There has been many a time we have previously driven through France (without a motorhome of course) and got caught out with driving times, ending up like chewed cardboard by the time we arrive. Not this time – we plan to travel a mere 140 miles to our first night stop at Eppe-Sauvage (Free) next to Lac du Val Joly (Lat: 50.11965N / Long: 4.13925E). No tolls for us, just motorways and D roads (still haven’t mastered the map roads to reality numbering yet).
We hugged the Belgian border most of the way making good time and the aire proved just what was described on the tin. We have not tackled a ‘Fot Bleu’ (water, waste and electricity unit) yet and just looked at the machine wondering what the heck to do. As we are travelling we don’t need hook up yet and our batteries are getting topped up either whilst driving or by the 100w solar panel installed earlier in the year. Hardly used any water so no need to fill up yet. I’m hoping we can make it to Eguisheim without servicing Hilma with the necessaries!

Eppe-Sauvage aire

Hilma at rest after her epic first journey to France (with us anyway – who knows where her previous owners took her)


Eppe-Sauvage aire

The view from Hilma – first night in France