2016, 5th European Tour, Europe 2016, France

1 FRANCE – Calais to Spain (Figures)

Bonneval, south of Chartres

1 FRANCE

SUN 11 SEP 2016

After a long drive with several delays, including many miles of crawling traffic on the M25, we made it to the tunnel with three minutes to spare. Despite checking in on time for our 4:50 pm crossing, we were delayed until the following train due to problems on earlier crossings. We stayed at the Aire at Wissant, no parking bays left, so we parked at the side of the wide access road.

MON 12 SEP 2016

We took the A16 motorway, including the toll section, then the free A28 to Rouen, stopped for lunch at the Pont de l’Arche Aire, next to the junction of the rivers Eure and Seine,

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below the parish church of Notre Dame des Arts

img_5783wWe left the N154 at Evreux, on the N13 east to Pacy sur Eure, where we followed the Michelin ‘scenic route’ south along the Eure valley past Dreux, before re-joining the N154. As we approached Chartres, the cathedral dominated the view, towering over the city. We took the ring road to the D910 > N10 and stopped at the Aire at Bonneval, next to the attractive historic town.

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After a couple of glasses of wine outside a corner bar overlooking the church

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we ate in the van. After our meal we had another wander round the town, but everything was closed in the evening.

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TUE 13 SEP 2016

Not a very peaceful night, local traffic in the early hours, barking dog outside the next van. After breakfast, walked into the old town again for another look.

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Drove to Marboue, to have a look at the Aire (for future reference), then on to Chateaudun, img_5851w where there is another Aire below the chateau, next to the river, which would make a very pleasant lunch stop. We then aimed for the Aire at Meung sur Loire via quiet country roads through the hayfields, most of the hay had been cut and stored in huge rectangular stacks. We arrived at the Loire at Beaugency, to find the Aire was not closed, as indicated in the book (due to falling trees). We asked several people, but no one seemed to know if was officially open again, or simply occupied by motorhomes. A local told us that a lot of work had been done to remove branches, and the Police Municipal didn’t seem concerned, so we took a position right at the ‘front’, facing the river and the excellent medieval bridge (11th Century), a superb view for lunch! img_5862w

After lunch we cycled east to Meung, img_5863w

it was sunny and warm, complaints were heard from Jane about the heat. We had a look at the Aire at Meung, which looked promising, then had a couple of drinks outside the Chateau Hotel in the old centre, before cycling back to the van. img_5880wimg_5883wAfter our evening meal, outside overlooking the river, we walked into Beaugency for a couple of glasses of wine outside an old restaurant, Chez Henry.

WED 14 SEP 2016

After a peaceful night, breakfast in the van with the door open, due to a cool breeze, we then left Beaugency, for the short drive to Mueng sur Loire, where we parked at the Aire. We cycled east along the Loire to Orleans, img_5888wimg_5889wstopping for lunch by the Loiret river, a tributary of the Loire. img_5893wWe had a look round the historic centre of Orleans, img_5902wand the cathedral, img_5907wimg_5911wimg_5913whad a coffee and pastry, then cycled back, weather cooler with more cloud. Picked a couple of apples on the way back (delicious), it started spitting with rain, but we reached the van without getting wet. It rained for most of the evening.

THUR 15 SEP 2016

Another peaceful night, weather poor with a disappointing forecast, so we decided to abandon touring the upper Loire valley, and head for the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Park near Clermont-Ferrand. We avoided motorways, using the D2020 and the D944 to Bourges, then the D2144 through the centre of Montlucon to Clermont-Ferrand, arriving at rush hour (5:00 pm). Turning right at the huge Michelin factory, we gradually progressed to the west of the city, arriving at the Aire at the Puy du Dome visitor centre near Orcines in the rain. img_5935wNo lights at the Aire, dark and very quiet, several other motorhomes there.

For future reference:

Cycleway along the Canal du Berry, we detoured to have a look at it at Vaux, (the River Cher runs parallel), from Vallon en Sully to Montlucon, a train line runs close to the canal, which may enable an end to end route.

AirePouzol off D2144 SE of La Sioule river bridge, near two gorges, SP La Passerelle.

Two Aires at Saint Amand-Motrond, one by a lake, one by the canal du Berry.

FRI 16 SEP 2016

Weather not good enough for walking in the volcano area, with more rain forecast, but cleared enough to take the train up Puy du Dome for a quick visit. img_5936w

8 deg on the top with a cold wind, views and photographs disappointing due to the weather, img_5943wimg_5941w

it would be superb with good visibility and sunshine. Picnic lunch stop on the way to the A75 free motorway, heading for Millau, to visit the suspension bridge and the Gorges du Tarn.

Weather still poor when we arrived, bridge very impressive (the highest vehicle bridge in the world, 343m at the highest point), took some photos in the rain, img_5972wimg_5976wimg_5977wimg_5978wwatched a very interesting video of the construction in the information centre. Stopped at the commercial Aire at La Cavalerie, near the A75 south of the bridge, after great difficulty with the machine at the entry barrier. Had to abandon a visit to the adjacent historic village due to pouring rain.

For future reference:

Information on 34 marked walking routes in the Puy du Dome area provided (free) from the visitor centre.

Peyre, just west of the Millau bridge visitor centre, one of ‘les Plus Beaux Villages de France’.

SAT 17 SEP 2016

Weather improved, but still cold and windy with lots of cloud, decided against driving back to Gorges du Tarn, we will save that for another time with better weather.

For future reference:

Gorges du Tarn (in better weather)

Maison des Vautours (vultures) E of Le Rozier in the Gorge de la Jonte

Corniche de Cevennes (E of the Tarn Gorge), for views, walking and fishing

Chateau de Peyrelade, fortress on a rock overlooking the Tarn valley

Before leaving we walked round the village of La Cavalerie and found the impressively preserved fortified community. The village was founded by the Knights Templar in the 11th Century and later fortified by the Knights Hospitallers during the 15th C. It is one of 5 ‘Ramparts of the Larzac’, these sites were originally founded to accommodate pilgrims travelling to visit Jerusalem, and were later fortified during the insecurity of the Hundred Years War (1338-1453). img_5989wimg_5998w

We walked round the ramparts, which provided views over the enclosed village and the Larzac Plateau. img_6002w

Roof structure in one of the towers on the ramparts

Roof structure in one of the towers on the ramparts

For future reference:

Other Templar and Hospitaller villages: Ste-Eulalie de Cernon; St Jean D’Alcas; La Couvertoirade (also a ‘Plus Beaux Village’)

We left La Cavalerie aiming for the Aire at Palavos Les Flots, for some cycling in better weather, stopping briefly to look at Lodeve, then round Montpellier, to find the Aire was full, this was the second time we have been turned away here. The Aire at Carnon Plage was also full, so we stayed on the adjacent campsite (€20 fairly basic).

We walked towards the Port along the beach, img_6028wand had a meal in a small bistro ‘O Cabanon’, where we shared a starter of fresh sardines (from the Port), then Gambas (Jane) and Cuttlefish and chorizo (Alan), img_6033wJane had a frozen lemon filled with lemon sorbet. All delicious, €44 including a pitcher of wine and coffee. The owner was very friendly, and we had a good chat,

Owner on the left and his staff on the right (his nephew)

Owner on the left and his staff on the right (his nephew)

he recommended a place on the coast of Morocco called Essaouira, where his best friend lives, and showed us some photos on his phone, it looks excellent. Much warmer here in the Mediterranean climate!

SUN 18 SEP 2016

Breakfast outside, sun and cloud, back in shorts and T shirts. Cycled to the Port to get a map of cycle routes, but Tourist Office shut. Local fete in progress next to the harbour,

Classic French cars on display at the local fete

Classic French cars on display at the local fete

lunch back at the van. Cycled to La Grande Motte on a good cycleway, but lots of road noise from the main coast road which runs parallel. Disappointing that we could not stay at Palavos Les Flots, where there is access to better cycle routes, including Montpellier. After returning to the campsite, we went to the beach, Alan had the first swim of the trip, clouded over, wind increased, ate inside the van.

MON 19 SEP 2016

Left the campsite at Carnon Plage, heading to Villefranche de Conflent, intending to take Le Train Jaune (the yellow train). Lots of traffic around Montpellier. Avoided toll motorways using the free A750 and A75, then the D609 > D6009 parallel to the A9, followed by the N116 west from Perpignan. Parked near the train station at Villefranche (€4/24 hrs),

Le Train Jaune opposite the motorhome parking area

Le Train Jaune opposite the motorhome parking area

then walked round the fortified town (our second visit), img_6054wimg_6056wimg_6055wimg_6060wand enjoyed a cool beer in the square by the church. Sunny and warm all day. Prawns, scallop, and chorizo with tagliatelli in the van, delicious!

TUE 20 SEP 2016

Early start for the 8:55 am train to Font-Romeu (€20 each return). Sat in the open carraige to get the best view, with fleeces and insulated jackets on, no sun in the steep valley yet and cold, img_6065wimg_6102wimg_6103wAlan’s fingers were numb by the time we arrived. We should have taken a later train, which would have been warmer. Nearly 2 hours to Font-Romeu, it would have been 3 hours to the end of the line at Latour de Carol. We took the return train journey 20 minutes after arriving, img_6118wwhich was warmer, as the sun was above the mountains. Very scenic, with some impressive stone bridges img_6107wand a spectacular metal suspension bridge. img_6111wWe were back by 1:00 pm, and went into the fortified town again for lunch. We had ‘Galettes’, img_6156wbuckwheat savoury crepes in a little creperie, and shared a sweet (dessert) crepe, all very tasty.

After lunch we left to look at the spa at Molitg es Bains, a very setting in the mountains, but nowhere to park the van. €20 to go in the spa plus €60 for a treatment, so we returned to the main road to Perpignan (N116), and took the toll motorway (A9 > AP7) to Figures to avoid the ugly commercial bottlenecks on both sides of the border, a lesson we learned the hard way from our previous trip.