2016, 5th European Tour, Europe 2016, France, Van Travels

3 FRANCE – Pyrenees to Calais

sunset over La Rochelle marina

TUE 18 OCT 2016

After passing through the Somport tunnel we dropped down the Valley d’Aspe, with jagged peaks appearing between the clouds, IMG_6987IMG_6988then via Oleron Ste Marie to Sauveterre de Bearn, where we stopped to have a look round the medieval centre, with views down to the river and the remains of the fortified bridge, the Pont de la Legend. IMG_6999When we reached Dax, the small Aire was full,

Aire at Dax

Aire at Dax

however, we had already decided to continue on to the Aire at Moliets Plage on the Atlantic coast of Aquitaine, where we have stayed previously a couple of years ago.

Aire at Moliets Plage

Aire at Moliets Plage

We walked to the beach, which was deserted, IMG_7010IMG_7013

in contrast with our last visit in July 2015, on the way back we checked what was still open, which turned out to be one bar/restaurant and one shop selling beachwear. We had some drinks and a pizza, before returning to the van.

WED 19 OCT 2016

Not very warm, breakfast inside. Left Moliets Plage after a late start, and drove north along quiet country roads to the ‘star-rated’ Aire at Gastes, overlooking a small marina on a large lake S of Biscarrosse. IMG_7020IMG_7027The machine at the entry would not accept our UK debit card, so we paid with coins (€4.50 at this time of year), a card is issued, which allows you to leave and return as many times as you like within the period paid for. After a coffee outside a local cafe, we cycled on a very pleasant cycleway along the lake to the W of the Aire,

fishing structure with fixed nets on the lake

fishing structure with fixed nets on the lake

passing another very attractive Aire at Ste Eulalie en Born next to a small marina (similar to the Aire at Gastes). IMG_7024

We had fleeces and insulated jackets on, however, after a few minutes of light rain, it cleared and we returned to the van dry. Very quiet on the Aire at this time of year, no traffic noise at all, just silence. This is another Aire we would return to. After folding and storing the bikes, we sat inside with the door shut and heating on, warm and comfortable, but missed sitting outside.

THUR 20 OCT 2016

After breakfast (inside), we left heading for La Rochelle, recommended by our friends Dave and Anne-Marie, via Sanguinet and the`A660 and A63, then around the ring road to the E of Bordeaux, leaving on the A10 until heading N on the D137 past vineyards for many miles, most of them associated with a chateau. After passing Saintes we turned W onto the D733 west of Rochefort. We stopped at Aire La Rochelle 4, between the huge modern marina and the sea. Jane not happy with vans on both sides, so we moved to the end of a row. IMG_7037IMG_7033Cold and overcast, cycled into the Vieux (old) Port for a look round, IMG_7044IMG_7045the sun came out briefly, providing an opportunity for better photos, IMG_7065IMG_7066IMG_7068before we had a seafood meal next to the harbour. After the sun set we were treated to a spectacular aerial display (murmuration) from a large flock of starlings before they roosted. We cycled back to the van in the dark, and put the heating on. IMG_7079IMG_7083

FRI 21 OCT 2016

Cold but clear, breakfast inside, cycled into the old Port again IMG_7090IMG_7100IMG_7105IMG_7111past the Maritime Museum and the Aquarium, a new modern building (€16), and had lunch overlooking the harbour at Creperie du Vieux Port, with some very nice cider from Brittany. After lunch we had another look round, including arcaded streets, IMG_7114

interesting mushrooms

interesting mushrooms

the cathedral, and the market square (market closing as we arrived), then cycled back to the van. The weather clouded over and felt a lot colder without the sunshine, as we cycled into the old Port again, and had a drink overlooking the harbour, IMG_7143Alan had a Pineau des Charente, followed by another seafood meal in a small restaurant IMG_7149near the Tour de la Chaine (Chain Tower), which has a system for raising a heavy chain to secure the port at night. Cycled back to the van in the dark again (must get some lights!), heating on in the van.

SAT 22 OCT 2016

Breakfast inside, heating on. Left La Rochelle, stopped at a large Hyper-U supermarket on the way out of the city for boxes of wine, a horrendous experience! D137, then joined the A83 toll motorway near Lucon to Nantes, the N137 (dual carriageway) to Rennes, and the free A84 to Avranches, where we stopped at the Aire, which is on high ground with a good view. We were originally aiming for Honfleur, however, we spent over an hour looking a number of Cathargo motorhomes at a dealership 13 km S of Rennes ring road, next to the N137. We had a very close look at the Cathargo Compact Line 143, less than 7m, and only 2.12m wide, (only 70 mm wider than our Adria Twin), very nice! IMG_7172Alan would like one of these. After parking at the Aire at Avranches, we walked into the town for a look round,

Mont St Michel visible on the horizon, from Averanches

Mont St Michel visible on the horizon, from Avranches

stopping for a drink in a cafe/bar, where Alan had some Normandy cider, before eating our last meal of the trip in a restaurant.

SUN 23 OCT 2016

After breakfast we used the service point, but couldn’t get any water, the slot in the machine was market €2, but would not accept €1 or €2 coins, we realised later, that it probably required a ‘jeton’ (token). On the way down the hill to the A84,we had a great view of Mont St Michel in the distance. After Caen we took the A13 toll motorway towards Rouen, turning off onto A29 (toll) northwards, to cross over the river Seine where it meets the sea near Le Havre, over a spectacular suspension bridge, the ‘Pont du Normandy’. IMG_7202We left the motorway E of Le Havre, travelling east on the D6015 and D929 to the A28 (free) motorway N of Rouen, until Abbeville, where we drove north on the D1001 to Boulogne through many acres of potato fields. It must be time to harvest the crop, as there were huge piles of potatoes in many of the fields. We stopped at the Aire at Wissant (again), which had lots of room this time.

MON 24 OCT 2016

After an early start, we had breakfast whilst travelling through the tunnel, much to our surprise we had a trouble-free journey round the M25 on our way home, although Alan thought everything had now ‘gone to the dogs’.