For France we recommend All The Aires France primarily, and
As the summer seemed to be ending at home, we were looking forward to finding the sun on our 5th long trip of the year. This trip is planned to be a bit of touring and a lot of holiday, and when we return it would end up being around 200 days away in our van in our first year of full-time-work-free-freedom. We pretty much plan to have a rapid tour of France and identify areas we like for future visits and exploration.
Typically, our drive to Dover was a mix of sun and rain which hopefully will go. Just outside Dover we saw a similar van to ours – we wonder if it was Barry & Hazel who we seem to randomly bump into on every other trip! (Stalkers?! 🙂 ). After a rough-ish crossing the wet/sun weather followed us into France. We decided to head to Amiens first of all and annoyingly our new Aire book listed an aire that was non-existent. So we found our own secluded spot and explored the city. It turned out to be a really relaxed and friendly cafe-culture city with well looked after town centre and a big cathedral. We revisited the cathedral late at night where they put on a music and light show on the front which lights up all the statues and stone carvings. Very very impressive indeed – the detail and accuracy of the projections was immense and really made the cathedral come to life. The music however reminded us of horror movies!
Leaving Amiens we headed to Le Mans. We planned to go further but miss calculated how big France is! Also we are deliberately going via the slow and picturesque roads. We stopped for lunch in a quaint chocolate-box town with an abbey called Le Bec Hellouin then headed to a free Aire in Le Mans for the night. Le Mans was a reasonable place, not the most stunning, and after a good nights sleep we headed to the 24 hour circuit and motor museum. Unfortunately we were not permitted access to the track in the van, but the museum was reasonable with some very special cars. Exiting via the main Le Mans straight we headed to Samur which is a very picturesque town with small windy cobbled streets reminding us very much of Lagos in Portugal. Samur has a lovely fairy-tale castle with great views over the Loire river.
Just down river we stayed overnight in Turquant – and old troglodyte town with a superb free Aire with after a long walk of the area (read: we got lost) we were glad of some cold beer and tea! After a morning walk we headed to Oradour – the scene of a WWII massacre by the German SS. The entire town population was murdered and the town now exists as was in 1944. The museum and the town were very moving and well worth a visit. During the evening we had a knock on the door. First of all we thought it was some form of ticket collector, but the guy was English and knew us and our travels from our website! Fame at last! 🙂 So anyone who knows Dinger @ MHF – be warned he may be another stalker 🙂 Actually It was a pleasure to spend a good few hours with him and Lorraine and share tips and hidden gems (don’t forget that place in Scotland Dinger!!)
Just beyond Oradour the weather seemed to change and become very warm and sunny indeed. We opted for a slow and back road journey down to Cahors over mountains and down windy roads through lovely villages to eventually get to Cahors. Being Sunday the town was empty, but the aire was full and overflowing and another area a few meters away had another 15 vans in! Cahors has a busy mid-week market but being unable to stay we will have to miss it and just enjoy what we see whilst closed! After 5 days and nights of driving and aires we opted to aim for a camping cheque campsite in the Tarn Gorges. We had a load of pre-paid cheques that need using up, so we loaded TomTom with a very windy route following the river Lot to get to the site where we planned to stay and get out and about exploring and being our usual active selves. On leaving Cahors we looked over and saw we must have missed off a huge part of the town! Oops! One to remember for the next visit – but from the looks of it we missed the best bits.
En route our French was improving. We are up to “What do you know of the political and economic situation in France at the present time?”. All well and good, but if we were to ask the question we’d not be able to make out the answers! That said – we are a lot better and we are doing well with the Michel Thomas method.
The drive following the Lot was awesome if a little tight in places. We ventured through Saint-Cirq-Lapopie which is a must see and unique French village – described as one of the best in France. All old houses and shops on a windy hillside location. Very pretty and worth a visit. The rest of the drive was very pretty until we came close to Millau when the scenery became a lot more interesting and the Tarn gorges started to come into view. Our campsite on the Tarn was good enough with a nice pool and good facilities with some nice walks into the hills. A rather relaxing spot and perfect bar the mosquitos!
Continuing South we went via Millau which in itself isn’t that spectacular, through and under the Millau viaduct which is a superb bit of engineering. The visitor centre underneath gives some interesting information but isn’t worth a detour. The view from the centre wasn’t great so we ventured on to one of the recommended viewpoints (though not in a campervan!) and almost fell off the road squeezing past an oncoming car (huge drop off tarmac). Fortunately the tow-bar assembly (which being a commercial vehicle is solid) took the brunt of the drop of the road and nothing else appeared marked. The view from the top wasn’t worth the hassle so we eyed up the road and waited for a gap and belted down before anyone could meet us! Suggest you bypass viewpoint 5!
Wanting the see we then ventured all the way to the Med to Cap d’Agde where we decided to plant ourselves for a few days and chill on a lovely sandy beach and warm Mediterranean sun! A busy first week but now into relaxing mode for a good few days…