France in the sunshine

6th November to 14th November 2018

We went into this trip with a rough plan which involved driving through France and then onto the Spanish north coast, to enable us to travel where we missed last year, covering the area west of Santander.  The route then would involve driving down Portugal arriving in it’s southern parts by Christmas.  There would be an element of change for the route through France as even though our routes are never quite the same they have always only covered the regions considerably west of Paris and always seem to include a drive by of Rouen and Bordeaux when driving south.   Determined to do something different this year we decided to draw a line vertically down from Adinkirke in Belgium, where we would stop by briefly to pick up tobacco, through the entire country of France. This imaginary line took in Paris, Limoges and ending in Toulouse where once we had reached the Toulouse area’s capital city we would veer west to San Sebastian, our gate way to the north Spanish coast.

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Having a new road atlas for this trip didn’t prevent us going way off target!

Therefore it was a surprise to even us that after almost one week on the road we found ourselves just north of Montpelier meaning our entry in Spain would be from the north east coast into the Costa Brava which in geographical terms was the complete opposite of our initial plans. This had happened due to number of decisions made whilst driving, the first being that we chose to circle Paris by it’s eastern road net work. The second thing which bumped us more east than we expected was to avoid a toll road which was the direct route south to Toulouse, instead choosing to head south east on toll free roads at around Cahors.

Maybe it was the draw of new places which encouraged us to deviate so considerably, but one thing we both agree on was that it was one our better trips through France for reasons beyond seeing something different; and that was the weather.  Normally the French part of our travels involve rain and biting cold, but this year we have enjoyed on the majority autumn sunshine which has been a pleasant surprise and has allowed us to hold out a little longer than usual and not giving in to the allure of warmer climes.

Our journey started at Grand Fort Philippe just north of Calais and this place is becoming our favourite Calais stop over.  The free aire lies just outside a simple French harbour town and alongside a coastal walkway which goes south west to Oye Plage, a walk completed by Rita and I on our first morning.

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Early morning on Oye Plage looking back at the estuary harbour of Grand Fort Philippe.  It was vast and very empty when we visited.

We then headed south from our quick Belgium stop and ended up at Doullens near the Somme.  It seemed quite timely to have stayed here as we were approaching the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One and this was very apparent in Doullens town centre which had a street exhibition demonstrating how international the war was showing many black and white photos of North Africans fighting on side of the allies.

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Milly -la- Foret had a bustling centre surrounding the old wooden market canopy. 

From Doullens we aimed to get past Paris, stopping over at market town Milly-la-Foret where we imagined a place where commuters travelling into Paris to work would live. Keeping with the southern direction our third night was spent at a very small village called Fromental, in the Limousin region. We were drawn to this location by the camper contact reviews which described a village community shop above and beyond being a rural village, it is strange as to what attracts us to certain places!! The village certainly had a community hub, which incorporated a library, post office and shop that sold almost everything at reasonable prices.  The whole hub was staffed by one person from the village, we did not enquire to the set up but it was certain that the community wanted to keep hold of some local amenities and service.  In support of their community and to say a little thanks for the free over night parking we purchased a bottle of red wine, frozen oven chips and tin of peas to the assumed amusement of the staff member as she probably thought ‘typical Anglais!!’

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We lunched at one of the many roadside chateau’s en-route to Fromental.

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Fromental had a sense of community and the village Chateaux’s grounds were open to the public to walk around.  Rita enjoyed squirrel hunting here…….

South of Limoges our next stop was Uzerche, a walled town that sits high above the river Vezere whose skyline seems dominated with turrets and towers.  It was here where we joined the 11th of November remembrance parade which was an assemble of representatives from the local emergency services and people from the town.  It was interesting to note that it seemed a one minute silence is not observed in France, instead on the 11 o’clock chime of the near by Elise St Pierre the party, led by the three smart elderly town’s men holding large flags, processioned down the town’s one street to the war memorial where a series of readings were voiced.

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WW1 memorial at Uzerche

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Uzerche is described by the Lonely Planet as one of Limonsin’s prettiest hill top hamlets.  We stumbled by this wonder by mistake really as it had a free aire!

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We completed the river side circular walk which starts and ends from the old railway station car park, the location of the motorhome aire.

In the afternoon we drove a little further ending up at a small village south east of Cahors called Arcambal.  This was a perfect one night stop over as it had free services, local bakery and a bar restaurant.  The later we visited for a sunset aperitif and the friendly owner kept the place open a little longer than usual for us to enjoy a second round.  Almost immediately after our second drink was served a mini bus pulled up full with teenagers.  A man, who later we learnt was a vicar, entered the bar and enquired whether it was open and the owner must have replied, ‘normally I would be closed by now if not for the couple outside’, and therefore chose to accommodate the large party. The vicar was so pleased that they were able to find a refreshment pit stop on a Sunday evening in the countryside that he even bought us our third round!

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The minibus with it’s refreshed teenagers and Vicar driver heading home after their day trip, Arcambel

Since now we were tumbling south east, for Monday night we reached as far as Salasc in the Parc National Regional du Haut-Languedoc.  Salasc was a tiny rural village which photos can describe better than my words. Our memory will be the 4km walk we completed in the surrounding hillside which we all including Rita really relished. The weather was still treating us well, in fact on this walk we stripped down to our t-shirts.

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We completed this walk at Salasc.  It was hard work as it was within the hillside that surrounded the small village.

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Set deep in the National Parc, Salasc had a back in time feel

So now we were truly off our intended route and it was when we turned off at Cahors all of our intentions vanished regarding travelling back west to San Sebastian.  Now we were making plans to visit the French Mediterranean coast, north west of Montpelier, as this was a part of coast that we missed on our 2016 tour where we joined the sea side at Montpelier from Andorra and then proceeded to move east towards Italy.  The chosen coastal town for our visit was Gruissan which proved to be good choice.  Not only had the aire stopped charging 9 euros per night during the winter months but also the town itself was quite charming and unique with it’s harbour, castle and heavily curved promenade and proved to be a pleasant place to while away an afternoon.  It was also a popular stop over for motorhomers, some evidently staying for long periods, and in total there were 87 motorhomes there!  Could this be a sign of things to come??

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As we enjoyed our drinks at the town centre PMU bar we noticed this cat, who seemed frustrated that the fishmonger below was closed for the day.  Gruissan

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Our waterside parking at Gruissan.  The aire was much fuller than this photo suggests, it was only an area of damp sand next to us that put other motorhomes off from parking next to us (we think!!!!)

That concludes part one of our French trip as obviously we will be back here in late March 2019 if everything goes to plan.  Overall we have really enjoyed ourselves.  It was really refreshing to discover or revisit some different regions en-route to Spain and we have really felt to have been travelling again and not just commuting.   Plus the weather has been fairly mild meaning several times we have been caught sitting outside enjoying a drink in a cafe.  So for a while it is au revoir France and buenas dias Spain as upon leaving the Languedoc region we will be entering the Costa Brava.

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Not forgetting our Rita.  She has been enjoying herself we think and we have made sure we have spent time out of moving along to make sure she has her fun too. 

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