French Trip Number 2 – 2016
Well it’s not so long since I wrote a short report on our first two week trip in the van to France. Well 13th August saw us return to mainland Europe, this time with another passenger, Georgie our daughter. She has been dreaming of travelling in the van and spending time exploring France with us. For Catherine and I there will mainly be repeats, but this is nice to do, to let Georgie see what we have seen and what I regard as some of the highlights of France.
So Saturday 13th saw two of us driving to the National Watersport Centre, Nottingham to both watch Georgie rowing and to pick her up to start the trip. Georgie is currently rowing full time on the Start GB talent Program with a vision of standing on the podium in Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
We can only hope, but it won’t be through a lack of effort on her part, and things are looking very promising, with Trials in November and Georgie turning out to be a very strong athlete!
We had a great weekend in Nottingham with good weather and good results for Georgie.
Future Olympian!Frank keeping an eye on her boat…..
Sunday afternoon and rowing is done, so it’s south bound towards Dover. Nothing too exciting, M1, M25, M2, but it gets the job done and we search out a small campsite near Dover which I will definitely use on future trips. Clean, quiet, friendly and cheap. If you want clubs, restaurants, power or anything then forget it, but the van is self sufficient in everything, so no worries.
Longfield Farm at CT15 5AA
No fault of the site, but Georgie managed to snag her ankle on a gate while out with Frank (dog) and this was the result a week later. Swollen, sore and bruised. To be fair, she a bit of a fuss about nothing……she has another leg.
The next morning, up early as we are on the 9am ferry and a short, sunny drive to the port in Dover. Our plan was to hit the Peage and roll south to around Clermont Ferrand for a visit to Le Pu de Dome, an extinct volcano which is definitely worth a visit on a clear day. I visited a few years ago and a spiral road wound it’s way up the cone to the summit, but today, due to the numbers of visitors and paragliders a rack and pinion railway has been installed. It’s a shame, but definitely needed.
It was a long boring journey, but we made good time and the auto routes served their purpose well. We chose a campsite alongside the Loire River which although next to a busy road was just the job. The van was never designed to sleep more than 2 and a dog, so Georgie is using my Helleberg Nallo GT tent. If you ever want a great two person tent, go the this one. It’s not cheap, but superb.
Tuesday morning was again sunny and it was interesting and impressive to watch huge ships navigate the river for a while.
Today’s target was anascent of Puy de Dome. I’ve been up a few times as I love to just sit at the top and watch the paragliders, view and visitors. They also do great lime flavoured ice lollies! I’m easily pleased!
An impressedcatherine on the rack and pinion train…We spent a great two hours wandering and relaxing at the top, but wanted to crack on and get down to the Gorge du Tarn where Catherine and Georgie were going to kayak down the gorge. I’ve done it before, so I’ll look after Frank and to be fair, I’m not feeling 100%. Once again, I’ve brought man flu back from Doha. 😰
We stopped for two nights at the campsite in Malene, Gorge du Tarn an area I love. The campsite is good, but was very crowded. I didn’t unfortunately take many photos this time as we’ve been before and I have loads. We arranged the kayaking trip and I convinced Catherine that the kayaks were very stable “impossible” to capsize and that they should to the medium Trip of 16km.
All seemed good, until they returned…….Catherine had capsized half a dozen times and was absolutely knackered, which was my fault!
After a bit a mickey taking she cheered up (realising no one was showing any sympathy)
Leaving the Gorge on Thursday morning we headed back towards Millau and then left into the Gorge du Jonte. This is a new one for us and when I selected the van, a long wheeelbase Sprinter, it was obviously this Gorge i had in mind. The first 200m are very tight and twists between houses. It is exactly the width of the van!!
I was now heading east towards Mont Ventoux. Ventoux is a classic Tour de France stage climb, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Also I’d been told how beautiful it is. So Friday 19th saw us at the base of a fully clouded in mountain…..bugger.
Ahh well we drove the route anyway, but we only saw the next 10-15m at any time. On the decent once over the top, we stopped at an interesting forest walk, where we found some great sculptures and a nice short walk, which Frank particularly enjoyed.
Onwards and next stop in the Verdon Gorge, another of my favourites to show to Georgie. Driving into the area at the bottom of the Gorge there is a beautiful lake which is a stunning blue colour, very popular with swimmers, sunbathers and kayaking. It is a hot one today, so once we arrived the first thing was to park up a near to the lake a possible, to get in the water an cool off. Lots were swimming and Georgie continued franks swimming lessons.
We couldn’t ge the van to the waters edge due to low barriers everywhere preventing all motorhomes entering, but I managed to squeeze in a spot just outside, so not far. After our rest and swim, we tried a couple of campsites around Lac du Saint Croix, but all were very expensive and crammed. They also looked a bit like Butlins. Not our thing, so we explored a site away in the hills near the village of Aiguines. Brilliant, good facilities, and a great multilevel site in a pine forest. Cheap and relaxed! Camping d’la Aigle.
Sorry no pictures, but I can recommend.
The next morning, Saturday 20th we drove the south side of the Gorge, on what is a fantastic road, particularly swinging a long wheelbase Sprinter round. I enjoy driving the van, the seating position is good, it is a quality drive and it has a bit of presence.
Georgie had got herself prepared…and a bit excited for a bungee jump down into the Gorge at the Pont de L’Artuby, but when she saw the drop she decided against. I don’t blame her!
We were now heading across beautiful Provence towards the Alps with an intention of reaching the Passé de Grand St Bernard, somewhere I’d never managed to reach when motorcycling previously.
Castelaine provided a nice spot to pause the next morning with a coffe and croissant in the sun.
It seems a pointless thing to say, but the Alps are stunning. I love driving or riding steadily through the region, taking the less used routes, just to soak in the scenery and atmosphere. I could post a few pictures now of mountains, but I didn’t take many. I have hundreds from past visits, so didn’t get the camera out.
Briancon is well worth a visit. Not the busy, modern town, but the old fortified town on the hillside. It’s a bit of a trek on foot, but I managed to squeeze the van into a space fit for a Fiat 500, much to the amazement of some spectators. The old town is an environment of its own with a completely different feel to the town below. It has steep narrow cobbled streets, with its fair share of tat shops, but there’s plenty of genuine features to make it worthwhile.
We found a large commercial site not too far away on the N94, which was noisy, busy and not the best, but it served its purpose. That evening I had a scan of things to do on TripAdvisor which highlighted a canyon just over the border in Calviere, Italy. It looked interesting, with rope bridges and some rock climbing.
If you’re in the area visit this, it was really good, with a good mixture of strenuous exercise, excitement and beauty. Ponte Tibetano took a good 3 – 4 hours for Georgie and I to complete. Catherine stayed with a Frank as it was still very hot and not safe to leave home in the van.
Leaving the rope bridges we heading deeper, but not very deep into Italy before heading north up a very steep twisty pass to Lac du Mont Cenis. This is a magnet for motorcyclist with the cafes and restaurants at the summit very busy, but a nice atmosphere.
We camped that night at a really nice, although a bit strict campsite on the edge of Bourg St Maurice. Basically a flat well kept grass site within walking distance of town.
We are out at a nice French bistro in town, apart from the frosty faced Madame who ran the place. She didn’t even warm up when I paid…..miserable cow. I left her a tip. “Cheer up”
Today our target is to cross the Col du Grand St Bernard. I loved it! What a drive…
It wasn’t planned, it to be fair not much was, but we decided to deviate across to the west to take in Morzine and the village of goats at Les Linderets. We’ve been before, but thought Georgie would enjoy Morzine as a bit of a happening place and the cheeky goats.
Next stop Geneva. This is a journey I don’t like. After the Alps and rural France, we are now coming into traffic and city roads. Geneva is probably no worse than other European cities, but it feels like it. Being the age I am I remember ‘The Champions’ series in the 60/70’s. I had a liking for Alexandra Bastedo.
The opening secuence always showed the fountain in the lake.
It sort of feels like the trip is over, except to say we journeyed past CERN where the LHC is and then through one of my favourites the Jura mountains. Not the biggest or most spectacular, as once you’ve climbed to the summit out of Geneva is is a plateau of rolling hills, meadows and forests. I love it.
We decided again to avoid Calais on the return opting for Dunkerque instead due to the reports of vehicles being attacked by refugees trying their luck.
Have to wait for another now and need to plan a cycle race!
Tour de Yorkshire