Either side of the Camino, during mid August and early October, we made a ‘V’ type shape motorhome tour across France.
The first leg of this was from Basel to St Jean Pied de Port, where we entered France from Switzerland on the D419 near/towards Altkirch in the Sundgau region. We wanted to travel pretty quickly so we set ourselves the target of covering the 1200 Km journey across three days. The first day’s driving was slightly strained due to the later than expected start from Basel combined with a mildly throbbing head caused by our slightly later than expected last night spent on Steve’s and Maryann’s balcony where we all pondered at great length whether grass hoppers can fly – I recommend Swiss wine by the way!!! Due to this we only covered around 200 kms through Besancon and finally touched into the Burgundy wine region, staying the first night in Chalon-Sur-Saone.
Chalon proved to an unexpected surprise. First of all, it had ample free motorhome parkings with services, a sign that we were back in France. Secondly, the town was lively with a combination of tourists and locals eating in the various restaurants and bars dotted around the old town, river side, and small island set in the middle of the river Saone. We undeservedly treated ourselves to another meal out in the main square where we sampled ‘faux fillet avec frites’ (plat de jour for 9 euros) and of course the local burgundy wine. After watching the sun set from the river island we trundled back to the van with the hope that the next day brings a little more driving!
Sunset over Chalon, taken from the island
Refreshed, day two did bring a long drive through the Auvergne, Limousin and into the Aquitaine ending near Bordeaux in a small isolated hamlet St. Romain La Virvee. The hamlet did have a small shop and bar combo where I was made very welcome by the locals, in fact when a new person entered the bar they made a point of shaking everyone’s hand, even mine, even though I was obviously a stranger.
The friendly local bar at St. Romain La Virvee
Finally, on day three we arrived a St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees Atlantiques, our gateway to the Camino Frances. Our initial task upon arrival was to find a storage place the van for a month whilst we were walking and the Pilgrim office suggested enquiring at the local Gendarmerie. Using no time like the present logic we trekked off to find the police station. Once there we were buzzed into the main office through the glass door where to my horror I caught a glimpse of the t’shirt I was wearing, which probably was not the most suitable especially when asking for their help.
The Leveller’s ‘Wake the World’ T-Shirt
Whilst covering the print as best I could with my man bag strap we plodded on (excuse pun) and enquired in French about where we could park the motor home. The police man at the desk really struggled to understand what we were staying and after several minutes, much to his frustration, so he called his supervisor. To our amazement, we over heard the local Gendarmerie supervisor groan loudly in French, who was sat behind an adjoining office wall, as he unenthusiastically got up from his chair first removing his feet off the nearby desk, to help out the tourists. As you can expect he was pretty useless and between the two of them they offered little help and seemed to have patchy knowledge of the parking regulations in their town. However, the ‘Camino’ provides, and as we were trying to exit the police station a local man overheard our conversation and he pointed us to a woman in the town that stored pilgrims cars in her garden. This seemed to too good to be true and once we arrived our fears were alieved. We were met by a really friendly old French lady who offered parking for a motorhome at 2 euros a day which was much less than I expected, so soon the van was parked up in it’s new home alongside presumably other Pilgrims cars.
Parking for the van in St. Jean
Phase two of our French trip (1st Oct to 9th Oct) started on our return to St. Jean after we had completed the Camino. The Camino proved to be quite expensive so our plan was to stay in free stop overs all the way back to the UK (we had planned to make a flying visit back to home to visit family and friends) before setting back off to Portugal. The aim of staying on free Aires meant we had to give St. Jean a miss, driving a short distance to St. Palais and this town was our base for a two night post camino recovery.
Back in the van again. Sun rise at the Le Teich port
Heading north we stayed two nights on the Basin de Arcachon at the port of Le Teich where we completed a cycle ride through the wildlife reserves and small fishing towns.
Then we were La Rochelle bound only to find the free winter time parking by the new port still had the summer exhibition tents erected. This meant we had to miss La Rochelle again, choosing the free parking stop at pleasant Mauze sur le Migon about 30kms north east. From here we drove, remaining toll free, to La Fleche in the Sarthe. The free stop over with services lies directly next to the river, again, proving to us that in-land France throws up some interesting a pretty Aires for free.
View from the van whilst parked up for the night at La Fleche
Next stop was small town Gace, whose Aire is in the grounds of an old Chateaux (now town hall).
Another ‘signature’ from inside the van shot, this time the Chateaux in Gace.
Another 200 km northwards took us to Picardie where we stayed ocean side at Le Hourdel for free. It was here we decided to do a camino style pre-breakfast walk to near by Cayeux sur Mer, covering a round trip of 12 Kms. We also spotted several seals!
Sunrise on our morning walk at Le Hourdel
Finally, we arrived at Dunkirk to catch our early morning ferry on the 10th October, choosing the free Aire at Malo Les Bains as a night before stop over. The evening stroll brought some interesting people watching as Malo’s sea side promenade was packed with locals enjoying the sun shine, if not the blustery winds. So, we are now UK home bound for approximately two weeks and we are hoping that we don’t have to dig out the winter coats that have been stored under the rear seats for more than 7 months!