France June 2011
After overnight at the Black Horse Farm site near Folkestone, we were off on the early ferry to Calais. Although going west, and Caen being considerably nearer, the ferries to Caen seemed very expensive, so we opted for the cheaper route, which meant a long drag across the north of France, before making real headway.
First overnight saw us on an aire in Vouvray . Toilet but no other facilities, but free. On the banks of the river Cisse, running alongside the Loire. We’d driven down overtaken by hundreds of Morgans, Porsches, Jaguar to name but a few famous makes of sports car, all heading down to the Le Mans 24 hr.grand prix, on 11/12 June. Recession- what recession!
First impressions- not much to do in Vouvray, other than visiting palatial old vineyards, which are lined up one after another alongside the Loire.
After a long drag the day before, we lined up a much shorter day to La Rochelle, and were there just in time for a moules and frites late lunch. We parked the van on a busy little aire on a large car park just 10mins walk from the city. Great spot and again free, but no facilities at all. We really enjoyed our time in La Rochelle- walking through the park, and then near the impressive three towers in the port. They used to stretch a chain across between the two towers either side of the port entrance, to stop undesirables arriving at night.
The third stage of our journey was towards Bayonne, in the Basque region- different, indecipherable language, which looks nothing like any of the “romantic” languages. Lampposts plastered with protest posters showing photos of young political prisoners. Road signs where the French alternative (given precedence) is scrawled out in favour of the basque. For all that, we found people extremely friendly and welcoming and unused to speaking English.
I dropped Ian off on the first stage of his Trans-Pyreneean cycle, from a cul-de-sac in Bayonne, and arranged to meet him at another aire in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Donalbane Garatzis in Basque, in a car park at the back of a Carrefour supermarket. Fantastically close to town but absolutely no facilities- Ian having to use the local “pissoire” before setting off on the next stage of his tour! So we don’t always stay in beautiful locations! We really like Saint Jean with its Vauban garrison fortifications, and its 13th century buildings and its steep inner streets. Lovely relaxed, quiet feel to the place, and would go back again. It is a stop on the Santiago de Compostelle pilgrimage and only 5miles from the Spanish frontier. Road signs for Pamplona and Zaragoza to be seen along route.