The story begins:-


After all the planning the actual day came. We had spent so many hours checking and re-checking that we could not have possibly have forgotten anything! After a coffee we left our house in MK just after 11.00am. The journey, via the M1, M25 and M20 was uneventful although we were aware of the very windy conditions. Our first night was spent at Black Horse Farm CC site that is about 10 miles from Dover. This is a very nice site and would be worth a longer stay.


It was with some trepidation that we set off from the site just before 7.30am on the Friday, as gale force winds had been forecast. As we drove the 10 miles to Dover we were only too aware of the wind that was making the van feel tender. The waves were breaking against the breakwaters as we drove into Dover. We were waved straight onto the ferry. Once on board we discovered that the ship was full of school children. I did not share their air of over excitement! As a refuge from the throng we usually make our way the Langhams Restaurant. On every occasion in the past it has been empty but today it was full. We left our name and we were surprised when it was called reasonably quickly. The reason for wanting to eat early in the crossing was because we felt that it would be rough but it turned out not to too bad, we have certainly had worse. By 11.00am we were heading south on the A26. The weather had not improved much, the occasional windsock indicated the strong wind we were only to well aware of. The miles, or should that be kilometres, past quickly as we made our way to one of our favourite overnight stops at Troyes.


Saturday already as we embarked on what is likely to be our longest one-day journey. From the campsite we were quickly back to the Autoroute and heading south towards Dijon. From here we headed towards Dole before turning south again towards Bourge en Bress and then in the direction of Geneva. This route takes you along the impressive ‘Autoroute Blanch’ There are some steep climbs on this route but the car coped well with them. Once round Annecy we headed into the Alps. We arrive at Camping L’Escale in Le Grand-Bornand around 4.00pm, enough time to set up the awning before dinner. This is our second visit to this site. We enjoy the mountains and we are sometimes rewarded with a fresh fall of snow on the peaks.


Sunday was a day of rest, not in the religious sense but after 3 days travelling we needed to unwind. After a suitably late breakfast we walked up into the village. Not so much going on except by now the French were rolling up at their favourite restaurants to enjoy their Sunday lunch. Else where families were enjoying their day by visiting friends or just having a picnic somewhere. Why oh why aren’t the English of the same frame of mind. Why must every Tesco be open and every Marks and Spencer? It is not until you return to France you realise the mistake we have made in the UK with our ‘open all hours’ philosophy, not really a rant but an observation.



It is interesting to note the changes in the weather when you are in the mountains. On Sunday I sat in the sun only to find that the hair resources on the top of my head were not sufficient to stop my head burning! Contrast this with cloud and rain on Monday which sent me scurrying for a jumper. When there was a break in the clouds we could see there had been quite a heavy fall of snow on top the hills overlooking the campsite. During a break in the weather we did manage a stroll up into the village.


On the way back Margaret insisted that we had a quick look at the cemetery-very strange my wife! Everything was immaculate and well cared for. It is interesting that on the main graves there are smaller freestanding monuments. These are mainly from family members but sometimes from trade associations if the interned had made an important contribution to that business in the locality but other examples were from school chums and in one case in memory of being a member of the Resistance. All this is left and not tied down, unlikely to have the same luck in the UK where it would be vandalised within days.

Tuesday promised to be much brighter, although we still had to suffer the odd shower. After lunch we decided to drive over to Albertville, a previous home of the Winter Olympics. The route took us from Thônes, up, and over a mountain pass, which was both steep and narrow. I enjoy the challenge of driving on these sorts of roads. When we got to Albertville I followed the ‘Centre Ville’ signs and ended up well and truly in ‘Centre Ville’. I went down one-way streets, part pedestrianised streets, in the end we decided that we had had enough and headed back towards the van. It’s funny how the French can’t bare to ban cars completely from a section of road! Rather than retrace our steps over the pass we drove a little further on and followed edge of Lac D’Annecy on the D909 back to Thônes. There are some impressive views of the lake along this road.

Wednesday is market day in Le Grand-Bornand so we made an effort to be up earlier than usual. Foregoing breakfast, difficult for me, we walked up to the village just after 9.00am. These country markets are so important in France. Accepted there are a few clothes stalls but mainly the stalls are selling local produce.  We purchased some fruit and veg. However what really impressed me was a stall selling vegetable plants. They were superb; I have never seen that sort of quality at home. On the way back we purchased a baguette and 4 delicious croissants. French markets are wonderful places for people watching. On the way to the market, as we crossed the car park there was a man perhaps in his early forties who was obviously well known or important, maybe both. Men would go up to him and shake his hand, but instead of a firm grasp this was more of a hand being passed over a hand. So no warmth but perhaps a duty? We passed a bar on the way back and outside at one of the tables were three old men with glasses of what could have been Kir. The drinks were untouched and I wondered if they were to last all morning. Later in the day we had gone for a walk and ended up sitting on a log seat outside the church. Suddenly, lots of people of a certain age seemed to appear from nowhere. We did wonder whether it was the French equivalent of a Shearings coach party. As we walked back to the site we discovered the reason for all the people. There had been a funeral and they were making their way back from the internment in the cemetery, fortunately Margaret was happy to walk by on this occasion.

Prior to our journey South I felt that I needed to look at the Move Control, which did not seem to be working properly. When we had taken the awning down and packed everything away I put the front of the van up on blocks so that I could get underneath. This seemed to cause some interest amongst the campers and people we had not previously spoken to came up and expressed concern. Once under the van my theory was confirmed. The clamps I had put between the mover and the caravan wheels should have been put in front of the mover to stop it moving forward. I loosened everything off, re-set into the correct position, and then put the clamps in the right position! When I had re-tightened everything it seemed to be working fine. Normal caravan position was resumed.

The weather was improving and we woke to another cloudless sky. With regret we left Le Grand-Bornand and headed south. The drive down through Chambery and Grenoble is quite impressive with snow-covered mountains ahead of you. The further we got from the mountains the hotter it became. Although we used some autoroute today we have also made use of N and D roads and this has not presented us with any difficulties. We arrived at our site near Grignan in mid afternoon and had time to drink in the sunshine and increased temperature. The site we are staying at is in the ‘La Drome Provencal’ is about 2 kilometres from the fortified town of Grignan. This part of France is on the opposite side of the A7 to the Ardeche and is mercifully much quieter.


Just in case any of you were wondering how I am managing to keep in touch perhaps I could outline to you how I do it. I have a laptop and a Siemens mobile phone, which has a modem in it. Before I left the UK I contacted ClaraNet with whom I have an account. They provided me with a direct French number to connect to the Internet. This allows me to connect at local rate but this is still 29p a minute so its still expensive, but it seems to work.


Are you like me, get to a site and think this is not up too much but then discover that you actually quite like it, in fact you like it a lot. Well Camping Truffieres is rather like that. It seems in the middle of nowhere. When you go into the village of Grignan you are likely to be the only English there. The site is run by Jacqueline and her brother Patrick who are both friendly and jolly. It is very peaceful, which might not suit everyone but it does us. The site has been carved out of an oak wood and it reminds me of the way that the Caravan Club Site at Sandringham used to be. You need to choose your pitch with care because despite being quite generous in size they often have oak tress growing at some inconvenient place on the pitch, which can make siting a van or parking a car difficult.


I suppose I should say something about the Euro as we have been using it for over 10 days now. With French Francs it was an easy conversion, i.e. 10 FF = £1. No such luck with the Euro, when we left the UK it was worth approx 1.5 Euros to the pound. Margaret has discovered a rule of thumb – divide by three then multiply by two. Some, but not all, goods still have their price in FF’s which helps. Not wishing to upset anyone I am a keen exponent of the Euro and my conversion problems won’t end until I can directly compare the price of goods in the UK with whatever European country I happen to be in at the time. Only time and common sense will prevail. 


Conversing with the natives. Unfortunately speaking louder at somebody in France does not make them understand you any better so its quite important to know a little of the language. Now I don’t claim to speak French. I get by with some carefully learnt phrases plus a small vocabulary. The strange thing is I can usually get by reading French but have problems when it is delivered machine gun fashion. I do find that a rehearsal is often a worthwhile practise particularly if you are entering into an unfamiliar situation. One worthwhile tip is the try and get the pronunciation correct and sometimes a little play-acting can help here to make you sound more convincing. Generally people in the Post Office or the Petrol Station do not want to get into long conservations with you, which makes it easier. I had a situation the other day where I had to change my Camping Gaz cylinder at a large supermarket. I was a bit concerned about this as I imagined that it could have been fraught with difficulty. I went immediately to the information desk. By a stroke of luck the person behind the desk was busy with another customer and looked as if they could be hours. I left Margaret with the trolley, went to the shelf and selected a new cylinder and took both to an empty cash desk. With a few well-chosen words to the cashier, plus 15 Euros I had my new Gaz cylinder in a blink of and eyelid. Anyway back at the campsite I was approached by a fellow Brit, well I think he was Scottish who had seen me at the supermarket. Now this guy over the past two days had steadfastly refused to acknowledge me and only begrudgingly responded to good morning. He came bowling over to me to ask how I had managed to change a Camping Gaz cylinder in a French supermarket, almost as though I had pulled one over on them. After all, he said, even the Caravan Club Magazine had said there had been problems. I explained that using a little bravado and not giving the cashier a choice I had managed to change it with no problems. If he was impressed he did not show it! 


I don’t think I have ever packed up the van with thunder bouncing around my ears. Wednesday morning had dawned wet, plus thunder and lightning. Fortunately we had taken the awning down and packed most things away the previous evening. By the time we left the campsite it had brighten up a bit. We have been experimenting with using more N and D roads on this trip. Not to save money as the Autoroutes are still our preferred method of travel. The main reason is that the ordinary roads can be quieter and even minor roads in France are kept in an excellent state of repair. So rather than going back to the A7 at Montélimar we headed south to join at Bollène. The most direct route to Port Grimaud is to leave the A8 at Le Muy and then take the D25 to Ste Maxime.  Once through the town, where they seem to have had roadwork’s for at least two years you come upon the magical sight of the blue Mediterranean Sea. The N98 hugs to coast all the way to Port Grimaud. Once we had signed in at Camping de la Plage there was no problem finding the pitch, as it was the same one we were on last year. We are here for the next 14 days.

Our neighbours on one side are Sid and Doreen, the same ones as last year and being good Yorkshire folk have made us very welcome. Talking about people being in the same place year after year across the road from us is the same French couple who have a magnificently laid out pitch. Big twin axle van, large awning containing a cooker and several fridges, Outside they have a gazebo with large dinning table with six chairs. Everything in fact to make a long stay of several months more than comfortable. Further into the site is a Dutch van which is distinguished by fairy lights and about a dozen tubs of lovely Petunias. Again the same as last year. Ground Hog Day seems to spring to mind! In truth the campsite has a certain community feel, but this is only our second visit so we have many years to go before we will be accepted as a regular! I suppose here in lies the rub. There are quite a few Brits here who have obviously been coming here for years, some as couples others with friends or families. The disappointment is that some of them, not all, are less inclined to say hello or make conversation.


Our memories of camping in the South of France have been ones of wall-to-wall sunshine. In fact in darker days, both metaphorically and actual, during the rest of the year the thought of that hot sun tends to spur you on and brighten the soul. We have rarely had more than a spot or two of rain. I appreciate that our arrival in the South is earlier than usual; generally we arrive two or three weeks later. However on Saturday Afternoon it started to rain and did not stop for 14 hours. This left some pitches flooded. Fortunately we are on sand so it just soaked away.  Sunday was marginally better but again we had two hours of torrential rain in the afternoon. To cap it all, the ‘Mistral’ was forecast to follow, which it did, waking us at 4.30am on Monday morning with the van and awning being buffeted by very strong winds coming from the hills behind the site. At least we were rewarded with perfectly clear blue skies.  


We first came to Port Grimaud ten years ago. Even then there were some mobile homes on the campsites in the area. Regretfully over the past four years we have witnessed the increasing use of sites, particularly Prairies de la Mer and Domaine de Niades where touring pitches are being sacrificed in order to satisfy the demands for permanent caravans. The consequences of this are that it puts extra pressure on sites like Camping de la Plage, which have no mobile homes, to take more and more tourers. Despite being here earlier I am aware that this site is fuller than I have known it before. My worry is that if you want a pitch near the sea in this area your options seem to be shrinking every year.


Now I suppose as a non-swimmer it is rather strange that I enjoy boats so much. This could go back to the time when I built a canoe with a friend only to sell it once completed to finance my first holiday on the Norfolk Broads. Later I built a small cruiser which Margaret and I used to tour the canals back in the seventies. Where is all this leading, well on Wednesday we went across to St Tropez on the ferry from Port Grimaud. In the past they have not operated so early in the season. Fortunately for us something has happen to change their minds. The alternative can be a long slow journey in the car. Arrival by boat at a famous place is always more exciting than by car or bus or train. Usually when you arrive somewhere by boat you step out onto the exact spot you want to be. Those that have done it will know what I mean.


Wednesday evening was beautifully calm and about 10.30 pm I wandered down to the beach, all of 50 yards! The sea was almost apologetically lapping against the beach. It was so calm that the lights of St Tropez were shimmering on the mill pond surface. A little further around the red and green lights, marking the entrance to Cogolin harbour were flashing on/off, on/off. As I turned to make my way back to the van I could see the new moon just peaking above the Massif des Muares high above the campsite.


At some stage I suppose I should mention food! Anyone that knows me will not be surprised that it is a subject close to my heart. I try and maintain a Mediterranean diet and generally manage to keep to the red wine part quite successfully!  Whenever Margaret says we have to go to Waitrose at home I give out a groan, suggesting it might be quicker without me! Different story here in France I seem to love the supermarkets. It goes without saying that the wine and beer department get special attention! What I really like is the fruit and veg sections. At home these are always laid out in pristine shrink-wrapped perfection. No so in France, every piece of fruit and veg can be picked up, smelt and prodded. The smell of this, always, fresh produce is amazing.


England 3 – Denmark 0


Sunday again, Mind you it’s a bit different today compared to last Sunday. Last week we had endured 14 hours of rain from Saturday through to Sunday morning with a further two hours on Sunday afternoon. Since then things have got a lot better and today it has been very hot and even now at 10.20pm it is still pleasantly warm.


Our first excitement of the day was unfolding on the beach in front of us as we opened the awning to let the morning sunshine flood in. The site we are on has a limited number of pitches right on the beach. Last night, at some stage, a motor caravan had decided to squeeze in on the end of the beach side camping spots. When everyone woke up they pointed out to him that he should not be there. Because of a concrete marker post he decided to pull off the pitch towards the beach and promptly got stuck up to his axles in sand. Fortunately the site has a JCB, which managed to pull him out, and he was soon on his way. It was a brand new Rimor motor home driven by an Irishman from NI. At least he appreciated the entertainment value for the small crowd that had gathered to watch. After breakfast and all the excitement we walked into Port Grimaud to visit the Market. It is difficult to work out whom this market is for. You will need to appreciate that to own a property in Port Grimaud you are looking at £250000 for starters. There are obviously lots of tourists about which may help to support the market. Having said that it is the most up-market, market I have seen. The quality of the produce is really excellent and some interesting individuals run the stalls.


Sid and Doreen, our next-door neighbours, have had their Son and his wife visiting for the weekend. They flew down from Liverpool via Easyjet and hired an Easyjet car probably for not much more than £150. Amazing how easy it is to get around these days. But the best laid plans of mice and men, on the day they were due to return there was to be a strike by French Air Traffic Controllers. We never discovered how they got on as we left early the next day.


Wednesday we left Port Grimaud, where had that fourteen days gone! We were away just before eight as the traffic is always busy only slightly later in the day. Even the journey up to the autoroute was slow because of two Dutch caravans which seemed to be having some difficulty getting up the hills. Once on the motorway they were gone never to be seen again. Our route took us via Aix and then onto Salon de  Provence. The last time we came through here was 10 years ago and there were long delays because you had to go through the town. Since then they have built a motorway so no problems were expected! Guess what, within a few miles of Arles we were stuck in a jam for the best part of an hour because of work on a bridge. Eventually we joined the A9 at Nimes and continued to Montpellier where we followed the signs to Millau. Some of you will know that for the past 10 years they have been building a new motorway from Beziers to Clermont Ferrand called the A75. If you could see some of the terrain that they are dealing with you will understand why it has taken so long to build. I would imagine that work will last for a few years yet. This road climbs to over 800 meters (2630 feet) in places and will put a strain on any car/caravan combination. My Xantia generally runs at just under 90 degrees on the water temperature gauge. Even in the Alps and going through Italy and Austria it has only ever gone slightly above this. Well on my gauge I have three segments above 90 degrees before the red line. So here we were scampering up this mountainside called a motorway watching the heater needle, one segment above 90, then two segments above 90. Now there was only one more to go but mercifully it seem to steady. The automatic cooling fan was cutting in and you did notice a slight drop as it did so. By now the Air Conditioning was switched off and the next thing to go on was the heating, which fortunately we did not have to use. Just consider that the outside temperature had not fallen below 32 C most of the day and at times was several degrees higher, so the heater was the last thing we needed. Eventually you do reach the summit and then it crosses a high plateau before the long descent into Millau, the motorway around the town has not yet been completed. Millau has a wonderful setting nestled in the valley where several rivers converge but surrounded by high mountains on at least three sides. We creep down into the town behind a lorry and eventually find our next campsite, which is called Camping Les Rivages which is situated on a bend on the river Dourbie. We find ourselves a pitch not far from the river, site the van and give the car a pat on the bonnet for getting us there safely.


Not that I should complain but it has been exceptionally hot since we have been in Millau, in fact the first couple of days were very muggy. At least Volvic have done a roaring trade from us with a minimum of two bottles a day. Strange as it may seem the only comfortable way to visit somewhere is in the car with the AC on.


Gorgeous Gorges. Three rivers converge on Millau, the Tarn, Jonte and Dourbie. Despite their closeness they all have gorges of their own which can make for some spectacular drives. Another bonus is that the whole area seems much quieter than the Ardeche. All of the gorges are attractive although not quite as dramatic as say the Gorge du Verdon. Dotted along the way are some attractive villages and towns. Of particular interest are the rock formations along the route of the gorges. They remind you of the scenery in the old John Wayne westerns but with a little more green. For me, driving solo, the roads seemed narrow with lots of overhanging rocks and narrow and low tunnels. This does not seem to deter the intrepid Dutch from towing their vans along these roads nor does it stop, what I thought was, an optimistic coach driver from trying his luck. In fact if you were willing to tow along any of the Gorges you would find some lovely campsites, miles from nowhere.  


Pitch invasion, no nothing to do with the World Cup. The other evening as we were sitting finishing our meal when our pitch was invaded by Mallards. Not a shy bunch this lot they just walked across the pitch without so much as a by your leave, one even walked under my chair. Seriously it is good to see the wild life with such confidence with humans.


On Monday, which turned out to be a little overcast we decided to pay a visit to the Roquefort cheese Caves. It turned out to be a fascinating afternoon. We had often purchased this cheese from our local Waitrose and had thought nothing of it, apart from being nice cheese. What I had not appreciated was that it was made from ewe’s milk. Some of you may be aware of the brand Société, this is basically a co-operative of cheese producers who send their cheese to Roquefort to be ripened and distributed. The most unusual part of the visit was seeing the caves where the cheese is stored and ripened. Faults in the rock formations have created air channels called ‘fleurines’ which create a constant temperature and humidity all the year round. They add something called Penicillum roqueforti which is a fungi and this causes the blue streaks in the cheese. I am still not convinced about the origin of the cheese. They try and sell the story that it occurred by accident. Legend has it that one day a beautiful girl appeared on the hills and a lonely herdsman saw her and followed her but left his lunch of bread and cheese curd in a cave. His quest for the young lady was unsuccessful but when he returned to the cave he had discovered that the curd had gone moldy but was so hungry that he ate it and that was the birth of Roquefort.


Rosé is the new White. Over a few years of visiting the South of France I have noticed that supermarkets seem to sell relatively little in the way of white wine but in its place sell a lot of Rosé. Gradually I have come to appreciate this as a really refreshing drink and certainly whilst on holiday tend to drink more of it than either red or white. It is best serve well chilled and can be drunk with most meals. Next time you visit the supermarket buy a bottle of Rosé just to test the theory.


Supermarkets and the art of shopping. Whilst I am in the queue in our dinning room at work I marvel at my colleagues, mainly women, who get to the cashier and don’t even have their purse out. Well in France I have discovered a new art form in this method of delay payment. Imagine there is a weeks shopping spread out on the conveyer belt. Madam is carefully packing it at the other end in between having a good chinwag with the cashier. In the queue people are falling asleep as it’s taking so long. Occasionally Madam will cast a contemptuous look at the lengthening queue to judge whether there was a need to slow down on the packing.  Eventually everything is packed away in carriers and into the trolley. Only then does Madam start searching in her capacious handbag for her chequebook, they don’t seem to have Switch. Cheque printed, ID seen another little chat with the cashier and we may be lucky if the next customer gets a look in! By now my beard needs another trim!


On Wednesday we left Millau (incidentally pronounced Me oh) and headed southwest for Biarritz. Given the difficulty we had encountered getting to Millau we looked at the map very carefully. The road to Albi seemed to have one short section that looked like someone’s intestine but the reality was that whilst it was a steep climb it was relatively short. When we got to the top there were lovely views out over the countryside. Toulouse was very busy but apart from that the 320 mile journey to Biarritz was relatively uneventful. It should be pointed out that the journey planner made a big miscalculation in the distance from Millau to Biarritz originally thought only to be 235 miles but I suspect a nice little red wine got in the way of reality!


I started off my last episode by saying how hot it had been in Millau. I should have kept quiet. To say the weather is changeable now that we are here in Biarritz would be something of an understatement. This is, of course, the Atlantic coast so I did expect that there would be more variety to the weather. Whilst the sun can still be very hot there is always a breeze coming off the sea which makes it much more pleasant than the energy sapping heat of the Mediterranean. The penalty you pay is that the weather has many dramatic changes in any one day. Our first full day here started in full sunshine and we were able to eat breakfast outside with the wonderful combination of sun and breeze. By mid afternoon we had thunder and lightning with very heavy rain, which turned to hail stones the size of marbles. I have kept one in the fridge! Now in 20 years of caravanning I have never experienced hailstones. It was just like someone emptying a lorry load of pea shingle on the roof of the van. Perhaps I won’t mention the weather again!


The site we are staying on is called Camping Pavillon Royal and it is situated at Bidart,  about a mile out of Biarritz and about 10 miles from the Spanish border. The facilities here are excellent, not least a beautiful sandy beach which is washed by the Atlantic. Nothing apologetic about the waves here, they are in fact very bracing and I reckon that only strong swimmers would be safe in the sea. Originally we were allocated a pitch at the front of the site by the sea but we had some difficulty getting the van level as most pitches have a slope in varying degrees of steepness. There was no problem changing and we are now about half way along the site but still with a sea view. The pitch is also more spacious. The owner/manager, I am not quite sure which, was at the NEC where we got chatting to him. When we arrived he recognised us which was a nice touch. I should mention the site restaurant, which must be pretty good to get me to go twice in one visit!


I am often amused by the attitudes of my fellow countrymen whilst caravanning abroad. Pavillon Royal has proved to be a really friendly site with most prepared to have a chat. The funny thing is it also applies to some of the French and German campers as well. Unusually there don’t seem to be many Dutch campers here. What I find difficult to understand are the Brits who seem almost offended when you speak to them almost being afraid to have a conversation. I can only conclude that they would be like that wherever they were. Such a shame that caravanning seems to produce so many introverts!


We decided to walk into Biarritz. When I say we decided I mean I had to persuade a certain person this would be good for us. Typical of the weather here it started out sunny and hot as we started our walk. I had wanted to walk along the beach but by the time we left it was high tide so we had to use the roads. Along the way we came across a small beach where we thought we might be able to continue along the beach. There was a raised walkway, which ended in a pile of rocks. A certain person who shall remain nameless but her name begins with M suggested that we clamber over the rocks to get to the next section of beach. Muggins goes first, after two rocks a rather large wave decided to pounce on me. One more step and the same thing happened. Margaret trailing behind also got her comeuppance!  A strategic retreat was necessary as we retired to the grassy bank above the beach to wring out our socks and try and get the sand out of our shoes. With soggy feet we continued to Biarritz by road. People often use the term faded elegance when they talk about Biarritz. I understand what they mean and perhaps a close resemblance to Cromer is not far from the mark. However in all things ‘Plage’ the French almost without exception gets it better than us. For one thing they certainly have more free public loos than any other French town I know. Where they really win is the lack of tat that we get in the UK, not one penny arcade anywhere, well they do have a Casino! Perhaps I am being a little unfair to Bournemouth. Anyway Biarritz is certainly well worth a visit. There is elegance there and not all of it faded.


This is an interesting area of France, or Pay Basque. You are well aware that there is something different about the area. Firstly there is a lot of dual naming on road signs. Basque certainly seems interesting, looking more like Greek than either French or Spanish. When you go out into the countryside you come across road signs that have been sprayed with paint, I assume to obliterate the French spelling of name places. Now I appreciate that self determination is an important issue but it is a little like going to Wales, I just hope these people realise how unwelcoming these actions are to visitors but then perhaps this is unimportant to them. Even the houses are different in design and mostly painted in either red or green being the principle colours of the Basque flag. My comments are not designed to put people off coming to this fascinating area of France. They are just personal observations.


Ten days seems along time when you book months ahead but when you are on site it seems to go very quickly. Saturday is our moving on day so we left Camping Pavillon Royal with some regret as, despite the weather, we had enjoyed our time there. Our journey took us back across Southern France to the Dordogne. Interestingly this was to be our first journey of the trip where only a short distance was on motorway. For the most part French N roads are excellent but you do have to watch the signage and once deep into areas like the Dordogne roads can get narrow and rough in places.


Our new campsite is called, appropriate enough, Camping Moulin de David! It is about a mile and a half outside of Monpazier and about 9 miles from Villeréal. It is set out along a narrow valley. The facilities are superb. Our pitch is just down from the entrance and behind us is a small babbling brook – did someone say Donald Piers!   It is quite a fascinating position in terms of watching the local bird and insect life. Dragon Flies seem to play tag with each other as they dive towards the water and then ascend to land occasionally on the wooden fence that prevents us falling into the stream.


On Sunday we drove into Monpazier to have a look round. We could not understand why each road was choc-o-block with cars parked everywhere. We did eventually find somewhere to park only to discover the centre of this old Bastide town had, for the day, become a giant car boot sale. There was lots of interesting junk including, I noticed, a Shadows LP with the four original members of the group. I reckon it must have been nearly 40 years old! After lunch we went out to Chateaux Biron. There is some restoration work going on but you can get to most parts. The view from the ramparts is lovely. If you visit ask at reception for a loan of the guide in English, which will explain all you want to know.


Tuesday was the day for revisiting. We were last in the Dordogne twelve years ago. Even then Sarlat made a big impression on us so a revisit was necessary. We were not disappointed. It seems to be the very essence of what a French town should be like. Now I appreciate that it plays to this theme completely but who could blame them. Interestingly it is almost car free which is also unusual for a French town. If you visit you will be captivated. If you go on market day you will be fascinated with the range of stalls. Just in case you are a little cynical wander up to the top end of the town and visit the lovely garden that commemorates those that died as a result of the last war, not only those that were sent to camps but also those that died fighting for the resistance, it’s a long list and it will remove any thought that it is not a real town!  After lunch we moved onto Rocamadour, this town with its churches and chateau cling to the side of a very steep hill. This is touristy in the same way as Mont St Michel but none the less is well worth a visit. You can park at either the top or bottom of the town. If you wish to avoid the steep walk up you can make use of the ‘Lifts’ to ease the journey.


What is it about the Dordogne that attracts English people in the droves? In most parts you could be driving through rural Oxfordshire. The temperature does not seem significantly higher than Oxfordshire; in fact I have been warmer at Bo Peep Farm at 9.00pm than I am here in Monpazier. When you get to the little Bastide towns I grant you it is more different. Obviously the weather must be better but then I could argue that it is no warmer and certainly no drier than, Oxfordshire, perhaps I have just chosen a duff year to visit.


If you stay away from the main tourist points you will discover some interesting parts of this region without the hustle and bustle. On Thursday we discovered Eymet, which is on the D933. It is another of the many Bastide towns in the area. For those that do not know what a Bastide town is it is designed as a defensive town with narrow streets that cris cross the town, which aid the defence of the town in times of attack. Usually there is a central square where the market is held and parts of the outsides of the square will be colonnaded, I am not sure of the reason for this but they do make useful covers for restaurants. We also discovered that this town also had, what looked like, an excellent municipal campsite within a stroll of the centre. The facilities were clean and modern and all for about £8 a night.


Friday was an important day for us because we going to visit Margaret’s Brother, Tom, and his new wife Marion. They had moved to France at Easter to live there permanently. To most this visit would be a fairly straightforward thing to do. However two things made it more difficult. Firstly Margaret for the past 30 years had not been that close to Tom. Secondly Tom, about 18 months ago had suffered an almost fatal heart attack which resulting in him taking early retirement. We had not seen Tom for 6 years and had never met Marion. It is not easy trying to find a house in the middle of the French countryside. All we had was the postcode, house name and name of the village. We found the village and drove through it a couple of times, stopping to look at names on post boxes as we went, but no luck. I drove back to the start of the village and at the junction found the house name but we had been along that road as far as we felt we should. Again I drove into the village but this time I stopped outside the Marie and asked a workman if he knew the house. He explained that we had to go up the hill and down the other side and we would find the house ‘Á premier á gauche’ We spent a very pleasant couple of hours with Tom and Marion and were pleased to find that Tom was in fine fettle and looking much more relaxed than when we had met him on previous occasions.


Never having been a pet person does not mean that I don’t take an interest in animal behaviour. The other day we were in a small French Bastide town called Beaumont. As we walked down one of the roads I noticed a group of three people and a dog. All of them, including the dog, had a fixed stare in one direction as if they all had their eyes fixed on the same subject, it was surreal. The site here has a couple of cats who seem to spend most of the day curled up on seats in the reception asleep. Was it a coincidence that on the night they decided to hold a Karaoke session one of the cats hot tailed out of the office and visited our part of the site in order to escape the cat walling that was going on! 


Well its Saturday and our final full day in the Dordogne. Tomorrow is an important day in France, the 14th July. Many towns in this area of France have been putting out flags and bunting as we have been driving through. By the looks of posters everywhere many special events have been arranged. The last time we were in France on the 14th we were in the South of France where celebrations seem much more muted. Anyway I thought it best that I fill up with diesel today, as I may not find anywhere open tomorrow. We drove to the Intermarche at Villereal to fill up. Having been here a week and driven round the town so often we took the opportunity to visit the town which has a market on Saturday. We tend to be fairly relaxed about the time we get up on holiday. The down side of this is that when we get to a market they are usually packing it away. At least we made the effort!


On Saturday evening, as we sat having a drink a Llama walked by. It was at this point I started to think about how much I had drunk, but then I remembered the circus was in town!


We were not sure what being on the road in France would be like on Bastille Day. Generally it was quiet but not as much was closed as I thought. En route it was fascinating to see all the flowers as we drove through small or large towns. In one town they even had sculptures made of straw, which were very amusing.


During the week we had an engine warning light illuminate on the dashboard when we were out for a drive solo. This happened when we were towing in Germany a couple of years ago. The engine management system seems to restrict the number of revs, which makes driving more interesting! The day after it happened the light went out and everything returned to normal. We were therefore a little concerned that it would come on again as we towed from Monpazier to Angers. Fortunately it did not, another pat on the bonnet!


We are now at a site called Camping de L’Etang at Brissac which is about 15 miles from Angers. It is a lovely site and it will be one of the mounting number of site reports I will send to Ian when we get home. However what is really interesting about it is the management of the site. It is owned by an association set up to provide work for handicapped people in order for them to have the experience of worthwhile employment. There are obviously some higher-level skilled jobs they can’t do but most of the day-to-day routine jobs are done by the handicapped workers. I have to say that it is looked after better than some sites I have been on. They also run a Vin yard which produces some more than passable wine. Now given the caveat that that they are not exploited this seems an excellent idea to provide is opportunity.


Elizabeth, the site entertainment organiser had arranged a walk into Brissac to have a guided tour of the Chateau. But who in their right mind can be up and ready by 9.45am when on holiday! A little later we followed in time to catch the 12.15pm tour. We did have time to catch the market before we visited the Chateau; usually they are packing it away by the time we arrive! The short wait until the tour starts allows you time to admire the Chateau from the outside. Also it allows you to hide from Elizabeth as she strides across the lawn with members of the earlier group. All the previous French chateau’s I have been in seem to have been empty, it was good to visit one which was furnished and still inhabited by the same family that originally rebuilt the Chateau.


The countryside here abouts is very ‘English Looking’ but none the less beautiful for that. We have had a couple of drives out. Our drives have taken us along the banks of the Loire either side of Angers. The river is very wide but not very full of water at this time of year. The bridges over the river are functional rather than beautiful in the architectural sense. There seems to be no shortage of campsites along the river although I can’t vouch for their quality.  We did visit one, which whilst under no stretch of the imagination could be compared with the quality sites it was only 6 Euros a night including 6 amp electrics, it even had a security barrier, difficult to beat for value. Apart from the Loire the area is also noted for it’s wines. There are Caves everywhere. It you stopped at each one and tasted and purchased one bottle of wine at each Cave, a) you would not be fit to drive and b) the car would not take the weight of bottles!


We have come to our last day at Camping L’Etang at Brissac. The weather here has been absolutely fabulous, hot and sunny every day with an almost cloudless sky each day. We have now been in France for a little over eight weeks. Time has glided by at a leisurely pace. One more week to go. Tomorrow we head for our site south of Paris.  


Difficult to believe that we only have one week left! Today we moved a little nearer to Calais. Our journey took us from Angers to southeast of Paris. I am glad that we travelled on Sunday, as generally the roads are less busy. In fact the journey from Angers to the outskirts of Paris was uneventful. We then had to negotiate the ring road that skirts around the south and east of Paris called the N104 or ‘La Francilenne’.  This was no problem but you do need to know the towns and cities that lay in the direction you want to go. Before we embark on each stage of our trip I highlight the roads we will take on the Michelin Road Atlas of France. Now, the ‘Great Navigator’ decided that my route could be difficult to negotiate so she formulated a slightly different route, which whilst slightly longer was simpler. It worked a treat, so a grudging well done to Margaret! Just think when I first met her 35 years ago she didn’t even know which way up a map should go! 


As a little addition to this bit on journeys, a family arrived next to us on Monday and they had travelled from Le Havre. They do not seem to have had the best of luck on this holiday poor things. The week before they were due to come to France they had their van serviced. When they went to the Service Agents to collect the van they discovered it had been stolen. At least the Service people loaned them another for the holiday. They then had a delay on the ferry. The next disaster to strike was that the AA had decided to send them around the Boulevard Peripherique in order to get round Paris. Well at 5.00pm in the afternoon this is not the best place to be towing a caravan! In fact 5.00am it would still not be good. All credit to them that they are still cheerful and looking forward to their holiday.


Our site for the next 5 days is Camping Caravanning Château de Chambonnières at Plessis-Feu-Aussous. Now I am reserving judgment at the moment on this site but will fully report when I send my findings to Ian. However an interesting thing you notice about the site is the piles of logs everywhere and trees lying on the ground with their roots ripped from the earth. All was explained when I visited the washing up area. Apparently on Boxing Day 1999 there was a tremendous storm in this part of France, hence the uprooted trees and the logs. Now this site is open all year and unfortunately there were two people injured and several people traumatized by the experience. On a happier note our reception on arrival was impressive with ‘Madam’ trying to give us every imaginable brochure on every tourist site in the area and explaining in French the advantages of each venue, I had to remind her that we were only here for 5 nights!  She tried to sell us the town of Provins and when I turned to Margaret and told her that it was just another French town I was rebuked by being told it was a ‘middle age town’ so I answered back by saying just like me, this caused a laugh all round. I think she was trying to tell me it was a medieval town!


Wine tasting. On a normal holiday we usually rush into the last supermarket of the trip and buy a few sweets for our colleagues at work. Having been away from my team for 10 weeks I thought it would be nice to take them all a bottle of wine. Cote de Provence had made quite an impression on me so I thought this might be the right choice. Now I know not everyone likes Rose wine so it was important to get the right wine. The other day I purchased three bottles of Rose. All three bottles went into the fridge. In my view Rose should be drunk very cold, in fact it should cause condensation on the outside of the glass. Anyway we had a proper tasting with three bottles and three glasses. We have duly chosen the winner and will hot foot it back to the supermarket to buy 15 bottles in a couple of days time.


More Chateaux. It was our original idea to return to Disneyland Paris but in the light of the events outlined below we thought that it would be inappropriate. This did allow us more time to visit two more chateaux. Firstly we went to Vaux le Vicomte which is an impressive chateau near Melun and is said by some to be the model for Versailles. The gardens here were particularly impressive and were designed by André Le Nôtre who is credited with setting the design standards for many famous European gardens. A day or two later we went to Fontainebleau. Here the roles are reversed. Where as the gardens are very nice it is the interior that impresses. This palace was used by both Kings and Emperors. I was interested to see Napoleon’s writing desk which he had especially made so that he could spread his papers out with space to spare, a man after my own heart. In between we did visit Madam’s Middle Aged town of Provins, which turned out to be rather fascinating. The only note of caution was that every five minutes you seemed to have to put your hand in your pocket to fork out yet another entrance fee. There may be an inclusive ticket but it did not seem to be well publicized.


I said earlier that I was reserving judgment on Chateau de Chambonnières. In truth most people don’t stay on this site for the ambience they just use it as a place to park the van and visit the delights of Paris, Euro Disney and the famous Chateaux. For this purpose it is as good as any. I think campsite owners appreciate this fact and see no sense in providing facilities that will not bring in more customers.   


On Friday we journeyed to St Omer and one of our favorite sites, Chateau de Gandspette. This is the site I tend to judge all others by. Now I appreciate that the location can make the site and on this score Gandspette would not figure as highly as others. However it is the site I want to take with me around France. The pitches are generous, there are two really excellent toilet blocks, it has a lovely restaurant with varied menu and the French owners of the static’s take pride in their surroundings which adds to the quality of the site and one gets the feeling that the owners have a genuine interest in making improvements to the site.


On Monday morning we had some, not totally unexpected, bad news. My older Brother, Brian, had died that morning. He had been ill with cancer for the past 18 months and I suppose we were fortunate that he had survived so long. He had only been retired a few months before they discovered he had this dreadful disease. As you can imagine we have been in all sorts of anguish during our trip about his condition. For most of the time, whilst obviously being very poorly he has held his own but in the last week he really did start to deteriorate. Towards the end of last week things started to look bleak. We did consider going home but from where we were it would have taken 3 or 4 days to get to Southampton with the van. With a lot of heart searching we decided so stay where we were. As it turned out our attempt to get to him would have been futile. We last saw Brian about 10 days before we started our trip. Even then he had been rushed into hospital with a blood clot on the lung and there was grave concern for him. As we wondered around the corridors of Southampton General Hospital we both had butterflies in our stomachs not quite sure what to expect. Anyway as we walked up to his bed he opened his eyes and we spent the next hour and half chatting and joking. He was on pretty good form and looked much better than we expected, certainly the way I would prefer to remember our last meeting.


Trip Overview


In the end we were away for a total of 70 nights, although 5 of those were in the UK. Whilst in France we booked all but two of the sites via the Caravan Club Advanced Booking Service, this allowed us to pay for them before we went. One site we just turned up at and the site at Port Grimaud we booked direct. The main reason for booking the Port Grimaud site was that we wanted a particular pitch. Otherwise none of the sites were full and in essence there was no need to book even when we got towards the end of July although obviously sites were much busier. So that begs the question, should you pre-book? I think we are moving towards the idea that we should not unless there is a special reason to do so. Whilst booking ensures a place it can be restricting if you find a campsite not to your taste. Just a word of warning about phoning ahead to check for space. We heard of one instance where people doing this were charged a booking fee despite only doing it the day before. It would be best to enquire in there was space but not give personal details or a commitment that you will turn up.


So how did the equipment stand up to ten weeks intensive use? Margaret was a bit heavy handed with one of the tap knobs and broke the spindle. I tried to get some sent from Whale Pumps in NI from their web page. What the web page does not tell you is most of these parts are especially made and so we will have to wait. The small Daewoo fridge we purchased proved to be a real boon. On the downside it was slightly heavy and did take up quite a bit of room on the back seat of the car, but then so would a 12 volt cool box. Having tried porch awnings, sunshades and now a full awning the latter wins hands down if you are staying in places for a week or longer. In the South of France it really did provide more shade than the sunshade in the exact position as the year before. The Motor Mover. When it worked it was wonderful, however we did have two problems with it. Firstly when muggings had installed it he had put some brackets the wrong side of the Move Control. As we used it the whole unit moved slightly forward which in turn caused the drive units not to be correctly in contact with the wheels. This was resolved at our first site in France. A more worrying problem is that of the power in the battery to power the Move Control. Before we left we did purchase a new 85 amp hour battery, I did not have room for a larger one. With journeys to new sites of between 150 and 200 miles there seemed plenty of power to use it. However on longer journeys of around 300 miles the power soon disappeared. It seems obvious that there is not sufficient charging power going into the battery whilst on the move. Short of taking a high power charger with me or not running the van fridge whilst we travel I am at a loss to know what to do.


Was ten weeks too long, no way!  Actually it seemed perfectly balanced. Our previous longest trip away was for 14 weeks in 1992 when our two, then teenage sons, came with us. On this trip we were less ambitious and limited the number of sites we visited and stayed in one country. We aimed at the idea of spending at least a week at most sites and in a couple it was longer. This did allow as to relax and enjoy our time more. If we had the luxury of spending longer away I think I would quite like the idea of spending longer at Port Grimaud and Biarritz but otherwise the timing was about right. As far as timing was concerned I think we would both prefer to go earlier in May and return home in early July in order to miss the busy period.


The problem with being away for long period is what happens at home. We were fortunate that our youngest son still lives at home so he was able to look after things. Mind you the first weeks we were away he phone to say that our gas boiler had been condemned! A potential area of difficulty is the payment of bills whilst you are away. Obviously it helps if you pay most by standing order but such things as credit cards are not usually paid this way. Remember that most credit card companies will not accept advanced payments for their bills. We wrote a note on the PC and predated cheques which Simon posted for us on the right days. It seems to have worked.


What about statistics. Well we travelled 4300 miles of which 2838 was towing. We used 559 litres of diesel costing an average of .52p a litre. We achieved 36.37 miles to the gallon overall. Fortunately I did not keep a tally of how much wine we drank but I don’t think the MPG was as good as the Xantia! This was mainly because we lost acceleration the more we drank. The consumption of wine was only outstripped by the gallons of Volvic we drank. Now what about the weather. Well 46 were dry and sunny, 20 days had a mixture of showers but mainly sunny and only 4 days were wet but even this did not last all day. So I am pleased about the weather, pretty similar to what we get in Milton Keynes!!!


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