France for Beginners

Break in the clouds after a day of strong winds and heavy rain across the Camargue

Well we’re back – both geographically and blog-wise. Sorry for the delay but it was a fairly short-notice decision to return and then the unloading and tidying the van took us longer than we thought. Anyway, so what did we think of France? What did we learn? What did we dislike? What did we like?

We were away for 27 nights, spending 5 in Germany and the remaining 22 in France. It wasn’t what we planned but as I explained in a previous blog the weather was just too good to spend meandering through the dark wooded river-valleys of the Black Forest so we chased the sun down through France, getting as far south as the Carmargue.

The trip was one of contrasts. This was one the things that we should possibly have been ready for but as it was our first prolonged trip I’ll not be too hard on ourselves. The biggest contrast was France itself.

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La Morte

Almost immediately we went from the flood plain of the Rhine to the 1080m altitude hotel at the Gazon Rouge ski-station. After one day and highwinds and low clouds we dropped down to the banks of Saone and mid-twenty degrees sunshine. Later that week we stopped for 4 nights at La Morte ski station before dropping down to Avignon and almost sea-level in the Camargue.

We also stayed at very contrasting sites and aires. From the characterless Therme carpark at Bad Bellingen and the officiously managed camp site at Oraizon to the peace and quiet of Savoyeux on the Saone and the beauty of Bruniquel in the Aveyron valley. From the night-time silence of La Morte to the bustle of Avignon.

The driving varied from the hazy sunny mornings along country lanes to Arc-les-Senans, to the 90 minute 10kpm crawl around the Besançon caused by protesting lorry drivers! From empty but ludicously expensive motorways to greasy single track drops through chestnut woods – thanks satnav, you’re on borrowed time.

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Bruniquel

So what did we like about the trip and France in particular? As mentioned above, the contrasts. But also the feeling of space too. France has a population of just over 67 million with a density of 122 people per square kilometre. The UK density is 272 with England at 427 people per square kilometre.

Let’s not forget the cheap and plentiful wine and cheese. Weaning ourselves off the 5 litre boxes of “veh, veh drinkable” red was an achievement in itself and, while we’re not forgetting things, lets have a big shout out for the cream cakes, especially from Carrefour. These were cakes that predominantly cream with a suggestion of pastry and/or sponge with a bit more cream, caramelised sugar, and, in case you were missing it, more cream! The culinary experience of the trip though has to go to the pizzeria-cum -antique-shop with the help-yourself wine trolley with a view across the river valley to the floodlit chateau at Bruniquel – a complete one-off.

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Pizza ‘niquel – where can you buy an antique saddle, a 1950’s radio, a pizza and a half litre of house red?

What we didn’t like so much – motorway tolls (too expensive), token-required water and electricity points with no instructions on where to buy the tokens, and, French traditional squatting toilets (‘nough said, moving on) – oh, and no we didn’t.

As to what we learnt boils down to one thing – don’t drive too far between stops. Generally we wanted to be at our next stop by 3pm at the latest. Sometimes this meant a four-hour drive, sometimes we were set up by midday after about 60 minutes. This always gave us plenty of time in the afternoon to have a slow lunch, find the tourist office and have a look around the new town or village.

So what’s next in the van? Travel plans include a January to March trip to the UK, a possible May/June quick tour of the Ostee (Baltic) and Denmark, and then a probable 3 month trip to Spain and Portugal.

Dave

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