We thought we would be writing this back in the UK but’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and we changed ours. It seemed important somehow to reflect on the trip while we’re still here in La Belle France.
Since last week we’ve slept on the banks of the Loir as well as the Loire and then on the banks of the Seine. Parking up beside water has it’s own very special appeal.
And then, rather reluctantly, we headed for our final stop of the trip.
Today is our last day in France. We’re back at Neufchatel en Bray, where we begin and end most of our European adventures, getting ourselves ready for the ferry tomorrow from Dieppe.
Yesterday the dogs spent half a day at our favourite French vet’s being checked over, wormed and groomed. They are cut so short that they’re almost bald but it will last a long time. Ever practical… although the poor wee scones were cold last night and slept curled up together.
While they were being treated to a dog’s version of a spa day we were cleaning the van ready for its return to the UK. You might be wondering why we hit upon this idea. Here’s how it went:
“We’ll have four hours without the dogs. What shall we do?”
“It’ll be a great opportunity to open all the doors and windows and give the place a thorough clean.”
“You’re right – let’s do it.”
The days of romance might not be so frequent but the van is as neat as can be.
Reflecting on the Highlights – our favourite places
Aside from the many delightful people we have met along the way, an important highlight of this trip has been discovering new places and knowing that we want to revisit them in the future. Here a few of our absolute favourites organised by country.
Braganca – beautiful free parking beside the castle, friendly people, a warm welcome and the freshest of fresh air.
Peso de Regua – the best aire ever at the fishing club by the bridges on the river Douro. Fully serviced pitches for 3€ per night, fabulous views and walking on the river bank, a good bar and the place where we made several friends.
Coimbra – beautiful old city, free parking in an attractive park and being entertained watching water sports within yards of the van.
Lagos Aire – just great for spending time in the town and we met new and old friends there. We loved it more than seemed sensible. Sometimes you just can’t explain why you love a place – this was one of them.
Almada D’ouro Club – just north of the Algarve. Quiet, cool and beautiful. Great if you like walking. If we return to the Algarve we would probably choose this as our base and hire a car to dip in and out of the busy tourist places.
Vinuela – simple and beautiful site in the hills. Great walks and a big highlight was eating breakfast looking out over a sun-drenched valley.
Las Lomas – Sierra Nevada – aside from the disastrous error of driving past the site gates and into the middle of a town that was too narrow for us, we loved this excellent site – the bus to Granada stops at the gates.
Casa de Fusta Ebro Peninsula – bird watching, walking and cycling on wide, flat landscape. Somewhere completely different to the rest of Spain and the chance to chill for a while.
Arboleas – and visiting our friends, Pam and Jeremy. Here we had a few days off and slept in a proper bed, in a proper house. We were well fed and had gargantuan gins on the terrace in the afternoon. This felt like a holiday.
Sitges – our all time favourite place in Spain. We’re slightly biased because Chris, Shirley’s brother, lives here, but even if you’re not fortunate enough to have a Chris it’s still a wonderful place to visit. Go there for some sophisticated seaside fun, some of the best camp bar staff and fabulous people watching.
Neufchatel en Bray – sophisticated motorhome parking with all facilities including wifi. Great vets, shops, a voie verte to walk or cycle miles and wonderful Normandy rolling countryside within easy reach.
Jonzac – a public spa where you can float in hot water warmed by natural springs, a nicely equipped aire, a pretty market town and, if you’re very lucky, you might be able to watch people beggaring up the entire electronic entry system. This seemed to happen several times a day. Comedy value is high, but only to the observers.
Blaye – park up beside the Gironde, watch the boats, visit the citadel, drink cold beer in pavement cafés and, if you’re there on a Saturday, a fabulous market. Look carefully and you might find a Johnny Depp look-alike selling wine here.
La Roque Gageac – on the banks of the Dordogne river. Take a boat tour, eat ice cream, sit with your mouth open looking at the rocks overhanging the river. Duck if you hear a loud rumbling.
Vers – Stay on the aire on the riverside, have a wonderful dinner in La Truite D’Oree, drink enough to drown out the hourly bells that go on right through the night.
Gastes – an absolute gem of an aire beside a lake in the south west of France. Feels like you’re truly on holiday and the hairdresser round the corner is brilliant. Cycling and walking on safe paths, dark nights and star gazing. Lovely
Moissac – this is the joint winner of our Favourite Places in France 2018 Award. A wonderful aire right beside the Canal du Midi with the Tarn river on the other side. An exquisite little town, a busy canal basin, the best ice cream of the trip. If we’d been brave enough and weren’t missing our family and friends so much, I think we would have just bought a place here and stayed.
Cormatin – and here’s the other winner … We couldn’t decide between the two because they offered us so much, each in their own way. We love Burgundy and this town especially. We stayed in the simple, traditional campsite here, enjoyed a meal in a local hotel, walked and cycled the voie verte, took some spiritual refreshment at Taizé and floated in the lovely peace of the gentle countryside all around us. It was hard to leave and we wished we had allowed more time to just sit still and be. Bliss …
And now it’s time to go back to the UK and home to Scotland where we must make some decisions about our future, particularly where we’ll buy a house. We have no idea what the next step is, so we can only wait and see.
This seems like a good time to talk about the impact these long trips have had on our lives.
In the last two years, we have been travelling in the motorhome for 17 months and lived in our house for 7 months. By the time we sold our house last September, we knew it was time to let it go and rethink our need for space. The place was just too big for us. We didn’t initially plan to be away for such a big chunk of time yet we were delighted to be able to let life unfold as we went on our way, exploring and seeing what was around the next corner. What we didn’t expect was the absolute delight of living simply, spending days just walking about, chatting with people, looking at beautiful countryside or across rivers and oceans and then choosing what to have for dinner. Life has been simple in more ways than the obvious. Sometimes we’ve been frustrated by living in a small space and felt at the mercy of the weather. Wet days in a motorhome with two small dogs can be a bit depressing. Sometimes we’ve really missed sleeping in a big bed with a proper flushing toilet and a shower that you can stand under as long as you like, just a few steps away. Often we’ve felt homesick for the people we left behind and wished we could just pop home to see them.
The feeling that remains, now we’re coming to the end of this trip, is that doing this has changed us. We have been happy living simply, enjoying the simplest of pleasures such as buying local fresh food and wine, finding a little spot in the sun beside a river, a walk on the beach early in the morning and the knowledge that around the next corner there is another view and another possibility of learning something new or making new friends. Living like this brings you out more than life in a house. You walk over to the shared bins, or to get a watering can full of water and you meet someone else doing the same. Unless you’ve noticed the registration plate on their motorhome you have no idea what language they speak but you can usually find a way of making a connection. Sometimes the connections feel like they’ll last a lifetime. We’re changed by the experience and we’re not sure how we’ll fit back into life in a house. Of course, we’ll continue to travel but we don’t know if any of our trips will be this long again. Who knows? We certainly don’t. Watch this space …
Thank you to all the many people who have followed us on our travels. Without you, this blog would be just words and pictures on a screen – it’s knowing you are there that makes it all the more special.
Keep following us as we turn the next corner.