Orschwihr has a lot going for it. First of all there is free overnight parking for motorhomes that includes a small patch of hedged off grass and a picnic bench and very pleasant views over the vineyards. Water and waste services have to be paid for but we didn’t need these, so there was no need to try to work the pay machine. Many of the motorhome service machines seem to have changed since our last visit to France. There are less of the ‘get a jeton from the Mayor’s office’ type and more of the credit card variety. This one was a new one and it looked incredibly complicated – after my tussle with a German parking meter I’m feeling less than confident when faced with choice of buttons and switches. Here is a rough translation of a few of the instructions ‘After paying, open the door on the side’ and ‘Once the door closes you’ve had your lot chum’. There was no hint on how to work the mysteries behind the door but it could have ended very messily.
After strolling round the town and savouring the lovely floral displays, the fresh air and the peace we put the dogs back in the van and wandered into the nearest cave offering ‘degustation’ i.e. wine tasting. A very pleasant lady put down two glasses and asked us what we would like to try. We tasted four different Alsace wines and chose two as our favourites. We then bought two bottles each of our chosen two and then, carrying our booty in the box she provided, we wobbled back to the van to drink coffee and recover. I think the idea is to just taste a little then pour the rest into the jug they put out for emptying the rest away but we’re British so we always finish what is put in front of us. As we approached the van one of our neighbours popped out of their motorhome to chat to us. We got on fine in a mixture of French and English. To be fair her English was a lot better than our French but she encouraged us and applauded when we got things right. Is there a more pleasant way to have a French lesson – standing out in the sun, slightly tipsy, chatting to friendly people? We slept like dead things in the quiet of the Alsace vineyards and were off bright and early the next morning to our next stop.
What we wanted was a place where we could have a really good walk. We found an Aire de Camping Car in Brognard in the Franche Comté Region beside a huge leisure lake with miles of walking tracks as well as the possibility of swimming in the lake if you were feeling brave. The Aire was free for both overnight stays and services so we were delighted. No machine necessary, just taps and places to deposit. Simples!
We strode off round the lake with two very happy dogs in tow and met runners, walkers, cyclists and, most interesting of all, disabled people being propelled along by an able bodied cyclist. Some were on double reclining bikes and wheelchair users were on a platform in front of a single bike. What a fabulous idea! They were enjoying the fresh air and the views in a completely novel way. The lady in the wheelchair in front of the bike looked frozen stiff but she smiled bravely as they passed us.
After lunch and a good walk it occurred to us that we had no chocolate in the fridge. Some days this is nothing short of a disaster. We needed chocolate! That’s when we discovered that we were nowhere near anywhere that sold anything. It was only 2.30 p.m. so a long day and evening sans chocolate was ahead of us. That was enough! We packed up the van and set off again, this time to Beaume les Dames, a very pretty tourist town on the Doubs river.
The Camper Contact app told us that this was a very popular Aire that often fills up by 4 p.m. It holds around 40 vans and is within walking distance of the town. As well as chocolate, the other thing that was on our minds was finding a place to go out to dinner the following evening. The next day was Shirley’s 60th birthday and we wanted somewhere really special to celebrate it. Beaume les Dames, as well as having a huge supermarket, was indeed extremely attractive and the walks along the canal bank, looking at the cruisers and dreaming of a life on water, were great. Sadly the local, well advertised and seemingly well liked, restaurant was closed for the holidays. This is something quite unique to France – restaurants and shops often just close up for holidays, once the busiest part of the holiday season is over. It’s another example, I think, of the different way that the French look at profit. Closing, when there are people who would like to buy your goods or services, is unthinkable in the UK, making it common for businesses to be open all day, every day and sometimes all night too. I’m starting to think that the UK puts profit above everything else. Clearly the French have other priorities and I admire them for it. That being said, we had nowhere to have dinner the following evening, at least not within walking distance of the van. This dilemma meant that we only stayed one night and bright and early the next morning we were off again. Just as we were getting ready to leave we noticed that the van next to us had a puncture. The couple in the van were pretty dejected, as you can imagine, and after a while they began the struggle of getting the wheel off and the spare ready to go on. When I walked round them to unhook our electric I noticed that they were using a hand pump to pump up the spare. Big motorhomes need a lot of pressure in the tyres so they were going to be pumping for a long time. I nipped back, got out our 12v tyre pump and offered it to them. You would have thought I’d given them thousands of pounds. They were nearly crying with relief. So, I rest my case – my gadget habit does have its uses. We waited for about 15 minutes, watching them struggling with the huge wheels and a massive jack before they’d finished with the pump – enough time for us to remember that we’ve got full breakdown insurance and to feel grateful for it. Incidentally, for anyone planning to visit Beaume les Dames, there is a campsite a few metres further on from the motorhome Aire. I would recommend going there instead. We paid 10€ a night on the Aire, including electricity. Our pitch was in tight next to another one, it was on a slant and the service point was awful – really filthy. Apparently for only a few Euros more we could have had a big grassy pitch with all services included.
And so it was that we found ourselves in Beaune in Burgundy. This historic, beautiful city has an Aire de Camping Car close to the centre. We had a fabulous 24 hours there doing the tourist thing by visiting the Hotel Dieu, a 15th century public hospital run by nuns. The museum has wonderful audio guides, cleverly dramatised as though you were actually there at the time. The rooms are laid out in exactly the way they were when it was a hospital and we were astonished to discover that it was still being used to treat patients in 1952. The main ward was enormous and at one end it had a chapel where the poor unfortunate patients could hear funerals being held when someone died.
We followed that by doing another tourist train and got shoogled all round the city by an enthusiastic driver who, just for fun, made the train swerve like a snake causing a lot of laughter and some horrified squeals, especially when he ‘accidentally’ mounted the kerb. The train took us out into the vineyards as well as past numerous historic buildings. The language of the audio was set according to which carriage you were in. When we arrived he said “Oh, English. Back carriage for you!” Fortunately it only took a moment to realise the reason, after a brief flash of paranoia. We were the only Brits in the English audio carriage, the rest being Dutch and Belgian. The audio wasn’t loud enough and it wasn’t particularly entertaining so we ended up being entertained by one of the Dutchmen at the front who was far funnier that the script. Despite the dreary audio we loved the tour, perhaps for all the wrong reasons and we got off laughing, if a bit stiff in the extremities, from hanging on every time we swerved round a corner.
The day was finished in fine style, celebrating Shirley’s birthday in a typically French brasserie in one of the beautiful squares. We were a bit embarrassed to see a TV on the wall showing a discussion about Brexit that was far from complimentary about the Brits. I was tempted to tell the waiter that we were from Scotland and we wanted to stay but it was ok. The service was pleasant, the food lovely, the wine very special and dessert was Mousse au Chocolat – what more could we ask for?