Our route north from Chusclan in the south of France towards Holland and home has taken us through Burgundy, into the Loire Valley and onwards to Chartres in the Centre Region. As always, we took the journey gently, driving for between 80 and 100 miles a day then stopping on Aires de Camping Cars along the way. One of the problems we find with the Camper Contact app, as a way to find overnight stops, is that reviews tell you everything except what is really important. For instance, we stopped at a place called St Desirat, which is in the Rhone Valley quite close to that magnificent river. On the map it looked as though it was very near the motorway and the reviews said it was in the grounds of another wine cave. What they didn’t tell us was that we had to cross the Rhone on a bridge that is not wide enough for two vehicles. It has no traffic lights so there is a kind of courteous ‘flash people across’ thing going on. The river is very wide so we’re not talking about a 30 second drive over here. We found ourselves blocking the exit to the bridge because we had no way of knowing how narrow it was until we were right on top of it and by then about a dozen cars had pulled up close behind us. Other cars were coming over the bridge and the oncoming drivers were gesticulating at us – get out of the way! We reversed gently for what felt like hundreds of yards with our following vehicles reversing in synchrony then, after the bridge had cleared, the car on the other side flashed us over. When we got to the other side an artic lorry was blocking our exit and the whole reversing and shuffling thing had to happen again, except this time I just sat there and watched everyone else struggle to let me out. If someone had mentioned this in a review there is no way we would have chosen that stopover. To add insult to injury, when we got to the place they had turned the services off for the winter so we couldn’t get any water, the newly built parking area was on a slope and there was nothing of interest to see there at all. Chalk that one down to experience – we won’t be going there again.
Next we were going to stop at Taizé, as we normally do, to enjoy a few hours of retreat. I have written about Taizé before and it might not be to everyone’s taste so I’ve written a bit about this latest visit here. You can read about it and watch a video there if you like. Because there had been no water at the last stop we detoured to another cave at Prissé not far from Cluny that advertises a newly built Aire de CC with services and a very nice wine shop. It’s on the Voie Vert so we thought we’d case the joint for future visits as this is a great area for cycling. To our amazement these services were also switched off for the winter – bearing in mind it is early March this seemed a bit much. By UK standards of warmth it’s springtime and the motorhomers are out in force. We found a tap eventually and filled our tanks, adding some water cleanser for good measure, as we couldn’t know for sure that it was drinking water.
I shouldn’t have said that about spring because as we started to drive north and east through Burgundy and into the Centre region the wind and rain came on with gusto and, despite our grumbles, stayed with us as our constant companions. This is when living in a motorhome becomes a challenge. We’re either driving in difficult conditions or we’re standing still somewhere that should be beautiful but is in fact wet and muddy or wild and windy. Either way going outside is not appealing and we start to get a bit of cabin fever. At Le Jardin de Sully, a campsite right on the banks of the Loire we were certain that if the sun was shining it would be really beautiful, especially as we had parked so that our lounge window was looking out over the water to the small, typically French town of Sully on the other side.
There was a gate directly onto the Loire a velo – the bike and walking track that runs the length of the Loire and we could slip out there with the dogs off lead and let them run. What this meant in practice was that Boo tiptoed along beside us, like a lady in high heels, trying to avoid getting wet and dirty and Poppy dashed and splashed her way through the mud, the puddles and once, by mistake, straight into the river. She shot out again and decided on the most direct route back on to the path, straight through a mass of overgrown bushes diving out with twigs and thorns stuck all over her coat. She wasn’t the slightest bit concerned but we had to live with her in the van smelling like the river. We’ve got a dog bag for her that makes events like this a bit more bearable. It’s a zip up cloth bag made of very fine gauge microfibre with a hole for her head. We zip her into it and she stays there until she’s dry. Normally she doesn’t mind this at all but on that day Boo decided to sit on her as well so she couldn’t move. It was a while before we noticed that she was completely pinned down. It was here, beside the Loire, that Shirley developed a fascination with coypu to replace the flamingo obsession of earlier in the trip. She returned twice from walks along the riverbank with her camera to tell me she had struck up a friendship with a Frenchman who shared her interest in coypu. That’s not something you can claim every day.
The rain did stop eventually but it felt very cold compared to where we’ve been for the last few months. We walked over the bridge to Sully, strolled around the shops, looked at the chateau and strolled back again. It’s a lovely town and we can recommend Le Jardin de Sully for it’s wonderful position beside the river and the pleasant walk to the town. On a less positive note be prepared to use your own onboard facilities as the toilets and showers are ancient and cold. Every pitch has its own tap and electric point so there is no hardship in using your own facilities and the site is on the ACSI scheme so it isn’t expensive. I think there is a sign up with plans for new toilet facilities but I couldn’t read the small print to tell whether these are plans as in ‘going to happen’ or plans as in ‘maybe one day’.
Onwards again, we decided to visit Chartres for a bit of culture. There is no motorhome parking here but they do have a municipal campsite a short walk from the city and its magnificent cathedral. Reviews of this site vary from lukewarm to damned with faint praise and when we got there we discovered why. Despite opening on March 1st there is no toilet and shower block available because it is being upgraded. They kindly reduced the overnight charge from 17€ to 15€ for the inconvenience of having no conveniences. The mud underfoot, broken twigs and general lack of care for the place means that motorhomes have to park on hard standing – but there is no real hardstanding, only the access roads to the grass pitches. Fortunately it is nearly empty because we’re currently blocking access to six pitches. All is forgiven however when you take the nearly two mile walk along the river bank to the city and see its wonderful cathedral, ancient buildings, unique shops that are more of the look and admire than buy variety and on top of all that there is the potential to eat in a massive variety of restaurants and cafés. We stopped for lunch in a small patisserie and ordered two Parisienne salads and coffee. The waitress who took our order, carefully given by us in our best French resulted in her rushing back to the counter to tell her colleague that we were English. She sounded quite excited – that’s a first.
Chartres Cathedral is in the middle of a massive programme of restoration with all the stonework inside being cleaned by hand. The effect is stunning as parts of the building are now glowing pale cream. The inevitable downside is that large areas are covered in plastic, behind which you get glimpses of people in total coveralls working away at small areas of statues and plinths. There is also a constant drone of the vacuum pumps removing the dust. It must be very stressful to work there. What a work of devotion and close attention to detail.
We will move on tomorrow, heading towards a stop beside the Seine river before our last stop in France and the regulation trip to the vets. A bientot!