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I am writing this in Jan 2020, as the blog was having issues whilst we were in France. I will have to content myself with a quick tour and a few photos.
After Freiburg we drove into France and stopped at Besancon. Sadly the weather was unpleasant so we did no more than a short stroll around the town. The highlight is the Citadelle but, that was up a lot of steps and too much for Clyde’s knee. As we stood at the bottom of the narrow flight of steps, a massive line of students came rushing down and we were almost swept away!
This town would be worth another visit as it clearly has a lot of history. Victor Hugo was born here in 1802 and Louis Pasteur studied and taught here for 3 years 1839 to 1842. There is more to enjoy in the surrounding area that we missed on this visit.
We did have a look in the Cathedral but it was disappointingly dull.
Our goal at this point was Monaco, and we pressed on southwards. Needing a stopover, we found a nice aire overlooking a lake at Nantua. The town is very small and many of the shops have closed, which seems a shame as it is in such a lovely location. Handily, there is a LIDL just up the road from the aire so we stocked up.
After one night we moved on and came upon another lovely lakeside aire. This one was at Treffort, south of Grenoble. It was a much bigger lake with a watersports centre. There were a lot of French families there enjoying the last weekend of the season. After 2 nights there, we could have stayed on without any facilities for free. However, we were on a mission to get to the south coast so we left the lovely lake and moved to Digne les Bains.
We drove through the spa town of Digne les Bains which is very attractive, and worth a return visit, and found the aire on the outskirts. It was a handy stopover for a night but a bit of a walk from the centre. We had a nice evening stroll along the river to stretch our legs.
After much research, we had realised that Monaco does not have campsites or aires. We looked at the map and decided to head for Cannes instead. We could always drive to Monaco another time. I had a sudden rush of efficiency and actually checked the ACSI guide for campsites that were still open. Most of them are closed at the end of September. The one we ended up on, Camping les Cigales, was a bit pricey as they only had a small number of ACSI pitches which were all full when we arrived. We bit the bullet and decided to stay on a luxury pitch in the sun for 2 nights and get some planning done. It was a pleasant walk to the beach, with a footpath along the river, if nothing else.
Our next stop was St Aygulf near Freyjus, after a lovely drive along the DN7.
After arriving at a campsite that was supposed to be open, but was not, we found a real gem. This was a holiday park but the touring pitches were separate and each had their own bathroom. We even had a proper patio and all for £15 a night! We quickly shared this news with our friends who were planning to join us for a couple of days somewhere. They arrived the next day and parked next to us. It was lovely to have a catch up and we enjoyed a walk through the nature reserve to the sea front where we had ice cream. Dinner was a combined effort that evening, we had bought frozen fish and chips in the local supermarket. It turned out that the packet, marked Fish and Chips, actually contained two pieces of fish and no chips. As we had bought a packet each, we had 8 pieces of fish and no chips for the four of us!! Oh how we laughed!
After Sue and John left us, we had another day to enjoy and decided to visit the hilltop village of Fayance. It was a lovely drive through scenic countryside along a steep winding road, yellow on the map. The village was not too busy but had enough visitors to give it a buzz. We enjoyed a delicious citronade, from an artizan shop, outside in the sunshine before climbing up the steep steps to the viewpoint. The views all around were gorgeous and worth the climb.
Port Grimaud and St Tropez
Next stop on our list was Port Grimaud. We chose this as there was a campsite with a bus stop outside giving easy access to St Tropez and St Maxime. It was a pretty drive along the coast from St Aygulf to Port Grimaud. The campsite was only open for another week so we booked in for 6 nights and chose a pitch in the pine grove, near the shop and restaurant. It gave me a lovely view of anything happening!
St Tropez was smaller than I expected but very attractive in a slightly old fashioned way. It is described in the tourist guide as a seamen’s village. We walked around the harbour and up into the backstreets before enjoying our sandwiches perched on a bollard near the yachts. It was very busy with visitors and we were entertained by a yacht backing into a berth right in front of our bollard. There was lots of gesticulating from the crew as they manoeuvred the vessel into a very small space. At the end of the harbour is the Tour du Portalet, one of the town’s earlier fortifications. Passing through the Revelen Door you get an entirely different view of the town and the sea. Up through the narrow streets into the old town, there is a tree lined square that was pasture land for animals until the end of the 18th century. Nowadays it hosts a market on tuesdays and saturdays, and petanque is played daily.
We walked to Port Grimaud from the campsite. It was quite a pleasant surprise as it is truly charming. We were more enchanted with Port Grimaud than with St Tropez. It is like a wee Venice, with canals and boats and lined with pretty little houses. As we passed an open fronted cafe, we were hailed by a couple we had met on the campsite and stopped to enjoy a welcome beer with them. They recommended scaling the tower and enjoying the view, but the tower was too narrow and spirally for me and too many steps for Clyde after walking there. We were happy wandering round the waterside looking at the boats before walking back to the campsite.
We caught the bus into St Maxime which has a lovely waterfront and old town. It was a nice place to relax by the water in the sun and stroll along the promenade.
Our stay on the campsite was now coming to and end. The campsite was closing for the Winter. We went for a lovely meal at the restaurant, a few yards away from the van, chatted to a member of staff from Scotland and got the low down on what campsite staff do when the site closes. The Scottish gent was off to Greece for a few weeks, recharging his batteries ready for the season to start in 2020.
We were now on a homeward trajectory. Not many campsites open on our route but we were more than happy with the aires. We drove through the Camargue and stopped overnight at Palavas Les Flots, near Montpelier. Next stop was at an eco site at Royat in the hills behind Clermont Ferrand, really tranquil and unspoilt but with fabulous showers and toilets in a log cabin. We needed another place to aim for and as we had not been to Bourges, we thought it would be a good place to break our journey.
We arrived in Bourges after lunch and found the aire in our book. Unfortunately, there are building works taking over the aire. There were a few spaces to park and a couple of other campervans there, so we parked up and walked into the centre to the Tourist Information office. We were advised that the aire has been moved to the other side of Bourges, about 1.5 km away. After much thought we decided to stay put overnight and visit the cathedral in the morning before moving on Northwards. We picked up a walking tour map and did some of it before returning to the van. Once the builders left for the day, it was remarkably peaceful. There were a handful of motorhomes keeping us company. It rained heavily overnight and we got up to a grey and miserable day.
Not to be denied the purpose of our visit, we donned our waterproofs and walked into the centre to follow the rest of the walking tour and visit the cathedral which is renowned for it’s beauty. Entrance was free and we were suitably impressed by the fabulous stained glass and flying buttresses that are a feature of this large building.
We spent two hours in central Bourges and got absolutely soaked. We were wet through our clothes and were grateful to get back to our cosy van and dry off! However, we had really appreciated the beauty of St Etienne Cathedral and the charming Medieval centre.
Next day we drove to La Ferte St Aubin, and stopped on the free aire for the night. We stretched our legs with a walk into the village and back along the river. We have been there before and visited the chateau so we knew we would have a peaceful night. I looked at the map to see where we might go tomorrow and realised we were only 3 hours drive from Giverney, home of Monet. As he is one of my heroes, it was a foregone conclusion that we would visit. Motorhomes are allowed to stay overnight in a specially designated area of the car park, which is extremely reasonable and not often to be found back home.
We arrived at Giverney in the early afternoon and in the rain. We decided to wait until the morning for our visit to the gardens in the hope we might get a drier day. We had made the right decision as we were treated to a glorious sunny Autumn day. The gardens speak for themselves, as you can see how Monet’s paintings reflect his love of nature and his garden. The views over the countryside, the flower borders and the water are all evocative of his art.
I was so excited to be here and as we entered the gardens, I shed tears. It was such an emotional experience for me to be here where one of my most influential artists had lived, loved and worked.,
For me, this was the absolute highlight of this Autumn trip. I would love to visit in the Spring to see those gardens dressed in delicate Spring colours.
We were now on our way to Dieppe for our journey back across the Channel to home. Next trip starting mid November.