I love motoring and I love France so having never visited the very south west of the country a holiday taking in this region with a few stops along the way seemed like a good plan. The roads being often uncrowded France gives you the oppertunity to enjoy driving as England did fifty or more years ago. Our French journey started on leaving the shuttle just outside Calais, stopping north of Rouen for an overnight at an excellent chambres d’hotes, a week in Saintes in the Charente maritime region, a week in Anglet between Bayonne and Biarritz, up to the Dordogne for seven days near the ancient hilltop town of Belves in the Perigord Noir, north to an overnight in the Loire Valley at Langais near Tours, and finally a night in the centre of Rouen before returning to the shuttle. This wasn’t a quick dash but an attempt to see as much on the journey as the twenty four days would allow so the route was planned to make each section a comfortable journey. France is a big country ! or at least it is when compared to the UK . Week one – SAINTES – Saintes chosen partly because it sits in the A10 autoroute which allowed us an easy journey from Rouen and another not too long trip to our second week and most southerly point, but turned out to be an very interesting stay as the town has lots of Roman remains including an amphitheatre and lots of places to see nearby with other Roman structures and also some beautiful chateaux and gardens. We had planned to visit Royan on the coast but time didn’t allow.
Week 2 – ANGLET – Anglet with it’s beautifully kept long sandy beaches and board walks backed by restaurants and cafe’s lies between Bayonne and Biarritz, the Anglet beach busy with volley ball, surfers, and people just enjoying the sand, sea and sun. In the Basque country now with building styles so much different to Saintes and the Charente Maritime region. Anglet was our week by the sea. We enjoy the coast .
Biarritz with it’s lovely beaches is similar to many other large French seaside resorts. In some ways it reminded us of Dinard in Brittany. Bayonne possibly more interesting to the majority of visitors unless long days swimming and sunbathing are your thing. Close now to the Pyranees the natural border between France and Spain with the foothills in sight.
About an hours drive took us up into the foothills to Sain Jean Pied de Port on the pilgrims route.
Week 3 – DORDOGNE – Belves .
Week 3 – Dordogne – BELVES – The journey up to Belves from Anglet seemed straight foreward until we reached the edge of the Perigord Noir when the roads twisted and turned round the rocky hillsides making the last twenty miles seem endless, but nonetheless we were able to reach the hamlet of Sagelat (Nr Belves) to unload and fetch some food for our evening meal from the local Carrefour. Our converted barn had wonderful views accross the Nauze Vallee making the journey well worthwhile. During the next few days we were to see butterflies in abundance on the meadows around the gite including a few we had never seen before. We much enjoyed a visit to Les jardins de Marqueyssac with it’s spectacular views over the surrounding valley. A wondeful spot for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. The Dordogne is such a large area a week really only touches the surface. Grottes(caves), castles, gardens, medievil hilltop villages, rivers to swim in or paddle down in a canoe. So much to see and do .
From the Dordogne up to Langais in the Loire Valley for an overnight stop and we were lucky enough to arrive when the Cirque Bidon was visiting. Just a beautiful pony, a mule and a bantam to assist the superb musicians and comic actors so we decided to visit . The owner was at first worried our little dog would bark when the pony was being riden but in the end kindly offered us a seat where we could easily exit if this should happen. Luckily all turned out OK . The performance took place virtually under the walls of the superb chateaux. Magical ! .
Next morning a journey up into Normandy and into the centre of Rouen on the river Seine to look at the ancient centre and the magnificent cathedral, and the place where Joan d’ Arc was burned at the stake by the English in 1431.
Next morning left us with an easy two hour journey up to the shuttle so after coffee and cake at a beautiful little pattiserie near the cathedral we set off, but realizing we had time to spare we stopped for lunch in Saint Valerie sur Somme just a fifteen minute detour from the autoroute. Moules frites for OH and a superb salad topped by warm goats cheese on toasts for me, a quick walk along the quay with wonderful views over the Baie de Somme and back to the car for our journey to Calais then home.
Holidaying in France.
We travel with our dog and the Eurotunnel Shuttle makes this easy providing you follow the simple rules. Your vet should be able to advise you . Clearance at the shuttle pet centre for return to England usually takes us about fifteen minutes . Look out for the signs on the right at the terminal as you drive in . We have always found French vets friendly and helpful and the charges reasonable to comply with re-entry to England. The shuttle itself is the quickest way to cross. We often experience short delays for boarding and you do get very warm in the car during summer crossings. The weather in most of France can be as changeable and unreliable as England. We were there during the June heatwave. It was mostly high twenties while we were in Saintes, a bit warmer than the average, and by the time we got down to Anglet it was thirty plus reaching thirty seven for four or five days. It was warm in the Dordogne but dropped to about twenty after a couple of stormy days but never involved searching out extra clothes. If you self cater you will find food prices in France much more expensive than England. Mid day meals at cafe’s and restaurants are often good value. Don’t assume restaurants will be open though. If you wish to visit a particular eating place it’s often best to phone to check first as places can be closed on certain days. Cafe’s in general do have more regular hours. Dogs are welcome in most eating places. In fact we got fed up with asking surprised caf’e staff if our dog could come in so we assumed she could and were never asked to leave. Generally staff will bring a nice bowl of water and at times a treat .
Once you have the ‘drive right’ and ’roundabouts anti clockwise’ fixed in your mind driving is in general easy with roads far less crowded than England. I alway have a bright red arrow I fix on the instrument panel pointing to the right. It’s easy to stray onto the left when you are relaxed after leaving a cafe or pass roadworks traffic lights that divert you from right to the left hand lane and this reminder works well for me. I think also many GPS(satnav) units remind the driver to drive on the right when in France. Large towns and cities can of course present a challenge. They can mostly be avoided if you wish and also avoiding busy times in these places is a great help. On the way south we passed through Rouen but as it was 8.30 am on a Sunday traffic was very light. The autoroute to Saintes was an easy run and there are now newer service areas on this route with fuel, good food, outdoor tables and modern toilets(indoors) !. Of course you pay for autoroute use at the tolls (payage)but the excellent quality of the very quiet road surface and many picnic areas in my opinion make the charges justified. It’s easy to complete a 400k journey and more if you really want to. In most of France I find the standard of driving good. The only congestion we encountered on the whole journey Calais to Bayonne (about 650mls) was near Bordeaux where autoroute modifications caused us to crawl along in heavy traffic for about thirty minutes. Autoroute charges are partially offset by the fact that unlike the UK parking in towns and near beaches is often free. We payed one euro for a four hour stay in Bayonne on a car park ten minutes walk from the city centre ! . All the parking we used on the coast at Anglet was free as was Saint Jean Pied de Port on the pilgrims route. Just think what three weeks seaside parking can cost in England !.
When looking for somewhere to stay check mileages to places you may wish to visit. For instance what looks like a ten minute drive to the beach on a Michelin map can in fact be thirty minutes or more. If staying near an autoroute check carefully how far the nearest junction is as a chambres d’hotes or hotel that again looks on the map as being close may be some way from the nearest autoroute junction. We use chambres d’hotes for overnight stays and have without exception found them excellent. We use gites/holiday houses for our longer periods and carefully chosen to suit what you require regarding location etc can be very good.
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Rivers fascinate me. Early settlers always tried to be near a good water source, for drinking, washing, and in the case of rivers a ‘highway’ to other places. One very good local example is the Roman Town at Caistor St Edmund beside the River Tas. The Tas joins the Yare on the southern edge of the city. These are a few pictures of the river Yare and it’s valley as it winds it’s way from it’s source near Shipdam about fifteen miles south west of the city of Norwich. I often use these areas for a morning walk. In the city it meets the river Wensum that runs in from the west and having joined forces they continue out to the sea at Great Yarmouth having flown through Breydon Water. In all it’s only about forty miles from source to it’s outfall into the North Sea. These photos show us there were many water driven mills on this relativly short stretch of the non tidal part of the Yare. Green energy before the term was invented ! . Grain would have been brought to these mills from nearby farms by horse and cart before the internal combustion engine got established .