Our summer holiday this year was to be less of an adventure, but more time to relax. We enjoy the South West Atlantic coast of France so we booked familiar sites at Messanges and St Georges de Didonne planning the fill in days using Aires.
P & O Dover to Calais sailings were all booked out on the dates and times we wished to travel so we tried DFDS for the first time, travelling Dover to Dunkirk. The boats were a pleasant change from P & O with kind of “designer” interiors. Disembarking in Dunkirk around 1.00 am, we originally planned to stay at Gravelines but we decided to drive on to Calais finally parking opposite the Holiday Inn as the fair was set up in the Marina car park.
It’s a two-day trip to our first booked site at Messanges, so the following day we left early, calling at Total on the industrial zone to purchase diesel and coffee en route to the motorway. The first stop of the day was for lunch at the Hotel L’Etoile d’Or at Gacé. Al fresco dining is great for people watching but the entertainment here was a film company setting up across the street. They arrived around the time we sat down and within an hour had the set lit, propped and cameras ready to roll. We couldn’t stop to watch the action, and left for our usual overnight stop just south of Tours, St Maure de Touraine. Stocking up with provisions and fuel next morning at the new Intermarche, we then heading further south for Camping Les Acacias.
Since purchasing the Aviano in March, the aircon had not been proven in really hot weather so before leaving England I had it re gassed just in case. Whatever, there is a huge difference in travel comfort compared to our previous vans. We recorded 42o C in the first Hymer on a similar trip but providing we didn’t park in direct sunshine during a lunch stop, the interior remained pleasantly cool.
We arrived at Les Acacias late afternoon to a welcoming Marie Claire and Philippe who had reserved a great pitch for us. We were set up and in the bar down the road in no time. We booked for five nights, spending each day cycling fifteen minutes down to the beach, running early mornings and just lazing around the site. We normally lunch at the Camping le Vieux Porte bar restaurant, which is usually fairly good, but the service and food was pretty poor on the first day. When the bill was presented at the end of the meal we said in unison “we’re not coming back here again”.
After a relaxing few days set off heading to Pauillac just north of Bordeaux on the south bank of the Gironde. We visited here last year and I was quite keen to try another Chateau tour to compare. The splendid Maison du Tourisme et du Vin de Pauillac recommended Chateau Gruaud Larose for an English speaking tour the next morning.
We overnighted at Camping Municipal Gabarreys, which is within a kilometre of the tourist information office. This is a really delightful site. We were allocated a large pitch with river view. The amenity block opposite included a sauna and there was a hot tub raised up on a platform at roof level with a great view over the estuary. Arriving at the pitch we found a car parked on it. Turned out that three young Dutchmen were camping next to the pitch and had locked the car keys in the boot, but help was on its way. We had plenty of room to park so we set up quickly and had just sat down with cold beers when the man from France Assist arrived. He was so helpful, Polish, didn’t speak much French, English or Dutch but tried hard to recover the keys. Fortunately the campers spoke a little German, which he
understood. Cutting a one-hour saga short, Anneli and I recovered the keys eventually.
The tour of Chateau Gruaud Larose next morning was excellent. Very informative and we learnt far more about the wine process than on previous tours. Two bottles of the Grand Cru 1900 vintage cost the same as our Bürstner! Needless to say a slightly newer vintage was offered for tasting at the end of the tour. Early afternoon we headed north again intending to find somewhere to stay overnight close to the Verdon to Royan ferry as our booking for Bois Soleil started the following day. However we carried on, caught the ferry and arrived at the site a day early. We were allocated a pitch next to our booked one, which was still occupied, making an easy move the next day.
The pitch booked, Chatelaillon, is an elevated position looking towards the beach. We had worked out the positioning of the van to allow for connecting the wastewater to a drain and have plenty of room to erect the privacy room. Manoeuvring onto the pitch the steering became heavy and I realised that the far end of the pitch was soft sand. Cutting another long story short, four hours later and after a lot of digging, we were towed out using various site maintenance vehicles using large purpose made boards to stop the front wheels sinking further into the sand. We repositioned, well away from the sand, and as we were to be pitched for several days we thought this was a good opportunity to use the privacy room supplied with the van. We had erected it briefly to see if it was complete a couple of months previously so it took little time to assemble and peg out. We used it more than we imagined during our stay. Bois Soleil won the Alan Rogers Readers Award 2011 and this year, standards had been maintained. The amenity block for “La Mer” area had been updated with wet rooms during the closed season and seemed to be cleaned several times each day. The Wi-Fi reception was not as good as last year, possibly reflecting the growing popularity of mobile devices stuffing the bandwidth. It was good to meet Tony and Anneka who were pitched opposite us last year in a bar over the road one evening and spent a few pleasant hours over drinks and nibbles over the next few days.
All too quickly it was time to leave Saint Georges de Didonne and start heading back for home. Our first destination was a site that Tony and Anneka recommended at Sées, which they use travelling to and from their home in Holland. Just north of Alençon, it is just the right distance when travelling back to Dover or Dunkirk. Camping Municipal Le Clos Normand is perfectly placed to walk into the town centre to explore and for eateries. There is a medium sized Carrefour opposite too, with fuel. The Cathedral is well worth a look. Magnificent stained glass windows and someone was practicing on the grand organ whilst we were there. Tony did mention that they had seen “travellers” on the site on previous stays but none this year. Well they were there when we arrived. Several white transit vans and cars, two caravans to a pitch etc, no trouble until they arrived back at the site late evening. Switching on all their electrical appliances cut the power to the whole site until after 8.00 am the next day. No one could leave the site as the exit barrier was powered. The absence of electric hook-up overnight was not a problem to us really but our (English) neighbours were fuming.
Our last destination before returning to England was Gravelines close to Dunkirk. The Aire is just outside the old town walls next to the river and marina area. Arriving just after lunch on Sunday we had a selection of parking spaces to choose but this is a very popular location and became full by early evening. This is a great spot for chilling, watching the boats coming and going and just a short walk to explore the old walled town and Arsenal. The town is very quiet on a Sunday but the Arsenal museum and gardens were open. Nothing about football here though.
DFDS delivered us safely back to Dover the following afternoon and we were home within two hours. The Aviano didn’t miss a beat, is generally quiet when motorway cruising and returns about twenty five per cent more miles to the gallon than our last, Mercedes based van.
Filed under: South West France 2012 | Tagged: 675G, 808, aire, Alan Rodgers, Alan Rogers, aviano, Bois Soleil, burstner, calais, camping car, Camping Les Acacias, Camping Municipal at Sainte-Maure-De-Touraine, Camping Municipal Gabarreys, Camping Municipal Le Clos Normand, Carrefour, Cathedral, Chateau Gruaud Larose, DFDS, dover, Dunkirk, france, France Assist, gace, Gironde, Gravelines, holiday inn, Maison du Tourisme et du Vin de Pauillac, Marina, motorhome, motorhome blog, nokia, P & O, pauillac, pureview, Royan, sainte maure de touraine, Sées, Verdon, Wi-Fi | Leave a Comment »