Post 10 The very last days…Home via Austria, Switzerland and France!

Into a less visited, but stunning part of Switzerland, Appenzell, we stopped at a free riverside aire just outside town, and walked in. I used to live in Switzerland, so loved hearing the Cowbells!

Lovely painted buildings, some updated with a modern twist.

Appenzell is one of the older Swiss cantons, and still practice democracy in the old fashioned way. Once a year, since 1403, the community gather in the square. A church service and lunch are followed by 3 hours of voting on local issues. Men vote by raising hands or swords, women with their hands. (It is a little known fact that women in Switzerland were not able to vote at all until 1971!) Photo not mine!

Their shops also sell an alarming array of potential souvenirs! Crossbow anyone!

A lovely, peaceful night, then we treated ourselves to a cable car up to Hoher Kasten, with stunning views at the junction of 4 countries – Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Liechtenstein (and a very strong wind!).

We had coffee in the revolving restaurant . Chris nearly lost his hat!!

We drove past Lake Constance. The opposite shore is Freidrickshafen where Zeppelin airships were, and still are made. We were lucky enough to see one flying over the lake. On to beautiful Stein am Rhein, with the most beautiful decorated houses we have seen.

Finally, to Neuhausen, to see the Rhine falls. Not the highest, or widest, but with a phenomenal amount of water pouring over them each day – up to 600 cubic metres per second in spring spate.

From here, we pressed on across Germany and into France, to spend the night at a lovely free aire near Colmar, next to a pretty grotto for Our Lady of Lourdes!

Next morning, we did a self guided tour of pretty Colmar. The many timbered houses are 15th century, coming from a time when this was a very successful merchant centre.

The church contains a rare 15th century artwork , which was stolen in 1972, and then ‘found’ in 1979! Not exactly portable!!

Ten minutes drive up the vine clad hills into the Vosges mountains is Kayserberg. Also worth a stop. More beautiful houses, and a ruined hill fort with great views.

Crossing the Vosges, looking lovely in Autumn colours, we drove to Champagne country, near Rheims, making a special detour to the Lac du Der. We have wanted to visit here for many years because it is where a rather remarkable bird event happens. Each autumn. Literally thousands of Eurasian Crane fly in here as a stop on their way south for the winter. We were a few weeks early for the larģe numbers… but maybe a few had come early? The huge lake was showing the devastating effect of the Long, dry summer. The water was a long way off. But… what was that… a long skein of birds flying in. Could it be…. yes it was! Crane! In all we were privileged to see about 200 birds before we had to continue our journey.

Arriving at Champagne country, we found a super free aire right next to the river at Mareuil sur Ay. Champagne houses were everywhere, and we awoke to the heady aroma of fermenting grapes…hic!

Our last day was spent doing a lovely walk along the river, doing a large shop at Super U, and visiting the Champagne house of Canard Duchene.

Very interesting it was too. When Chris discovered that Champagne making is quite akin to beer brewing, and 1 vine = 1 bottle, he started to rethink his home brew plans! We also learned that the bottles need to be turned every day. A good bottle turner can turn 40,000 per day! The cellars were built in 1868. They are miles long, and have 11 million bottles stored. In World War 1 and 2, their chateau was destroyed, but many of the cellars were bricked up, so they were never discovered. I cannot drink wine, so Chris enjoyed both glasses!

Then a drive up to Avion, near Lens, just 1 hour from Calais passing through the Canadian war cemetery there. Very poignant.

A super, peaceful, free aire again provided by the village, meant a good nights sleep. Then a 1 hour misty drive to Calais and our P&O ferry home – excellent value for £58 using the Caravan and Motorhome Club discount.

Now… can we make it home in time for the Pub Quiz?

What a fantastic trip this has been. 3,500 miles. We hope you have enjoyed reading it. I will update it soon to list campsites.

P.S We did make it home for the pub quiz… and we won!!

South in 15 days, North in 2!

We left Seville Tuesday morning and headed north, using the excellent, and toll free, route 66 through eastern Spain. We had a stop at the fascinating city of Merida, which was once a hugely important Roman city. This is evident from the extensive buildings which remain interspersed with more modern buildings. We could only visit the amphitheatre, classic theatre, temple of Diana and casa del Mitrio, however  you can buy an inclusive ticket to all the monuments. and the museum.

In addition, the 9th century moorish castle contains a fascinating well. It is housed in a building and reached by a divided descending stairway so that donkeys could be brought down to collect water and go up the other side.

After Merida we pressed on Northwards to a city I have always wanted to visit, Salamanca.

We arrived at 8pm and found the free parking under the bridge. We walked into town because we had heard it was wonderful at night.  We were immediately bowled over by the network of historic syreets and beautiful sandstone buildings, all illuminated. The Plaza Major is a jewel. We ate delicious tapas at the Vegetarian Cafe Atelier and wandered back to Boris.

Salamanca is full of history, and home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The next morning we explored the city again, climbing the Bell Tower and visiting the Old and New Cathedrals, which are woven into one. They contained some of the best mediaeval wall painting and altar paintings that we have ever seen.

Our time was limited so we did not visit inside the Old University buildings or the architectually lovely Art Deco museum ..  we are saving that for next time!

We did find a super restaurant, En La Parra, for a final special lunch… a delicious and creative tasting menu for 37 euros. A great end to the Iberian part of our holiday. Luckily we have done lots of walking so we havent put any weight on! The food has been marvellous everywhere.

LThen a long drive north almost to the Spanish border with France. Another free night opposite Orio before some Spanish supermarket shopping to buy ‘essentials’ like my favourite Salmorejo soup!Crossing into France we stopped at a bird reserve and with the help of a Grey wagtail, a Greylag goose and a humble blue tit took our bird list total over 100 for the trip. 

Finally our drive north continued to Pons for 2 days with friends before sailing home from Cherbourg on Saturday. What a great trip!

We will have driven nearly 3000 miles.. this map shows our route.

Finally… a proper Bimble in Boris. Hurray!

Chris restaurant Le VeyWe are finally doing a proper Bimble in Boris.

As usual, we waited until 24 hours before departure to decide on a destination. Our choices were the Isle of Man and Ireland, or Brittany. Long range weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable, but although things looked more promising for South and Eastern England, the northwest was cool and unsettled. So… France won!

June 8th/9th/10th 2017

Thursday night saw us having the most amazing evening out with some of the family. We went to Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, the Fat Duck for Dinner. Oh My. We loved it. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but for us – Definitely the best dining experience EVER!

Dinner finished at Midnight, then it was a 2 hour drive home (thanks to road closures), bed at 3am with the alarm set for 6.00am. Up we got and set off for Poole to catch the Barfleur ferry to Cherbourg!

So glad we booked a cabin! We slept for 4 hours and were fairly refreshed on arrival.

With no set itinerary we decided to head for an area in Normandy that had always intrigued me – Suisse Normande.

It did not disappoint. An area of deeply cut river gorges about 40km Southwest of Caen, it was charming, beautiful and best of all, fairly quiet despite it being a summer weekend evening. We found a fantastic Aire just outside the village of Pont d’Ouilly (prizes awarded for correct pronounciation!). Aires are the super system of cheap or free areas for motorhomes across France. It was on the riverbank, with pitches separated by hedges. Electricity and water included for the grand sum of 9 euros. It was SO peaceful.  We went for a walk along the pretty river Orme and then slept very well…not waking up until 8.45 – very unusual for me!

Next morning we drove to La Vey, a pretty village near the river cliffs. Our objective was to climb Sugar loaf Mountain (Pain de sucre). This was quite a pull uphill but the views from the top were splendid. We walked along the ridge, past a paragliding launching site, marvelling at them leaping off the top. We weren’t tempted by the offer of a tandem flight though!

After working up an appetite, and achieving my desired step count by lunchtime, we found a lovely café by the river, Au fil de l’Eau, and reacquainted ourselves with the ‘Menu du jour’ – 3 courses for 16 euros. Excellent – no need to cook in the van tonight!  We sat by the water on a flower bedecked terrace sipping “une pression et un panache” and watching birds, boats and canoes!

I should point out that our decision to head to France was now totally vindicated – a lovely French lunch and the temperatures were around 25 degrees so I was happily wearing shorts and a short sleeved blouse. The fleeces were packed away – for now anyway!

After lunch, Chris could hardly contain his excitement… I had discovered that in the next village, Clecy,  there was one of the largest model railways in Europe! We walked up to see it. Even I was impressed. It was HUGE. 350 square metres of layout and half a kilometre of track  with so many beautifully crafted scenes. Lots of locomotives whizzing round, moving scenery AND they put the lights out and it was illuminated for night time!

Oh Dear… Chris has now got even grander designs, and wants a bigger cabin for his train layout!

Then we said goodbye to Suisse Normande and headed for our main objective – Brittany. A beautiful early evening drive across country for 2 hours, hardly seeing anyone else, brought us to Nozay, north of Nantes and on the edge of Brittany. We were aiming for another aire, again with water and electricity, but just 8 euros, and alongside 4 lakes. One of the lakes was for watersports and we spent the lovely sunny evening watching the automated tow machine taking wake boarders around the circuit and over the jumps – some more successfully than others. Again we slept like logs!

17. Last legs! Charente Maritime to Christchurch, England!

Another day catching up with Jenny and Tim (I wish they would stop running off!), and visiting the lovely and historic town of Saintes (rhymes with pant!). Roman and gothic relics abound and the newly pedestrianised centre makes it a super place to Bimble away a morning. The formal planting was quite impressive too!20150918_115743The serious business of the trip was to find a good lunch spot. We can wholeheartedly recommend La Terrasse, by the river, whose 18 euro 3 course lunch was exceptionally good quality and value.20150918_13130420150918_140343

Rain was forecast for the rest of the  afternoon so we headed back to the house and had a good session of cards and nattering.

Saturday September 19th

My birthday! A nice breakfast and a lovely gift of a picture frame from Jenny and Tim, before our sad departure 😔. Thank you to Jenny, Tim, Mimi and Monti for a super stay, but Mimi…. you need to improve your hide and seek technique before our next visit!20150918_103452

We headed north via the outskirts of Rochefort and La Rochelle. This is an excellent way to avoid motorway tolls!

We used to own a cottage in the Vendee and as we drove by we resisted the pull to go and see the village …We had a more important mission!

When we had the cottage we also had a favourite vineyard.. Chateau de Rosnay. We wanted to get there before it shut for lunch!

We made it in time, and soon 2 boxes of our favourite white wine – Tendresse – were installed in Boris. Time to head north again, picking up the autoroute just south of Nantes from where it is free all the way to Rennes and Caen.

It was a good drive. We stopped to picnic on the Nantes – Brest canal, but that was our only pause before arriving at Carrefour at Ouistreham to stock up with cheese and other ‘essentials’.

However we were not heading straight for the ferry. By using the ferry at 8.30am next morning we saved £140, and having the camper we could sleep in an aire free of charge so didn’t need to pay for a hotel room. So we crossed the river at the site of Pegasus bridge and went a few miles east to Cabourg, where we enjoyed a bracing walk along the promenade and the dunes before returning to Boris to get changed.20150919_18582220150919_190601

I had booked a restaurant for dinner using their Internet booking site. Au pied des Marais had super reviews and we were very excited. When we arrived  it was a bit of a shock when they said they had not received the booking and were full. My face fell and they took pity on us and found us a table. Wow am I glad they did. The food was exquisite and very unusual. Presentation was excellent and the service was so courteous and helpful. The owner / head chef was charming – he takes all the orders and serves the main courses , and is often clearing tables and serving drinks and chatting to his guests. There was a roaring fire which some of the dishes were cooked upon.

For our foodie fans, here are some photos of our choices. Nibbles were followed by 2 amuse bouche – a veloute of carrot, pleurotte and broccoli and a broccoli, and chorizo mix with tomato cream on top.20150919_205435

Starters – Chris had Oysters while I had a tower of Lisette (tiny fish) with vegetables and asparagus topping in a gazpacho coulis. 20150919_210943Then the Trou normande. . A delicious apple sorbet over which they drizzled Pommeau (16%) or Calvados (42%) – your choice!

Entrée –  we both had Skate in a tower with vegetables, spinach puree and a sensational apple cream sauce. 20150919_214600Then cheese – a bon bon Normande  which was a parcel of melting camembert.20150919_221015

Finally, the dessert and to my astonishment mine arrived with a candle and Birthday greetings piped around the edge, and served by the owner..who offered to sing but said he didn’t recommend it!20150919_22301420150919_223023

Finally coffee with home made bonbons!

Sublime. And the price of that whole menu was 36 euros..  about £27.50.

What a treat. Thank you again Chris as this was the second half of my birthday present!

Finally, we left at 11pm, and went from the sublime to the ridiculous. We drove back to the port at Ouistreham and Boris crept in to the aire next to the docks, where about 40 other campers were already hunkered down for the night. We found a spot and snuggled down for our last night in Boris for this holiday. We set the alarm for 6.45 and both slept like logs!

Sunday September 20th

The alarm worked and we were soon queueing at the ferry terminal. It was a foggy start but it soon lifted and we had a flat calm crossing, arriving into Portsmouth by lunchtime. Best of all, we spotted a gannet and an arctic tern which took our bird total from a frustrating 149 to a brilliant 151 for the holiday!20150920_124925

Then home, and after some unpacking etc. Jen arrived home and cooked us a delightful birthday dinner. 20150920_19275320150920_195739Delicious. 💗 A fabulous end to a great trip.

16. A roof over our heads!! St. Emilion to Pons, Charente Maritime

Wednesday September 16th

The Yelloh campsite at St Emilion was excellent and we got all our chores done before leaving and driving West,  through Libourne and out along the Dordogne estuary to Bourg. From there we followed the Gironde corniche road to Villeneuve and on to Blaye. It was narrow in places but very quiet, and it was interesting to see the houses built here, with their gardens down to the water.

At Blaye the Dordogne river has merged with the Garonne river to form the huge Gironde estuary. Blaye was first defended by the Romans. Subsequently a significant 12th century castle was built when the area was under English rule, but today what can be seen is a huge citadel built in 1685.

Boris at the citadel at Blaye.
Boris at the citadel at Blaye.

King Louis XIV wanted to defend the estuary and he commissioned Sebastian Le Prestre Vaubon to devise a plan. The estuary was wider than the range of cannon fire, so Vaubon devised a plan to bolt the estuary shut. He built the citadel at Blaye, Fort Medoc on the opposite bank and a small fort on a reclaimed sandbank in the middle. These were not subjected to attack until 1814!

We explored the citadel, dodging a few spots of rain. There is ample free parking  for campers just outside the gates, and it is a nice overnight stop as well. There is also a municipal campsite inside the citadel!!

It was then time to head for a supermarket to stock up on some essentials… wine, Normandy cider, confit de canard…. before taking the excellent D137 north to Pons to avoid the motorway tolls. Every other vehicle seemed to be a campervan heading south. British, German,  French and Netherlands. It made us sad to be heading home, but first we were heading to our friends in Villars-en-Pons for a few days.

We had a lovely afternoon and evening catching up on news and enjoying a scrumptious Fruits de mer supper. I’ve never seen so many Oysters and Prawns, and the Crab was wonderful.20150916_181815

Now to sleep in a bed for the first time in a long while.

Thursday September 17th

We heard on the news about terrible rainstorms to the south of us which had resulted in 2 deaths, and then saw that there had also been torrential rain in the UK with flooding in Bournemouth and Boscombe at home. We were obviously very lucky to have missed most of it!

Today we headed out to Talmont, a lovely village on a promontory founded by King Edward I. The old church is lovely – very simple, and looking out over the estuary as it has done for nearly 1000 years. The town is quite a tourist trap but still very pleasant. The streets are lined with flowers and there are some excellent artisan shops and eateries.

Fishing was a major industry here, and the adjoining cliffs have traditional carrelets or fishing huts.20150917_150131

We had excellent and very reasonable  galettes for lunch at La Talmontaise, and then drove to Palmyre  for a blustery walk along the cliffs, again looking out to the estuary, but much nearer the open Atlantic now. There is a beautiful sandy beach here which is dotted with the remains of Nazi blockhouses from their Atlantic Wall defences in WW2.20150917_142922

Following the walk we headed back to Jenny and Tim ‘ s via a garden centre where we spotted the latest must have accessory to enable you to take your dog or cat for a walk…20150917_165742..the doggy pushchair!

Then back to Jenny and Tim’s for another excellent supper and then a very giggly evening of cards!

13. The rain in Spain stays mainly on the Plain… nearly! Itxaspe Spain, to Labenne France!

Sunday 13th September

After a weird nights sleep (when I was sure I was rolling out of bed…but the slight slope was in the opposite direction) we reviewed the weather. Rain had been forecast, but was downgraded to showers so we decided to do a 3 mile circular walk from the campsite along the strikingly beautiful Basque coast. This area is notable for its cliffs and coves. 20150913_120235

20150913_112421.

We were at the junction of horizontal black Flysch rock, which resulted in huge wave cut platforms,20150913_112926 and vertically folded white limestone. 20150913_114523It was a super, if very hilly, walk, only slightly marred by the arrival of a shower towards the end. Waterproofs were donned for the first time this holiday and we finished the walk nice and dry inside them. By the time we reached Boris the rain had stopped, and within 30 minutes the waterproofs were dry!

Then we suddenly decided to say goodbye to Spain and drive into France.

One hour later we were pulling into a carpark in St Jean de Luz, just south of Biarritz.20150913_171717

St Jean de Luz is a beautiful town that has had good fortune throughout the years. Firstly it became a wealthy port due to lucrative fishing in Newfoundland. Naval wars in the 16th and 17th centuries put an end to this, but the armed ships were put to use by the naval Corsairs .. legalised pirates one might say. They brought great riches back to the town, and many grand buildings were built, including the unbelievable church, with its 3 tiers of galleries!20150913_17460020150913_175125

This was also the church where King Louis 14th married Maria-Therese the daughter of the Spanish king, in 1660. This was to seal a pact between the 2 countries and end years of war, which also meant St Jean de Luz was no longer attacked and pillaged from both sides!!

The town’s last wave of glory was between the World Wars, when it attracted the rich and famous from around the world.  A cubist casino was built and some super grand villas. It is a beautiful town and we really enjoyed walking out onto the cliffs, and then back along the mile long promenade to the port. Ice creams were obligatory!

The old town centre is very pretty, 20150913_172220and the shops reflect it’s continuing status as a chic place to be seen. Paris boutiques and gourmet food shops abound including those selling the renowned Espelette poivrons, often with very impressive displays of them outside!

Espelette poivrons (peppers)
Espelette poivrons (peppers)

We would definitely like to return here. There is an aire but it was crowded and noisy. Another time we would consider Camping Cote de mer in the next bay, but today we drove north another 40kms to Labonne Ocean where there is a large aire. We chose this because it is just a few miles from the Marais d’Orx bird reserve that we want to visit early tomorrow morning.

Despite the shower, I am pleased to say that it is still warm enough for shorts, and today is the  20th day in succession I have worn shorts! I want to live in a warmer climate!!!