Aire de Camping Dieppe 2, Quai de la Marne. N49.55.802 E001.05.191 €12/24h
There is little more unnerving than arriving in a foreign country in the dead of night somewhere you have never been before seeking a safe place to lay your head.
We had driven through the outskirts of Dieppe before, a number of years ago, on our way to Fécamp or Honfleur but we hadn’t done the night sailing from Newhaven to this interesting little port facing our southern coast.
It had been a long day, rising early and making the house tidy and spotlessly clean ready for an imagined host of potential buyers while we were away. The drive from South Yorkshire to the southern coast had taken more than six hours negotiating roadworks on the M1 and traffic on the M25, fighting aggressive lorries and oblivious car drivers with the loss of a wing mirror glass our only injury.
The journey from the tiny terminal at Newhaven adds another four hours only enlivened by a mediocre dinner at their small cafeteria and the time difference meant that it was 22:30 before we drifted slowly into the harbour lit only by the headlamps of fishermen spaced evenly along the breakwater wall or the castle lit brightly and looking down from the hillside.
Our destination was an Aire de Camping on the side of the river just a short distance from the port but with minimal directions it was difficult to find and even more difficult to enter given the sparse instructions affixed to the barrier. Our English neighbour had a similar problem but together we worked out that it was our duty to pay on leaving a sum which made my eyes water momentarily for a parking space on what is little more than a car park.
We woke to the laughing of gulls as they flew high above the chalk cliffs and hurled their faeces at any vehicle looking conspicuously clean. The view from my bedroom was of a sheer white cliff topped by a church spire and a crucified figure almost as tall as the spire itself.
After breakfast we walked over the bridge and around the harbour to check the second Aire de Camping in the port. Far less attractive although with a greater chance of a sea view, the site was overshadowed as is most of Dieppe by the massive chalk cliffs. First recorded as a small fishing settlement in 1030, Dieppe was an important prize fought over during the Hundred Years’ War. The name comes from the Dutch ‘diep’ meaning ‘deep’ and (so Wikipedia tells us) The name was used by exiled Huguenot families, including the ancestors of American actor Johnny Depp.
The sights and sounds of a typical French seaside town began to grow as the day went on. The overwhelming majority of people walking towards us had bread in their hands, usually the thin ‘ficelle’ from which they would tear small pieces to hand to lovers, children or even the dog.
Walking with baguette seems to be a French characteristic seen all over the country and the sight usually makes me begin to salivate. We headed off to the nearest boulangerie to get our own.
This is expected to be a holiday with less driving and more walking so our next destination was to be only a few dozen kilometres away…
2. Saint Valery en Caux
Aire de Camping, Quai d’Aval. N49.52.330 E000.42.560 €6/24h
We were very familiar with Saint Valery sur Somme but less so with its southern namesake so we decided to take the short trip along arrow straight roads to find another coastal port. We had taken the precaution of updating the sat-nav and this meant that the new speed limits of 80 kph for national single carriageways was keeping me to the straight and narrow. French police don’t necessarily agree with the reduction from 90 kph but they will sure as hell enforce it when they can.
The town centres around the marina although it is still a working port. Every day the boats tie up and display their catches on their own sales counter right by the harbour edge. Each counter has the name of the boat and its registration clearly displayed. Any unsold fish is chucked unceremoniously back into the water providing food for other denizens of the deep.
It’s just a short walk to the ‘beach’ and the magnificent view of the cliffs, still chalk and still in danger of falling down as we discovered on the road 100 yards from the Aire.
This is an Aire de Camping that expects you to get to know your neighbours well as the pitches are very narrow and shorted than described. our significant disadvantage is that our main door opens on the ‘wrong’ side for the continent and this means that whether we drive or reverse onto the pitch our door is facing our neighbour’s door. This usually doesn’t matter too much and we’ve met some great people this way but you get the occasional sourpus who drives up as close as he can to you then realises he is almost sitting in your lap and spends the next twelve hours complaining about ‘les Anglais’ and grumbling under his breath.
It didn’t help that he had the features of a gnarled Mr Punch (without the smile) but his wife, who talked to herself incessantly, must have loved him.
Still, waking up with this view out of my bedroom window cannot easily be dismissed!
St Valerie en Caux, named after the saint, is perhaps best known as the place where the British 51st (Highland) Infantry Division commanded by Major General Victor Fortune and French troops surrendered to Erwin Rommel on June 12, 1940. The town was largely destroyed in the fighting in 1940 just prior to the evacuation via Dunkirk.
After breakfast we now had to choose between heading inland towards our first main destination, Paris, or staying on the coast for a further night. We chose the latter and headed south past Fécamp to shop and then on to…
3. St Jouin Bruneval
Aire de Camping, St Jouin Le Plage D111. N49.39.057 E000.09.791 €Free
This is described as a large car park on a hilltop and we are warned that we might feel isolated as it’s a long way from anywhere. After St Valery en Caux this was probably exactly what we needed and we rolled up to find just one other motorhome pitched in the corner of the car park. We parked our little unit a significant distance away and settled down to lunch and a beer.
MBH commented that we should always start these holidays this way, a few overnights on the coast to soak in the ambience and chill before heading into a city or major resort. On this occasion I fully agree with her. I loved the Newhaven – Dieppe crossing because it gave me time to relax from the long drive and takes us a significant distance down the coast beyond our traditional stopping off points of le Touquet or le Crotoy.
The walk down to the little harbour is easy but the return hits the calves like you wouldn’t believe. We saw a number of motorhomes going down the hill and not returning and we had to assume that there was parking somewhere down there but we decided not to try it ourselves.
A leisurely awakening was disturbed by a whole host of middle aged men who appeared on the Aire parking their vehicles haphazardly. We thought at first they were either hunters or fishermen because we had seen various people heading for the shore the day before with buckets in hand presumably for the day’s haul of mussels. Everybody eats mussels; fishy, slimy dangerous food to me.
It turns out they were a secret strimmer swinger party, firing up their petrol-driven strimmers and revving them up to impress their colleagues and piss off the sleeping motorhomers. After taunting us for some minutes they all headed off to do their secret strimmer swinger business in the privacy of the trees and bushes of the forest.
Which reminds me of an excellent article explaining how to stop your strimmer line breaking every few minutes: https://www.strimmerspares.com/strimmer-wire-keeps-breaking/
Later we surmised that they were in fact either on community service unpaid work or volunteers fighting back the ever aggressive forest. In any even we were sufficiently disturbed to get up and pack away our things from the night before, before heading off to our last stop before Paris.
Bruneval is perhaps best known for the British WWII raid codenamed ‘Operation Biting’ which was an airborne assault with the intention of capturing an advanced radar installation there like the one below. The successful raid allowed British scientists to leafrog German advances in radar detection systems.
Camping CarParks. 64 boulevard de Normandie N49°01’23.0″ E1°08’18.9″ €9.20/24h
We had decided to abandon the Aires de Camping temporarily to try out the Camping CarsParks network of mini site s. These are immaculate small sites of between six and twenty pitches usually including electrical hookup and even wifi in the price of around €9 per night. All are protected by key-entry barriers, the key being your membership card which can be topped up either online or at the entry point. The one at Evreux is by the banks of a small river less than five minutes walk from the town centre.
You may notice a small flower bed behind the Tribby. We found this to be a small herb garden provided free for us to use by local volunteers who have their own Facebook page.
Evreux will be lovely… when it’s finished! The whole town is dug up. With massive works around the canal basin. Despite this the town has charm as a university seat of learning, filled with bright young things dashing around putting the world to rights.
After a pleasant overnight here we moved swiftly on to our first ‘big’ stay in the Paris suburb of Maisons Lafitte.
5. Maisons Lafitte, Paris
Sandaya Camping International, 1 Rue Johnson, Maisons Lafitte. N48°56’23.9 E2°08’43.8″ €17/24h with ACSI
This has been our base for exploring Paris over the last 20-25 years. We started in EuroCamp tents and a small car and moved on to static caravans and a small car but recently we have used the motorhome on an ‘independent’ pitch. The prices vary a lot but with the ACSI card and membership the nightly cost is little more than an expensive Aire de Camping.
The campsite sits on an island on a bend of the Seine and is accessed via a small metal bridge which often becomes congested around the time people arrive waiting for Reception to open. On this occasion we took advantage of a nearby car park to rest up and eat lunch.
The town is only ten pleasant minutes walk away and the chateau is well worth a wander around. Being a horse racing venue there are many forest canters and exercise paths to enjoy in the bright autumnal air.
The station at Maisons Lafitte is modern and clean. A Mobilis ticket for zones 1-4 costs €12 a day and covers the whole of Paris as well as the RER journey there and back.
Many of the trains are double decker fast trains and I think the longest we’ve had to wait has been around ten minutes.
We made two excursions into Paris in the three days we stayed. Our first was a shopping trip, calling at the wonderfully opulent Galleries Lafayette and giving me the opportunity to purchase a beautiful headscarfe for MBH, fighting off and around the horde of asian tourists who seemed to have left their usually excellent manners in heir home country.
Inevitably we ended the first day with a visit to our favourite watering hole, Place de la Contrescarpe in the Latin (5th) Quarter at the head of the ancient market street of Rue Mouffetarde.
I was fortunate to spend my first visit to Paris on that wonderful street and, as a teenager, to sample the delights it offered on market day. I vividly remember getting a parcel of fresh goats cheese wrapped in vine leaves, a demi (small baguette) and a cheap bottle of wine and wandering down to the Jardins de Luxembourg for lunch.
The market dates from mediaeval times and has many stories to tell. One is of an ancient tree carved in wood which hangs above a particular shop half way down the street. A more recent controversy is regarding this view:
The building was originally a chocolate factory in the 19th century and depicted its wares by a large sign and a picture of a lady being served the famous brand of chocolate. Some time in the last decade the Parisian trades unions objected to the sign and it was removed. Can you see why? There was no indication that the people portrayed were mistress and servant or that anyone was being mistreated but political correctness won the day and the sign was taken down and now hangs quite innocently in a Parisian museum. T’ant pis as they say!
We had intended our second day to be more active and set off, picnic in rucksack, to the wonderful artificial leisure area of le Parc des Buttes Chaumont. The Buttes-Chaumont Park, in the north-east of Paris, is one of the biggest and original green spaces in Paris, measuring 25 hectares. Its construction on quarries explains its impressive steepness and change in levels and heights. Visitors can appreciate stunning views of the city from this hilly setting, especially in the Montmartre district as you can see from this photograph.
The layout gives it a particular charm: caves and waterfalls, a suspended bridge, and a high viewpoint. The area, just outside the limits of Paris until the mid-19th century, had a sinister reputation; it was close to the site of the Gibbet of Montfaucon, the notorious place where the bodies of hanged criminals were displayed after their executions from the 13th century until 1760. After the 1789 Revolution, it became a refuse dump, and then a place for cutting up horse carcasses and a depository for sewage. The director of public works of Paris and builder of the Park, Jean-Charles Alphand, reported that “the site spread infectious emanations not only to the neighboring areas, but, following the direction of the wind, over the entire city.”
The day started wet and cool so we headed for the restaurant to grab a coffee. For some reason all the tables inside were set for lunch and all the tables and chairs outside bore signs of the recent rain. We quickly drank our mediocre coffes and headed back to the Metro.
I had noticed that the cemetery Père Lachaise was on our route back and so suggested we take our picnic lunch there to eat amongst the graves. For those unfamiliar with Père Lachaise – literally ‘Dad the Chair’ it is an immense cemetery holding the bodies of the world’s rich and famous in a chaotic but also regimented collection of mausoleums, monuments and memorials. So many famous people all coming to the same ending.
You can find the map of the ‘famous people’ here: https://api-site.paris.fr/images/74643
6. Les Montils, Val de Loire
Camping CarParks. Les Montils, Chateaux de Loire, N47.29.414 E 001.18.122 €10.15/24h
Les Montils is a community in the centre of the Val de Loire region which is, itself, in the centre of France. The nearest area of any real interest is Blois, famous for it’s chateaux and for the fact that in 1171, Blois was the site of a blood libel against its Jewish community that led to 31 Jews (by some accounts 40) being burned to death.
Much later Joan of Arc made her base here for the relief of Orleans besieged by the hideously unsaintly English. Note: this was long before the amalgamation of the uncivilised Scots or Irish tribes were amalgamated into Great Britain or the United Kingdom (which has never been fully united from any viewpoint since its inception).
I only mention Les Montils because of an excellent Aire from Camping CarParks there which is a disused camping municipal, with its office and storeroom still intact although the toilet block is now no more than a hole in the ground. Camping CarParks have recently bought this up, installed a barrier and charging machine and the usual services in what is a lovely piece of open parkland next to the river. We stayed overnight for a completely peaceful and restful time after the bustle of Paris.
Sad to say we didn’t get round to visiting its Chateau or the town itself due to an urgent need to press on to…
Camping CarParks, Ile D’Offard, Saumur N47°15’39.0 W000°03’55.5 €12.75/24h
The city of Saumur has long been a favourite of ours and we have spent many happy weeks camping on the banks of the Loire at l’Etang de la Breche or more recently at Flower Camping l’Île d’Offard situated on an island opposite the imposing chateau.
On this occasion we had decided to stick with Camping CarParks (CCP) and use their new site right next door to the Flower Camping campsite on île d’Offard.
To be honest, the last time we stayed at the Flower Camping campsite it was towards the end of the season, mid-September and they had shut almost everything down, the pool was closed, as was the bar and some of the toilet facilities Despite that, they still expected us to pay the full price for camping with a motorhome.
How the owners of CCP managed to persuade the planning department of Saumur to let them build a cheaper Aire next to an established campsite is beyond me. I’m very surprised that Flower Camping didn’t launch strong objections to this obvious competition It’s worth noting that in the time we were there the Aire was almost always full and the campsite had very little traffic.
Nonetheless a short ten minute walk along the bank of the Loire and over the Cessart Bridge brought us smack into the heart of Saumur and we headed towards the market square for a well earned drink, or two…. Saumur has a famous weekly market. Every Saturday morning with hundreds of stalls open for business in the streets and squares of the old town, from before 8am.
Saumur is home to the École Nationale d’Équitation (National School of Horsemanship), known for its annual horse shows in July each year. Much of the west side of the city is given over to parade grounds and garrison buildings all built of the beautiful, but fragile Tuffeau stone quarried from the cliffs above the river and resulting in extensive caves where the locals keep their wine and live as troglodytes in the heat of high summer. It can get hot there as we already know. On a previous visit in our older motorhome we recorded temperatures of 46C dropping only to +30C in the middle of the night.
Saumur is also notable as the birthplace of Coco Chanel, inspiring creator of one of MBH’s favourite perfumes.
But enough for now, we were anxious to get closer to our next main destination, but on the way there we stopped at….
Camping CarParks, rue des Prés du Vivier 17350 Taillebourg N45°49’57.7″ W0°38’47.9 €12/24h
just to break up the journey I decided to head South and explore a new site, again owned by CCP, but intriguingly in the grounds of a chateau built as a stronghold to watch over the river Charente.
We had few neighbours and those who were there kept themselves noisily to themselves. What did surprise me about this aire was that it included showers, toilets and washing facilities. Again, I’m guessing that it’s the remains of an old Municipal.
At last we were in range of our primary destination….
9. Île de Ré
Flower Camping Bel Air, Route de la Noue, 17630 La Flotte. N 46.10.558 W 001.19.517 €17-25/24h deal on longer stays
We have been visiting this charming island for over twenty years and in the last decade we have made it a must. The approach via a curving massively impressive 3 kilometre bridge built as late as 1987 to replace the ferries which served the island.
Over the many years we have visited the island I have taken countless photographs and to include them all in this blog would make it far too long to read. Our first visit was using a tent provided by EuroCamp at a campsite called l’Île Blanche operated by a crusty old madame who was less than enamoured of us cheap tourists. At that time we had camping down to a fine art and within ten minutes of arriving we could be unpacked, set up and our teenage son Jamie would be slapping a couple of trout on a smoking barbecue.
A few years ago we discovered a campsite just outside La Flotte owned by Flower Camping and called ‘Bel Air’. Previously a ‘camping municipal’ it was in the throes of improvement but still retained some of its original charm including a few families who used it for the summer season as a base to farm mussels, oysters and any other crustaceans they could prise from the rocky shores.
We are so familiar with the site that we can book our preferred emplacement well in advance knowing exactly where we will pitch up. Then it’s just a short walk or cycle ride into La Flotte, arguably the prettiest port; or to St Martin, the acknowledged capital of the island.
We love shopping, especially market shopping and we knew there was a great open air market every Saturday morning at Le Bois Plage so we cycled the ten or so kilometres on the Saturday morning to find first that the market had extended even further and second that it was now every day rather than once a week. We managed to pick up a couple of very good quality foutas tunisienne, the big beach towel things, and a nice ‘local’ tee shirt for one of the grandkids.
Last year we cycled the extra kilometre to the beach. A fabulous stretch of golden sand, it is impossibly crowded by the Parisians in August but virtually deserted in September.
This year we decided to forego this pleasure and cycle further through the vineyards to La Cuarde, an unspoiled village with another fine beach. I suspect that next year we may spend a few days at least on a campsite between here and Ars en Ré. St Martin-de-Ré also has a night market around the marina but this ends at the end of August so we missed out this time.
One of our special pleasures is to end the afternoon at a dockside bar called Le Bariolé. We are creatures of habit as these two genuine shots of us in 2017 and again in 2018 show. Virtually same seats, same glasses and probably the same Côte de Bourg red wine. All served with a beaming smile by a substantial lady with a rough but ready character.
Last year we discovered a coastal walk from La Flotte to St Martin-de-Ré which passes a number of WWII fortifications and goes through the fortifications of the Citadel. This impressive fortification has a fascinating history. For example, in 1627, an English invasion force under the command of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham attacked the island in order to relieve the Siege of La Rochelle. After three months of combat in the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré against the French under Marshal Toiras, the Duke was forced to withdraw. The English lost 5,000 out of 7,000 troops during the campaign. Albert Dreyfus was imprisoned there on his way to Devil’s Island.
It is claimed that the citadel was made big enough to protect all the citizens of the island although latterly it was used as a prison, it still houses the Ministry of Justice Prison Administration department.
The pathway to St Martin-de-Ré passes through a short tunnel where some local artists paint both images and poetry as the mood takes them.
A word of caution, if you are taking this pathway then watch out for cyclists. The route is banned to cyclists but they seem to lose the ability to read when cycling past the signs forcing pedestrians to leap out of the way to avoid a painful collision.
The farthest end of the island is a little too far for us amateur cyclists to reach and so Les Portes or Phare des Baleines can easily be reached by the hourly bus. We pick this up from Vierge, just a couple of hundred yards from the campsite and the journey takes around three quarters of an hour for €5. On this occasion the ticket machine was bust so both journeys were free of charge. We got of at St Clements l’Eglise and walked the wide pathway through to Phare des Baleines for an excellent lunch at Chez Marie.
The place is much more commercialised than on our previous visit but lots of authentic souvenir shops offer their wares to the eager tourist. We bought nothing though I was tempted by some biere de caramel salée, just to see what it tasted like.
Despite extending our stay twice we eventually had to leave and continue our journey, turning north to…
10. Batz sur Mer, Les Paludiers (The Salt Marsh Workers)
Flower Camping. Rue Appert, 44740 Batz-sur-Mer. N47°16’42.5″ W002°29’32.0″ €17/24h with ACSI
We had identified another Flower Camping site, Les Paludiers, on the outskirts of Batz and within easy cycling distance of La Baule or Croisic on the Atlantic coast. We arrived in heavy rain trying to find a campsite which our sat-nav system emphatically directed us to a point around 100 metres offshore. We resisted and finally found ourselves around 250 metres on solid ground in a campsite with damp sandy pitches but a pretty and efficient receptionist who offered us a choice of pitches from a photocopied map. We found the driest and settled down for our first evening indoors for the last three weeks.
As you might expect, the rain doesn’t seem to last long over here and by the next day the skies were clearing and we decided to cycle the four or five kilometres into Croisic. We visited Croisic briefly many years ago and my memories of it are sketchy. The cycle path took us first left then right crossing over roads and around roundabouts leading eventually to a thin pavement just on the outskirts of town. When the path petered out we ventured down a narrow road and found ourselves at the end of the marina.
Croisic is reminiscent of St Valerie sur Somme. A long finger of river filled with pleasure boats leading to a wide estuary with sandbanks and paths meandering through. Like St Valerie it is lined with shops offering ‘produits regionaux’ (souvenirs) and small bars specialising in…. seafood, again!
At the end of this line of retail temptations past the hotels we stood on the promontory and enjoyed a 360 degree view of the wide expanse of sea and islets.
Croisic does not have a major historical past but one point of note, the German navy army constructed a radar station there to protect the docks they built in nearby St Nazare after the fall of France to repair big navy ships such as the Tirpitz and Bismarck. British commandos with an obsolete boat snuck under their radar and rammed the dry dock gate putting it out of commission until the war was over.
We had considered cycling to La Baule, another favourite venue but it looked both distant and complicated so we picked up the bus outside the campsite and for €1.80 each we were delivered right to the central market. By this time we were in need of sustenance so called at the restaurant of l’Alcyon hotel for their ‘petit dejeuner’. We were surprised and dismayed to find that this was no longer on the menu because they had run out of croissants (in France?) but they offered us warm bread, butter and jam with coffee and orange juice as a fitting replacement.
The campsite of Les Paludiers is attractive if a little confusing to find your way around with some pitches being approached via a tortuous one-way system. The covered swimming pool is, however, excellent both for serious adults and children at play. I got my 1 km swim in with little difficulty. I’m not able to comment on the bar or restaurant since neither seemed to be open – the site closes mid-September. Pretty soon we were on our way to our next destination, within striking distance of…
11. Mont St Michel, Pontorson
Camping Haliotis, Boulevard Patton – 50170 Pontorson. N 48.33.288 W 001.30.512 €17/24h with ACSI
We had been advised by our good friends Carol and Andy of a campsite in Pontorson about 9 km from the island. Camping Haliotis is the real name of the campsite but everyone slips into the habit of calling it Camp Hallitosis.
The site is beautiful, emplacements bordered on three sides by established hedges, a central area with shrubs and seating maintained with almost zen-like care, a modern clean toilet block and washing facilities, a bar which was open most of the day, a shop, a bookswap and a lounging pool close enough to your drinks. We are avid fans of bookswaps on campsites. Andy and Carol had given us a number of books before leaving Île de Ré and I had already finished an excellent book by John Grisham, The Painted House. MBH had cleared a couple of paperbacks and so we headed to the bookswap and a pre-dinner glass of wine. Unusually the cabinet was carefully laid out with shelves for each language clearly labelled and, joy of joy, a couple of dvds including a compilation of a British comedy sketch show to supplement our depleting stock of videos and tv options.
I could hardly wait to hop on the bicycles and head off to the amazing structure which is Mont St Michel. Nine kilometres along a dead straight cycle path leaving the campsite and ending up on the barrier just by the entrance to the MSM causeway.
We came here many years ago with out teenage son. In those days the causeway could only be negotiated at low tide and the place was busy but tremendously calm, people struck dumb by the grandeur and tranquillity of the place. Times have changed! Now the causeway is in part a bridge and a free bus takes you to the entrance if you can fight past the rude Japanese students who seem to be overwhelmingly everywhere. At the other end of the journey we found ourselves pushed backwards and forwards trying to avoid young Japanese girls posing for fashion shots with the mount in the background, swirling a cape or a floppy hat and taking up the full width of the pedestrian causeway.
Our experience of Japanese youth up to this point has been totally positive, we played host to two Japanese scouts a number of years ago and they amazed us with their good manners and friendliness. I would like to think that these tourists were atypical but I’ve seen similar rudeness in the big Parisian stores like Galleries Haussmann.
The origins of Mont St. Michel, or the Merveille de l’Occident, can be traced back to a legend that has the archangel Michael appearing in a series of dreams to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in 1107. Second only to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Mont-Saint Michel was an important pilgrimage of faith during the Middle Ages. Such was the difficulty of the journey that it became a test of penitence, sacrifice, and commitment to God to reach the Benedictine abbey.
During the Hundred Years’ War, the Kingdom of England made repeated assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey’s strong fortifications. When news of the island’s stand against the English reached a young peasant girl in Orléans, south-west of Paris, the tide would turn against England in the Hundred Years’ War. That girl was Joan of Arc, and so inspired was she at the story of resistance at Mont St Michel, she would help recapture France from the English.
Far too soon we had to pack the bikes away again and set off on a short journey to an Aire between here and Le Touquet.
12. St Romain de Colbosc
Aire de Camping. off D6015. N49.31.245 E 000.20.821 €Free/72h
We were surprised when we eventually located this little Aire de Camping (my bad driving not MBH’s directions) to find that it was both free of charge and provided un-metered electricity to most of the 20 or so emplacements. Clearly popular with French locals ‘in the know’ this provided a weekend meeting point for friends to catch up with life and gossip. Oh, if only we had anything like this in the disUnited Kingdom! The Aire isn’t near anywhere special but a free night’s camping in very clean and attractive surroundings cannot be sniffed at. Bright and early the next morning we were packed away and heading towards…
13. Le Touquet, Caravaning Stoneham
Caravaning Stoneham. 625 Avenue François Godin 62520 N 50.30.398 E 001.35.229 €25+/24h
We have used this site before as an alternative to the Le Touquet Aires both of which are overpriced and offer nothing much more than a roadside parking place. We had stayed in one of them on a number of occasions and were strikingly unimpressed. The walk into Le Touquet is the same distance as from the campsite but a nicer walk coupled with all the facilities of a campsite.
Caravaning Stoneham attracts a lot of British motorhomers because of its location. The town is popular especially with golfers from whom it makes most of its income. The campsite is old and the majority of emplacements are occupied by static caravans leaving just a couple of dozen grassy pitches for the more mobile brethren. The single toilet block is primitive and less than clean with a couple of toilet cubicles and shower booths which show their age in the grime separating the tiles on the walls and floor.
Our regular pursuit is a brisk walk along the Avenue Altantique, down the Rue de Metz onto the only real shopping street of the town. Or alternatively we follow the Avenue to its end and then promenade on the extensive paths leading towards the swimming complex and the dunes. This is not to be recommended if the weather is bad or the wind high as it really bites into your bones on the exposed walk along the seas front. The town is full of segregated cycle paths making it ideal for cycling but on this visit we left the bikes where they were and exercised our leg muscles in a different way.
Invariably we end up at our favourite bar, the Globetrotter, where we can sit outside with a coffee or a glass of wine later in the day and watch the world go by in its amusing and ever varying fashion. If you want further exercise then the walk past the shops and past the impressive Westminster Hotel is recommended. On this occasion we ended up at a brasserie called Le Savane for another coffee and a dish of Welsh Simple, the French version of Welsh Rarebit which is served as a single slice of toast drowned in a cheese fondue topped with parmesan and brought to a temperature ten degrees below that of the sun. There is so much cheese that the proprietress felt the need to warn us of this fact when taking our order. The cheese was amusingly described as ‘Chester’ cheese but delicious. Go figure!
From Le Touquet we just have time to collect our thoughts before we are at our final stop of the holiday…
14. Calais, Cité Europe
Aire de Camping.1001 Boulevard du Kent, 62902 Coquelles N 50.56.557 E 001.48.638 €Free/48h
Over the years I’ve seen a change in this shopping centre. Most recently it’s the number of vacant lots. The shopping centre isn’t massive in the first place but now around 25% of the shops are boarded up. The other thing that’s changed, for me, is the absence of real bargains. The Tesco shop that used to sell bargain wine deals is now a poncy wine outlet with prices significantly higher than the equivalent wine in the UK. One shop here which invariably yields a good bargain which disappeared from the UK high street more than a decade ago is C&A. I have a briefs drawer at home stuffed full of excellent budgie smugglers at a ridiculously low price. This time I wasn’t disappointed, I needed a padded gilet for the winter. In the shops over here in France the prices varied between €39 and €79 and I had put off spending that sort of money until I had to bite the bullet. Prices in the UK are even higher – up to £99 for a mid range lightweight gilet.
Welcome to C&A where there were racks and racks of reasonable quality items for €29. Get in! When I got to the till I found that everything wasn’t as I expected because, like most of the items in the store, the gilets were reduced by 50%. Wow! I had my warm gilet for around £12 and change.
The motorhome car park at Cité Europe is an Aire de Camping. Many people express real trepidation at the thought of staying there overnight but with the new Aire a long way from the town centre and the dockside Aires now closed and in the process of being rebuilt into offices we would stay there and risk it. Probably the best night sleep I’ve had for a while. We woke up bright and early for our short drive to the ferry port and the long journey home to…