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Thursday, 5 July 2012

France, Part 2

Day 4 – 28/6/12
We drove via the secondary roads into France and camped in Biarritz at; Camping Biarritz, which is very nice and clean.
There were a whole lot of Aussies camped there.
Avril driving; 288 km; 6 hrs; N 430 24’ 45.3’’ W 0010 34’ 04.4’’

Day 5 – 29/6/12
After a lazy start to the day, we drove to Bordeaux. We managed to get onto the no toll road, which turned out to be a 4 lane highway. We did some chores in the afternoon. The most surreal part of the day: singing along to the Jamaica song in French, you know the one “my heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town” (Kurt: from your grand dad’s time).
Camped at the Village de Lac (€ 22/night, including power), on a transport route out of the city and with newish & clean facilities.
Avril driving; 203 km; 3 hrs; N 440 53’ 47.2’’ W 0000 35’ 04.4’’

Day 6 – 30/6/12
Fortunately we picked the wine fete time to visit Bordeaux – by chance not by planning! The fete is spread out along the river with wine and food stands. Very similar to the Norwood street festival. The Bordeaux fete is to promote local produce, so there was not the range or diversity in eating – but what we had (foie gras sandwich, steak etc) was nice. We are not great connoisseurs of wine, so cannot comment on the quality. It seemed to be mainly a Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot blend. Though you needed to ask to get the grape variety. From our perspective, based on what we tasted, we probably prefer the Australian drop.

At the start of the day we bought a book of vouchers (entrance is free) which allows a number of tastings. Now, it has to be said that 50% of our team did not do so well in using the vouchers, however out of pure selflessness, the other 50%, “took one for the team” and made sure that, by the end of the night, all the vouchers had been used. It can be said that the 50% who failed to achieve KPIs (under achieved) in the voucher section over achieved in the dessert section. Not sure if this compensates???

For some reason there seemed to be a lot of Kiwi’s here – both at the camp ground and at the fete. Not that we are complaining!

As per the guide book, the Tourist Information office in the city is super helpful. The public transport worked well. So with the reasonable weather, we had a great day. Probably the Norwood festival has more stands and a greater diversity. Plus, with the music (there was very little music at the fete) and general atmosphere, there is a lot more energy in Norwood. It is probably a bit more of a party.

When we got back to the camp ground, at 22:00, there were a large number of tents pitched very close to, around us and our power had been unplugged – not so friendly. The night started off poorly with some local chaps playing beach volley ball near us and screaming at each point. Ray went over and requested a bit of quiet and they stopped yelling.

Then the very large camp group arrived back at ~ 23:30. We could see any chance of a good night’s sleep going out the window. Ray went and had a bit of a chat to the security man and the response was, this is France, this is Bordeaux i.e. too bad, it is only one night, suck it up. At ~ 01:30 we thought, nah, this is enough. So, Ray went over to ask for some quiet. In hindsight, probably not the most intelligent thing to do as this was a very large group and when he got there a few of them were clearly very drunk. So a couple of the drunk ones decided that violence was probably the best way to stop any debate and got up to carry out their plan. A few of the younger chaps, obviously the more intelligent ones, thought that violence was probably not a good plan and intervened – but there was a bit of pushing.  Avril, decided that the situation demanded use of our self -protection devices (bought in RSA, but not used to this point) and set off the noise horn. So, with things looking like they may get a bit out of hand, Ray went back to the security man and asked for the police. The cops came quite quickly and the situation was diffused – the party ended and we (after the adrenalin had left our systems) went to sleep at 2am. The group then decided that 07:00 was a good time to wake and get on the road. Wonderful!

Interestingly, the French folks said they were not French, rather Roma/travellers/gypsies. We have been told a few times along the way that the theft etc is by these folks, not locals. Not sure if this is an urban myth or has some basis in fact.

Day 7– 1/7/12
After a chat to camp management (who sympathised and compensated us) we set off on the famous Medoc wine route. We knew Sunday was not the best time, but the guide book showed a number of cellars would be open. We are not sure when the guide book was written, but on this Sunday, NO cellars were open. The under achieving 50% thought that was a good  thing, as the over achiever may benefit from some time without wine – despite all the health surveys showing how good it is for you. The drive was very nice and we saw a number of storybook Chateaux’s. Still, being a bit “small town”, we thought that McLaren Vale, the Barossa and the Clare Valley can hold their own when compared to Bordeaux. Plus, it was a pity they did not have the tastings and picnic lunch platters etc you can get in Oz. They seem to be missing a trick here.

With the lack of tastings, our drive was shorter than expected, so we ended up going a bit further and camping at a typical European summer, near the beach, camp: La Palace at Soulac de Mer. After pitching camp, the neighbours (Germans) came over to say g’day and asked us over for drinks.
Ray driving; 133 km; 5 hrs; N 450 29’ 51.8’’ W 0010 07’ 51.0’’

Day 8– 2/7/12
We drove through the west side of the Medoc part of the Bordeaux region. This area is probably not as picturesque as the “Medoc” route. We then drove to the Entre Deux Mers appelation (tell me you are not impressed with the knowledge! Thanks for the map, Will). We finally managed to find a winery/chateau that was open, Chateau Le France. They gave us a great personal tour and tasting. We bought  some very drinkable Clairet. We then drove to the Saint-Emilion appelation.

The perceptive reader will have noticed we are covering less distance and not doing all that much in the day. This is because we have seamlessly, without any clear decision, slipped into the European way of late nights – up to midnight and then a late start to the day. In Africa we tended to be in bed by 21:00 – 22:00 and up early.

We stayed at Camping Yello! which is apparently a chain of campgrounds. It has very good facilities and very nice staff. € 22/day including power.
Avril driving; 167 km; 4 hrs; N 440 55’ 06.3’’ W 0000 08’ 32.8’’

Day 9– 3/7/12
We went for a stroll into the UNESCO World Heritage listed village of St Emilion. The weather was ideal and the walk, around 30 min each way enjoyable.
St Emilion has a couple of mildly interesting old buildings, but the town seems to exist for food and wine, which is not bad thing. After walking around town for a bit we had morning tea/coffee.  We then walked around town a bit more and had a very nice lunch in the town square. Then we walked back to the camp ground.

Day 10 – 4/7/12
There was a storm in the morning, whist we were sleeping, but the sun was shining when we left the campground. Then there were a couple of showers during the day. So, we were not sure whether this meant the 1st serious rains since Gabon, but we supposed so. The bad news was that the canvas is wet and so it was very tough to get the press studs in place. The canvas shrinks > 35 mm, so lots of muscle is needed. Two people are needed to stretch the canvas and get it in place.

Following the recommendation of Denis (Chad), we began a tour of the Lot valley. Our route took us through Bergerac (produce shopping at the market around the Cathedral & lunch), Monbazillac (stunning views across the valley), Real (medieval town), Biron (massive Chateau complex),  Monpazier (very gorgeous) and on to Cahors. Along the road were rolling fields with wheat ready to harvest, vineyards (with farmers hard at work) and lots of corn ( just growing) and occasional forest.

The villages we stopped at were just a sample of the villages along the route. There were a number of other very nice villages that we only had time to drive through. The French seem to be very proud gardeners and the floral displays in private gardens and public areas add to the pleasing vistas.
We camped at Camping de la Riviere
Ray driving; 197 km; 7 hrs; N 440 27’ 49.5’’ E 0010 26’ 31.2’’

Day 11– 5/7/12
We spent the morning and early afternoon walking around Cahors, which is set in a horseshoe bend of the Lot River. Its medieval character and wonderfully preserved buildings plus the “secret gardens” made the walk pleasurable. Oh, and of course coffee/morning tea and lunch.

We then drove along the Lot valley (green on the Michelin map). We tried to visit the caves at Cabrerets with their pre-historic paintings (25,000 years old, not as old as Oz, but still old!) but their carparks were overflowing and so it was not possible.

We then drove to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, a must-see on Denis’s list. And, he is 100% correct. The village is perched on a high bluff on the Lot river and makes a stunning spectacle. The town, mainly 13th & 14th century has been faithfully restored and is a nice walk along the river from our campground. We got back to the camp site just before the rain came and had to eat in the accommodation unit, one of the very few times we have needed to do this.
We are camped at Le Plage. € 17/night.
Avril driving; 75 km; N 440 28’ 13.2’’ E 0010 40’ 51.3’’


  1. Hi - we saw you in the Vezere Valley, near Reignac. Hope you're enjoying some of the most stunning cave art in the world during your stay!
    Best wishes Steve & Judie, CavesandCastles

  2. Hi Avril and Ray

    It was a great pleasure to meet you on the site at San Sebastian and then again briefly at Bordeaux.
    We are enjoying your Blog very much – it is a great read for us timid armchair adventurers.
    I am glad you enjoyed the Fete du Vin and that at least one of you got your

    We live in Letchworth Garden City, about 60k north of London, adjacent to the A1 and about 40 min from Cambridge. If you are going North after the Games and would like to call in for a cuppa or to park-up for the night or to have a bed, you would be most welcome. We are in Italy between the 21st Aug to 5th Sept. Apart from that we are here all summer.

    Hoping you have a great trip to the UK, although I must say the weather here is B.... awful at the moment and is forecast to remain so for the foreseeable future.

    Best regards

    Tony & Pam Daley
    ( 2nd attempt to master the technology!)

    Tel: 01462 683838