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Saturday, 21 July 2012

France part 3

Day 12 – 6/7/12

We wandered through the region which we discovered includes some of the Dordogne Valley. Our trip took us through more wonderful scenery and villages. The villages included, Carrenac, Loubressac, Autoire, Capdenac and Cardaillac which are graded in the top 150 villages in France. We walked around Figerac, which at > 2,000 people is not considered a village. It was interesting to see all the businesses shut at 12:00, on the dot. Clearly live-style is more important than money! We also went via Chateau de Castelnau-Bretenoux, apparently the best fortified castle in southern France.

The weather was overcast, but we only had one brief and heavy down-pour in the mid- afternoon.

We camped near Rocamadour at La Roc. Low price at € 14/night. 3 stars, but on the road and a bit stark.

Ray driving; 162 km; N 440 29’ 11.9’’ E 0010 39’ 16.2’’

Day 13 – 7/7/12
With ideal weather, in the morning we visited Rocamadour, which apparently gets more visitors than just about anywhere else in France. The setting is spectacular and it was a nice place for our brunch. Brunch was at 10:30, at that time only one place in town was offering food (and only breakfast, nothing more substantial) and a lot of the shops had not yet opened. We parked at the top of the bluff and walked down to the bottom village and then back up to the chateaux at the top; on our feet, not knees – according to the history books, the pilgrims did/do it on their knees – an incredible feat.

We then drove via Souillac to Salat; the Foie gras capital of the universe. Oh yeah! We had afternoon tea in a square near the town hall (yep, foie gras for one and crepes for the other).

We then drove to Beynac-et-Cazenac, another medieval village with spectacular setting on a bluff.

We camped close to Domme at Le Perptuum, 3 star (€ 21/night). The holidays had officially started, so the campground was the busiest we have found on our trip thus far.

At some point in the day we passed from the Lot region to the Dordogne. Ray reckons his blood specific gravity must be above 1.00. Given the amount of rich food and animal products he has consumed since entering France, his blood must now have a high percentage of lard.  

Avril driving; 93 km; N 440 48’ 51.9’’ E 0010 13’ 10.7’’

Day 14 – 8/7/12
Another day wandering and visiting beautiful villages. We passed by Domme, La Roque gageac and Beynac et-Cazenac all of which seem to be in the top 150 villages, assuming we have read the notices correctly. We visited the exotic church at Perigueux with its almost Asiatic/eastern spires. The town itself was pretty dead as it was Sunday afternoon. Apparently Sundays remain very special for the French.  We camped near Brantome at the Camping Brantome (€ 20/night). The campground was close to the town and we walked into town and managed to see a bit of Wimbledon, before the rain. The town was massively crowded as there was a “trash and treasure” market. Looked like 100% trash – but we may have been wrong.

Ray driving; 288 km; N 440 21’ 36.3’’ E 0010 39’ 46.4’’

Day 15 – 9/7/12
An early start to the day and a reasonably long drive to Cheverny in the Loire valley. Soon after starting our drive we noticed a chateau/castle in a stunning elevated position. It was not marked and we did not stop. In any other place this would have been at least a minor attraction. But, such is the wealth of history and beauty here, that it did not even rate a road sign. Very spoilt we are.

We are camped at Les Saules just outside the village. A very nice park with wonderful owners/managers.

Avril driving; 300 km; 6 hrs; N 470 28’ 36.7’’ E 0010 27’ 02.1’’

Day 16 – 10/7/12
An exciting day for us. We took the bus into Blois to meet our niece who had travelled overnight from the French Alps to spend a few days with us.

After meeting Elena at the railway station we collected a hire car (we only have 2 seats in our vehicle) and drove back to the camp.

We spent the afternoon in Orleans, wandering around the older part of town and the Cathedral. We did manage to fit in a bit of eating and a couple of drinks.

Day 17 – 11/7/12
After a lazy morning of chatting with Elena and catching up with all the family news from Aus, we visited Chambord, the largest chateaux in the Loire Valley. Apparently this is a “must see” in the chateaux itinerary. It is certainly large and well-presented however the gardens have yet to be restored.

Day 18 – 12/7/12
A “Chateaux” day. We set off early and made good time to Amboise. This is a former castle and set on a dramatic setting high above the river. We then visited Leonardo Di Vinci’s (smallish) chateaux which was within walking distance of Amboise. They had an interesting exhibition of some of LDVs inventions and a magnificent garden with life-size models of some of his inventions. We then drove to Chenonceau, a big favourite with most folks. It is well presented in wonderful formal gardens and the chateau rooms were all decorated in period style and furnished appropriately.

The weather has not been so good, very overcast and occasional showers. So, it is a good time for inside tourism.

Day 19 – 13/7/12
A bad weather day – it rained all day and most of the night. Ray and Elena returned the vehicle to Blois and after a walk around the town and some breakfast they attempted to get back to the campground by bus. But, understanding the local timetable was challenging. Even the local folks had trouble, so we did not feel too bad. However, eventually we worked out that the busses were not all that frequent, so grabbed a taxi back to the campground.

Our original plan had been to walk to the nearby Cheverny chateaux, however the rain prevented outside activity. So, Ray and Elena watched some films on the computer (in the comfort of the 5-star accommodation unit!) whilst Avril did some emailing.

The campsite became water-logged and in places started to flood – around Elena’s tent and at the bottom of our stairs. So, Ray carried out some emergency drainage works and managed to get rid of the worst of the water.

Day 20 – 14/7/12
After saying good-bye to Elena and packing up wet and muddy kit, for later cleaning and drying, we headed off to La Chapelle-sur-Loire to visit Pierre and Coco, who we had met in Botswana some years ago (Nov 2008 to be exact).

It was wonderful to catch up and we spent most of the day talking, eating and drinking. Still, it was still a bit damp, so being inside was a good outcome.

Avril driving; 210 km; 4 hrs; N 470 14’ 49.7’’ E 0000 12’ 39.7’’

Day 21 – 15/7/12
A lazy start to the day. We walked along the Loire River into the  nearby village and had a beer. Then we went back to Coco & Pierre’s home for a BBQ. They made a special effort for Rays birthday (the next day) with a delicious wine tart and one very large candle (no space for 58 candles!). More food & drink, chatting and then we looked at some of our photos and some of their photos (much better than ours - Ray is scheming to look for a new camera!).

Day 22 – 16/7/12
We visited the Usse chateaux - also known as the Sleeping Beauty castle. It was very attractive with nice gardens and lived up to the name. A welcome addition was all the notices/explanations being in English. In the afternoon we visited the Fontevaud Abbey. This was a real surprise, very impressive and well worth the visit.

In the evening Pierre & Coco took us to a very special restaurant for a wonderful meal – to celebrate Ray’s birthday.

Day 23 – 17/7/12
A very big thanks to Pierre & Coco who were the perfect hosts and treated us like royalty. We were very spoilt and hope to reciprocate when they visit us in Aus in 2014.

We drove to a campsite near Verzy in the heart of the Champagne producing area. We decided to take the long way round and miss driving through the center of Paris - Orleans, Troyes, then to just south of Reims. A long day, but it gave us a sense of the vast scale of French agriculture.

As we drove through Verzy, searching for a caravan park and a supermarket and looking obviously lost, we were approached by a very nice man, Nicolas. He had seen us driving about and thought he could assist. He gave us directions to the campground and the nearest supermarket. He also volunteered to show us around a vineyard and cellar - so nice. Got to love the French nation.

We camped at the municipal camping ground, Val de Vesle near the river. The land on the hills, near the village, being too valuable for grape production to waste on camping.

Ray driving; 410 km; 7 hrs; N 490 10’ 00.00’’ E 0040 12’ 51.7’’

Day 24 – 18/7/12
We met Nicolas at his winery for a tour of his in-laws’ facilities (production and cellars) and an enlightening description of the district, production techniques etc. We then sat down to taste a bottle of the “good stuff”. It turned out that Nicolas was a 4x4 and Toyota buff. He has a camping Toyota, rock crawler, old Celica etc, which we looked at in his garage. He also runs tours of the local region (and has had a lot of Aussies recently). to see us and to contact Nicolas. We are not experts, but his champagne seemed great to us!!

We then drove into Reims to have a look at the cathedral (where almost all the kings of France were crowned) and the old town.

On Nicolas’s advice, we travelled through the Ardennes region along the Meuse River – green on the Michelin map. It was a pleasant drive with some great views across mountain villages.

We camped at Camping des Rapids de Phades near Montherme, which had a nice grassed area and clean, but old facilities. €11/night.

Avril driving; 288 km; 6 hrs; N 490 52’ 55.2’’ E 0040 46’ 32.1’’

Day 25 – 19/7/12
We continued our drive along the Meuse River, through interesting and touristic villages and towns and into Belgium.

France Summary

Of course, we loved France. The scenery is stunning, the villages and towns gorgeous, the food delicious (we have both put on some serious weight!) and the people are really wonderful. They are super helpful & friendly. We can absolutely recommend France for a holiday, we will be back.

Areas for improvement: more viewing/parking areas on roads where you can stop to admire the scenery. Pick up the dog poo! It is not nice to leave it for others to step in.

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