The journey home

The trek homewards towards the Caen ferry begins. Our fairly direct route from Nevers to Caen/Ouistreham is planned to be via Orleans where we have reserved a pitch for Monday night. We are now on first name terms at Olivet Camping! To fill the weekend gap, we try a site at Salbris, near the Sologne Forest. We’ve stayed in hotels in the area before, and the camping website looks good.

Our fuel light comes on about 10 miles from Salbris and I’m nervous, though, as Fiona is driving again, I will blame her if it runs out…sorted!  As it happens, we find a garage, and fill up with (cheaper) French diesel..and find the campsite quite easily, after a quick trip to the local Supermarket for the usual supplies…mainly alcoholic!

The site is lovely, the owner is very welcoming, and she offers us a choice of pitch. We opt for a lakeside setting which turns out to be perfect with our awning protecting us from the heat of the sun.

There is, she tells us, a music festival in town this evening, so we decide to wander into town to investigate. Hmmm…after the music festival in Avallon a few nights earlier, this is very different. I describe the music as Oompah meets Sangria…but the locals obviously enjoy it. There is a lot of clapping and audience participation. After a while, our ears are hurting, so we return to the site. We can still hear the music…and the finale of the evening is a quite spectacular Firework finale..the French sure know how to put on a show, even in small towns!

Throughout the holiday I have been on the lookout for Swallowtail butterflies which must be one of the most beautiful butterflies around. Thus far I have not caught sight of any.

We decided to go cycling while at Salbris, after all, there’s not a lot else to do in France on a Sunday afternoon. We set off on a 30km cycle ride on small roads through woods and fields and with little or no traffic.

We stopped in a real hurry and grabbed the camera when I spied this beautiful creature fluttering over the meadow we were passing.  The little sod didn’t stick around long enough for me to get a good shot though. But what a beauty (the butterfly not the fence post)!

We stayed at Salbris for 2 nights as it was very nice, then left on the Sunday morning heading for a stopover at Olivet before the long drive back to Caen.

The drive was long. 198 miles long. Thankfully Fiona drove the whole way so I arrived refreshed and relaxed. Heading north at Chartres we spied a Hen Harrier in a field, presumably there to end the short life of some furry mammal, anyway, it was the first one I’d ever seen.

We knew when we’d arrived in Normandy as the rain started. When I say rain, I mean the thunder, lightning and the deluge which started at just before Falaise and continued until we arrived home.

Can’t complain though, it was pretty much the only daytime rain we had in the 3 weeks we were away.

The van fuel light came on just before Caen, but then the ‘low fuel’ warning flashed soon after. This panicked us into a desperate search for a filling station.

The ferry journey home was ballsed up by Brittany Ferries. They had lowered the car deck by the time we boarded and so we had to wait until they had unloaded everyone else before we could get off. As we went through Passport control at Portsmouth, the officer aked “oh, you’re from the Mont St. Michel sailing, are you?”, as we were obviously way behind all the other passengers from the sailing. Grrrr….A real stinker will be fired off response to their ‘how did we do…’ email.

Nevers again?

Friday evening sees us parking on the south bank of the Loire at Nevers. Fiona has driven all the way from Avallon and has not been shouted at once- well, not by me, I can’t vouch for other drivers. Nevers is a lovely town, with a real buzz to it. We would happily spend more time there, but we are moving on.

Riverside parking

The campsite is pretty much full but we get a pitch on the lower slopes without electric hook- up. No electricity is not a problem, but the site is rather crowded and the facilities really aren’t up to much. 

The town is a short walk across the main bridge. There is a plaque in the cathedral blaming the RAF for accidentally dropping a 1000lb bomb on the church during the 1939-1945 nastiness.

In the early evening we head across the bridge and explore the town.  We happen upon a concert rehearsal in the cathedral and find ourselves drawn to the music, spending almost an hour listening in to a variety of classical tunes including Adagio and Faure’s Requiem.

Then it’s off to the town bars for a couple of beers while ‘people watching’ and then back to the van for a salad as Fiona is not keen for me to get the BBQ out when we are so crowded in.

We drive off the campsite by about 10:30 the next morning but find that we are among the last to leave – the site is being deserted. Our travels continue….

Avallon – but not a round table in sight

It’s too hot for us in Auxerre so we pack up and head off in a SE direction towards the town of Avallon in  Bourgogne (Burgundy). The temperature doesn’t get any more comfortable; it’s 39.5C as we approach the town where we find a nice quiet campsite within walking distance of the town centre. Fiona drove to this destination, including an amicable meeting with a French lady bus driver on a tight bend…Fiona practised her reversing downhill…no point in road rage!

Anyway, when I say walking distance, what I really mean is 3km of uphill, very uphill, walking; needless to say it’s very steep all the way to the town. Avallon is a very old town and was built on a granite spur between two ravines; we are camped in one of the ravines.

It’s the summer solstice today and in Avallon tonight there is a free festival of music with around a half a dozen bands performing at venues around the town. In the early evening we hike into town and thoroughly enjoy an evening of listening to live renditions of ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Stairway…’, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ and a whole load more classic hits from long ago. We also found a group of yoofs, who did a good version of Purple Rain..

The next day we cycle into town. The temperature is 37C so cycling up that hill was rather testing. We spend a few hours exploring the town, take a few photos and enjoy a couple of cold Monacos before a lovely downhill cycle ride back to the ‘van for dinner.

We spent 2 nights at Avallon and it’s still baking hot when we leave. Fiona is driving again. Andrew is a nervous passenger.  A short distance from Avallon is Vezelay where we stop to visit the hilltop basilica. It’s really commercialised here – you have to PAY TO PARK ! Outrageous! After doing the basilica, we have lunch in a small creperie and then move on towards the town of Nevers. It’s white wine country around here, so nothing much of interest, but we do find a delicious and ironically named ‘Grand Ordinaire ‘ in the local supermarket for €3.80.

Where to next?

We decided to return to Olivet camping at Orleans for the weekend as it is spacious, quiet and has very friendly staff.  On Sunday we used the extensive cycle paths to cycle into Orleans and then further alongside the canal for a picnic lunch.

It is so hot here now; the temperature is in the mid-30’s without a cloud in the sky, so thankfully there was a lovely breeze to cool things a bit. Despite the SF50 we both get sunburnt. Wearing sandals results in sunburnt toes.

Where to next?. Well, we had planned to loop SW,  via Blois, Tours, Saumur and Angers to visit a few vineyards and stock up our rather empty wine fridge at home. However, on Monday morning only a couple of hours from moving on , we changed our minds. Rather than visit places we have been before we thought we’d use the final week of our holiday to go somewhere we’ve not yet seen and so we headed SE instead, to Auxerre, in the Burgundy region.

The temperature is 34C as we drive into Auxerre; there is no wind and it’s really stifling; the fresh products section in the local supermarket gives us some respite for an hour or so then its back out into the oven.

Camping at Auxerre is less than a mile from the town so when we’ve parked we unload the bikes and head off to town for a visit. It’s still scorching as we wander around the old town, sightseeing and looking for a shaded place to have a cold drink.

Auxerre is a compact old city overlooking the river Yonne and has nice riverside walks and cycleways, but after an hour or so’s sightseeing we head back to the campsite and into the showers in the hope of cooling off.

Here is a gallery of photos taken in Auxerre

Homebrew 49r on his holidays

Relaxing in the evening

Homebrew 49er is enjoying his holidays too. Here he is looking cool but not chilled (there’s no room for him in the fridge). He has travelled well, and his only problem is loss of weight. He started off at just over 5kg, but is now down to about 750g and will soon be all gone.

I must take a pair of them next time, so they don’t get lonely.


After spending 2 days at Gien we move on in the direction of Sancerre and aim for the riverside camping site at Saint Satur, arriving at the campsite during the long French lunch hour. We wander around the site and choose a pitch, then book in, once the office is open.

It’s getting very hot here, the daytime temperature is well into the 30’s and there’s no wind to cool things down. We wait until the heat abates before venturing into Saint Satur on a shopping run as we’re running short of food. Steak with onions in a baguette, delicious.

We are camped about 3km from Sancerre so decide to cycle there on the Friday. It’s very hot and Sancerre is actually 3 miles away, but it’s all up hill. Thankfully there is very little traffic to bother us.

Sancerre turns out to be a very nice place with some superb panoramas of the surrounding countryside with views over the extensive vineyards. The town itself is very old and perched on top of a steep hill. There are many vignerons in the town, and many outlets selling wines but the steep and narrow roads discourage us from even thinking about bringing the ‘van in for a shopping spree.

Fiona enjoying a lunchtime salad, cider and Monaco in the shade in the centre of Sancerre. We later enjoyed a chilled bottle of the local produce.

After a good lunch we had a further look around the town and visited the ‘World of Sancerre’ wine museum which was well worth the visit, especially the 4D wine production simulator. That was so good, we did it twice! The views of the surrounding countryside are truly spectacular, as shown below.

The ascent to Sancerre is around 260metres over a distance of about 3km, so its uphill all the way and was hard going. Our descent, however, was great fun,  as the roads were pretty much traffic free. The Garmin recorded speeds of up to 24mph on the way down…woohooo! Payback for the upward climb.

Next stop…Gien

We moved on to Gien on Tuesday morning. Gien is on the river Loire, on the eastern edge of the Loire region and about 45 miles south east of Orleans.  The campsite at Gien is within walking distance of the town which is pretty handy although we visited the town by bike rather than on foot. It was also right next to the ‘Loire a velo’ cycle route which provides a nice flat and safe cycling path alongside the river.

Gien is famous for its pottery which still produces porcelain today. We visited the factory outlet shop and were staggered at the price of pottery pieces, What??, £28 for a dinner plate?, outrageous. Needless to say,  we’ll stick to buying our plates and bowls in Ikea at 50p a piece.

While in Gien we also visited the Museum of Hunting in the Chateau, which turned out to be well worth a visit. I didn’t realise that there are so many ways of hunting and killing the native wildlife.

One of our favourite meals on holiday is ‘tomates farcis’ which is tomatoes stuffed with pork mince, probably some sage, onion etc, all served on a bed of rice. But at £3.50 or so per tomato, I  baulked at the price this year. Instead, we bought 3 large tomatoes and 350g of stuffing and made our own. They were superb and a fraction of the shop price. We have added this recipe to our short list of meals to do again very soon.

Gien across its bridge and in the distance. The day started off cloudy but the sky soon cleared to give us an  afternoon of  30C.

Gien from further down river.

The parking near to the river and site exit was somewhat crowded, but away from the river there were a number of large empty pitches. One of which we bagged.

Parked up in the evening sunshine. We had to move the table and chairs to the shade to escape the heat while we scoffed our home made tomates farcis.

The Museum of Hunting in the town chateau was well worth a visit, which is much more than can be said for the museum of pottery at Gien faience. However, the pottery outlet shop was well worth a visit.

Ah, the good old 49er is running out despite competition with local produce, but it still has the advantage of price.

Note to self – bring more next time.

On to Orleans

Enough of churches and godly things and time to move on and head for Orleans via a supermarket to supplement our supplies. The Orleans traffic and navigation lived up to my expectations. It was horrid. We eventually found somewhere to do our shopping and then headed for the campsite at Olivet, a suburb south of Orleans.

Agggh!, the campsite is full, but it’s a really nice quiet place so we go in anyway and speak to the receptionist about booking in for the following night, Sunday. As Fiona spoke to him in French rather than English, he rejigged his booking list and found us a pitch! Well Done, Fiona. Camping Olivet is a really nice little site, very clean, very quiet and with easy access to cycleways and to the tramway into the centre of Orleans.

On the Sunday we took the tram into the centre for a good look around, visiting the cathedral and old town and we found a good small place to have lunch. Orleans is a very modern city with a few old bits. Typically French  in that there are no high-rise buildings and the city has been built on a grid system giving wide thoroughfares and plenty of places to eat and drink, and watch the world go by. 

The following day we cycled into the city for a further look around and then took a bike trip up the Loire for a few miles, along the canal towpath- Loire a velo again.  It was absolutely scorching. By the time we got back to the ‘van we were both sunburnt,  despite the SF50 protection.

All in all, Orleans is a great place to visit and Camping Olivet is a superb site at which to stay. In fact, we’re booked in again for next weekend (17 to 19 June)

Chartres – every picture tells a story

I’ve seen videos and read about the Cathedral at Chartres and it looked as though it was worth a visit, maybe we’ll spend the afternoon walking around and then head off to Orleans. I’m really not a believer in any of the God, JC or VM nonsense but I enjoy wandering around the huge medieval churches and try to imagine how they were designed and built without the use of technology available these days.

We successfully navigated the Versailles traffic and headed South and within a couple of hours had arrived at the new campsite just outside Chartres. After parking up and settling in we unloaded the bikes and were off to visit the town.

Bloody hell, what a place, what a masterpiece of medieval architeture, design and engineering. It is unbelievable. A spire built in 1190ish of over 100m in height, 130 metres in length and 30 odd metres wide. There are over 1200 stained glass panels in the windows, many of them originating from the 12th century. Staggering.

Instead of spending just the afternoon in Chartres we ended up spending an extra day and splashed out on the guided tour of the Cathedral. The tour was given by Malcolm Miller, who is pretty much the world authority on reading and interpreting the windows at Chartres. The tour lasted 90 minutes and focussed on the 12th and 13th century windows; it was absolutely gripping stuff. The windows can be read like a book and they tell a story; they are not just pretty pictures. Actually, they are a shocking propaganda that tell a story that the church wants us to believe, it contrives to join JC to Adam in the garden of paradise, it links the new testament to the old in obviously contrived ways.

Wow, as I sit here in the sun typing this a pair of treecreepers are fluttering around us and walking up one of the trees in our camping emplacement. Bloody marvellous!

Here are a few of the photos we took in Chartres:

The western or Occidental facade which is the main entrance surrounded by gothic carvings including those of JC and his gang of 12 but they have substituted Judas for someone else. Don’t know why.

Here are a few of the photos I took of the 12th and 13th century windows. Each pane in the vertical windows is 4ft tall, with 9 panes per window making the height of each vertical window more than 36ft high.

Every pane of every window tells a story; it’s really just a multicoloured propaganda machine, albeit marvellous.

Inside the Palace

Well, we bought our tickets at the campsite so that we could avoid the queues and travelled by bus to the Palace of Versailles. The weather has changed from nice and sunny to cold and windy hence the use of the bus.

We queued for around 15 minutes to get through the baggage check, then ticket control and finally the real security check before getting into the main building. Having opted for the audio guide, we were relieved to find that the cost of them is included in the ticket.

Wow, what a place. The size and splendour of the place is truly awesome (I don’t use that word often ‘cos it often means ‘ordinary’).

The interior of the palace was rather dark so I didn’t take very many photos, I just gawped in awe at the wealth of the place. Every room was adorned with oil paintings; handmade furniture littered the place; I hate to think how much it all would have cost. All I can say is “comment le autre moitier vecu” (how the other half lived), no wonder the aristocracy were very soon to lose their heads.

Here is a small sample of the photos I did take: