Week 6 of the Grand European Tour
Week 6 – Day 39 – Monday 6th November 2017
L’Aiguillon sur Mer to La Rochelle – 40 miles
L’Aiguillon was found by accident and it turned out to be one of the best places we have visited, not a flashy resort like La Baule, not a huge fishing port like Concarneau, and certainly not a medieval gem like Vannes, but it had something about it and I would certainly return again were I ever to be in this area again.
A transformation took place this morning as The Navigator became The Laundry Lady again at the Super U on the outskirts of the village. I’ve mentioned before that Super U is our supermarket of choice and this one is another gem, as, like the others, it was so motorhome friendly. Motorhomes, or to give them their French name, camping-cars can stay overnight for free, this one has a borne dispensing 70 litres of fresh water, an hour of electricity to top up the leisure batteries as well as toilet and grey water disposal, all for the princely sum of €2. Also on site is the laundry, a jet wash for vans, oh and a shiny big supermarket too!
The two vans either side of Louis in the above picture are at least £200,000’s worth of motorhome and probably a lot more depending on the bells and whistles the owners specified when buying them.
Week 6 – Day 40 – Tuesday 7th November 2017
La Rochelle – 0 miles
It had to happen sooner or later, and last night was the time for the first little mishap of the trip when,just after 11pm, a hose burst near the boiler as the heating was giving a little boost to try and keep some warmth in the van overnight. Having a burst hose is a problem as the water system is pressurised so the pump has to be switched off immediately or water will gush out, the consequence of this is that you can’t run a tap or flush the toilet until the hose is replaced – which it wasn’t going to be in the dark on a freezing cold night!
This same section of hose has burst before and it is due to a design fault in the boiler compartment as this hose rests on one of the pipes taking hot air away from the boiler to distribute around the van. Because its happened before, I carry a good length of spare hose and it was quickly replaced, but it was leaking at a connector when the system was pressurised. Long story short, we left the site to a motorhome accessories place but they didn’t have a replacement connector so we went to the French equivalent of B & Q for a little hacksaw to cut a straight edge on the hose as I thought that was the problem, and voila, it did the trick. I also bought a bit of grey plastic plumbing piping to feed the hose though where it bursts to stop it touching the hot pipe. Fingers crossed. We didn’t get back to the Aire until after 3pm so we called it a day and The Navigator read and I did bits and pieces on the laptop as we are on electric and a strong free wi-fi signal. Hey Ho – a wasted day but these things happen.
Week 6- Day 41 – Wednesday 8th November 2017
La Rochelle to Royan – 72 miles
In the 80s I worked for 2 excellent booze companies selling many great household brands and travelled extensively for conferences and trips abroad. In 1984 I mentioned to a head office based colleague that we were planning to tour France for 3 weeks in the summer and he offered to organise visits to the chateaux of some of our fine wine suppliers. Who could resist that offer, certainly not a young(ish) boy rep who was enjoying the very generous samples policy of his company, wines like Chateau Rausan-Segla, Chateau Smith Haute Lafite, Chateau Montrose and to cap it all, Chateau Margaux, and as a Brucie bonus, Denis Mounie, our very premium cognac, based in Jarnac. I managed to get through our visit to Denis Mounie without having to confess I had never sold a single bottle in Scotland as it was far to expensive. Their Marketing Manager had been to Oban the previous year with his family and loved it so much he set aside the whole day and gave us a tour, explained the cognac making process, gave us a tasting to sample their wares, lunch in a nearby Chateau, and, to cap it all, samples to take away with us. I will admit to being a total wreck afterwards as I had to drink the Navigators share as well!
The Navigator has no recollection of visiting La Rochelle, most probably because when we got there she succumbed to morning sickness, having been told the good news a few days before we departed, so was confined to the caravan. No such issues this time, and from the Aire we took the bus into the centre of this historic port. The market was the first destination and it was truly fantastic. The French love their food and are far more adventurous with their ingredients than we are, and, they are willing to pay a premium for quality, so to our eyes, and wallets, the prices are more expensive.
After indulging in a few purchases we headed to the sea front to see the historic buildings and boats on display there.
All of this walking around in the bright but fresh conditions worked up an appetite and so we headed for a busy little restaurant we had passed earlier to treat ourselves to a decent lunch. This picture shows The Navigator with the daily specials board on the wall behind her.
What would you have had?
We thoroughly enjoyed our day in La Rochelle and would recommend a visit if you are ever in this region. La Rochelle was far larger than I remembered, but then again most places are over the course of the last 33 years! Back at the Aire we found that another van from Scotland had parked near us, a couple from Aberdeen who had taken 8 days to travel what had taken us 41.
Week 6 – Day 42 – Thursday 9th November 2017
Royan to Mimazon – 156 miles
I decided to do a longer than usual drive today in our long journey south through the French countryside. The morning started with a walk into Royan, another super beach resort in hibernation for the winter. That said, it was sunny but chilly and if we had any cobwebs they were well and truly blown away walking along past the marina and esplanade. If there was a downside to Royan it was the Cathedral, which although large and imposing, was a bit of a concrete monstrosity compared with some of the medieval buildings we have seen so far. I later found out that the Allies had flattened Royan about 10 weeks after D Day as it constituted one of the Atlantic “pockets” which the Germans held on to grimly, well after the liberation of the rest of France. In the early hours of January 5, 1945, a force of about 350 RAF heavy bombers bombed Royan out of existence in two raids. Later an American naval task force assisted the French ground forces with a naval bombardment and aerial reconnaissance in the assault on Royan and the Pointe de Grave area at the mouth of the Gironde. American B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator aircraft carried out aerial bombing missions, including extensive and pioneering use of napalm, finishing the destruction of January 5. This is why we now see a concrete cathedral and a modern town, in stark contrast to some of the other towns we have visited.
Royan didn’t detain us that long and we were on the road before 12 o’clock.
One of the striking things i have noticed is how quickly the scenery can change in this country. Before we had travelled very far the odd vineyard began to appear in the fields on either side of the road and the density of them increased as the journey progressed. The route took us parallel to the Gironde river in the direction of Bordeaux, through the wine regions of Côtes de Bourg and Blaye with the Autumnal colours on the vines and trees looking splendid in the sunshine. As we neared Bordeaux the satnav took us on to a dual carriageway and we crossed the wide Garonne and Dordogne rivers, but the bridges here were low and not as spectacular as some of the ones we have crossed in France. Bordeaux was a consideration to stay in but surprisingly did not have a suitable Aire near the city centre that I could find so we carried on round the ring road before it got too busy later in the afternoon. Knowing we would not reach Biarritz in daylight I pulled onto a rest area, had a cuppa and consulted the map and picked out another coastal town an hour further south, reset the satnav and headed off.
The contrast between the north of Bordeaux with its well tended vineyards and small villages with ‘caves’ selling the growers wines direct to the public and the massive flat fields, almost prairie like, as far as the eye can see was odd to encounter in such a short space of time. Heading off the dual carriageway for the coast there was another major change in the landscape as the flat bare fields gave way to conifer plantations, again as far as the eye could see. Mile upon mile of trees in all stages of their growth cycle, from newly planted to mature and ready for felling with there strangely being no deer fencing as you would see back home. We got to Mimazon late in the afternoon to find it was larger than expected and a spectacular sunset out to sea with great waves for surfing crashing on to yet another superb beach. The light was beginning to fade so there was no time for pictures, we had to find somewhere to stay before darkness fell. There is a brand new Municipal Aire not yet listed on the internet and we had a comfortable night there and although we must have been about a mile from the beach we could still hear the waves crashing in all night.
Week 6 – Day 43 – Friday 10th November 2017
Mimazon to Biarritz – 75 miles
The objective today was to get to Biarritz and on to the Aire there before it filled up for the weekend. We were in Biarritz 2 years ago and stayed at a Yelloh campsite, a sort of Haven type of campsite with statics, motorhomes, caravans and tents, with all the family facilities including indoor and outdoor pools but it was closed for the season so it was the Aire for us this time. The drive from Mimazon started off in drizzle but cleared up with just the odd shower or two along the way. The main employer in Mimazon seems to be a paper plant and it is ideally surrounded, given that there must be millions of trees surrounding the town for many miles. Arriving at the fairly busy Biarritz Aire mid afternoon it was good to find it was free from the 1st of November to the 1st of April, the downside being it was on a slope so the chocs were needed under the tyres on one side. After setting up we had a walk to the beach which was very close by and watched the waves crashing onto the sand and also tried out the fitness equipment there as well. Honest!
It was too late to go into town so I updated this and The Navigator read and sent a few e mails before dinner of Lasagnes aux 2 Saumons which was delicious.
Tonight we received the great news that we are going to become grandparents for the first time in late May next year. Congratulations to Jill and Simon and we hope all goes well. The knitting needles are out already!
Week 6 – Day 44 – Saturday 11th November 2017
Biarritz – 0 miles
Last night was by far the stormiest encountered so far on our travels over the last 6 weeks. The combination of the wind, heavy rain and waves crashing onto the nearby beach made it the noisiest night as well but the Aire is well protected by high hedges so at least the van wasn’t being buffeted about. The intention this morning was to get the bikes out and cycle into Biarritz but the wind and frequent heavy showers prevented it.
We were here 2 years ago for first time and loved it. Its such a beautiful town with elegant buildings, superb beaches and a good mix of shops and restaurants and thankfully the rain relented so we had lunch then caught the 1pm bus into town and did the same walk along the esplanade and little harbour then up into the town as we did not all that long ago.
Its not a huge town but very upmarket and there are probably more gift shops than anything else. Last time we had a snack lunch at The Queens Bar right in what passes for the main square, and so we decided to have a coffee and a medium beer de pression and were €11.20 poorer afterwards!
Week 6 – Day 45 – Sunday 12th November 2017
Biarritz – 0 miles
If we had been back in Argyll we would have been at the Remembrance Service at Lochgair to commemerate and remember the sacrifice of my 26yo grandfather who lost his life at the Battle of Loos in October 1915, having just been in France a few months. Angus (I’m named after him) was a Piper with the Royal Scots and died of his wounds, probably in German hands as they buried him in Germany before the newly formed War Graves Commission re-buried him at Kassel in the east of Germany, 325 miles away from where he fell. My father never knew his father as he was only a few months old when this tragic event happened and he never even knew where Angus was buried, it was only when I started my family tree and researched my grandfathers life that I found out his story and it is thanks to some relatives I discovered in the research process that I now have pictures of my grandfather that even my father never saw in his lifetime, including this one.
As if this death was not enough of a burden for Donald and Flora (my great grandparents) to come to terms with, Angus’s twin, Donald, was also killed in the war, only a few months before it would draw to and end in 1918, no doubt leaving Donald and Flora distraught at the loss of their only sons.
The weather was horrible today, the first heavy daytime rain we’ve had so far on this trip so we stayed inside – the first day in a very long time we have not ventured out of the van at all.
To put this week into context here is a map of our route…
We venture into northern Spain and make a decision on whether to change our future route completely or stick with the plan. Stay tuned…
Next week marks our 50th day on the road so The Navigator and I have been compiling our separate thoughts on the experience so far, which you can read on Friday.
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