The first motorhome trip to France was in 2007 and the only place we stayed in was the Aire on the seafront in Calais to get an early morning ferry back to Dover. Sadly Calais town centre is not what it was nowadays with migrants trying to get to the UK, I would not consider stopping over in the town until the situation improves. This is a real pity as we had some great meals in Calais at the end of various holidays.
This trip was to visit my grandfather’s grave in the German town of Kassel so we just drove though northern France into Belgium and on to Germany.
This was the first visit to France as a destination and the week long trip down the Normandy coast as far as Hornfleur was a wonderful introduction to the French Aires. Arriving off a ferry in the very early hours of a Saturday morning we drove down to Boulogne and slept in the Auchan hypermarket car park until the store opened to provide us with our favourite French delicacies.
Passing through Le Touquet, Berck-Plage and Fort Mahon Plage, next stop down the coast was at the very popular large Aire at Le Crotoy. There are a few hook ups but the attraction here is the pretty village and beach within walking distance of the van. In the other direction you can walk through a coastal nature reserve, the Ornithological Parc du Marquenterre, an area of natural beauty with lakes and marshes and particularly interesting salt water plant life – a big draw for bird-spotters. The town is a lively place with a good selection of cafés and restaurants, many having views across the bay towards St. Valéry-sur-Somme. On one of the nights we were there someone stole the payment machine at the entrance which was quite a feat as it was concreted in – but no one heard a thing!
A short drive round the estuary took us to St. Valery-sur-Somme, again another lovely town, as so many are on this coast. The village is a popular tourist destination because of its medieval character and ramparts, Gothic church and long waterside boardwalk. The commune is on the Hauts-de-France coast adjacent to the Baie de la Somme and at the mouth of the Somme river.
St Valerie-en-Caux was the next stop and it was a busy place right on the beach with the highlight being a walk along the pebble beach under the towering cliffs.
After a drive down the coast through Le Treport and Dieppe we arrived at the Aire at Fecamp, which is free as long as you register with the nearby Tourist Information office. There are no facilities and you are parked very close to the neighbouring vans but the compensation is the view over the marina and closeness to the town centre and pebble beach. Fécamp is situated in the valley of the Valmont river, at the heart of the Pays de Caux, on the Albaster Coast. In the 19th century, the recipe for Benedictine liqueur was “rediscovered” by Alexandre Legrand. The Palais Benedictine now houses a visitors’ centre, which shows how the liqueur is made.
Further down the coast was Le Harve where we had a look around before heading for the very impressive Pont de Normandie, a cable-stayed road bridge that spans the river Seine linking Le Havre to Honfleur in Normandy.
Honfleur was as far as we could travel in the week and it was worthy of the 2 nights we spent there. It has a huge Aire within walking distance of the beautiful town centered around a picturesque harbour. It is especially known for its old, beautiful picturesque port, characterised by its houses with slate-covered frontages, painted many times by artists, including in particular, Claude Monet.
We spent a few hours on the Aire in Calais before a very early morning sailing back to Dover. Prices will be different now but getting a ferry out to France after midnight and one back in the wee small hours made for a huge saving on the fare which was less than £50 return for a 7 metre van and 2 passengers! The other bonus is you get round the M25 before the morning rush hour.
On this occasion Belgium was actually the main destination, although France and Holland were also sampled. In 1914 my grandfather had signed up with the 13th Battalion, the Royal Scots and after only 3 months in France he was wounded at the Battle of Loos and died of his wounds on the 10th of October 1914 in German hands, it seems. Loos, or to give it its full name, Loos-en-Gohelle is a few miles to the north of Lens, about an hours drive south of Calais. Today Loos is a typical small French village surrounded by flat farmland and the slagheaps of former coalmines. You can read a very detailed account of that momentous battle HERE.
From Loos we moved over the border into Belgium and on to Holland.
2015 was the year of the Grand European Road Trip taking in 9 countries in 9 weeks. That said we were in France on three separate occasions. We took the Pont Aven, the superb Brittany Ferries vessel from Portsmouth to Santander, and, after touring the north east coast of Spain for 2 weeks we crossed the border into France to visit Biarritz which was well worth the detour. It is located 35 kilometres (22 mi) from the border with Spain and is a luxurious seaside tourist destination known for the Hôtel du Palais (originally built for the Empress Eugénie circa 1855), its casinos and its surfing culture.
After doubling back into Spain and driving to the Mediterranean coast just north of Barcelona, the next stop in France was just across the border at Argeles-sur-Mer. This was a great town to visit. The site was well maintained and the resort had a huge long promenade, ideal for a cycle to the marina at the other end of the bay.
Serignon Plage was the next stop on the journey eastwards along the coast. This site, like the one at Biarritz was part of the Yelloh chain of holiday parks and was another great campsite. The toilet block was new and state of the art as far as toilet blocks go.
Next stop was in the Agde area and we wild camped here for 4 nights and lay on a beach most of the time.
Camping Montpellier Plage was a typical French site with no regard to how you parked your van. A Caravan Club warden would have had a fit here! That said it was a great site, handy for walking into the town of Pavalas Les Flots, a beach resort come fishing village where the local fishermen sold their catch on stalls on the quay right beside their boats. Loved it here.
The drive from Montpellier Plage to St Tropez took longer than expected after a stop at the amazing Roman era World Heritage site of Pont du Gard, so we got as far as Brignoles which was just a one night stopover.
St Tropez was the next stop or to be more accurate an Aire right on a great beach a few miles to the south of the town. It was incredibly hot even with a slight breeze coming off the sea. After lunch we walked about a kilometre back to the main road to get a bus into town. St Tropez is everything and more that you have seen on tv and films. It is a place to see and be seen, especially in the evening as the super yachts arrive in the port to tie up for the night. They all dock stern on to the quayside and have a crew member stationed to keep the public from attempting to board but most people just mill about the quayside hoping to spot a famous celebrity coming off the boats to eat at one of the many exclusive restaurants in town. After spending the afternoon and evening taking in the sights and atmosphere the only way to return to the campsite was by taxi at a fixed rate of €30. Ouch!
The drive the next day was spectacular 150km drive along the French coast, through Monaco to Ventimiglia, a few miles over the border in Italy passing through, or around, Cannes, Nice and Monaco.
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