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Europe 2015 - A Slow Drive through France

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A Slow Drive through France

Arriving at Briançon, one of the highest altitude towns in France, we topped up our food supplies then drove down the valley of the Durance river to reach the small village of Saint Crepin where we found the aire was closed but we were able to stay at the municipal campsite across the road for the same fee. After a stroll up to the hilltop village and a look at the small geology display by the aerodrome just across the river we lazed in the warm sunshine for the afternoon. The difference between the French and Italian countryside was so marked and we felt much more relaxed in familiar surroundings. 

Geology display at Saint Crepin
Geology Park at Saint Crepin
Decorated postbox Pont de Fosse
Decorated postbox
Painted chapel roof Pont de Fosse
Chapel roof at Pont de Fosse

We made good progress to the larger town of Gap where we had to make a circuit of the town to find a petrol station before driving north until we reached the pleasant aire at a former campsite at Pont de Fossé, surrounded by the foothills of the Écrins Massif. It was so peaceful that we spent two days there and just strolled around the village and local footpaths. Refreshed and in fully relaxed mode we returned to Gap and after a diversion to a motorhome dealer's which turned out to be rather smaller than expected, we cut across country getting tangled up in the traffic at a massive vide grenier (boot sale) and autojumble event. We joined the main road west for a while then took a back road  to the impressive Col de Grimone and Gorges des Gats before reaching Die where the annual transhumance event was taking place where the sheep are moved up to the mountain pastures for the summer, and we luckily got the last pitch at the campsite near the town centre. In the evening the procession of the sheep being herded through the town centre took place - a rather chaotic affair as the sheep tended to head off in all directions down side streets.

It was rather warm at 30°C as we continued west to Crest then north to Romans s d'Isere and decided to take a signposted Route des Belvederes to the hills overlooking the Rhône valley. Unfortunately the roads became very narrow, we didn't find the viewpoints marked on the map and ended up taking a very steep and narrow lane with sharp hairpins (a lesson to take heed of 5 Tonne weight limit signs) down to the riverside and a layby for lunch. We crossed the Rhône and headed into the hills along the wooded Gorges de Dour where there was a popular Velorail, and spent the night by the church (with overnight bells!) with three other motohomes in the village of Colombier le Vieux. There were a few decorated bikes in the village as the L'Ardechoise cycle race had passed through a couple of days previously. We continued through the Ardeche Vert region to Lamastre and over the hills to Lalouvesc for a night stop then down through forests to Annonay. Skirting through busier commuter belt towns we reached Saint Symphorien where the aire was surrounded by blocks of flats so we continued to the small village of Bibost and found the aire situated next to cherry orchards but unfortunately alongside a five-a-side football pitch with kids kicking a ball around so we parked a bit further up the road.

With ten days to reach the ferry at Dieppe we now had to drift north spending a night at Pruzilly among vineyards, south of Maçon then after stopping at Tournus for lunch, reached a free aire at Ecuisses by the Canal du Centre with just a couple of pleasure boats passing. Bypassing Le Creusot we drove across country to Autun which was busy with market day so there was nowhere to park. We continued to Chateau-Chinon where we found the aire was closed for a weekend cycle event. We walked around the rather tired town centre to find the amazing colourful animated fountains by Niki de Saint Phalle by the mairie, then drove into the Morvan regional park to find a free aire at Chaumard next to the Lac de Pannassiere, where we were joined by a French Rapido motorhome  with rather amazing painted mirrors.

painted mh wing mirror   another painted MH wing mirror

Now passing through gentle hilly farmland we bypassed Vezelay and stopped at the Plus Beau village of Noyers-sur-Serein which we have visited a couple of times before. This time we called in to the small Museum of Naive and Popular Art, a rather eclectic collection of paintings and strange objects. After stopping for lunch near Tanlay with its massive château we pulled in to the popular aire at Chaource where there is a cheese museum. We then drove to Troyes and found free roadside parking, being quiet on a Sunday morning, and walked around the old town centre with its many half-timbered buildings and magnificent cathedral. We discovered that Troyes is the outlet and factory shop capital of France and although some were closed, the large Decathlon warehouse on the ring-road was open and cars parked on every available bit of land including the middle of roundabouts. The terrain around here was mostly flat fields of cereals but a bit further north we reached the Champagne region and found the canalside aire at Marueil sur Ay was full so drove a few miles north to the small aire at Mutigny where we met a couple of British motorhomers (for the first time in days). Parking was free but the service borne needed €5 coins for 300 litres! of fresh water, and was poorly situated behind the parking places.

It was still warm as we drove on through the extensive vineyards to Hautvillers, a smart champagne village with interesting signs above all the buildings, mostly champagne caves offering degustation. The carparks had height barriers but we found a small parking area on the main road north just out of the village.

After finding an Intermarché at Fismes just before lunchtime closing time we drove west on the main road and turned off to Monampteuil and the municipal campsite next to a lake and a large leisure complex, Axoplage. The campsite fee included free admission but we decided to walk around the lake only to discover that a complete circuit wasn't possible so had a long walk back alongside a canal with a few small barges occasionally chugging by.

The next day we continued across rather plain farmland with the occasional place of interest such as Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique where we just fitted through the ancient gateway and narrow streets, and on to Conty, south of Amiens, where there was a large grassy but unshaded aire near the centre for horses and carriages. As it was still hot at 32°C we just lazed around for the afternoon before an evening stroll to a small lake.

Velo rail near Colombier le Vieux
Velo-rail traffic jam near Colombier le Vieux

Bicycle at Colombier
Decorated Bike at Colombier le Vieux

Sand sculpture Lalouvesc
L'Ardeche cycle race sand sculpture at Lalouvesc

Tournus river Saone
River Sâone at Tournus

Nikki de St Phalle statue Chateau Chinon
Niki de Saint Phalle animated fountain at Chateau-Chinon

Troyes old style roundabout
Traditional roundabout . . .
Troyes modern art
. . . and strange modern sculpture at Troyes

 Noyers s Serein  
Noyers sur Serein

Hautvillers shop sign    Hautvillers shop sign

Hautvillers shop sign  Hautvillers shop sign
Tradesmen signs at Hautvillers

With just a couple of days to reach Dieppe and as it was now 38°C we headed for the coast and found a busy ACSI campsite three kilometres from Mers les Bains just to the east of the busy port of Le Treport. The next morning we drove to the Centre Commercial for a final shop in the busy Auchan hypermarket and then drove along the coast to Criel sur Mer where we pulled into the spacious field by the sea wall along with several other motorhomes so we had a free last night (but there were no services). It was an easy 20km drive the next morning to Dieppe and we were expecting to find more lorries along the main road due to the problems at Calais but we arrived at the port too early as usual and were virtually the last to be loaded onto the ferry at 12.30pm for the four hour crossing to Newhaven.