Motorhome and Away
France 2009 - North to the Channel

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North to the Channel

Leaving Verneuil en Bourbonnais we drove north then east on busy main roads through the larger towns of Dompierre, Digoin and Paray le Monial with a diversion to the attractive town of Charolles but by now in heavy rain so continued to the small village of St Gengoux-le-National where we found the camping-car aire at the old station on the Voie Verte a popular long distance cycle path. The next morning was sunny again as we drove over downland hills to Tournus on the Saone a wide river with quays but not many boats passing. Parking of camping-cars is not allowed by the river but we found a small parking area to the north of the riverside park. There is a large abbey built from pink stone with modern stained glass windows and a large street market as it was a Saturday. Hearing music we wandered along the narrow lanes and found a large funk brass band playing lively tunes in the street. After lunch and failing to read the ridiculously high with small print "randonees panneau" we just walked along the river and back through country tracks before setting off on the main road then on back roads to Givry another small town with a free aire by the Voie Verte which was busy with cyclists, roller bladers and roller skiers. There were some interesting large buildings in the town which had a prosperous feel from its past, such as entrance archway and church with a spire and dome.
Tournus walks sign
Tournus - high sign
Tournus jazz band
Jazz funk street band
Tournus promenade
Tournus promenade

There was a concert in the evening in the town centre but we couldn't work out what genre of music to expect, and restaurants were setting up tables in the street. After a peaceful night we set off north to the larger town of Chagny where there was a large Sunday market and cars parked everywhere.  Luckily we found a manned AGIP service station as we needed to top up our Gaslow bottle, then continued past the Chateau de Rochepot with its tiled conical turrets, to Nolay where there were large signs for an exposition of sculptures so we parked up and wandered around the town to look at the many mostly metal works of art some more impressive than others. The town centre was busy with groups renovating the old buildings with traditional paints using linseed oil, flour and natural pigments which were being mixed with enthusiasm under the large market hall.
Nolay market hall
Nolay market hall

Nolay paint mixing
Nolay paint mixing

Nolay timber building
Nolay timbered building

After that diversion we set off on D roads  to Bligny-sur-Ouche then alongside a canal and on to Commarin with a massive chateau in the centre where we followed signs to the Lac de Panthier. There is a large campsite on one side of the lake but we drove around to the opposite side where we found a shady parking spot for lunch and a lazy afternoon. Continuing north to Sombernon we joined the main road to Vitteaux then took minor roads through pretty villages to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain,
a popular touristy Plus Beau village set on a hill with old ramparts and an abbey. After wandering around the narrow streets in the early evening we decided to stay overnight in the car park although it's not an official aire. We left early the next morning to continue our journey towards home and kept on main roads through Châtillon-s-Seine and Bar-s-Seine where there is still the derelict timber frame of a large building at the crossroads that we remembered passing years ago and on to Troyes. As we approached through the suburbs there were many signs to factory shops but we continued to the centre where we managed to park at a meter directly opposite the tourist information office for only €2 for two hours and free at lunchtime. The town centre streets are lined with half-timbered buildings and worth a walk around especially the cathedral with its magnificent high stained glass windows set in delicate stonework which we thought were comparable to those at Chartres. Unfortunately as it was a Monday the Museum of Modern Art was closed. There is a magnificently ornate entrance gate to the university and a carousel in the main square and we also came across an old millinery shop that we had seen many years ago and were sure the window display hadn't changed at all. We rather liked Troyes. As with so many larger French towns you have to negotiate the densely populated suburbs and confusing road signs to find the gems in the "Veille Ville".

Givry church
Givry church

Givry tables in street
Givry - restaurant in the street

Nolay sculpture        Nolay sculpture 2
Nolay metal sculptures


Flavigny gateway
Flavigny-sur-Ozerain gateway     
Troyes cathedral      Troyes rose window

Troyes street    Troyes cathedral

Troyes gateway   Troyes carousel
Images of Troyes

For lunch we headed out of the town on busy roads and reached Mesnil-St-Pere on the massive Lac d'Orient where there was a parking area with shady trees by the lakeside, welcome as the temperature reached the mid thirties. We planned to stay at the aire at Geraudot on the northern shore but there were no spaces available by mid afternoon and the carpark by the lake was also full. Surprisingly the adjacent campsite wasn't open until July 1st (in three days time) although some camping-caristes were filling their water containers from a free tap somewhere rather than pay at the aire, so we drove on to Piney to use the service borne but it needed jetons that we didn't have and there was no parking by the borne although there were public parking areas in the town centre. By now it was far too hot so we headed along the main road to the village of Lesmont and pulled in to the small Camping Naturelle les Gravières, a pleasant grassy campsite and were able to spread out and cool off - far better than the crowded aire.  
After another peaceful night we drove on slow back roads then on the fast and straight main road to Châlons-en-Champagne (which was called Châlons-sur-Marne until 1998 and there were still some old direction signs to confuse us). After a detour to an E l'Eclerc hypermarket near the ring road for our final top up of goodies in France, and a lunch stop in a layby on a busy main road (sometimes the quiet stopping places just don't appear until afterward of course) we headed for Epernay and then got totally lost around the champagne "factories" in the suburb of Ay, partly due to roadworks. Eventually we emerged in the vineyards belonging to the top champagne producers - Mercier, Môet et Chandon etc. and through the very smart  village of Hautvillers with steep and narrow streets to pick up the slow road to Fismes then on the main road to Soissons and St Quentin which was very busy in the late afternoon. We were heading for the small British WW1 cemetery at Vedancourt where Sheila's great uncle was buried (he was nineteen). We found his headstone and thought we were probably the only family member to ever visit it, so we signed the book of remembrance. 
military cemetery
WW 1 cemetery at Vedancourt

Tardinghen aire signboard

We found a pleasant small campsite Camping Hortensis in the nearby village of Vraignes-en-Vermandois which had excellent facilities and plenty of information about the WW1 battlefields across the Somme. The final leg of our trip started on a misty morning along the straight road to Amiens then on to Abbeville and Boulogne where we joined the free autoroute to avoid the centre and turned off to Wimereux and sand dunes with "camping-cars interdit" signs. We headed for Cap Gris-Nez which was rather cool and foggy. The car park has height barriers but there were several motorhomes parked in the coach park - with the now familiar "no overnight parking" signs. After a stroll to the cliff edge and back we drove a short distance to Wissant and Tardinghen where at the Ferme d'Horloge the owners have set up motorhome parking aires in three fields and a service point at the farm. A more peaceful place to spend our last night in France rather than the noisy aire by the Calais ferry and an easy 26km drive via the autoroute to the port, where we were loaded on to the 08:30am P&O ferry, an hour earlier than the one we had booked and at no extra charge. After a smooth crossing we joined the madness of the British roads for the journey home.

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