Motorhome and Away
Europe 2014 - A Meander through France

Home > European Touring > Europe 2014 > A Meander through France

A Meander through France

St Jean Pied de Port is a lively town, its cobbled streets offering many gift shops and places for the Camino de Saniago pilgrims to rest before tackling the Pyrenees. The aire by the sports centre is very popular but we managed to find a good parking place on the edge. It was a steep walk up to the Vauban built citadel overlooking the town and countryside. The next morning we drove over the Col d'Osquich to Mauléon-Licharre where espadrille sandals are still made. Our route then took us on D roads to Sauveterre de Bearn, a attractive honey coloured small town overlooking the river where there was a free aire.

St Jean Pied de Port pilgrims
St Jean Pied de Port
Sauveterre de Bearn
Sauveterre de Bearn
Sauveterre de Bearn traditional hotel
traditional auberge
Continuing north we spotted the bridge at Orthez decked with babygros embroidered with names and birth dates so we stopped to look around. The Saturday market turned out to be small and expensive. It was one of those plain French towns with music playing through loudspeakers in the streets. There was a large garden centre on the outskirts so we had a look around for some gifts for home. At Villeneuve de Marsan the sat-nav got it wrong as the expected turning was an underpass as we were on the bypass, then we saw a sign to an Etang Classé so followed the narrow road to a small lake and picnic spot in the woods with some rather impressive houses. There were several decorated pine trees in the gardens with 40 and 50 signs and ribbons - for birthdays or anniversaries? - we weren't sure. After a walk around the lake we drove a short distance to the lovely small town of La Bastide d'Armagnac which we had discovered a few years ago and where there was a free aire. Intrigued by the notices for the cyclists church we walked a couple of kilometres along a voie verte to the interesting chapel decorated with many jerseys and momentos of famous racing cyclists.

Notre Dame de Cyclistes
Notre Dame des Cyclistes entrance
Unable to resist visits to Plus Beaux villages and bastide towns there were several in this area so we took a winding route visiting Montréal, Fourcès with its circular tree filled centre, and the tiny fortified town of Larressingle rather grandly named "The Carcassone of Gers". After driving through the drab outskirts of Condom we bypassed Lectoure to reach the aire by a noisy weir at Fleurance. The next day we needed a food topup so we headed to the large town of Montauban and found an Auchan hypermarket before taking a cross country route to the Gorges de l'Aveyron and St-Antonin-Noble-Val, a pleasant old village, and another free night at the aire. We thought we had better make faster progress north so cut back to Caussade and up the good main road towards Cahors, being pulled in to a checkpoint but they were weighing white builders' vans so we were waved on. Reaching Cahors there was a large P + R carpark south of the river with a designated motorhome area so we parked up and strolled around the city centre and across the famous Ponte de Velentre before continuing north west to reach the bastide town of Villefranche-du-Perigord and an ACSI campsite to catch up on the washing.

Villefranche du Perigord
Villefranche du Perigord

With nine days and 700 kilometres to reach the channel ferry, and travelling at our usual slow pace, we drove all of 30 miles the next day to the town of Le Bugue where the aire cost €7 and those pesky grass cutters and strimmers turned up again. After a cool night (10ºC in June!) we headed north again through farmland bypassing the massive Hautefort chateau and turned off to Excideuil where there was a good street market and many English voices. Still in Plus Beaux Villages country we stopped at the delightful honey coloured St Jean de Côle for lunch. In the afternoon we drove along narrow lanes to look at the Saut du Chalard marked on the map which turned out to be a small rocky gorge in a forest.

Our route north took us on a mix of main and minor roads to a night stop at Charroux with its ruined abbey tower, then to colourful rose gardens and a hotel with large tree houses at the Parc de la Belle at Magné near Gençay. Always looking for out of the ordinary places, we detoured to the village of Curzy sur Vonne to visit an interesting Musee de Vitrail (stained glass), then continued north to the free aire at St Loup Lamairé.
 Orthez babygros on bridge      Anniverary sign
Orthez babygros                                      anniversary sign

Bastide d'Armagnac main square
La Bastide d'Armagnac

  Fources bastide town    
  Fourcès  - one of the Plus Beaux villages
Larressingle bastide town
Larressingle - another one!

St Antonin Noble Val
St Antonin Noble Val
Cahors Ponte de Velentre
Cahors - Ponte de Velentre

St jean de Cole
St Jean de Côle

Saut du Chalard    Treetop hotel at Magne
    Saut du Chalard                          Tree house hotel at Magné


We were now approaching the Loire region so headed for Gennes then a short drive along the south bank to Cunault and another free aire by the river. The weather was now hot and humid with thunderstorms as we headed east to Saumur and drove up to the chateau to find a few camping-car parking bays with cars in some as usual. After a stroll at Montsoreau we crossed the river on a narrow girder bridge and drove to an ACSI campsite at Luynes. Bypassing Tours we took the busy D910 road north to Chateau Renault, then turned off to reach the aire at Les Roches l'Evêque where there were a few troglodyte homes in the cliffs, some smart and lived in but others abandoned.

Traditional shop Curzay sur Vonne
Curzay sur Vonne tabac
Fishing in the Loire
Fishing in the Loire
Troglodyte houses at Roches l'Eveque
Cave dwellings Les Roches l'Eveque

Now on our final leg to catch the ferry at Dieppe we drove through several small towns with empty shops to reach La-Ferté-Bernard which looked more interesting with a large church in the centre and worth a stop. Taking more narrow back roads across undulating farmland, we reached Chandai and a new aire but it was by a busy main road and truck route so we moved on to the popular aire at Rugles for the night, where we met several British motorhomers. On our last full day in France we stopped at the town of Conches-en-Ouche to look at the street market and the old town centre. Following a couple of deviations due to Route Barre signs we reached Bourg-Achard where the roads were much busier, then drove a short distance to one of our favourite aires, Les Cerisiers, at Heurteauville on the banks of the Seine for our last night in France. From there we took our usual route north crossing the Pont de Brotonne to Yvetot then up to the coast at Veules-les-Roses (camping-cars not welcome), before taking the coast road to Dieppe, where we parked at the aire on the seafront for the afternoon before boarding the evening ferry to Newhaven.