Thursday, 21 July 2016

Swiss Normandy and Around.

Our trip to France was going better than expected despite, fuel shortages and floods!

The second part of our trip took in Deauville on the coast and Swiss Normandy, a part of France we had never visited before and will definitely return to. The weather continued to be "changeable," to say the least. It was beginning to warm up but was still very damp. We managed to avoid most of the rain during the day, so it was packer macs on and off we went. We had decided to stick with Normandy and hug the coast. Etretat had been mentioned in forums as an interesting place to visit and it was where we had intended to go. We found a site which looked as if it would fit the bill. On the edge of a small town, near a beach, picturesque, perfect.

Our jolly little SatNag, did the business and took us safely there, it was very wet. The sign on the door of the reception block, said it all.

 "Too wet for camper vans, closed due to rain. Back at 3 pm!"

 Well, that's my very rough translation of the French, we got the gist. At it was only 11 am we decided not to wait. On a lovely sunny day it would have been fine but as it was, it was damp and dismal. We looked at the Aire next door and that looked even sadder, we decided to move on. 
SatNag did her duty again and raised some alternatives. We decided we needed a bit of luxury so went for a 5 star on the coast a few miles away. Camping La Vallee at Deauville, was the destination, the lady at reception was very helpful, offered ASCI rates and said we could park anywhere. It was wet underfoot but we could park on the road between the pitches if we felt it was necessary. We soon found a nice little spot for April on a nicely hedged pitch. Funny how it takes twice as long to find a suitable pitch on an empty campsite!

The site was strangely quiet, very well kept and really clean. There was a restaurant/bar which was open and we had a lovely evening meal there. The campsite had all the usual facilities including a pool and outdoor gym. 

We walked into the nearby village of Arnault, where there were shops, cafes and a weekly market.

The following morning was dry and the sun was trying to come out. We decided to trek a bit further into Deauville and Trouville Sur Mer. It was a very long walk but we did enjoy it. We skirted the river to the posh part first, Deauville. The path wound through the town past the river and the lovely seating decorated by local children.

We are always amazed how well the French keep their local amenities, wish we could do the same. Deauville is very big on horse racing and we walked past the enormous racing track with the huge banks of stables. Certainly money oozed out of every doorway.

Certainly an upmarket spot for the rich and famous to be seen on racing days. We meandered along the Avenue Strassburg where Gustave Flaubert was entertained in style. A Monument Historique villa built by Baron Henri de Rothschild and lived in by American millionaire Ralph Strassburger in the 1920's, during the racing season. How the other half live.

We continued on, passed the entrance to the racecourse, where stable hands were busily mucking out. The architecture was amazing and you could see why Deauville is the place to be seen and a rival to the Med coast resorts.

We strolled along the boardwalk of Les Promenade des Planches and admired the film star pictures on the bathing huts overlooking the beach. Some looked a little tired.

No takers today for the parasols on the beach, which waited forlornly for the sunshine.It would have been interesting to see how much it cost to sit under one? Would we have bothered? 

Gradually we made our way around the marina gazing at the yachts and had coffee in a tacky cafe before making our way back up through the glamour of the town. Coco Chanel had her first shop here.

We went passed the casino and eventually after a few slight detours found our way back to the campsite. The International Triathalon was being prepared for in Deauville, so there were loads of interesting temporary building projects going on. In fact part of the bike route was passing the front of the campsite, we were mildly tempted to stay and watch but decided to move on.

We now had a full tank of fuel but were running out of days. We ventured about 50 miles south to have a look at Swiss Normandy. Situated in the Orne Valley, Swiss Normandy is an area for hiking, climbing and canoeing. Just what we needed then. We made for our next stop near Clecy, Les Rochers des Parcs. We stopped at another 5 star camp en route Le Brevedent but boggy ground, crowds and slopes put us off. With some apprehension we pulled into Les Rochers des Parcs and got a lovely welcome from the French owner who directed us to a hard standing overlooking the river in a lovely spot. Wet but lovely.

The river ran passed our door and we could watch all the various river related activities from our van. The sun even came out and we managed a BBQ. This part of France is dominated by rocky outcrops of limestone and the campsite is surrounded by wonderful walking countryside. We explored some fabulous places and went on some of the best walks over the viaduct, through the woods and over the cliff tops. Challenging but well worth the effort. This is a place that we will go back to, but not at weekends when it is very busy.

The viaduct, we climbed to the top.

Brilliant views of the river far below. The path up through the woods to the cliff tops was quite a climb. We met a pensioners party on their way these French!

Up through the forest.

Along the cliff edge.

We did get to the very top but we took the scenic route. This area is certainly the place to go for outdoors activities of every kind. There were loads of French school parties around. I would imagine it can get very busy. An uneventful stay at the campsite in Ouistreham, a really nice meal and the bonus of watching a distant view of some old war planes in the skies as part of the D Day Landing celebrations. The weather gradually improved but it was time to go home.

Although the weather had been rather up and down we really enjoyed our 10 night visit and look forward to the next French visit. Very soon.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

C'est La Vie ! French Flags Fly!

We had booked a crossing to France and thought we would go to the Ile de Re, near La Rochelle for a two week break. The French had other ideas, fuel shortages, floods and les temps! Being the hardy types, we decided there was no stopping us, a full tank of fuel should do, to take us to Normandy and back home, we hoped. We stocked up ( just in case the shops were empty ) and set off on the horrible road trip to Dover. Fortunately, not too bad this time and no "Operation Stack" to contend with, luckily I actually read the booking confirmation before we got to Dover, time correct, so no slip ups there, but we were actually going to Dunkirk not Calais, whoops!

The journey was fairly uneventful and surprisingly as it was half term week, the ferry was relatively quiet. Usually at this time of the year the ferry is heaving with kids on school trips, maybe lack of fuel had put people off. Arriving with plenty of time to spare we made for Les Erables, commonly referred to as, "The Farmer's Field". Monsieur, was pleased to see us and a distinct lack of happy campers meant there was loads of spaces. Clean toilet block, water, food and wine, a bit of sunshine would have been nice.

We looked back with fond memories of the early morning we almost lost Smartie off the back of the trailer when negotiating off the pitch here on the way home. No problems this time, we are smaller with no trailer to worry about.  We settled down for the evening and went for a roam around familiar places. The aire at the bottom of the hill was empty, it said "no overnight camping, 11 pm-6 am", strange that, because it's in the aire book. 

Escalles, Northern France, number 26. 

I expect the French ignore that, it looked to us if you parked up behind the hedge, no-one would know you were there. We searched for the hidden water tap but couldn't find it. Possibly could be used as an emergency stopping place, we prefer the campsite and a stroll into Escalles for a meal, although not this time, we used emergency provisions and a bottle of best English bought, French wine.

The following morning dawned bright, damp and cloudy, time to move on.We ate our croissants and bagged the baguette for later and said "au revoir" to Monsieur.

 We decided to aim for Chateau Hardelot, just south of Bologne, another old haunt. We hadn't been there for around 4 years. On the way we did another first, we stopped at the supermarket in Condette for provisions. As the car park was really quiet we thought we would try and fill up with fuel using our credit card. It worked! We were very impressed with ourselves. So much for the fuel shortage. Thank you Halifax Clarion and Martin Lewis for the suggesting it. Seriously, we were a bit concerned as so many fuel stations in France are now automatic and don't like UK cards, ours worked.

Again, we got a warm welcome from Madam at the half empty campsite, Chateau Hardalot at Condette. To be fair it wasn't exactly half empty but had grown more huts on site since our last visit, with a severely reduced number of touring pitches. We settled down on a nice, grassy, dampish space behind some trees and set off for a stroll to the beach.

Strange how small April appears in a field. We set off to explore the chateau. The path to the chateau is actually a lovely walk or ride. We decided our legs needed stretching.

As we approached the Lake of Mirrors, we discovered that EU funding was alive and well. At least in this part of the world. An extensive boardwalk had been built around the lake complete with bird hides and numerous information boards, it was a beautiful walk.

Den thought this one deserved a picture of it's own.

Trust the French to put in a gate with this complicated weighting system, we were most impressed with the engineering. The bird hide was also an education centre and all the information boards were also done in braille.

We are always so surprised in France, how small local councils can do so much more than ours.

A perfect spot for a bit of bird watching.

We continued our amble past the marsh cattle which were so well adapted to the landscape and were being re introduced to the area. Seemed used to visitors, with those horns I was glad they were behind a fence.

We followed the boardwalk to the end and made for the castle.

Chateau Hardelot

Chateau Hardelot is there for the entente cordiale and is really a glorified community centre with the emphasis on culture. Certainly it had grown in stature from the ruin it used to be and the grounds are being developed beautifully. The French are also building a reproduction Elizabethan Theatre in the grounds. Even our Queen has been on a visit.

http://www.Chateau-Hardelot Elizabethian Theatre

We tagged behind a visiting party of council officials as they went on a tour, I'm sure we looked a bit out of place. They were in their best clothes, we were in walking gear with a backpack, we didn't have the nerve to follow them into the marquee for the drinks and nibbles. Maybe they didn't notice us. Still, they went to the trouble to put up the flags for us. 

Just as well the visit was pre Brexit. 

After a peaceful couple of days we set off for a new destination. We had enjoyed our visit, the sun hadn't exactly shone but we did manage a BBQ, a few walks, a few bottles of wine and a visit to a French market where we bought some yummy, smelly cheese. We also managed a walk to the beach for a bit of sea air and an ice cream in a posh restaurant here on the beach at Hardelot.

Next stop, another sea side destination in Normandy and a glimpse of how the other half live.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Camping Clubs But Which One?

I am trying not to open a can of worms "my club is better than yours", but if we were to join all the clubs it would get pretty pricey. So I guess the question should be which club suits us best ?

Our needs are pretty simple, tidy, easy campsites with good quality facilities, that are not too expensive. We are not into rallies, they suit some, but we prefer our own company, although we do meet some lovely people on our travels that we are happy to socialise with. We are happy to mix with other campers, but we are not into sitting in circles, or doing quizzes ( with or without our own cups). We do use the forums and campsite searches on line frequently. This is not a criticism of rally goers, many people really enjoy rallies but they are not for us. 

 Caravan Club. We have been members of the club for many years. Sadly the booking system is dire and in all this time we have only managed a very few sites as we like to go at the last minute. The magazine is rubbish,the print is so tiny even I have problems with my glasses on, the website is getting better. We really only joined for the international camping card, now called Key Camp, which we find useful and the Europe Camping Books. Should we stay members....probably not! However, there is always a "but," we did actually manage to get on a site recently, Hurn Lane in Somerset and we had a great time. So there is some hope. Review of that site to follow and it was featured in the magazine this month. On reflection, Hurn Lane is now likely to be full for the rest of the year.

Camping and Caravanning Club. Much nicer feel to this one, easier to book sites and appears more friendly. Choice of on line or paper magazines, a bit cheaper on line. Linked to the ASCI club, so possibly a better alternative to Key Camp and a good choice of campsites. On a recent trip to France we got ASCI prices at all the sites we went to and we are not members yet! We joined this year as we are looking at some of their escorted tours. We have just booked on the two presentation days in November/December, so something to look forward to.

Motorhome Fun. This has got to be my favourite. Cheap to join, lovely website, forum and Facebook page. Good fun. Rallies for those who want to attend, but really useful information on loads of topics. This is always my first stop for information.

IH Owners Club. Most marques have their own clubs. This one has been great for us for information about our van and sharing hints and tips.

UK Campsites. This is a great little site and I use it all the time. The virtual brochure is a clever little tool. We always read the reviews and find them generally very enlightening.

Trip Advisor. Again, useful for information.

Searchforsites. Someone put a lot of work into this. A really handy site.

Social Media. Loads of clubs here just find one that suits. 

Britstops. Lots of good feedback on this one from other travellers we have met but there is a limit to how many books you can carry.

All the Aires. BIG BOOKS. Hopefully we may get to try them out this year.

Finally, if you have a van join the National Trust, if you are over 60 ring them for a reduction! We use our membership a lot and find it well worth the pennies for us.

Hurn Lane Caravan Club Site.

Yippee!!! We did finally get onto a Caravan Club Site so all is not lost.

Caravan Club Site Hurn Lane

 Hurn Lane in sunny Somerset, actually Brean. The site is of the usual high standards expected. We used the gravel hard standings, although there are some grass pitches, they were waterlogged, so closed. Very pleasant site, although a bit of a walk to the beach, we used our bikes. Lovely bike trail from the site. We stopped at the cricket club on the way home.

Bike Trail from Hurn Lane

If you are really naughty you can use the supermarket in the next door site Unity Resort, another of our favourite places. The only downside to Hurn Lane is "seagulls", they lurk as soon as there is food about. We had a very peaceful weekend and will be going back soon (if we can get in!!! )

We are currently exploring motorhome escorted tours with The Camping and Caravanning Club and have booked to go on their presentation days in November/December this year, so watch this space.