Towards the Dordogne

From Parthenay we travel on southwards and head for Souillac, the weather improving as we go, until when we arrive to this attractive town on the edge of The Dordogne it’s sunny and very warm indeed, a situation we are unused to and not yet acclimatised to.

The site is close to town and by the Dordogne river, although, strictly speaking Souillac is in Lot. There’s one main street, as is common in French towns and villages. Once we’re set up at Camping Les Ondines we retire to the bar for cold drinks, sitting under a shade by the pool. A little later we try a walk up into the town to stretch legs after a day’s travel but it’s hard work in the unaccustomed heat.

In spite of the promising sunshine we wake next morning to rain, unrelenting and gloomy. We’d  promised ourselves a walk or a cycle but by afternoon there’s no change so we don rainwear and set off to explore Souillac, soon seeing most of it- down one side of the street and up the other. But there’s a museum- the Musee de l’Automate, which looks interesting. The exhibits are all historic, working models, some quite extraordinary, many comical and others downright sinister!

I’m also drawn to the Josephine Baker exhibition, showing in a cavernous space behind the tourist information office. There are photographs, ancient film footage and items from her glamorous wardrobe on display and a helpful expert on hand to answer questions, although not to talk non-stop, thankfully. Josephine Baker lived a fascinating life and had come from a deprived and impoverished childhood in the American south. Now she is much revered by the French. Her connection to Souillac is a little tenuous, in that she stopped overnight enroute by train to the Dordogne chateau she’d bought after becoming such a celebrated dancer.

There are few places to get a coffee on a wet, Wednesday afternoon in Souillac but we seat ourselves outside a hotel in the main street under the awning and get a drink while the rain plummets in a deluge.

The day after is a little better- cloudy but at least dry and we opt for a walk by the river, except that the footpath disappears after a time. Alongside the path a young horse is being schooled, round and round a ring. On our return we are confronted by the horse, riderless, stirrups flapping, galloping towards us on the path, prompting us to step to the side, although I stick an arm out and say ‘whoa’ as it thunders in our direction. The horse stops abruptly, standing opposite us and panting, then drops his head to graze, joined at last by his rider. The horse is beautiful.

By evening the sun is out once more and we go to eat at one of Souillac’s few restaurants. The menus are dominated by duck-related dishes, also foie-gras- a delicacy we prefer to avoid. But we get a pleasant meal on our last evening here and then we’re off again, this time to get into real, proper Dordogne country…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Strange and Familiar

We are winging our way down a well-driven, well-known to us route towards south west France and some very familiar places as well as some yet unexplored. This return visit comes soon after our spring Brittany trip, so I’m back into the routine of packing the van [although I’m more efficient with a few days notice] and tackling van life.

The weather on this long, bank holiday and UK Jubilee weekend is what weatherpeople like to term ‘unsettled’, which usually means wet. I’m a little sad to miss our street’s Jubilee party- not because I harbour patriotic thoughts about our monarchy but because I’d have been delighted to mingle with all our lovely neighbours.

As timing would have it, it’s a double bank holiday for France, too, with Monday and Tuesday closing for just about everything- except perhaps the bakeries and restaurants.

On leaving Cherbourg Port we go on a wild goose chase on this last Saturday before the close down, to find an ‘Orange’ outlet and get a sim card, locating it after a time-wasting search and then having to wait 30 minutes for a member of staff who is able to deal with me, the awkward, old bat who wants a new data card for mobile wifi. But the guy is charming and well chosen, managing everything with a smile.

Then we adjust the night stop plan for a more manageable one, opting to pootle down the Cherbourg peninsula coast a bit and park up in an aire, of which there are a few. The aire at Gouville-sur-Mer is busy with French motorhomes but there is space for us and it’s a stunning view of the huge beach, a sky full of glowering storm clouds hovering above. The tide is out and horse-drawn trailer rides make the view more picturesque than ever.

Then it’s on southwards, planning to stop at Nantes for a night but it’s fully booked on this Bank Holiday so we press on and to a town called Parthenay and a site in out ACSI book. It’s nice enough, by a park and a river, for a couple of nights, althought he weather is unsettled and we wake to rain. When it clears up we walk by the river to the centre of the town, which has some medieval parts and a 13th century citadel. We can see the citadel in the distance on our way in, looking impressive, perched on the top of this hilltop town, although finding the entrance is more difficult than Alice finding her way into the garden [in ‘Looking Glass’].

The streets leading into the centre are lined with closed down and dilapidated shops as well as poor condition homes, even the historic, half-timbered ones falling to pieces. But the town’s central square is filled with loud music, stalls and revellers for the Fete of the Pentecote, so it’s not all bad! We have a wander round the stalls and into an enormous marquee which houses, amongst other sellers, a furniture outlet, a stairlift supplier and a purveyor of nougat…

The stalls continue along the streets- churros, gallettes, ice creams, rifle ranges and burgers all in abundance. The road surfaces are deep in confetti- presumably part of the previous day’s [Sunday] religious parades.

A choice of a random street leads us at last to the citadel gate, with no indication of its presence whatsoever; but it’s impressive, if casually presented, squeezed between buildings , the interior a car park.

There are, however great views over the terracotta roofs and down the valley, the gardens lush with flowers and vegetables. We walk back down to our site, past wonderful old medieval walls dotted with wildflowers. Parthenay, like so many places, is in urgent need of an economic leg up and some investment into its historic features.

Next morning we’re off again, heading south- and the weather is hotting up…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

The Last Days- St Cast le Guildo

For our final site and last couple of days before departure from Bretagne we’ve chosen St Cast le Guildo, a stone’s throw from St Malo and Dinard, both of which we’ve stayed at and visited, St Malo being fairly well known to us. It’s another glorious stretch of Bretonne coast and moves us nearer to our departure point of Caen.

The site is perched high above the sea. We choose a pitch ovelooking a vast bay where the tide recedes to expose a huge field of oyster beds, beach tractors working quickly at the low tide to harvest the oysters before the beds are once more submerged. The site is another being newly refurbished with an impressive, lofty bar/cafe [not yet fully open].

The campsite’s position, high above the town means a steep walk down to the seafront and commerce and a hard climb back up. But, keen to maximise our last days we wander down in the late afternoon sunshine to scope out the bars and restaurants. The seafront faces a broad stretch of sandy beach and like Dinard, there is a seawall walkway around to the harbour area.

The small town centre square has a sunny area laid out with tables and chairs from two or three bars, busy on this weekday evening with groups of friends and families. After a beer we select a restaurant- part of a hotel- and are shown to a table, although there is only a handful of fellow diners. It’s clear when we begin to make choices that much of the menu is ‘off’, at which point we should really make our excuses and leave, but we opt for simple fare and make the best of it. Then it’s a slog back up the steep hill to the campsite.

Next day is bathed in warm sunshine, perfect for a walk around the coast path. The views are magnificent and the meandering path is flanked by a huge variety of wildflowers, a magnet for speckled brown butterflies. The first stretch of path plunges down then quickly begins to climb a steep and rocky hill. Once we’ve reached the top it’s merely undulating rather then steep.

At last we reach a point above St Cast’s harbour with a panoramic view of the surrounding coast, then it’s a short stroll down to the port, which is a proper working base for fisherman, and where the dockside has a few promising restaurants and bars. We reward ourselves with a beer before slogging back up to our site- but not before inspecting the restaurant menus.

Later we return via the town route to get dinner. The restaurant is quiet, with only a handful of early evening drinkers besides ourselves, but we sit down and order. A little later a family arrives and the two young daughters tuck into plates of crevettes with gusto, which is a sight to behold!

The climb back up to our site is the last, as we’ll be off up to Caen next day…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Of Croissants and Campsites

After leaving Quiberon we moved on to Raguenes Plage, a tiny hamlet [‘hameau’] whose nearest notable towns would be scenic Pont Aven or touristy Concarneau, where we’ve been before, although all I could remember about Concarneau was falling off my bicycle into a nettle patch after an evening out…

On first sight, the campsite at Raguenes looks wonderful- and indeed it is as ‘luxurious’ as the ACSI book describes- beautifully laid out in gorgeous grounds, with a brand, spanking new indoor pool and an outdoor pool which is a work-in-progress. The showers etc are excellent and all seems great. We are welcomed by a jovial monsieur in an apron, wielding a spatula. He is caretaking the site on this Sunday while the reception staff have a day off. Not only is he pleasant and friendly but tells me I speak good French. He is multi-tasking by also preparing pizzas.

Here at Raguenes the spacious site is almost deserted and having selected our pitch we drive around to it and see only two other vans anywhere…

There isn’t a lot to the village; another site, a farm or two and private houses, although it’s picturesque, several of the old, stone houses having ancient wells in the garden or an old, outside bread oven.

It’s a short walk down the hill to the rocky shore and at low tide it is possible to clamber over the rocks to Raguenes Island, but best of all there is a coast path in both directions. The weather has turned overcast since we moved but will be fine for walking. There’s no shop, bar or boulangerie in Raguenes. Through the window of the site ‘takeaway’ behind the receptionist’s office I can clearly see two pains au chocolat, which is exactly what we would like with our coffee, but while we’ve ordered bread from site reception the woman manning the desk assures me that nothing else can be purchased unless we’ve pre-ordered it. Perhaps the pastries have been reserved by one of the two other units on site…

Perched above the rocky shore is a hotel/restaurant/cafe that may, or may not offer coffee. We wander down there. It’s quiet, but inside a conservatory a man sits using a computer and the door is open. Can we get coffee? Yes- and Bretonne style cake besides.

In the afternoon we stride out along the path towards Trevignon and despite the cloudy weather it is a great walk with lovely views and a carpet of dune-dwelling wildflowers and plants covering the sandy cliffs. Once we arrive at the tiny town there’s little to see and it’s bank holiday, but a couple of bar/cafes are open above the small marina. Then there’s nothing for it but to turn back and return via the same route. By the time we’re back the sun is out and as we pass the takeaway window I’m interested to see the two pains au chocolat still sitting on their plate, no doubt stale and inedible by now…

The following day is drizzly and we’re footsore from our walk so we unhook the van and take a trip to Pont Aven, nestling in a deep ravine and teeming with sightseers. We manage to find a parking spot and then must plunge down a steep hill to the centre. It’s an arty little town where Gaugin apparently went to school. Galleries abound as do gift shops, exploiting the arty vibe. The ‘pont’ is attractive, the river winding around the buildings, with a water mill wheel and a weir. We slog back uphill and have a last night at Raguenes Plage before moving on…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Back in the Swing of Things. France April 2022

We’ve chosen Conleau for our first site on this celebratory return to France, It’s just outside Vannes- near enough to walk in- and next to an estuary, a saltmarsh nature reserve. Across the road a popular beauty spot skirts the marina, overlooked by a couple of bars. It’s all bathed in sunshine for our first evening and we take a short walk then get a beer outside in the sun. An elderly man at the next table is eager to chat, which provides me with more French practice, and he with English…

The site is half full, mostly tourers, mostly French. There’s only one other British pair plus one or two other nationalities, which suggests that post-covid wandering is slow to get going. But I’m delighted that ‘turning up and booking in’ seems to be back on, as I’d worried we might never be able to be spontaneous ever again!

Next day we start out to walk around some of the estuary and discover that Vannes is not all that far, so continue on to the old city, walking along the river. In spite of all the modern architecture we’ve driven through to get to the site, the centre of the town is ancient and characterful with half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets. It’s full of tourists- again mainly French, and there’s a fair bit to see.

We’re a little weary and footsore and get a bus back almost to our site- except that the driver pulls up and turfs us off a couple of hundred yards before we get there.

We’re aiming to try and build back up to walking after our doses of Plague, so the following day we walk the other way, along the nature reserve, following one river.

It’s time to move on and we’ve opted for Quiberon, where we’ve stayed before on a few occasions. The site we opt for looks good and it’s near the sea, but although it is part of the same chain as Conleau its services are feeble. The showers, in spite of the new, modern building are feeble, the internet non-existent. The good news is we can walk into Quiberon town, which we do, along the seafront. All is just as we remember, including the ice-cream shop!

The coast around the Quiberon peninsula is scenic and rocky and the weather is fine, so it’s more walking, then on our second full day we plan to set off later, inspect the town and get a meal. We spend a lazy afternoon then head off, browsing the shops and getting a coffee. It takes a while to select a restaurant and it’s Saturday so many of them are ‘complet’. In the end I persuade Husband into the ‘Bistro du Port’ which he’d been convinced was a burger joint, but in spite of its unassuming exterior the restoranteur is enthusiastic and charming, welcoming us into his establishment, recommending dishes and engaging with us. The food is mostly seafood, fresh and delicious as you might expect in a port restaurant.

We walk back full and contented, and we’re ready to move again next day, which is Sunday. We’ll need to be up and away to catch a supermarket before thay close at midday…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

French Renaissance April 2022

It’s a momentous day. After two and a half years we’ve renewed our acquaintance with Brittany Ferries’ trusty vessel, Barfleur and have managed to cross the English Channel and get to France. Oh- and it also happens to be Polling Day for the French, who are choosing between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen.

                It’s an early start to be ready, packed up and into the sparse queue for check-in at Poole, but we are luckier than most as it’s a short drive for us. And it’s quiet on a Sunday. We been a little anxious about attempting another trip abroad after the Iceland debacle, but once we’ve trundled to the booth we only need our passports and vaccine passes, then we’re through and in spite of a security check of the van, [due perhaps to being the ‘1 in 10’ or whatever], it’s all straightforward.

                The ferry is quiet, occupied by ancient travellers such as ourselves and one or two young couples with toddlers making the most of back-to-school time. There are no excitable parties of schoolchildren galloping round and round the decks and no gangs of teenagers crowding the shop and thrashing hell out of the gaming machines.

                We get a quick coffee and a pastry then descend to the deck below where a salon offers warmth, quiet and comfortable recliners. Soothed by the engines, gentle swell of the sea and sunshine I’m soon drowsy and most of the crossing passes in a pleasant, sleepy stupor.

We are soon making our way down a familiar route towards Bretagne and our first planned night’s stop, an aire at Tremblay. It’s not hard to find, sandwiched between the cemetery and some old people’s homes and it;s dead quiet[!], except for a yard full of dogs yapping. We’re on our own in the 8 place aire, which has a service point and little else. A short stroll around the village reveals little on this sleepy Sunday, the two bars and everything else closed apart from the Mairie, which is a polling station. I’ve been hoping to fill my water bottles as we’re close to being out of water and the service point ‘ne marche pas’ so I make a cheeky entrance to the polling station and beg some water from the kindly polling clerk, who is very obliging.I thank her and wish her luck whilst itching to know who’s in the lead…

My French is rusty from 2 years of disuse but begins to be revived. We sleep well in our spot next to the cemetery. Aires often seem to be situated by churchyards, or sometimes sports grounds or police stations. Next morning there’s very little traffic to disturb us except for the dustbin lorry. We make a feeble attempt to get water from the service point, which rejects our 2E coin, give up and get underway.

We’re getting back into the swing of it- but we’re too far in towards the centre of Vannes to find a large supermarket by the time we think of it and the SATNAV leads us unhelpfully to a non-existent Hyper-U in the centre of town. We locate a Carrefour at last but find ourselves grabbing a quick lunch in the subterranean gloom of the car park.

Our mobile internet has failed us, a hitch that needs solving. The giant store has an ‘Orange’ outlet and we head there, to find my burgeoning recall of French severely challenged as I try to explain our difficulties. I manage it though and we come away with a stop-gap solution. It occurs to me that much of holidaying this way is problem-solving and perhaps that’s part of what we enjoy…or not…

At last we get to our chosen site- and it’s lovely, nestling by an enormous natural harbour. There’s time for a walk and a beer, sitting in the sunshine by the marina and we remember what we love about holidaying this way…

Van Talk 2

I’m sitting here in our current van, writing, feet up on the comfortable bench sofa- my default evening position, laptop across my legs.

This van is number three. In last week’s post I described how we came to become owners of our first van, a VW and how we modified it for our comfort and our needs.

If things had turned out differently we might still be using a VW van. I’m sure that were it not for me, Husband would certainly have stuck with VWs with their dinky, hip looks, iconic engine sound, compact size and a certain nippiness. It transpired, however that a chronic health condition I got diagnosed with in 2014 required more van comforts, such as a bathroom and toilet. For those curious enough to want to know here is a post from way back when I was terrorised by the disease: https://gracelessageing.com/2014/12/07/journey-to-the-centre-of-the-colon-a-gastric-odyssey-with-apologies-to-jules-verne/

In any case, the upshot of it all was that we branched out into unknown territory- a panel van. Again, it was an ebay purchase, a Citroen. This time Husband ventured up to Hull, in the north of England, to have a look at the vehicle. At home, I was obliged to rely on his judgement plus the ebay photos, which did portray a handsome, luxurious interior and- most importantly- a shower and toilet cubicle. Once more, this was a home-made conversion and once more, the van had barely been used since the work was done.

But there was one stunning difference. The van was perfect for us as it was; no need for expensive, corrective work or re-modelling. And besides having what was now a necessity- a shower plus loo cubicle- it had an oven below its three gas burners, two sumptuous sofas in the back and a TV! We’d never missed a TV in the VW van, but were not about to remove it. The bed, however did take a little longer than the ‘rock-n-roll’ bed in the VW, involving inserting a plank into the space between the sofas and turning the sofa cushions over. Once converted into a vast double bed it induced a supremely wonderful sleep with the added joy of waking to a view up and out of the skylight, which might reveal sky and stars, clouds or a glorious tree canopy.

The acquisition of the bigger van opened up a whole new angle on places to stay. Now we could be self-sufficient, no more reliance on campsites for showers and the rest. In Europe [although not in the UK] we’d be able to use ‘aires’. For the uninitiated, aires are places that motorhomes or campervans can park up for overnight stays for either a very modest charge or no charge at all. In France, especially, they are everywhere, towns and villages offering parking, waste disposal and water in a designated area. In most other European countries there are plenty of aires, too. We’ve stayed in the centre of beautiful Reims, where a short stroll takes you to any number of Champagne bars, beside any number of canals and rivers, overlooking rugged coastlines in Sicily- hundreds of great views and access to bars and restaurants if we want.

Of course we still use sites. We often spend long enough away to need laundry facilities and a few extra services. And we have our favourites, the ones we return to because of their position. So where did we go with our new van? Wait and see…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Van Talk 1

We became owners of our first campervan in 2008, after years of travelling Europe with tents. The transition was not down to dislike of tent camping- far from it, so reluctant was I to give up sleeping in a tent that we continued to take a tent for a while especially for sleeping purposes. And I do still hanker after that wonderful feeling of drifting off to sleep with a cool breeze wafting through the fabric of a tent, although nowadays getting up off a squishy, inflatable mattress would be likely to cause more difficulty than it did years ago!

We were in Croatia, staying on the island of Korcula. We’d arrived late and had to pitch up in the dark then cook a meal by lantern light outside. The space we’d been allocated was only just large enough for our tent and it had been a tricky operation. That same trip, we’d survived thunderstorms without as much as a drop of rain penetrating the tent walls, but on the Korcula site, next door to us, a VW campervan with a pop-up roof was parked. We got to thinking how simple it was to park up and hook up. How much more of the year we’d be able to travel. We were sold on the idea of a van.

We got our first van from Ebay, a VW lovingly converted for a project, by someone in Sussex. At this point we’d very little idea of what to expect from a van and how things might work. As it turned out, the conversion, whilst pretty, was neither practical nor efficient. There was no means of accessing the front [cab] of the van from the rear. There was nowhere to stash a porta-potty [essential for us!] except the worktop area! Just imagine- we had to perch on the portaloo on the top of the worktop- a proper throne indeed!

Worst of all though, as we discovered on a trip to Agen, France, the home-made, blue, vinyl roof leaked. This was a shock, after our watertight experiences of the tent. I was horrified when, during a thunderous deluge when pitched up by the beautiful River Lot, we were woken by rain inside the van. We wound up having to use an umbrella over our heads inside, which is a comical image to recollect now but was no laughing matter at the time.

We took the van to a conversion expert, who made a wonderful [if expensive] job of installing a new, purpose made pop-up roof and side access cupboards, sink and cooker, enabling us to move around all of the van and, importantly, have somewhere to perch on the portaloo. Thereafter we travelled all over the place, in all kinds of weather. When we were ready for a little more comfort and some additional facilities we sold it on to a couple who wanted it for weekends away. Husband, especially, mourned its passing bitterly. But the time had come.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Tales from the Tow Path

I’m continuing this mini series on favourite places with a look back at experiences along the Canal du Midi, France. The canal runs for 240 km from the lovely old city of Toulouse, south to beautiful Narbonne, connecting via a shorter section, the Canal de Robine to the Mediterranean. There is a corner along this shorter section where waterways merge and it is here that a gorgeous old stone cottage stands, crumbling and neglected, so that whenever we’ve cycled past I like to imagine living there between the two canals in the green, watery space.

Taken bit by bit we’ve cycled all of the canal at some time or other, the experiences punctuated with stops at picturesque or historic sights like medieval, walled Carcasonne, [touristy but fun] or Beziers with its stunning run of locks and the canal crossing the river via aqueduct.

Cycling canal tow paths is not challenging and is unlikely to suit those who pedal purely for exercise, but for those who enjoy leisure cycling, where scenery, tranquility, beautiful wildlife, occasional stops for coffees or beers and a chance to explore iconic and historic towns and cities it offers great rewards. The hardest slópe is a short pull up and over a lock, the trickiest navigation stray tree roots.

There are long stretches of canal where nothing much changes, avenues of trees- mostly planes but with some poplars or oaks, flank the sides and the banks are riotous with wildflowers.

Parts of the waterway are popular with boat users, usually hirers who are in the process of learning the business of lock negotiation, which can provide entertainment in the height of the season. It is mostly good-natured although we’ve had occasion to witness some disputes over lock access at times.

Other stretches are occupied by houseboats, like Dutch barges, but, unlike UK canals there are few narrow boats- we did, however watch one being taken down the nine Beziers locks once!

At the southern end of the Canal du Robine lies Narbonne Plage, from which cycle paths extend either way along the coast. We stayed on the beach site with a tent many years ago, a first stay in the area which was followed by several more, latterly with vans. The town, though not picturesque has all the ingredients necessary for a beach holiday [including lovely weather]. A preferable option for staying, and one we’ve taken up a few times, is Gruissan, which certainly is picturesque from any angle and has narrow, cobbled streets with interesting shops and bars, the streets winding up to a high pinnacle topped with an old church tower.

I’m sure we’ll return to parts of the Canal du Midi- not least because we’ve deliberated following the waterway north east from Toulouse at some point- although not, of course this year.

Another trip, however is imminent, here in our own UK [but not in England!]. We’ll be setting off as you read…watch this space!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

South West France- a Default Destination

Not everyone enjoys travel. But those who do like it for a plethora of reasons, not least because there is so much pleasure to be had from exploring a new destination. I believe this is due to our innate thirst to learn, which does not [as far as I’m concerned] become less with age.

Having said this, there are favourite places for all travellers that they love and return to repeatedly. Call these places ‘default’ destinations. For some it’s the theme parks of Florida, others love the Canary Islands or the Costas, or Scotland.

For us, the default is France, and more specifically, south west France, everywhere from south of Bretagne down to below Bayonne and around the corner to the Spanish border has been visited, stopped at, tried and tested. Some places have become regular stops over the years, like the unappealingly named, ‘Le Gurp’ in the Gironde, a municipal camp site, pine woods stretching out into dunes, a few minutes walk up over a hummock to a minimal row of shops and bars and then the vast expanse of creamy white beach. The Atlantic Ocean rolls huge, frothy waves onto the sand. To the left are concrete remnants of old military bunkers, liberally graffitied. To the right the beach romps away into the distance. Walk far enough and you’ll be right in among the naturists!

In the beginning we travelled with a tent- or rather a series of tents, then later with our first, small van [A VW pop-top, much beloved by Husband], later still, newer vans with enhanced facilities, and while we’ve explored much further afield and completed vastly longer trips, we continue [when possible] to revisit SW France.

The few bars offer just enough in terms of evening entertainment, a couple of beers and a meal seated out on the decking to watch the beach world pass by. We’ve been visiting Le Gurp since our tent travels of the 90s and I’ve no doubt we’ll return.

On the coast near Bordeaux, Le Porge is another favourite, recommended by an American we met at Bordeaux’s own site [a convenient, easy cycle from the centre] it also has a handful of beach bars and a wide, wild beach.

Further south, in Les Landes, we’ve enjoyed some wonderful times at camping St Martin, which again has direct access to an outrageously gorgeous beach plus a range of restaurants, bars and shops. From here, beautiful, paved cycle routes extend along the coast both ways, even and into miles of pine forests. The site provides pristine facilities and has become a firm favourite that we’ve returned to many times over the years.

Further north there are beautiful islands: Isle de Re, Isle de Noirmoutier and Isle d’Oleron, accessed via arching bridges and each with their own character; they are marvels for those who enjoy seafood and especially oysters [a pleasure I came late to but have embraced!].

There are countless, tiny places up and down the long Atlantic coast that we’ve stayed in; Conti Plage, Moliets, Arcachon- too many for me to recall. There are many cycle routes we’ve repeated, cafes and bars we’ve revisited, stores we’ve returned to.

On occasions we’ve left if the weather hasn’t been good, perhaps to dash south or drop around the corner and across to Portugal. But we know we’ll be back again, parking the van up in old haunts that feel like coming home.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook