2016 French Travelogue

This year we’d planned a 3 week trip away in the van. The complexities of the modern family being what the were this meant that the first week would just be me and Archie. In 7 days we had to be as far south as Bordeaux to meet Lucy & Lola who would be flying down when Lola finished school and Lucy finished work. Archie and I took the opportunity to tour as many French water parks as we could on the way down.

To keep costs down and convenience up we once again booked ferry crossings from our local port of Newhaven to Dieppe. An evening sailing out proved to be the same price as the Dover to Calais so Archie and I set off in the van packed with not just 3 weeks worth of our stuff but also the girls holiday gear too.

Newhaven to Dieppe ferry sunset

The drive the port is just 30 minutes for us and on this beautiful sunny evening we had a millpond-like crossing and a wonderful sunset. At the other side I’d decided to drive a little towards our first destination of Le Touquet (north of Dieppe) making use of the empty roads and time difference in our favour.

After an hours drive we finally found the already over-subscribed free aire near St Valery-sur-Somme where we simply pulled up at one side, switched off, got the top bed out and fell to sleep.

(Free) Aire at Cayeux sur Mer, Picardie

Address, long/lat: Route Blanche 80410 Cayeux sur Mer. 50.214636, 1.552560. Google maps link.
Star rating:
What we liked: right next to the beach, sheltered, some shade, free
What we didn’t like: simple, no facilities

Day 1
After a brief stroll on to the neighbouring Baie de Somme beach we were on up through the oh-so pretty St Valery to Le Touquet where I’d decided we park for free at the little airport’s car park, the only free 24 hour parking in the town (they are very strict with campervans in Le Touquet).

We had the option of catching the free (navette) shuttle bus which would have been a long winding route into town but instead decided to cycle the easy level streets to the beach. It was HOT today and we needed the cooling water of the Aqualud swimming complex on the beach. However it made sense for us to just buy a half days pass so we had a couple of hours to kill, and what better to do than go have a steak & frites at the Cafe du Sport on the high street! Delish.

Le Touquet

The Aqualud pool complex is just excellent. 6 indoor slides and a large pool with wave machine and masses more stuff including 2 more slides outside on the beach. We had a blast. Lots of queing but so much fun.

However when we got back to the van we found that it had literally been an oven in there, melted Archie’s Toblerone, and left the van uncomfortably warm even into the evening. Still it was a free night so who were we to complain and we settled down to a very peaceful nights’s sleep after the private pilots finally stopped enjoying this balmy evening.

(Free) Aire at Le Touquet, Pas-de-Calais

Address, long/lat: Allée de la Royale air Force, 62520 Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. 50.514267, 1.618007. Google maps link.
Star rating
What we liked: quiet at night, free
What we didn’t like: noise from the airport, a long way from the centre, just a car park, no shade, no facilities

Aqualud, Le Touquet

Archie’s water park rating: 5

What we liked: brilliant variety of slides inside and out, a great wave machine and lots of attractions for all ages
What we didn’t like: VERY popular – lots of queuing

Day 2

The next morning I decided that we’d move on before the end of the day as the airport car park  really didn’t have anything going for it for a 2 night stay, so we drove on over to Camping Stoneham in the town where they kindly let us park in their little car park by the gates for the day. It was an easier cycle in from here and Archie and I took delicious sandwiches from an amazing patisserie we know down to the beach where we spent most of the day building sandcastles on the vast expanses of sand as the tide comes in. We could do this all day every day.

Le Touquet Paris Plage

Back at the van we plunged on south again getting to Rouen where we avoided the usual congestion by heading off to a free aire on the river in a nearby village. This was a lovely peaceful riverside spot. After a brief paddle in the cooling waters we watched a huge barge plunge past leaving a massive bow wave we again settled down for a quiet night with only one other camper for company.

(Free) Aire at Oissel, Seine Maritime

Address, long/lat: Quai de Stalingrad, Oissel. 49.336676, 1.090349. Google maps link.
Star rating
What we liked: riverside, peaceful, water & chemical toilet facilities, free
What we didn’t like: very little

Day 3

We were off early, plunging south on the peage again and soon found Le Mans. Here we drove straight to the motor museum at the race circuit and spent a very enjoyable hour strolling round a very peaceful exhibition of some very exciting vehicles.

Le Mans

From here we drove into Le Mans to find a central riverside aire but it really didn’t look at all inviting so we decided to head just out of town to an alternative aire in a little village called Arnage. This was a lovely peaceful riverside spot where we again cycled into the little town, bought and cooked some very reasonably priced steaks, and then cycled along the pretty riverside to discover a lovely sand lined lake where people where swimming and playing music. A lovely spot.

(Free) Aire nr Le Mans (Arnage), Sarthe

Address, long/lat: Rue du Port 72230 ARNAGE. 47.930323, 0.184115. Google maps link.
Star rating
What we liked: right on the river bank, campervan servicing facilities, lovely ride along the river, shops nearby
What we didn’t like: small (space for 3 or 4 vans)

Day 4

Tonight we were booked into our first campsite of the trip, and after a mornings’ drive we pulled on to Camping Lac du Ribou. It was lunchtime so the office was closed but that didn’t stop us from straight away decamping to enjoy their wonderful swimming pool complex which really was excellent. Again several slides and 3 lovely pools – we had a lot of fun – and when we got our pitch we drove through to a lovely shaded spot where we had our first barbecued dinner of kebabs bought from our supermarche stop en route. There was even strange and beguiling French campsite cabaret in the form of a fire show which held our attention momentarily – just long enough to receive our first mosquito bites of the trip!

Camping le Lac du Ribou, Cholet, Vienne

Address, long/lathttp://www.lacderibou.com/ Allée Léon Mandin 49300 CHOLET. 47.036500, -0.841974. Google maps link.
Star ratingstars-5
What we liked: great swimming pool complex, nice shady pitches, family friendly but also quiet, BBQs allowed
What we didn’t like: no shop

Archie’s water park rating: 5

What we liked:
What we didn’t like:

Day 5

It was a shame to be leaving. We had another quick swim and go on the slides this morning, and I managed to prize Archie away with the promise of our 3rd and final water park before we met the girls. After another long hot drive cross-country we eventually crossed the low lying Route du Gois to the Ile de Noirmoutier and the outdoor Oceanile water park.

We’d saved the best for last! A relatively new opening this already popular park was just excellent. We warmed up in the indoor formal pool and slide and then braced ourselves for the 6 outdoor rides. We had lots of fun, but unfortunately & saddeningly as we stood up to leave the 5th ride Archie was knocked down by the following slide riders. He hit the back of his head and his legs and was in a lot of pain. We were very well treated and thankfully he wasn’t badly hurt but it was a very sad occasion. Score marked down as a result!

We left pretty promptly, checked out an over-subscribed coastal aire and eventually found a very basic spot to park up for the night before the final push south. It was urban, close to a main road and noisy but there was an adjoining park or a quick game of frisbee before bed.

(Free) Aire at Challans, Loire Atlantic

Address, long/lat: 22-24 Boulevard Viaud Grand Marais 85300 Challans. 46.850764, -1.874466. Google maps link.
Star rating
What we liked: recreation field adjoining allowing you to get out of the van and run around, campervan services, convenient for onward travel from the road at night
What we didn’t like: basically just a car park, a little noise

Oceanile, Ile Noirmoutier

Archie’s water park rating: 3.5 (marked down)

What we liked: amazing 6 slide complex, indoor pool with slide, double person rides
What we didn’t like
: poor safety

Day 6 – 14

Today we drove! We had a couple of decent stops on the wonderful motorway aires on the way south but basically plunged on all the way to Bordeaux airport for our 4pm meeting of the rest of the clan. This was to be our most southerly point and from here we turned the wagon around and retraced our steps heading north and then to the coast, skirting La Rochelle before crossing to the Ile de Re where we pitched up on our campsite at 6pm.

Saint Martin de Ré

We had the next 7 nights here at Camping La Grainetiere on the outskirts of the pretty little port of La Flotte. It’s a peaceful, young-family-friendly, pine tree shaded site with friendly staff, a good little shop, great variety snack, cafe, ice creams, and a wonderful pool complex. We unpacked the whole van on our corner pitch, laying down our large floor mat, the awning sides, outdoor cooker & washing up, mats, tables & chairs. We spent our days mostly by the pool but also hired a bike trailer for Lola that I towed behind my bike and a good upright French shopper for Lucy. Her dad flew down to join us and we generally had a lovely break.

Camping La Grainetiere, Ile de Re, Poitou Charente

Address, long/lathttp://www.la-grainetiere.com/ Route de Saint-Marin Chemin des Essarts 17630 La Flotte en Ré. 46.187497, -1.344033. Google maps link.
Star ratingstars-5
What we liked: sandy, shady pitches, lovely new shower block, nice cycling everywhere
What we didn’t like: you need a bike to get anywhere, only a small shop on-site, only allowed electric BBQs

Day 15

After a full week doing nothing I was ready to break camp and move on. We dropped Lucy’s dad off in La Rochelle and headed due east into the low-lying well irrigated area of the Marais Poitevin. Here we quickly found the pretty little canal-side village of Coulon and the nearby campsite of La Venise Verte. For each of our stops this last week we were to stay 2 nights in each location (a happy medium agreed between Lucy who ikes staying put and me who likes moving on!) so we once again set up a full camp in this lovely green grassy spot.

Venise Verte, Coulon

The pool here too was lovely if one of the most basic of the bunch. There was a good play area here too, and on our first night a pizza truck doing tasty (if expensive) pizzas. On day 2 we hired a bike for Lucy and cycled the mile or so back along the canal to Coulon for some lovely sightseeing and a great meal in a shaded outdoor restaurant across the bridge. Bliss.

Camping La Venise Verte, Coulon, Marais Poitevin, Deux-Sèvres, Vendee

Address, long/lathttp://www.camping-laveniseverte.com/ 178, rue des Bords de Sèvre 79510 COULONN. 46.315013, -0.609095. Google maps link.
Star ratingstars-5
What we liked: lovely riverside location, shady, nice pool, play area, very quiet, boat & bike rental
What we didn’t like: no shop

Day 17

Now we turn north but not after being sucked around the ring road at Niort where we found a giant supermarket for another wonderful French shopping experience! We shot on to the north after a supermarket cafe lunch, disappointingly missing Saumur on the Loire but instead joing the Vienne at Chinon. We didn’t stop though, we pressed on to Azay le Rideau and camped in the municipal campsite on the banks of the Indre.

Municipal sites in France are cheaper and more basic, but I do love them! There’s something more transient and international about them. Few people stay in them long unlike some of the long-timers you see at some sites. Here you are pretty much in view of the chateau at Azay, and the riverside location is great. There’s also a huge municipal pool right next to the site which is free to campsite users so that’s a real bonus.

Azay le Rideau

The village of Azay le Rideau is small but convenient and has everything you might need (although we didn’t see LPG t the Carrefour garage we filled up at), and the chateau is a good one to visit with kids as there’s not too much strolling around to do. A great choice for this trip.

Camping Le Sabot, Azay le Rideau, Loire

Address, long/lat: Website. Le Sabot 37190 Azay-le-Rideau. 47.258734, 0.469745. Google maps link.
Star rating
What we didn’t like: basic, cheaper campervan aire right next door
What we liked: clean for age and level of comfort, very convenient for the castle, potential view of castle down the river (scaffolding & trees obscured)

Day 19

After our 2nd night at Azay we broke camp (as the first rain to grace our trip fell). From here we hurtled on towards Paris turning west onto the A13 to Rouen just as the option to join the peripherique appeared. We eventually turned off towards Versailles and found the campsite – Huttopia – conveniently located for our trip to the Versailles palace for my birthday the following day. And it’s a beautiful  spot, up shaded, level tiers into woodland. The pool area and snack complex was also very tastefully arranged, great fun and popular and we had a lovely stay.

Huttopia, Versailles

Our trip to the palace was made by bus and very easy from Huttopia. There were of course enormous crowds and far too much to see in one day but the kids did sterling work of marching around without complaint. We had a birthday drink (yeay me!) before getting an Uber car back (the taxi drivers told us they only drove into Paris… it cost us less than the cost of the bus for 4).

Camping Huttopia, Versailles, Paris

Address, long/lat: Website. 31, rue Berthelot 78000 Versailles. 48.794261, 2.161026. Google maps link.
Star ratingstars-5
What we didn’t like: no shop
What we liked: closest you’ll get to the palace of Versailles in a campervan, easy walk/cycle to shops and buses for the palace, very quiet considering urban location, really nice pool/snack area

Day 21

Our last proper camp was broken with ease after this week of moving on and we plunged on to the west and out of the grip of Paris and its’ suburbs. The A13 threatened us with the impending nightmare of Rouen so we took evasive action turning north for Les Andelys where we stopped and had a nice lunch on the banks of the Seine. From here the sat nav plots a root on D roads that avoids Rouen so we were on to a winner and a more leisurely, pleasant trip across country.

The ‘aire’ at Veules-les-Roses is just a field atop the cliffs to the south of the town and has become much more popular than last year. We found a spot though and proceeded promptly down to the beach front for a play in the sandpit and the little pool there before returning for our last dinner. Maybe it was the wine that inspired me to encourage the kids up onto the roof of the van with a deckchair for one last glimpse of the French edge of the Channel!

(Free) Aire at Veules les Roses, Seine Maritime

Address, long/lat: 49.875250, 0.792678. Google maps link.
Star rating
What we didn’t like: no facilities
What we liked: sea view, lovely stroll down into the pretty village, convenient for Dieppe and the ferry

We were easily on to Dieppe on the morning of our return and even though it was Sunday we found an Intermarche supermarket to stock to the van with French goodies before getting to the port to queue for the lunchtime ferry home. The crossing wasn’t rough but there was enough swell for the girls to feel ill, and my god was it cold! A sea mist accompanied us all the way across. How glad were we that we only had a 30 minute drive to get home 🙂