River deep, mountain high, chasm huge, island flat - Ardeche to the Ile de Re

Discussion in 'Continental Touring' started by magicsurfbus, Apr 25, 2014.

  1. magicsurfbus

    magicsurfbus Funster

    Oct 11, 2010
    NW England
    Back in from a 2400 mile triangular tour de France in faultless sunny weather with a few more hints, tips and other travel info for the MHF Collective, so here it is in full, in the hope that some of it might be useful to others:

    Day 1: Drove to Dover
    Night stop : Dover seafront after 6pm, no fee, no bother.

    Day 2: Early ferry to Calais - usually fill up on diesel at a petrol sation at the Eastern end of Avenue Roger Salengro, but have since found that the Super U further down the same road towards Coquelles is a fair bit cheaper. Headed roughly SE for the rest of the day.
    Night stop : Free Aire at Seurre, beside the Saone river just south of Dijon. Officially it has 10 marked bays but everybody prefers parking on the opposite open gravel bit with some grass in front of it so this doubles the capacity. Beware parking too close to the recycling bins, as French night shift workers like to recycle with great gusto at 2am, apparently. Nice small town, plus a huge canal lock just up the lane that accommodates river barges the size of Imperial Star Destroyers.

    Day 3: Southwards beside the Rhone through Lyons to Montelimar (always thought that was a Dairy Box chocolate) then West up over the ridge to Vallon Pont d'Arc, near the Ardeche river. Town is OK but is self-consciously tourist orientated so neither it nor its street market stand out from loads of others we've seen. Museum about the Chauvet cave art discoveries is not bad, but the big replica cave system they're building up on a nearby hill (like Lascaux II) will be a whole lot better. The river frontage is very over-developed with campsites and canoe hire - glad we visited before Easter when the season really gets into swing. We had the Pont d'Arc virtually to ourselves for two days with hardly a canoe in sight, and the road that winds around and above the Ardeche Gorge was deserted. I bet it's not like that in summer, and I bet the river resembles a theme park ride.
    Night stop : Aire at Vallon Pont d'Arc within easy walk of town. Basically a gravel spread beside the local bus/coach pull-in with a Euro-Relais service point that even the locals had difficulty deciphering, but I got the hang of it in the end. One keypad for the bank card, and another for the choice of services. Six euros a night, plus 2 Euros for water. Apparently free shuttle bus (Navette) service to Pont d'Arc in the summer. Aire quiet - would probably hold about 30 well-parked MHs in the high season, no more than 12 present while we were there. There's a second aire between the Intermarche and a smoke-belching factory on the other side of town - not sure I'd bother with it if I had the choice.

    We stopped there for 3 nights, so on we go to

    Day 6: Left Vallon and drove roughly NW stopping at Puy en Velay to climb up to the chapel on the top of a distinctive volcanic plug. Beware oncoming pilgrims ascending the 8 million stone steps on their knees - seriously. The phrase 'For God's Sake' springs readily to mind here. There's a small free aire that fits six well-parked MHs just below the chapel but it's by a busy road so we didn't bother stopping overnight. We took a quick look round the old town and cathedral and it's got a bit of character. We then moved on towards Puy de Dome, driving up some seriously steep and windy alpine-style roads that followed the Ardeche river virtually to its source - a most impressive drive. I didn't realise the Massif Central was quite so massif. Puy de Dome is a 1400m volcanic plug among a range of 80 volcanic hills that are still technically active as the last one blew its top only 7000 years ago, which is like blinking in geological time, so look out Clermont-Ferrand... You can ascend Puy de Dome by a path that goes up about 300m if you're either very active or totally mad, but normal people will take the newly-installed Swiss engineered electric train, and next to the station is..
    Night stop : The Free MH/coach parking area beside the main car park at Puy de Dome. Not sure if you're technically allowed to stop overnight but we did for two nights along with a bunch of others, and nobody challenged us, but it was early in the season. So early in fact that no-one had bothered to service the service point yet, so the poop chute was backed up and the water tap was off. Although it's on the side of an obvious mountain, the parking area is level and the approach road isn't steep or winding. There's a small roadside aire with a working service point about 15 minutes away in the direction of Vulcania (see below).

    Day 7 : Up the Puy de Dome by the inexpensive shiny new electric train. Lovely views from the top, looneys hurling themselves over the precipice and parapenting down, exhibitions about the hill's role as radio station, weather station, and a large ancient Roman temple which they're reconstructing in full. A lot of dosh is being pumped into this place and the area in general, in the hope of gaining UNESCO World Heritage status this June, so the visitor is well-favoured here. The more energetic might choose to explore some of the other peaks and craters on foot or mountain bike. Or parapente.
    Night stop : Same again.

    Day 8 : To Vulcania, not Mr Spock's home planet but a Volcano-themed exhibition centre/park about half an hour up the road. Fairly new, with extra bits being added for this June, including a tethered hot air balloon ride. Very typically French, with stylish architecture resembling volcanic craters and a largely underground exhibition centre packed with multimedia, simulators, IMAX, 3D screens and so on. No roller coasters, but some sedate outdoor bits to see too. A good family destination, but also interesting enough for pairs of old gits who no longer have to drag the whingeing brats around. A brand new aire is being constructed at the entrance, with a stated capacity of 30 MHs and a nightly charge of around 10 Euros. Once we were all volcanoed out we hopped back into the MH and drove to Rocamadour.
    Night stop : Free parking area by the Chateau above Rocamadour - no services. A quiet night apart from the quaint musical belfry on the chateau which could do with chiming its cheerful morning melody an hour or so later in my opinion.

    Day 9 : Spent the morning looking around Rocamadour, which I thought would be a bit Disneylandish but is actually quite tastefully done, if somewhat pricey. I particularly liked the religious sanctuary below the chateau with its cliff-hugging architecture. Best pics of the village from the viewpoint are to be had in the morning when the sun's shining on it. Drove from there a relatively short distance to the Gouffre de Padirac which is a huge gaping hole in the ground that resembles Dr Evil's secret volcano base in 'You Only Live Twice'. You descend into the depths by lift or by the steps (if you're daft - I did) then are transported along an underground water channel by troglodyte gondoliers until you reach the other end of the cave, where an unbelievably massive natural chamber some 300ft high awaits you. It's like being under the dome of St Peter's in Rome, but undergound, and all the sculpture is naturally formed. Seriously impressive - it makes the Blue John caverns of Derbyshire look like the sort of holes you plant spuds in. To get out again you take the lift or the steps (if you're daft - I did and I was bloody knackered as I finally staggered into the gift shop at the top). From there, onwards to the Vezere valley. We originally planned to stop in the MH parking at Montignac, but the signage was contradictory about whether overnight stops were allowed, so we kept going for another half hour or so to Les Eyzies de Tayac which is one of our all-time favourite aires. There's a bloke in the village who calls himself M Silex who has a workshop on the main street near the Abri Pataud where he makes replica stone age flint tools, and he's very good at it. Seek him out young Grasshopper and marvel at his ancient magic. For a reasonably-priced meal with friendly service, try the restaurant beside the mini roundabout between the old water mill and the PIP Museum.
    Night stop : Les Eyzies de Tayac, 5 Euros, limited to 48 hours. Grassy pitches - interesting location if you like prehistory - well worth a look.

    Day 10 : Drove back through Montignac to visit the Lascaux II reconstruction of the famous cave art site originally discovered by a group of local lads and a small dog in 1940. You have to book your tickets in the town before moving on to the site itself just up the road. There's no on-site ticket office. Not as impressive as either Font-de-Gaume or Rouffignac where you can still see the original cave art, and there's no Ice Age beasts at Lascaux, but the back story about the discovery and the discoverers adds something to it, and the art is quite stunning. You may have to wait a bit for the English language tour so we chose the earlier French one and bought a guide book to read later. After that, onwards ever onwards to La Rochelle.
    Night stop : Good old Avenue Jean Moulin Park 'n' Ride at La Rochelle - still 10.50 Euros with return bus fare to town, and service point fee (ie water) included. You have to 'sign in' with your registration number at the information booth to get your exit pass and bus ticket. Regulars will be pleased to know that the all night bing bong platform announcements from the nearby train station appear to have been muted considerably since last year. Wi-Fi tip #1 - there's a weak but free wi-fi signal with no log in that leaks into the P&R from a local hotel.

    Day 11 : Spent the morning in La Rochelle - Mrs MSB likes the shops, whereas I quite like photographing the high quality grafitti in the parking area between the port and the maritime museum. Back to the P&R, then on to the Beaulieu retail park so Mrs MSB could visit her favourite shop. Eventually made our way over to the Ile de Re. The eco toll on the bridge is only 8 Euros in April, doubling to 16 Euros in the high season.
    Night stop : Municipal campsite inside the walls at Saint-Martin-de-Re, now 18 Euros, but still prefer it to the next door aire. Pitch boundary courtesy of the Marquis de Vauban (no less).

    Days 12 -15 : A quick flit over to Le-Bois-Plage-en-Re to bag a spot in the MH compound/aire at Camping Amis de la Plage in advance of the Easter weekend. There is a small free aire just across the road, with access to the campsite MH service point, but it's a bit sardine tin like and if I'm stopping for 4 nights I don't begrudge paying 8 Euros a night for a soft pitch, a bit of outdoor seating space, a nice hot beach shower, and an hour's free wi-fi. Wi-Fi tip #2 - when your hour runs out here, just increment the four digit number in your access code and password by 1 until it gives you another hour (teehee). The free aire filled up well before Easter, but the campsite compound still had a few empty pitches over Easter - worth thinking about. Bois Plage has one of the few mainly sandy beaches on the island with a bit of decent ocean swell - many of the other beaches are more rocky, or are completely sheltered and rather sedate.
    Night stop : As above, for 4 nights, 8 Euros a night.

    I won't bang on at length about the Ile de Re here as I think I've done it already, but suffice to say it is best appreciated on bikes. MH parking outside of aires and campsites is not easy to find, and many of the village streets are way too narrow to fit a MH, so take care with SatNavs. If you get onto the island and genuinely struggle to find anywhere to stop overnight, head for the Base Nautique (sailing base) just north of La-Couarde-sur-Mer where there's a reasonable sized lay-by that is clearly used by some MH owners as a cheeky temporary stopover.

    Day 16 : To Honfleur - the only day when it rained on us during the whole trip, and needless to say it was raining in Normandy, which appears to be a legal requirement in France.
    Night stop : Honfleur aire, 10 Euros.

    Day 17 : To Calais via Cite Europe.
    Night stop : Calais Port aire, 8 Euros. A good reasonably-priced meal can be had at the Le Sybilien bar/restaurant in the block of buildings next door to the aire entrance.

    Day 18 : Ferry and home.
    Night stop : Bed.

    Th-th-th-th-that's all folks. Next planned destination - Andalucia in the autumn. The front of our MH now resembles the final scene from an insect western directed by Sam Peckinpah, so I need to go and get handy with the bug scrubber and wax.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2014
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