Wine, more Wine, Loire and Home

With little recent sleep we left Lake Geneva aiming for the wine region of Bourgogne.

With leaden skies we briefly called in on the famous “Cité Médiévale” of Yvoire before moving on to find a route north west without either going on a toll road, entering Switzerland or going through Geneva, neither of which our Sat Nav thought was possible.  Annie, with her map on her lap had other ideas and was the eventual winner!

We spent the night on a small but very busy grassed Aire in the small town of Orgelet where our plans for a drink in the local hostelry were thwarted by the rain, but not before Annie had arrived back from a walk in the hills drenched to the skin.  Richard meanwhile was sitting in the warm but with every window and roof light closed because of the massive downpours and very high winds that continued through the night.

So, still sleep deprived we moved on to the pretty town of Dole, recommended by our friends Julia and Matt who had stopped there on their 3 month cycle ride of over 3,700km from Bucharest to the Atlantic Coast of France and onwards to Cornwall a couple of years ago.  Besides its pretty city centre the town is also known as the birthplace of Louis Pasteur, plus it has a lovely quiet campsite within walking distance and where we finally had a great night’s rest. 

From Dole it was an easy run to the beautiful Bourgogne wine region.  We took the Motorhome off the main roads and drove along the Route des Grands Crus through gorgeous old villages with very narrow roads and lanes to get a feel of the region. 

The sun shone on the myriad of vineyards and famous wine producing villages such as Montagny, Chassagne Montrachet and Santenay.  We camped in the village of Chagny and whilst there cycled along the tow path of the Canal du Centre Dheune to Santenay where we joined a velo route on an old railway line for the 14km to the village of Nolay where we found a viaduct at the very end of the route.  This was a fantastic bike ride through railway tunnels, cuttings and yet more glorious vineyards on gentle hillside slopes.

At least Annie thought so, Richard was less impressed and this wasn’t helped by us getting caught in a huge thunderstorm when we were still 5kms from home! Interestingly this is the first wine region we have visited in France where it proved more of a challenge to actually buy any. The Caves and Wine Houses didn’t invite visitors in and so we ended up buying our very expensive Bourgogne from a bar/ restaurant in Chagny and a little more from the campsite office.

Our next wine destination was Sancerre where it proved much easier to buy their wines and here we visited two different producers in the villages of Sury-en-Vaux and Thauvenay (which also welcomed Motorhomes overnight) and given free tastings at both of them.

So more purchases were made of both Sancerre White, Rosé & Pouilly-Fumé and we set off for an overnight stop in a nearby campsite in Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire.  The campsite itself was good but virtually empty, sadly the town didn’t have much to offer.

The following day we had a brief stop in Briare to see the canal aqueduct over the Loire River. We had planned to stay overnight in Briare but with a cold wind and grey skies we decided to add it to the list of ‘come back one (sunny) day’ places rather than sit cooped inside the motorhome all day and continued in a northerly direction.

This resulted in a long driving day and an overnight stop in a very quiet campsite at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire where we wandered around the town buying a baguette, some goat’s cheese, grapes and French pastries to have for our supper with a glass or two of our recently purchased Sancerre.

The weather finally beat us and on the 24th September as temperatures had dropped by over 10° and the forecast for the week ahead was pretty dire for the whole of France. 

With nothing therefore to look forward to we took the option of a long drive north in rain, wind and hail eventually arriving at a favourite campsite just outside Wimereaux half an hour from Calais.  Here we enjoyed a meal in the warm and friendly campsite restaurant along with a glass or two of wine to mark our last night in France.

A windy and fairly rough morning crossing took us across the channel from Calais to Dover, a battle with the M25 traffic (oh! the joys of England) and the start of our 14 day quarantine.

Lakes and Mountains with a spot of Wine

Leaving the Massif Central we travelled eastwards, with a yearning to spend time in the Alps before heading home.   We broke the journey with a one night stop at a slightly unkempt campsite that had wonderful views over a reservoir fed by the Loire just south of Roanne. 

Continuing east we arrived in the beautiful vineyards of the Beaujolais Villages and stayed in lovely Fleurie, one of the 10 Grand Cru Villages. 

Needless to say we stocked up on some of the red stuff, enjoyed a tasting the same evening and a supper in the local hostelry, disappointing them we think with our choice of rose wine to accompany our meal rather than the local red.

Our aim was to have a couple of days in the Alps and get some wonderful mountain air.  It was a longish drive from Fleurie to our chosen destination of Samoëns so we decided to push the boat out for once and take the toll motorways.  Little did we know that 1¾ hours on these quiet if unremarkable roads would set us back €36.60!

We also learned a valuable lesson as we arrived to find the two cable cars in the town had closed at the end of August until the start of the skiing season; drat (investigate first)!  A check at the Tourist Information Office told us that all of the cable cars and chair lifts in the whole area were now shut, with the most recent closing on the 9th September.  Gone were our plans for high mountain walks so instead Annie set off on a marked uphill walk from the town centre and was rewarded with stunning views of the mountains. With a quick look at the weather forecast and seeing we only had a few more days of high temperatures and wall to wall sunshine we decided to move on the following day.

This short journey took us through some beautiful scenery in the mountains via Les Gers and Morzine, known as the “Route des Grandes Alps” to the shores of Lac Léman (that’s Lake Geneva to most of us except the French).  

Here we settled for two nights onto a campsite (almost lakeside) just outside the lovely spa town of Thonon-les-Bains. We spent a happy afternoon exploring the Dranse Delta Nature Reserve which was right on our doorstep and were disappointed not to see the promised Beavers but did see many different bird species, none of which we could name and a number of very serious bird watchers.

The following day was spent exploring the town and lakeside area of Thonon-les- Bains. The main attractions in the town being a very beautiful church with spectacular stained glass windows and wonderful lake views from the upper town.

A funicular connected the upper town with the harbour and lakeside promenade. 

The real downside however was our first nights’ sleep being disturbed by acorns falling regularly onto our roof in the breeze sounding like gunshots to us inside and having moved pitch the second night being spoilt by a newly arrived Swiss couple next to us having a huge row in the middle of the night.  The argument started at around 3am and gradually escalated to screaming and sounds of things being thrown and possibly violence, such that both of us were out in little more than our underwear shouting for them to stop and banging on their caravan to no avail.  The Police then arrived around 4.30am and after a consequent silence things kicked off again at around 6am.  So, we’re now looking forward to a good sleep!

Mediterranean to Massif Central

From the Mediterranean Sea, the only route available through the Camargue was northwards and since we are planning to get back to the UK around the end of September it was a question of potting the slow route home taking in places we still want to see over the next four weeks whilst both taking our time and getting the best of the weather!

First stop was only 30 minutes away at the medieval walled city of Aigues-Mortes.  The town is set at the junction between the Canal du Rhone à Sète and the Chenal Maritime canal and although well inland it is known as the first Mediterranean port of France, founded in the 13th Century.

We had been here four years ago when staying further inland at Gallician where we cycled the 14km canal tow path from our campsite. This time we parked in the only motorhome parking (very expensive at €2.50 per hour) and agreed that to get a different experience we would pay the €8 each to walk the 1,640 metre city walls with their fully intact ramparts and 20 towers.  

It gave us lovely views of the landscape outside the walls which included the marshes and vineyards of the Camargue, the canals and an impressive mountain of salt at a commercial production in a nearby lake. We also had bird’s eye views into the town’s narrow streets and squares.  

Driving out of the Camargue we were able to dip our toes into Provence again with a one night stay at Camping Gabriel, a few kilometres outside Tarascon and on the western edge of Les Apilles. Whilst here Annie manged to squeeze in a long walk and a run in the hills.

On a previous trip having stopped at the famous Pont du Gard we called in for a whistle-stop look at Uzès and vowed to return.  With our ACSI card now giving us low season discounts at many campsites we enjoyed two nights at Mas de Rey some 4km outside the town, predominantly occupied by Netherlanders for only €20.32 per night. Another great area with marked out walking and hiking routes and whilst here we enjoyed a cycle ride into Uzès town centre to explore the historic centre and partake in a delicious lunch in one of the pretty town centre squares.

Our next stop was a random choice in an area of the Ardèche we had not visited before, we were spoilt for choice with the many campsites in this area and chose Camping La Digue in the village of Chauzon because it promised paradise in its description in the ACSI book. It was a really special campsite with great facilities, a good shop, bar and restaurant, close to the river, fast free WiFi and a happy atmosphere. Not exactly paradise but pretty perfect for €14 a night. We had hoped to spend a few days here and planned a bike ride to Balazuc another of the villages in our ‘beautiful villages’ book. However overcast skies and heavy rain cut our stay short and we reluctantly unplugged and checked out but will definitely return to ‘paradise’ in the future.

In pouring rain we drove what with better visibility would have been a very scenic drive north to Le Puy-en-Velay, home of the famous Puy lentils. We spent a couple of days there in 2016 and it wasn’t on our route plan this year until we read the ‘Greygappers’ recent blog (https://thegreygappers.co.uk/blog/).  They are also touring in their Motorhome (although Elddis have loaned them their brand new Encore 250, lucky things) and mentioned a light show in the town which we decided couldn’t be missed.

We were lucky to get a nice pitch on a town centre campsite packed to capacity and waited for 9pm when the Puy de Lumières showings began. This took the form of 9 different historic buildings in the town being lit up with moving projections and accompanying music, we walked between each venue watching each one for 10 – 15 minutes before moving on to the next. Happily the rain kept off initially but by the final two buildings we were standing in heavy rain and as a result our photos are of very poor quality. We have borrowed one photograph from the website for this blog, the rest are ours.  It was a great experience despite the weather and we are grateful to the Greygappers, David and Karen for our change in plans.

Back on track again we had a very scenic drive northwest into the Puy-de-Dôme department in Auvergne and found ourselves spending a happy two nights in Saint-Nectaire. A slightly faded but charming spa town known for the cheese of the same name, its beautiful 12th Century Romanesque church and great walking routes.  

Onwards through spectacular roads winding through the landscape we made it to the mountains for the first time this trip visiting Puy de Sancy (source of the Dordogne River) near Mont Dore and it felt so good to be up high in the bright fresh air once again.  To start with however we felt distinctly uncomfortable travelling up in the brief €10 each cable car ride as social distancing was non-existent and we haven’t been so close to so many other people since the start of the year!

Once up on the mountain plateau we had another 800 plus steps up a boardwalk to the summit, at 1,886m the highest point in Central France. From here Annie continued hiking one of the many trails and then walked back down whilst Richard descended in the Cable Car to watch the Tour de France on TV in the motorhome.

Another two nights were spent in the mountains in a campsite which lived up to its name ‘Le Panoramique’. Every pitch had the most wonderful views of the mountains and the best view of all was from the campsite bar.

Whilst here Annie enjoyed walking / running on the many marked out trails around the campsite and together we walked into the nearby town of La Bourboule, another spa town which on a Sunday was busy with visitors enjoying the cafés, restaurants and bars. This entailed a 25 minutes’ walk down a steep path so yes the climb back up after our potter round the town was hot work especially as we continue to enjoy daytime temperatures in the high 20°s.

Continuing in Provence and the Luberon

It is unusual for us to travel for less than an hour a day but with so many places we wanted to see we’ve found ourselves enjoying a much slower pace than usual. Swapping one lovely campsite for another we arrived in Vaison-la-Romaine and it did not disappoint.

We had driven through this town last year and it caught our attention enough for us to note it down for a return visit and the superb family run campsite we found was only a 500m walk from the main sights in the town. Vaison-la-Romaine is an intriguing place as high up on one side of the Ouvèze River there is an area called ‘The Upper Town’ which is dominated by a ruined castle and has the usual narrow and steep medieval streets and buildings. In contrast spread out below and on the other side of the river via a Roman Bridge is a lively tourist area with a number of Roman ruins.

Parts of this area are actually more like an open air museum, and these included the remains of a Grand Villa and subsidiary buildings and a theatre. One local man proudly told us that these Roman ruins are second only in importance to Pompeii. At least we think that is what he was saying, but in any event, it isn’t true!

Our next destination L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was recommended to us by Pat and John, friends of Richard’s from The Twelve Bells. As its name suggests, the town centre is an island as it is surrounded by the Sorgue River and whilst quite ‘touristy’ it has some pretty streets and canals with Waterwheels and waterside restaurants, bars and café’s.

We were pleased we waited until the end of the season to visit on a relatively quiet afternoon as we’d heard some horror stories of the town being so full further visitors were being discouraged. Turning south once more we headed to the Luberon with its many picturesque villages perched in the hills, however due to a day of heavy rain and low cloud we decided to change our plans and not to stop as we had wanted to see Ménerbes (made famous by Peter Mayle who wrote A Year in Provence) and Lacoste. Instead we headed to a campsite we knew and loved in the classy and clearly expensive village of Lourmarin and waited for the storm to pass.

During our three days based here we enjoyed wandering around Lourmarin in the sunshine, sitting by the vast pool at our almost empty campsite, a 10km each way bike ride to Ansouis, another hilltop village with the requisite castle and various walks and runs in the National Park nearby before a lovely restaurant lunch on our last day.

A short, but slightly challenging drive south on very narrow winding roads through the spectacular landscape of Les Apilles took us to Les-Baux-de Provence.

Les Apilles aren’t really large enough to be called mountains but form a rocky chain of big hills across Southern Provence just north of the very flat Camargue. Perched high on one massive plateau (900m x 200m) is the extraordinary sight of Les-Baux-de Provence, a climb uphill and we found a lively village with a huge deserted medieval citadel with ruined castle and houses.

There we were rewarded in one direction with far reaching views across vineyards and an almost flat landscape to the Carmargue and the Mediterranean and in the other direction the rocky hills that make up Les Apilles.

Our overnight stop was in a very well run municipal campsite in the nearby and very lively town of Maussan-les-Apilles. We had a yearning to see the Mediterranean before finally starting to head north and as the weather was so gorgeous we decided to spend a few days in Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer a seaside resort in The National Park of the Camargue.

This area is known for the small white Arab horses, the wetlands of the Rhone Delta which bring many migrating birds including flamingo, the making of salt and growing of rice.

It is also known for its Black Bulls and a sport known as a course where the animals are not hurt in any way but brave and agile young men using a metal comb try and pluck some sort of rosette or ribbon from between the bull’s horns. We had seen this 4 years ago when visiting this same town and were surprised to arrive on a day when it was taking place again in the town arena.

Whilst here we enjoyed bike rides and runs through the National Park, walks along the seafront, sitting by the vast almost empty pool and cycling into town each evening to get our bread and enjoy a drink in one of the many the town bars.

We have been loving the Provence Rosé and have sampled the local version of the wine in each town we have stayed in – that adds up to a lot of Rosé being consumed.

 

Haut-Languedoc to Provence

The wonderful thing about ‘meandering’ is that it doesn’t matter if you go back on yourselves as you had no particular route to follow in the first place!  And so it was that we drove to Mourèze (about an hour’s drive to the west of Montpellier) and followed their marked walking routes around the Cirque de Mourèze with its extraordinary rock formations.  After ditching Richard and continuing up a steep climb Annie was rewarded with spectacular views down towards Lac du Salagou.

It was then time for two quiet days on a lovely campsite in St-Pons-de-Thomières, where we managed to do a couple of loads of washing and walked into a very ordinary town via part of the La Voie Verte which is an 80km long cycling and walking route created along the path of an old railway line.

Whist here we witnessed an amusing campsite Karaoke night (whist downing a few pints of Jupiler and the odd Aperol Spritz) with little adherence to any social distancing where a hair net (like cooks wear) was offered to the alternating “singers” to cover the microphone.

A short drive southwards took us to Pézenas where, because of Covid-19 the Mayor had that day ordered that everyone in the town had to wear a mask and the Municipal campsite had to close its shower and toilet block so the kind man who ran the site directed us to an alternative private site that wasn’t subject to the Mayor’s rules and regulations.  It was a rather scruffy and unloved place but only cost us €14 for the night. The Mayor had put up notices around the outskirts of the busy ancient quarter of town to remind everyone to wear their masks even when walking around. The town itself is beautiful with a delightful old quarter of narrow streets, old churches and buildings some of which date to the middle ages, including the Lacoste mansion with a fine rib vaulted vestibule and square spiral staircase. 

We enjoyed an evening meal out at modern French restaurant that had good reviews and although it was a great evening with delicious ‘amuse bouche’ and starters the quality tailed off with pretty average main courses.

For some reason Sommières had long been on our list of places to visit and after a frustrating drive around the narrow streets of the town looking for the municipal campsite we discovered that the access  road was completely blocked off by the weekly market! So finding a suitable car park we just walked around a disappointing town centre with a closed derelict castle before continuing on to stay overnight on a virtually deserted campsite in the countryside nearby.

On a whim we decided to visit St Jean du Gard (just west of Alès) because it is in the Corniche des Cévennes.  Pulling into the campsite we’d chosen we realised we have been on this campsite before in 2016 and had totally forgotten, mainly because it has been a quick overnight stay!   This time we actually visited the town and amongst other things went to the station to see the Train Touristique des Cévennes and watched the steam train arrive packed with families enjoying the round trip that runs between Anduze and St Jean du Gard.  Once again we had evidence of the season ending as we sat by and swam in almost empty pool on a campsite less than a quarter full.

The following day, en-route to one of Annie’s longed for destinations, Chȃteauneuf du Pape we dropped in on two pretty villages from our prettiest villages of France book.  The first, Lussan is set on a rocky plateau with an impressive castle and village with an almost circular walk around its ramparts and far reaching views to Mount Ventoux and beyond but there was nothing there other than the old buildings, no shops, restaurants or café’s for a coffee even so we moved on the La Roque-sur-Cèze another medieval village set up on a rocky plateau overlooking the Cèze River.  Here we couldn’t find anywhere to park our motorhome which is such an unusual occurrence in France where we have found the majority of towns, villages and tourist attractions provide parking for larger vehicles, so we took a quick photo and carried on to cross the Rhone and spend two nights in Chȃteauneuf du Pape.

Here we found a lovely typically French campsite outside the small town that is known mainly for the wine of the same name.  After work on puncture repairs we took a bike ride through the vineyards into town for a walk up to the ruined Chateau where in the 14th Century the Popes of Avignon came to plant the vineyards of this very fine wine.

A delicious lunch in a restaurant recommended by Richard’s brother Jonathan was followed quite naturally by the purchasing of some wine.

We plan to spend a few more days yet exploring the beautiful Provence region and enjoying the wonderful climate.

Dordogne to the Canal du Midi

From 15th August 2020 we spent a few days pottering from the Dordogne towards the Canal du Midi, mainly staying in Municipal campsites which we find very good value for money and often within walking distance of the local town or village.

Souillac was our first overnight stop at a riverside Municipal site and we found a town that was a mixture of very old buildings and also fairly modern but they seemed to blend well together but it wouldn’t be high on our list of recommended towns in France. There is however a pretty spectacular sight; as we drove past the famous village of Beynac by the Dordogne we saw the fabulous castle that towers over the bend in the river.

Leaving the main Dordogne region we headed south and settled for two nights on another Municipal site with brand new facilities that was almost empty in Montech. We had been heading for Moissac but decided not to stay as the campsite wasn’t to our liking and was too far outside the town which hadn’t grabbed us as we drove through.

Montech doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of its town centre but it is strategically placed at intersection of two canals and has a pretty port area and most notably ‘The Water Slope of Montech’. This is a fascinating engineering structure, basically a boat lift (think of a moving bath) for boats of 30 – 40 metres that bypasses five smaller locks and therefore saves up to 45 minutes of lock time. We cycled out to see it and sadly found it covered in tarpaulin and obviously undergoing some serious upgrading or renovation work.

Whilst in Montech we cycled to Montauban along the tow path (14km each way) of the Canal de Montech that links up with the Canal Latéral à la Garonne which runs all the way from Toulouse to Bordeaux. Montauban is a beautiful town with a pedestrianised historical area in the centre full of narrow cobbled streets and ancient buildings, known as Toulouse’s little pink brick sister. Here we met up with our friends Mike and Chris Matthews who valiantly drove 2 hours each way from their home near Marciac to spend some time with us.

We had a delicious lunch together and subsequently adjourned to a bar at the canal port where we whiled away some happy hours chatting and watching the boats come and go until late afternoon.

During this time Boris announced the introduction of Covid-19 quarantine measures for anyone returning from France (amongst other countries) with effect from 04.00 on Saturday 15th August. Because we couldn’t have got back from where we were without some serious long journeys we didn’t spend any time contemplating a decision and accept that unless things change in the next few weeks we will probably have to self-isolate on our return. On the recommendation of our longstanding friend Malcolm Bevan we then headed to the area of the Gorges de l’Aveyron where the landscape changed from open countryside to densely wooded hills and valleys.

A stop at the village of Penne with its ruined castle built spectacularly high above the village on a rocky outcrop and then an overnight in the medieval town of St-Antonin-Noble-Val, yes we got one of the last free pitches on the local Municipal campsite for the princely sum of €9. Here a short walk into town and a visit to Tourist Information gave us a map with a town walking plan and so off we set to enjoy exploring the ancient buildings and narrow streets on offer in St-Antonin.

Before leaving the area again on Malcolm’s excellent recommendation we stopped under threatening skies for a walk around Cordes-sur-Ciel another medieval town with a steep walk up pedestrianised cobbled streets to a castle and town on the hilltop above the more recent town below.

An overnight in a campsite in the countryside near Castres provided good Wi-Fi for our weekly family Skpe call and a chance to catch up with washing and post our previous blog. The most notable thing about this stop was that about 70% of the adults on the campsite smoked!

Our first stop on the Canal du Midi was at Avignonet-Lauragais just south-east of Toulouse where it was bikes out for a 2 hour canal side ride and return to our tiny Municipal campsite (only €11 including electricity) before moving on for two nights at Colombiers where we rode to Beziers for a wander round the interesting city centre.

The canal was so much busier here both with boats and tourists as a particular draw are the 9 locks of Fonserannes which is like a flight of stairs of canal locks and a major local attraction comprising 9 gates and 8 oval shaped locks. Boats are raised or lowered over 21 metres over a distance of 300 metres, but it’s one way at a time that’s strictly enforced with clear timeframes for ups and downs!

 

France, continuing south

9. c Surgeres (3)-minWe had hoped to visit the Atlantic coastline north of Royan on this trip but a quick online enquiry showed the only campsite in our target area at St-Palais-sur-Mer with availability was asking over €70 a night. Having recovered from our spluttering and coughing fit we decided this is definitely somewhere to come back to for an out of season visit when the prices are lower.  Instead we headed south from Surgères stopping for a couple of hours in Pons for a look around in the searing midday heat. Pons, another fortified medieval town has as its most striking feature the huge Donjon (a 33 metre high Keep) which looms over the town other than this we wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit the town.

That night was spent in the countryside in a tiny hamlet near St-Genis-de-Saintonge. We were parked outside the house that our dear friends Barbara and Jon were holidaying in with friends of theirs from London.  We enjoyed a lively afternoon and evening with wonderful hospitality and left the following morning to head inland and away from the busy coastline.

Little did we know that on randomly choosing the tiny village of Aubeterre- sur-Dronne as our next destination, just because it was beside water that we were going to bump into so many British tourists.  A recurring discussion we are overhearing amongst the British holidaymakers is whether or not Boris is going to re-impose quarantine restrictions on those returning to the UK from France and whether their kids will therefore miss the start of term.

Although we had chosen a very basic campsite beside the Dronne River we did enjoy spending time exploring the narrow streets and steep alleyways of the delightfully picturesque village perched against a limestone cliff.  A highlight being a fascinating visit to one of the churches in this town that in the 12th Century was built as a necropolis within the rocky cliff face. It was literally carved out of the natural rock and for €6 including an English commentary on a headset the tour felt great value for such an unusual sight.

Heading for the Dordogne we had an overnight stop in a very rural campsite with panoramic views but not much else outside the village of Ruffignac-St Cernin-de-Reilhac that we only chose because they advertised good WiFi as this was our day for the weekly F-J family Skype call.

The last time we were in the Dordogne was 4 years ago on our ‘maiden voyage’ in the motorhome and we were keen to see more of the area on this visit.  A visit to the tiny village of Coly St-Armand and its imposing church tower and a beautiful ancient flag stone aisle that slopes upwards towards the alter was followed by two nights in Limieul a village at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezère rivers.

Our campsite was on the Dordogne river bank where all forms of water activities took place and was a perfect place to cool off from the scorching heat and humidity. Whilst here we visited the panoramic gardens at the top of the village, wandered the narrow streets and treated ourselves to a delicious lunch in a riverside restaurant, all whilst appropriately social distancing of course, although the French themselves seem oblivious outside of shops, restaurants and other indoor spaces.

As an aside we have found it much harder to get good quality Wi-Fi or indeed any internet connection at all on campsites than at any time in the past.

Escaping to France

A combination of Covid-19 lockdown fever, seriously ‘itchy feet’, infection rates rising in the UK and European travel restrictions being lifted were all the excuses we needed to crack out our Motorhome from long term hibernation and hit the road. With Brexit negotiations not going too well we feared a change of heart from Boris in terms of travel to France, so it only took us 36 hours from making the decision to travel to boarding the P&O ferry to Calais from Dover. The lack of time to clean meant several hundred UK spiders seem to have joined us on the journey.

The ferry was exceptionally quiet with everyone observing the distancing and mask rules and the day was so clear you could see the French coastline from Dover.

However on arrival in France we noticed almost immediately that the French still can’t resist kissing each other hello despite ‘social distancing’ and their masks which are only worn occasionally!

Our first night entailed a dash down the coast and an after dark arrival at a lovely Aire in St-Valery-sur-Somme. This pretty town is set on an estuary that encompasses a large and apparently well-known migrating bird sanctuary that organised boat trips tour on a regular basis.

We had a quick explore and then continued our journey southward stopping at a virtually empty campsite for one night on the edge of the small town of Lyons-la-Forêt.

We have no clear route planned other than to broadly travel around France in an anti-clockwise direction stopping at a few key places we really want to visit and armed with The Most Beautiful Villages of France book and numerous Apps with campsites and Motorhome parking spots. Our plans are therefore fluid and probably need to be as we had hoped to see Toulouse for example but have heard of an escalation of Covid-19 cases so will now give it a wide berth.

Further one night stop-overs followed at Chartres, which didn’t excite us and Montoire-sur-le-Loir which was within cycling distance of the pretty but tiny village of Lavardin with its castle made famous for resisting Richard the Lionheart’s attack in 1118. It’s not in quite such good shape today!

Continuing south-west we called in at the pretty village of Montsoreau just to the east of Saumur with its white tufa-stone residences, 15th-century castle and numerous good quality restaurants all set on the banks of the Loire.

Only 20 minutes further on and we settled for two nights in Montreuil-Bellay that once more boasts an impressive castle, several attractive and notable old buildings and a campsite adjoining the Thouet River. It was here that we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a meal in the campsite restaurant as all the nicer ones in the town were either closed as it was a Sunday or fully-booked. We’ve therefore promised ourselves a really good meal out later in our trip.

Moving on into the Marais Poitevin which is a network of canals and small rivers south west of Niort we started encountering the crowds of France on holiday. We had a quick look around the villages of Coulon and Damvix watching people taking boats out and fill the local eateries before staying a night at St –Hilaire-la-Palud.

We were slightly perplexed at the proliferation of scarecrows all around Damvix which we think were to do with an annual festival that won’t now happen in earnest until next year.

With temperatures now settled in the mid 30°’s our driving distances will be shorter as we’ve no air-conditioning in the Motorhome, not that we’re complaining!

We write this blog whist enjoying a two night stay in Surgères, we found a pitch on a small campsite close to the town centre. By coincidence we are here during an outdoor classical music festival held each evening in the Chateau and Church grounds.

Singapore

“Amazing” – on this trip we have noticed that both of us use this word far too often and realise that it has become for us a lazy way of describing something. However for Singapore we really do feel it applies. What a wonderful surprising city it is, with so much to see and do and in our three days staying in the city centre we managed to get round most, but by no means all of the star sights.24 Singapore (270)Singapore city centre beautifully blends the old with the brand spanking new with an East meets West style. We loved the sights of old Chinese shop houses and colonial buildings sitting alongside shiny skyscrapers. With hotels and parks in the south of the city set around water it gives this area a relaxed and holiday atmosphere lacking in other cities we have visited despite the many tourists.

We started this trip exploring the crazy overpopulated city of Manila and we were glad to move on, it is now the end of our trip and we are so happy we saved the best till last. In both cities our hotels were in Chinatown but our experience couldn’t have been more different. Chinatown in Singapore was a joy to explore and was a blaze of colour and life and busy with preparations for Chinese New Year. The temples were all being decorated and many of the Hawker Stalls were closing for the holiday.

Our first day was spent exploring the southern part of the city, starting with a walk along the river to the Clarke and Robinson Quay areas and then making a quick detour into The Fullerton Hotel. This historic building has a superb vantage point with one side facing the riverfront and the other overlooking Marina Bay. We weren’t expecting so many green spaces and parks and the very wide pavements made it easy it to navigate our way around on foot. Incidentally the transport system (MRT and bus) is superb but we chose to explore by walking so we could see and feel the city at a slower pace.

A walk around Marina Bay gives spectacular views from every side with its backdrop being the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel with three towers and rooftop infinity pool. For S$23 each (just over £13) we took the lift to the bar on 67th floor and were able to redeem our tickets against the price of a cocktail where we sat and enjoyed the wonderful views.

A highlight was a trip to the huge (101 hectare) Gardens By the Bay, a futuristic botanical garden with two dome conservatories that reminded us of the Eden Project. We spent a happy time here wandering past 2 lakes through the 10 different themed ‘gardens’ and the 18 very distinctive super trees, all for free. The conservatories had an entrance free and as it was so hot anyway we decided to pass on paying to go inside into yet more damp humidity.

Each evening at 7.45pm in Gardens by the Bay there is a free 15 minute sound and light show at the ‘super tree’ garden which was a unique and very moving experience and so much better than a firework display. Then if you hot foot it across two roads you can get to the second nightly sound, water and light performance at 8pm on Marina Bay which involved fountains and laser beams.

On our second day we visited Fort Canning Park, another lovely green space but we didn’t find out until we got there that there is no longer a fort. However the hill and surrounding area have an interesting history as it is where in 1942 from their underground bunkers, the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese.

We also ventured to the Orchard Road shopping area which is a consumerist mecca with so many high end Malls we lost count. Besides this we saw several temples, parks and a wonderful interactive museum, Singapore City Gallery.

Each evening we sought out different local food stalls and had fun tasting new dishes and trying in vain to find reasonably priced beer. It seems this does not exist in Singapore!

Throughout our sightseeing we sent Lizzie photo clues from all around the city trying to bamboozle her as she had asked us to tell her where we were going. As a local she only managed to get 50%, but in fairness some pictures we sent were rather obscure! (a couple of examples below)

On Friday 24th January we caught the MRT to Hillview, in the NE of the city and started two fabulous days staying with our friends Lizzie and Miles and their children Osian and Emmy. Here we were so spoilt by their generous hospitality and enjoyed time sitting by the pool in their condominium complex, eating fabulous food, drinking their beer (free – yea!) and wine, catching up and laughing a lot!

On Saturday they took us 4 stops back down the MRT for a 5 km walk around The Singapore Botanical Gardens, another gorgeous green space and where we had a rare sighting of a family of eight Otters fishing and cavorting, spotting other animals, then bouncing on netting trampolines and admiring sculptures.

On the Sunday Annie, Lizzie and Osian went for a walk /run through the Nature Reserve near their home and this was followed by a visit to the very smart ‘British Club’ for a swim and lunch and to see the Lion Dance laid on to celebrate Chinese New Year.

We were also spoilt by Osian showing us his skills on the saxophone and Emmy similarly on her cornet. They are both very gifted, but with Miles being a music teacher and accomplished Jazz musician it’s perhaps no surprise.

We had a wonderful time with Miles and Lizzie and it was with heavy hearts that we caught our 14 hour night flight back to the UK on Monday 27th January to bring to an end our latest and truly memorable trip through the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Kuala Lumpur and Melaka

Kuala Lumpur turned out to be quite a surprise to us. Originally we had no intention of visiting the city but having a couple of days to spare we thought it was worth a look and two days of waking around in sweltering humidity convinced us it was well worth seeing.

22 Kuala Lumpur (11)Getting off the bus from the Cameron Highlands we fought off the attentions of keen taxi drivers and found the incredibly efficient MRT rail system that took us to within 500 metres of our hotel, a lovely room but rather disorganised staff. We chose it obviously for good reviews and reasonable price but also because it boasted a roof top pool and a gym for Annie! As it turned out we were close to a fabulous road buzzing with a huge variety of street food and despite huge ‘dry’ areas in the city because of the high Muslim population we found we were also in the top area for pubs and bars.

On our first night we munched our way through some great ‘semi-street food’ whilst sheltering from heavy downpours and were accosted by locals raising a petition against the forced removal and re-sale of people’s organs in China, backed up by a couple of chaps in the Lotus Position who never moved!

OK, there’s not a huge amount to do in Kuala Lumpur if you look at the highlights, but it has a nice feel to it and it’s incredibly easy and cheap to get around. There are three city centre bus routes completely free of charge, an efficient MRT system complemented by a mono rail and a great network of regular buses.

We spent a lot of time on our feet starting with a visit to the huge Mosque that is open to the public, but not on Friday and this was Friday! We followed this by a walk through a slightly shabby and small Chinatown, through Central Market and out again passing really busy lunchtime food stalls.

22 Kuala Lumpur (87)

We enjoyed seeing a few old colonial style buildings, spotting the renowned Kuala Lumpur Communications Tower (which is said to be the 7th tallest freestanding tower in the world) before heading to the Petronas Towers for the evening light show which was fabulous.

22 Kuala Lumpur (156)Besides this we wandered several of the amazing shopping malls, saw a new shop opening that involved quite a convoluted ‘good luck’ ceremony that included a dragon dance with drums and witnessed extensive preparations for Chinese New Year.

Journeying to the 3 storey airport style bus terminal in KL we caught a bus for the 2 hour run to Melaka or is it Malacca? Here we enjoyed the best hotel room of our trip so far (so excuse a couple of photos).

Melaka itself was a bit of a disappointment despite its UNESCO World Heritage status. We had been warned that it was inundated with ‘Hello Kitty’ motifs, but was really home to a huge variety of cartoon characters with queues of Asian customers for every glitzy tricycle available, that also play music extremely loudly!

We wandered the streets of the heritage town, saw the few key sites and old buildings, took snaps of some of the street art, saw from afar the ship graveyard where cheap labour breaks up unwanted vessels and were generally glad we only had 2 nights here which was a shame as we’d been looking forward to our visit.

The Old Dutch Colonial buildings were painted red for some reason and this didn’t help their appearance and the ancient church of St Paul was a total ruin!

With some difficulty we managed to buy two bus tickets to Singapore and then endured a journey close to 6½ hours that we had expected to be no more than 4½. So we have arrived at our last destination for this trip and are looking forward to 5 nights here, two of which will be with our friends Miles and Lizzie and their two children Osian and Emmy with whom we celebrate Chinese New Year on Saturday 25th January.