Whilst trying to decide what route to take home from Spain last year, we were thinking of heading up to Pamplona and taking the motorway from there to France, maybe visiting Biarritz on entering France.
But then somebody told us about the Somport tunnel which goes through the Pyrenees. We had no idea! After a bit of investigation we decided that this then would be our route home 🙂
We didn’t have to alter our plans too much as we were using the same road north through Spain, just leaving it a little earlier.
As we approached the tunnel (well a few miles away) on the Spanish side, we stoppped at our last service area, I think it was at Jaca, where there was a rather lovely chocolate, patisserie shop. We managed to resist before heading off on our last stretch of road in Spain, which was punctuated by charming little villages and blue sunny skies. We would probably try to stay at least 1 night in future in this area.
The tunnel itself is free to use and 5.3 miles long. It’s amazing to think that you’re driving through the Pyrenees! So we left Spain’s sunny skies and emerged on the other side in France to drizzly rain!
But there were still lovely features – better roads for a start… Also an old railway line (I believe the Pau-Canfranc) running along the side of the road, in places this seems to have been restored. Again, we would like to stop in this area on a future trip and making sure we visit the Canfranc International Railway Station on the Spanish side.
We found the roads absolutely fine for our 8.56m motorhome towing a Citroen C1 behind, although, I have to say, Calv IS a lorry driver and very confident in pretty much any situation.
I think that perhaps we travelled too far on the French side on our first leg, and unfortunately, despite some investigation, I can’t remember the name of the town/village we stopped in. Sorry – I’ll do better next time!
We arrived in the dark and the parking was all taken, so we parked on some ground next to it which was being used by coaches to park up overnight – we parked next to a Morello! We set off nice and early in the morning though and then headed to our next stop, which was to be Montreuil-Bellay, apparently celebrities as diverse as Edwina Currie and Mick Jagger have homes here – I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a lovely area and it wouldn’t surprise me 🙂
Although we were aiming for a different overnight stop (3 spaces behind a wine cellar at GPS, N47.13.522:W0.11121), when we got there it turned out to be too small really for us, so we set off looking for the other stop (Les Nobis – 30 spaces at GPS, N47,13272:W0,15835), which would have been easy to find had we not already left the main road! Trying to make our way through town was not easy, entailing leaving the van parked up, unhooking the car and driving round and round in an attempt to find the site… (There are areas in town where it’s not possible to take a camper or caravan; low, narrow arches and suchlike).
We discovered what a beautiful, historic town this was and eventually found our destination. And how amazing it was too – a dedicated area big enough for a couple of dozen vans, located in front of an outdoor swimming pool and next to a nice looking campsite (closed out of season), alongside the river and with a wonderful view of the castle 🙂 See the pictures below:-
And those photos are just of the Aire! We actually stayed 2 nights as the town was so lovely. Photos of the town follow 🙂 Most of these pics are within a 5-10 minute walk of the Aire.
Once we managed to tear ourselves away and get back on the road we headed on up to Le Mans, where we had already decided to stop overnight – the medieval old town is something special, known as Cite Plantagent as Henry II was born there in 1133. The Historic Quarter comprises 20 hectares of cobbled streets; still inhabited and a wonderful walk.
The Aire is immediately at the foot of the Historic quarter, on the Quai Louis Blanc (N 48 ° 0’45.0036 ”E 0 ° 11’55.7628) , at the end of a series of large car parks (it’s a dedicated area but several cars choose to park there during the day, despite there being more than enough car parking spaces in the other car park areas…).
It is next to a busy road, but this does quieten down outside of rush-hour, and it’s opposite the river with a lovely view of an old mill and an historic bridge almost exactly opposite. The real downside is that, although there is water available, it costs 8Euros!! Just make sure you have enough onboard before you get there would be our advice 🙂
We only stayed 1 night, but arrived fairly early in the day so were able to explore the historic quarter at our leisure, including a lunch watching, yet another, French protest. This time lorry drivers who were no longer to be allowed to park up in front of the new town hall. They had been blocking the road for the last 24 hours, with another 24 hours to go – or so we were told by one of the policemen looking on (there were many, many policemen).
We had 1 more stop before the ferry – we were going from Caen. We chose a small stop behind the town square of Hermanville, with a 5 minute walk to the British War Cemetery (GPS, N48,97026:W0,31243). A lovely little find with a shop, bakery, florist and hairdressers right on hand Plus a nice little walk around the village and a 10 minute drive to Caen.
We spent the afternoon in Caen and discovered the old part of town as well as the beautiful beach; although this does evoke mixed emotions when you consider the history of this whole area.
And of course, knowing that you only have a 10 minute drive to the port in the morning for your ferry is very welcome!