European Tour cut short by Coronavirus Crisis

Did you start a European holiday only for it to be cut short? Here I talk about our recent experience of exactly this. Here’s hoping everything will be able to go back to normal soon and we can all start visiting each other again xx

When I wrote my last post we were newly in France with the 1st set of closures put in place (i.e. non-essential shops and business closed), but with the local elections set to go ahead the following day.  We felt fairly confident that our plan of making it to a site in the South of France and sitting out any further measures, should they occur, was still achievable…

Obviously this isn’t what happened!  However, it was a couple of days before this became clear – and it was rather sudden!

So I thought I’d give you a whistle-stop summary of our whole trip in just the 1 post!  So here goes…

Days 1 & 2:  Friday 13th & Saturday 14th March 2020 (perhaps there was a clue here?)

We arrived in Dieppe aboard a pretty empty ferry after a slightly bumpy crossing, and shared the Aire with a number of other vans (mostly French), before taking a walk around Dieppe (already socially distancing ourselves) and then spending a 2nd night in the same Aire.  (I wrote a post covering this already – click on the link above)

Day 3: Sunday 15th March 2020

We made the decision to use proper sites rather than free aires ‘just in case’, thinking that we would be able to stop on a site once we were there, and also to go further than we had originally planned.  So I looked through the trusty ACSI book and found a site in Sully sur Loire, about 100 miles south of Paris, Camping le Jardin de Sully  (You’ll be able to see my review here when I’ve written it!)

For us this was a long journey being 200 miles as we normally aim for under 100 miles.  Little did we know at this point that we would be driving almost 900 miles in total in the next 5 days before we made it home…

The campsite was lovely, and pretty empty, although there was another English couple in their caravan who were heading home via the tunnel because they had medical appointments and wanted to ensure they got home for them.

The French were out and about in droves taking walks along the river, and even in the evening the youngsters were congregating in their cars in car parks as they couldn’t go to cafes and bars.  We know this as we went out for a walk in the evening once, or so we thought, everyone else had gone home!  We were able to avoid these groups and walked for a few miles, crossing the bridge and finding the chateau (and the town Aire) and several closed bars and restaurants.  It looks like a lovely little town and we have no doubt that we will one day return to explore the area by cycle (the cycle path system is very good)

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Day 4: Monday 16th March 2020

We had been thinking of staying here for a 2nd night, but in the end decided to crack on further South.  On checking out I told the lady what we were hoping to do – in hindsight it would have been nice if she’d mentioned that President Macron was due to address the nation that evening with an important announcement.  But she didn’t, and we had contacted 2 campsites that both said they were fully open… So we headed off further South.

225 miles further south to be precise to Vielle Brioude, south of Clermont Ferrand and Issoire.  We chose to take the toll motorway this time, as we were going so far.  Then I forgot to press the button when paying to explain that we were a camping car (the rate will be changed if you do this).   In my defence I was intent on seeing if my Halifax Clarity card would work this time (as it didn’t the previous day when we used a short section of toll, and I’d had to use my debit card); and I just completely forgot…  It probably cost us about 15Euros, maybe 20…   I won’t forget again!

Just before our destination we stopped at an Intermarch to get some essentials, and top up with fuel.  The supermarket was very busy with several items unobtainable, but we managed to get everything that we needed, and set off again to find the campsite.

A couple of wrong turns and slightly unsuitable roads later we found it, Camping de la Bageasse, which looked much nicer in the photos than in reality!!

We were the only unit there (although there were a couple of chalets in use), and once we’d chosen our spot and found electricity that worked (by now our fridge had stopped working on gas), we settled down for the evening.

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In the evening the lady from reception came to see us to explain that the campsite was possibly to close in the morning after the president’s address.  Instead of waiting we spent the evening trying to book a ferry home.  We had problems with booking the DFDS ferry from Dieppe, and thought that we’d managed it, only for the site to crash on us again.  So we booked a ferry into Portsmouth on Brittany (at an extra £100).  In the morning though I had an e-mail from DFDS confirming our booking!

Thankfully Brittany Ferries were brilliant and cancelled our booking with an immediate full refund.  The receptionist also confirmed that the site was indeed closing and anybody on it being asked to leave.

Day 5: Tuesday 17th March 2020 (midday lockdown)

Approximately 425 miles to go, but 2 days to do this (our ferry was Thursday at 05.30am – changed from 6.30pm Wednesday foc by DFDS Ferries).

We chose to avoid the toll motorway this time as we had a bit of time.  But it did seem to take forever; so we ended up doing the last 30 miles or so on the toll; I remember to press the button this time and saved 9 Euros.  We were stopped once, just after midday, at a routine checkpoint on a roundabout – a show of our ferry booking and my ‘nous allons au bateau pour aller chez nous’ did the trick, and we were soon on our way with a smile and a ‘bonne route’.

We were then held up driving through a small town where we had to pull into a car park.  There were 2 other British vans in there with us.  A French lady also pulled up and started talking to me – I did pretty well, in that we sort of understood each other and she told me what had happened (sadly a little boy had run out into the road and been knocked over), but she just kept moving closer and closer to me!  In the end I had to run into the van saying my tea was getting cold!  (nb: I don’t understand why the police in France need to carry massive guns when attending a traffic incident in a small rural town though..)

I’d found a likely overnight stop in Mery sur Cher, west of Vierzon, and we were so happy when we made it there.  Absolutely perfect spot behind the village car park, but with a toilet, electricity, security lights and little individual pitches as well as the normal amenities.  The barrier had been removed meaning it was all free as well (although we would happily have paid).  I hadn’t been so happy in days!

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Day 6: Wednesday 18th March

The traffic increased as we made our way further north, although eerily quiet as we drove through Orleans.  Driving past Chartres I was, again, amazed at the size of the cathedral – you can see it from miles away and I must see it in reality 1 day!

From Rouen the traffic really picked up, and once in Dieppe we managed to get a little lost as we had never approached from this direction before 😦  This time we were 1 of only 3 vans in the Aire – we think most people turned up late and waited in line at the port.

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Day 7: Thursday 19th March 2020

An early start (4.15am) to catch the 5.30am ferry.  We were pretty much at the back of the queue (see main photo – which doesn’t really show just how many motorhomes there were).

An uneventful journey home.  2 members of staff were operating the coffee machine for everybody as you got on (free), but there was no food being served.

All in all we were pretty happy to get home, although obviously absolutely gutted that all we had achieved in our week away was 2 fairly long walks and over 900 miles driving…

If things improve in the next couple of months however we will head off again, even if it’s only for a few weeks.

Stay safe everyone – and remember, this too shall pass and normal life will resume.  Maybe at that point we’ll all be a little more grateful for our normal freedoms 🙂

Author: MandoraTheExplorer

Having given up full-time work we currently work a year to travel for 4-5 months, and we're hoping to continue this until we can retire properly! Currently living, and loving, life to the full :)