Our roadtrip through France this time is purely with the aim of getting to Italy. However that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey 😊 Not for us a whistlestop tour of toll road plazas and the parting with copious sums of cash along the way.
No, we prefer to take our time (within reason) and experience all the beautiful countryside and charming little towns that France has to offer.
In this post, we will take you on a journey through the southern regions of France, specifically focusing on a motorhome adventure that avoids toll roads. Along the way, we will share the free (or at least cheap) overnight stops that we used along the way, including Guarbecque, Muizon, Chaumont, Sennecy-le-Grand, and Bourgneuf on our way towards the Mont Cenis Pass into Italy. Full disclosure – until we got to Bourgneuf and met @Happy2Dream (Gary) we thought we were going through the Frejus tunnel…
We came through the tunnel from Folkestone to Calais simply because I had Tesco Clubcard Vouchers to use and it only cost us £8. It’s not the best route for us – we would usually come on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe (although Portsmouth to Caen is far more convenient!)
We didn’t want to drive too far on the French side, and it was just as well that we’d already researched where we were going to stop, as you’re straight onto the motorway when you disembark the train!
- 1st Stop – Guarbecque: A little village in Northern France as we embarke on your journey south, the small village of Guarbecque mad for an ideal first stop. The area alongside the canal offers a free overnight stop for motorhome travelers.
However, the area was taken over by a temporary bar and stage which nearly put paid to our plans, until a car parked by the little climbing park left and we were able to tuck ourselves out of the way for the night, watching the massive barges as they passed by creating giant swells
- 2nd stop – Muizon (2 nights here): This wasn’t quite so straightforward… We headed to our 1st choice of stopover, only to find it completely taken over by gypsies. They had even blocked the entrance with a van, and were busy routing pipes to any water source they could find. We quickly re-routed to a city stop that Calv had found – cue panic (mine) over the 1 way system (until I got my head round it) and then an inability to get into the Aire. Helped by a local we got in to find it full and not really suitable for our size of van.
So we had to stop for a few minutes, in which time we found a spot a few miles out of town which led us to head to Muizon, which, it turned out, was a charming little village and provided an excellent base for exploring Reims.
We were quite happy to leave the van at the Aire and hop on a train (station about ½ mile away, taking under 10 minutes & 14 Euros to get to Reims).
We’d never visited Reims before, but knew it was famous for its breathtaking Gothic cathedral and Champagne houses. We visited the cathedral, catching a mass confirmation in progress – we then visited a bar and I felt the need to partake of a glass of the bubbly stuff (which was very nice indeed thank you very much!)
Then it started to rain…. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement – we had a massive thunderstorm!! It was absolutely spectacular, but sort of brought the day to an end – and there wasn’t a train back to Muizon until 4.25pm (it was a Saturday)
- 3rd stop –Chaumont: Continuing southward, we stopped at Chaumont, a charming town situated along the canal. Here, we found a peaceful spot by the water to park up for the night. We had to pay for this one (shock/horror!!) A whole 8.44Euros… We took a leisurely walk along the canal (it’s also a cycle path and runs for miles), watching the locals fishing and listening to the frogs (we didn’t manage to see any though)
I ran the other way alongside the canal in the morning managing a respectable 2.8miles. I know I should have completed a 5k, but I just didn’t have it in me ☹
- 4th stop – Sennecy-le-Grand: On leaving Chaumont we drove for about half hour before reaching Langres, which had been our 2nd choice for a stopover. On seeing the walled town as we passed by we decided it was lunchtime, so we stopped and had a wander 😊 So glad we did – it was an absolute delight!
Once we arrived in Sennecy we felt like royalty parked up next to the Castle! We already knew this area, having stayed a couple of miles away at Chateau d’Eperviere a couple of times.
It was a lovely stopover but very near the road. It would have been nice to visit the SAS museum, but sadly it wasn’t open. We did go for a short walk in the evening taking in some of the lovely buildings (as well as the castle, the church and the trees with holes in their trunks).
- 5th stop – Bourgneuf: We decided to take the ‘wiggly’ route (maybe we should rename the blog ‘The Wiggly Way’??) towards the Alps. Calv definitely enjoyed this more than the more straightforward routes, and it was a lovely route, taking us through the Tunnel de Chat and passing by the Lac de Bourget on exit (we stopped for lunch here 😊) Pedestrians and cyclists have their own 1500m long tunnel!
Bourneuf itself is a tiny village in Savoie on our way to the Frejus tunnel (or so we thought) Here, we had a lovely stop-over in the shadow of the Alps.
This is where we met Gary of @Happy2Dream and we ended up going to the local bar with him, chatting with the locals (a couple of young lads keen to learn a little more English and help me with my French). One of those evenings that will be forever remembered fondly.
When hearing that we were going through the tunnel Gary’s response was ‘Why??’. His van wasn’t much smaller than ours and he advised that the Mont Cenis Pass was perfectly doable for us, and we decided to travel over it together (he later told us he wasn’t intending to go that way at all, and was absolutely shattered the next evening!!) (The drive over the pass will have it’s own separate post)
In conclusion, driving south through France, while avoiding toll roads, allowed us to experience the country’s diverse landscapes, quaint villages, and rich cultural heritage at our own pace.
Along the way we visited War Cemeteries and learned about the 1st tanks to be used in the war.
All in all, a long, but enjoyable, first week on our latest roadtrip which cost us 8.44 Euros and our fuel!