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 🙂

Travelling during the Coronavirus Outbreak – Our experience so far

By ‘so far’ I actually mean join us from the beginning of our trip!  We left the UK yesterday on a pretty empty ferry out of Newhaven, bound for Dieppe.  To all intents and purposes it would appear we left in the nick of time, as much of Europe is now beginning to close their borders. 

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Now before I go any further I do feel the need to defend ourselves for going ahead with our trip.  It’s not a decision we made lightly, but we don’t regret it for a second.  Even though we are fully aware that we are unlikely to be able to visit all the places that we were hoping to (mainly Croatia, but this entails a trip through Italy so fairly unlikely – although we do have 5 months, so you never know…),  we are currently heading down towards the South of France – where would you rather be stuck? Continue reading “Travelling during the Coronavirus Outbreak – Our experience so far”

Suggested Route & Overnight Stops when travelling through France to Spain

Are you travelling to, or from, Spain via France? This is the route we took on the way home last year and the overnight stops we used (all free). It’s a route we would definitely use again 🙂 (GPS included)

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!

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Stopped on the French side of the Somport Tunnel (blue skies on the Spanish side!) (video above is the approach to the tunnel on the Spanish side)

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:-

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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.

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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 🙂

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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).

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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.

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And of course, knowing that you only have a 10 minute drive to the port in the morning for your ferry is very welcome!

Campsite Reviews aimed at motorhomers.

Honest 1st hand campsite reviews from the perspective of motorhomers with a fairly large unit (and often towing a small car). Currently covers sites in the UK, Spain, France and Portugal – hopefully in the future we will be adding sites in Germany, Italy, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland and beyond!

Hi to all you motorhomers out there (and caravaners, but being motorhomers ourselves we know what they need :); well we know what we want/need and suspect many will have similar wants)…

We have, so far, visited sites throughout Spain, France and the UK.  This spring/summer, coronovirus allowing, we are hoping to add Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Germany and Belgium to that list (and perhaps Switzerland, Lichenstein and Luxembourg…)

Within each review will be contact details, location details (ie. GPS co-ordinates), access issues and anything that’s particularly good or bad about the site.  We will also include links to blogs giving you ideas of where to visit during your stay (this might be on foot, by car or bike).

Every site for which there is a review has been visited by us.  Many of them have been found via the ACSI card book, but we are now starting to branch out and there are reviews for the free overnight stops that we have found (some of them just amazing and not limited to 1 night – Algodonales springs to mind; we stayed 4 nights with electricity provided…)

Knowing what’s important to us we are going to use a set format to complete, with key questions (access, pitch, facilities etc.) + the description set up under ‘The good, The bad and The ugly’.

Please do comment with your own views of any campsites I review that you have also visited – it’s quite possible we’ll have differing views!  Any suggestions for other campsites or parking areas are also very welcome 🙂

Just a bit of background information on our set-up then:-

We are Mandi and Calvin and we have a 2012 Bessacarr E769, 8.56m long and 2.3m wide.  We have been using the ACSI book for our travels on our last 2 European trips, and have found it invaluable (although we have had to resort to the internet a couple of times).

We have also invested in an Aguri SatNav for this trip (the one we had previously, from a different manufacturer, proved to be completely useless!!)

And, of course, if you find the campsite reviews helpful you might enjoy our blog cataloguing our travels!

I will be adding to these whenever we travel 🙂

Happy travelling 🙂

Jump straight to relevant reviews below – separate pages created for each country – simply click below for relevant list (most recent trip is shown first):-

SPAIN

FRANCE

UK

 

 

A visit to Carcassone on the way to Narbonne

Looking for a site around Carcassone we were struggling to find somewhere that was still open at this time of year.  So we decided to just visit on the way to the coast – we’d found a site at Narbonne that was open, les Floralys.

What we neglected to do was to decide on where to park when we got there!  So we ended up following the signs for ‘La Cite’ before taking a wrong turn and ending up on a dead-end outside a school.  There was plentiful parking available so we stopped there!  Much to the amusement of the school children milling around.  (What we discovered when we left, after having to get the van turned round and the car re-hooked up, was that if we HAD carried on around the roundabout there was an actual parking area right there!!)

Anyway we unhooked the car and went off in search of parking closer to ‘La Cite’.  We drove around and around the narrow one way system looking – any on-street parking is covered by permits it would appear, but we eventually found a car park by the river where we parked for free.  From here it was about a 10 minute walk up to the medieval city.

Entrance to the city and it’s outer walls is free, but once inside you will pay to visit the castle, school museum and any other attractions of interest.  The streets are delightful and the church (see main photo) is beautiful.  There are the usual souvenir shops in abundance and many, many eateries.  There is also, apparently, a haunted house.  Close to the castle.

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From between the walls at Carcassone
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Carcassone. Look closely – there’s a photo-bomber in there!
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Square in Carcasson

Back to the van for a quick bacon butty (cue more curious stares from the school kids…!) and then we were back on the road headed for Narbonne.

At this point it was lucky that I’m in the habit of following our route with the map as our Aguri tried to take us down a road that didn’t exist and I realised we were heading away from our destination, so we took over with the 2 phones on Google maps until the Aguri eventually caught up with us.

We chose to stay 2 nights, but it turned out we had little choice anyway as we were affected by the mass protests on fuel duty across the whole of France.  We couldn’t even get to the supermarket for milk 😦  And it didn’t stop raining, pretty much, the whole time we were there.

When we couldn’t get to the shop we headed in the opposite direction, towards the sea.  At the first roundabout we came too I said ‘we need to go right’, but Calv said ‘I want to go that way’ – up into the mountains!    So we did, to see some stunning scenery as we wended our way up, and then back down, the mountain road.

Back at the roundabout we took the road towards Gruissan and Narbonne Plage.  We spotted flamingoes out in the lake and a castle up on the hill – so we had to go have a look didn’t we?

Parking up we found our way through the narrow streets to the church and the steps behind leading up to the castle.  At first we thought it was closed, but a quick push of the gate and we were in.  There’s not much to see but there are wonderful views from the top.  Whilst there the wind picked up and the rain didn’t let up, so we headed to an open bar for a quick drink.  This particular bar was a sports bar that actually had a betting office on-site!

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Looking out over Gruissane
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The umbrella stayed the right way round for once!
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Gruissane Castle
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The castle tower, Gruissane

On the way back to the site we managed to get milk in the garage as we headed out of Gruissane.  We did look to see if the protestors had abandoned their post underneath the bridge, but they hadn’t.  They had when we popped out a little later though, but all the shops were shut – we’re not entirely sure that they bothered opening to be fair.

The protestors stopped us from driving in to see Narbonne, and the rain stopped us from cycling, so unfortunately we missed out.

The protestors were still out on Sunday when we left for Spain.  We thought at first that they wouldn’t be as they weren’t at 10am, but they soon started appearing.  We were held up for about 20 mins whilst trying to get out of Narbonne (tyres burning and everything), and then again around Perpignan – this time for over an hour 😦

Everything seemed to go smoothly after this; even the tolls weren’t overly expensive.  It’s best to take the toll road from Perpignan into Spain as otherwise you have to deal with very mountainous terrain – the total cost in tolls from Perpignan to Figueres was 11.50 Euros and it took a whole hour off our journey time!

At this point we started noticing the floods on either side of the roads, whole fields under water.  Then about 10 miles away from our site we were barred from taking our required road by a police blockade – that’s all you get though, no diversion or anything!  So we had to stop and re-calculate a route, which we did, only to be stopped again.  This time the police directed us around the floods, which made for a very interesting 10 minutes or so 🙂  We’d already changed our destination by now as we thought we couldn’t get to l’Estartit, and we were very relieved to pitch up for the night.  Ready to head the 10 miles to l’Estartit in the morning.

 

Toulouse -a French city worth a visit

Leaving Tours we decided that we would have a couple of overnighters on the way south, which meant we stayed at a site, de Montreal, a little south of Limoges.  A lovely little site set out of the way on a lake in St Germaine-les-belles.  We had chosen to take the toll road from Tours to Poitiers, which we regretted as it came at a cost of over 35 Euros!

The next night was spent in another lovely site, de Bois-Redon, in a village outside of Caussade called Septfond.  We then headed down towards Toulouse where we had decided to stay for 2 nights (overnighters are all very well, but, for us, 2 in a row is more than enough!)

Having rocked up just outside of Toulouse we decided that we really should make the effort to go into the city.

We were staying at Les Violettes, a campsite just south of the city (and very close to the Canal du Midi) and managed to find out that we could use a park and ride at Ramonville, about 4 miles away, to get on the metro taking us straight into the heart of the city.

At a cost of 6.10 Euros each we were in the city within an hour of leaving the site – even though both car parks were full when we arrived.  Just a little tip here – it is worth waiting at the barriers as people do come and go and the barriers will go up when there are a few spaces available; we waited about 10 minutes and then we were in!

Ramonville is the end of 1 of the 2 metro lines that serve the city, and you change after about 11 stops (at Jean-Jaures) to go to Capitole, which is a good place to start your visit.

This is where you will find the Tourist Information centre (in a rather impressive building), and where you can then head down to see the Hotel de Ville (a much more impressive building – mostly hidden by the preparations for an event whilst we were there, sadly).

Toulouse & Arround (1)

Here we sat and had a drink before wandering aimlessly along the narrow streets (buying nougat along the way), before finding Continue reading “Toulouse -a French city worth a visit”

Discovering Chateau de Chenonceoux and Amboise nearby

We moved on towards Tours after leaving la Ferte-Vidame.  This route was chosen after much deliberation regarding our route – resulting with us eventually, and reluctantly, deciding to abandon our plan to cross the Millau Viaduct (boooo….); mainly due to the seeming lack of campsites open for us on that route 😦

Having decided on Tours, I thought that we might actually stay for 3 nights, having seen a weather forecast suggesting full sun and a high of 21C on Monday.  Sadly it turns out that there are several towns called Tours in France, and my app had decided to provide me with information for a different one, rather than the main town of Tours located in the Loire Valley.  So we just stayed for 2 nights after all.

We could have hopped on the cycle path and ridden into Tours to visit the old city (about 4 miles away, with the cycle path passing within about 50m from the site – albeit across a busy road); but we didn’t…

Instead we used our 1 full day there to visit the Chateau de Chenonceaux.  There are so many chateaux to choose from to visit; we chose this one as it actually spans the river Cher.  It turns out that it is actually a Unesco World Heritage Site.

We paid 14 Euros each to visit the castle and gardens – other attractions within the grounds include a maze, wine cellar (caves), gourmet restaurant, tea-room, self-service restaurant, 16th century farm with carriage musuem and donkeys 🙂

But the main draw is without doubt the castle itself, where many rooms are open to the public.  One of the interesting facts we learned was that Continue reading “Discovering Chateau de Chenonceoux and Amboise nearby”

1st few days into France/Spain 2018/19 – Brighton-Newhaven-Dieppe-La Ferte Vidame :)

6th November was the day we left home for our next adventure.  We said our goodbyes and waved to the house, with barely a backward glance.. except we had to go straight back before we made it to the motorway as Calv had left his phone behind…!!

1st stop Brighton for an overnight at the Caravan Club site situated just inland from the marina.  We had a bite to eat in the marina; a first ever visit to Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and later in the afternoon (although it felt like the evening by the time we came home (by which I mean ‘van’) at about 6.30pm, as it was so dark), we headed into town to visit the Pavilion and the ice skating rink.

We drove around for a while trying to find somewhere to park for less than £10 for 2 hours; on the seafront you will pay £6 for 2 hours closer to Palace Pier, but we parked nearer to West Pier where we paid ‘only’ £4.20 for 2 hours.

I’m glad we did though, as it was just a 15 minute walk back to the Pavilion which looked perfect all lit up for the ice-skating.  We didn’t partake (we didn’t want to risk either of us breaking a leg before going away!) but it was great fun to watch.  (We have no idea who these lads are in Calv’s photo – but they seem very happy with themselves!!!

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Our ferry was leaving Newhaven at 11.30am so we didn’t have to get up too early – we just headed off about 9.30am and were at the port by 10.15am – so in plenty of time for our crossing.  It was a bit rough out there, but I managed to ignore it!!  Until we headed out of the safety of the harbour that is…  See videos below for a small taster of what we experienced! Continue reading “1st few days into France/Spain 2018/19 – Brighton-Newhaven-Dieppe-La Ferte Vidame :)”

My France and Spain winter 2018/2019 trip

Follow me on my trip ‘France and Spain winter 2018/2019’ at https://www.polarsteps.com/turnrightoutofportsmouth/990685-france-and-spain-winter-2018-2019

Starting to prepare and get excited for our next trip. This will be recorded as we move on Polarsteps so if you follow us you won’t need to wait until I get round you writing up my blog to see where we are 😊

See also our reviews for each site we stopped at on the way.

What we learned about France in the summer of 2016

• The French love a roundabout – possibly even more than the Brits
• Signage often stops just when you need it most..
• There is a lot of free parking in France and lots of parking spaces
o  Except in Cannes – you have to drive right through Cannes and walk back about a        mile to get free parking
o And Monaco – lots of underground parking areas, not free, but not as expensive as we were expecting either Continue reading “What we learned about France in the summer of 2016”