I have always had a soft spot for France.
I spent a year as an Au Pair in Geneva, perfecting my french and making francophile friends. There are many fond memories of my time in France and an affinity for their culture and language. That is why I am so incredibly happy to finally be here again and exploring more with Piers and the kids. To me, it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, combining nature, history and food in one neat package.
Our first night we spent on a free camp spot in Arras. Arriving late, we parked and set up our beds and fell asleep with the sound of tooting horns. France made it to the finals and the French were celebrating. In the morning we unpacked the bikes and went exploring, searching first for a bakery for our daily fix of croissants and baguettes. That sorted, we rode around the lovely old part of town. I just can’t get enough of the architecture and history of the towns we are visiting. Arras is not on the main tourist trail, but it has plenty of charm and history. A lot of visitors come here because of its WWI significance with the Battle of the Somme. We have come here mainly to visit the grave of Piers’ great uncle, Lesley Williams, who died here in 1915. Being so close to the front lines in both wars, Arras was heavily affected by the war.
There are so many monuments and cemeteries, scattered across the landscape, it is not hard to imagine the bloody scenes that took place in this area. Now, it is beautiful, with scattered poppies everywhere, fields of grain, beets and potatoes and small villages.
We are avoiding all tolls, so we are meandering though side roads and villages and stopping here and there when a village looks particularly charming, or when one of the kids needs to use the toilet. Between their bodily needs, we are getting glimpses of rural France’s charm.
From the Somme Valley we headed straight to the Loire Valley, past dreamy villages and rural landscapes. As we had to be at our first Workaway spot by the 8th, we unfortunately had to rush through this part of the country, but hopefully, we get to come back later in the trip. In the Loire Valley, we stopped in the small town of Moeng-sur-Loire, where once again I hit the jackpot in terms of parking our van. Perfectly located at the edge of this medieval town, along the Loire. Having the bikes with us is proving to be the single best investment, as we are all exploring the sights without the whining of having to use one’s feet to walk.
The Loire Valley is littered with amazing castles. This is where the Kings of France and England came to hunt or to escape the stresses of the ruling business. On our way south, we stopped at Chateaux de Chambord, one of the most recognisable castles in the world. I told the kids we were only going to visit a tiny castle, so were suitably impressed by the turrets and mote, horse stables with horses and a small medieval scenery. The gardens were magnificent and we even spotted some wild boar. It is hard to impress the kids and I guess a lot of these side trips and visits are for our own benefit and pleasure. The history and artistic beauty of a lot of these places will go into their memory bank and pulled out years from now. And that is ok. What we are seeing now in the kids is their connectedness. The activities they are coming up with when they are bored. And our togetherness. Seeing Piers relaxed is priceless (unless I muck up the navigating….). And I am loving having all this time to just be, experience and breathe in this precious time we have.
And just in case I am sounding too soppy….well, the first few days in the van driving for several hours at a time, were testing. We saw everything from happy campers to flying books and pencils, cries of outrage and some choice language. I have some audio books that the kids are loving, and these have been priceless at keeping the peace. I did download a couple of movies, and they will come in handy, but so far we have done without.
And here are some hints and tips if you are planning to to the grand European tour on a budget.
Before leaving, I ordered a book called “Motohome Guide – Camperstop EUROPE 2016 “. It lists free (or for a few Euros) Campervan parking sites, with info on water, chemical toilet disposal and power. They are basic sites for one or two nights only and are often on the edges of towns. Some are on car parks, some are a bit more rural and secluded. In France you are also allowed to use the car parks of supermarkets, but they are not that appealing with kids. The one in Arras was a bit noisy but still very conveniently located. Moeng-sur-Loire was lovely, with a public swimming pool opposite and a playground and the Loire just at our feet. So with this, avoiding Tolls and cooking in the Camper, we are doing quite well so far.
By avoiding Tolls, you might take longer to reach a destination, but save quite a few Euros. Besides, if you are not in a hurry, this is a lovely way to stumble upon lovely, unexpected villages.
We are interspersing our travelling with Workaway gigs. Workaway is like Woofing, but not necessarily on organic farms. For the next 2 weeks we are staying with a Dutch/English couple in a very rural area called Haute-Vienne, which is in the Limousin region
Arras and the Somme graves
Australian WWI Graves in Dernancourt, Loire Valley and Chateaux de Chambord
Over the next 10 days, we will be stationed near the small village of Bussiere-Poitevine, in the Haute-Vienne, Limousin. Very rural, with rolling hills, rivers and scattered farm houses. Pretty idillic….sigh.
A la prochaine,