It had been a winter of discontent and we were itching to drag the caravan off the drive, hitch up and head for the sun – which shouldn’t be too hard to find in France, right?
We are ‘pensioners’, so we can come and go as we like – and we do like. We live in North Devon, so the Plymouth-Roscoff crossing on Brittany Ferries is our favourite port of call; because we use it so frequently, we are members of its Club Voyage France, which means we get 30% off every crossing and free breakfast if we take the overnight option (which of course we do).
Crossings and campsites
Roscoff, with its beautiful, solid Breton architecture, is a welcoming sight, and a stepping stone for destinations unknown. We had our trust ACSI Campsite Guide and for an annual membership of just £15, this gave us the location of all the sites open at this time of year, at discount prices.
Spring was late arriving in Brittany, the fields were ploughed but not yet planted with their usual crops of artichokes and onions, but it was encouraging to see great swathes of rapeseed stretched across the countryside like bold yellow brushstrokes straight from a painter’s palette.
We headed for Saumur and Camping L’Île d’Offard, set on an island in the middle of the Loire, where the château looked down on us from its lofty perch. Classified as a monument historique, this really is a beauty, with its pointed turrets of mellow, creamy tuffeau (limestone).
Amazing market stalls
When in France, it really is de rigeur to search out the local markets, and Saumur has a doozy on a Saturday.
The canny market vendors never miss a trick, with their stalls laid out like giant breadcrumbs throughout the town centre, luring you through the back streets and bide-a-while cafés. The ambience is simply irresistible and creates such an allure, your money leaves your pockets with barely a murmur of complaint.
The Loire Valley is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are châteaux galore in this neck of the woods and you really are spoilt for choice.
Chinon is a mighty fortress overlooking the historic town and the River Vienne. Its commanding position and splendid views of the Touraine alone are well worth the entry fee of €7.
The Château d’Ussé, currently the property of Casimir de Blacas d’Aulps, 7th Duke of Blacas, is as impressive as his name. This beautiful stronghold set in the Chinon Forest really is a fairy-tale castle! In the 17th Century, it inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty, whose tale unfolds as you walk from room to room, a delight for adults and children.
Real log fires offer warmth and ambience as you wander this lovingly maintained family estate. Its exceptional good looks also inspired Walt Disney in the creation of his very own fairy-tale castle. Excellent value at €11 each – don’t miss it!
Back on the road, we were heading for Monaco, which has long been on our bucket list. But our journey via Clermont-Ferrand was not uneventful. As anyone who has a caravan will know, towing can have its challenges. Our Coachman Amara 380/2 is just over 5m long, a toddler compared to many, but perfect for the two of us and very easy to tow.
French drivers, however, often like more than their fair share of the road and ‘white van man’ was greedier than most, managing to clip our left-hand tow mirror, which spun off and disintegrated. Luckily, with a bit of jiggling we were able to transfer the right-hand tow mirror to the left-hand side, which helped in overtaking.
As we left the toll road for our campsite, Le Ranch des Volcans at Châtel-Guyon, we noticed something flapping on the side of the caravan. The rubber sealant strip that goes around the middle of the awning rail had come loose and was trailing behind us like a whip. We managed to wind it up until we arrived at our campsite.
Once there, with the help of our trust Swiss Army knife, strong fingernails and strategic placement of some duct-tape, we reinserted the strip in its rightful location.
Heading for Monaco
After a pleasant overnight stop at Camping La Pinède Provence, in Mondragon, we continued to our next site, Camping Les Pinèdes, in La Colle-sur-Loup, which is quite close to Nice.
This is a great campsite with excellent facilities, but it is steep and terraced, and proved something of a challenge with a caravan – thank heavens for a mover!
The chaos theory seems to rule supreme in this area, and driving around is not for the faint-hearted. We entered the tiny Principality of Monaco through a series of tunnels, feeling rather mole-like, and made our way to the surface, where we found ourselves quite in awe at the view that confronts us. The spectacular Casino de Monte-Carlo and the harbour filled with yachts simply screamed ‘money’.
Preparations were in progress for the Monaco Grand Prix and viewing platforms were being erected around the harbourside.
Monaco, although tiny in acreage, has built on every available inch of land, and houses, villas and hotels cling like limpets to the steep hillside.
The Côte d’Azur is a bustling, vibrant area, but there is peace, tranquillity and beauty to be found in the rolling hills nearby. The medieval hillside town of Tourrettes-sur-Loup is a short, scenic drive from the site through the gorgeous Gorges du Loup, in the Parc Naturel Régional des Préalples d’Azur, and is truly stunning. Perched eagle-high on cliffs that tower over the gorge, it offers wonderful views across this beautiful countryside.
There is plenty of parking, and lovely cafés and restaurants, and the medieval town itself, accessed through an archway off the central square, is a delight.
A further delight, also just a short drive from the campsite, is St-Paul-de-Vence, another medieval town with twisting, narrow, cobbled roads, wonderful galleries, and enticing cafés and restaurants.
By the riverside
Desiring some peace and quiet, we hitched up and headed for Haute Provence and Camping Verdon Parc in Gréoux-les-Bains, a delightful campsite by the riverside with a superb swimming pool complex, and a restaurant and bar that are open all day.
The site runs a courtesy bus to and from the village, but it is a very pleasant walk, with an excellent selection of bars and cafés as your reward.
Once again the weather turned stormy and with Metéo-France indicating sun in the middle of the country, we upped sticks and headed north – back to the Loire.
Our destination was Camping La Grande Tortue, near Blois, which had the added attraction of offering access to numerous cycle tracks on the La Loire a Vélo route.
Blois itself is a fine city to wander around, with lots of cafes and restaurants.
La Grande Tortue, although classified as a five-star site, did not quite live up to expectations. The toilet facilities, although clean, were in need of modernisation. Families with young children will love the place – couples perhaps not so much.
The cycle paths are superb, though, and we enjoyed trundling alongside the Loire in glorious sunshine.
Discount tickets for the many chateaus in the area are available from reception and we took advantage of this to visit two fine examples, Amboise and Chambord.
The royal residence of Amboise, dating from the 15th century, is a Renaissance gem perched high above the town on the banks of the Loire, offering picturesque views. Many great artists are associated with Amboise, including Leonardo da Vinci. You can see his tomb in the Chapel of St Hubert, inside the grounds of the château.
Chambord was also quite unmissable. Set in a 5000-hectare park, it is simply stunning – its magnificent architecture is understandably world-famous.
We enjoyed glorious sunshine every day in the Loire, a fitting end to our spring sojourn in France. We covered more than 2000 miles on this trip – and we still haven’t seen all this wonderful country has to offer. We already have two more trips planned!
ACSI Camping Card
All the campsites we stayed at were in the ACSI boo. Annual membership is €21.54 and provides two guides, covering the UK and Europe, plus a discount card (up to 50%) for low-season touring. Go too www.campingcard.com to find out more, or you can download the ACSI app at www.acsi.eu/en.
- Car 2017 Hyundair Tucson Premium SE (4WD)
- Caravan 2011 Coachman Amara 380/2
Where we stayed
Flower Camping L’Île d’Offard
- Boulevard de Verden
- 49400 Saumur
- +33 (0)2 41 40 30 00
- Charges €17 per night
Camping Le Ranch des Volcans
- Route de la Piscine
- 63140 Châtel-Guyon
- +33 (0)4 78 86 02 47
- Charges €15 per night
Camping La Pinède Provence
- 202 Chemin de la Maresque
- 84430 Mondragon
- +33 (0)4 90 40 82 98
- Charges €17 per night
Camping Les Pinèdes
- 1402 Route du Pont de Pierre
- D6, 06480 La Colle-sur-Loup
- +33 (0)4 93 32 98 94
- Charges €17 per night
Camping Verdon Parc
- Domaine de la Paludette
- 04800 Gréoux-les-Bains
- +33 (0)4 92 72 95 30
- Charges €17 per night
Camping La Grande Tortue
- 3 Route de Pontlevoy
- 41120 Candé-sur-Beuvron
- +33 (0)2 54 44 15 20
- Charges €19 per night
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We entered the tiny Principality of Monaco through a series of tunnels, feeling mole-like, and found ourselves quite in awe at the view