En Vacances, Juillet & Aout, 2012

The last week in July and our biggest Absinthe adventure so far as we set off for three weeks in France.

We drove down to Portsmouth for the Ferry to St Malo in typical 2012 UK summer weather i.e sunshine, swiftly followed by torrential rain as we hit the M6 toll road. Other than that the rain the journey was fine.

Alison drove all the way to the port (she doesn’t like navigating – maybe I’ve shouted once too often when we’ve missed a turning…) and I took us onto the boat but not before we’d been pulled into the customs area.

The friendly lady operative questioned me for a moment then took me into her cabin for a security scan but strangely her male colleague was more interested in having a look at Absinthe. They didn’t even bother to look in the trailer before waving us through and onto the ferry. Phew!

We’d booked the overnight sailing so we’d get some sleep and a fresh start on Thursday morning. We were first into the restaurant and got chatting to a middle aged guy from Haworth who was on his bike and intending to cycle and use the train to get to the south of France. Reminded me of a certain person of Italian extraction that we know i.e. forthright in his views and a bit of a loner.

After a bottle of wine and a chill we retired to our cabin and slept really well. Before we knew it, the cabin crew were announcing that we were about to arrive in St Malo. We briefly went on deck to see us arrive and were greeted with some light cloud and the hint that we might see the sun later.

Alison drove us off with me navigating. We had to stop ASAP for petrol as we’d used a full tank getting down to Portsmouth.

We’d already booked a site near Pornic so we had a leisurely drive using A roads rather than the motorway. We stopped in a small village for croissants and pulled over to make a coffee. We’d always envied other Campervan owners who we’d seen able to stop anywhere and it was good to sit in the sunshine and relax.

We actually arrived at the site in Pornic before the office opened again at 2pm so we brewed up again and enjoyed warm sunshine. The site looked a bit more than we needed for a couple of days with a large pool and entertainment, etc but were happy to get set up after we’d checked in.

We were allocated a pitch with electricity but the receptionist told us we could chose any free one we fancied. The site had quite a few fixed mobile homes as well as tourers and tents.

We pitched close to the shower block near a couple of statics. It was the first time we’d used the new Gelert canopy instead of the awning so it took us a while to decide how we’d put it up. We’d brought some extra poles which were useful but the figure of eight attachment to the van didn’t really work. We clamped on to the van which was more secure.

We’d taken the Bromptons with us so we cycled down into the port of Pornic for the afternoon. After a couple of cold Tapas snacks in a bar we wandered around the town which quite pretty and also fairly busy. We found a small food shop to buy some bits and pieces for a barbecue for tea. The Weber gas grill/BBQ that Alison bought me for Xmas is great although it takes up a fair bit of space in the trailer.

We’d also followed “Olive’s” tip of cooking outside with a single gas grill which was better than filling the van full of cooking smells. A Dutch chap who was with his family in a static home next to us came over for a chat. He’s got a ’68 Kombi that’s he’s renovating  and also a Beetle so he was keen to have a look round Absinthe. He was thrilled when I showed him the Fox engine. He texted his friend later and they’ve decided they will try and get a GTi engine in his.

He was with us for over an hour and his English was great although he had picked up quite a few words that I suspect he didn’t learn in lessons at school. Certainly put my mild “merde” to shame!

He was back again the next day to take photos of the engine and the rest of the van. A nice guy but pretty hard to get rid of when we had other stuff we wanted to do. We did eventually shake him off and cycled to the hypermarche and Mr Bricollage to look for guy ropes and those little metal guy washers to anchor the canopy better. It had rained quite heavily overnight and although it stayed watertight, the canopy had so much water on it,it almost touched the ground. Fortunately the sun came out and dried everything up really quickly.

 In the afternoon we went back into Pornic for tea – sardines and frites – heaven on a plate…

On Saturday we packed up and drove south to the Ile de Re but took the scenic coastal route. We headed along the Vendeen coast via St Jean de Monts, St Gilles Croix de Ville and Les Sables D’Olonnes. The Vendee is a great area of France, within reach of the Channel ports and with sunshine second only to the South of France. J’aime beaucoup…

We got to St Martin de Re about 5pm and checked in at the Municipal Campsite, right on the edge of town, close to the Medieval Ramparts. We’d booked two statics next to each other months ago because we had family coming to join us on Sunday. Unfortunately, the site had changed our allocated units so we weren’t right next door to each other which was a bit disappointing, particularly when we wanted to get together at night. It’s a good site though, although it doesn’t have a pool.

The beach was only a 20 walk and it was 10 minutes walk to the quayside in St Martin. UNESCO have made St Martin a protected area and it is really is beautiful.

The weather was superb – everything you’d want on a seaside island, bright blue skies and a gentle breeze although it was quite cool in the evening.We spent two weeks visiting the various villages on the island and saw a couple of Kombis whilst we were there including a Forum member (Bloke of the Internet) but I didn’t know that until we’d left the island and they’d left a message on the forum.

In fact we only left the island once in two weeks, to go into La Rochelle, another great French seaside town. It rained though so we spent quite a few hours in the very busy Aquarium. At 16€ for the bridge onto the island leaving didn’t seem like too good an idea and there’s plenty to do anyway..

I even managed to go up the Phare de Balleines, an old lighthouse near the top of the island. I really don’t like heights and I always regret saying yes to going up these things (cf. the Leaning Tower of Pisa) and regret it half way up. Having successfully negotiated the stone spiral staircase I then found that there were two open rung sets if stairs to finish off. Apparently there are great views at the top. All I saw were my feet…

After two weeks we said goodbye to the Family (Jodie, Simon, Aimee, Gabrielle & Will) and had one more day on the site before leaving on the Saturday to drive north.

We chose a site from the Alan Rogers website and headed to Vannes using the D137, again avoiding the motorway as we weren’t in any hurry. After a couple of coffee stops (ah, the freedom of the Kombi) we hit the stationery traffic at Nantes, always a bottleneck. I’d planned to skirt south of Nantes and cut across country but left it too late to tell the driver (Mrs B) to turn left.

It wasn’t too bad and, after an altercation with a middle aged Belgian in a Focus, we managed to get onto the Nantes peripherique heading west. It took us about two hours to get to Vannes including a short stop at a very busy Aire and once in the busy town I realised I’d put the wrong address into the Via Michelin map on my phone. Not sure if you’ve tried driving a Camper and trailer through the centre of a busy French town on a Saturday afternoon but Alison seemed to think it wasn’t too much fun!

Our site was a Municipal one in Conleau which is a port close to Vannes. It had a pool and snack bar and there were free buses into the port and old town at Vannes which was useful on the Sunday. The pitches were fine and there was a nice parc by the sea within walking distance.

We got the bus into Vannes on Sunday afternoon. It only takes 15 minutes and as there were some very heavy showers it seemed like a good idea. There weren’t many of us on the bus and as we got close to town a car pulled out in front of the driver making him swerve and brake sharply. The offending car drove off without stopping. A middle aged woman had slipped off her seat and onto the floor. She was obviously shaken and had cut her knee. The driver and a passenger helped her up and asked if she was ok. In the UK she would have been straight onto her claims solicitor but in France the driver drove to a cycle hire office, went in and came back with a tube of cream. She rubbed some into her knees and we drove off! It appears that maybe common sense rules a bit more over there.

On Monday we drove to St Malo to be close to the ferry on Tuesday morning and we paid for a pitch on a site overlooking the bay. We parked up, got the chairs out but were never comfortable, The French equivalent of the Shameless Gallaghers seemed to be next door and everyone else looked like they’d come off the cast of the League of Gentlemen. It just didn’t feel right so we hitched the trailer up and left.

We drove down to the Ferry port and they let us park in the queue for the next day’s boat. There was a caravan already set up and we were much happier, even if they’d said we had to be up and ready to move by 7.30am (for a 10.30 sailing).

We walked into the old town of St Malo and had a walk right round the ramparts before having a super meal in a really friendly restaurant in town. I may not be having Veal kidneys again though! Woke up with incredible indigestion during the night, although to be honest it could have been the cakes and other food we’d consumed that day that caused it.

I didn’t sleep for long at all and we were up at 6.45 as lorries started to arrive. In the line next to us was an 04 Danbury called Indiana. We chatted to the nice ladies in it and they told us their starter motor had packed in during their holiday and one of them had had to push for quite a few days every time they wanted to start. They didn’t seem fazed and had already ordered a new starter motor from Just Kampers to be fitted when they got back.

Eventually we moved through customs to await loading but it seemed to be taking forever. We got on at about 10.40 and as soon as we got into our cabin they announced that, due to industrial action, the boat wouldn’t be sailing for another 2 hours. The sailing was fine and I grabbed a couple of hours sleep. We got a Commodore class cabin coming back – well worth it as you get a TV (we watched the Real McHoy win his 6th Gold Medal in the Keirin) and much more space.

We were last ones off the boat and didn’t leave the port in Portsmouth until 8.10pm. Of course, it rained for most of the first 3 hours driving home – we eventually arrived home at 1.30am!

There are more photos here: Flickr

What did we learn?

Be more careful when you’re leaving the pitch: 

Parties on a French beach are fantastic:

Donkeys wear trousers on the Ile de Re:

3 weeks is better than 2 as far as holidays are concerned and I can’t wait for the next one…

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