The Stothert's motorhome tour of France's west coast
Andy and Marion Stothert make the decision to head to the west coast of France in their campervan
Imagine it’s May last year, it’s been a long wet winter in t’ sodden north, we were eating with a gaggle of mature friends, when one of them, Beth (Betty when we’ve had a few), casually came up with a plan for a different kind of night out.
Fuelled by a nice Appellation Bergerac, Betty decided that they were going to rent a colossal gite in France in September in order that we could all reconvene there for a couple of days of excessive conversation and consumption. Marion, my good lady and travel manager, is a sociable sort and immediately indicated we’d be there, come what may.
Thankfully, she didn’t really reflect too deeply about the implications on our ongoing house renovations and, as I was getting fed up with all that digging and labouring, I didn’t point them out.
Just like Cornwall?
Betty booked the gite, which was just south of Bergerac, we decided that it would take a pair of chaotic shufflebums like us at least three weeks to get to Bergerac and back. But, to complete this task in such a short space of time, we were going to have to come up with a plan. And stick to it.
“We’ll go via Brittany,” says I. “We’ve never been to Brittany, and everyone says it is drop-dead gorgeous. Like Cornwall. Just like Cornwall.” I say lots of things, most of it drivel, and mainly it just washes over her, but throwing the word Cornwall into any conversation prompts her ears to prick up and actually listen.
So that was it – we booked a one-way ferry ticket from Plymouth to Roscoff (for £204 – ouch) at the beginning of September 2012 and, after a glorious day in Plymouth, we sailed off into the sunset towards France. And with a plan: this being that we would have a look at Brittany before heading directly south to Bergerac.
Run for the sun
Well Brittany isn’t quite like Cornwall, but there are some similarities. First though, after disembarking from the MV Armorique quite late, all the itinerant freeloading motorhomers (like us) just drove up to the car park at the top of the hill and slept there for the night. Welcome to France, where we are a lot more welcome than at home. But Brittany? Oh my.
It may very well look fantastic in decent weather – a bit like the Isles of Scilly physically – but after two days of bone-numbing temperatures and gloomy grey skies the plan to explore Brittany exploded, and we were hurled southward, with no intention of stopping until the sun appeared.
We had never previously explored this part of the French coast, and first impressions were not good: it’s all a bit built-up, the scenery is non-existent, and the beaches are made of a murky muddy-looking brand of sand.
Second impressions weren’t much better either, but after doing the usual trawling about looking for a handily-placed site or aire we finally dropped on a campsite at the very edge of the urban sprawl right next to the sea at somewhere called Saint-Michel-Chef-Chef.
Unusually for us, we liked the site itself, with big swaying pines hiding this small patch of paradise from the urban surroundings, and it’s the kind of place that settles the soul after a longish day on the road.
That the site was just a few steps from the sea was the clincher though, and the sea was warm too, in that relative-to-Cornwall kind of way.
Twinned with Wigan
After three nights we set off southwards again in more determined mood, and got as far as Les Sables-d’Olonne. Only another 45 miles, or maybe even 50, in all.
The busy and really quite chic resort of Les Sables-d’Olonne turned out to be a gentle two or three-mile stroll by the sea from the site, where we had lunch. We really liked Les Sables d’Olonne, and to make us nomadic northerners feel completely at home they even have a street called Rue de la Pie – in recognition of the town being twinned with Wigan in Lancashire.
Whilst my better half, Marion, was rummaging through the sites book, she spotted one at Angoulême with ‘lake swimming’.
Again first appearances weren’t encouraging, as the site is brand new and a bit stark, but when they asked for just over €10 (£8.70), including electricity, with immaculate facilities and that refreshing lake five minutes’ walk away, well, the need for a swim combined with the fickle financial cells made the decision for us.
If the lake swimming seems a bit extreme, which it isn’t, the site also has a big pool. And a restaurant, with pizzas of course.
The highlight of the non-Brittany tour
Brantôme came next and it was absolutely lovely. It’s one of those small typically rural French towns which have almost sold their soul to tourism, but not quite, and we would’ve liked to have stayed a bit longer in truth, but were due in Bergerac the day after.
All in all it took us the best part of a fortnight to arrive at the gite near Bergerac, where we elected to kip in the camper rather than run the risk of getting involved too closely with all the old folk, or upsetting the spinal regions in one of those soft Gallic beds.
The highlight of the non-Brittany tour?
Well, everywhere except Brittany, the cakes, the plonk and the chaos of cooking for 12 at the gite. Oh, and is Les Sables-d’Olonne really twinned with Wigan? Well who knows, but Vive la Pie anyway.
Where to stay - recommended campsites in the area:
Camping Du Bord de Mer
1 Bis Boulevard de l’ocean, 44730 Saint-Michel-Chef-Chef
Tel: 0033-240-279316 Web: www.borddemer-camping.com
Open: March 1 to November 30
Charges (2013): motorhome + 2 adults with hook-up €25.50 (£22.20) - €34.50 (£30)
Camping La Dune des Sables
La Peracou, Route de l’Aubraie, 85100 Les Sables-d’Olonne
Tel: 0033-251-323121 Web: www.chadotel.com
Open: April 13 to September 21
Charges (2013): motorhome + 2 adults with hook-up €20.50 (£17.80) - €33.50 (£29.15)
Camping du Plan díEau
1 Rue de Camping, 16710 St Yrieix sur Charente
Open: April 1 to October 31
Charges (2012): 2013 motorhome + 2 adults with hook-up €10.55 (£9.20) - €12.55 (£10.90).
Avenue Andre Maurois, 24310 Brantôme
Tel: 0033-553-057524 Web: www.camping-peyrelevade.com
Open: May to September Charges (2013): motorhome + 2 adults with
hook-up: €18.50 (£16.10) - €26 (£22.60)
This excerpt was taken from the July 2013 issue of MMM magazine, which as well as the Stothert's non-Brittany tour, also features motorhome travel articles on
- Anglesey: a little island with a lot of impact
- Kent and its wildlife
- Snowdon - four climbs in four days
- Highlights of the northwest, from Blackpool to boat lifts
- The Swiss Alps - combine motorhoming with mountain walking
- Lakeside cycling in southeastern France
- And TV star and campervan fanatic, Martin Dorey, visits Aquitaine