France

Touring through France, it is surprising how quickly we forget which routes we take. The reason is twofold: We always try to avoid passing near large cities and towns. Secondly, as much as possible, we drive on "D" - Departmental roads. Such routes rarely carry much traffic - most often there is not another vehicle in view. Driving this way does involve planning, but has the undoubted advantage in better views of the farming and countryside. This page is for the recording of these tours.

Usually we avoid France in the height of the 'season'. However we found a good value (£167 return) Weymouth/St Malo crossing in the first two weeks of September 2004. The outward crossing involved a change of ferry at Guernsey - and a three hour wait into the 'bargain'! Obviously we used this time for a drive through the Island. We had visited a few years previously - just as we had remembered it - almost all covered with houses, virtually no agricultural land could we find. Back on board our cottage was reached soon after five PM.

The first week we 'messed around', noting with pleasure builders had started work in opening up apertures for extra windows, not only will this provide more light, but also improving the look of the place. The weather for this visit was perfect, not a cloud in the sky for days on end, such heat not being conducive to doing very much. An exertion we tried to find energy for was a long walk to Guehenno, this village had had a most excellent restaurant, so we had walked to it in times past, with the reward of a high class meal for our efforts. Unfortunately not this time! It had had a change of ownership, the meal not being good value for what it cost.

In five days of the second week, a long tour was taken down through the middle of this outstanding country. First day through Redon, lunching at Nozay, then cross country to Abberetz, crossing the Loire here. This we noted was done at three in the afternoon, with the temperature at 29.5°C - conditions such as this,
air conditioning comes very handy! That night was spent in the Ibis at Chatellerault.

First stop the next morning was at La Roche Posay, where we had found a market as we motored through. On again, following close to the River Creuse on the D950. At Le Blanc we were 'taken' by the huge viaduct carrying the rail line over the valley. Still following the river and passing through country made famous by the writer George Sand. Crossing the river near Eguzon the D913 and D912 was travelled to Le Grand-Bourg. Now started twisty roads through forests, not really scenic, and not an area I would want to return to, just that on the map it looked interesting - and isolated - it certainly was that! Laurierel was one of the villages we viewed. Then tricky driving to Bourganeuf. From here, a pleasure to use main roads to Aubussion, where we found a hotel for the night.

Driving north-eastwards out of the town the next morning, we passed through country that was completely different to that of the previous afternoon - now this I really would wish to return too! Very pastoral and remote, quite like English countryside in fact, apart that is from the quietness. Bellegarde and Auzances were two villages we passed through. Then across country to Charbonnieres near were we viewed a volcanic lake. In fact it appears this area had at one time seen volcanic eruptions. South of us was Clermont-Ferrand, we turned toward this but skirted the western suburbs, we were in need of fuel, part of the reason for so doing, we thought we might find a super-market at which we could fill up, no luck though, we had to make do with a filling station. Out of the built up areas, and to the south of them, we again turned eastwards on the D225 by Vic-le-Comte, then on to Sugeres. Then on the D996 through Ambert. This it would appear is the 'Central Massif' of France. Mainly forrested, and driving over passes of twelve hundred metres in height. That night was spent in the large town of Montbrisson. Here we did have difficulty on locating places to stay, taking well over an hour to find a room, not over easy to find a reasonable place to eat either - we're not always lucky in such things! The 'Petit-dejeuner the next morning was also memorable - for it was not good, the bread being thin sticks rather like cigars, and no croissants were provided.

Somewhere to the south of this place, the River Loire (Frances longest) commences. We soon picked this up, and followed close to its banks as it meandered northwards. At one point we drove under another imposing viaduct, we thought it looked as though it was carrying a canel across the river, but investigation revealed it was just an ordinary country road - very unusual! After passing through Roanne we left the river and drove on quite busy roads - by French standards that is! Flat countryside, After Lapilisse we found roads more to our taste on the D480, stopping at a couple of villages. Then the D989 to Moulins, crossing the river here, and onto Lurcy-levis. This is 'Berry country', nice farming with hedges.
Cross country here to Bannegon. After this, 'prairie' farming commenced - all the way to Bourges, were once again, an Ibis hotel had a room for us, and within easy walking distance of this characterful French city.

D23 out of town
westward the following morning, stopping at the well kept village of Gracay. Selles-s-Cher on the D956 to Mehers, following here we drove through fields of vines, but also believe it or not, patches of fields planted with leeks or flowers. Then on side roads to Couddes, and Fougeres, At the interesting village of Chaumont we crossed the Loire. Then northward to Herbault, very flat, with large fields of maize and sunflowers. Lavardin we stopped at - one of the "Classic Villages" of France. Stopping for tea in Chahaignes, after which we lost ourselves a bit in the Foret de Berce, through Ecommoy. D8 to Malicorne-s-Sarthe. D309, D306, D28, D109, D4, through Cosse, D32 heading as straight as we could on these quiet roads, to eventually pick up the N24 at Guer, it was getting late, it had been a very long drive, and we were pleased to be home. I did not feel like doing much the next day!

It was windy on the Monday we had booked to return, so checked if the high speed ferry via Jersey was running - no! So we transferred to Brittany Ferries crossing via Roscoff/Plymouth.



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France - towards the Pyrenees
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On the Spanish side of the Pyrenees - the village of Isaba



Colours in Spain


The Pyrenees look impressive viewed
at a distance from the French side


21st October 2005 we took a trip down to the Pyrenees. A long drive not at all improved by the fact that we virtually always use 'local' roads. While this does involve much planning and map reading, it has the very great benefit of virtually traffic free roads, plus we reckon we view the 'real' France. Most certainly, we get a far better view of the countryside, than we would by driving on dual carriageways.

It was pouring with rain when we set off, but this soon cleared up. Going by Roc St Andre we crossed over the Loire on the lowest bridge - nearest the mouth in other words. We somehow missed the first 'D' road - the D5 - picked out. I wished to aim inland a bit, but furthur on we turned off on a very local road which got us back on course to pass through the village of St Pere en Retz and onto Machecoul. A short stop to photograph the impressive twin church steeples. Then more or less in a straight line to pass La Roche s Yon some miles to the east. Thus we avoided all the busy roads and urban areas until we got to Niort. We'd chosen this town because it had an Ibis - a group of hotels of which we are great fans. In fact all six evenings we found rooms which belonged to the Accor Group. We did think it worth driving to the centre, for a quick look around the next morning. Operating here we found a most interesting stall market. The stained glass in the Cathedral proved to be some of the best I'd viewed in France.             

Next day was to be a very long drive. Looking round the town, and then having some difficulty in locating the D road we wished to move out on, must have cost us at least an hour. I'd hoped to reach Pau that evening. We did manage to do this, but the route we followed was not as quiet as we usually use. However the scenery on this road was not good - so we felt we missed nothing. It does in fact pass through the eastern side of the Landes - an extremely large area of woodland covering a massive part of South Western France. Pau was reached well after dark, there are two 'Ibis's', rather than risk the one in the centre of town - perhaps difficult to find, the one ten minutes from the centre was chosen. Perhaps not the best choice. This in itself proved to be exceptionably difficult to locate. Very common unfortunately. I should mention that the Accor Group seem to prefer out of town sites, unless one is lucky, almost always we have to inquire of at least one person for directions.

Next morning we headed south west out of Pau, skirting to town of Oloron St Marie and using the D132 to reach the pass into Spain, this was given as being 1760 high. I'm not over fond of heights, so perhaps it was as well the weather conditons were far from ideal - doubt I would have appreciated looking down! Nothing marked - that I could see anyway, the spot at which the actual border was supposed to be. This appears to be general on these little used passes. Not a trace of snow either, it being 6˚C as we passed over. Another benefit of this period of the year was the lovely Autumn colours - specially so on the Spanish side.

Enjoying a good look round the first village we came across, we met up with an English couple, who were touring in a Motor Caravan. Nice to share travel talk over a coffee. We then headed back into France the NA140, then driving on the D26 once we'd reached the so called border. Reaching Pau again in the later afternoon. Just one day on these mountains, but perhaps the more enjoyable for that reason.

Leaving Pau the next morning, the road I wished to travel was easily found, this being the D7 out to Vic en Bigorre, were we halted to obtain cards. On the way we found some very good views of the Pyrenees. These look impressive when viewed from a great distance. This proved a far better route out of Pau, than the one we'd entered by. We then headed almost due north, halting again at the village of Plaisance. We were now in the department of Gers. This seems popular with the English - Terry Wogan is reputed to have a home here. Not surprising, this
certainly being a really nice part of France. On through Condom - another halt. Agen proved rather difficult to negotiate, but then there are rather a lot of busy roads round this town. On up the N21 past Villeneuve were we picked up the D676. Here we found the really lovely hilltop village of Monflanquin. An excellent place, well worth the time spent there. It had crossed my mind to stay in Perigueux, as there was an Ibis in the town, but as we knew there was also one at Angouleme, decided to head on there. Our intention was for another visit to Futuroscope, a little beyond Poitiers. Too far for us, even Angouleme was reached well after dark. We drove on the N10 not over busy at this time of night, and kept behind a car going at our speed, this made it easier for driving. Again really difficult to find the Ibis - but once found, no rooms available! But the next door Mercure had one for us.

Early up the next morning, quite a long drive up to
Poitiers. However we reached Futuroscope ten minutes after it was due to open - this being10AM. This was our third visit, and not much had changed since our previous ones. One thing did surprise me about this well known visitor attraction, that was the huge crowds there. Seems the French at any rate are not losing their interest. We however expressed the view on leaving, that we may not visit again.

Starting out of Poitiers next morning, the D30 was quickly found, then through very large arable fields, our first long stop being at a village called Airvault. It has an interesting museum  - unfortunately not open at that time. However we did enjoy a walk round, and visited the tourist centre, which was open. Our first stop for tea was the tiny village of la Salle de Vihiers, then passing through nice town of Chemille.  Crossing back over the Loire, after following the southern side for some distance, was done at Champtoceaux.

As mentioned in the diary for 2006, we took a trip across to Switzerland, at the end of the year. In a way, rather risky this, we could have become 'trapped' by bad weather. However while the temperature hovered around freezing, we encountered little trouble. We started on the 17th travelling via D772 to Chateaubriant, then N171 to Segre, and on to Le Lion. D770/774 to Thorigue crossing the Mayenne, D776 by Bauge and Noyant, and thence to Blois, where we spent the night. First days journey claimed 212 miles.

Leaving this city via the D33 passing Chambord - but not stopping to view this famous Chateau, it being rather foggy on this
drive. A little deviated too, passing through such villages as Dhuizon, Montrieux, and Neung-sur-Beuvron. Across country to Viatre, Nouan-le-Fuzelier. D44 and D923 to Brinon, and on to Aubigne. Across country to Cosne-Cours where we crossed back over the Loire. D33 to Donzy, and D151 to Clamecy. This turned out to be well worth viewing, perhaps in fact more interesting than the town of Vezelay (left), which is mentioned in most tourist guides. The latter we had previously visited, rather an imposing place, but apart from the carvings on the massive Basilica, to me not as nice as Clamecy. We eventually located to Ibis Hotel we wished to get a room at some miles outside to town of Avallon. I was disappointed that that days mileage was only 170, partly caused by the use of minor roads.

It was very frosty the next morning, but after clearing the car, the roads appeared OK. The next four days proving clear and sunny. The days trip commenced with a long drive down the N6 though Saulieu and Arnay, passing through the middle of Beaune. Heading on due east - D973, we joined the N75, then 'cut the corner' by travelling via Chaussin and eastwards again to Pontarlier. This being a seeming much expanding town around eight miles from the Swiss border. Crossing which, we eventually reached Neauchatel. We stayed in this town, spending time in gazing at the shops, then eating in the same building as our hotel. Interesting meal this, tomato soup, a salad, then a most enjoyable fondue consisting of a heated tureen of a vegetable derived liquid into which we dipped pieces of meat to heat, 'frits' being served with this.

After a quick look round the harbour, we again proceeded eastwards. Unfortunately, apart from mountain areas, much of Switzerland seems to be like much of the the rest of modern civilization, new buildings and factories plus being 'polluted' by traffic, . Actually the Swiss try hard to avoid travel by road, having a most excellent rail transport system - as we'd well found on our last visit. In spite of that, they have built autoroutes, which we managed to keep clear of. We'd remembered that the signs to these are green, unlike most other countries, which have them in blue. So keeping to 'ordinary' roads we reached Basel, again passing right through the middle of this city (rather proud of that I was!) We thought it might be an idea to 'aim' for the Airport, this being in France. Not a good plan, the whole of this place appeared to be fenced in, with no outlet we could find to pass through into France. Actually, to get out of Switzerland proved quite a job - one mistake we made was to try to pass through a custom post intended for commercial vehicles.

In France again, I had an idea that we should take a look at the Rhine, for various reasons that did not work out however. We finished the day by passing the southern outskirts of Mulhouse, to aim for Belfort via Aitkirch. This area is at the southern end of the Vosges. As from the map, the countryside looked interesting, I thought we'd take a look. Only one village did we consider worth stopping at, Faucogney. Not a place I'd fancy having a property. The general area not attractive either, mostly woodland, set on hillsides. Eventually we passed into the small town of Luxeuil. After a cup of tea, we found great difficulty in finding the way out of this place - unusual that, because almost all French towns are really well signposted. When we'd found a route that would take us in the direction we wished, even that proved a bit of a challenge - twisty and much attention to the map.

After all these deviations, we thought we ought to make faster headway. So it was D417 to Chaumont, then N19 all the way to Troyes. This route passed the village of Colombey-le-duex-Eglises. This 'rings a bell' with me, as I known it had been connected with the famous Frenchman, Charles de Gaulle,
having a house in the village, and being were he died in 1970
A massive cross of Lorraine is erected as a memorial to him. I noted we'd previously used this route - same direction too.

The Ibis we wished to stay at was near the centre of Troyes, so on finding a parking space right next to the Cathedral, we set off on foot to find it. Turned out to be a really nice town, with interesting buildings - as the following 'photo demonstrates:

Not at all sure I'd like to own one of those properties, the upkeep could be rather expensive I would imagine. There are plenty of eating places in this part of town - choosing the one to enter rather difficult! We did in fact enjoy a very good meal.

We found our way out of Troyes, and got ourselves onto the N60. For those interested this part of France is Champagne country. We drove on past Sens and then through Pithiviers. After here, we noted much irrigation kit, and wondered from where the water for it use was obtained from. Also we passed in site of several large wind farms. Driving through Chateaudun, we picked up the D927 - handy this, because this numbered route took us most of the way to Le Mans. We wished to stay here, at an Ibis near the town centre. Trying to find this, we came to an entrance to a tunnel - seemed no way round it, so hoping it might be part of the route, drove in - turned out to be a large underground car park, still very much under construction. So we had to find our hotel on our feet again.

Moving out of Le Mans, we picked up the D309, which followed the Valley of the Sarthe, and passed through Sable-s-Sarthe. Then D308/28 to Grez and then picked up the D109 D4 and D32 which got us to La Guerche-de-Bretagne, then Bain-de-Bretagne. We were now getting close to home, and quite pleased with that, eventually completing a round trip which amounted to a total of 1273 miles.