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Friday, 23 April 2010

France trip 2010 - Plouhinec to Rhiantec sur Mer

5th April.
In the fresh and very welcome morning sunshine, we continued our exploration of the northern coastline of the Baie d'Audierne, finding many more beach-side car parks, some with bars or restaurants - and all seemingly free of any restrictions for motorhomes. It felt like a coastline on which we could linger and would certainly return to.

Plenty of beachside car parks on the Baie d'Audierne

Farther south the immediate inland areas are dotted with etangs or small lakes, protected from the sea by gravel banks and marshes.

Sticking to the smallest of minor roads we came to a beach car park at Kerguellec. A wonderful spot for lunch - swans, geese and herons in the air.
We walked along this vast beach as the tide was making its way back in, the cold wind dragging tears from our eyes and burning our ears. An absolute tumble of surf was breaking, filling the air with salt spray.

The surf rolls in at Kerguellec

Several newish 4WD trucks were parked on the sand, their owners marching up and down in the tumult and foam at the water's edge. They were wearing wet suits and dragging trolleys with cages on them back and forth.

As we watched they came out of the surf, returned to their 4x4's and started to decant their haul into fishing boxes (one box, to our amusement, bearing the name of a fish packer in Newlyn, Cornwall).
We never did find out what they called their catch as they were either too busy, or too knackered, to answer idle questions from tourists, but it looked like a cross between mussels and clams in shape, light brownish in colour, and they had thousands of them, far more than a man could lift in one go.

A wet-suit clad fisherman with his harvest of shellfish

Unfortunately, the sign at the car park entrance forbid motorhomes from 2100 to 0800, and although we would have loved to have stayed and probably been undisturbed at this time of year, a couple of flinty-eyed glances from the locals persuaded us to retire to the nearest aire, which happened to be next to the fire station in the centre of Ploneour-Lanvern.
GPS: 47.9036 N, 4.2792 W

6th April
After a surprisingly quiet night (for a town aire), our morning peace was shattered when a fire engine emerged from its garage, driving round and round the car park with the siren going!
A coach load of primary school children had turned up for a guided tour of the station, and they all got their turn up front and a pull on the siren - does the Fire Brigade do that in England any more?

Ploneour-Lanvern is a pleasant small town and has everything you would need in walking distance from the aire, including a launderette.

After a day on the laptops, we took the main road down to St Guenole, another fishing port, with some seriously spectacular rock formations by the sea wall. There are a couple of areas in the town where overnight parking is allowed, but neither of them appealed to us so we worked our way around the coast to a third option in some sand dunes just west of Guilvinec. Up a narrow track to the dune, there is just room for about 8 vans, a few yards from a long beach.

2 Euros a night - but nobody came to collect

There are several campsites along here and a sailing centre where you can hire catamarans, but this is the only spot where overnighting in motorhomes is allowed.
GPS: 47.8007 N, 4.3179 W

7th April
A perfectly peaceful night, awoken by the sun peaking through the skylight - wonderful.

Glorious morning - and a deserted beach

Driving through Guilvinec, an apparently expanding fishing port with a new jetty under construction, we came across a large car park with aire de service, just across from the waterfront.
GPS: 47.7960 N, 4.2802 W

Next stop was Lesconil, a small port with waterfront bars and restaurants. Motorhome access is regulated but there is a dirt "visitors" car park which seemed unrestricted.

Loctudy has changed a lot in the 20 years since we last saw it. The yacht marina and facilties have expanded greatly, but motorhomes don't get a look in. There is an aire, but 5 or 6 km out of town.

Pont-l'Abbe is motorhome friendly with a free service point in the Place de la Gare (GPS: 47.8706 N, 4.2251 W) and ample near-town parking close by. The Leclerc supermarket has autogas and also an aire de service (2 Euro) with some quite secluded overnight parking adjacent.

Benodet is distinctly motorhome unfriendly with signs banning access even to the yacht marina car park - which as many do, has a handy launderette. Doh!
However there are some nice campsites and even a casino - if you're still hoping to afford a yacht sometime.

On the D44 to Concarneau we spotted some smart new signs advising of aires at Pointe de Beg Meil and Point de Mousterlin. We opted for Beg Meil and after a drive through several beach car parks were pleasantly surprised to find a shaded and grassed "Aire d'Accueil Camping Car" with direct access to the beach - parking gratuit. The only snag was that the French had already discovered it and it was pretty full, the remaining areas of soggy mud where the grass had been churned up not very inviting.
We persevered and got ourselves comfortably ensconced next to two large 'A' class Rapidos. A great spot and not yet in any of our guides!
GPS: 47.8547 N, 3.9923 W

More free overnight parking by the beach

8th April
With its long sandy beach, sand dunes, pine forest and marshlands, this area felt like the Ile de Re, but without the holiday homes.

Feels like the Ile de Re to me!

For the first time this trip, the bikes came off the rack and under a cloudless sky we cycled slowly to the other end of the beach at Pointe de Mousterlin.
There is a long sea wall here with a slipway and masses of parking, but motorhomes are banned. There is also a small hotel and a couple of bar/restaurants.

Having seen the sign for the other "Aire d'accueil camping car" we decided to investigate. It is actually much larger than the one at Pointe de Beg Meil, flatter and layed out over several plots, but with equally immediate access to the beach.
GPS: 47.8513 N, 4.0463 W

We found a nice picnic spot on a wooden terrace overlooking the beach but were immediately besieged by hundreds of small black sandflies. We retired to the concrete sea wall where there was sufficient breeze to keep them at bay.

Lunch on the sea wall at Pointe de Mousterlin

Chewing on our cold roast pork and apple sauce sarnies (yes really) I noticed two persons in a tiny dinghy - no bigger than kids use in a swimming pool - rowing out to sea. Where were they going? Certainly not out to a yacht as there was none.
When our sarnies and cans of cider were no more than a lingering flavour I had all but lost sight of the dinghy. Through the binoculars I traced them again and was concerned to see one in the water, apparently trying to get back on board. At that moment the sun disappeared and a squall of wind chilled us. A bit worried now, we rode to the end of the headland where we found a group of bird spotters with large telescopes. A few words and a readjustment of their powerful lenses and we were reassured that the figures in the tiny inflatable, almost out of sight at sea, were in fact plongeurs, diving for shellfish! Rather them than me!
On the way back we saw white egrets feeding in the marshlands, much more tranquil.

Feeling peckish after our light lunch we cycled into Beg Meil village and had a nice crepe in the warm afternoon sun. There are all the usual shops you would require here, and another sheltered beach and slip way with views across to Concarneau. A very pleasant area.

9th April
On our way to Concarneau we stuck to the coast as much as possible and first up visited Cap Coz - another attractive, slightly up market place with masses of beachfront parking, but motorhomes banned from parking anywhere!

Tranquil peace at Cap Coz

La Foret Fousenant is a small, hilly town with a 16th Century gothic style church, plenty of parking and all the usual banks and shops.

Port de la Foret is a major yachting complex, but with accessible parking if you want to drool over the boats, buy one even, or just browse in the chandleries.

The coast road from here to Concarneau at Beg-Menez now has a 2 tonne limit on it (3.5t on the map) so we made a small detour onto the D783 before returning.

20 years ago we stayed (in a large frame tent) at “Les Camping Pres Verts”, a four star campsite with a pool and its own beach in a small cove, 30 minutes walk from Concarneau.
Passing by the entrance we dropped in and found it virtually unchanged, apart from a few mobile homes and the land down to the cliffs having been cleared of trees.

Les Camping Pres Verts - where have all the trees gone?

Amazingly, the owner (who seemed old to us then) was still cheerily driving his tractor but now his grown up daughters are running the business.
The daughters speak very good English and the upshot was - after telling stories of the huge flying beetles we had witnessed back then - they offered us a free pitch for the night, even though they weren’t yet open. Sadly, the old forest and rotten tree trunks that had provided habitat for the flying beetles was long gone.
GPS: 47.8903 N, 3.9386 W

After visiting the aire in town to pump and dump (big, crowded and very noisy, GPS:47.8790 N, 3.9204 W), we returned to Pres Verts and in the low evening sunshine, walked leisurely along the coast path into town.

The coast path to Concarneau from Les Pres Verts

Concarneau has a large marina with all facilities for visiting yachtsmen and a huge fish dock.
At its centre is the old fortified town. The stone streets were quiet as we entered, most of the tourist trap restaurants not yet open for the season, however the "Le Penfret" on rue Vauban was doing a brisk trade and deservedly so.

An excellent meal in the old town at Le Penfret

Selecting off the Euro 22 menu, we settled down to some very passable coquilles St Jacque, cod and monkfish with a cream tarragon sauce garnished with mussels and crevettes and some excellent steamed vegetables, followed by a lovely hot tarte tartin with ice cream. As the evening chilled they laid another table inside for us to take dessert, very cosy with a log fire in a huge inglenook fireplace.
With a couple of large bottles of cider and coffees, the bill came to 64 Euros, not bad for a historic location - recommended.

10th April
We awoke late to another glorious sunny morning - this is more like it. The campsite was completely deserted and we left without a wave to our friendly and generous patron.
After a perusal of the map we decided Port Manech at the tip of the Aven river had potential and turned off the D783 to Pont Aven for Nevez. Here there is a large flat aire adjacent to a sports field.
GPS: 47.8153 N, 3.7810 W

After lunch we got to Port Manech. The small harbour is well equipped for visiting yachtsmen but verboten for Camping-cars. However, on the other side of a rocky outcrop is a small sheltered beach which cannot be reached directly from the port, you have to drive out and then take another fork back in.

The elusive beach at Port Manech

Here we came up trumps - a small shaded car park 50 metres from the beach with allocated spaces for 5 motorhomes. Dappled sunlight, primroses covering the grassy banks, wood pigeons co-cooing in the trees - perfect peace. We shared it with no one, lovely spot.
There is canoe and windsurf hire on the beach and one café (still closed).
GPS: 47.8049 N, 3.7436 W

11th April
After a leisurely start we moved on to Pont Aven and spent a sunny but slightly chilly afternoon strolling around this artists town, made famous by a Gaugin painting of its water mill.

Pont Aven, Gaugin liked it - and so did we

The large aire is a steep 10 minute walk up from the town, and though noisy during the day we had a very quiet night.
GPS: 47.8534 N, 3.7431 W

12th April
Heading down the D24 to Le Poldhu we took the Route touristique for a detour to Doelan, a quaint little place in a bit of a time warp.
Stopping off at a cider farm I was a bit bemused to find all the doors open but nobody home. Just as we were about to leave a gentleman arrived in a car (with more dents than a gypsy's cookpot) and staggered to the door. Obviously the worse for wear after a good lunch he did however happily sell us a couple of bottles of excellent farm cider - for which we are developing rather a taste.

Le Poldhu has an uncanny resemblance to its Cornish namesake, the same stream running through the yellow sand, the same jagged rocks on either side. Not as big or as dramatic but a super beach all the same, and funnily enough, the first voices we heard were British!
There is a large aire behind the road, a crazy golf for the kids and a boulangerie/creperie.
GPS: 47.7670 N, 3.5552 W

Le Poldhu - feel familiar to you Cornish visitors?

13th April
After a look at Poldhu port (no more than a large stone jetty) where a huge mobile crane was lifting a yacht into the water, we drove around in a big loop, over the Laita river and through Guidel until we could see the same boat launching operation from the other side of the water at Guidel Plage.

The D152 past Fort Bloque to Lamour Plage hugs the coast pretty much all the way and has several motorhome aires. If you're after a beach holiday this could be the place.

Lorient's Port de Plaisance - at least a small part of it

Lorient was for many years our morning coffee stop on the way down to the Ile de Re, but it was actually time for lunch when we eventually found a generous parking spot near the Port de Plaisance (bus parking actually, but cars and trucks were using them so we should worry).
Our mission was a visit to the Apple shop to replace, under warranty, a dead laptop charger mysteriously defunct.
Seemingly not impressed with "I'll ne marche pas" I told the salesman it was "kaput", but he still insisted on plugging it in and promptly tripped his main breaker, shutting down all the shop’s computers in the process! "Oui, very kaput!"

Has it done it yet? Oh come on! how much longer?

This was obviously a new experience for them (new shop) and although they found the main breaker quickly enough, resetting the power supply for their computers proved more elusive. Half an hour later we were still listening to "beep, beep".
Eventually they were back in business, but they insisted on testing both the laptop and charger with analytical software they had yet to download, which took an absolute age.
Two and a half hours later, after endless apologies and swapping of memory sticks, phone calls to "Stefan" (isn't the techie always Stefan), we finally had a new (free of charge) charger in our hands.

Port Louis is on the other side of the estuary from Lorient, at the entrance to a massive tidal lagoon. There is a waterfront aire here, but as we arrived late in the afternoon it was already packed with French vans.
We moved on a couple of kilometres to Rhiantec-sur-Mer, a small coastal town with an unusually large and newly renovated church, and duck pond and market square adjacent.

The aire is small but beautifully landscaped with an artificial waterfall, more ponds and ornamental bridges and gardens. It was rapidly filling up and we snatched one of the last remaining places. It’s just so easy in France, there’s always another pitch a few miles away, and probably better than the last.
GPS: 47.7117 N, 3.2982 W

The landscaped aire at Rhiantec-sur-Mer, only the French do it like this

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