Welcome to our Blog. We spend a large part of every year travelling in our beloved Rapido 741F motorhome.
We post regular accounts of our adventures as well as the occasional article, and of course, pictures.
Please click on the Archive pointers to see more.
Note. MS Internet Explorer may obscure parts of the viewed page, including the archive, please try Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome

Monday, 26 April 2010

France trip 2010 - Riantec sur Mer to Vannes

14th April.
In the chill morning air, guided by the church spire gleaming in the brittle sunlight, I walked into town for a baguette and croissants, the ducks squawking and squabbling with the seagulls on the pond as the market stalls got underway in the shadow of the church - how very French.

The lagoon at Rhiantec sur Mer

We decided to drive around the lagoon to Gavres, thinking it must be a haven for wild life. However, what the Michelin map doesn't show is a large military airfield with a marine and commando base at the southern end!

Although there is one public car park with beach access nearby, the whole of the road to Gavres is secured with lifting barriers and no stopping is allowed.
Gavres itself was quite pleasant with a boating quay and a few bars, but extremely quiet, almost deathly quiet, and with a fabulous quality of light from the sea all around.

The old fort at Gavres

As there is an old stone fort guarding the entrance to the Blavet estuary, it would obviously have been a garrison town in the past and probably has strong military connections now.

There is a nice shady aire here on an old campsite - 5 Euros a night, pay at the lifting barrier.
If you're really after some peace and quiet by the sea, this could be the place to come.
GPS: 47.6950 N, 3.3506 W

Back on the D781 we turned off at a sign advertising an aire for 45 vans, thinking it might be on the coast, but it turned out to be well inland and attached to a municipal campsite, 5 Euros again, with a lifting barrier.
GPS: 47.6810 N, 3.2343 W

Sticking to the (extremely bumpy) minor roads we made our way to Barre d'Etel. Now this is a gem. Just behind the huge, high dunes is a large aire, no services, but free of charge and sheltered from the sea winds.

A free pitch behind the dunes

A scramble over the dunes presents a vast, steeply sloping beach of coarse yellow sand, stretching all the way back to Gavres.
GPS: 47.6810 N, 3.2343 W

Sue had finally succumbed to my cold, but I got on my bike and watched a flotilla of young kids in tiny sailing dinghies being towed out into the bay against the ferocious tidal rip.

Friends watch as the kids brave the tide in their tiny dinghies

The little port of Le Magouer has a working boatyard, and a graveyard for some large fishing boats.

Old fishing boats laid to rest at Le Magouer

The tiny harbour of Vieux Passage - some beautifully restored old fishermen’s cottages provide a photo opportunity - almost a step back in time.

A gentle life at Le Vieux Passage

15th April
Etel requires an extra detour but we thought it worth a visit, having seen its extensive waterfront from the other side of the river.
Irritatingly, a signposted aire de service at a Blue Elephant car wash had been put out of action by the unusual method of padlocking steel bars across the drains, even the drive over one - why put it out of bounds on such an obviously temporary basis?

Seeing another aire sign we followed the road down to the waterfront, passed the ferry boats, the marina and the old fish docks.
At the end was a huge open gravel car park for 100 vehicles, plus the familiar motorhome service sign, advising us that facilities were available at the nearby campsite.

Ahh! now the penny dropped - It would seem that the campsite owner had done a serious lobbying job to get the other facility closed down, at least temporarily, to claw back some early season business - pay Euro 6.50, stay overnight and get to use the service point - or pay 6.50 to get water and dump your waste!

Whether this policy works or not is a moot point, we certainly weren't impressed - having been on a wild goose chase, but others might feel coerced.
In a way it is progress, in that campsite owners are recognising that many motorhomers don't want full campsite facilities, but on the other hand, when faced with this kind of one sided choice - many like ourselves just move on!
Then again, this is the most camper van friendly country on earth so how can we complain?

A warning that fishermen are lost every year on the Cote Sauvage

Next up was the Ile de Quiberon and the west facing and rugged Cote Sauvage. Unsurprisingly, motorhome parking here is very regulated, but at the same time many facilities have been provided and we were happy to pay Euro 5 for a spacious cliff-top pitch.
GPS: 47.4919 N, 3.1389 W

Stretching my legs along the coast path I started to wonder if I was losing it - I could hear bagpipes! Not only that but "Auld lang syne!"
Thankfully, I could soon see a lone piper, standing on a rocky outcrop blowing his lungs out.
Why a black-clad Frenchman with Gothic makeup should choose to pass his time in such a fashion is not for me to fathom, but everybody enjoyed his tunes immensely, the kids dancing in circles around him. Tossing some loose change into his bagpipe bag, he looked bemused, but then everybody else followed suit and he smiled happily!

A Gothic French piper serenades the savage cliffs - why not?

16th April
Quiberon is quaint, but cramped and was packed with people and cars. You can get a ferry to Belle Ile from here and there was much congestion on the quay with people trying to find parking.
We squeezed our way through the narrow streets and parked up on the front at Port Haliguen. A world away, with one waterfront café, a tired looking hotel, a dingy food store and a van selling oysters on the quay - very quiet.

Port Haliguen - a little tranquility

Heading north again on the D768 we pulled up alongside the Sables Blancs to watch a myriad of kite surfers zinging across the surface of the water.
Further up, on the other side of the road, a legion of land yachts or Char a voile were zipping about on the flat sand. If you're really feeling adventurous there is a school for microlites.

Keeping to the outskirts of Carnac, we headed for the undeveloped area to the west. Here oyster farms abound.
At the end of a dusty track you can get six oysters and a small glass of wine, bread and butter, and a picnic table in the sun with a fine view of the estuary for 8 Euros .

An oyster lunch on the river bank for 8 Euros

At another spot we came across a sandy car park with three French vans, their occupants all geared up with waders, buckets, trowels and rakes for a weekend of shellfish picking. With the amount of kit they had, it looks as if this pastime is habit forming and we got the feeling they were there for a few days.

The tiny old village of St Colomban with its ancient church (only open in July and August) is a few minutes and another world away from Carnac Plage, with its massed beachfront car parks (mostly restricted for motorhomes) and its holiday homes. Some unusual coastline geography though.

La Trinite-sur-Mer is a yachting mecca, a dense forest of masts heralding a vast marina and all the accoutrements that go with it.

On the other side of the Crach river, looking inwards to the Golfe du Morbihan is the little port of Locmariaquer. Following our noses again we found another gem of an aire tucked behind the sand dune. With room for about 20 vans it is stationnement only, but unrestricted. We were lucky to find a place amongst the French vans who, according to a Belgian, holiday here every year.
If peche a pied or beach holidays are your thing, it's a great spot.
GPS: 47.5570 N, 2.9490 W

More free camping behind the dunes - just get there early!

There is a large campsite just along the way if you want the full monty, and very generously, a 2 Euro service point is right outside the campsite gate.

Here the balance is absolutely right: motorhomers can enjoy the same access to the beach, either for free - cheek by jowl on a sandy car park - or on spacious grass pitches with full facilities on the campsite.
There is simply a choice, you can swap between the two if you wish - whatever suits your budget or your timescale. Full marks to the local authorities!

Sue was still feeling poorly, so I walked alone along the coast path into town. At Point de Kerpenhir there is a stone statue looking out across the treacherous rocks and tide race.

The tide rips past at Point de Kerpenhir

Locmariquer is quaint enough with some narrow old streets and a "tickled up" waterfront promenade. Various permutations of boat trips can be had all around the gulf.

Some clever "trompe l'oeil" at Locmariquer

Walking back to the aire by road is a lot quicker, but each time you have to pass “Les Viviers de Loc’ker”, a well organised and seemingly well patronised producteur des coquillage. Four grades of oyster, plus mussels, clams and whelks are laid out in tanks with cleansing water flowing over them. They certainly looked fresh.

Les camping-cariste pecheurs at work

17th April
Heading up the D28 to Auray we revisited the old river port of St Goustan. Somehow it didn't seem as cute as it did 20 years ago - though electric rising bollards and large traffic lights coming out of the cobblestones don't help.
We did however succumb to a plate of moules frites at a waterside restaurant - on a beautiful day when you've got nothing else to do - why not?

Moule frites or crepe? take your pick at St Goustan

After an abortive trip down to Larmor-Baden to find a France Passion site we changed tack and picked an aire inland at St Nolff.
Interesting place, St Nolff. The aire, with free services, is in some lovely parkland near a beautifully restored water mill and a donkey sanctuary.
A gravel path lined with trees leads alongside a lake into town. There is an old church, a bar/tabac and a modern block of shops, also a tiny stone-faced restaurant calling itself L' Auberge, albeit with a very basic menu.

Also, for the train buffs, yards away from the aire, is a level crossing for a high speed railway line, the barrier bells going off at regular intervals! The TGV is an awesome sight as it goes through. Fortunately, the frequency tails off later in the evening and we didn’t hear a single train during the night.

As it got dusk I inspected the watermill more closely, the wheel is apparently just for show, but it makes a wonderful noise in the still evening air.
GPS: 47.7030 N, 2.6591 W

The mill wheel spins into the night at St Nolffe

18th April
Rochefort-en-Terre is a beautifully kept medieval village on the tourist trail. Being Sunday it was fairly quiet but the restaurants with open air terraces were doing good business.
There is a large new aire within easy walking distance down the hill - no services but a quiet overnighter for sure.

Rochefort-en-Terre, as picturesque as can be

Our reason for heading inland was to meet up with our neighbours back home, Ann & Peter.
We arranged to make contact in the Espace Culturel in St Martin for some Breton country dancing. Arriving slightly early we asked, before coughing up 6 Euros, if "nos amis Anglais" were in the hall.
Big mistake! One by one, three English couples were dragged out of the hall for our inspection, none of them looking remotely like Ann & Peter! Fortunately they all took it in good heart and by the time our friends did arrive we had made six new ones!

After the dancing we went back to Ann & Peter's charming converted barn and enjoyed aperitifs and a meal under the oak tree.
As the sun went down we retreated inside and Peter lit the wood burning stove. What a picture perfect place they have.

19th April
The plan for today was to join up with an organised group walk, 40 or so retirees, shepherded by yellow jacketed marshals with whistles. (This necessitated an 0730 reveille for some of us to be ready for a nine o'clock start!)

The perfect morning for a walk in the countryside

The early morning misty sunshine was lovely and we enjoyed our rather brisk 2 hour walk through the country side and forest, glimpsing a young deer in the process. We chatted a bit in our limited French but were made to feel very welcome.

We headed back to St Nicholas de Tertre for a shower and an excellent lunch in the local restaurant - a buffet cold meat starter, lovely roast beef and vegetables, followed by apple tart and coffee. With water and a pitcher of wine, plus coffees, the bill came to 11.50 Euros a head - fantastic value.

After saying our goodbyes to Ann and Peter we headed by a scenic route to Malestroit. Straddling the River Oust, it has some medieval timbered buildings in narrow cobbled streets, but a slightly beleaguered air. It’s very proud of its record of defiance to the Germans in WWII, plaques commemorating the heroism of its sons adorning the entrance of the town hall.

View of the old flour mill from the bridge at Malestroit

There is a large municipal aire alongside the river on the far side of the bridge.
GPS: 47.8079 N, 2.3787 W
The (free) pump n’ dump facilities are a two minute drive away by the fire station.
GPS: 47.8089 N, 2.3761 W

20th April
A chores and maintenance day, there is an easy access large car park in the centre of town with a good launderette immediately opposite.

21st April
Picking up on a sign displayed in the town we decided to visit the Musee de la Resistance Bretonne in nearby St Marcel. This was the sight of an epic battle against the German Army on 18th June 1944, with 2500 resistance fighters and 200 French SAS killing 560 enemy soldiers for a loss of 42 of their own.

Sue thinks that gun turrets should have a "mind your head" sign!

The museum is relatively new, but unfortunately many of its audio-visual presentations were not working properly or well past their best. English translations of the texts are available and are the size of a thick magazine, but if you have the time are worth wading through. There are 5 rooms, covering the build up to the war, the invasion of France and installation of the Vichy puppet government, the creation and activities of the French Resistance and finally a new section on the British SAS and its operational links with the French parachute forces.

Some of the more unusual stuff about the Resistance is the most interesting, for instance, around 18000 carrier pigeons were used to return messages to England via capsules affixed to their claws! Some were even parachuted individually (I kid you not) into occupied France, before being recovered by agents, refitted with messages and released to fly home. These upper echelons of the secret pigeon flying service were wrapped in a hessian harness attached to a simple parachute and jettisoned out of a Lysander aeroplane, the idea being that this was less stressful than shipping them across the channel in boxes. It didn't say how the birds not recovered were released from their harnesses!
Those that came across in a regulation grey US Army pigeon transportation box, (complete with army code plate and engraved serial number) had written instructions that on the day of their return mission they were to be “watered but not fed”.
GPS: 47.8036 N, 2.4337 W

We were tempted to stay in the lovely wooded car park for the museum, but instead drove on to St Guyomard where we found a very quiet aire just below the modern village hall, Free electricity and water.
GPS: 47.7819 N, 2.5122 W

22nd April
Sue wanted to have a closer look at the Golfe de Morbihan and we both wanted to revisit Vannes, so we selected an ACSI site right on the waters edge at Arradon. The Gulf of Morbihan is an inland sea formed by the drowning of the valleys of the Vannes and Auray rivers, giving it a tortuous coastline and countless islands.
Camping de Penboch is a four star site in wooded surroundings, about 7 Km out of town, with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, extensive children’s play areas and free wi-fi by the office.
GPS: 47.6200 N, 2.7995 W

The Golfe du Morbihan

23rd April
We decided to make good use of the free wi-fi, but the only place to sit was in a tent-like structure housing the kiddie’s bouncy castle - next time I’m going to bring my ear muffs! Later on they opened up the TV room - peace at last, then come tea time, the kids invaded that as well - aaah!

24th April
It dawned yet another sunny day, so the bikes came off for our excursion to Vannes. The route into town is mostly on quiet country roads – separate cycle paths make the last part into the centre very civilised. There are some hills, but all in all a pleasant way to do it.

Towards the Quay Eric Taberly in Vannes

On the huge, newly redeveloped quay to the canal that runs right into the heart of Vannes - now dedicated to the legendary French sailor Eric Taberly - was a fantastic open air photo exhibition. Running until May, the exhibition is dotted all over town, but what attracted our attention were some stunning black and white prints of multi-hull and single handed sailing of the sort that Eric Taberly pioneered before his tragic death at sea. The best were quite simply petrifying – how can one man (or woman) control such a beast?

The Saturday market was still in full swing in the old town, very crowded and we didn’t linger to shop – a handful of cherry tomatoes cost us Euros 3.50, despite our protestations.

Lunch beckoned, and steering clear of the tourist restaurants again we found a tiny place called simply L’annexe on rue Emile Burgault, a small lane directly opposite from the Hotel de Ville.
Only two tables are permitted on its allotted 4 square metres of cobbled pavement, but they had the benefit of unbroken sunshine from a gap in the first floor of buildings opposite.

Starters of Presse de pomme de terre et chevre frais (a sort of terrine of potato and goats cheese), Carpaccio de saumon (a plate-sized thin slice of raw salmon seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice) followed by Cuisse de canard confite, gratin dauphinois, salad verte (a generous leg of duck marinated in salt and olive oil for two days, then roasted, served with potatoes and green salad, plus a bottle of top class artisanale cider came to 39 Euros. It was really good too. It’s a tough life!

An open air photographic exhibition by the old ramparts

Exploring the old moat below the ramparts, bedecked with flower beds of “black” tulips, we enjoyed another part of the photo exhibition, this time in colour from poverty stricken parts of Africa and Asia. Some wonderful stuff!

Arriving back at the campsite late and rather knackered, we ate our slightly dishevelled tartes au framboise amandine, had a shower, polished off a small loaf of soft pain au cereale with some cheese and red wine, and collapsed into bed. Nice day.

No comments: