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Saturday, 15 May 2010

France trip 2010 - Vannes to Guerande

25th April.
The secret I discovered, to using the wi-fi in peace, was to get to the bouncy castle area before the kids had their sugar puffs in the mornings. By creeping around the campsite at first light however, I was also rewarded by the sight of two red squirrels foraging on the grass, a plump brown rabbit and a large, bright Green Woodpecker that flew across my path.

Wi - fi in the bouncy castle marquee - get there early or bring your earplugs!

26th April
Camping Penboch at Arradon, near Vannes is an ACSI site, hence a very enjoyable and economical 4 nights cost only Euro 60, including free wi-fi and use of the indoor pool (as the reduced rate was only 15 Euro per night).

We drove around the outskirts of Vannes, then down the D780 on the east side of the Golfe du Morbihan for an aire at Point de St Jacques. The aire is just a few minutes walk from a small harbour mainly filled with pleasure craft and lined by holiday homes and apartments, but with a hotel/bar and creperie facing the sea front. Behind the vans a noisy game of petanque was in progress on one of several pitches laid out for public use.

Point de St Jacques, a pleasant ovenight stop

Around seven o’clock a gentleman came to collect the 5 Euros charged by the Commune de Sarzeau for overnight stays on this and nearby aires. Water and 40 minutes electricity is free however, at the push of a couple of buttons. (The electricity had already been commandeered by a couple of French vans with long cables and a couple of adaptors.)
GPS: 47.4895 N, 2.7927 W

27th April
Walking along the seafront in the morning I noticed that many houses had barricaded their garden gates with steel plates against gravel swept up from beach. Those without walls had a whole lawn full of gravel – it must have been a rough winter!

Heading west and hugging the coast as best we could, we came across a free aire in a lovely shady wooded spot on the outskirts of St Gildas-de-Rhuys, and within a few minutes walk of the beach. It was already fairly well occupied and there are no services, but picnic tables are provided. Maximum stays permitted 48hr.
GPS: 47.5130 N, 2.8457 W

Lovely free aire near St Gildas-de-Rhuys

A few kilometres on we found a closed municipal Campsite with direct access to a wonderful beach, but across the road was a shaded area that had been left open for motorhomes. A quick check with one of the occupants confirmed that it was free whilst the campsite was closed.
GPS: 47.5220 N, 2.8588 W

Kerjouan beach, just a few steps away from a free aire!

Taking photos of the beach, we were given a cheery welcome by a couple of old ladies who were just returning from the rocky foreshore. Asked what they had in their buckets, they showed us green crabs and oysters, covered over with seaweed to keep their harvest fresh and cool. With just a screwdriver and a hammer to prise the oysters off their perch, and a steel hook for lifting stones to get at the crabs, they had quite a haul. Next the inevitable question, how did they eat them? Answer - the oysters were eaten straight away (no cleansing in water overnight, etc), and the crabs were boiled in fresh water for 20 minutes.

A quick look at Port du Crouesty, which Sue had sailed into many moons ago, revealed just how much development can be thrown up in 20 years - a vast marina, and row upon row of select apartments. There is however a large accessible waterfront car park with no daytime restrictions for motorhomes, and a handy launderette.
As you drive into town there is a huge new aire, more of a tarmac campsite really, with water and electricity available to every place, and again, pretty well occupied with French vans - all swapping gossip over their haul of oysters! The beaches are a short walk away.
6 Euros a night, 72 hours maximum.
GPS: 47.5389 N, 2.8813 W

At Point de Petit Mont is a 4000-2500 BC Neolithic cairn which can be visited in the afternoon from 1430 (July and August from 1130). Unfortunately, it has some incongruous bits of reinforced concrete sticking out of the side - it got rather modified in the last war by building a bunker inside it!
There are many walking trails over this area of nature reserve and an unrestricted car park.
GPS: 47.5382 N, 2.8985 W

A neothlithic concrete bunker!

Port Navalo and Arzon, as expected, didn't offer much excitement for motorhomers - endless modern holiday homes and entry restrictions.
The drive out to Pen Castel on the D198 was more rewarding, traditional houses in wooded lanes and a restored water mill on a stone causeway, with views of the Morbihan.

The old mill at Pen Castel

We were in no doubt where we were going to spend the night - back to that lovely beach side pitch by the municipal campsite. Arriving mid afternoon we got the pick of the pitches.
Later we had a long walk along the beach, the middle section of which is apparently an unofficial naturist area! We felt a bit awkward at first in our shirts and trousers, but everyone else in clothes was strolling past the hardy sun worshippers, so why should we worry!

A sparkling day at Kerjouan beach

The sun set in spectacular fashion that evening. As I went down to the beach with my camera a local man, going out for the night with his fishing kit, stopped to tell me how magnifique it was - and I had to agree.

Sunset on Kerjouan beach

28th April
An exploration of the rest of the east coast of the gulf was thwarted by road works and motorhome restrictions but we had a look at Le Net, Brillac, St Colombier, St Armel and Le Passage - all pretty little places, but best discovered on a bike.
There is an aire at St Colombier on the edge of town, 5 Euros a night.

Back to the municipal site once more, such a beautiful spot. We took a walk just before bedtime, the crickets were in full voice, the air scented with pine and an indefinable smell of warm barley. A full moon was rising behind the trees, spreading silver fingers on the ground. On the beach - utter tranquility - the sharp stang of freshly uncovered seaweed, the lights of the islands glinting across the flat sea. Magical.

29th April
Some gentle rain in the morning, the first for weeks. After some shopping and a pump ‘n dump we drove down the D198 to Pointe de Penvins. Here there is a narrow isthmus with a small chapel at the end. A large car park includes an area for motorhomes, which was already full.

Pointe de Penvins - complete with a Chapel full of legends

As far as the eye could see, pecheurs had wandered out over the rocks and sand with their buckets, trowels and rakes - it would seem to be a regional obsession.
GPS: 47.4948 N, 2.6817 W

We moved on towards the village of Le Tour du Parc, then sidetracked right when we saw another aire sign. This took us to an equal gem of a pitch along the waterfront, near the tiny hamlet of Banastere. There was just one space left, and despite being the only Brits, we still got a welcome wave and smiles from the cariste community. An aged Rapido van with Boznia Herzegovina plates was there, with whom we had shared a night in Point de St Jacques, as well as two vans from the night before. We’re starting to feel part of the family!
GPS: 47.5140 N, 2.6679 W

Waterfront pitch at Banastere

We thought about taking the bikes off the rack, but instead got the walking boots out and headed out on the coastal path towards Le Tour du Parc. The smell of the seaweed, the marshes, the oyster beds - all mingled into a fragrance totally reminiscent of our beloved Ile de Re.

Smells like the Ile de Re!

The coastal trail leads you through an oyster farm and we happened upon a guided visit that had been arranged for some pensioners. We hung around to see what ensued and did learn that the tiny baby oysters that were being nurtured in the mesh baskets were Japanese!

Seed Japanese oysters will be put into mesh sacks and taken out to sea

Harvested oysters cleansing in a tank ready for sale

On to Pen Cadenic and you will find a sign displaying Route de L’Huitre that takes you around the peninsular and its many Viviers des Huitres.

Back along the main road to Le Tour du Parc there are some very desirable properties and something of a building boom going on. Still some plots of land for sale if you are interested!
Tour de Parc itself has had a makeover with new paving and lamp posts in consummate French style, and we bought a couple of excellent pastries from the Artinsan Boulanger, consuming them on a park bench in the shade of the church.

Just before the bridge back to Banastere is a waterside building proclaiming “Les Viviers du Pont de Banestere”. They were advertising the day’s catch as langoustine at Euro 12.80 a kilo. Still squirming and crawling over themselves in the tray, they couldn't have been any fresher, but Sue chickened out when it came to the prospect of cooking them. “Will they scream?” she said!

Les Viviers du Pont de Banestere

Instead we took the easy option and bought two hundred grammes of cooked crevettes for 3.80 Euros, enough for a good and tasty starter. Everything else you could desire was on sale here live in the tanks – oysters, mussels, lobsters, crabs, as well as cooked shrimps, whelks, cockles and clams.

30th April
An early morning walk along the foreshore towards the Penvins Chapel was a joy, Egrets and Herons were feeding on the beach in the sunshine - then flying back to their eyries high in the pine trees behind a freshwater lake. Curlews and Coots were vying with each other to fill the air with their calls against a constant aural backdrop of large green frogs croaking - leaping across the reedy ponds in front of us. Geese and swans were sunning themselves on the lake side and other calls we couldn’t identify added to the cacophony of wild life going about its business. Wonderful.

White Egret looking for its breakfast

Undecided what to do next, we eventually elected to move to the virtually empty municipal campsite over the bridge. Despite the sunshine, the solar panel wasn’t keeping up with charging the laptops and plugging in would be a luxury we could afford for 14 Euros a night – prime waterside pitch included.

Arriving at the barrier around two thirty, we found a notice to call a phone number or wait until six o’clock. Thinking that a phone call might cost us a good part of the site fee, we hesitated - then an exiting camper in a Rapido, whom we had shared an aire with a few days back, indicated that he would ring for us. He opened the barrier for us with his card and we were home and dry, Merci Monsieur!

1st May
We awoke with the sun streaming through the rear window - pulling down the side window blinds we watched White Egrets, gulls and Curlews form an orderly queue on an outcrop of rock, waiting for the falling tide to reveal their breakfast!

In explorer mode again we looked at Penerf on the other side of the Penerf river. A cute enough place - quiet, with a waterfront drive along the estuary, but off limits to motorhomes for parking. A couple of nice looking restaurants and a lot of new, but tastefully built, stone-faced holiday homes. Obviously an up and coming place if you're in the market for such a property.

Le Cafe Pecheur at Penerf

Just as we were leaving and thinking there was nothing for motorhomes we came across a large grass paddock or terrain prive with several vans on site. Enquire at the house adjacent!

Kervoyal, east of Penerf is much more built up but does have a 75 van aire near the waterfront (currently out of use for road improvements)

Next we passed through Muzillac, a pleasant town, but with the dubious benefit of the N165 alongside.

Pointe de Pen Lan is attractive, with coastal walks, but the campsite is your only option for an overnight.

Pointe de Pen Lan

Doubling back through Billiers (horrendously tight bollarded traffic management) we turned off for Le Moustoir at the mouth of the River Vilaine. On the opposite bank is the hamlet of Trehiguier.
Here we found what we spend a lot of our time looking for - an unrestricted stretch of open ground alongside the water, open countryside all around - almost the holy grail of free campers and increasingly hard to find. Perhaps we shouldn't advertise such places, but come back in a couple of years and it will be blocked off with stones and height barriers anyhow. Why should the French have all the fun in the meantime?

Looking out to sea from Le Moustoir

Soon after we parked up a local fisherman arrived in his white Citroen van and proceeded to cast out three rods. He seemed very affable and when I asked him what fish he was hoping to catch he told me anguille or eels. With the onshore wind and rising tide he was hoping to be lucky, and indeed he was, a couple of hours later he landed a 2 foot long specimen. It went in his large bucket after a knife blade through the head had pinned it to the ground before removing the hook.

The first eel of the day!

He bemoaned the fact that he didn't catch the number he did a few years back, but he stayed there until it was nearly dark, leaning against his home made rest in chest high waders and jacket, braving the cold and bitter wind for another eel.

Out next bit of excitement was a yacht going aground on the mud banks whilst tacking out of the river into a fierce breeze. From our perspective the skipper seemed pretty clueless as to the best technique to get himself off. We watched with expectation as he revved his engine in vain trying to turn the boat around on the high tide. Eventually he used his sails to assist rather than hinder him, and the boat was released in the nick of time, but in such cold and blustery conditions we wondered why he was going out anyhow.

Another van turned up and hammered a sign into the ground for Cyclo Rando Ravito - a refreshment pit stop for some cyclists the next day.

2nd May
The day dawned sunny and a lot warmer. The first of the Cyclo Rando cyclists came through at around eight thirty, whistling past the van in their multicoloured shirts and in high spirits. Most of them looked far older than me - they must be a tough breed around here. Our fisherman friend was back as well - he must have been there since first light.

Gazing at the foreshore, whilst Egrets and Shellduck were feeding as the tide began to reveal the mud, I saw a bird I didn't recognise. From our guide it looked like a lone Grey Plover - if so, it was well away from its usual haunts and probably a passage migrant.
So much going on in a place so away from it all!

A Grey Plover we think, a long way from home!

Having nearly backed myself into a sandy ditch turning around, we headed for Arzal through more lush rural countryside, picked up the D139 and crossed the river by the moving bridge known as the Barrage d'Arzal, taking the D34 to Penestin.

Around the Penestin peninsula there is a marked Route Cotiere which is a very pleasant drive - rural, with pine forests, but again, much development of some very desirable new holiday/retirement homes.
Six aires are administered by the Commune de Penestin, so even with the numerous restrictions there are plenty of places to stay. The ones we saw were just fields or grassy car parks, free during the day, 5 Euros overnight. This would be a very nice area to explore by bike, with pedestrian access to many beaches.

Following the coast, suddenly we had left Brittany behind - the Loire-Atlantic was our new hunting ground.
Pen Be, though looking promising was a cold shoulder for us - large notices banning motorhomes from access and no parking to speak of, even to walk there.
Now we were into the Marais Salants - salt marshes used for salt production, but also a wild life haven.

Kercabellec looks attractive as you drive in, but probably too many motorhomers have thought so too, large total entry prohibition signs restricting movement completely. Pulling into a large empty car park to get my bearings, one local, nattily dressed in his yachting attire, waved his arm and jeered at us. Yeah, we get the message!
There is an area set aside for motorhomes within walking distance, in a layby alongside the busy road, but we didn't feel that the place was worth it.

The darkening sky at Kercabellec, about as bright as our welcome!

Unurprisingly, moving on to Piriac-sur-Mer, it got worse - bank holiday weekend it might have been but there were motorhomes everywhere, literally coming out of the bushes. There are aires, but if you're after a sea view, or a quick walk into town, forget it!

At last, in La Turballe, thwarted at every turn by restrictions, and having to reverse up a one way street blocked by cars visiting a market, we gave up on a glimpse of the waterfront and turned onto the D99 for Guerande. (There are in fact some large motorhome aires here, but we obviously took the wrong approach to find them).

As you approach it Guerande looks like any other French commercial town, but at its heart is a remarkable medieval town, its much restored ramparts completely encircling it, even with a moat for part of its perimeter. It’s a tourist mecca of course, but it has a nice atmosphere, a stunning 16th Century church, some quality arts and craft shops and some attractive, reasonably priced restaurants.

The medieval walls and moat of Guerande

A newish, large aire is ten minutes walk away, though close to the main road.
GPS: 47.3337 N, 2.4205 W

More on Guerande in the next post!

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