Leaving ourselves a comfortable six days to get back to northern France we set off on a cool but sunny Sunday morning. After a stop for supplies at Lidl then gas and diesel it was good bye to the Costa’s and out on to the excellent Spanish roads and northwards. Once again breaking my usual rules we took the toll road over the hills and across the French border, leaving just past Perpignan. The motorway was quiet and an easy drive and well worth the few Euros it cost in tolls. The rest of our route would be free of tolls.
With the low winter sun behind us lighting up the hills and villages the drive was just beautiful. The quality of light was completely different to the harsh, bright, overhead sun of summer. Everything looked softer with the buildings reflecting the sunlight from their mellow stones.
Through the low lying plain around Béziers then on to the excellent and toll free A75 towards the high hills in the distance. Then the start of the steep climb up, up, up, and into the Massif Central with its spectacular scenery. As we approached Millau we left the motorway and dived down into the town and back up the other side, avoiding the toll section across the viaduct. As we are 4.5 Tonnes and over 3 metres high we are likely to get stung with high charges and as the drive through the town only takes about 15 minutes longer and is very scenic we always take that route. You also get to see more of the viaduct than you would driving over it.
Back onto the A75 for a few km and we exit where the motorway drops steeply into the Lot valley and to our overnight stop at La Canourgue.
We previously stopped at the free aire at La Canourgue (GPS 44.43339° 3.21173°) earlier in the year and were very taken with the village. This time, although it was getting late in the afternoon, we went for a stroll round the narrow back streets and alleys with water rushing and gurgling through streams and gullies everywhere.
The streams disappear under buildings, houses bridge some of the alleys and you feel that you could be back in medieval times. Everywhere was dressed with Christmas decorations and the whole place had a Christmassy and wintery feel about it.
After a very cold night with a hard frost we set off again and back on the A75 north to Clermont- Ferrand. Leaving the motorway we took the D2009, driving through pleasant countryside on another sunny day. Our destination this time was yet another stopover at Sancoins, one of our favourite aires (GPS 46.83402° 2.91576°).
On Tuesday it was a ‘cross country’ day as we took to more minor roads, crossing the River Loire at Beaugency, heading towards Chateaudun. Bypassing the old town we joined the N10 north to Bonneval. Sitting beside the Loire, Bonneval is another very old town with lots of history. The free aire (GPS 48.17943° 1.38827°) is in a car park beside the ancient walls of a Benedictine abbey dating back to 800 and something. It is now a mental hospital but the magnificent gate house and walls are impressive.
A stream, complete with a good population of ducks, forms a sort of moat around the old town, crossed by narrow stone bridges. It is all a very attractive setting to spend some time in and wander around. We arrived with some trepidation as half of the large car park had been taken over by a travelling fair who seemed to be making it their winter quarters. When we arrived we were the only motorhome there but by evening there were 7 of us squeezed in. The water was still turned on and as there was no jetton required we made the most of it and topped up the tank.
On Wednesday we skirted round Chartres and continued north to possibly our favourite aire in France…..if only the weather were warmer, then it would definitely be favourite.
We arrived at an almost deserted La Mailleraye-sur-Seine aire (GPS 49.48334° 0.77386°) in more lovely winter weather, cold but sunny. After lunch we set out for a short walk along the towpath, which turned into a much longer walk as we went round in a large circle and arrived back from the opposite direction.
I’ve just totted up the number of nights we have spent at La Mailleraye this year and it is an amazing 21 nights………….do you get the impression that we might rather like it there?
After a second lazy day by the Seine we set the sat-nag to take us to Calais and the aire at Cite Europe (GPS 50.93282° 1.81111°). Arriving in the early afternoon we has lunch then set out to empty Carrefour of wine, beer and frozen sauté potatoes. If, like me, you like sauté potatoes you really must try Carrefour’s own brand, cooked in duck fat. They are to die for!
So, that is just about the end of our un-planned, last minute dash to the sun.
It has been a good trip despite the weather at the start. The thing that I think we will both remember most though is the drive back north. The sun shone the whole way back, the views were just stunning in the winter light and we stopped at some lovely places.
Before our next long trip Celine has to have a new windscreen fitted and needs the engine serviced for the first time. In February she is booked in for her second habitation service and check and has a few warranty issues to be sorted. Once that is all done we can start planning the next adventure. Bring it on!