France - Alsace, driving back to UK

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December 7th 2017
Published: December 7th 2017
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Fri 1stDecember

There was snow overnight on the lower slopes of the Pyrenees, and we saw a few snow ploughs about…..didn’t think too much about it! The very strong Northerly winds from yesterday continued. Trundled along the D6009 road past Perpignon (got lost for a while! – poor roadworks signage), Narbonne and into Beziers where the A75 to Millau is signed. Always blue sky ahead of us, even though it was still cloudy, but when we stopped for lunch at the first aire at Paulan the sun was out, even though it was bitterly cold.

Things got decidedly worse from then!! Saw a few lorries and cars with snow and ice on them and wondered where they had come from! Oh silly us!! The A75 of course! As we drove up there was a lot of pretty snow in the fields and a dusting of snow on the trees but the further we went, the worse it got!! The strong winds continued, and as we crossed the Millau Viaduct (the tallest bridge in the world – 2.5 km long – toll 10 euros + 2 euros tax), the extent of earlier snowfalls became apparent. The motorway reduced to one lane clear of snow, and it started snowing again; the fir trees were laden with snow and the sky got blacker!!

Stopped for a very quick tea break at one of the Services on the other side of the motorway; (they had closed the Services on our side, down as couldn’t keep the service roads and plaza clear!). Still another 75 miles to drive to the only campsite open near Clermont Ferrand, and it was 4.15 pm when we re-joined the motorway. It gets dark about 5.00pm so was quite difficult to find the Campsite in a blizzard (only 2.5km from the A75) at Orcet, without the use of Sat Nav! Arrived, in the dark, about 6.00pm emotionally exhausted!!! (Camping Le Clos Auroy, Orcet (ACSI – no winter rate for some reason) - 307 miles)

Sat 2nd December

It was with some trepidation we got up (earlier than yesterday!), hoping that there hadn’t been more snow overnight! Fortunately there wasn’t, but we weren’t sure of the state of some of the smaller roads on our route, so we decided to take the motorway to Lyon and then follow the D roads up to Beaune, which gave us the opportunity of jumping back on the Motorway if the weather got worse.

We left just after 9.30am and the roads on the motorway were clear – lots of snow through the mountains but not too bad – other than Chris having to stop a couple of times to scrape the windscreen and buy some screenwash because the washers were frozen!! (-4C) Then, as we drove onto Lyon the weather changed dramatically and there was ‘No Snow!!’ Oh it was lovely to see the world in colour instead of black and white!

Followed the D road up to Macon, Chalone-sur-Soane and were treated to some lovely winter sun. Vinyards and hectares of grapevines as far as the eye could see. Chris had decided, that as the forecast was -5C in Beaune overnight, we would stay at an hotel. (He told me he was fed up blowing into his sleeping bag trying to keep warm – this had me crying! Laughter not pity!! I had slept like a log last night and was lovely and toasty!) Anyway, “checked in” to our budget hotel, in Beaune, about 4.30pm (internet access codes/no reception) . Tried to help a Russian lorry driver access his hotel/room codes without success so I guess he’ll be freezing in his lorry tonight.

Evening dinner – Chris tried to get me to go back out to the Van and cook something for dinner, as the hotel didn’t have a restaurant, but I was having none of it, so we had a wonderful Italian meal instead! ( B&B Hotel (40 euros), Beaune - 209 miles)

Sunday 3rd December

A dull day, freezing cold and quite misty! Was glad of the hotel last night – I think it would have just been too cold to camp! On the road quite early and took the D road to Dole where we stopped for breakfast. Decided as the snow had returned and the area seemed quite mountainous, that we would jump on the Peage to Besancon and get back on the D road after Belfort. Got to the Campsite (about 20 miles outside Mulhouse) and found a spot (we were the only campers here so that wasn’t difficult!! There are a few permanent people that live in mobile homes on the site, so we are not totally isolated!!)

Skip the next bit if you are not into history! I was quite fascinated as to why, in this corner of France, all the towns and villages had German sounding names and it seems more like Germany than France. It was originally part of the Holy Roman Empire, but gradually became part of France from 1552 to 1798 by way of conquest and diplomatic compromises. Louis XIV annexed Alsace during the Franco-Dutch war establishing full French Sovereignty over the region. Then between 1871 – 1918 Franco-Prussian war caused French cession of Alsace and it belonged to the German Empire. The Treaty of Versailles passed ownership of Alsace back to France between 1919-1940 but between 1940-1944 Nazi Germany conquered Alsace. It has now belonged to France since 1945….

The people that lived in this area were German, not French and they had their own language – Alsation, and basically Alsace is just a bit of a messy inheritance!

Anyway, went into Mulhouse, the textile capital, (In 1833, a group of textile manufacturers based in and around Mulhouse formed an Industrial Society known as the "Societé Industrielle". They decided to collectively archive the designs they produced and added designs from other countries, and from earlier times. This collection grew in importance to become what is today the premier collection of six million printed textiles in the world.) and found the Christmas market at the Place de la Reunion quite easily and parked in the Gare-Base Indigo car park that cost 3.60 euros – if we had parked on a street it would have been free! Wandered around admired all the buildings, looked at the stalls, had a gluhwein – delicious liquoricy spicy hot red wine, and collected the first of quite a few different tumblers!! All the Christmas markets serve their gluhwein in a different tumbler with the place name on it, so the tumbler make a nice little souvenir! Ate in a pop up restaurant tent where we had some delicious food – cheese, onion and potato rosti with lardons & a plate of lettuce with parma ham! It was snowing quite hard when we came out, which completed the whole atmosphere! (Camping Les Castors, Burnhaupt-le-Haut. ACSI 185 miles)

Monday 4th December

A grey, murky, misty day – snow over the mountains, but we were down in the vine covered valley! Left fairly early and went to the Ecomuseum (closed!) Shame really as it was supposed to be a bit like the Cardiff Museum with lots of different types of houses, so it could have been quite interesting. They also had a charge of 20 Euros so maybe it was as well it was shut! Belted along the D83 and turned off for Soultzmatt and the Chateau de Wagenbourg which was something of a dead loss. Nice little village though with a few of the typical Alsatian style houses and loads of grapevines all over the hills.

Visited Eguisheim that was a delightful little place, if a bit over -run with coach tours! The houses formed the ramparts of the old village and were very quaint timber framed balconied buildings, many with Christmas decorations and lights! The church in the main square had an empty storks nest on it!!

Decided to drive to the campsite and book in, but we arrived at 2.00pm and it didn’t open after lunch until 2.30pm so we had a quick reccy around Riquewhir and found the best place to park for this evening. Very pretty little place, very old medieval village with a clock tower dating back to 1211 or something! Drove into Colmar about 4.00pm after reserving our camping pitch! It was delightful! Managed to park in the proper place for Campervans, on the Ingersheim road just by the tourist coaches parking, for about a euro per hour and had a couple of magical hours just wandering about as it became dusk and all the Christmas lights came on. Loads of little squares and Christmas stalls, buildings lit up, trees decorated, Christmas carols in German, church bells, a little waterway with bridges, the usual gluhwein – oh it was so lovely! Left at about 6.00 to drive straight to Requewihr for hopefully more of the same, but it seemed very quiet after Colmar, and the Christmas stalls were starting to shut at about 7.00pm and so it lacked atmosphere ☹ Was going to eat in one of the many restaurants there but Chris decided that I should cook an emergency meal back at the van! We then had a ‘domestic’ resulting in silence in the van (after I had cooked the meal of course!!) and Chris saying he was driving to Dieppe tomorrow (nearly 400 miles), where I can eat on the boat!!

Tuesday 5th December

Anyway, it was a lovely sunny day today and Chris decided he would drive to Strasbourg instead!! Re-visited Riquewihr to have a tumbler of gluhwein and collect another tumbler to add to our collection!! Drove on the back roads up to a ‘must see’ Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg – a beautiful drive up, through beech woods and pine trees but as we got nearer the castle the clouds rolled in and we were soon in mist!! No views to be had at all. Drove back down to the sunny plain and then into Selestat for some lunch and a quick wander. Went into the church where they had manuscripts and documents dating back to 1521 where a decorated Christmas tree was mentioned for the first time in history (page 239!!) I never knew that christmas trees used to be decorated with apples, (relating to Adam and Eve) but one year the crop failed, and imitation apples (baubles) were produced and remain the main decorations of the tree to this day.

Onto the A35 and a forty minute drive to the campsite in Strasbourg, where we booked in (good job that we did as it was full later!) and after a quick cuppa, got the tram into the centre. Loads of security and armed police around resulting in the tram not stopping on the ‘Island’ (the old Centre) for security reasons, so we had to walk back to the centre. The place is massive! Loads of Christmas stalls and a enormous Chrismas tree in the main square as well as an incredibly large Cathedral (Learnt later it’s the 10th tallest Cathedral in the world!) ! Lots of decorated streets and shops and we spent a long time just wandering around the island, taking in the reflections of the old tall buildings in the river! Had some lovely street food and another gluhwein before getting the tram back to the campsite. (Camping Montagne Verte ACSI 54 miles)

Wednesday 6th December

Went back into Strasbourg on the tram to visit any bits we missed last night. We were very glad that we did as we discovered Petite France! Beautiful place (wish we had made more effort and seen it last night lit up, but after walking for 10 miles yesterday we were both exhausted!!) Walked around discovering the Christmas market, alleyways, watched a boat go through the locks – it was all very picturesque! Went back to the Cathedral for 12.00 where there was a succession of sirens/ air raids blasted from the Cathedral at 12.00 but as none of the Police seemed to be doing anything, neither did we!! Spooky though! We wanted to see the astronomical clock, in the Cathedral, dating back to 1843. The main attraction (so we were told) was the procession of 18 inch high figures of Christ and his disciples whilst a cock crowed 3x. Bit of a disappointment!! We queued for ½ hour or so, and excitement was mounting!! Saw a short film (in French) and then we all gathered round the clock waiting for the ‘Big Event’. Let’s just say I was expecting more!!!

Quick lunch from the foody stalls, then a tram ride back to the campsite and a 30 minute drive to the Campsite at Selestet as we were going to watch the St Nicholas procession! I think this really was geared for children, as they duly queued for Father Chrismas and donkey rides and a giant puppet of a king was paraded up and down the main street, with bears popping out of boxes!! Not sure what it was about but the children seemed quite fascinated by it! There were also fire jugglers around the town and a band playing festive songs marched up and down! By 6.30pm it was all over, there was no restaurants open for us to eat in, so it was back to the van for an ‘emergency’ meal of pie, potatoes, carrots and peas!! Yum!! (Camping Les Cigognes, Selestat. 54 miles)

Thursday 7th December

Misty when we started our journey but soon cleared into bright clear sunshine, then cloud and dismally ended in rain!! Took the N59 out of Selestat, towards St Die and because of the snow, decided to pay the 9.40 euros and go through the tunnel! Took the free motorways up through Nancy and to St Dizier before heading north to Soissons at Sezanne. Very boring drive, many lorries on the roads after St Dizier we noticed, the weather got steadily worse and we just about made the campsite in the light-ish! (Camping La Croix du Vieux Pont, Bernay-Ribiere ACS! 277 miles)

.Friday 8th December

The campsite was not up to usual ACSI campsite standard! We discovered we were just in a car-park, no secure parking, in amongst two mobile home units. A “convey exceptionell” lorry turned up at about 9.00pm with 2 more units, and they were ready and revving engines at 8.00am unloading them. There was also no hot water so showers were off!! Chris managed to get a nine euro refund, but I think I would just have preferred some hot water!!

Anyway, the day started sunny as we drove along the N31 but we drove into rain, that very quickly turned into heavy sleet and then hailstones! Not good! Did some Christmas shopping at Super U just before Gournay-en-Bray, then onto the D915 and more shopping at Dieppe! Drove to the Aire which was very quiet, but the sea looked rough even in the harbour, so I think we may be in for a rough crossing at 7.00am tomorrow!! (Aire -Dieppe 128 miles)

Saturday 8th December

Up at 5.00am, short drive to the ferry port, ready for the 7.00am crossing. Long delays boarding probably because they had found a couple of migrants in amongst the Christmas trees in a van, so I think they were being extra diligent! Ferry not that rough, docked about 10.00am, road to Lewes was shut and long diversion meant that we didn’t end up seeing Chris’ brother until gone 11.00am which meant that we arrived back in Newport, in the dark, at about 5.00pm (213 miles)

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