France - Ispagnac to Dieppe

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July 7th 2012
Published: July 7th 2012
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3rdJuly 2012

Had an early start hoping to get north a little bit and also wanted to make the most of our last day of forecasted sunshine! Got some organic vegetables from Ispagnac market garden stall before taking the N106 towards Mende.

It wasn’t the ‘fast’ road we were hoping for as the road twisted up and up to another ‘Port’ at 1046 metres high and then down again into Mende. Carried on along the N88 to Langogne where we stopped to buy our lunch bagette and had a look at the local market and 12thC obligatory church!

We were now in the Auvergne region of France which appears to be on a very high plateau with hills, some of them formed by volcanoes. It makes for a very pleasant green landscape with far reaching views and little villages with their orange roofs dotted about and farmland.

Dropped down into Le Puy en Velay and as the sun was shining decided to do the walk around the old historic town. The huge magnificent 11thC cathedral is reached by walking up to the 134 steps which lead into the centre of the Cathedral. It has also been, over the centuries, a pilgrimage centre where pilgrims gathered for the start, or to continue, their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and the Cathedral had to be enlarged to accommodate them all in the 12thC. We also wanted to see the Cloisters as they are supposed to be the most beautiful in Europe! Paid our 7.50 euros (each!!) and yes the cloisters were very nice, quite colourful different pale stones had been used, but I was very disappointed that they had done nothing to the garden in the centre at all! Just looked like a load of weeds!!

Anyway, back to the van and a short drive to Aiguilhe, The Rock and Chapel of St Michael. The rock is actually the vent of an old volcano, laid bare by erosion and the Chapel at the top was finished in 962AD. A steep climb up, but well worth the visit, as the inside of the chapel sort of spiralled around the rock as well. Quite unique!

As there was a campsite opposite we decided to camp here for the night. In the evening, had a walk around Aiguilhe, exploring the small streets and squares,and watched the sunset over StMichael’s Chapel. (Camping de Bouthezard 10.85 euros) with wifi for 50 cents. (86miles)

4th July 2012

Sunny start as we headed north on the D906 towards Thiers. The scenery had changed and we were now in the Natural Region du Livradois Forez with quite a few logging factories and most definitely on a lorry route! Quite a good road until we reached Ambert and the road was pretty bendy along the valley but thereafter not too bad at all (if you don’t mind sharing the road with articulated lorries!)

Stopped for lunch at Vichy and as we had avoided the predicted rain and thunderstorms so far, had a walk around. Vichy has been famous for its hot mineral springs since the Roman era and has transformed, over the years, the centre into a very opulent and luxurious Spa centre with many grand buildings, previously private residences of Napoleon III, and luxury hotels as well as a huge park designed in 1861.

A quick look around the old quarter where the source of Celestins, Vichys most famous water is found. Had a look inside the austere art-deco church, that was built between 1925 and 1937 and was pleasantly surprised by the ceiling paintings inside.

Decided to carry on north on the N7, past Moulins and then turned off on the N76 towards Bourges. Saw quite an impressive chateau at Blet and also spotted a campsite so decided to stop.

The campsite (10.70 euros) is at the back of the village, around a small lake and is serviced by three people who were sat outside a shed waiting for some business! There is one toilet, one shower and no wifi! Had a wander into the village and went to the village shop where I played ball with one of the dogs inside the shop(?!!) The huge shop reminded me of Cuba – ie not much food in it and packets of soup laid out in a line along one shelf! Very helpful shopkeeper who gave us a postcard of the Chateau and advised that we could visit it, but we had to phone them first for them to open it! She also explained that Blet was on the main lorry route from UK to France, Spain and Italy which explained the hundreds of lorries trundling through this tiny village every day.

Back to the campsite where one of the helpful campsite ladies tried to phone the Chateau with no joy! Chris tried again later and left a message so we shall see!

And an hour later they phoned back, and they are going to open up and show us around the chateau at 10.00am tomorrow morning!

Fortunately the rain and thunderstorms that were predicted haven’t materialised so we were able to have a relaxing evening sat outside with views of the chateau and the lake! An Italian Van turned up and left but we were joined at 10.00pm in the evening by a French Van (180 miles)

Thursday 5th July

Had a couple of small thunderstorms overnight but the day began quite bright but cloudy! Drove down to the Chateau in good time for 10.00am and was met by the owner of the Chateau who said his wife would be showing us around! He was actually project managing the workmen who were building a new terrace for weddings and it’s a bit of a work in progress on the ground floor inside the Chateau as well!!

There was originally a castle on the site since the Middle Ages but the Chateau was built in the 15th C by the family of St Quintin and has changed hands quite a few times over the years.

We were shown the old original bits of the castle before putting plastic bags on our feet and going up the grand curved staircase where we were shown the rooms on the first floor, including a little Chapel and the bedrooms that had been renovated and would now be used for the Bed & Breakfast. Very chateau like!!

Had a walk around some of the grounds with Bridget and then we were invited to take the longer walk by ourselves over to the original entrance with its grand avenue of plane trees! Very nice walk although slightly muddy!

Carried on towards Bourges and then took the D9, through Aubigny-sur-Nere (which looked quite an amazing place with lots of flowers and tudor type buildings) and onto Sully-Sur- Loire where we stopped for lunch and then had a tour of the Chateau! It has been completely renovated with vast empty rooms, the highlight for me being the 14th C architecture of roof built with wooden beams and not a nail in sight! Rain clouds were building up so we pressed on towards Orleans (when it started raining!) then took the D2020 and the D2154 to Chartres.

Saw a campsite (Les Bords de L’eure – 14.24 euros) where we decided to stop for the night. There is a nice 1.9 mile walk around the Prairie and into the centre of Chartres from the campsite ...and it has stopped raining and turned into a beautiful may do that later this evening! (149 miles)

Friday 6th July

Cloudy day but plenty of sun as well as evidence of heavy showers (we seemed to manage to miss most of them!!)

From Chartres we drove to Dreux, then stayed on the N154 past Evereux and stopped for lunch at a lovely little place just outside Rouen called Pont de L’arche. Found quite by accident as we were looking for somewhere to offload our surplus water and followed the emptying point underneath the road where there was a campsite and an Aire right by the side of the River Seine.

Had a walk around the town that had another huge 16thC cathedral and many of the houses were medieval with old wooden beams, many of them decorated with geraniums! Very pretty! Sat by the river and had lunch and a relax in the sun before driving to Totes where we stocked up with wine and goodies and Chris bought 5.00 euros worth of diesel (3.74 litres!) to get us to Dieppe where he figured the diesel could be cheaper!!

It was only 1.31 a litre at Dieppe (a saving of 2 cents a litre!!) so we filled up and then drove to the ferry port! As we drove up over the hill for the 6kms to the Port we remembered that there was a little road that takes you from the Centre of Dieppe around the coast to the Port! However, checked with the office that we could sleep at the port (ferry goes at 7.00am tomorrow so we have to be there by 5.00am!) and, assuming we can still avoid the heavy showers, will walk into Dieppe this evening as Chris wants to go back to restaurant L’Ocean where he had some excellent soup about two years ago!!! (149 miles)

So glad we walked (even if it was in a heavy thunderstorm!!) into Dieppe! They were expecting The Tour De France the next day and it was a lovely festival atmosphere with stalls and flags and music playing! Walked and watched the ferry go out before finding L’Ocean where Chris had his soup (still excellent!) and I had mussels followed by a delicious salmon in sorrel sauce and Chris had a steak in pepper sauce. We finished it off with a crème caramel each!

It had now turned into a beautiful evening so we wandered about.....and discovered that the Tour de France was not the cyclists but a Sailing Race!! Sorry Liam, we were going to buy you an official tee shirt if it was the cycling Tour De France!

Back to the Van and decided to try and get some sleep at about ½ 11, despite all the noise of the fireworks! The ferry guys woke us up at 3.15am to check in and move to a different queue where we waited until 6.00am to board the ferry. Not a lot of sleep and I think next time we would go to one of the Aires in the centre of Dieppe (7.00 euros) to sleep and drive to the Ferry Port an hour before departure.

An uneventful, calm crossing and we docked at 10.00am English time to spend the weekend in Lewes and back to Bristol sometime Monday after a few minor things on the campervan has been fixed in Southampton.

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