Get­away: Bris­sac-quincé to Sainte-foy-la-grande and Calais

Bryn and Jan­ice Sadler indulge their fond­ness for French mar­kets – both the flea and the fruit and veg kind – in beau­ti­ful vine­yard coun­try

Practical Caravan - - Contents -

Bryn and Jan­ice Sadler com­plete their six-week trip to France with a tour of the Dor­dogne

SO FAR, SO good. Our tour was go­ing well. We were lov­ing Camp­ing La Belle Etoile at Bris­sac-quincé and had en­joyed tour­ing the Loire vine­yards. But it was time to move on.

Only 13 kilo­me­tres from Camp­ing des Alou­ettes, our new base in Cognac-la-forêt in the dé­parte­ment of La Char­ente, lies the Vil­lage Mar­tyr of Oradour­sur-glane. Read­ing a guide­book will give you all the facts and fig­ures about the town that you’ll ever need to know, but noth­ing, sim­ply noth­ing, can pre­pare you for the im­pact of set­ting foot in the vil­lage. It’s quiet, eerily quiet, and still. Noth­ing moves.

You feel like you’re stepping back in time to a day in 1944. To 10 June 1944, in fact. On a sum­mer’s af­ter­noon, at 4pm, when Ger­man sol­diers be­gan to mur­der al­most all 642 in­hab­i­tants of the vil­lage.

We walked around the vil­lage in si­lence. Some­how speak­ing – even in quiet voices to each other – seemed dis­re­spect­ful. It felt as though at any moment, some­one would come out of any one of the houses still stand­ing in the vil­lage.

Oradour-sur-glane has been pre­served in ex­actly the same state as it was back then. The cars in the street are rust­ing away and the build­ings are in poor re­pair, but the vil­lage is so im­por­tant in the French psy­che that the govern­ment is putting a lot of money into the vil­lage to en­sure that the mem­ory of Oradour-sur-glane re­mains for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Light­en­ing the mood

Next morn­ing, the sun was shin­ing and af­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence of the pre­vi­ous day, we felt the need to lighten our spir­its. We love vis­it­ing French mar­kets, so we made our way to the nearby town of Con­folens.

Satur­day morn­ings in France are won­der­ful. Every­one’s out shop­ping for the week­end, stop­ping for a cof­fee or a beer, or even a pastis. We wan­dered hap­pily through the maze of me­dieval streets, buy­ing a baguette for our picnic lunch from a pâtis­serie.

We drank de­li­cious cof­fee at the Sa­lon de Thé et des Arts on the banks of the river. This is a Bri­tish-run tea­room with comfy set­tees, a great sound sys­tem and very wel­com­ing staff.

We chose to make our­selves com­fort­able in­side, but most cus­tomers were en­joy­ing their re­fresh­ments out­doors, on the river­side ter­race.

For us, no week­end in France is com­plete with­out a visit to a Sun­day morn­ing vide gre­nier – an ‘empty your at­tic’ mar­ket.

It’s great to browse those that sprawl through the streets of a big town, but vide gre­niers in small vil­lages can throw up equally in­ter­est­ing finds.

We had seen road­side posters for a vide gre­nier at the vil­lage of Ex­ideuil, so that was where we headed.

We were lucky with our finds, pick­ing up a few cu­riosi­ties with which we could dec­o­rate our kitchen back home.

Who says so? We do!

Time was moving on and we needed to head south – we still had some miles to cover. So we left Cognac-la-forêt and towed our van to Sainte-foy-la-grande, which is about 100 kilo­me­tres east of Bordeaux.

There are lots of dif­fer­ent ways in which you can find a great camp­site – books, tourist of­fices, web­sites and, of course, word of mouth, which is how we found Camp­ing de la Bastide in Pineuilh/sainte-foy-la-grande.

You know how this kind of con­ver­sa­tion goes. You’re on a site, you get talk­ing to your neigh­bours and be­fore you know it, you’ve got a rec­om­men­da­tion for a won­der­ful site which makes for an even bet­ter trip.

‘We drank de­li­cious cof­fee at the Sa­lon de Thé et des Arts, a tea­room with comfy set­tees and a great sound sys­tem’

We’ve been car­a­van­ning now for 30-odd years and Camp­ing de la Bastide is one of the best sites we’ve ever stayed on. If you en­joy a warm wel­come, an im­mac­u­lately clean site and an invit­ing swim­ming pool, this is the place for you.

We loved it and we weren’t the only ones, judg­ing by the num­ber of peo­ple who re­turn to the site year af­ter year. Many peo­ple re­gard the site with great fond­ness, which must be rec­om­men­da­tion enough.

Camp­ing de la Bastide is sited on the banks of the Dor­dogne River and Bryn and I spent many happy hours watch­ing the ac­tiv­ity on the slowly flow­ing wa­ter. We also loved the fact that the site is very con­ve­nient for su­per­mar­kets and the cen­tre of Sainte-foy-la-grande, with its many shops and restau­rants. Oh, and the mar­ket, too, of course.

The Satur­day farm­ers’ mar­ket in Sainte-foy-la-grande is one of the big­gest and best we’ve ever vis­ited in France. And we’re not the only ones to think so. Named ‘Favourite French Mar­ket’ in 2014, the town cen­tre is closed off to ve­hi­cles to al­low the stalls to sprawl out into the Place Gam­betta and the sur­round­ing me­dieval streets.

What makes the mar­ket so spe­cial are the ven­dors. Min­gled among the pro­fes­sion­als are the men and women who, that very morn­ing, gath­ered veg­eta­bles and picked the straw­ber­ries from the plants in their own back gar­dens. That’s a fresh­ness that takes some beat­ing!

Ro­mans and wine

There’s such a lot to do in the Aquitaine re­gion. You can catch a train from the rail­way sta­tion in Sainte-foy-la-grande to the heart of the city of Bordeaux. This is wine coun­try, so within min­utes you can be in the mid­dle of the most won­der­ful vine­yards. The UNESCO pro­tected town of Saint-emil­ion is only 30 kilo­me­tres away.

Bryn and I en­joy vis­it­ing Ro­man re­mains, and about 13 kilo­me­tres from the camp­site is the vil­lage of Mont­caret, fa­mous for its villa gallo-ro­maine.

Sadly, it was soon time for us to start think­ing about the

jour­ney home. We’d been away for six weeks and the trip had gone well.

We looked out of the car­a­van win­dow to see that the sun was still shin­ing, we still had a few eu­ros left in our pock­ets and it was too far to tow a car­a­van from Sainte-foy-la-grande to Calais all in one go.

But where could we go? We didn’t want to de­vi­ate too far from our route home. Then we hit on the idea of head­ing for the town of Egu­zon-chan­tôme in the dé­parte­ment of the In­dre.

Stay just a bit longer

We’d stayed at Camp­ing Egu­zon La Garenne be­fore and had been warmly re­ceived. It’s a pleas­ant site, only 10 miles or so from the A20. The camp­site is spacious and at the time of year we were there, pop­u­lated in the main by car­a­van­ners from Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and Bri­tain.

We like the lo­ca­tion of the site, too. It’s a five-minute walk into the town of Egu­zon­chan­tôme, which makes pop­ping into the lo­cal cafés and restau­rants an easy rou­tine to fall into. The town also has a rea­son­ably large su­per­mar­ket, where you can fill up with fuel.

The in­evitable hap­pened – our overnight stay turned into two nights, then three, then four. We vis­ited nearby Ar­gen­ton­sur-creuse. It was an easy drive; the In­dre is one of France’s least pop­u­lated dé­parte­ments.

Cruis­ing la Creuse

Ar­gen­ton-sur-creuse is a very pretty town to walk around, par­tic­u­larly if you take the time to wan­der along­side the old houses that line the river­banks.

Lots of them have bal­conies that over­hang the wa­ter and we would have loved the op­por­tu­nity to go in­side one of them and ex­pe­ri­ence their view of the Creuse.

We en­joyed our stay in Egu­zon-chan­tôme, but were be­gin­ning to feel the dis­tance be­tween us and Calais. It was time to get back on the road.

We’ve done the jour­ney north quite a few times now and are aware that the roads around Dreux and Chartres are still not very good.

So we made an early start and by lunchtime, we were at Dreux, in the Eure-et-loire dé­parte­ment, en­joy­ing our baguette. We crossed Rouen in the early af­ter­noon, which meant that we were well on our way to our overnight stop at Camp­ing Sainte Claire at Neufchâ­tel-en-bray.

‘We looked out of the car­a­van win­dow to see that the sun was shin­ing, and we still had a few eu­ros in our pock­ets’

The next morn­ing, we were off again, and only a cou­ple of hours later, we were back in Pas-de-calais, where this year’s French ad­ven­ture had be­gun.

We love France and feel at home (al­most) wher­ever we go, but if any­one were to put us on the spot and ask us to choose our favourite re­gion, it would have to be Pas-de-calais.

We’ve had many happy times here and are al­ways de­lighted to find our­selves back in the area.

Shop­ping on our minds

We’ve stayed on a num­ber of sites around Calais and Boulogne, but this time, opted for Camp­ing Les Epinettes in the vil­lage of Pe­u­plingues.

Pe­u­plingues is only a few min­utes’ drive from the huge shop­ping cen­tre of Cité Europe, which is con­ve­nient for stock­ing up on French del­i­ca­cies to take home. The site is well-run by a friendly French cou­ple, and we’ve al­ways found that the car­a­van­ners who stay there are pretty friendly, too.

We still had a few days of our trip left and the weather was fine, so we headed off to the coast. Our favourite spot is Wis­sant, one of the jewels in the crown of this coast­line. The beach at Wis­sant stretches for miles, and walk­ing from Es­calles to Wis­sant is fan­tas­tic.

The views are stun­ning and there’s al­ways so much ship­ping ac­tiv­ity to see in the Chan­nel. On a clear day, you can even see the White Cliffs of Dover.

The dunes are a won­der­ful nat­u­ral habi­tat to ex­plore. If you know where to look, you can see some of the bunkers left over from the old At­lantic Wall de­fences. Af­ter a walk along the beach, we love to stroll around the vil­lage. Some of the most beau­ti­ful houses are to be found lin­ing the streets named af­ter fa­mous French lit­er­ary fig­ures.

We’ll be back

We also spent a day in Calais, which we love. Of course, it has changed much over the years, but one thing that never fails to please is our tra­di­tional walk along the pier, try­ing to avoid the an­glers’ lines.

Now it re­ally was time for us to board the ferry and head for home. We’d had a fan­tas­tic trip. Start­ing at Calais and go­ing as far as Sainte-foy-la-grande then back, with a cou­ple of dozen small vil­lages in be­tween.

As al­ways, France had come up trumps. In fact, we loved it so much that we are al­ready plan­ning our next trip.

‘If you know where to look, you can see some of the bunkers left over from the old At­lantic Wall de­fences’

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