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
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’