To France

It’s been  3 years since we last took the caravan abroad, having limited ourselves to short trips in England since John’s heart problems.  We finally felt ready to try something more adventurous, although nothing on the scale of our previous travels.  Many times in the past France has been a country we simply travelled through to get somewhere more exotic, but this time we decided to head for the Dordogne, an area we last visited 35 years ago when the children were small and we stayed in a Canvas Holidays ready-erected tent.

We set off at the end of May, the day after the Bank Holiday. I’d spent the previous week making lists and ticking things off as we packed them – last year, when we went to Norfolk, we forgot several important items!  As usual we used our accumulated Tesco vouchers to pay for the Eurotunnel tickets, and found the journey quick and easy. The French roads were a joy – not much traffic, and no pot holes! 

Chateau des Tilleuls

Our first stop was Chateau des Tilleuls near Abbeville.  The last time we used this site, four years ago on our way home after spending the winter in Spain, I had flu so I remember almost nothing about the camp site except feeling wretched!  It seems to have been improved and expanded since then with a smart new reception, shop and café, and a range of unusual and innovative accommodations for rent as well as the usual mobile homes.  There are some interesting tents on stilts, some tents shaped like covered wagons, and best of all some amazing and luxurious tree houses – one even has a sauna and hot tub!

Our pitch at the Chateau

We had a roomy pitch close to the excellent shower block. Often the toilet facilities in French campsites can be a bit Spartan.  Gone are the days (thank goodness) when most of the toilets were of the squatting type, but for some strange reason nowadays they often lack both seats and toilet paper.  In all our travels this is a problem we’ve only very rarely encountered in other countries, but in France it’s very common.  One of the nice things about Les Tilleuls is that the loos are very smart and have seats and paper. They’re also heated, which even in May can be very welcome.  Mind you, they’re unisex, which is another slightly uncomfortable French custom!

The only problem with our pitch was the presence of an extremely large bee with bright yellow colouring which was fascinated with us and the caravan. Normal bees don’t bother us but this one was an alarming size and very noisy.  John looked it up on his phone and discovered it was a European hornet!!  We couldn’t persuade it to leave so had to spray the inside of the van with fly killer, shut the door and go for a walk round the site while the poison did its work.  Bizarrely, we never found its body when we went back inside – perhaps it found a way to escape.

South to Tours

The temperature dropped overnight and it was a bit chilly first thing next morning, but soon warmed up. Our next stop was in the Loire area and we planned to stay two nights so we could visit a chateau or two.  The camp site, La Mignardiere, was in a smart suburb just south of Tours and had plenty of facilities – swimming pool, takeaway etc - open ready for the French Bank Holiday (Ascension Day). On the other hand, the toilet facilities were utilitarian rather than comfortable.The weather was cloudy but quite warm so we sat outside with a cuppa, before going to Aldi to stockup with food (and a bottle of pastis!)  To make life easier we got some chips from the camp site’s takeaway to go with the fishwe’d bought, then had an early night.

Azay le Rideau

Next day was warm but a bit cloudy. We went to Azay-le-Rideau, one of the prettiest chateaux of the Loire. First we had a brief walk round the picturesque little town, then went to the chateau. Built in the 16th century in Renaissance style,it’s surrounded by a moat and gardens and looks like something out of a fairy tale. We were last here 45 years ago, on a package tour with Clarksons – flights, four nights full board, and guided visits to half a dozen chateaux and an abbey, all for about £35!!  Not surprisingly, Clarksons went bust not long afterwards!  After seeing the chateau we had a late lunch in a little restaurant on the main street, where a set menu of two courses was a very reasonable €11.99.

Villandry

We then drove a short distance to Villandry, another Renaissance chateau famous for its amazing formal gardens laid out in geometrical beds, outlined with box hedges and immaculately maintained. The sun came out and we had a leisurely walk around the gardens.  Some of the beds were filled with flowers, others with vegetables.  Who would have thought lettuces and cabbages could look so beautiful, like a mosaic or a Persian carpet!  We had a lovely day -the sun was warm and there were lots of people out enjoying the holiday.

The camp site had filled up quite a lot with families here for the long weekend when we got back – in fact we were surrounded by tents.  We ordered a couple of pizzas from the takeaway and sat in the sun. It wasn’t a site we’d have wanted to stay long at, but for a couple of nights it was fine.