This is a “Good news…Bad news” item. Its about choosing a site so read on.
In this blog I have previously referred to the process of selecting sites. There are many considerations and many differing tastes. By and large we tend to end up on the type of sites we like. The location is checked out as carefully as possible on Google Earth and whatever reviews are available are fully digested. As the saying goes, it works for us, usually.
It is careful research that found us gems like La Bastide in Sainte-Foy la Grande, Camping Jungfrau in Switzerland, Lincoln Farm Park in Oxfordshire and our present stopover, Camping Miramare, on the tip of the peninsula overlooking Venice. A beautiful site and facilities which are second to none, add to that a restaurant just 50 paces from the front gate where we had possibly our best meal to date and you get a very high scoring site to which we will always return if we are anywhere near. Needless to say it has its downsides but I can think of only one. It is beside the sea but has no sea views and that is it. Weigh that against, lovely staff, superb toilet facilities, the best dog facility I have ever come across, beautiful spacious pitches and a brilliant little supermarket and suddenly sea views aren't that important. By the way I didn't mention Wi Fi which is superb and costs only €5 for however long you stay, and my satellite TV works! A fabulous site if ever there was one. Click here to visit its website.
That is the good news and I want to take some time to talk about the bad news which comes in the form of a disastrous site selection at Lake Garda the day before yesterday. There is a background which I want to explain in some detail.
You will have gathered from our blog entries that we found a delightful site on the Ligurian Coast line called Camping Smeraldo. Its entry, through a tunnel was almost magical and you felt, with the majestic views, that you were in a special place. Well, all good things must come to an end and we decided that Saturday was the best day to travel as the weather changed rather dramatically and sunshine gave way to heavy rain.
Our trail was heading north west so after careful consideration we decided to head for the Lake Garda area, a drive of 181 miles but mostly on motorways.
Any cursory glance at a map of Lake Garda will tell you that there are hundreds of sites to choose from so here a research system was important. Our first point of interest was to find something towards the South end of the lake so that our onward route to Venice would be easiest. Some weeks ago I posed a question on the Motorhomefun forum (one of my favourite sources of chit chat and tips). The question asked if anyone had recommendations for sites for the area. I got a number of replies but one campsite name came up twice. Camp Butterfly. I followed this up with a phone call to check for availability and to ensure that there was wi fi available throughout the site. The answer was an emphatic "yes" to both. Let me make it clear at this point that I can well understand that people come to this site and enjoy it but for us it was our single worst experience in years.
Trying to be as balanced as I possibly can be I must say that the site is mis managed, fronted by staff who clearly cannot cope and worse, who are oblivious to the needs of the many visitors the location of their site attracts. The notion that the customers needs are important is absolutely irrelevant here. Allow me to explain.
1 When we arrived we drew up into a narrow entrance where there was a queue of people waiting to register, no problem with that. They were being attended by one staff member yet I counted 4 inside the office. The registration process was painful and I watched almost every single customer getting angry. The lady dealing with all of this was Rebecca, who within my hearing said to at least 3 different customers, "There are plenty of sites, you don't have to stay here". In time she was to say exactly the same thing to me.
2 I was standing with Gianni, who is native Italian so we could make the registration as smooth as possible. It took 10 minutes to register both of us, a process at any other camp would take less than half that. Still the extra heads in the reception area contributed nothing that we could see. At Last, we are allocated our pitches and off we go. Our first big problem. They are occupied. We selected two empty pitches close by and tried to squeeze our vehicles into them. Add to all this it had been raining heavily (not their fault) and the site was muddy and wet. Very unpleasant conditions.
3 On the plus side we were near to the toilet block which, I must say, was well maintained and very clean.
4 Close by was a restaurant which seemed to be owned by an external organisation. It was truly excellent and we drowned our sorrows in style in the only pleasantly memorable part of our stay.
5 I have saved the worst to last. Wi Fi. I have commented before on different attitudes to the Internet from site to site, some are superb and some just don't have it. What I have never come across is the abject stupidity that Camp Butterfly demonstrate. They have a sign which says that you can only buy a subscription on a Saturday between 7:00pm and 9:00pm.
I returned at 6:30pm to see if I could buy a login as I had a commitment to pursue on Skype. “No”, was the answer, “Not until 7:00pm.” I showed my Press Card and asked if they could make an exception to facilitate me. No, said the same Rebecca. I asked why they were so unbending with their rules and what she said really surprised me. "Our boss says we cannot take money for the Internet until 7:00pm because we are so busy" I asked if I could talk to the boss? "No, the rules are there. It has to be 7:00pm" I should point out that it is now 6:45pm and there is no one else in the queue and, I would have thought, it was obvious that they were headed towards a public relations disaster. Totally unmoved I got my marching orders until 7:00pm.
I asked again about the Boss and was met with blank stares. Now if you think that was an end to it, read on.
I returned at 7:00pm to find a long queue of people waiting to get login subscriptions. When it came to my turn I explained I wanted separate subscriptions, one for me, one for Nancy and one for Gianni and Loretta. "Can I see your passport please?" For the internet?? They had previously seen and copied my passport during the registration process (and all the others as well). My passport was back in the van so I showed them my Press Card, full picture ID. I pointed out that they had already everyones passport details but alas this wasn't acceptable. By this stage this was unbearably stupid. This was an INTERNET connection we were trying to buy. Nancy arrived, showed her driving licence and that was it completed. Never have I ever come across a location where you have to produce a passport to sign onto an Internet connection.
Any idiot who knows anything about the Internet will know that the more people who use it the slower it will get. If you have a local network and you "herd" the users to all buy their connection at the same time the system becomes overloaded and, as in this case, becomes unusable. Guess what? It was unusable. I was unable to work and so we all moved to the site restaurant where we had a lovely meal. The only positive I have for this site.
To the Boss, if I had a chance to meet him I would say. You are blessed in the location of your site. Sadly you take advantage of your visitors in the organisation of your reception and the skimpiness of your pitches. Your staff hide behind your "rules" which, in the case of the wi fi, causes your system to become overloaded. That sir or madam is simple stupidity. This is not just one disgruntled customer. I saw many who complained about having to stand in the rain to buy an Internet connection. Charging people €2 an hour to use the Internet which is now the vehicle for people to work and keep contact with their families is unconscionable; to organise it in such a way as to put a strain on the resource to the point that it doesn't work is, in my humble opinion, “virtually” dishonest.
The following day we left and headed for Venice. Before departure I brought my complaint to the reception. The Internet didn't work. Rebecca threw €20 on the desk, "Here is your money back" in the most ungracious gesture imaginable.
So Boss, why not write to me and tell me anything that could explain away such a dire experience.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the motorhoming lifestyle are the little eccentricities that we all indulge in. When Ji Hye was travelling with us she just loved the camaraderie displayed as motorhomers waved to each other as we sped along the various continental roads. And within that the apparent "superiority complex" of pointedly NOT waving to caravan owners etc. We are a strange lot.
Add to that the fact that you immediately bond with anyone and everyone when you eventually settle on a site and you realise you are part of a very special club. Take, for example our travelling companions on this trip, Gianni and Loretta Carbone. Our relationship is just a year old having met on the banks of the Loire in April 2012 and have been firm friends ever since. We have lots in common including an inherent curiosity to explore and try things new.
So it is that curiosity that left us open to the excitement of finding not just a new campsite but one of such unique proportions that it has crept to the very top of our all time favourites list. as described in our previous blog, We have been here now a few days and regard it as a gift that keeps on giving. Take last night, for example. Yesterday was a feast day in Italy, a national holiday and not surprisingly the site filled up with every imaginable shape and size of vehicle. Smeraldo is obviously a gem in this Ligurian coastline and the Italians have been very successful in keeping the secret. We are the only two GB vehicles on the site although there is a sprinkling of Spanish and German rigs.
So last night we returned to the little site restaurant located with its own terrace with views that defy description. It is called "Dos Olas" and is a Ristorante, Pizzeria. The facility is run by a charming Italian/Spanish couple, Yuri and Suzanne Leandri and they bring a delightful charm and a personal touch. Assisted ably by Chef Cataldo who manages the wood fired Pizza oven they produce quality food the Italian way.
Last night we felt celebratory for a whole variety of reasons and I opted for a salami Pizza while Nancy and Loretta thought they would start with a Calzone. Now my experience of Calzones is limited to the time I lived in Arizona where a Calzone was something you had as a starter to get you in the "mood" for the real stuff to come later. This was a game changer as the picture shows Nancy and Loretta quickly decided that sharing one would pass as the main course!! Fantastic.
Needless to say Gianni is in his element, proud to be an Italian and guiding us beautifully through menus with little tips along the way. As the evening drew to a close, Yuri came and joined us rounding up the evening with a bottle of Limoncello for a nightcap on the house.
On reflection, this restaurant deserves all the luck it gets. True, it is in a beautiful location but the inaccessibility of the campsite means that his customer base is likely to be confined to the camping fraternity. A worthy venture and one that deserves a lot of support.
There are times, albeit not as often as we'd like, where there comes a 'perfect storm' sort of campsite. What does perfection consist of you ask? In order of preference, such a place would have to be; scenic (magnificent views) with photo opportunities galore, temperate climate - hopefully with little or no rain, wifi...because we just need it, and if the satellite finds its homing beacon and Sky sends us a little love from the UK; our world is complete. Add to that heady mix, the company of wonderful friends (Loretta and Gianni) and you have a place that will be difficult for us to leave. So...we found such a place in Moneglia, Italy on the Italian Rivera. Breathtaking doesn't do it justice...and there is a restaurant, which makes it even more compelling to those of us who would prefer little of no cooking on a holiday.
Dougal likes it too - he's had two meals of spagetti and will doubtless have another this evening.
It has been decided as the weather is due to take a turn by Friday, that we'll move on then. No worries as who knows what other gems may await us at our next destination, which I am reliably informed is Lake Garda. More to come!
I really don't know where to begin this. It is astonishing how things pan out and in all my days, months and years of motorhoming I have never had an experience like yesterday. By the way, this picture was typical of the sights en route to our destination. Let me set the scene a little.
Those of you who have been following our adventures will know that we moved from the French Riviera at Port Grimaud into North Western Italy two days ago. We were having a rendezvous with Loretta and Gianni Carbone, two good friends who are, like ourselves, meandering across these countries in search of the unexpected. We met at Camping Delfino just a few kilometres from the beautiful town of Alassio which will feature on our Photo Gallery Page. As always happens when we get together there was good food, good wine and good craic!
There is always one question that gets asked sooner or later, depending on how much we are enjoying the site. "Where do we go to next?"
The process of selecting that location is diverse…Research, books, Google Earth, recommendation or a combination of all of those. Problem is that different people have different tastes so what appeals to me might not be your cup of tea.
This time the decision had already been made before we ever got to Delfino! Gianni, as is his wont, had been wandering about the campsite chatting to all the other campers and sharing experiences…He really is a friendly fellow. In the process he met an older couple from Switzerland and he asked where they had been and was there anywhere they would recommend. They had been past Genoa and stayed near a small town called Moneglia still in the Liguria region. The site was called Camping Smeraldo.
Now, being wary of recommendations in general, I set about researching this site and although it has its own Web site I found very little other reference to it. My old faithful technique of loading up Google Earth, zooming in to the town of Moneglia and searching for local campsites produced results for about 10 campsites in the area but no mention of Smeraldo. That was indeed surprising.
I went onto the Web site for the camp to see if I could locate the coordinates but they were not mentioned. Just a post code. I keyed the post code into Google Earth but that only took me to the centre of Moneglia. By this stage I didn't know what to think so we agreed that Gianni should call the site to make sure there was availability and to ask them for the coordinates for the satnav.
Answer one. "Yes. Plenty of availability." Answer two, "The coordinates don't work because of the tunnel, by the way how big is your van?"
By this stage it was becoming a bit of an adventure but we had the recommendations of the Swiss couple who reaffirmed that the place was "Lovely".
And so yesterday morning we set off to travel the 90 miles along the coast to find Smeraldo.
The journey was utterly breathtaking and rewarding in its own right. Viaducts a plenty, tunnels by the dozen and views that, sadly, I don't have the words for.
The descent into Moneglia was a bit challenging but that was nothing compared to the views.
The little town was delightful as we relied on Archie's Europe on the satnav to guide us to where it believed the site was. Smeraldo had now taken on the character of Shangri La!
As we left the town we were confronted by something of a mountain! With a tunnel! Bedecked with signs telling you how little room there was either in height or width we calculated we could just about get through. Let me tell you at this point that this was an old railway tunnel that bored straight through the mountain and it lasted for several kilometres. An intricate traffic light system made sure that you didn't meet anyone coming in the opposite direction. At this point I expect you think that we drove through the tunnel and out the other side to find our campsite. Well, tough you are wrong! Half way through the tunnel there was what can only be described as a hole in the wall through which we had barely enough room to turn and lo we had arrived at Smeraldo.
Everything about the place is breathtaking. There is a small intimate restaurant which is fabulous and, in all honesty, I have never had a better motorhoming experience. Neither have the others.
If you are thinking about travelling in Italy just come here. It will take your breath away, and, it has got very good wi fi!
If you are thinking you would like to zoom in on Google Earth just put the coordinates into the search bar. They are. 44.237058, 9.476463
Life is good. Even Dougal decided the view was worth a pose! Judge for yourself.
A drive of 134 miles took us from Port Grimaud on the French Riviera into the NW coastal region of Liguria in Italy. A spectacular drive with countless tunnels and viaducts and no shortage of stunning views.
But before we start contemplating the joys of Italy some thoughts on the past few days in Port Grimaud. Last night was another visit to the camp restaurant where we enjoyed a very pleasant meal. None more so than Mr Dougal who charmed our favourite waitress, Miriam, to such a degree that he got his own special desert of vanilla ice cream.
We all like surprises but I think you can work out that he was very pleasantly moved when it arrived in front of him!
￼So a very pleasant stay near St Tropez but time to move on and our next stop is a rendezvous with our friends Loretta and Gianni Carbone. They were staying at Camping Delfino just 3 kilometres from the Liguria town of Alassio in a quite unusual site. The picture shows the layout with structures in place to enable you to control how much shade you would like to have. I have never come across this before and I am not too sure as to the effect as we are currently off season so its hard to get a perspective with so few customers. They do, however, seem to cater for large numbers of people who keep their vehicles here permanently.
The site is very typical of Italian sites, family run and so friendly and helpful. The restaurant was a big hit with us and a big benefit to us was having Gianni who just loves to keep us right on the intricacies of the Italian kitchen. A proud Italian if ever there was one!
There were, however, some downsides. Firstly, the weather took a turn for the worse and it rained all night long. Not nice. Secondly there is no internet. Or should I say there is no Internet that works!
Time to move on to our next stop. On Sunday we head off into Northern Italy to meet up with our friends, Loretta and Gianni who are currently installed near Alassio in the coastal region of Liguria.
We have had a lovely time at Port Grimaud and managed to explore the area as never before. There were some special moments too. For example, during the week I was rummaging through spreadsheets from previous trips and found my records from our first trip to this area. That was back in 2010 and we stayed then on the very same pitch we have this time. I was looking at this on last Tuesday, 16th of April and discovered that we first arrived on this pitch exactly 3 years ago to the day.
We have nice neighbours here including, to our left, a lovely Dutch couple who have a caravan. Marten says "Hello" every morning and he enjoys Dougal's expertise in sniffology. Last week while chatting to him he told me that they come every year at the same time and park on the same pitch. I told him our history and we assumed that our paths must have crossed before.
Yesterday as I was wandering up to the store to get the day's supply of croissants Marten was waving at me animatedly. He told me that he had looked through his diaries and there on the 16th April 2010 was the entry, "We got Irsih neighbours today." Isn't it a small world?
But far and away my favourite moment happened yesterday at lunch in the "happy go lucky" little restaurant that serves the campsite. As I have said before it is simple, serves good food and is reasonable. It also has a charming young waitress called Miriam (pictured) who is absolutely delightful and whose English is as good (or should that be bad?) as my French. We have fun getting our messages across and so far our collective franglais has managed to get us by.
Yesterday as we took our seats for a quick bite of lunch she ambled up and with her usual professionalism asked, "Can I get something for you to drink?"
My response will be well known to those who know me well!
"Is the Pope a Catholic?"
A bewildered look spread across her face, there was a pause and then she said;
It might just be a bit of a stretch to equate a trip to Monte Carlo with an examination of the virtues and inadequacies of the English language but here goes! So first things first. It was Wednesday, April 17, 2013 and the decision was made. We would have a day trip to Monaco and sample the excesses of Monte Carlo. The satnav said 72 miles, mostly motorway so no big problem there. One of the silly attractions for us is, because Monaco is "a Sovereign State", it gets to qualify as a new country we have visited while motorhoming. The drive there was easy and our descent into Monte Carlo, for indeed a descent it was, was made more complicated by narrowing streets, hairpin bends and the latest French craze…Road Works. Men in yellow tops directing other men in yellow tops driving big diggers while two other men holding lollipop stop/go signs make unilateral decisions on who to piss off next. Happy days.
Descent completed we arrive at the port area of the city and suddenly realise we aren't the only tourists to decide to visit today. Maybe it was something to do with the Toyota Masters Tennis tournament with Andy Murray trying to get another title under his belt or the fact that in a few weeks time the Formula One world will descend on this place for the Monaco Grand Prix but, to put it mildly, the place was full to the gills with more men in yellow tops erecting giant stands for the hundreds of thousands of followers who will be turning up for the event.
Now, my reference to the inadequacy of the English language. Expletives are useful for venting frustration on the spur of the moment and we are all guilty of that…Helps to let of steam. But what if you spend one complete hour driving round narrow streets past parking garages all displaying the "Complet" sign looking for the merest semblance of a parking space and don't have any joy? What do you do then? After a while the expletives didn't seem to work any more as I fished around for new methods of soothing the ire.
I suppose everyone has watched the Monaco Grand Prix at some stage. You know that bit where they swirl around the harbour and go through that tunnel at something approaching 180 miles per hour? Well, I must have done that circuit at least 5 times yesterday and don't honestly believe I got much above 18 miles per hour on any of the laps.
Then up round by the Casino where dozens of Paparazzi were gathered as clearly something was going on.
They seemed particularly interested in one guy in a car so Miss Nancy leaned out the window and took his snap. Problem is we haven't a clue who he is! If anyone can tell us you will win an all expenses paid Happy Meal at your nearest MacDonald’s! That is him in the red car.
As we rounded the harbour for the nth time Nancy sighed and said aloud, "So this is how the other half live!" staring at a yacht which had its own helipad. "Other half?" I yelped "more like the other .0001%" I said, mustering with as much indignation as I was able.
Then a break through. A Restaurant with a small area in front of it which looked like it had been designed just for our vehicle. So we stopped, rushed in and got a table and had a lunch while we watched more men in yellow tops adding more levels to the already enormous stands.
Anyone following this blog will know by now that we are quite into markets in France. I love the way in which, literally, dozens of market traders move in, set up stall, sell their wares, dismantle and disappear all within the space of a few hours. They clearly move on to other locations and the range of products available is remarkable.
Fresh food, clothes, gadgets and prepared dishes all form part of the items on offer and one can't help but notice the fact that apart from catering to local tastes they are also very effective tourist attractions.
Today's event was at St Tropez. Thats the place which is the "go to" location for the sort of people who have more money than sense.
Eventually, as you can see, the boys just needed to take a break!!
For example, strolling by a few restaurants it is no exaggeration to say that the prices were, in some cases, three times the cost of our local campsite restaurant. Silly really.
There can't be too many people who have not heard of or read about The Côte d'Azur, often known in English as the French Riviera. It is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France which is the home of exotic places such as Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo and, of course, St Tropez. Like so many things in France there is much more to find behind the glitz and with that thought in mind we decided to explore a little for ourselves.
There is a lot of fun just driving along country roads off the beaten track but in the world of motorhoming most campsites come with a very efficient information service and Camping de la Plage is no exception. So over the next few days we will be going to and fro to see what there is to offer. We started today and already it is a complete knock out.
Without moving any more than ten miles from the site we were told we might be interested to look at two small towns set back from the coast. They are Gassin and Ramatuelle.
Gassin is set on a hilltop overlooking the area and the pictures should give you a fair idea of the spectacular views that are available. As is, I sense, almost obligatory in rural France the towns are dominated by a church of antique proportions and in this case there was no exception. Both towns fall within the same parish, locally known as "Le Paroisses de La Croix Valmer, Gassin et Ramatuelle." As so often happens the best bits are to be found under your nose and although we have been here several times before we hadn’t actually thought to explore the features of the town of Port Grimaud itself.
It is a vast marina interwoven among little streets and very fashionable apartments. It is a veritable Venice of the Riviera as you can see from this assortment of pictures.
Every so often you strike it lucky and end up in a location where everything is just perfect. Sometimes its by accident on others its by dint of copious research. A few years ago when we started Motorhoming we met a couple in the Burgundy region who have remained good friends ever since. As is our style we always ask people we meet about their experiences as it forms the basis of our research and you learn a lot of good stuff. Well, when we met Pam and Geoff we were en route to the Riviera and we sought their advice on any good spots to settle for a few days. They mentioned one site in Port Grimaud where they had stayed and it sounded really good especially as they had pitches which had individual bathrooms. That was something we hadn’t experienced before and were excited to try it out.
Eventually we made our way to Port Grimaud and sought out the site in question. It was owned by an English man and the first thing I noticed was that it was on the opposite side of the road from the beach. We had booked and we pulled into a very narrow reception point and parked as comfortably as the restricted area allowed. I went into the reception to check in and mid way through the task the door burst open and an English man came storming in demanding to know “what **** had parked his ****ing **** outside.” It appears that I was the ****! At this point I assumed this was just a rude guy but as I was completing my registration I noticed that the young lady signing me in was clearly embarrassed Why? Simply because this was indeed the owner. I also discovered that prior to coming into the reception he had verbally abused Nancy who was sitting in the van. It only took a matter of seconds for me to decide that this idiot was unworthy of any custom, not least ours. So I cancelled and withdrew from the site.
Back out on the busy seafront we drove along trying to calm down when, relatively quickly, we came upon Camping de la Plage. We pulled in and “Yes” they had availability. We were invited to walk about, select a pitch and then sign in. We then had the most beautiful stay in a blissful setting right on the beach gazing across at St Tropez. Today we are on exactly the same pitch and life is good. The pictures were taken this morning.
The first picture is taken from the water’s edge and shows a segment of the site. The Vinny Van is the one with the satellite dish on display. Within approximately 50 paces of our pitch is a pretty beach restaurant where the food is not only very good but also very reasonable. Picture two is of us having breakfast this morning, consisting of Omelette bread, croissants and cafe au lait! All for €8.
Picture 3 is of the little supermarket on the site which has just about everything you would need. In fact it is the best on site shop we have come across anywhere.
Finally picture 4 is taken from the restaurant looking back at our pitch. The building you see is the toilet block which is always in pristine condition and the showers are powerful, hot and are not the infernal push button type.
A great site and, certainly, on of our favourites.
I have just been talking to Ji Hye Lee on Skype to hear how she is enjoying her studies in Bordeaux. She asked me if I had mentioned her in today’s blog…I said, not yet!!
We spent a total of 9 days in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande and enjoyed every one of them. The only drawback was the weather, something to do with the Gulf Stream and Morocco I am assured.
The trip south was long, 192 miles the Satnav said and the first 40 or so were across the Dordogne countryside until we connected up with the main Bordeaux-Toulouse Motorway, heading south.
I think we were all tired…It gets that way when we have to travel, up early, disturbed sleep, anyway we got on the road at about 10:30, loaded up with Petrol and headed off.
Despite the narrower country roads through Duras (pictured) and Marmande not to mention countless other villages we finally got to the motorway which made the long drive south so much easier.
We had read quite a bit about the site Camping de la Cite and were looking forward to it but sadly two things left me cold. At this point I am back onto my old rant about Wi Fi.
Because it is incredibly important to us I always ask in advance if Wi Fi is available. Thats a simple question that provokes many obtuse responses. "In the reception area", "Close to the restaurant" and "yes throughout the site". Invariably the accuracy of these answers leaves a lot to be desired. Never has it been worse than here. When will sites ever learn that inaccuracy that borders on sheer dishonesty does not pay? Here is what happened. Two days before travelling I rang to check that they were open and had availability I checked to see if they had wi fi, not just in reception but on the pitches. "Bien sur" was the affirmation so I was happy with that. I did explain that it was essential to us as we were writers on the move with families scattered all over the place. So we were happy to depart.
What in effect I found was the worst set up I have yet to come across. The system is geared to removing your money and in return providing a very poor quality service which just shuts down without warning when your time is up. It doesn't stop there it appears you must use the tickets you buy within 12 hours or they become invalid. It was dreadful. We will NOT be returning. It was not strong enough to upload a blog.
Its a shame, really, as otherwise the site was quite attractive.
Lets hear from herself.
After leaving our favourite Dordogne campsite, we promised ourselves we'd finally visit Carcassonne as we'd passed it so many times previously on the motorway. So Frank found this seemingly perfect, four-star camp, and initially all seemed destined to be a nice location. But, first the Internet became not only difficult to receive, but astonishingly expensive as well. Add to that, the television, and in particular, Sky, decided to not receive a signal, which in the normal course of events wouldn't have been that important, but the Masters was about to begin. Those of you who know Frank well will understand what a calamity this presented. So...we determined to only stay one night at the campsite near Carcassonne, opting instead to find a largish car park for the motorhome near the entrance the following day so we could see the famous walled city on our way out.
The next day dawned with heavy skies and light rain; first setback. But we soldiered on, packed up, and made our way to the car park Frank found by virtue of Google maps. First problem we discovered is medieval cities were not designed to accommodate 21 century motorhomes. The obstacles included; low bridges, narrow streets, and blissfully unaware French pedestrians of the potential death risk they faced by casually strolling in front of a 3.5 ton motorhome with an annoyed Irishman at the wheel. Needless to say the car park was either gone, or relocated since Googles oh-so-enticing photo prompted us to seek it. We did get a fleeting glimpse of Carcassonne as we crossed a bridge, Frank risked life and limb by stopping momentarily, emergency flashers on, to snap a couple of shots (French motorists horns blaring angrily.) So, we left without having actually set foot on the inside of the city...again. Oh well...maybe another time!
As we left, Frank talked about the next stop, which was a bit over an hours drive away from one of our favourite destinations; Port Grimaud. I thought about it for a few minutes, watching Frank from the corner of my eye, and decided to ask, "What do you think about pressing on, and not stopping over for the night, and just on on to Grimaud?" He was delighted, and although it was a longish drive; two-hundred-sixty miles, and over five hours - we ended up in Heaven, and were even able to revisit the same pitch we had on our first visit to the campsite. Today we're ensconced on a perfect pitch that overlooks the Med, and we have clear skies, warm weather and a forecast of a weeks worth of sunshine. The only drawback is a high percentage of oldsters here seem to prefer to wear "budgie-smugglers" a.k.a. Speedos...not a pretty sight. All that said, Frank has declared the start of his Summer by breaking out his shorts and glowingly white legs - he looks wonderful! Frank's telly is working now, and the Internet is perfect. Seriously...this is why people have motorhomes!
Finally our view from the pitch in Port Grimaud. That is St Tropez in the background.
So when we awake tomorrow it will be the start of our next days travel.
We are heading south to Carcassonne which is "a fairytale collection of drawbridges, towers and atmospheric cobbled streets was reputedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty, and it’s a “must-see” on any trip through this part of southern France." Thats what the city's website says! It is just off the main motorway from Bordeaux to Toulouse and, in truth, we have seen it from afar on a number of occasions and each time we said, "We must go there sometime." So this is it.
The journey is just over 190 miles although the vast majority of that is on a motorway so, hopefully, it will be a comfortable trip.
Last night we took the advice of Brenda at the campsite and tried out a new (to us) restaurant called, L'Escapade situated just outside Port-Sainte-Foy and I have to say it was top notch. We would go back there in a heart beat and as the picture shows, that goes for all of us.
So for reflections on our time in the Dordogne region lets hear what:
As we prepare for our departure from what is, arguably, our favourite campsite in France, I reflect on the nine days of time on the bank of the Dordogne. Firstly, many thanks to Bob, Brenda and Peter; who own and operate Camping La Bastide. It is due to their tireless efforts in assuring the facilities and grounds are maintained in top-notch condition that this destination remains as a 'must see' for us every year.
We were fortunate that a few days of the Spring-showers season allowed us a bit of sunshine, and we made the most of it, visiting the local market on Saturday, and even the medieval market in Issigeac on Sunday. As well as those treats, we were near enough to Bordeaux that Ji Hye was able to travel to Sainte Foy Le Grande to enjoy another weekend with us, and as a treat, we rented a chalet from Camping La Bastide for Ji Hye, so she even had her own little home for two nights!
We discovered that one of our favourite restaurants in Sainte Foy had closed, but the good news was the lady (Catherine) who owned it had opened another a few miles away. We went for a lovely dinner with Bob and Brenda and discovered that not only was the food just as good as we recalled from previous years, but the setting was magnificent, if you're ever in the Dordogne it is highly recommended; XIII Closhers, in Monteon; We enjoyed it so much in fact, we took Ji Hye there a few nights later and subsequently discovered a very talented Anglican choir (see Frank's blog entry 6th April.)
So tomorrow, bright and early (argh!) we'll head off towards Carcassonne, which is a destination I've long requested as we've sped by the medieval walled city in years past. Exciting times!
Ah, the joys of motorhoming! Seems, without knowing it, I've made a bit of a discovery when it comes to gas bottles.
What a way to start a blog, I suppose I better explain. First and foremost for the idiots, of which I am a leading member, motorhomes are powered by battery, electricity and gas. Quite simple really we have two (at least) batteries, one which powers the engine, just like a car, and a leisure battery, which powers everything else. Unless, of course, you happen to be on a campsite where you plug into the electricity source whereupon everything is electric.
The gas powers the cooker, and when needed, the fridge. It also is used to heat up the van which it does very quickly and efficiently. So when you drive around the place chances are you will be using all of these features. So far so simple.
Problem with gas is that it comes in bottles and they run out from time to time.
Now I don't know what your views on the EEC happen to be, but there is a gaping hole when it comes to compatibility with connectors for gas bottles.
My supply? Well I have always had the typical Calor type and within the van I always carry two, a big 'un and a little 'un. Running out of gas has never been a problem for me because I've always managed to do it in the UK, and so switching to a new bottle was easy. But, once on the Continent if you happen to run out of gas, you're sort of on your own. As a believer in the 'better safe than sorry concept', I decided to research just in case. The more I researched the more complicated it became to my innocent mind. I did, however, come across a product that seemed to offer a solution. It was a simple adaptor one end of which screws into your gas unit, and the other end offers connectivity to other bottles. I bought it. It cost all of £4.00 and when it arrived I discovered that I got two for the price. I put it into the van not knowing if I would ever need it. Everything became more newsworthy a few days ago when I realised that my smaller canister was about to run out. As I mentioned in a previous blog I met up with two new friends, Alan and Lynda, who drive a Rapido quite similar to mine. I went looking for Alan and he was in the throes of changing bottles as well. Our chat turned to our respective ideas. At this stage let me say Alan has forgotten more about motorhomes than I will ever know so when he showed me his set up I gulped as he was using terminology I'd never heard of. Trying my best to look like I knew what I was talking about I ventured to suggest, "do you not have an adaptor?" He didn't exactly call me an idiot but his response was, shall we say, kindly. The gist was that there was no such thing! I nipped back to my van and rummaged in the "where to leave gas adaptors" department and produced my little gem. Back to Alan with an air of triumph and produced the brass fitting. Silence, followed by a head scratch then a protestation that he didn't feel it would help. Strolling close by at the time was Bob, the site owner, and we sought his advice. "Where did you get that?" he asked, and so I came to learn that neither of these two knowledgable gents had ever heard of my toy! In the picture I am pointing at the brass adaptor and the cylinder on the right is the French bottle.
So all this is academic because the question is does it work? The answer is a resounding "Yes" and I am now writing this to you being heated by my french gas courtesy of the adaptor.
For those who might just be interested in the adaptor I bought mine from Bullfinch who you will find at http://bullfinch-gas.co.uk The part number is 1301 and now costs £4:18. In France you will find a compatible gas bottle in most supermarkets, garages and anywhere else that sells gas. Bring the device with you and make sure it fits before you buy.
As an epilogue to this I should say that I will blog about anything. You know that by now. It was Alan who said to me that I should write about this as that would be really useful to so many motor-homers. Only to happy to help.
Issigeac is a medieval village just south of Bergerac and I was recommended to go and investigate it! It is about 40 minutes drive from our base in Ste Foy la Grande and today seemed like a good one for the trip especially when I heard that Sunday is its market day.
It is truly impressive as the town has carefully maintained its buildings, many dating from between the 13th and 18th centuries. In fact, its origins go back to the sixth century. In the seventh century a Benedictine Abbey was established and subsequently it received Papal protection, whatever that entailed! Seems it meant it was pretty important!
As markets go it is very typical with the mix of foods, clothes and all sorts of goodies. Anyway, these few pictures will, hopefully, will give you a flavour of how it was.
It's not often that I am taken aback, but I have to say that today had its share of surprises. Market day in Sainte Foy la Grande is special, and by repute it is one of the best markets in the South West of France. So we ambled off this morning and had a look at what was on offer. Despite being a bit chilly outside, we survived and enjoyed the wide range of products on offer. We chatted about last nights experience in Monteton, and enjoyed the number of comments we'd already received from some of our followers. Little did we realise things were about to get a whole lot better.
The surprise came in the form of an e-mail from one of the choir members expressing appreciation for our comments. The e-mail read…
"It was great you discovered us last night! We really enjoy your blog.
I'm one of the choir members and I'm singing at the Monsegur Jazz Festival this summer. Hope you can come." It was signed by Alice McCarthy (pictured) who is, indeed, one of the choir. Her e-mail contained a link to a webpage where I learned a whole lot more. It was there that I heard recordings of what I found to be a beautiful voice which, quite honestly, blew me away. I also learned that Alice is just 14 years old. I wanted her and her parent's permission to share the music on this blog, so I wrote back and asked for a parent to call me. Half an hour later I was chatting to Louise McCarthy, Alice's mother.
The story, at this point, simply got better. Yes, Alice is a member of the choir. And so is Louise! It doesn't stop there: So too is Daniel McCarthy, aged 12, and Luke McCarthy aged 9! So precisely one quarter of the choir on view last night were McCarthys'! The longer we chatted the more admiration I developed for this fabulous group of ex pats and their talents.
By the way as an aside I got one little fact wrong in the story earlier. If you recall I said "… the age range was from 9 to 92!!" Wrong. It is from 9 to 93! One of the organisational brains of the choir is Ms. Paddy Atkinson, aged 93.
One of the great joys of being on the road whilst embracing the site slogan of "here, there, everywhere and some other places too…:is that you leave yourself open to just about anything. So on the face of it Friday 5th of April was just another day it turned out to be very memorable in the strangest way. Bear with me while I explain.
As you will recall if you have been following along, we went to the tiny village of Monteton a couple of nights ago to meet up with Catherine the erstwhile restraunteur in Sainte Foy la grande who had moved to a new location in Monteton. Well, as Ji Hye had a free weekend we persuaded her to come over to us for another few days. First item on the agenda was a trip back to Monteton as its beauty and simplicity was sure to catch her architectural eye. It did. We spent some time admiring the church, the little square, the viewing gallery, pictured in the earlier blog and the narrow streets. It truly is stunning. One thing different from the previous night was the fact that the car parking facilities in the square were pretty well filled up yet very few people were to be seen.
Suddenly the sound of choral music wafted through the air, clearly coming from the church…It sounded really good. My head reckoned evening mass, yet this was a Friday and it was about 7:30pm.
Nothing daunted I strolled across and into the church for a peep and what happened instantly became a highlight of the trip to date.
Truthfully I had expected some sort of service with a prerecorded choral background but NO! I had stumbled upon something quite amazing.
Standing at the back of the small church I had gate crashed the choir practice of Anglican Choir of Monteton Church. Nothing odd about that you may think but I counted 16 choir members and the conductor. So out came the I-Pad and I started to record the sounds and in no time at all I was chatting to the Choir Master/Conductor.
The story is wonderful. Marjorie Holdsworth-Etschmann is the 4th conductor in the choir's 30 year history and there are typically between 16 and 22 members. Now, the thing that struck me when I first saw the choir in action was the fact that there were older people and younger people mixing within it. To my astonishment Marjorie informed me that the age range was from 9 to 92!!
They live for their performances doing different services each month in different churches as well as sundry concerts.
They are all British with strong french connections and all live in the region, some travelling up to 45 minutes just to attend practice. One could not help to be moved by their collective enthusiasm and their undoubted ecumenism.
They kindly posed for a group picture and Marjorie joined us for a chat (see picture) at Catherine's restaurant and the evening soared in our "Memorable nights" list.
After all that why not listen for yourselves with apologies for the quality…Its the best my I-Pad could do.
monteton choir (Click on the name) When we got home and turned on the TV to catch up with the nights news there was Ant and Dec reminding us that Britain's Got Talent is coming soon…Sorry lads, its here already.
I have been coming to this part of France for over 50 years. I recall as a child my parents taking us here and it left a sustained impression. Subsequently I kept coming back and so it was inevitable when I started motorhoming some 5 years ago that I would return to the Dordogne. I find it to be a veritable treasure chest of new views, villages and experiences which, simply, live in the memory bank.
In this immediate area you have places like Duras which is such a pretty place and, of course, Ste Foy la Grande itself, an imposing town built on the banks of the Dordogne.
A few years ago we discovered a little restaurant in a side street in the town which was run by a jovial lady called Catherine. We loved the place with its open fire where the steaks were done to perfection. We went back again and again and looked forward to a few visits this time around. Add to this the fact that the restaurant was very dog friendly and Catherine used to welcome Dougal like a long lost son.
So imagine our disappointment when Bob told us that the restaurant was closed and Catherine had moved to another location about a half hours drive away.
The village of Monteton is a few miles from Duras and both Bob and Brenda spoke very enthusiastically about it so at about 7:00pm last night the four of us, and Dougal, of course, piled into Bob's car and off we sped past countless vineyards through Duras and got our first glimpse of Monteton atop a hill dominating the landscape. Such an incredibly beautiful location.
As we meandered through the narrow streets we pulled into a little town square with the local church and a viewing canopy to admire the incredible landscape.
The greeting was warm and Dougal remembered Catherine's hugs so treated himself to another one!
The company was fabulous, as always, and so was the food. No hesitation in saying you should go there, it is really worth the effort. By the way if you tell Catherine you are a friend of Dougal's the sky is the limit.
So far we have stayed 3 nights at Sainte-Foy La Grande at the Camping de la Bastide site and are enjoying the relaxation and the superb facilities.
We have had our moments and one story highlights the special qualities we have come across. For a few days we noticed a damp patch on the carpet just below the sink in the kitchen area. We theorised that maybe we had spilled a glass of water but then I felt that something had juggled the tap inadvertently causing a drip. We were happy with our theories until I had occasion to go to one of the outside lockers to get something. It was saturated revealing a much bigger problem than I first thought.
I put my hands up at this stage and confess that my technical skills with the motorhome are on a par with Mickey Mouse but, nonetheless, I did discover the problem. A drainage pipe from the sink to the waste tank had become separated at a middle joint. Simple. Or was it? Plastic piping with joints that just slid into each other seemed not too much of a challenge. As I was fumbling away Bob, the owner, passed by and immediately volunteered to help. He sussed out the problem in no time but realised the solution was just not so simple. Then along came Peter, Bob's son who has forgotten more about things mechanical than I will ever know. Out came the drawers, off came the door and pipes got reunited, sealed and put back to bed secured in a way they had never been before. A lot of good banter as everything got put back together again. Job done and I am now the proud possessor of a happily reunited drainage pipe. Just across the way another Rapido pulled in and suddenly we have new neighbours. Alan and Lynda are enjoying their granddaughter's company and celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary As always with motor homers we exchanged all sorts of tid bits and they mentioned one of their favourite websites which is http://www.motorhomefun.co.uk/. I checked it out and it truly is a mine of information and a very friendly mix of people. I am now signed up and within a matter of 3 hours over 150 members had been to visit my profile. This is a real find and has a great facility to pose problems you might encounter and provide first hand answers within minutes.
There is no doubt the motorhoming community are a great bunch so a big thanks to Peter and Bob and to Alan and Lynda.
We've been busy! We picked Ji Hye up in Paris on March 22rd, and proceeded seventy miles to a quirky, quintessentially French campsite; no toilet seats, but it was on the banks of the Seine, so no one really cared. That evening we'd decided we would eat out, as there is no experience like just wandering though a village and finding a cuisine treasure. We found such a place, and initially, it looked like we'd be turned away as they were booked for a private party, but the nice woman who met us at the door seemed to change her mind, and let us in.
Fascinating, surreal experience; tapas only, so no menu, and we were asked if we'd like to salsa between courses. Huh? We declined on dancing, but took away yet another quirky, French dining story. Frank took a lovely photo of Dougal as he laid on his special dining blanket at our feet - he loves French restaurants nearly as much as we do
Our next stop with Ji Hye was a place we'd visited last year near Mont Saint-Michel, which is, arguably, the most luxurious of the campsites we visit in France, as it provides a private five-star toilet/shower facility for each pitch. Sadly the camp was just as muddy as it was last year - Spring showers bringing May flowers sort of thing - but we enjoyed our five days with Ji at the camp, and although Mont Saint-Michel was off limits to Frank and I due to their new, and I think discriminatory, rule about dogs, Ji visited it and took lovely photos.
The next camp was in the Vendee, which in itself was nothing memorable, but the village was lovely, and two relatively disturbing things happened; the heater in our motorhome inexplicably stopped working, and we woke up to snow on the ground! So...we bundled up and hurried onward, ever closer to Bordeaux, and another favourite spot of ours; Ile de Re.
Again the weather didn't give us a break, and sadly the views of this normally stunning place, were somewhat misty, and didn't represent the beauty of the island as fully as we remembered.
We did have an experience, and it started off as another lovely dining story, but this one ended badly; I fed Dougal 'moules' which is mussels - they were lovely, and a speciality of the island. Dougal ate about half of my portion - he really loved them, and all three of us commented on what a varied palate Dougal has developed. So...about 3:00am Dougal, who sleeps with us, woke me with a furious case of itching - he could not stop scratching. By morning it was seriously bad; his skin was bright pink, and was so itchy he couldn't walk two feet. Frank and Ji walked into the village looking for Benadryl, as I held Dougal trying to keep him from hurting himself by his constant scratching. Turns out Benadryl is not something you can find in France, and as the next day was Easter, we needed to find an emergency vet. Frank found one, who thankfully gave Dougal a steroid shot that cured him almost immediately. So...moral of the story is I don't feed Dougal anymore shell fish, or anything that he hasn't eaten before. Scary few hours, and I gotta say, Ji Hye was wonderful, as always, in helping with Dougal during his crisis.
The next day was Easter, and a sad time for Frank and I, as Ji Hye needed to be at her new Bordeaux French home by 2:00pm.
I'd like to say something about Ji Hye; our motorhome is not large, really only sleeps two people comfortably, a third bed can be made by folding down the dining table, and combining cushions, but it isn't exactly luxurious. Ji was, as always, sweet, helpful, kind and never complaining for a moment about anything. Truly, as we've always known, she is an exceptional person in all ways, and as pleasant company as you'd ever hope or want to have.
We're now happily ensconced at one of our favourite sites in Sainte-Foy la Grande, which is owned and operated by a wonderful British family; Bob, Brenda, Peter and his young son, Daniel. The camp is on the bank of the Dordogne (see the picture taken right outside our door) and is idyllic in all possible ways; we're staying at least a week - Frank needs the rest and this is as good as it gets for calm, peaceful moments. But, the really good news is we're within a comfortable distance from where Ji Hye is staying in Bordeaux, so we're hoping she'll come to see us at the weekend for two more days! Hopefully the weather will give her a better experience of our motorhome touring / camping lifestyle that we've come to love so much; more later!
Settled at Camping*** de la Bastide at Sainte-Foy-la Grande on the bank of the River Dordogne. The pictures over the next week will speak for themselves but this is, indeed, one of our very favourite sites. It is small, neat and is owned by a delightful UK couple Bob and Brenda together with their son Peter and his son, Daniel who we have watched grow into a a fun young man over the past few years.
I love the area and we will stay here for about a week.
Time now to talk about the travel over the past few days. When we left the Ile de Re our route took us due south and was planned by the satnav so apart rom the odd 20 mile needed to get off the Island it was pretty much all motorway all the way to Bordeaux. Many people travelling like us seek to avoid the motorways and I entirely accept the fact that it is altogether more interesting to take the lesser roads getting the full value of the French experience. That is my own preference unless of course I have a deadline as was the case heading to Bordeaux. That, however, is not to say that the motorways are boring and unattractive, far from it. The drive was interesting as we spent a considerable time in vineyard country and passed through many different regions that tell their own story, Cognac to mention only one. Then the approach to Bordeaux is interesting as you pass over the Dordogne and the Gironde as they finally make their journey to the sea. All in all an interesting drive. Then onto yesterdays trip from Bordeaux to Sainte -Foy La Grande.
Once again we crossed the rivers and were able to make a speedy retreat from Bordeaux and were on the motorways in no time. The trip was a beautiful variation of villages and vineyards by the hundreds and in just over an hour we were entering Sainte-Foy La Grande and our first stop was the major supermarket on the edge of the town where we stocked up and got ready for a nice long resting process.
Setting up at the site was very straightforward…Everything is on hand, water, electricity and drainage all within about 20 feet of the river Dordogne. For the first time this trip we took out the awning, table and chairs and of course the blue lounger that a certain person has long since claimed as “His Chair”. Well, who am I to argue?
Easter Sunday finds us in Bordeaux following a pretty drive from the Ile de Re. This was the final leg of our journey with Ji Hye who starts her French course tomorrow. She will be resident here for the next six months. We checked into a new (2009) campsite on the outskirts of Bordeaux and an impressive one it is too. It is called Camping de Bordeaux Lac and is situated close to the exhibition centre and seems to be extremely busy.
Needless to say we had our moments of drama with the mud but the less said about that the better…We are now happily installed on a hard standing pitch, the satellite is working and there is a very attractive on site restaurant.
Tomorrow it is just a short hop to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande where we will chill out for a while.
During this trip I have had cause to think about things we now take for granted. I am covering much ground here that I had been to before. Mont-Saint-Michel and the Dordogne have been favourite locations of mine since my childhood. I have been back time and time again but in recent years it has been with the extraordinary help of that pushy woman who sits on my screen and who for the sake of clarity we will call "Satnav". I know, I know we used maps back then and some among us still do but just how did we manage? Today was a very good example of what I mean.
We left Ile de Re this morning with a drive of 136 miles to contend with. Ji Hye had to get to her new home-base for 2:00pm. I knew the address so last night I fired up Google Earth, keyed in the address, zoomed in and got a street view of where I was going. At the time I was chatting on Skype to my friend David in Phoenix, who is following our exploits and who knows Ji Hye from our Arizona days; I happened to mention to him what I was doing. He then did the same and we had an interesting exchange as to whether or not we could get a motorhome parked in that street. While looking at the street view I got the latitude and longitude co-ordinates, keyed them into the satnav and duly turned up at spot on 2:00pm outside the apartment block where Ji Hye is now installed. Turns out David was correct and I had to park in the next street.
Always something to need attention and the local ducks at Bordeaux are no exception..
Not forgetting that we were also moving between her address and a new campsite, I am left wondering how on earth did we do things like that before?