I remember once staying at a caravan site somewhere in France. It was only a short stay, just a matter of days. I think we had travelled from the Loire up towards Calais and had a few days to spare before going onboard the shuttle for our trip under the channel and back to the UK. As I lay reading on my deck chair, an impressive motorhome pulled up opposite us in the camping area. This huge motorhome backed into place. The driver ambled out and set up his deck chairs, table and awning. Then he rolled out a huge TV dish, linked up to some distant satellite and finally sat down to relax.
The Germans had arrived.
I remember thinking that perhaps I wouldn’t mind a set up like that myself. Fast forward a few years and Liz and I have our own motorhome. Not quite like the German version, in fact it’s a pretty small motor home. It’s based on a Ford Transit, has a small bathroom and toilet, a kitchen area with a fridge and three ring cooker and a permanent double bed. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in someone’s wardrobe as there isn’t much space but it’s been fun pottering about France, Belgium and even Spain on a couple of occasions.
I do find myself worrying though, have we enough drinking water? Where can we empty our toilet? Luckily in France, there are numerous municipally owned aires de camping car where we can stop, sort those things out and camp for the night. In England, motorhomes are seen as pariahs. Nobody wants them on their doorstep. In lovely St Annes where we live, there is motorhome parking by the sea front but every time I click onto the St Annes Facebook page there are complaints about motorhomes. They have taken over the car park some say. A local restaurant owner says his customers can’t park because of the motorhomes. I sometimes visit that particular restaurant but I never drive there, I like my wine too much! Anyway, don’t motorhomes bring revenue to the town? Don’t motorhomers use shops and bars and restaurants, just like normal people?
One highlight of the French countryside is the local fair which usually includes a vide grenier; a car boot Sale or literally ‘empty loft’ to you. At these events there is always a bar serving draught beer (pression) or wine. At the food counter there is usually a barbecue which involves sausages cooked on the hot coals or rillettes, a sort of pâté served sometimes with warm bread.
Personally I love the frites; chips to you and me or fries to our American friends. There are generally three women on the serving desk, sometimes more. One will ask you what you want, in our case something like deux barquettes de frites, two trays of chips. The first lady will repeat this to the second lady who will pass this on the lady running the caisse, the cash till. She will ask for perhaps three euros which will be echoed by the other women. The cash will be handed over and finally the change will be passed via the three women. All this time no attempt will be made by either of the women to actually serve the frites, that job will be handled by three other women who will barack the group of chatting men, the chefs, because they have cooked too many sausages and not enough frites!
Another problem we have run into in Europe is filling our gas cylinder. We use LPG and have a refillable tank of gas. In France though LPG is called GPL and on our first trip in the motorhome we must have passed numerous petrol stations looking for one that sold LPG when we must have passed plenty of garages advertising GPL!
Our first European LPG top up took place in Spain and it was here I realised that the connections for gas in Europe are different to those in the UK. Despite not speaking much Spanish except for buenos dias and vino tinto, we managed to get the filling station staff to assist us. They had a connection convertor and we were able to fill up. Now Liz has picked up a handy conversion pack so now we are able to happily top up our gas wherever we are.
In a previous post I complained about the slowness of the service at a French McDonalds. The great thing about the motorhome is that we can stop, switch on the gas, fry up a couple of sausages and make tea in the time that the French McDonalds’ staff are still thinking about what to do. I’m not knocking French McDonalds, the concept of fast food is lost on them. Then again, if you’re in France why would you want to go to McDonald’s anyway? I think we went there last year because we wanted to make use of the free Wi-Fi.
In France my expert navigator, Liz, will usually sniff out a welcoming plan d’eau, a lake where you can swim and relax. Lac De Hommes is one we have visited frequently over the last two years. The first year was great, we found ourselves a nice corner parking spot and camped over for a few nights. We spent our time reading quietly by the lakeside, popping in for a swim whenever it became too warm. Later we either barbecued or ate salads parked in our small corner. The following year we arrived to find that barriers had been erected over our parking area with a height limit that prevented us from parking. Clearly, someone not a fan of motorhomes had taken over management of the site.
Still, there are other lakes we have found and some just waiting to be found and happily, just around the corner from that particular lake is the small village of Gizeux, where there is a small aire de camping car a short walk from a nice village bar. When we went in 2019 the bar had sadly closed but my spies in the area have recently advised me that it is now open for business once again.
Another lake we found recently was at Brûlon in the department of Sarthe. A lovely lake with a man made beach. There is a campsite there but we chose to ‘wildcamp’ in a nice spot ideal for relaxing and a short walk to the beach. Also nearby was a cafe which served restaurant style food with a rather lovely house red.
The day will come, soon I hope, when we can return to France.