France Part 5 – A Rare Treat

Those reading Part 4 probably deduced – correctly – that we’ve not done a great deal of sightseeing. That’s not to say that there’s not a lot to do around here although the beaches are a big draw. We enjoyed getting out and about but it’s also been nice just to laze about the ‘van sunbathing – weather permitting – and reading.

However Monday saw us head south to La Rochelle on the coast. We were particularly looking forward to this as we’d been here about nine years ago – on a cruise. The dear old QE2 no less. There were seven us in our party – us two, our friends Joe and Roy, Trev’s Mum HRH and his Sister Rosemary and Brother-in-Law Ray. We had a really great time and have some really happy memories of that trip, tinged with more than a little sadness when you think that three are no longer with us. Rest in peace Roy, Ray and Rosemary.

Anyway, as you will see from the photo’s the weather wasn’t kind to us. It was grey, wet and to be honest the place did look a little neglected. Cut backs or just the weather making it look a little dreary? Who knows, but it wasn’t quite as we remembered it.

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I send a couple of blogs out by post and this was one of our first tasks on arrival. I reasoned that language might be less of a problem in a popular holiday resort, even at a post office counter but needn’t have worried as self service machines do it all for you. Result! Job done we had a mooch around town before heading to the harbour.

One the things we wanted to do was climb the three towers. A great view of the town was promised even in the gloom and drizzle. A discount was offered on entry to all three. However, it transpired that one was closed for renovation and the other was closed for er, lunch. Great. A tourist attraction in peak holiday season closes for lunch. Oh well. The tower we DID get to climb was well worth it, giving some great views from the top.

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It’s about a fifteen minute walk from the tower back around to the side of the harbour where the shops, cafes and restaurants were – presumably they WOULD be open for lunch but you never know – or you could catch a little electric ferry that glides across the harbour. Our Rough Guide said that the ferry was included in the Towers admission fee, however the Skipper of the boat said it wasn’t. I dug deep and produced a couple of Euros. The ferry was amazingly quiet – no smelly throbbing diesel engines, which was a little unusual – I like a nice throbbing er, engine – just the quiet whirr of electric motors. Solar panels adorn the roof and the boat hooks up to a charger when loading and unloading. Novel and impressive.

With bellies filled we contemplated heading across to the Ile de Re. The Rough Guide and other bumpf we’d accrued suggested it was worthy of a visit but the weather was not improving so we decided to give it a miss and head back to base.

The weather was much kinder to us when we visited the Vallee de L’yon a twenty five minute drive north east of the site. This was another recommendation by the young lady on reception and again it was well worth it. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking but you can walk for a little or as long as you like as there are plenty of places to cross the river. You can even take a horse as you can see! A great place to for a picnic, read a book or just sit and enjoy.

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We walked for an hour or so, and needed refuelling by the time we returned. There was a pretty restaurant by the car park and we procured – eventually – a coffee and coke. Service wasn’t swift – it wasn’t at all busy by napkins needed folding and tables needed laying out, which clearly came first. In such a delightful setting though it didn’t matter.DSC_0029

To date, it was the most I’ve ever paid for a coffee in France but a glance at the menu on the way out suggested this was the exception – everything else seemed very fairly priced. Live music also featured in the summer months.

Parking was again free – something unimaginable for such a tourist attraction at home.

Once a week the site put on a bit of party for the guests. Huge BBQ’s are fired and you bring your own stuff to cook. Benches are laid out and this week there was live music too. We’d already eaten, but went along for a look and to sample the free grog. To be honest it was hard to tell what it was – possibly a sangria like concoction and unusually for me I only had one glass. As I mentioned before, many of the pitches are occupied by the chalets which you can buy, so there were plenty of people here, all of which seemed to know one another. Except us.The Dutch always seem up for a chat though and we got talking to a fellow camper, who was a teacher back in Holland, so we had quite a bit to talk about. Funnily enough the band, well duo, stopped playing soon after we arrived and had a three hour meal break – they didn’t strike up again until long after we’d adjourned to Patsy, but played for a good couple of hours after that – a mixture of both modern and old favourites, with varying degrees of success.

Most evenings we’ve been more than happy to strike up the BBQ but on our list night before heading on, we decided to return to La Tranche sur Mer for a meal. It’s a great place combining the usual sea-side resort amenities with a small traditional village feel. The central car park is reached through narrow one way streets which the locals must hate.

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The food was good. A restaurant in the main square were I spoke what French I could muster and the waitress replied in English – it worked really well. We both had steak but it was clear that the chef had a different interpretation of what medium (me) and well done (Trev) is. Ok, purists might argue than anything more than rare for a steak is sacrilege but we like what we like. Honestly, I’d never seen so much blood on a plate and had to wait for it to stop twitching but to be fair it was delicious.

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And that really was our time in the Vendee region at an end. Another great site and, as we found last year in Ireland things outside the UK are much more relaxed on campsites. There are no long lists of rules to abide by, or break. You don’t have to arrived after a certain time. You don’t have to ‘report to reception’ You don’t have to line your van up exactly with some marker peg. The pitch is your to do with as you wish as long as you show consideration for your neighbour – which everyone does. Campers are expected to use their common sense and  most do just that.

Again, the resorts aside, it’s seemed strange how quite everywhere is. Passing through numerous villages when you don’t see a single soul is almost eerie. But then you you have to remember the size of France and it’s population compared to Britain. It makes driving much more of a pleasure though – and after being quite apprehensive prior to our departure I’m quite happy now to get behind the wheel.

We’re coping with the language much better too. I am happy to have a go at speaking it but know what to say if I don’t understand and we get by.

By the time you read this we will be a bit further south and east – in the Dordogne region. Those on Farcebook will have already seen a few photos – head over to www.facebook.com/getyourlegsdown to have a look.

The WiFi is much better here on our new site so there is a couple of videos for your perusal:

Right, must go, it’s 10 minutes since I’ve eaten some bread, They quite like it over here you know…..

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