Walking & cycling in Brittany

In 2020 we spent three weeks touring around beautiful Brittany. We walked for many kilometres, particularly on the GR34 coastal path and enjoyed some pleasurable cycling on quiet lanes. We found stunning cliffs, sweeps of white sand and plenty of quiet corners to just sit and enjoy the scenery. Brittany proved to be a fantastic region of France for a varied activity-based holiday.

The list of campsites we stayed at is on a separate blog post. In this longer than usual post I have shared information about the wonderful walks and cycle rides we enjoyed to inspire your own trip to Brittany. Apologies if I have missed a typo in all these words!

Walks & Cycle Rides

  1. A stroll around bays and rocky headlands of Île-Grande, near Trebeurden
  2. Walking among pink granite boulders from Tourony on the GR34
  3. Finding solitude on foot and by bike on the Pays Pagan in Finistère
  4. A walk through history along the cliffs at Pointe de St Mathieu
  5. Walking around the ancient stones and the harbour at Camaret-sur-Mer
  6. Picture postcard Locronan and the Bois de Nevet walks
  7. Above the rocks & crashing waves at the Pointe du Van
  8. Cycling on the Cap Sizun to botanical gardens and Menez Dregan
  9. Coast and wetland walks around Beg Meil in southern Brittany
  10. Rolling along the Nantes-Brest Canal on two wheels
  11. Spectacular coastal walking from Saint Coulomb near St Malo
  12. A circuit of the walls of Saint-Malo

We started our journey on the northern coast of Brittany, heading west and then gradually making our way south around the coast to Beg Meil, south of Quimper. We returned north, driving through inland Brittany to the north coast.

1. A circuit of Île-Grande, near Trebeurden

A perfect evening stroll from Camping L’Esperance near Trebeurden is across the rocky and sandy bay towards Ile Grande.  If you have longer, then the circuit of Ile Grande [around 8 km] is a perfect and satisfying walk.

It was a warm August day when we set off but a sea mist was still rolling along the coast. Crossing the road from the campsite, we headed across the sands. The route you take here will depend on the tides and how much you enjoy paddling. Ile Grande, as the name suggests, is an island but you can often skirt around the sea and cross to the island without using the bridge. On the island we turned right, following the path through a varied landscape. At times we were surrounded by tall bushes, at other times we were on sandy paths just above the coast, walking around deep bays and out onto rocky peninsulas. There were butterflies and wild flowers, sculptures and information boards. The bay by the sailing club was busy with paddle board and wind surfing lessons in full swing.

More than half the way around, the League for the Protection of Birds have a centre near the Pointe de Toul-Ar-Staon that you can visit. By the island’s campsite there is an excellent restaurant We only stopped for drinks here but you could have lunch and it is worth booking as it is popular. We ate our picnic lunch in the sunshine on a sheltered bay full of boats before skirting the salt marshes around the final large sheltered cove. 

After our circuit we walked into the sleepy village and followed signs uphill to an allée couverte, a late Neolithic burial site. This good example in the centre of the island has two large slabs resting on rows of upright stones. Local legend tells of dwarfs who lived here but they didn’t make an appearance on our visit and we carried on up to the outcrop of rocks that gave us a 360 degree view of the island.

2. On the GR34 Sentier des Douaniers from Tourony Port, Tregastel

The Sentier des Douaniers or GR34 is apparently France’s favourite Grande Randonnée (GR) or long-distance footpath and I soon came to realise why. The path hugs the Brittany shore for around 2,000 km (1,243 miles) from Mont-Saint-Michel to the port of Saint-Nazaire on the River Loire.  Known as le Sentier des Douaniers, the path was created in the 18th century to help customs officers apprehend smugglers and it winds around many promontories, inlets and bays. It was our companion on many of our Brittany walks. 

From Camping Tourony we walked around the sheltered and picturesque port and along a popular section of the GR34 around the Côte de Granit Rose, named after the areas distinctive and attractive pink granite boulders. We stopped to watch the boats sailing in and out of the harbour and admire the rocky islets, including one with a neo-gothic castle.   The path wound through shady pine trees and large boulders to Plage St Guirec, a bustling sandy beach with shops and restaurants. 

The next section of the GR34 is simply stunning. In the sunshine, the sea was blue, each bay seemed prettier than the last and the stacks of pink granite boulders added drama to the views. We passed the Phare de Men Ruz, also built of the local granite, that dates from 1948 and is still in use. The footpaths are well marked and visitors are managed so that the colourful heather, gorse and wild flowers can flourish.

This is a lovely enough route to make retracing your steps no hardship, or, like us, you can cut inland back to St Guirec on a path that follows the boundary of the Le Ranolien campsite. We ate excellent ice-creams from Histoires de Glaces on the beach before retracing our steps to Tourony.

In the evening we walked to Tourony beach, a perfect spot for some evening tranquility. We climbed over the massive pink boulders and pottered along the soft sand in the evening calm.

3. Finding solitude walking and cycling around the Pays Pagan near Guisseny

There was so much to like about Camping Vougot, I am surprised we managed to tear ourselves away. We had driven west into Finistère and found quiet roads, deserted beaches and wide views, just what we like. To top this off, the helpful campsite owners gave us information about local walks and cycle routes.

On our first day we followed Cycle Route Two, an easy 23 km circuit from the campsite. This used quiet roads and tracks, through fields of cauliflowers and cabbages.  The landscape is dotted with farms and holiday homes and small campsites for two or three caravans. This is the Pays Pagan, a perilous stretch of coastline where sharp needles of rock lurk just under the water making navigation difficult for boats even on a clear day and when the sea mist rolls in many ships have been lost here. Legends tell stories of wreckers, who lured ships onto the rocks and looted their cargo and that is easy to believe in this remote area although it isn’t clear how reliable the legends are.

The GR34 comes this way, following the rugged bays. On the northern coast we watched surfers waiting for the waves on long sandy beaches. Near Kerlouarn we sat on a rocky headland between a large sandy bay, Plage Roc ‘h ar gonc, and a small sheltered cove and had our lunch. A memorial to a Canadian boat torpedoed in 1944 was nearby.  Our return went inland via a pretty church, Sainte Egarec, surrounded by pink hydrangeas and with a well reached by steps and looked over by a saint’s statue. 

From the campsite, the walk around Etang du Curnic, a local wetland and nature reserve is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so. We spotted coots, swans and a heron on the water and a shy water rail dipped in and out of the tall reeds. In the evenings we would walk the ten minutes to the beach to watch the sun drift into the sea. The waves gently lap against the shore and sanderlings, turnstones and ringed plover feed at the water’s edge.  As we walked back to the dunes, sand hoppers softly flitted around our feet.

The Circuit de Milin Ar Raden, is a 10 km walk from the campsite that is a perfect mixture of countryside and coast.  You could, if you wanted, split this up into two walks.  We began by walking along the lanes between the fields of horses and plots for caravans near the campsite and then climbed the steep green hillside beyond the coast.  We followed sunken paths through dense hedges and bracken and stopped to see La Fontaine Sainte Claire before descending by a gurgling stream where an old mill was hidden in the trees. Taking the paths around the Etang du Curnic we followed the tall dyke enjoying the views of the beach to our right and the ponds to our left. We were back on the GR34, following the coast around a rocky headland and onto the long stretch of white sand at Plage du Vougo. At the end of the beach a track bought us back to the campsite.

4. A walk through history along the cliffs at Pointe de St Mathieu

We drove through the quiet countryside of Finistère to Pointe de St Mathieu that overlooks the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic and the entrance to the port of Brest. This is a popular destination but there is plenty of parking.

The star attraction here is the juxtaposition of the grey stones of a ruined abbey with a tall slender bright red and white lighthouse.  Wandering around the ruined abbey is free and you can pay to climb the lighthouse. I stood in the shade of the old church among the stone columns, looking up at the towering lighthouse. On foot we explored the dark craggy coastline. Signs tells the story of numerous ships and submarines lost off this coast and old gun lookouts remain from war time. Gannets and cormorants flew along the blue sea and sailing boats found a safe course between the rocks and in the distance we spotted the Brittany Ferry to Spain.  Beyond the abbey is the National Memorial to Sailors.

On our return we stopped at Fort de Bertheaume, that sits on an island now accessible by a bridge but in the 17th century it was reached by an aerial gondola.  The site was fortified by Vauban in the 17th century and is strategically important as it guards the entrance to the port at Brest. Fort de Bertheaume was used by Nazi soldiers in the Second World War and the area wasn’t cleared of the mines until the 1990s, when it was opened to the public.  If the bridge is too tame, you can recreate the original access to the fort by taking the zip wire and via ferrata across to the island for the fantastic views out to sea and across the harbour.

5. Walking from the ancient stones to the historic harbour at Camaret-sur-Mer on the Crozon Peninsular

We headed south to the Crozon peninsular, parking above Camaret-sur-Mer near the Alignements de Lagatjar. The 60 stones here are arranged in rows at right angles to each other and the grassy site is a perfect place for a picnic.

It is only a short walk from the stones into the bustling resort of Camaret-sur-Mer but there is plenty to see and you’ll want to take your time.  Before you head for the town, begin with a walk out to the cliffs and the atmospheric ruins of the Manoir Saint-Pol Roux. Home of the poet Saint-Pol Roux this baroque turreted mansion overlooking the sea was occupied by the German army in the Second World War and bombed by Allied Forces.

In the town we began by exploring the back streets. These old lanes are lined with picturesque cottages adorned with colourful flowers in window boxes and bougainvillea plants trailing overhead. At the harbour we admired the boats and the pretty cafes and restaurants.  Camaret-sur-Mer’s historic sites are on the harbour wall. Here there is a row of large wrecks in a boat graveyard and a pretty church that has model ships hanging from the ceiling. At the end is the highlight, the deep pink Vauban Tower. This 17th century polygonal defensive tower with a moat, looks over the entrance into the harbour at Brest, facing Fort de Bertheaume.

6. Picture postcard Locronan and the Bois de Nevet walks

Locronan is a gorgeous and picturesque inland village that knows it.  It’s cobbled streets, lined with charming grey stone cottages lead through intimate squares to the stunning Place de L’Eglise.  The village has been used as a film location many times and is packed with tourist shops. We were staying at the campsite on the edge of the town and on our first day followed the town walk from the map the campsite had given us.

It is certainly worth walking up the hill from the Place de L’Eglise for the views over the town. On this route you can follow pretty paths around the manor house and back into Locronan. Walking downhill from the town centre we found the attractively-situated Chapelle Notre Dame Bonne Nouvelle with a fountain outside. I slipped inside this simple chapel to see the striking modern stained glass. We followed a sunken lane back to the bustle of the town, bought ice-creams to eat in the square and then delicious Breton cassis cakes from the traditional bakery to eat later with a mug of tea back at the van.

Our visit coincided with one of the regular evening artisan markets that go on until late at night. We returned in the evening to stroll around the stalls of baskets, local food, jewellery and toys and enjoy the music and entertainment.

The campsite had also given us a map for a 10 km walk and the next day we set off to more or less follow this. We detoured to see the Chapelle Ar Zonj and the nearby viewpoint across the countryside to the coast. The little chapel has an interesting stone staircase by the gate.

We easily picked up the lane on the 10 km walk from the viewpoint but got slightly lost beyond here. But carrying on along the lane we found the path that goes around the campsite. We walked along shady sunken tracks between stone walls and hedges and quiet lanes towards Bois de Nevet.  In the forest we picked up delightful paths through the lush woodland.  After lunch near the forest HQ we followed a path around the forest edge, finding a pretty pond, but missing our way and resorted to Google to get back onto the road to Kerbléon. From here the route was on lanes by industrial units and farms, gradually coming back round to Locronan. If we ever return, I think this walk would be improved by spending longer exploring the beauty of the Bois de Nevet and returning to Locronan from there, missing out the lanes and industrial areas.

7. Above the rocks & crashing waves at the Pointe du Van

On the Cap-Sizun peninsular, Pointe du Van and Pointe du Raz point like craggy fingers out to sea. We parked at the large parking area on Pointe du Van and walked around the headland, beginning with the stone chapel where we had views across the sea to Pointe du Raz and its lighthouse. It was breezy on this exposed bit of coast where rocks jut out into a blue sea full of white frothing waves. The paths wind among abundantly growing sweet fragrant heather. Before heading back to the ‘van we carried on a little further to two windmills, one built from stone and wood and the other just stone and both with restored sails. The whole walk is about 4 km.

You could walk down to the Baie des Trépassés [Bay of the Dead] that huddles between the Pointe du Van and Pointe du Raz. We opted to drive and walked along the wide sands to explore the rock pools under the cliffs. This bay is popular with surfers and the tide was coming in, creating rolling waves.  The surfing looked both fun and terrifying. 

8. Cycling on the Cap Sizun to botanical gardens and Menez Dregan

A campsite with a cycle route running by it ticks boxes for us and so we stayed a few nights at Camping Plage Kersiny. Once again we had a lovely beach nearby for watching the sunset, this time a rocky bay where curlews and black headed gulls fed among the thick seaweed on the rocks, dodging the spray from the waves.

It is only about a 16 km round trip from our campsite to Audierne and the lovely Parc Botanique Ar Paeron but give yourself plenty of time as there is lots to see on the way. At first we were following quiet residential roads where we stopped to look at the view along the coast. The cycle route signs took us to the sheltered river mouth and harbour where the scene across the river to the charming white buildings of Audierne was lovely. We sat having our picnic while we watched people messing about on boats.  The bridge across the river is slightly further inland and crossing this we walked the bikes along Audierne’s flower-lined promenade that was busy with cafes and shops.

Beyond the bustle of the town we went to the end of the harbour wall and the lighthouse, looking across a sandy beach. We continued cycling along the craggy coast until we spotted signs for the Parc Botanique Ar Paeron and decided to investigate. The lane climbs steeply up the hillside and after cycling down a track we propped the bikes up outside a small hut / entrance.  We paid €4.50 each and were given a map and sent off to explore this peaceful botanical gardens.  The planting is relaxed and the gardens have a charming natural feel, although many plants are labelled with their names and continents.  There were some beautiful and unusual species in flower and bees hummed amongst the beds and butterflies flitted from one colourful bloom to another. This garden is a perfect haven from the coast. We cycled back the same way.

Cycle in the opposite direction from the campsite and you will reach Menez Dregan in Plouhinec around 4 km along the coast.  We left the coastal cycle route and picked up a mountain bike route which turned out to be a great choice, taking us off the roads and onto a green lane, a stone wall to one side and views down to the rocky coast and beaches on the other. Fragrant bushes lined the route and it was idyllic.  We rejoined the road in time for Plage de Guendrez, a large sandy beach that is popular with surfers and swimmers.

Menez Dregan sits on the headland above this beach. This archaeological treasure trove is a large and complex stone necropolis from the Neolithic period.  Built in many phases the site has several dolmens.  Below the burial mound a Palaeolithic cave in what is now a sea cliff is being excavated.  This cave was home to humans when this area was about 5 km from the sea and the cave looked out over grassland. 

9. Coast and wetland walks around Beg Meil in southern Brittany

Our campsite at Beg Meil was close to the small town with bars and restaurants. It was also perfect for some walking. With the huge expanse of Kemil Beach just a meandering ten minutes walk away, you will probably head there first, reaching the sea at the western end of the 4 km stretch of Kemil Beach. Looking along the sands you would be forgiven for thinking you have arrived on a tropical island. The sand is white and pine trees line the bay, under a blue sky this is paradise.

Turn left and walk through the trees to the next bay, Plage de Kermyl. Here rocks edge the sands and more woodland, rocks and sandy bays follow. We walked around the coast to Pointe de Beg Meil, passing large stone houses that have enviable coastal outlooks. At times the footpath resembles a maze, with hedges on either side of us and limited access points to the sands. At the Plage des Oiseaux we descended stone steps through the weathered granite boulders to the sands. On this peaceful beach we sat listening to the lapping of the waves and watched stand up paddle boarders who gently followed the coastline. Further out a fishing boat was working and black headed gulls searched for food. I looked across the sea to the town of Concarneau and searched the sands for pretty shells.  At the stone jetty in Beg Meil we turned inland and walked through the shops and cafes back to the campsite.

We enjoyed a fantastic longer walk of about 10 km when we turned right at Kemil Beach, heading for Mousterlin. On the outward route we walked inland picking up some of the many and popular paths that wind around the wetlands, woodland and streams.  In this lush landscape of dark pine trees and grassland it is hard to believe you are just a few hundred metres from the sea. We spotted egrets on the wetlands and a coypu in one of the pools.  At Mousterlin we stopped for drinks at the cafe overlooking the beach before walking back along the 4 km stretch of Kemil Beach. Low dunes border the sands and I paddled through the surf, watching the swimmers and kite surfers and wind surfers who were taking advantage of a breeze.

10. Rolling along the Nantes-Brest Canal on two wheels

The small village of Le Roc-Saint-André near Ploërmel has a campsite that is right on the Nantes to Brest Canal. This makes it perfect for some easy off-road cycling. The picturesque town of Josselin with its castle is around 35 km round trip or an easier ride is to Malestroit, around 18 km there and back.

Either way the cycling is idyllic on a wide level path. The canal runs through countryside and is lined with trees.  Each lock is colourful with baskets of flowers and watched over by a lock keeper.  Boats gently putter by on the canal and the boating people wave as they pass.  Watching herons, swans and ducks will detain you.

We were lucky to arrive at Malestroit, a pretty little town, on market day. We stopped for coffee and then wandered around the stalls that sold everything from boxes of disposable masks to fruit and vegetables.  There were food stalls with paella and couscous dishes too.  The market is in a square surrounded by attractive timber-framed houses, many with ornate carvings in wood or stone.

The sunshine disappeared and the wind began to whip the stall canopies in the air; we realised it was time to head back, racing along the canal trying to beat the rain. We were about five minutes away from the shelter of the ‘van when the shower began.

11. Spectacular coastal walking from Saint Coulomb near St Malo

Camping des Chevrets was the perfect place for two hikers, there was so many options for walking we were spoilt for choice. Being on the coast you could obviously turn either left or right and we walked inland too.

You don’t have to undertake a long walk from Camping des Chevrets. For a short outing head down to the beach which is the perfect place to watch the sunset or the paragliders that skim above the trees. If you’re tempting to walk a little further then l’île Besnard, not an island but a rocky peninsular now attached to the mainland by a sandy spit of land will occupy an hour or so.  It was breezy and showering as we climbed the cliffs and walked to the headland in an anti-clockwise direction. Overlooking Rothéneuf Bay and harbour the walk became more sheltered and by the time we climbed down to a beach and salt marsh it was summer once again. Rock samphire grows in abundance here as well as purple rock sea lavender. On the salt marsh there were little egrets, oystercatchers, sanderlings, ringed plover and turnstone. 

Another short walk is around Pointe du Meinga, another headland, this time to the right of the beach.  The stony and rocky path around the point is undulating and at times narrow and precipitous, the vegetation giving a clue to the prevailing winds. On the windy side gorse and heather and hardy white sea campion dominate.  On the sheltered side there is bracken, pine trees and tall hedgerows. A path crosses the headland back to the beach and the campsite if you don’t want to retrace your steps.

Our first longer walk [about 14 km] from Camping des Chevrets was to the strange Rochers Sculptes beyond Rothéneuf. At low tide you can walk across the sands, crossing a river over an old concrete walkway covered in seaweed and walking under the cliffs topped with pine trees.  Rothéneuf has a harbour full of boats and plenty of big houses and the waves are channelled through the narrow gap between the mainland and l’île Besnard beyond the harbour. From Rothéneuf we picked up a path above the sea cliffs, occasionally sheltered by high hedges, to a tiny chapel.  Below was a tiny bay reached by steep steps and rocks with a handrail to make it possible and here we sheltered from the wind. It wasn’t much further to Les Rochers Sculptes. These sculputres of figures, faces and animals were created by a priest at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The priest had a stroke and unable to carry on working spent 15 years carving these sculptures from the granite on a sloping finger of rock. Some sculptures are intertwined and complex, others are simple stand alone heads. The paths between them are narrow and uneven and I was constantly aware of the sea below.  We walked further along the coast to Plage du Val, a small sandy bay between rocky headlands overlooked by attractive grey stone houses before heading back.  On our return the tide was high and we could only walk so far along the beach at Rothéneuf before taking the GR34 high tide variant. This part of the walk had a different atmosphere through pine trees on soft ground and we crossed a small and overgrown dam before scrambling between hedges and brambles on a narrow path back to the bay below the campsite.

Setting off inland we followed quiet roads, green lanes and paths to the village of Saint Coulomb, often following a local MTB route.  We reached the Etangs Ste Suzanne, a large fishing lake surrounded by woodland and divided by a road bridge. We sat on a picnic bench here and watched the great crested grebes.  In the fields were corn and cabbages and the hedgerows were full of ripe blackberries. Saint Coulomb, which took its name from the monk who landed here in the 6th century, is a tidy village with a few shops and a cafe. Around the village are a number of historical manor houses or malouinières built by wealthy shipowners from Saint-Malo.

Our final walk from Camping des Chevrets was the best and the longest at 16 km. The sun was shining and we were following the GR34 along the coast towards Cancale and Pointe du Grouin.  Once we had left the campsite we were away from the roads and saw few people for the morning. Occasionally we noticed someone sunbathing in one of the sandy coves we walked by. In between the bays we were walking above craggy cliffs and lichen-covered rocks with views across the sea or through sharply fragrant pine woodland.  In sheltered corners we were surrounded by bracken and wild flowers and hordes of butterflies, including peacocks and red admirals.  At Plage du Verger there were more people, not surprising as this large beach has an island with an 18th century fort at one end.  You could walk back from here [about 19 km round trip] or catch the bus back to the campsite. We opted to carry on to Pointe du Grouin, a further 6.5 km, on a path that was steep in places but had fantastic views back to Plage du Verger and across to the headland. Pointe du Grouin is a honeypot destination with gift shops and cafes, an orientation table and big views. We caught the bus back to the campsite and treated ourselves to ice-creams and beer at the beachside cafe.

12. A circuit of the walls of Saint-Malo

Our last walk in Brittany was around the old walls of Saint-Malo. We parked our campervan on some on-street parking on Avenue Louis Martin that has ticket machines. This was about 1 km from the old walled town. The ramparts of Saint-Malo are a magnificent walk of 1.75 km, with views out to blue sea dotted with rocky islets and forts. Reaching the harbour we walked along the harbour wall and could see our Brittany Ferries ship waiting for our evening sailing. The compact and crowded city inside the walls has buildings of three or four storeys above narrow cobbled streets. We had our last holiday crepes in a shady square and toasted the beauty of Brittany and its fantastic walking and cycling.

Walking & Camping in the Écrins Mountains of France

A hill walker’s paradise, the Écrins Mountains has an abundance of wildflowers, charming mountain villages and traditional houses, beautiful wall-painted sundials and so much more.  It is fair to say it is one of my favourite parts of France.  The mountains of the Écrins National Park top 4,000 m and, with no roads crossing the central peaks, accessing the unsurpassed mountain walking, the prettiest villages and flower-rich Alpine meadows often involves driving on minor roads that wind steeply up deep-cut valleys.

Below are some of my favourite walks in the Écrins, although I hope to return and discover more soon.  The walks follow an anti-clockwise route around the central mountains, starting with the western valleys.  The campsites we stayed at are listed at the end of the post.

La-Chapellle-en-Valgaudemar

La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar is a small attractive village  that nestles among the mountains and is reached from the N85 north of Gap.  We stayed overnight at the campsite and woke to low cloud shrouding the mountains but it was dry as we set off walking from the village up the hillside to Les Portes.

The steep narrow path isn’t long [we were walking for about 45 minutes] but it crams in everything you would expect from a mountain walk into that short space.  You will walk through green Alpine meadows, lush woodland and areas of rocky scree, see plenty of colourful wild flowers and have views across the valley and to higher mountains.  It was early June when we visited and we identified many varieties of orchids as well as cranesbill, cowslips, globe flowers, tiny pansies and tall erect white asphodels.

At Portes des Oules we stood on the bridge looking down on the gushing waterfall as it rushed down a narrow gorge.  The pretty hamlet at Portes des Oules has some houses with thatched roofs, their tall chimneys jutting into the sky, apparently to help prevent fires.

Embrun and The Foret Domaniale de Mont Guillaume

Turning left in Gap we took the road towards Embrun and found a pitch at Camping la Vieille Ferme which is conveniently located for the impressive rock-perched town.  As dark descended, scops owls flew through the warm air, the quiet broken by their haunting calls.

We enjoyed a wonderful 14 km walk from here.  After walking into the town and enjoying the views, admiring the old town and having coffee in one of the many cafes, we climbed the hillside along a narrow road and track towards Calayère.  As we walked swallowtail butterflies followed us from flower to flower and a cuckoo called from the woodland.  We climbed higher on the minor road to Le Chateau de Calayère where we rested and watched a couple of donkeys in a field and drank in the mountain panorama.

A delightful green lane surrounded by flower meadows took us into the La forêt domaniale de Mont-Guillaume where we picked up a steep narrow path back down the hill.  In the afternoon heat the shady woodland was welcome as we followed the stream back to Embrun.

Mont Dauphin and the Marmots

Between Embrun and Briançon and below Mont Dauphin there is a marmot community and whenever we pass this way we stop to see these charming animals.  Although being so accessible they are willing to tolerate humans to some extent, we try and treat them with respect and not cause alarm.

After dawdling along the short trail around the marmot area we drove up to the fortified town of Mont Dauphin which sits above the gorge with craggy escarpments on three sides.  We crossed two moats and walked through the immense and complex defensive walls into the walled village.  Built by Vauban at the end of the 17th century this is a remarkably well preserved group of buildings.  The grid of streets are lined with pretty houses and from the walls the views along the valley are spectacular.

On a previous visit to Mont Dauphin we were camping near Guillestre and enjoyed a memorable walk from there that followed a stunning and airy path below the fortified village but high above the river.

Vallouise

Turn off the main road between Embrun and Briançon at L’Argentière-la-Bessée and follow the valley road for about 10 km to Vallouise.  We have fond memories of the campsite at Vallouise when it was a municipal site.  Now part of a chain it has lost some of the rustic charm it had but the village of Vallouise, with gorgeous houses, many decorated with ornate sundials and a central square, is still delightful.  The village is named in homage to Louis XI, remembering that in the 15th century he briefly stopped the persecution of local people.  There are lovely walks from the village but you might want to drive further up the valley for some spectacular mountain walking.

Pre de Madame Carle and the Glacier Noir path

It is a further 22 km or so from Vallouise to the end of the road and the large car park at Pre de Madame Carle but well worth the drive.  From here there are a number of fantastic walks including the Glacier Noir.  If you are looking for isolation, a bit of excitement and stunning scenery then this is your path.

At first the path zig-zags uphill but eventually you reach the narrow lateral moraine ridge that climbs steadily upwards on the north side of the glacier.  We felt privileged to have this fantastic and airy route to ourselves.  The path varies in width but is never more than a metre wide and sometimes narrower and the rock and gravel moraine slopes steeply down to the glacier on one side, while the other slope is grassier and less steep; this latter direction is the way to fall!

We walked among a dramatic landscape with dark crags around us and plenty of snow.  The tranquility was only broken by the sound of occasional falling rocks.  As we climbed higher we could hear the waterfalls at the head of the glacier.  These thundered loudly periodically as if a sluice gate was being opened and closed.  At first glance this appears to be a bleak and desolate landscape, but look closely and you will see tiny flowers surviving in the rocky moraine.  I found a cluster of tiny forget-me-nots, bright pink primula and azaleas bushes which were not yet in flower.  Marmots pottered confidently on the path in front of us, flicking their tails and moving quickly and easily on the steep terrain.  Chamois crossed our paths and sat watching us from the banks of snow.  This was heavenly.

Col du Lauteret

We have driven over the Col du Lauteret [2,057 m] on the splendid road among snow-capped mountains a number of times but only once stopped for a walk.  From the col, the well-marked Sentier des Crevasses takes walkers straight into the high mountains as it traverses the valley side.  This path is abundant with wild flowers, alpine choughs circle overhead and vultures soar.  On the hillsides we heard the piercing alarm call of marmots and stopping to look we eventually spotted them on the hillside.  The views from the narrow but easy to follow path across to the immense La Meije are spectacular.

Walking as far as the Belvedere viewpoint is easy.  Beyond here the hillside becomes steeper and the rock more unstable.

Les Terraces, Chazelet, the Combe de Martignare and Notre Dame de la Roche chapel

Some of my favourite walks in the Écrins were completed from La Grave.  This attractive village, beyond the Col du Lauteret, huddles along the steep-sided valley below La Meije.  Its stone buildings and steep narrow streets ooze character.  The Romanche river runs along the valley below the village and it is surrounded by stunning Alpine scenery.  In the winter this is a popular skiing area.

A 12 km walk took us from La Grave to Les Terraces on a steep uphill path.  Les Terraces is a quiet village perched high on the mountainside, where stone houses with balconies have an enviable view.  Continuing on towards another sleepy village, Chazelet, we stopped to take in the views at the Oratoire de Chazelet, a stone shrine.  The summit of La Meije was peeking out of the cloud, below us was to La Grave and I looked up at the circling griffon vultures knowing I wasn’t brave enough to walk far along the ‘walk of faith’ or Le Perchoir that has been built like a gang-plank from the sheer rock face.  Chazelet is another picturesque village whose busiest season is winter.  From the village we carried on to Les Plagnes and the Combe de Martignare that was a stunning sea of white with narcissi.  Picking up a path back to Chazelet we descended the mountainside to the valley on a steep zig-zag path via the precariously sited Notre Dame de la Roche chapel.

Through mountain villages to L’Aiguillon at 2095m

The mountain villages of the Écrins are beautiful places to explore.  Once again from La Grave we set off for Ventelon and on to Les Hieres.  Beyond these villages the road became a track and we had excellent views looking up the valley.  We reached the stone houses of Hameau de Valfoide where nothing disturbed the tranquility except a hare that lolloped across the lane in front of us.

After passing the Torrent le Maurian we were on a path that was initially steep until it reached grassland full of pheasant’s eyes daffodils and butterflies.  It wasn’t far from here to the bench at L’Aiguillon at 2,095 m.  We sat enjoying the views to La Meije, high enough to still be in the clouds, and below us in the valley was La Grave.  We descended through more flower-rich meadows full of bird song, giving a wide berth to the large dog guarding the sheep [there are lots of signs about how to deal with these dogs].  Joining a road we walked back up hill to Lac du Pontet, a small mountain lake and followed a stream down to Villar d’Arene that is just off the main road.  Here we found a cafe and enjoyed beers and ice-cream in a sunny square before crossing the Romanche and walking through lovely fragrant larch forest where the ground was soft underfoot with a carpet of pine needles.  The path took us over a shoulder and then onto a track back to the campsite.

Le Bourg d’Arud, Venosc and Lac Lauvitel

Below the skiing resort of Les Deux Alpes and in the north of the Écrins is the village of Venosc.  From the nearby campsite we spent a lovely day on another perfect Alpine walk.

It is worth taking time to explore Venosc, a delightful village that has a cable car up to Les Deux Alpes and is packed with shops selling crafts and bijou cafes.

From Venosc, we took a path that followed a clear river through woodland to the hamlet of La Danchère.  Here we took the right-hand path up to Lac Lauvitel and into a floral paradise; there were so many wild flowers it was impossible to stop at them all.  The stony path was relentlessly steep and at one cascade we had to scramble over a plug of snow.  In the hot weather this was tiring work but worth it for the reward when we emerged at the blue lake surrounded by craggy mountains.  Around us was an amazing natural rock garden that we wandered through to a meadow and the lakeside.

We descended on what would have been the left-hand path from La Danchère.  This was equally steep!

Well done if you have kept reading this far, as I have saved my favourite walk to the last!

La Berarde and Refuge du Chatelleret at 2,232 m

The mountain village of La Berarde is about 20 km further along the narrow road from Venosc and is the end of the road.  La Berarde is a small village with a couple of cafes and shops.  We parked the Blue Bus here and under a cloudless sky walked 11 km to the Refuge du Chatelleret at 2,232 m and back.

The route starts steeply with zig-zags rising gently up the valley on a sandy path through low shrubs.  As we climbed higher the path became stonier and there was less vegetation.  We encountered lots of marmots, a few groups of chamois and so many butterflies.

Climbing steadily it took some time to reach the refuge, high in the valley and huddled underneath the massive of La Meije.  In early June the refuge wasn’t open but the guardian was busy getting it ready for the summer season.  The beauty of this valley is breathtaking.  We sat in solitude, surrounded by craggy mountains and with magnificent views down the u-shaped valley to the twin peaks above La Berarde.  Sitting in the sunshine we noticed a strange rainbow streak in the sky above one of these peaks.  This was a cloud iridescence that lasted for about 30 minutes, moving and changing shape and fragmenting.  An amazing phenomena I have never seen before.  The descent was the same way and just as lovely the other way round.  We stopped to refresh our feet in the cold water of the river on the way.  What a fantastic hike and a great end to our time in the Écrins.

Although many walks are well-marked, we took walking maps and the Cicerone guide to Écrins National Park to help with planning and completing our walks.

Campsites in the Écrins

Les Melezes Municipal Camping, La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar This grassy site has some trees and the ground is fairly hard.  The facilities are clean & the water hot.  The village is small with some shops but no bakery.  Lovely walks from the site.
Camping Vieille Ferme, Embrun A Dutch-run site near to a lovely town.  Some trees for shade but mostly sunny and marked grassy pitches.  Clean facilities and warm water.
Camping La Meije, La Grave A steep walk from the beautiful village & by the river,  this is a grassy site with trees, clean facilities and flowers.  The site is well maintained & has good views.  The showers are roomy with very hot water, the wash up undercover.  An all round excellent site.
Huttopia Vallouise Campsite This large rambling site has great views.  It is dotted with permanent erected tents & chalets.  The new toilet blocks are good and it has a pleasant reception area.  There are bakeries in the village.
Le Champ du Moulin Camping, Le Bourg d-Arud near Venosc The site has marked pitches, good views, a friendly welcome and a small shop where they sell morning bread.  Facilities are in the basement & are clean and warm & the showers are hot & roomy.  There is also a drying room.

Nine Campsites for a perfect campervan tour of Brittany

The pretty harbour in Audierne

We spent three weeks touring Brittany in north-west France in August this year.  We wouldn’t normally choose to travel during school holidays and August but, of course, nothing is normal in 2020.  I’m kicking myself that we didn’t travel to France in early July but at that time we thought we could continue with our plan to go in September for the autumn.  As it became increasingly clear that the situation was only going to get worse we bought our ferry date forward and we are so glad we did.

We opted to stay at campsites, rather than aires, on this trip.  All but two of the sites listed below are around the beautiful coast and I think all of them were three star sites.  Including local tourist taxes, the sites cost from €18 [ACSI discount rate as the season ended equivalent to £16.03] to €27.17 [£24.20] a night for high season and compared to the UK campsites these prices seemed reasonable.  We didn’t go swimming but most of the campsites had a swimming pool, the sanitary blocks were open at all of them, hand sanitiser was widely available but not all the sites had soap for good hand washing.

The coast of Brittany is spectacular and we enjoyed walking and cycling along its cliffs and coves.  Inland Brittany is a rural idyll dotted with pretty walled towns that are perfect for exploring.

Here is the list of where we stayed with my comments.  You will notice I appreciate a good hot shower!

Campsite nameCommentsCost per night
Camping de L’Esperance, TrebeurdenLevel grassy site by a road, reasonable pitches but long cable needed.  Facilities kept very clean, showers only warm but roomy and a good flow.  Bread available and there is a lovely 8 km walk around the nearby island.€24.80
Camping Tourony, TregastelLarge pine trees for shade over pitches of various sizes that are not necessarily level and some hedging.  Showers are jets of hot water and a little cramped.  Short walk to lovely beach, pretty bay and harbour and other longer walks.€25.60
Camping du Vougot, Plouguerneau, FinisterePeaceful site with very large pitches marked by trees and hedges.  A friendly and helpful welcome and maps for walks and local cycle routes.  Only 4 showers, so sometimes there was an evening queue but hot water & clean.  Lovely beach nearby and indoor pool on the site. €23.50
Les Bruyeres Camping, CrozonAmong trees and good size pitches, large pool but slightly unkempt air, showers standard and okay.€26.60
Camping LocronanTerraced site with views on the edge of the old beautiful town of Locronan where there are bars, cafes and shops.  Modern facilities block with hot and roomy showers and older block, both kept clean.  A friendly welcome and information on local walks around the town and to the nearby woods.  Indoor pool on the site.€27.17
Camping Kersiny Plage near AudiernTerraced site with some sea views, on a fantastic coastal cycle route in both directions.  The facilities are dated, basic and fairly open to the elements but the showers are hot.  Bread available at the friendly reception.€21.30
Camping Le Kervastard, Beg Meil, FouesnantSmall site with ACSI low season discount. Close to the town, beaches and a nature reserve. Pitches are hedged and large, the clean facilities have hot showers only spoilt by the short burst of water between button presses.  Friendly welcome at reception, bread available and small grocery shop and bars and restaurants nearby. €18.00
Camping Domaine du Roc, Le Roc St Andre near PloermelSmall cramped site by the canal and small village, no bread on site but bakery and shop nearby.  The facilities are scruffy and showers only lukewarm.  The site has a swimming pool and is popular with groups. Great flat cycling along the canal to pretty towns.€19.50
Camping Des Chevrets, St Coulomb near St MaloLarge site with good-sized marked grassy pitches.  Two beaches and headlands a short walk away and some sea views.  The showers were roomy but the temperature of the water varied somewhat and I wouldn’t call them super-clean. Pizzas available from the snack bar and a pleasant beach-side bar and restaurant. Plenty of walks from the site in all directions. This site is expensive in high season but great value with the ACSI card.€18.00

2017 Campsites through France, Italy to Greece

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We spent a month driving through France and then touring Greece.  Here are the campsites we stayed at until our dream trip was cut tragically short.

 

Campsite name Comments
Pont a Mousson Aire, France Busy aire by river Moselle and pleasant town, full even in April, shops nearby, toilets and shower until 20.00
Les Cent Vignes Municipal Site, Beaune, France Tidy site with hard-standing near the town centre, facilities clean, showers warm, hot water for wash-up, water on pitch and 6 amps.
Le Bourget du Lac aire near Chambery, France Marked pitches, next to campsite, no EHU, can use campsite facilities, open views
Camping Du Bourg, Digne les Bains, France Good views, chalets, friendly welcome, showers have very hot water but shower head hopeless!  Facilities clean but basic, 10 mins walk to town
Camping Val Fleuri, Cagnes sur Mer, France Marked good-sized pitches, pool, 4 km from sea, facilities clean & modern & showers hot, although push button.  Bread brought to pitch in the morning.
Campeggio dei Fiori, Pietra Ligure, Italy 800 m from the sea but peaceful.  Marked pitches, hot water, showers small, 15 mins walk to shops
Le Fonti, Cervarezza Terme, Italy Large site with lots of bungalows, pitch had spectacular views over the valley, sanitary blocks modern with doors, friendly welcome, roomy hot showers & hot water in sinks
Camper Club Mutina, Modena, Italy Well laid out sosta with some grass & trees, clean facilities & good hot showers, 30 mins cycle ride to centre & given a map at reception
Camping Village Mar Y Sierra, Stacciola near Mondolfo, Italy Terraced site & shaded pitches, lovely views across a valley to a pretty Italian town, peaceful.  Facilities clean & modern, showers cramped but hot, adjustable & continuous
Camping Acrogiai, Riza, Greece Had a pitch facing the sea, lots of statics, right on beach, pitch sloped, facilities clean & spacious, water lukewarm, 2 small yapping dogs run around freely!
Camping Apollon, Delphi, Greece Terraced site with stunning views across the bay.  English spoken at reception, bread, marked pitches with some trees, hot water for wash-up & showers, clean facilities, good
Afrodites Waters, Ancient Corinth Very friendly welcome and given fruit & honey.  Small gravel site with marked pitches but little space, 2 toilets & shower & wash-up, water lukewarm, 10 mins walk to Ancient Corinth
Nicholas II, Epidavros On the seafront and under trees, facilities shabby but clean, water only lukewarm for wash up but very hot for showers
Camping Apollon, Delphi As good as the first time!
Camping Sikia, Kato Gatzea, Pelion Peninsular Simply the best campsite.  Friendly owners, beautiful facilities, peaceful coastal location with lovely views from pitches, great walking from the site, lovely bistro.

Sedan: Add it to your wish list

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The massive fortification in Sedan

For anyone with a campervan, motorhome or a caravan there are two good reasons for visiting Sedan in northern France.  Firstly for around €9 a night you can stay at the Camping Municipal de la Prairie.  This municipal site is easy to find and is pleasantly placed by the river Meuse, with moorings for boats alongside the site and an open aspect that helps it feel more rural than urban.  We were greeted warmly by the member of staff who gave us a map of the town and told us enthusiastically about the castle and told us we could pitch where we liked on the grassy site.  The ground is a little uneven but nothing the levelling blocks couldn’t deal with.  The sanitary facilities were not the most up-to-date but were clean and the showers were good and hot and we don’t need much more than that and you can’t expect much more for the price.

Sedan is handily placed for us to reach our ferry at Zeebrugge but we arrived with enough time to visit the second reason to visit Sedan.  It has what is claimed to be the largest medieval fortified castle in Europe.

It is about a 15 minutes’ walk to the castle from the campsite and it is as magnificent and immense as you could hope, with an impressive curtain wall around the castle and courtyard and lovely views over the town from the corner bastions and the ramparts.  We explored the dark corners, alleys and stairwells that were designed to confuse the enemy and from the information boards learnt how the castle had grown over time.  I was particularly fascinated by the view into the interior of a round tower that had been enlarged over the years and seeing the interactive scale model of the castle in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian First Battle of Sedan.  The Second Battle of Sedan was in May 1940 during the German invasion of France.

After exploring the castle, we strolled around the town that has a history of cloth-making; some think that upholstery from Sedan gave the Sedan chair its name.  We found narrow streets and charming shops, lovely botanical gardens and bridges over the river Meuse.  Sedan also has an open and covered market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

 

La Villes-aux-Dames and Tours

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La Ville-aux-Dames mural on one of the schools

In 1974 the good people of La Ville-aux-Dames near to the city of Tours in France decided [very appropriately] to give only women’s names to their streets and roads.  I loved finding La Ville-aux-Dames [the town of women] but didn’t expect the town to have taken the female theme to such amazing heights.  Even on the lovely campsite, Les Acacias in La Ville-aux-Dames all the chalets are named after women; you can stay in Edith Piaf, Maria Callas and others.  Taking a stroll around the local area I found not only are the roads named after women, the local schools are too; as well as Avenue Jeanne d’Arc, Square Mary Queen of Scots and Rue Colette I found École élémentaire Marie Curie.  Some names were less well known to me and had me checking them out; Gabrielle d’Estrées advised Henry IV and had three children by him and I learnt that Anna de Noailles wrote three novels and poetry.

The mural in the photograph above is on one of the local schools and has images of nine French women;  Marie Curie, George Sands, Colette, Lucie Aubrac [history teacher and resistance member] and Berthe Monsit [impressionist painter] and others.  I was delighted to think that all the children who attend this school will know who these women are and what they achieved, adding a bit of balance to the male-dominated history my own schooling involved.  Just walking around the streets was an education.

The name is testimony to the abbey for nuns that was here and it is said the name La Ville-aux-Dames comes from the old name for the area, Villa Dominarum, the Latin for ladies town.  Surrounded by excellent agricultural land the local people produced milk for Tours and the inhabitants became known as ‘Caillons’ after their curd cheese.  In November La Ville-aux-Dames’ Marche des Caillons, a sponsored walk, attracts over 400 people.  Today the inhabitants of La Ville-aux-Dames call themselves Gynepolitains from the Greek words for women and town.

The campsite proved to be fantastic for visiting the lovely city of Tours.  On the confluence of the Rivers Loire and Cher we had no expectations of this city and so its beauty and charm was a surprise.  We cycled the seven kilometres in to Tours along the Loire cycle route and chaining up the bikes pottered around fairly aimlessly.  We knew of no ‘must see’ sight so we were free to just wander and admire with no pressure.

Starting at the cathedral we had coffee and cake in a lovely cafe and then followed lively streets to the old city.  Here there are pretty squares surrounded by 15th century timber-framed houses with amazing narrow extensions on the back for staircases; these looked very Disney-esque and heath robinson.

In the big market hall we explored the lovely stalls and bought fresh vegetables and local cheese and yogurt for our evening meal.  We ate at a cheap and cheerful burger and kebab cafe in a lively square and finished up with sweet peppermint tea.  Walking back to our bikes by the River Loire I fell in love with the elegant fountain [below] in the Place Anatole in front of the library.

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Beautiful and vibrant Tours

Campsites during our trip to Croatia, Italy & France

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The lovely campsite at Le Poet-Celard

During our trip through Germany and Austria to Croatia [with occasional excursions in to Slovenia] and on to Italy and France we stayed on 37 campsites.  Each site has some notes about our experience of the site:

Campsite name Number of nights Comments Cost
Camping Freizeitzentrum, Sagemuhle, Trippstadt, Germany 1 Large site by a small lake with bar & restaurant, lovely clean faclities, very hot water & indoor wash up, grassy pitches on well drained soil & open site, very good bread rolls £19.50
Hofgut Hopfenburg, Munsingen, Germany 2 Open site above the town with hard-standing walking from site in woodland, facilites excelletn, clean, warm, very hot showers, indoor wash-up, drying room, fresh bread, great site for €15.  For a fuller review read here. £15.00
Alpencamping Mark Weer Austria 2 Green site with grass & trees & friendly welcome, walking & cycling, clean facilities, good hot showers, bread rolls & lots of info £17.00
Camping Goldeck Seeboden, Austria 1 Grassy terraced site with clean facilities, building work going on & entrance steep, facilities dingy & cold but warm water, air of neglect £19.00
Camp Slapic, Duga Resa near Karlovac, Croatia 3 Nicely laid out site with open & shady pitches by river, English spoken at reception, lovely modern facilities, bar & restaurant, walking & cycling & railway station 5 mins away £19.00
Camp Marina Lozovac Sibenik, Croatia 2 Small site with marked pitches & some shade, clean facilities, roomy shower/wet rooms & hot water that runs continuous 2 kms from national park & excursions from site £15.00
Autocamp Peros Zaton Nin, Croatia 1 Small site, friendly welcome, grassy with trees, facilities basic but the water is hot & showers fine, peaceful, a few kms to Nin a lovely old town £17.00
Bluesun Camp Paklenica Starigrad, Croatia 4 Large site by the sea with bungalows & chalets, stony ground, level & pine trees for shade, modern facilities & good hot showers with no push buttons & roomy cubicles near the town £17.00
Hostel Plitvice Rastoke Camperstop, Slunj, Croatia 1 Car park with fantastic views over the river gorge to the town and EHU. £15.00
Camp Slapic, Duga Resa near Karlovac 1 Different pitch, the site now has bread in restaurant £19.00
Vugec Plac Camper Stop Samabor, Croatia 2 Small site for 4 vans, flat & grassy with 1 bathroom & sitting area / itchen & pool, all new & clean, hedged & gated in peaceful area with open views, good hot shower, friendly owner £20.00
Terme Olimia Camping Podcetrtek, Slovenia 1 Clean facilities, shaded pitches, aquapark not open so fairly peaceful but some road noise £17.00
Camping Terme Ptuj Slovenia 1 Grassy site, pitches in circular areas, busy with group from Netherlands, good hot showers £19.00
Camping Amarin Rovinj Istria, Croatia 2 A large grassy sloping site with trees, facilities basic but clean & hot water, fresh bread & shop water taxi & bus to Rovinj £17.00
Motovun Motorhome Parking Motovun, Croatia 1 Sloped gravel parking area for 12 vans, some trees only 1 shower & 1 toilet per sex, good hot showers & water by pitch £25.00
Camping Park Lijak Active Sempas near Nova Gorica, Slovenia 1 Grassy site with views of hills, friendly welcome, facilities modern & clean, water in showers only just warm enough, €5 tourist tax £17.00
Belvedere Pineta Campng Village Grado Italy 3 Large site by lagoon in pine woods, good size pitches, cycling routes from the site, no toilet seats or toilet paper, €17 on ACSI (we used some free camping cheques) good hot showers, supermarket, restaurant & bleach, wi-fi €5 a day £0.00
Lago 3 Comuni Alesso, Italy 2 Small site with pleasant bar, small pitches, showers push button & barely warm but facilities clean by a lake & mountain views £21.00
Sosta Barcis, Italy 1 Level car park by lake & cycling from site, small town with some shops, toilets nearby & water & electric on pitch, some music noise until 01.30 it was Saturday £14.00
Camping Lago Arsie, Italy 2 Level grassy site by lake with shop & restaurant, good size pitches, very little shade, helpful reception, showers hot but showerheads a burst of water rather than a shower, facilities modern £19.00
Camping Valle Verde Predazzo, Italy 3 Excellent & peaceful site in mountain valley, given a map of 10 local walks & cycle routes, facilities clean, toilet paper & paper towels, good hot showers £19.00
La Sosta, ponte di Legno, Italy 1 Car park on the edge of the mountain town with cafe & hook up, slight gradient, toilet with cafe, water on pitch £15.00
Camping Presanella Temu, Italy 1 Lovely views from this grassy site, clean facilities, cycle route from site, free wi-fi, hot showers but no heating in facilities £28.00
Camping Covelo, Iseo, Italy 4 Small site between lake & railway line, cramped pitches, friendly & helpful staff, good hot showers & clean facilities, near to town, extra €2 for lakeside £19.00
Montgenevre Aire, France 1 Large gravel aire with views over the village & mountains at 1,859 metres £13.00
Le Glandasse, Die, France 2 Large friendly site by the river popular with Dutch, marked pitches, showers small & push button, clean & almost warm enough, no toilet paper £13.00
Champ la Chevre, Lus-la-Croix-Haute, France 1 Sloping site with few level pitches but open views to the mountains & by village, indoor pool, good hot showers & clean facilities £15.00
Les Chapelains, Saillans, France 2 Small site by a town, friendly welcome, marked pitches, facilities open & showers only lukewarm & push button £15.00
Les Clorinthes, Crest, France 1 Level site with trees, friendly welcome & near to the town, facilities clean, showers push button & could be warmer £17.00
Le Couspeau Camping, le-Poet-Celard, france 2 Terraced site with wide open views across to hills, friendly welcome, 5 hrs of free wi-fi, all facilities, peaceful location, modern facilities & good hot showers, restaurant & bar £15.00
Camping de Mars, Cordelle, France 1 Overlooking the Loire, peaceful spot, facilities a bit dated & showers tepid, friendly rabbit, paid with free camping cheques so only paid tourist tax £1.10
Couleurs du Monde, Montrichard, France 1 Level site next to supermarket & 1 km from Montrichard & the Cher River, wrist bands obligatory, facilities clean but water tepid, popular with English £15.00
Les Acaacias Camping, Tours, France 2 Level site with some road noise, friendly & helpful welcome, good facilities, showers roomy & warm enough, 7 kms cycle route to Tours £17.00
Camping Les Plages de Loire, Rochefort-sur-Loire, France 1 Flat site by small town between Le Louet & Loire, facilities mixed, showers have been updated but were not very warm & push button, wash up is somewhat grim, pitches marked but narrow £13.00
Les Paludiers, Batz-sur-Mer, Le Croisic, France 2 Large rambling site with marked pitches, some very sloped, showers were roomy with sinks & warm enough in good weather, helpful reception £17.00
Municipal Campsite Corlay, France 1 Grassy area by play ground with hook up for 4 vans, toilets, basins and showers that were hot & good but a bit scruffy, no one came to be paid £0.00
Riva Bella, Ouistreham, France 2 Flat site near town & supermarkets with indoor pool but also peaceful corners, modern facilities, roomy showers with wash basins that had warm water £17.00
Camping La Fontaine des Clercs, Montreuil, France 1 The pleasant aire was full so we used this terraced site with some small pitches & dated facilties, free wi-fi, showers tepid but very hot water in sinks, popular & busy £19.90

Life in the day of a travel writer

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The beautiful bay at Batz sur Mer

 

Is being a travel writer non-stop glamour, always in business class on the plane and being wined and dined at the launch of a new hotel?  Well it isn’t like that for this campervan travel writer and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I only write about my travels because I enjoy sharing the wonderful places I have visited and want to inspire others.  Each trip I make is a real trip that we have paid for ourselves and are trips that anyone with a ‘van could make.  I am not interested in writing about luxury tours that I wouldn’t make if someone else wasn’t paying.  I guess if you are a travel writer or editor invited on to press trips for the PR then your days might be glamour-packed but for the travel writer without a commission this is a long way from reality.  First and foremost the trips we follow in our campervan are our holidays, the payment I get for writing about it is a bonus that comes after the event.  Below might give you some idea about how much work it takes to create an article.

The work starts even before you pack a bag

Research – This can start months before we set off on a trip.  I read travel books and articles, watch TV programmes and follow other travel bloggers and sometimes a story or a place grabs me and sparks off an idea for a trip that I will run with.  Sitting at my laptop I research exciting places to visit in an area, stories that might interest readers, campsites and walking or cycling routes.  I will also look at ideas for the best photographs of the area.  This is generally internet research but I also read guide books and walking guides to learn from other people’s travels and find out about places we might enjoy visiting.

The weather – As I said these are real holidays and trips and so we get all sorts of weather but travel magazines want to see blue sky and sunshine.  In the days leading up to a trip or THE important venue during the trip I check the weather forecast obsessively – a dull day means I have to be more creative with my photography and rain plays havoc with photographs and my camera.  Magazines require good quality and colourful photographs that will inspire readers and my writing is nothing without good photographs to illustrate the words.

We arrive

Being there – This is the holiday, the easy [thanks to the planning] and certainly the most enjoyable part.  We are there and visiting the place of interest or following the walk I have planned.  At this point I am truly on holiday, as with no commission in my pocket I have no idea if an editor will buy my story.  I am in the moment and appreciating and absorbing the colours, smells and feel of a place while also taking hundreds of photographs and cursing street furniture, signs and other visitors that get in the way.  Of course I am still a writer and so I am always on the look [or listen] out for that extra something that will help make a place come alive for readers.

That evening

Sifting the photographs – I try and sort through my photographs while the day is still fresh in my head, deciding which are worth working on and which didn’t come out as I hoped.  I am a writer not a photographer and make no claim of expertise in this area.  By going through the photographs immediately I can check their quality and if they are all a disaster we might have chance to go back for a second try.

Edit the best of the photographs – Using Photoshop I try and do this on the same day, otherwise I end up with a backlog of hundreds of photographs to edit.  This can take hours!  Sometimes Mr BOTRA reads to me while I edit 🙂

Writing up notes about the things I have seen – I am a bit old fashioned here and always write my notes in long-hand in a journal at first, the pen and paper experience seems to help me to think.  I will type up these notes either that day or later and use these notes as a framework for a story.  I note down smells and sounds, as well as what we have seen and snippets of conversations that I liked, all this helps to bring the place back to me once I start writing.  I also need to keep notes of the cost of campsites and entrance fees as these are often required by magazines.

Back-up photographs and notes – I am terrified of the photographs I have worked so hard to get going missing and so I am a bit obsessive about backing up.  Photographs are left on the SD card and as well as the laptop are copied to a pen drive and a hard drive, just in case the camera and / or the laptop goes missing or gives up the ghost.

File away useful leaflets and information – I also keep leaflets from venues and for walks so that back home I can check the correct name and spelling and maybe opening times, rather than just rely on the internet.

More backing up – If wifi is available I will upload the best photographs to the web as well as the obsessive back-up procedure.  Sometimes campsite wifi can be very slow.

Back at home

The writing and editing and writing and editing …. I don’t normally start writing my articles until I am home, although ideas will have been meandering around my brain during the trip and added to my notes.  This is not a nine-to-five job for me and so I have the luxury to be able to be a slow writer and generally spend around two weeks on a 2,000 word article, constantly checking facts, seeking the right words to describe a place and adding the reference information.

Choosing photographs – From the hundreds of photographs I have taken this gradually has to be whittled down to the 30 photographs that I think would look best in a glossy magazine.  This can be a painful as well as a time consuming process.

If you still want to have a go at being a travel writer I can highly recommend it and there is some useful guidance here.

In contrast

At the end of our trip around Croatia, Italy and France we had a few day in Brittany that won’t appear in any of my travel articles.  We were meeting friends and socialising in the the lovely resorts of Batz-sur-Mer and Le Croisic and later in the pretty inland town of Corlay in Brittany.  It was these few rest days that inspired me to write about the work involved in being a travel writer, as the down time I had made me realise how much free time I have when I’m not doing all of the above!

 

Two months campervan trip to Croatia, Italy & France: what did it cost?

05.05.2018 Krka National Park (1).JPG
Krka National Park in Croatia

On our long foray to the European mainland we spent just over two months from April to June travelling around Europe in our campervan.  I always monitor the spending of our trips.  Sp how did the spending go?  For various reasons this trip was certainly more expensive than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal.  Here is the breakdown in sterling:

  • Diesel – £610 (Croatia is quite a long way and we travelled over 4,200 miles)
  • Supermarket shopping – £956 (we did stock up on wine)
  • Cafes, restaurants & ice-creams – £467
  • Campsites – £983 (for 64 nights)
  • Tolls, bus & train fares & parking – £218
  • Entrance fees – £279 (including about £100 for the Krka National Park excursion)
  • Miscellaneous – £115 [maps, campsite washing machines, occasional wifi & bits of kit]
  • Ferry [return Hull to Zeebrugge] – £489
  • TOTAL – £4,117 – average [without the ferry] £55 / day [this is £11 a day more than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal]

We had travelled a long way to Croatia and to some extent this affected our spending.  We paid almost €110 for the two of us an excursion in a minibus around Krka National Park.  This tour [organised through Camp Marina] meant that we saw more than we would have and for us it was well worth it.  We used some toll motorways in Croatia and bought vignettes for Austria and Slovenia.

Not surprisingly the cheapest country we stayed in was France with some nights of free camping and plenty of ACSI sites that are reasonably priced.  Campsites are notoriously expensive in Italy but we stayed on some very good sostas to keep our costs down.

We had a fantastic trip and we both loved visiting Croatia but to stay within budget during our retirement a trip this costly isn’t something we can do every year.

 

 

 

Doorways & windows around Europe: some ramblings

 

 

Looking through my photographs from recent trips in our campervan one theme stands out.  I have to acknowledge that I can’t help myself; I am always taking photographs of doors and windows.  You might ask how many photographs of doorways and windows one travel writer needs and the answer is clearly an infinite number.  Wherever I am, either at home in Salford and Manchester or in a new village or city, I look for the detail in doorways and check out buildings above the shops to see the windows and the details on the buildings.  This got me thinking, what is it about doors and windows that appeals to me.  I am certainly drawn to an unusual and beautiful doorway and window and I am a real sucker for shutters and stained glass.  But is it just the aesthetics of the doors and windows themselves or is it something more?  Windows and doors are portals to an inner world that is often private.  Am I secretly longing to know what is behind the openings or am I more interested in what might emerge from those doors and windows?

The Romans had a god for many things, including doorways.  Janus, usually shown as a two-faced god, looks to the future and the past and was also the god of beginnings endings and transitions; the Romans understood the lure and significance of the doorway.    Doors, although often beautiful, are closed; they act as the border between the open street and private space.  A closed door has potential but what is hidden beyond may be good and exciting or it may be evil.  The locked door is a familiar metaphor in many tales; we have to get beyond these closed doors to reach something we are seeking.  A locked door is both a temptation into the unknown and a barrier to access; knocking on an unfamiliar door is always daunting.   Doors have the duality of Janus, being closed and open, locked and unlocked, positive and negative and these contradictions are intriguing.

In contrast, windows are transparent, we can see inside and out through the glass.  Windows are also a public stage for beautiful objects; in our 80-year old flat we have wide windowsills and we use these to display favourite objects, a single ornament and an ancient inherited plant in a pot.  By placing these at the public face of the house we are sharing them with the wider world.  Windows are the eyes of the house and the items in the window give a glimpse behind those eyes.

Standing and staring out of a window is a way to travel to other places without moving from home.  Our flat has lots of windows that let the morning and evening sun flood in to the rooms and from these windows I watch the outside world, creating stories in my head.  Whenever we arrive somewhere new the first thing I do [before I check out the interior] is go to the windows and look at the view; I think this is me getting my bearings in a new place, finding out where the sun rises and who I can see and be seen by.  Looking up in a new city I like to imagine myself standing at some of the beautiful windows I see; I wonder how life in this street looks from above and what it would be like to live there.  For me windows only represent the positive; openings to different perspectives and portals for fresh air and sunlight.

The photographs in this post are really just a small selection from my collection of doorways and windows.  The evidence of my addiction is right before your eyes!