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Escape from the Loir, Down the N10 to Villedomer

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Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again! Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again!

Zagan the motorhome’s finally escaped the siren song of the slow-flowing Loir, has spun up his wheels on the fast and free N10, and is now enjoying a sunny afternoon in the municipal aire at Villedômer (N47.54460, E0.88699).  I’m sat inside typing this after a short foray into the village revealed: it’s shut. Very shut. They’re all gone. We’ll try again later but I suspect France is making the most of May’s many jours fériés, and has universally gone on holiday. Who can blame ’em?

The aire at Villedomer. We've since shifted from under the trees as we're English, and weren't 100% sure we were allowed over there. We searched for signs saying we couldn't stay there, found none, but moved anyway. Feels more comfortable sat among the other couple of vans though.The aire at Villedomer. We’ve since shifted from under the trees as we’re English, and weren’t 100% sure we were allowed over there. We searched for signs saying we couldn’t stay there, found none, but moved anyway. Feels more comfortable sat among the other couple of vans though. The road into the aire was a bit dodgy though. Kidding, just kidding.The road into the aire was a bit dodgy though. Kidding, just kidding.

Martin’s birthday BBQ in the campsite at Châteaudun was a hit, with the six of us sat around in the warm evening air alongside the Loir. The talk turned through topics of life, of living on boats, of running 52-room hotels, wandering North Africa, campervan layouts, chemical loos (mandatory subject), the habits of dogs and famous artist fathers painting George Best and Ian Botham. For once I laid off the wine, but enjoyed the evening no less for it. I enjoyed the hangover-less morning too, running around half the area’s communes and eventually notching up 18 miles on the feet. That’s the furthest I’ve managed in over 20 years, and my legs still work today, so I’m a contented middle-aged jogger!

Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again!Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again!

As an aside, Len and June are travelling in a Romahome Duo. They’ve been visiting France Passion sites for the past month and have another couple of weeks before the ferry home, and a likely next foray back out in June. If you ever think your van a little on the compact size, take heart, there’s always someone happily travelling in a more minimalist way! One of their gas burners packed up shortly after they left too, so they’re using a single hob and a portable loo. Respect.

Heading out of the campsite, Zagan had just about realised he was moving when we pulled on the reins at a huge E.Leclerc supermarket whoa Zagan, whoa there!, we’re stopping for supplies big man. A second twist of the key was almost preceded by us coming to a halt again at the aire in Saint Denis Les Ponts (N48.06665, E1.29016), all of about 5 miles from Châteaudun. The small town was again pretty much shut, and we spent the afternoon reading and cooking.

I’ve read The Obstacle is the Way twice in the past week, much enthused by the methods in which the great and the good have tackled blockers in their lives, evading them, even turning them to an advantage. In between the two readings I ploughed through Chris Moon’s One Step Beyond, reeling at the quiet and accepting way in which the author tackles the rather enormous obstacle of him being blown up and nearly killed by a land mine. There are a lot of incredible, tough, kind, persevering, and frankly inspirational folks out there.

Lovely free village motorhome aire at Saint Denis Les PontsLovely free village motorhome aire at Saint Denis Les Ponts

This morning, Ju nipped out for a run, and aferwards we decided over breakfast to make a break for it. This wee part of France around Châteaudun and to the north has as Shire-like feel to it to me: a rural perfection. Life seems to ease along here, in no hurry, much like the Hobbit’s homeland in the Lord of the Rings. Folks from communes make their way to weekly markets, queuing at favourite stalls for vegetables, meat, fish and vegetables, taking the opportunity to shoot the breeze, discussing prices and, we guess, a bit of gossip here and there. Travelling the Loir’s felt less like travel and more like simply being alive. No huge revelations about the meaning of life have been forthcoming, unless life is simply there to be calmly enjoyed and revelled in?

The N10 took us south, largely bypassing towns at a steady 90Kph, with the occasional stretch of 110Kph dual carriageway: perfect for us. What should have been an overnight stop at the rather pleasant town of Vendôme (N47.79140, E1.07565) turned into a pitstop. A wander about the street market followed by a van-based lunch of walnut bread, sheep’s cheese, ham and crabsticks (I can eat these weird bready-fishy things in their thousands). Maybe we felt the passing of the Loir, as it finally heads off West from here, and needed to make a break for it to. 30 seconds after the bread was away, so were we.

Lovely free village motorhome aire at Saint Denis Les PontsFree reserved motorhome parking at Vendôme, right outside the campsite entrance, a not unusual occurrence in France but it always has us pondering differences between here and our native England. VendomeVendome. An unlikely chat about the visual appeal (or not) of the Flying Buttress followed the taking of this photo, as you do.

More N10 eased us 40 minutes south to here, a wee village which welcomes us van-dwellers free for 24 hours among birdsong and greenery. And that’s about as long as we’ll stay, I guess. The maps and apps remain ever-open and we’ll be eyeballing the next place later on this evening. For now I need to go, time to grab a book and read in the sun.

Villedomer square. Perfect. But also a bit on the closed side.Villedomer square. Perfect. But also a bit on the closed side.

Ahhhh, wait, wait, nearly forgot Door of the Day! Here you go guys: spotted this little ladder-accessed beauty on the street around the corner from where we’re parked up. Ain’t she a beauty?

Door of the DayToday’s Door of the Day in Villedomer

Cheers, Jay

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France

Charlie Time, Enjoying the Free Motorhome Aires in Rural France

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Charlie getting a hug as he’s struggling with his walking these days and it stresses him out

Zagan the motorhome has been filled with all the pomp and ceremony of the Royal Wedding this morning. All this while parked up in a free motorhome aire in Saint Saturnin in the centre of France (N46.50457, E2.23573), which even provides free electricity.

motorhome aire Saint Saturnin France

Back in Loches, we realised that going to look around towns and cities isn’t happening while it’s warm. Charlie’s heart medication makes him struggle in any temperature above 22°C. We have tried taking it in turns to stay with him in shade near the van while the other explores, but it’s just not working as he likes the pack to stay together. So we have come up with another plan, which is probably Plan C. Plan A was Croatia, which was scuppered as soon as we realised Charlie’s increased aversion to warmth. Plan B was pootling around France sightseeing. Instead of finding places and things to go and see, we’re making Plan C ‘Charlie time’, and going places that are good for him instead. This has meant that for the past few nights, we’ve been in aires in tiny villages with very little happening, but lots of shade and grass for him to amble about on.

This new plan brought us to La Tranger (N46.95619, E1.23998), which is just a tiny dot on our map. The marie (mayor) has kindly put in a sign that allows motorhome parking by the river, next to a picnic area under trees – perfect for us. We parked up and headed into the shade for the day. Jay got in a half marathon training run, testing out his new ‘camel pack’ (a back pack with a water bag in it and a tube so he can get a drink while out running) which proved to be a hit after a few modifications, while Charlie and I kept our cool in the shade.

free motorhome aire in La Tranger, France

Charlie getting a hug as he’s struggling with his walking these days and it stresses him out

In the evening Jay and I went for a walk around the village – it took us less than ten minutes, including five minutes standing on the bridge watching the swollen river gush under it. In the morning we set off for what would be an hour and a half drive, the longest we’ve done in a while to get us somewhere that we could stay for a couple of nights and watch the Royal Wedding.

We stopped off in La Chatre, which is in our free guide book that we picked up at a campsite (it includes motorhome parking places in each of the towns listed), but it was too warm to leave Charlie. Instead we stopped in the Super U car park and made use of the launderette. While all our bedding, seat covers etc spun round in the huge 18kg machine, there was chance for a quick nip to the Lidl next door for a couple of bits we needed.

La Chatre Launderette with Flot Bleu Service point on the leftLa Chatre Launderette with Flot Bleu Service point on the left Whoever lives here is right between a Super U and Lidl in La Chatre, France

Once the washing was done, we drove the final half hour to St Saturnin. We chose this place because it has plenty of shade, and when we got here it turns out it has free electricity too (we can’t work out why). Yesterday evening Jay and I went for a walk around the place once the air had cooled to Charlie snoring temperature (his snores are sweetest noise in the world at the moment as it means he’s cool and happy). Once again, there isn’t much here. A marie office, of course, a war memorial, a church and a shop/bar. That was about all we could find. Yet this small community has chosen to invest money in an aire for us motorhomers, and a really nice are at that. We still can’t get our heads around it and just wish a tiny bit of whatever it is would rub off on councils in the UK.

This morning we fired up the satellite and I enjoyed the Royal Wedding on the TV (Jay half watched and read a book at the same time). Travelling in Dave we got rid of our TV after the first year as we never watched it (it only had a normal aerial on it so would only pick up terrestrial channels). When we got Zagan he had a satellite system fitted and we did think about taking it out, but then remembered how we would have loved to have seen a bit of the London Olympics, so we decided to keep it. So while we hardly watch TV, I’m glad we kept the dish and events like today make me proud to be British, as they show what we do so well – the whole pomp and ceremony thing. I loved being able to sit in a small corner of France and watch it all, especially having missed the weeks of hype beforehand.

Ju x

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France

Loches, Centre Val-de-Loire

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Zagan the motorhome’s within sight of the fairy-tale turrets which sprout like asparagus above the rooftops of Loches. We’re in a small free aire, with a little-used train line to one side, and a pleasant river-side trail to the other (N47.13339, E1.00043). The town has a few official motorhome parking spots, all limited to 24 hours and all free. The one we’re in is a short walk (10 mins) to the town, and it’s looking a very nice place to stay a night.

Our chosen free motorhome aire in LochesOur chosen free motorhome aire in LochesOur chosen free motorhome aire in Loches

“Errrm, don’t we know your face? Have we met before?” I’d been chatting with the lady from a neighbouring English van back at our previous aire at Esvres-sur-Indre when Ju walked over and a spark of recognition flew. Incredibly, given the vast network of stopovers across France, we’d found ourselves next to Mary and Stuart who we last met next to the cork oak forest at Benarrabá, in Spain’s Andalucia. How nuts is that!? Almost a year’s passed, and here we were, on exactly the same spot as each other again! Over a long chat they explained they were still happily living in their van, after three years, but had made a few forays to other continents by plane. They were on their way back to the UK for a month before slingshot-ing back out again. Quite where they were off after that to was undecided, as perhaps it should be.

We forgot to get a photo of Mary and Stuart, but they did show us these neat little gadgets which fit over your window handles and stop theives sneakily opening them from outside. There's a version for sliding windows too. Nope, they won't stop a crowbar, but are better than nothing?We forgot to get a photo of Mary and Stuart, but they did show us these neat little gadgets which fit over your window handles and stop thieves sneakily opening them from outside. There’s a version for sliding windows too. Nope, they won’t stop a crowbar, but presumably stop some more-subtle robbers? If you happen to be in Esvres-sur-Indre, we can highly recommend the lunch menu at O Bistro Quai. Friendly people, fast service, two, two course meals plus cheese for €25, pretty good eh?If you happen to be in Esvres-sur-Indre, we can highly recommend the lunch menu at O Bistro Quai. Friendly people, fast service, basic and beautiful food, a couple of two course meals plus cheese for €25, pretty good eh? Spot the odd thing out? Yep, there's a flood height indicator at the service point, as the nearby river occasionally breaks its banks!Spot the odd thing out? Yep, there’s a flood height indicator at the service point, as the nearby river occasionally breaks its banks!

After our goodbyes (or the less permanent au revoirs, hopefully) we rolled off 30 mins down the road to Super U round the corner from here, and topped up on supplies. After being caught out by a loyalty card pricing scheme at a previous shop, we were eagle-eyed this time, which took some doing. Small things are noticeably different when we shift abroad, and one of them’s the way food is priced in some supermarkets. Whether deliberate or not, it’s almost impossible to compare similar foods, or even work out what the price should be. Having many, many hours on our hands though, we rose to the challenge made sure we got the best deals!

Those signs above the milk show you the prices. All 800 of them.Those signs above the milk show you the prices. All 800 of them. None of which you can quickly tie up with the actual cartons.

With our diesel tank brimmed with gas oil (supermarket stations tend to the cheaper here, like in the UK), we drove to the aire, bagged a spot and slow-roasted a little. The sun’s quite beautiful melting down over the greenery, but wee Charlie’s less than impressed. We take him outside under a cool tree: he wants back in the van. We carry him back to the van, he pants endlessly. It’s a tad difficult, but with a wet towel and patience all’s good and he’s currently snoring at my feet.

This might explain at least partially why we’re getting fleeting tours of the towns at best, so the cream-stone-built medieval Loches has hardly got a look in. Once cool enough we managed a short wander around the place as the shops closed. Most everyone we saw was in a cafe, supping coffee or a single beer (the giant thirst of the Brits never made it over here for some reason). Into a church, we came across the tomb of a king’s mistress. A statue of Joan of Arc stood in one corner, commemorating her trip here after defeating those dastardly English. Giant stone blocks form the citadel’s keep, looking out over countryside below. It’s a lovely place, and well worth a visit.

A table and chairs kindly placed out on the street for you to rest, or write a post card.A table and chairs kindly placed out on the street for you to rest, or write a post card.

Yep, that’s about it guys! The birds are singing away outside, frogs are croaking, the sun has set and the cool slips in. Dinner of green beans, new potatoes and unidentified white fish has been enjoyed and Ju’s masterfully washing up as I type this. Perhaps I need to drag it out a little to avoid having to dry up? Yes, yes, good idea. I’ll go rummage around for one last photo to kill a few more seconds. 🙂

One thing you can't dis about a French supermarket: the wine selection is immense!One thing you can’t criticise about a French supermarket: the wine selection is immense!

Cheers, Jay

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France

Leonardo de Vinci in Amboise, France

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Amboise France Leonardo has the best view in Amboise

Zagan the motorhome has his shoulders scrunched up to shield himself from the cold rain hitting his roof. Fortunately he’s parked in a free aire (that allows us to stay for up to 10 nights!), so we’ll probably just sit out the weather here and explore the town of Esvres-sur-Indre (N47.28260, E0.78460) later.

Motorhome Aire in Esvres-sur-Indre, FranceMotorhome Aire in Esvres-sur-Indre, France

After a great night’s sleep at the goat farm, we headed south for a few minutes to Amboise – the town where Leonardo de Vinci spent his last years, and his final resting place. A few years back we visited Vinci in Italy, Leonardo’s home town, and enjoyed the museum dedicated to the town’s famous son there. However, as we were passing, we thought it would be rude not to pop by and have a look at where he spent the end of his life.

We could tell Amboise is a bit of a touristy place, as it has three motorhome aires and a campsite. We opted for the municipal campsite (N47.41742, E0.97956) as its free WiFi enabled us to Skype our families back home and join my Dad on his birthday, albeit virtually.

Amboise campsiteWe paid €13.70 for the campsite (no electric), the folks over the hedge in the aire paid €13 inc elec.

The campsite, and the aire next to it, are both situated on Ile d’Or, the Island of Gold, which sits in the middle of the Loire – yes, we’ve finally reached the Loire-with-an-e after spending days on the Loir. Our first challenge of the day was to work out how to get into the campsite, and from what we saw later in the day we weren’t the only ones having trouble working it out. The entrance is a wall of locked gates and barriers, so we pulled into the lay-by just outside and I jumped out to see what was going on. Only then did I see that the campsite reception is about 100m before the gates, set back from the road next to the mini golf. Once this was sussed there was no stopping us, and soon we were in place, hooked up to the WiFi and with tokens ready for the laundry.

Loire bridgeI wouldn’t have fancied being on the island when the Loire got that high (see flood heights to the left)!

The WiFi and laundry could wait though, today was market day in Amboise, and we love a market. Closing the van blinds and curtains, and opening the skylights, it kept cool enough for us to leave Charlie happily munching a gravy bone – he’s not a big fan of markets. We set off over the bridge to the main town, stopping to gawp at a huge statue of a naked Leonardo and the view he has of Chateau Amboise rising above the town across the river.

Leonardo de Vinci Statue Amboise

Amboise FranceLeonardo has the best view in Amboise

We followed the crowd and were soon wedged in with the masses getting our ankles bumped with pushchairs as we squeezed between the queues lining up to buy from the stalls; the cooked chicken stall queue was epic. It was one of the biggest markets we’d seen in a while, and using our ‘cooked chicken scale’ it appeared to be more expensive than the other ones we’ve visited. We left having without purchasing, but not empty handed as I managed to get a free cloth bag from a PR wagon promoting some sort of soft cheese.

Wine wagon FranceFree tasting of local wines Asparagus French MarketAsparagus is everywhere – it must be in season Paella French MarketLooks like we were too late for the paella today! Chickens - French MarketIf you don’t want your chicken cooked, there were plenty of live ones to choose from – they were being sold as egg layers, not for dinner!

After the market we took a walk around the town. Now, if you are looking forward to reading all about our visits to Chateau Amboise; the ‘Seat of the French Renaissance Court’, home of Leonardo’s tomb, or Clos Luce, the house Leonardo spent his last years in, you may be disappointed as we didn’t go inside either of them (but I have put links to both of their websites if you want to read more about them). We enjoyed our visit to Chateau Chenonceau a few years ago, but we aren’t bothered about going into any more of the chateaux, a bit like we don’t tend to visit stately homes back in the UK. The only thing that might tempt us would be something unusual, something like Leonardo de Vinci’s tomb. But hang on a minute, what is that you say, it might not actually be his tomb?

It turns out that when he died in 1519 he was buried in the Chapel of St. Forentin within the chateau grounds, but after the French Revolution (1789~1799) the chapel was in such a state that the engineer appointed by Napoleon had it demolished. Around 330 years after Leonardo’s death the site of the chapel was excavated and it was said that a complete skeleton was found with fragments of a stone inscription containing some letters of this name. Other reports described heaps of bones and children kicking around skulls for a game. Either way a collection of bones with a large skull were said to have been reburied in a new chapel within the chateau grounds. The Chapel of St. Hubert is now the visitor’s entrance to the chateau and has a large marble stone with a portrait and Leonardo’s name on it. I guess however you look at it, he’s buried in the ground here somewhere!

Chateau Amboise Entrance to Chateau Amboise with Chapel of St Hubert perched on the top

Instead of visiting the ‘must see’ sights, we enjoyed ourselves wandering around the town which is dominated by the huge defensive walls of the chateau. We walked up to a fairly unimpressive viewpoint, then back down to explore the town a little more before heading back to the campsite for some lunch.

AmboiseThe locals have built little homes in the rock under the castle, many of which are now available for rent.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Amboise, it had a really nice feel about it and the chateau and house are probably excellent. However I felt more excited at the prospect of watching the goats being milked yesterday than I was about walking around a chateau, so I guess that gives you an idea as to how I’m feeling at the moment.

Clos LuceClos Luce – not a bad retirement home!

After lunch, laundry was done, families Skyped and Charlie explored around our pitch (it was huge so he didn’t venture far off it). In the evening as it cooled a little, I managed an 11km jog by going around the island twice and enjoyed the view of the chateau again – probably my favourite thing here when the market isn’t on. We all slept like logs last night and this morning we woke to rain that had been forecast for yesterday afternoon. Jay still went out for a run though, he’s determined to beat that mountain into submission in July.

Then it was time for breakfast, long hot showers and gear up for the off. It took less than half an hour to get to tonight’s stop, and we’ll go out for a wander around once the rain stops. Then it’s out with the maps again to see where we are heading next.

Ju x

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