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France in our motorhome

How to stay cool in a motorhome during a heatwave

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It’s the busiest holiday weekend of the summer in France and most people are heading south or to the Atlantic coast. Not us! We are driving from Bordeaux in the west of France to Lake Geneva in the west. The plan is to take several days over it. The forecasted heatwave has arrived and it’s still 36C at 8pm which poses the question of how to stay cool in a motorhome.

This is the warmest weather we have experienced since buying our motorhome. The plan was always to try and go to destinations where the weather averaged the mid 20’s Centigrade and so far that plan has worked, until now!

Trying to keep cool in a motorhome

If you read the motorhome forums on Facebook the question of how to stay cool in a motorhome is often asked. Our first rule is to never go to places where you are guaranteed to get very hot weather. At the moment Europe is in the middle of a heatwave and temperatures in Spain are 45C+. Spain is great for us in the winter but not in summer because it’s too hot.

We have just driven from the French Atlantic coast where temperatures were 29C during the day and 18C at night with a cooling sea breeze. Sleeping in 18C is not a problem but sleeping in 26C is another matter, which is what was forecast for that area at night.

We don’t have an air conditioning system so we have to rely on natural ventilation to reduce the temperature. All our skylights are open and usually there is a breeze and the temperatures at night are lower but they can still be uncomfortable if the outside temperature is high.

Our motorhome with insulation on the windscreen

An external silver screen for the motorhome windscreen is a must. We have used ours in the winter when we were in Spain and during a heatwave in France. Try to park in the shade and, of course, open all the motorhome skylights. Put a damp flannel in the fridge and use it in the night to cool down. Get a 12v fan to circulate the air. Our rule is to go where it’s cooler in the summer and that’s why we are heading for the mountains.

I can’t offer magical solutions to keeping cool in a motorhome but if anybody reading this has any great ideas please leave a comment below.

Our alarm went off in the night!

Every night we set our motorhome security alarm. The alarm is set so that we can move around inside but if any of the doors or garage doors are opened the alarm sounds. I have often wondered what I would do if the alarm goes off whilst we were sleeping. I was about to find out! It was 12.30am and we were staying the night in an Aire in the small sleepy village of Lezoux. There were 2 other motorhomes and suddenly we were woken with the sound of a vehicle alarm. My first thought was is that our alarm or someone elses but within seconds I realised it was ours. I reached for the alarm fob and switched it off. We both listened and heard nobody running away. Was this a false alarm or had someone attempted to break in? We have had no false alarms in the past so it could be real. A quick look through the roof turret (skylight) revealed it was pitch black and there was no sign of anybody outside. If I wanted to be sure there was no break in I had to go outside so I found a torch and hesitantly ventured outside to check the garage doors. It was a false alarm. There was no sign of a break in and nobody around. All I could see was the amazing clear night sky and millions of stars!

All the way across France

We had started near Bordeaux and used the A89 motorway to drive past Lyon towards Geneva as we wanted to spend some time in The French Alps. The A89 is a very scenic drive across some amazing scenery. The road reaches a height of 1,000 metres as it crosses the Massif Central and you see mountains, gorges and a stunning plateau. Incredible bridges and tunnels make the A89 a spectacular drive.

Perigeaux cathedral

Perigeaux is an attractive medieval town in The Dordogne. It has charming narrow streets, a historical cathedral and a large number of restaurants, shops and cafes. The Aire in Perigeaux costs €6.55 and it is an easy 10 minute walk along the river to the town centre. We were very impressed with Perigeaux and would go back.

The mother of all thunderstorms

Having hardly seen any rain in the last 12 months it was a shock to the system when a huge thunderstorm struck the area on the evening of 5 August. Parked on a very good free Aire in the village of Chanay in the Rhone Valley a massive thunderstorm lasting several hours cleared the air. Gale force winds, torrential rain and hailstones was acually a facinating sight although I was slightly worried at one stage that there might be damage to our motorhome such was the ferocity of the hailstones. Before the giant thunderstorm the temperature was a hot 35C but after the storm the temperature had dropped to a pleasant 22C. Perhaps that’s a way to stay cool in a motorhome – head for the thunderstorms!

Guide to living in a motorhome fulltime

Thanks to all my readers! Wow, my last blog about how to live in a motorhome fulltime, which you can read here, has been viewed over 3,000 times in only a few days. That’s incredible. The post generated masses of positive comments on Facebook with many people saying they are going to do the same in the future. It’s clearly a lifestyle that interests many people.

Alleyway in Perigeaux, France

Morning after the storm. Parked on the Aire at Chanay. Only room for 4 motorhomes.

Driving through a tunnel near Lyon.

Here is a short video of the massive thunderstorm we had. I’m listening to the Leeds vs Stoke game on headphones, which is why I’m looking so uninterested!

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Bedoin

Exploring beautiful villages in south-west France by motorhome

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Our motorhome journey to Chamonix in the amazing French Alps, blog article here, was a highlight for us on our summer tour of France, but it was time to move to an area that we hadn’t visited before. The hilltop villages of the River Drome area was our next destination, although only a week before it was headline news about a campsite on the Drome that had been flooded after a storm and 1,600 campers evacuated. Perhaps it was a good idea then to stay away from the River Drome, which is one of the last remaining wild rivers in Europe, with no dams for a large part of the river.

The area has many national parks, deep gorges, high rock faces and winding roads as well as many small historical villages that are well worth visiting. There are hundreds of French villages that are great tourist destinations and known as ‘les plus beaux villages de france’ (The most beautiful villages of France). We have only visited a small handful of these villages on this 2 months visit to France and in this article I’m including the villages we visited and stopped at.

Saint Antoinne L’abbay

In the Rhone-Alps region and situated between Grenoble and Valence, Saint Antoinne L’abbay is considered to be one of the best medieval villages in France. There is a free motorhome Aire just 5 minutes walk from the village centre where the highlights are the half-timbered old houses, the medieval market hall and historic abbey founded in 1297.

The magnificent abbey at Saint Antoinne L’abbay

One of the medieval streets in Saint Antoinne L’abbay

Saint Antoinne L’abbay

Pont en Royan

Founded in the 16th century, Pont en Royan is famous for its suspended houses with colourful facades. The village was built on the side of a river gorge and has a picturesque bridge. It is popular with families in summer who have picnics by the river. There is a motorhome Aire a short walk along the riverside path.

The suspended houses at Pont en Royan

Crest

Crest is located on the edge of the foothills of the Alps. The River Drôme runs through the ancient town and this is where you will be able to visit the highest medieval keep still standing in France. It’s a magnificent building and would not look out of place in a Lord of the Rings movie. It’s a steep climb up steps to reach the entrance to the Crest Tower, which dates back to the 12th century.

The Crest Tower was also used as a prison in the 17th century and you can still see graffiti on the walls scrawled on the walls by the bored prisoners.

We stayed at the motorhome Aire in Crest, which is only a 5 minute walk from the town centre. Payment is collected by a parking attendant in the early evening.

The view from the Crest Tower in Crest

The imposing church in Crest

Medieval street in Crest

Steep steps leading to the Crest Tower

Hand of Fatima door knocker!

Dieulefit & Le Poet-Laval

The municipal campsite at Le Poet-Laval is excellent value for money. €16.40 per night with electricity, spacious pitches and a good clean swimming pool. We loved it and it was made even better as we met Martin and Jane, fellow full time motorhomers. We had 3 nights drinking wine together and swapping motorhome stories about our travels. Martin is a retired journalist and he writes a great blog about their motorhome adventure that you can read here.

Le Poet-Laval is a renovated hilltop medieval village. Wandering the narrow cobbled alleyways and looking out over the rolling hills was a joy.

Le Poet Laval

Restored houses in Le Poet Laval

Le Poet Laval

The town of Dieulefit

Valreas – has an interesting church!

Situated in the Drôme region of France, Valrèas is surrounded by vineyards. The highlight for us was the imposing 12th century church ND de Nazareth. The motorhome Aire is 10 minutes walk from the town.

The 12th century church at Valreas

Valreas

Vaison La Romaine – Roman town

Dating back to the 4th century BC, Vaison La Romaine is full of Roman and medieval remains and also has a lively restaurant and bar scene. The motorhome Aire is an easy 1 km walk to the town centre and the historical Roman bridge. To reach the medieval old town head across the old Roman bridge and head for the castle on the hill. You can’t miss it! The castle was built in the 12th century and you have magnificent views of Mont Ventoux.

The Roman bridge at Vaison La Romaine

Part of the old town of Vaison La Romaine

Nice flowers in Vaison La Romaine

The Roman theatre in Vaison La Romaine

Colourful ceramics shop in Vaison La Romaine

Bedoin in Provence

50km east of Avignon, Bedoin is a lovely agricultural town at the foot of the 1912 metres Mont Ventoux. You will find the town busy with cyclists as it is the start of the daunting cycle climb to the top of Mont Ventoux. There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants as well as the huge and bustling Monday market, which is one of the best in the region. We stayed on the very good Aire in Bedoin, which is a pleasant 10 minute stroll from the town centre.

Colourful vegetables on sale at the Monday Bedoin market

An artist at Bedoin market

Pretty back street in Bedoin

Our motorhome parked on the Aire at Bedoin

Crillon le Brave

Dating back to Roman times this beautifully restored hilltop village is well worth a visit. The focal point is the famous Hotel Crillon and there are also several restaurants and a boulangerie. The 1912 metres high Mont Ventoux is clearly visible and the view over the plain and surrounding mountains is amazing. For the less energetic it’s possible to be taken by van to the summit of Mont Ventoux and be left to cycle down back to Crillon le Brave.

Crillon le Brave near Bedoin in Provence

Crillon le Brave

La Cavalerie

The fascinating village of La Cavalerie is 10 minutes south of the Millau Viaduct at junction 47 on the A75. There is a good motorhome Aire at La Cavalerie, only 10 minutes walk from the medieval village centre, that has been beautifully restored. La Cavalerie was founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century and fortified by the Knights Hospitaller in the 15th century. You can walk along the restored ramparts (cost 2.5 euro per person), and walk around the walled part of the village. It’s definitely worth a couple of hours visit or a stopover on the drive north or south. The history of the Knights Templar is worth reading about. More information here.

La Cavalerie – The Knights Templar

La Cavalerie

The fortifications at La Cavalerie

La Cavalerie

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Aiguille du Midi

Taking a motorhome to one of the most stunning places in Europe

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There is a really good place for motorhomes to park with views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains she said. I would love to go there but it’s up a fairly steep road she said! No problem said I. “we have just done the steepest roads in northern Europe on our motorhome tour of Norway, so if we can do those roads we can do anything”. We are, of course, now in southern Europe and more specifically in The French Alps where the mountains are much higher than Norway. Just for the record Mount Blanc is 4808 metres high and the highest mountain in Europe. The place where I was about to drive to was at Plaine Joux and at an altitude of 1,350 metres. We had driven up a very steep road to the Dalsnibba viewpoint in Norway at an altitude of 1,200 metres so this one at Plaine Joux would be the highest we had driven to. How hard could it be!

The dramatic ascent to Plaine Joux

We set off from Les Gets where we had spent the night in a large free motorhome parking area and headed for the A20 motorway towards Chamonix. After turning off the motorway we stopped to consult the map to try and determine the best way up the mountain to Plaine Joux, but it was not that easy to see the best way because there were several interconnecting roads. This meant that we had to rely on the sat nav and of course it took us on the shortest route which involved a single carriageway with several hairpin bends and it was very steep. Needless to say we met several cars coming in the opposite direction where it was virtually impossible for us to reverse. My rule in these situations is that smaller cars reverse, especially when it’s a bigger vehicle going uphill. There was much cursing from the me including “we are never driving a motorhome on another mountain road again” and “this is too steep for a motorhome”.  Eventually, the road improved a little and we reached the top and it was definitely worth the effort as we had reached probably the best motorhome parking place in Europe, with incredible views of Europe’s highest mountain range including Mont Blanc.

View from our motorhome at Plaine Joux

Our motorhome parked at Plaine Joux. 1,350 altitude.

Chamonix – the most stunning scenery in Europe

Paraglider with Mont Blanc in background

The road down from Plaine Joux was much easier and far less stressful because we managed to follow the main road rather than take short cuts and our next destination was Chamonix. We had last visited Chamonix 2 years ago and had stayed in an excellent hotel with our room having views of Mont Blanc. On this visit, however, we parked our motorhome in the car park for the Aiguille du Midi. Motorhomes are allowed to park overnight for 14 euros.

Brevent cable car from Chamonix

The scenery around Chamonix is simply stunning and awe inspiring. Last time we had visited Chamonix we had taken the Aiguille du Midi cable car. This is Europe’s highest accessible point by cable car at an astonishing 3,842 metres above sea level (12,604 feet). At the top the air is thin and you can really feel your lungs trying harder to obtain more oxygen. Altitude sickness is an issue at the top of Aiguille du Midi, but it’s a place I think everyone should try and experience because you are nearly at the highest place in Europe. If you love views you will love Chamonix!

On this visit to Chamonix we didn’t go up the Aiguille du Midi because there is another equally dramatic cable car ascent on the opposite side of the valley called Brevent. Reaching an altitude of 2525 metres with two cable car rides you get incredible views of Mont Blanc and the other mountains around it. The top of Brevent is also a more pleasing temperature whereas the top of Aiguille du Midi is normally around 0C in summer and often colder. It was interesting watching the paragliders take off and there are several cafes and restaurants. The cost for two people on the Brevent cable car is €52 return. We spent several hours at the top of Brevent and there are several walks along the ridges as well as paths down the mountain.

Chamonix is an incredible place if you love scenery. It’s steep wooded valley and mountain peaks are truly jaw dropping, especially in good weather when you can see the summit of Mont Blanc. Chamonix also has a lively restaurant and bar scene as well as a good range of shops and small supermarkets. Parking a motorhome in Chamonix is not a problem and whether you have a motorhome or not there are plenty of hotels and apartments to stay in. For me Chamonix is a ‘must see’ destination. Everybody needs to see Mont Blanc and the mountains because they are truly inspiring.

Paragliding at Les Gets in French Alps.

Descending the chairlift at Les Gets in the French Alps

Close up to the Brevent cable car

Cafe and restaurant at top of Brevent cable car.

The church in Chamonix

At 2,525 metres altitude. Brevent cable car.

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Brittany

France Passion, Bastille Day & The World Cup final

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Our plan for this motorhome trip to France is to drive south to the Bordeaux area and to spend several nights staying at France Passion motorhome stopovers. Just in case you think this type of stopover is something dodgy I can tell you that it’s an organisation offering motorhome stopovers at vineyards, farms and regional product producers. Overnight stops are free and you have the opportunity to sample the products, although there is no obligation to buy. Around the Gironde estuary there are dozens of France Passion stops and hopefully we can spend a few nights at some well known wine producers and stock up our wine crate.

When our wine crate is full we plan to have a weeks holiday! In the last 12 months we have been travelling through several countries and driven 12,000 miles in our motorhome, so we decided it would be good to spend a week in one place so we can swim and relax before continuing our motorhome journey through France.

After our ‘holiday’ our plan is to drive east to the French Alps and visit Chamonix before meeting our good friends, and dedicated Francophiles, Lynne and Mark in Provence.

Perret and Bastille Day

Brittany is an area of France that we haven’t visited for 30 years so when we crossed the border with Normandy we were looking forward to seeing a little of the area. Our first stop was at the tiny village of Perret, population 160, and right in the centre of Brittany. Our friends John and Jan, who we met in Spain last winter, live in the village and kindly offered us a parking place in their garden. John and Jan are very involved in the Perret community and the next morning I offered to help John with setting up the Bastille Day event. This involved lifting heavy beer casks and cases of wine from a nearby barn into a car and at the same time preventing a pet goat from escaping from the garden!

That afternoon the whole village turned out for the celebrations which included a very nice hog roast dinner and plenty of beer and wine.

The 15th century chapel in the village of Perret, Brittany.

The next day we visited a typical French Sunday morning market and a ruined abbey called Bon Repos, which overlooks the Nantes-Brest canal. We also had chance to visit the amazing chapel in Perret. It was built in 1425 and has hardly changed since that date.

Bridge over the Nantes-Brest canal.

John and Jan have done a great job of integrating into their local village community and I really respect them for that. They take French lessons and volunteer for many things and for that they are highly respected by the locals.

The World Cup is in Vannes

After a lovely traditional English Sunday roast lunch with John and Jan we set off for Vannes in south Brittany. Vannes is a walled town with narrow cobbled streets, medieval gates and wooden houses. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any of this because we had parked at the Aire, which is out of the town centre, and the bus only runs every hour. With the temperature being 31c we didn’t fancy a sweaty bus ride so decided to come back another time.

The day we were in Vannes was also the evening of The World Cup final between France and Croatia and it was good to witness the celebrations of the French victory and local French drivers being a little over enthusiastic with their car horns.

Unattractive Saint Jean de Monts

The beach at Saint Jean de Monts

Saint Jean de Monts is a seaside resort town in western France and as it was on our route south we decided to spend a night at the Aire (€12 a night). We found the town to be uninspiring, although the French seem to love it. The many expensive campsites and long life guard controlled beach as well as ‘monster truck’ events appear to be the  main attractions. One night for us was enough and the next day we were driving south again.

A free Aire at Saint-Romain-de-Benet

It often pays to look off the beaten track for motorhome stops. I love the Camper Contact app. for finding good places to stop. After 3 hours driving I found a free municipal Aire in the small village of Saint Romain-de-Benet, not far from Royan in Charente Maritime. With space for 20 motorhomes we were the only one there. The village was lovely and I visited the village bakery to buy a few things as I try to support local business.

The only motorhome in this free Aire.

The only thing of note about Saint Romain-de-Benet, apart from beautifully restored village houses and a historic church were the church bells. For some reason the church bells would ring on the hour and again one minute later.

We have found many beautiful French villages on our journey so far through France but an interesting fact about Saint Romain-de-Benet is that the population of the village in 1763 was 1,260 and the population now is only 400 more.

A free night on a vineyard with France Passion

Our motorhome parked at Chateau D’Osmond in the Medoc region of France.

Having chosen a suitable vineyard in the Médoc region just north of Bordeaux from the France Passion book we arrived at Chateaux d’Osmond and parked in the shade next to the vines. Anne went looking for the owner and Philippe came out to greet us. If you are interested in wine you can read more about the wine of Chateau d’Osmond here.

On a tour of the barrels at Chateau d’Osmond.

Later in the day Philippe took us on a tour of his wine storage tanks, the storage barrels and the building where he bottles his wine. He told us that one barrel makes 300 bottles of wine and he sells to Sweden, Germany and Japan. We were looking forward to the wine tasting and it didn’t disappoint. We tasted the deep coloured red, the limited edition Petit Verdot and a very dark unique Rosé all of which were outstanding wines. Whilst there is no obligation to buy we decided to buy 12 bottles at a cost of €106, so the free night turned out to be an expensive one!

The official Bordeaux classification for the wines we bought is Cru Artisan du Médoc and is a classification used for small and medium wineries where the wine is bottled at the chateau. Only 44 vineyards have this classification.

Cabernet and Merlot grapes growing at Chateau d’Osmond and due to be harvested at end of September.

Not sure where to put our two boxes of wine from Chateau D’Osmond.

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