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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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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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Battle of Villers-Bocage

Back to France and a tank battle

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France is heaven for motorhomes. It’s got thousands of ‘Aires’ and campsites. The French realised many years ago that if they encouraged motorhomes to visit then their owners would spend their money in the many towns and villages that have places to park motorhomes for the night. This is in stark contrast to the UK where many local authororites have no desire to have visits from motorhomes. The UK is missing out on lucrative tourism by adopting this short sighted attitude.

Brittany Ferries

Arriving into Caen

It’s a fascinating sight as you approach the ferry port at Ouistreham. We had sailed on the Brittany Ferries ‘Normandie’ from Portsmouth and Sword Beach, where British troops landed as part of Operation Overlord in June 1944, was clearly visible. On this warm sunny day in July beach lovers and swimmers were taking advantage of the weather and a big wheel dominated the landscape. I still tried to imagine what it must have been like on 6th June 1944 as the huge invasion force met the might of the German defenders.

The battle of Villers-Bocage

After arriving late afternoon in Caen we didn’t want to drive more than an hour, so I looked at the map and found a free aire at the town of Villers-Bocage. After further research it transpires that this place was the site of a ferocious battle, a few days after D-Day, involving a large number of tanks. The Allies, however, did not manage to take the town so over the next few days 266 Allied bombers flattened it. Today, it’s a pretty, sleepy place with no sign that such a battle ever happened.

The town of Villers-Bocage is so sleepy that we only manage to find one bar that was open and showing the World Cup. This was the night England were playing Croatia and the friendly bar owner informed us that she was closing at 9pm, so we could only watch the football until half time!

The best Aire for Mont Saint Michel

Entrance to Aire de Beauvoir

When we look for somewhere to stay for the night we don’t tend to do much planning. We have a vague plan on where we are heading but only plan where we are staying one day in advance. When we plan, however, we look carefully at where we want to go and where it’s possible to park a motorhome. It could be wild camping, an Aire or motorhome stop or a campsite. For France we use the Camper Contact app. and All the Aires books by Vicarious.

We had never visited Mont Saint Michel before so I picked what appeared to be a good Aire and found the one at Beauvoir. It turned out to be one of the best Aires we have stayed at. Spacious pitches with electric and all the usual water and waste points. This Aire is also on a cycle path to Mont st Michel which is only 3km away.

Cycling to Mont st Michel

The busy streets of Mont Saint Michel

Our last motorhome adventure was to Norway, which you can read about here, but we didn’t take our bikes due to the hilly terrain! It was good, therefore, to dust off our bikes and get cycling again. This area of France is very flat with plenty of purpose built cycling routes and the Aire at Beauvoir is conveniently located for cycling to Mont St Michel. When we arrived at the bike park I realised that I had forgotten to bring our bike lock so I volunteered to cycle back to get it.

The historic streets of Mont Saint Michel

Once our bikes we locked and parked we jumped on one of the free shuttle busses that ferry people across the bridge to Mont st Michel, which is an island 600 metres from the mainland. Besieged by the English twice during The Hundred Years War and once used as a prison it was packed with tourists. There were lots of shops and restaurants but we only bought a small bottle of water. The restaurants seemed empty, which is not surprising, when a quick look at a menu revealed the price of an omelette at €34.

The walk back along the bridge was lovely in the very warm sunshine and our locked bikes were still there for us in the bike park. I don’t know why it has taken us so long to visit Mont st Michel but I’m glad we have seen it because it is a fantastic historical place. 3 million tourists who also visit every year will probably think the same.

View of Mont Saint Michel from the causeway and bridge.

Our motorhome parked for the night at the French Aire of Villers Bocage.

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