Today’s objective is to drive just south of Bordeaux to the campsite in Créon for an overnighter. A couple of nights in Belflou should see us having a little break before heading to Le Boulou in preparation to cross the border into Spain. What could possibly go wrong today?
This time, decided to write down all the directions starting out from the Coulon campsite to Créon as we wanted to bypass a section of the tolls to save some money. So far, the cost of tolls for a day’s drive is more expensive than a night’s campsite fee!
Left the campsite and all was going well until the Deviation sign. Simple you may think, just follow the signs and you should get back on track. Well it seems that nothing on French roads is simple, unless of course you never deviate from the prohibitively expensive tolls!
The deviation signs were not logically placed. On top of this illogical placing, it seemed that there is a shortage of signs in France; they were scarce along this deviation. So, we had to rely on the trusty AA European Road Map (still no SatNav), Google Maps on the iPad (we know how precise these maps are at all times), and sheer luck again…
After driving around the deviation roads aimlessly for an age it felt, we finally found the A10 Toll, grabbed the ticket, and drove on with a sigh of relief. Even stopped along the road at the services for a machine coffee before tackling the next challenge…bypassing the Spaghetti entanglement of roads diverting into and around the expansive and daunting city of Bordeaux. Driving through this massive city in a tiny Fiat 500 would be stressful enough let alone a motor home. The decision was made early on in the piece to avoid major or smaller cities at all costs, but to diverge around these for our own sanity. Only stray into a city in a motor home if you no longer have the will to live!
We were doing so well, when a turn off the Toll was taken a fraction too early and ended up heading parallel to our intended road – isn’t that always the way? No problem, a quick re-think and found yet another exit that would take us back on the right road and our destination. On paper, this seemed as if this would work. But somehow, this didn’t work. We were once again heading at opposite poles to where we were supposed to be going…North, instead of South and towards the entrance of that nightmarish A10 Toll again! More swearing, cursing, and finally deciding to park up to work it out all over again, off we went. After finding the correct road again, with a sigh of relief, the campsite in Créon was finally found. The site is only about 20 kilometres south of Bordeaux. Today it took 6 hours to drive around 244 kilometres – hope tomorrow’s drive is better!
As we left the UK late in the season and pushing to get to Spain to meet up with friends, Créon is only an overnighter, so sadly, didn’t have time to see this town. We’re dashing through one of the best wine growing regions in the world but worse of all is without even a drop to drink as we drank the last drop last night!
Distance: 244 kilometres
Roads: D1, N248, E5/A10, D671
Campsite: €17.76/night including power
Camping Bel-Air is a nice enough site with clean amenities and a friendly lady at reception. Not too much English is spoken at reception but that’s not a worry for me as I can still remember high school French…to a point. Many long term’ers living here so this site is open all year round and everyone is friendly, so all cool.
Créon to Belflou
Armed this morning with the SatNav, the AA European Road Map, iPad with pinpointed Google Maps, and extra written directions (overkill but what the hell), we just wanted to make sure that nothing would go wrong today. It’s taken a while but very slowly I’m starting to learn that it pays to be prepared when it comes to driving directions from A to B; especially in a foreign country!
Left the Créon campsite with a quick stopover at Carrefour for fuel and decided to also add some air to Reg’s tyres. Like everything else in France it seems, even air at the service station is not free and at €0.50/5 minutes, a tad stingy!
On the road again and drove through the tiny backroads south of Bordeaux to hook up with the Toll later down the track to save around 20kms of toll fees. Although this sounds like desperate measures just to save cash, to me, paying for Tolls is just like throwing money into a blazing incinerator!
The best part of this leg is driving through the beautiful undulating French hills laden with autumnal coloured vineyards. Very dreamy, especially early in the morning when the mist is still lifting. This scenic countryside belongs in a romantic and wistful French poem from the 17th century. The roads are so narrow that sadly, there isn’t anywhere to stop to take a photo, let alone if your vehicle breaks down! Shame, as it is a stunning drive with many gorgeous Chateaux along the way – would love to stay a night in one but would probably need to take out a small mortgage for the privilege.
Found the A62 Toll and sat on this until just north of Toulouse. Highways become a tad boring after a couple of hours of watching cars driving the same road as yourself; picking out cars in an obvious hurry or the clueless drivers that almost shave other vehicles in their near-miss accidents. Tolls always seem to be built in the boring and baron part of a country, understandably so I guess. The further south you drive, the countryside seems to flatten out. The beautiful undulating vineyards fade away and almost become a scarcity. On this drive though, France is very beautiful, especially off the highways and into the tiny villages; hope to drive this way again next April.
Once off the A62 at Exit 20, Reg drove us down the tiniest roads again that transformed into small country lanes shrouded by 100-foot high gorgeous aged trees – simply stunning! Hopefully, I’ll take some photos on the way back to the highway tomorrow..if there’s space on the road.
Distance: 295 kilometres
Roads: A62, A621, A61, D625
Campsite: €19.50/night including power
Le Cathare campsite near Belflou is about 15 kilometres from the A62 and on the lovely secluded Lac de la Ganguise (lake). Having the campsite all to ourselves was bliss. Not another soul here and very quiet indeed; lovely to stretch the legs and walk some of the lake. I’m sure this site is busy in the summer months as the campsite brochure offers sailing, fishing, water sports, horse riding, wind surfing, bicycling, and more activities. The site is also child and dog-friendly.
Only cold water on offer and no toilet paper at the closest ablution block to our pitch. Although the owner didn’t mention anything when booking the pitch, we discovered a newly block further away from Reg and this does have warm water.
Belflou to Boulou (south of Perpignan)
After a quick stop this morning at the Super U for fuel, wine, and a couple of supplies, found the A61 Toll and on our way again.
The countryside changed dramatically from acres of vineyards displaying gorgeous autumnal colours to drier more undulating plains at the base of Pyrenees. Lovely to see the Pyrenees along the drive.
Arrived at our campsite without too many dramas today. Our newly named passenger Elizabeth (aka Lizzy) the SatNav, is finally doing her job and paving the way nicely on the roads for us so that less thought is needed whilst navigating. I think we’re both trusting her a little more now to show us the way and she worked well. I also had my trusty AA Europe Map and written directions, just in case Elizabeth decided on a nap mid-way!
Tip: The cheapest fuel found in France is at supermarkets such as Super U and Carrefour (typically between €101.9-105.9/litre as opposed to the service stations on the toll road of around €124.9/litre.
Distance: 190 kilometres
Roads: D33, D415, D218, D6, A61/E80, A9/E15, D115
Campsite: €14.20/night including power
Camping Les Casteillets at St-Jean-Pla-de-Corts offers good amenities for about 134 pitches spaced out in 3 inner circles. A lovely view of the Pyrenees from the pitch! What more could you ask for? Oh wait…some wonderful French melting Brie, fresh baguettes, and red wine to end a perfect day.
Decided to walk into St-Jean-Pla-de-Corts, which was not too dissimilar to a ghost village in hiding. It’s Sunday and everything is closed but still a very quaint and picturesque village.
On the way, we stumbled upon a groovy automated Wakepark and although it looked like loads of fun, I didn’t try it as it was just too cold and wasn’t wearing the right gear, mainly a wetsuit! Very quiet with only a few takers and probably due to the time of year I suspect.
With everything closed in town apart from a couple of bars and restaurants, had an OK coffee at one of the bars and wandered back; quite impressed at the 10-kilometre walk. Kept wandering on the pedestrian path back towards Boulou as it was still early and felt like a long walk.
What you can expect at a French Toll booth
Be prepared for an array of issues and added stress at a French toll booth, including:
- Booth not working at all but not marked as closed
- Credit card not accepted and no cash/coin option so you’re at the mercy of the “Assistance” button and the leisurely toll staff
- Ticket not returned (you need to keep this for payment when exiting the toll road)
- For a right-hand drive vehicle and solo travelling, it can be difficult as booths are for left-hand drives
Remember that whilst any of these issues occur, vehicles are constantly lining up behind you and honking their horns for you to move on, especially lorry drivers…can be stressful!
Across the border to Spain
Finally, preparing to head across the border (if there is one) into Spain tomorrow with Cambrils as the first stop. Hope that Tolls are not as expensive as in France and with less hassle at the booths.