Porte de Lyon (France) is almost the half-way mark of the 2,300+ kilometre drive from Italy to the UK. The objective is to drive the whole distance in 9 days.
A couple of reasons for rushing this drive in 9 days: it’s winter so snow about, need to be kind to Reg (older motorhome); and my Schengen visa expired (I’m illegal).
After a chilly -3°C overnight in Porte de Lyon, a wonderfully hot shower in the amazingly warm ablution block, was welcomed. The best site so far in France.
Picked up the fresh baguette (€1) from reception, cleaned and packed up Reg, made baguette sandwiches for the road, and left at around 10:30hrs. Amazing what you can do when you get up before 10:00hrs.
Both Lizzy (SatNav) and Reg behaved beautifully today. The toll roads were not a problem either. Just in case something went wrong at the tolls today, I was armed with a 28Degrees MasterCard, which didn’t work at 2 tolls yesterday, a UK Lloyds MasterCard, and a €50 note; but it was a breeze, for once! Always seem to have an issue at French Tolls.
Stopped for a coffee, toilet-stop, and to eat our baguettes, then back on our merry way once more.
The scenery is pretty special and there was snow on the mountain peaks in the distance. As the road started to climb, snow was also still on the ground from the previous night…getting colder the further north we head, as expected.
Searching for the non-existent AIRES site
After a smooth drive today, arrived at the correct address for the AIRES campsite but it was more like a Community Hall, without pitches, power points, or humans. As we had no Plan B, visions of us sleeping in Reg without a heater, power, shower in sub-zero temperatures started to appear in my head. A bit of an exaggeration as we have all these facilities via 12V power on Reg, so we could of managed.
Annoyed, we left the AIRES address and drove down the road a little. With everything closed, I decided to ask a local on the street about any campsites in this tiny sleepy village; she pointed to one in front of our noses.
This site one was one of the closed ones at this time of year but I walked in and spoke with the owner. Kind enough to let us stay the night although closed, she must of saw the look of desperation on my face.
Although the showers are off, the power is on, and her husband kindly gave us water as all the taps are winterised.
Distance: 195 kilometres
Diesel: €38.75 @ €0.977/litre (Esso)
Roads: A89, E70
Campsite: Cost: €15/night
Camping des Papillions – I imagine this to be a gorgeous cosy site in the summer. The owners (Valerie & Christian) are so lovely, friendly, and accommodating. They haven’t owned the campsite for long and they’re still in the process of moving in more mobile homes/bungalows, renovating existing bungalows, and building their home on site, all at once! Think all this work to be finished by the 1st April when the site open’s again! Christian is flat-out and whilst here, another 2 mobile homes arrived! No wi-fi but not sure if this is because the site is closed.
A stroll down the tiny gorgeous rural village takes you through small lanes lined with quaint old cottages. The locals are friendly and what I’d expect in rural France.
I don’t think many people speak English in this village, especially the elderly locals, as one lady got out of her car and started asking me in French if the market was open.
It’s hard to think in French again and I really need to swap the Italian chip in my head for a French chip!
Lalizolle to Brehemont
The temperature dropped to -5C last night and awoke to frost on the ground and ice on Reg’s windscreen. The outside mat had frozen leaves stuck to it and my thongs (flip-flops) were frozen solid. The water in the bucket outside under Reg’s sink was frozen and the valve also frozen, which couldn’t be moved, but no snow. Puddles of water were now iced up and it is very very cold.
A shame to leave this pretty village but there’s a schedule to stick to and so, it was time to leave again.
The rain hasn’t stopped pouring all day today but still managed the 315 kilometres with only a few stops. Although very wet, the first part of the drive was along rural farming flat plains with lovely old farmhouses, sporadically dotting the landscape.
Arrived in Brehemont in the gorgeous Loire Valley region with stunning medieval architecture. Very disappointed that we can’t stay longer, as the French scenery has been absolutely gorgeous!
Both Reg and Lizzy behaved wonderfully today – always a bonus.
Shell service stations seem to be more expensive for fuel than Esso, BP, and the smaller independent stations; especially at the Toll Services.
Distance: 315 kilometres
Diesel: €20 @ €1.170/litre (At Services)
Roads: A71, A85
Camping Loire et Cháteux – Lieu-dit Le Stade, Brehemont. No Wi-fi but think this is because it’s winter.
This campsite has to be the best in our 3-month stay in Europe! At only 2 years old, the facilities are top rate, chic, and fantastic. The water is extremely hot (even for dish washing); owners (Romuald & Laetitia) are very friendly. Jazz the gorgeous St Bernard puppy of 16 months is wonderfully friendly and well-natured – I wanted to steal him!
This campsite is a must for all travellers and I would love to return! In the summer, there’s a lovely new pool available and a little café area for breakfast – it’s very homely.
Laundry: Washing – €4 (60 mins); Drying – €3 (45 mins) in lovely new machines and facilities.
Brehemont to Heric
Not too cold overnight and no frost on the ground but greeted with a beautiful foggy morn.
The scenery along the highway is lovely and green although some areas are quite flat.
Today’s drive was pretty good and without any hassles.
Apart from Lizzy trying to take us down a farm road at the start of the trip, everything settled down, and Reg behaved. Arrived at the campsite which we stayed at 3 months’ ago in October, when first starting the European adventure.
Sat down to a lovely tea and Jaffa Cake biscuits after getting Reg out of a boggy situation using the skid flaps.
Pretty wet outside, so decided to cook a scrumptious meal of fresh Atlantic Salmon, a white fresh prawn garlic sauce with a little Brie cheese and Dijon mustard, accompanied with fresh steamed vegetables.
Will definitely miss the food in Europe!
Distance: 220 kilometres
Diesel: €30 @ €1.210/litre (at Services)
Roads: A85, A11, N137
Tolls: €13.40+ €14
Campsite: €15.40/night (with ASCI card)
La Pindiere Campsite, Heric – The pitch is boggy this time from all the rain. Think this campsite would be better in the summer as things are shut now, but the facilities are good (water could be warmer); and the site has everything you need.
Heric to St Malo
Not a good night sleep as some plank left his very loud duff duff music on replay all night long – not sure if it was a car, van, house, or other!
After leaving the boggy campsite, stocked up with last minute supplies (before heading off to the exorbitant UK price) and fuel at the Super U, on our way again for the last driving leg. I’m not in a hurry to return to the UK as the Ozzie dollar is still pretty low, so everything will be double the cost.
Scenery along this road is quite flat, dotted with the typically gorgeous French colonial stone homes and farmhouses of a bygone era.
Again, wish there was more time to explore, especially with the road signs advertising the wonderful castles, Châteaux, and activities to experience in this region.
Arriving at St Malo, finally finished the 2,300+ kilometre journey in 9 days; although this is not far in Australian driving terms.
Distance: 155 kilometres
Diesel: €40 @ €0.978/litre + €19.51 @ €0.968/litre
Roads: N137, N136, N176
Brittany Ferries lane – No wi-fi. Toilets in the ferry terminal.
Decided to top up Reg’s fuel again in St Malo before heading to the UK, where we’re back to paying double for everything. Most fuel stations are automated/unmanned in St Malo.
Everything in the city is closed on a Sunday.
Walked around the waterfront and into the city but nothing is open – not even restaurants. We did find a Patisserie open for some fresh bread, Almond croissant, and massive scrumptious chocolate chip biscuit.
After some photos at the waterfront, wandered back to Reg to settle in for the night. Had more tea and pastries. My waistline is rapidly expanding. Parked Reg in the boarding lane; at least it’s free.
A few semi-trucks pulled up alongside us and one Spanish truck ran its refrigeration motor, which was like a small nuclear reactor, all night long. Subsequently, sleep was not to be as he didn’t turn it off. Not sure how these guys sleep through the noise. Either they’re so tired, used to the loud noise, or take sleeping pills, as I definitely couldn’t sleep through the noise!
St Malo (Brittany) to Portsmouth (UK)
Had to be up and ready by 07:30hrs although the ferry doesn’t leave until 10:30hrs.
Waited about half an hour before being told to go through the first barrier, which is where you pick up your ticket, cabin key, and vehicle tag (must be hung up and visible).
Motioned to go through Passport Control/Customs, a French Customs Officer came aboard Reg and asked us: “you ‘ave eny immigrantes?” in a lovely thick French accent, then checked the toilet area just to make sure.
Handing over our passports, mine was stamped with an exit stamp, then we drove to the waiting lane ready to board the ferry. No questions asked and no slap on the wrist for being an illegal immigrant in the Schengen zone for 6 days over! All that stress for nothing, but you just never know.
This is the second time on Brittany Ferries and I must say it is a very professional, smooth running company, especially compared to the Italian GNV ferry from Barcelona to Genoa. Staff are very polite and helpful. All announcements are made in English, French, and Spanish. However, you will need a small mortgage to buy any food or drinks on the ferry during the journey. A Nescafe coffee from a machine will set you back €3.30 and it’s awful. The ferry takes Euros and Pounds Sterling but be aware, the exchange rate isn’t the best.
Just sitting back now, relaxing and writing in comfy seats by a huge window for the 9-hour Channel crossing. The sea is relatively calm and not much wind about, so all is well, so far…I need to get psyched up for the two and a half-hour drive back to Street, Somerset.
I’m going to miss the excellent Italian coffee, bread, pastries, and pizzas. The scrumptious Spanish seafood, wonderful French wines, bread, and pastries, but especially, my pocket will miss the cheaper EU prices for absolutely everything.
Warm welcome in Portsmouth!
After the friendly treatment in St Malo by the French Immigration Officer, my treatment by the Portsmouth Immigration Officer was a rude awakening!
The Officer put me through the 3rd Degree asking all sorts of questions for about 15 minutes, going through every page of my passport, and writing a very long spiel on the back of my entry card. This was not good.
From what I understand, he had a problem with me, an Australian, as I was in the UK previously and I was returning; advising me that Australians rort the system and duck over to Europe for a week to renew their visas (Australians automatically receive a 6-month visa on arrival in the UK). I’d been out of the UK for over 3 months and I was not requesting any handouts, as he also implied. The other problem was that I did not hold a confirmed ticket out of the UK.
I explained my Italian Citizenship saga and that we were volunteering in Thailand and needed to apply for a visa, but he wouldn’t listen. I offered all my paperwork as proof, even my Letter of Offer for volunteering, but he declined to look at anything.
What was totally inappropriate and unprofessional for an Officer in his position was his responses: “You should marry your partner and then you won’t have a problem staying in the UK” and “It’s easy getting Italian Citizenship, just ask all the Brazilians living over there”. Extremely angry but keeping my cool, I smiled and off we drove to Somerset. Very annoyed, I thought the officer was just having a bad evening, so I let it go…this was a problem. I should have followed this up with Border Force as this came back to bight me in the butt when I returned to the UK, but that’s another blog…
The next Travel Chapter
As Wales is the closest embassy to Somerset for a Thailand Volunteer Visa, need to apply as soon as possible as I’m not sure how long the visa takes to process.