Porte de Lyon, France is almost the half-way mark of the over 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 is that it’s winter so snow about and need to be kind to Reg (older motorhome), but also 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, is welcomed. The Indigo is the best site so far in France.
Picking up the fresh baguette (€1) from reception, cleaning and packing up Reg, then making baguette sandwiches for the road, we leave at around 10:30am – amazing what you can do when you get up before 10:00am.
Both Lizzy (SatNav) and Reg behave beautifully today. The toll roads are not a problem either. Just in case something goes wrong at the tolls, I’m armed with a 28Degrees MasterCard, which didn’t work at 2 tolls yesterday, a UK Lloyds MasterCard, and cash – it’s a breeze for once. Always seem to have an issue at French tolls.
Stopping for a coffee, toilet-stop, and to eat baguettes, head back on our merry way once more.
The scenery is pretty special and there’s snow on the mountain peaks in the distance.
As the road starts to climb, snow is still on the ground from the previous night – it’s becoming colder the further north we head.
Searching for the non-existent AIRES site
After a smooth drive today and arriving at the correct AIRES campsite address, which is more like a Community Hall without pitches, power points, or humans – there isn’t anyone around.
As we have no Plan B, visions of us sleeping in Reg without a heater, power, shower in sub-zero temperatures start to appear in my mind. A bit of an exaggeration as we have all these facilities via 12V power in Reg, so we can manage.
Annoyed, we leave the AIRES address and drive down the road a little. With everything closed, I decide to ask a local on the street about any campsites in this tiny sleepy village – she points to one directly in front of our noses.
This site is closed at this time of year but I walk in and speak with the owner. Kind enough to let us stay the night although closed, she must of seen the look of desperation on my face.
Although the showers are off the power is on and her husband kindly gives us water in a container, as all the taps are winterised.
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. Not owning the campsite for long, they’re still in the process of moving in more mobile homes/bungalows, renovating existing bungalows, and building their home on site, simultaneously!
Think all the work is to be finished by the 1st April when the site open’s again. Christian is flat-out and whilst here, another 2 mobile homes arrive. No wi-fi here but I’m not sure if this is due to the site’s closure.
A stroll down the tiny gorgeous rural village takes you through tiny lanes lined with quaint old cottages. The locals are friendly and what I expected 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 is 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. Awake 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) are frozen solid. The water in the bucket outside under Reg’s sink is frozen as is the valve, which can’t be moved. Puddles of water are now iced up and it’s very very cold.
A shame to leave this pretty village but there’s a schedule to stick to and so, it’s time to leave again.
The rain hasn’t stopped pouring all day today but still manage the 315 kilometres with only a few stops. Although very wet, the first part of the drive is along rural farming flat plains with lovely old farmhouses sporadically dotting the landscape.
Arrive in Brehemont in the gorgeous Loire Valley region graced with stunning medieval architecture. Very disappointed that we can’t stay longer as the French scenery is absolutely gorgeous!
Both Reg and Lizzy behave 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.
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. 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 want 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 to a beautiful foggy morn enveloping the countryside.
The scenery along the highway is lovely and green although some areas are quite flat.
Today’s drive is smooth and without any hassles.
Apart from Lizzy trying to take us down a farm road at the start of the trip, everything settles down. Reg also behaves and takes us to the campsite that we stayed at 3 months’ ago in October, when first starting the European adventure.
Sitting down to a lovely tea and Jaffa Cake biscuits after getting Reg out of a boggy situation using the skid flaps, is a welcomed treat.
Pretty wet outside, so decide to cook a scrumptious meal of fresh Atlantic Salmon in a white fresh prawn garlic sauce with a little Brie cheese and Dijon mustard, accompanied with fresh steamed vegetables.
Definitely going to miss the fresh food in Europe!
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 is better in the summer as things are shut now, but the facilities are good – water could be warmer), but 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, stocking up with last minute supplies, and fuelling up at the Super U, we’re 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 is double the cost.
Scenery along this road is quite flat, dotted with the typically gorgeous French colonial stone homes and farmhouses from 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, the 9-day journey of over 2,300-kilometre is finally finished – although this is not far in Australian driving terms.
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.
Deciding to top up Reg’s fuel again in St Malo before heading to the UK, before 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. Walking around the waterfront and into the city, nothing is open – not even restaurants.
Finding a Patisserie open for some fresh bread, almond croissant, and massive scrumptious chocolate chip biscuits, we head back to the seafront.
After some photos at the waterfront, wander back to Reg to settle in for the night with more tea and pastries.
My waistline is rapidly expanding with all these wonderful pastries and French bread.
Parking Reg in the boarding lane as at least it’s free. A few semi-trucks pull up alongside and one truck with a Spanish numberplate decides to run its refrigeration motor all night long, which sounds similar to a small nuclear reactor.
Subsequently, sleep escapes me…
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 can’t sleep.
St Malo (Brittany) to Portsmouth (UK)
Have to be up and ready by 07:30am although the ferry doesn’t leave until 10:30am.
Wait 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 – the latter must be hung up and visible in the motorhome.
Motioned to go through Passport Control/Customs, a French Customs Officer comes aboard Reg and asks us: “you ‘ave eny immigrantes?” in a lovely thick French accent, then checks the toilet area just to make sure.
Handing over our passports, mine is stamped with an exit stamp and we drive 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.
Staff are very polite and helpful. All announcements are made in English, French, and Spanish. 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 great.
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 is a rude awakening!
The Officer puts me through the 3rd Degree asking all sorts of questions for about 15 minutes. Checking through every page of my passport and writing a very long spiel on the back of my entry card, this is not good.
From what I understand, he has a problem with me as an Australian visiting the UK previously and returning – advising me that Australians rort the system and duck over to Europe for a week to renew visas – Australians automatically receive a 6-month visa on arrival in the UK.
I’ve been out of the UK for over 3 months and I’m not requesting any handouts, which he also implies I’m after. The other problem is that I don’t hold a confirmed ticket out of the UK – not mandatory the last time I checked.
I explain my Italian citizenship saga, also that we’re volunteering in Thailand and need to apply for this visa, but he won’t listen. I offer all my paperwork as evidence that I’m not rorting the UK, even my Letter of Offer for volunteering, but he declines to look at anything.
What is totally inappropriate and unprofessional for an officer in his position is 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 smile and off we drive to Somerset.
Very annoyed, I think that the officer is just having a bad evening, so I let it go…this is a big mistake. I should have made a complaint to Border Force as this came back to bight me in the butt when I returned to the UK…
Next travel chapter?
The plan now is to return to Thailand for 3 months to escape UK’s horrible winter weather. Although the real reason is to hopefully be of some use to FED, volunteered with this organisation back in 2014.
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.