Drive on the Wild Side: Cherbourg (France) to Cosenza (Italy)

July, 2016

A smooth crossing on the English Channel to Cherbourg, France, then it’s a long drive of 2,500-plus kilometres down to Cosenza, Calabria – Italy’s gorgeous south.

As the Schengen clock started as soon as I hit Cherbourg, the plan is to push down quickly to southern Italy but first, spend a few days exploring Normandy.

caen, cherbourg, franceSummary

Distance: 125 kilometres

Fuel: Nil

Tolls: Nil

Roads: N13, N814, D401

Accommodation: €53/night

Booked a Studio self-contained apartment through air.bnb, which included a washing machine and toiletries.

A great little spot on a quiet road and close to shops. Our excellent host Simon is very friendly and accommodating. Wanted to extend an extra night but he was fully booked.


As the capital of the Lower Normandy region in northern France, Caen is an excellent base from which to explore all the infamous WWII historical sites, beaches, and museums.

The 3-night stay in Caen didn’t do this region justice – it was but a mere wetting of the lips only – a tease but so glad to experience this area. You really need a week to really experience all the Normandy Beaches, museums, but also local sites.


Super U – Love the wonderful Super U selection that makes my mouth drool every time I’m here. Sad I know, but it’s food after all. This place is my favourite haunt.

Caen to Clermont Ferrand, Lola’s demise – Friday

Today the objective is to do some 600 kilometres from Caen to Clermont Ferrand. It’s much easier to drive this distance in Lola the Peugeot than in Reg the motorhome. All was going splendidly until re-fuelling and swapping drivers, about 80 kilometres out of Clermont Ferrand.

On overtaking a vehicle on the flat, Lola started coughing and losing power on acceleration. Thinking that perhaps it was the cheaper fuel or maybe dirty fuel, off we stopped at the closest Services to fill up with more but expensive fuel.

Swapped drivers again and after about 5 minutes down the road, Lola persisted in coughing. Worse still…the red engine light came on! Strange as Lola wasn’t overheating. Pulled into the SOS bay. This was not going well and so close to Clermont Ferrand…what next? A call to the RAC (UK Road Assist) as the Toll’s SOS phone advertises €126/tow.

With cars zooming by and the highway’s background noise, tried the UK SIM card, which didn’t work. Reluctantly, the Aussie Vodafone “Roaming” card worked and at about €4.80/minute. Not cheap, especially when you’re listening to ‘on-hold’ musac!

caen, montlucon, FranceSummary

Distance: 505 kilometres

Fuel: €20.02 @ €1.44/litre; €26.94 @ €1.299/litre

Roads: A85, A71

Tolls: €46.70 – included tolls during towing of Lola to the Highway’s garage

Accommodation: Paid be RAC

Hotel Bomotel – Excellent hospitality! Although not a planned stop in this city or at this hotel, I am glad we stayed here. Staff are very friendly. It’s about a 25-minute walk to the Medieval site but almost a 3-kilometre walk to the Carrefour Supermarket. Great comfortable room serviced daily, wonderful hot shower with toiletries provided.

A family-run business. The family could not do enough for us; extremely kind, which is what made the hotel, and a very pleasant stay under stressful conditions. The warm, hospitable, and truly sincere help provided during our car saga was amazing and humbling.

Used the SOS phone after all as this is a private Toll road. This also means only the Toll road’s towing company can be used (all wrapped up nicely). With the call made, we waited. Whilst waiting, another older Peugeot pulled over in front of us…also broken down – coincidence or an Omen? I remarked: wouldn’t it be funny if they were towed to the same garage?

Towed to the garage – Friday

The tow truck finally arrived and off we went to the closest garage in Montmarault. Here we waited again and whilst waiting, the other broken down Peugeot from the highway was also towed to this same garage.

After much broken French, calls to the RAC, and hanging around, the mechanic advised at 7 pm that he could not look at Lola until Tuesday (it’s Friday evening now). The RAC, advised Monday…who do we believe?

Excellent! The RAC put us up in the Hotel Bomotel for 3 nights, picked up the bill, and also the taxi bill to Montluçon (€90), some 30 kilometres from Montmarault. Not much accommodation near the garage.

Still waiting – Sunday

Although the schedule is to be just north of Rome today, here we are still in central France, with my Schengen clock ticking. Travelling has a habit of throwing sledgehammers at you. Expect the unexpected as they say and never feel too comfortable, as you never know what’s around the corner!

The continuing saga – Tuesday and Wednesday

The mechanic’s verdict is that it’s something to do with Lola’s coil and plugs but this may not be everything. A full diagnosis and quote tomorrow after 11 am. Today, we should have arrived in Cosenza, but still in central France.

At 11 am today (Wednesday), the mechanic advised he would have an answer by 4 pm. Finally, this afternoon, the dreaded verdict came that we have been waiting for since last Friday: water in the No 4 cylinder, which caused a blown head gasket. The quote to repair Lola is €2,000 and it would take another week or so! We have only owned Lola for just under 2 weeks so still under the 2-month Dealer’s warranty. The RAC will advise if it would repatriate Lola to the UK. What a mess – a car load of stuff and no car.

The final decision – Thursday

RAC advised that as Lola could be repaired then repatriation was not an option. As the mechanic is ripping us off and it’s not worth the repair bill of €2,000, we made the decision to scrap Lola. What now without a car to get to Italy?

Another call to the mechanic to advise of Lola’s pick-up as I would not leave the car for this guy to keep as I believe this garage runs a scam. During all of this stress, the Bomotel’s owner has been amazing and helped with calls, even researching and phoning Wreckers.

Seeking Lola…

With a taxi and Wrecker’s truck we arrived at the closed garage. No Lola and no one in sight. The Wrecker phoned the garage and discovered that Lola had been moved from Montmarault to their workshop in Tronget, another 15 kilometres away (now over 52 kilometres from Montluçon).

The taxi driver started to get annoyed as he was driving us all over the countryside and the RAC hire was only to take us to Montmarault to collect our stuff then back to Montluçon. More calls to the RAC and off we all went for another drive, this time to Tronget. At least we were seeing the beautiful French countryside…for free!

Arrived at the 2nd garage, which advised we had €183 to pay before we could remove Lola. This bill was for the work the mechanic had done so far. What work? Another money grab. I refused to pay and stormed outside. Meanwhile, the taxi driver pressured for another call to the RAC to confirm to take us from Tronget to Durdat Larequille (Wreckers’ garage), over 47 kilometres away!

I returned to the garage and was advised that the bill had been wavered, so had the €20 fee for the mechanic to look at Lola if we didn’t go ahead with their repairs, and the €15/day storage until Lola was removed. The lady advised she phoned the RAC and all was paid for – all very strange.

So off we all went on yet another road trip with the elderly taxi driver who was incredulous of what was unfolding – he thought it was a shambles! I did notice there were many cars without number plates at this garage and couldn’t help but feel that these guys had some sort of scam going. They tow broken down cars off the Toll road to their own garages, quote exorbitant repair prices, owner walks away, and the garage keeps the car. Whilst there, a Netherlands-plated older Dodge motorhome came in on a tow truck. Wishing the owners good luck, I cautioned also!

R.I.P. Lola

Finally arriving at the Wreckers and clearing Lola out for the last time, signed the paperwork, and handed her over.

Although I asked the boss to give us a little cash for Lola, he flatly refused stating that he had another 5 or 6 of the same make, but also he’d driven all over the countryside for this car. I’m sure if he hadn’t thought Lola was a steal, he would have left her at the garage. Noticed he had cars for sale at the front of his yard also…I guess that’s how he makes his money.

Montlucon, France, car
Loaded down Lola

The final countdown – Thursday night

With the deed done, off we went back to Montluçon. Even though Lola cost a lot of money for just two weeks, it is a welcomed relief to finally close this stressful chapter…lesson learnt.

Next, it is time to sort out and pack everything that can’t be carried in backpacks and daypacks; and research couriers to send boxes on to Italy. You have to remember, Lola was full of items such as bedding, kitchenware, car stuff, and more as we are planning to live in Italy long-term. Also on the list is to sort buses to Italy and accommodation in Italy. No easy task as we only have tomorrow left here and out on Saturday; we split the tasks up. Can’t book the courier until our airbnb accommodation is booked as we don’t have a forwarding address for the boxes: Catch 22.

Montlucon, France
Sorting stuff!

With accommodation booked, it was on to Courier companies. After hours of research, no one would pick up on Friday, all wanted a Monday pick-up. This means that as we are leaving on Saturday, the Bomotel has to store the boxes until Monday, then hand everything over to the courier company on Monday – not a fair. Finally, I found Upela, which stated if I booked before 12:00 noon on Friday with a pick-up time, then parcels would be picked up.

With courier, accommodation, and buses (Flixbus: Montluçon→Lyon→Turin→Rome→Cosenza) booked, we are sorted at last and can now relax!

More hurdles – Friday night

Excellent service from Upela. The 3 parcels (51 kgs) were picked up at 12:37 pm – very impressed and Upela was also the cheapest quote.

The last thing to organise is the taxi to the bus station for tomorrow morning. You think this would be easy in a city?

As the bus leaves in the morning, Jean-Francois (owner) tried to book a taxi tonight to take us to the bus station. After phoning the only 2 taxi companies in this city, no one is available for the Saturday morning pick-up. Frustrated, Jean-Francois advised he would drive us the 2 kilometres to the station. Think he felt sorry for us by now…

I also discovered that it is impossible and a “disaster to try and get anything done in France during July and August as the whole country is on holidays” – how does this country survive? That explains why I hardly see any shops open in town.

Montlucon, France
Down Saint-Pierre Quarter


Regardless of all the car hassles, still managed to take in some sights in Montluçon.

Dating back as far as the 8th century, snippets of gorgeous ancient architecture still stand in this Auvergne region city, with a rich heritage, south central France.

Take a stroll around the Medieval site, which dates over 1,000 years. Wonderful architecture graces the town, which luckily, survived untouched during during WWII.

Restaurants are pretty expensive but wandering is free.

If you have time, a couple of hours south lies the “Chaîne des Puys” – a chain of volcanoes.

With the last confirmed eruption dating at around 4040 BC, most of these volcanos formed some 70,000 years’ ago have eroded now.

Marx Dormoy, Montlucon, France
Marx Dormoy – French assassinated politician
Avenue Marx Dormay, Montlucon, France
Avenue Marx Dormay

What to see

As you can imagine, with all the stress of sorting out Lola going on, the mood for sight-seeing isn’t great. Although, whilst in France…why not take in some historic beauty?

Jardins Wilson

Take a break in this pleasant garden, which named after President Wilson is also known as the City Wall Garden. Although the garden was created in 1937, the original’s fortifications were mostly destroyed in the 18th century.

Jardins Wilson, Montlucon, France
View from Jardins Wilson

Church of Notre-Dame

Rebuilt during the 14-15th centuries, the listed 16th century stained glassed windows were also restored. The church houses works-of-art from the 15-17th century, which I didn’t see as the church was always closed when I walked past.

MuPop Museum

This newly built very modern museum juts out from the surrounding Medieval buildings (€9.50 entry) and provides an interactive walk through music. From here you can walk down to the (free) well-manicured and peaceful gardens behind the museum – very picturesque and a hang-out for locals.

Saint-Pierre Bridge

With a history of continual building, this attractive bridge on the River Cher was first built in the 15th century, rebuilt in 1879, and then widened in 1910. During the Industrial Era, many of the factories were located on the Left Bank, which is on the other side of the bridge and was Montluçon’s most highly populated area.

Saint-Pierre Quarter

This flamboyant building (No 2 Boulevard de Coutais) from the 1920’s is neo-classical and art-deco style; windows adorned with lion heads and a fleuron between their jaws, quite opulent and intricate.

Saint-Pierre Quarter, Montlucon, France
One of the many gorgeous buildings in Saint-Pierre Quarter

Food and shopping

Flunch, Montlucon, France
Chocolate odyssey at the Flunch
  • Patapain (26 Boulevard fo Courtais) – Inexpensive coffee (€1.10-1.60) – think it’s the cheapest in this city! Wonderful freshly baked pastries, fresh fruit tarts, breads, and gateau also available as are fresh gourmet sandwiches. If you sit upstairs, you can see the fountains along the boulevard and watch children playing and laughing whilst trying to stamp on the spouts!
  • Crêperie Pizzeria Les Forges (2 Rue Porte des Forges; closed Monday and Wednesday) – Arguably the cheapest pizzas (€8-9.50) in town and excellent! The crepes looked great but after pizza and vino, I was too stuffed.
  • Flunch – Offering good meals (€5.95+) with an all you can eat veggie bar, this is great value. Gourmet ice creams/crepes are sold as well as pastries, coffees, a salad bar, and much more. Pretty much covers everything.
  • Carrefour (in the mall) – massive supermarket offering everything imaginable, food, fresh produce, clothes, kitchenware, and much more (closed Sundays).
  • Carrefour Express (80 Boulevarde de Courtais) – great for a few essentials.
  • Yves Rocher (33 Boulevard Courtais) – For you every natural beauty requirements pop into this great little find – I used to buy this brand via Mail Order in Australia – a great favourite and cheap in the EU compared to Australia!
  • Pimkie (or Pimkle) – Great little clothes shop offering cheap fashions – bought my stylish hat here for €10 – bargain!
  • Monoprix – Another large department store with a large grocery section also. Prices are higher than Carrefours but OK for a few things.
  • Lox – Had an excellent shampoo, head massage, condition, style cut, and dry for only €27. The young hairdresser was amazingly fast and great!

Leaving Montluçon

Disappointed to be leaving Lola behind, but more so that we no longer have a car, it’s now on to the very long bus journey to Italy – some 36 hours and 4 buses.

Up early and at reception by 9 am with our heavy luggage. Jean-Francois went to his car only to find that his car wouldn’t start; flat battery! What else could go wrong? Ever had the feeling that you’d never leave a place through no fault of your own? Felt like ‘Welcome to the Bomotel Montluçon’ (think Eagles)!

Luckily, Jean-Francois borrowed his son’s car and finally arrived at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. Touch and go there as the owner said he’s never had a problem with his car and his battery is only 1-year-old.

City Hall, Montlucon, France
City Hall

Montluçon to Consenza (Italy)

montlucon, cosenza, italy, franceThe roomy Flixbus turned up a little late as it should arrive 15 minutes before departure, but we left around about the right time, so all cool. After only 25-minutes’ driving, the bus pulled into the Services and advised everyone had 45-minutes as a stop here.

No wonder the journey takes so long!

After hours of travel, we’re at a standstill, stuck on the motorway in traffic on the outskirts of Lyon. Cars are zooming past on the opposite side. At this rate, we’ll miss our connecting bus in Lyon

Visit my Nilla’s Photography portfolio for more global images. More posts on France.

Montlucon, France, fountains
Town centre fountains
Montlucon, Frane
Medieval alleyway
Montlucon, France
Ancient doorway – 1594

19 responses to “Drive on the Wild Side: Cherbourg (France) to Cosenza (Italy)”

  1. Abirbhav Avatar

    Thank you so much Nilla for making me read this gem of an article.. 😊😊

    Montluçon seems to be quite an intriguing and enigmatic place. It feels time seems to have stopped there at 1200 CE. I so love such places.. <3 <3 Maybe my next trip to France will have 1-3 days dedicated to Montluçon..!!

    And the Chaîne des Puys seems quite unsurprising. Rather, I was expecting some volcanoes / indirect volcanic activity in close vicinity to the French Alps. The chain is pretty young, aged only 90,000 years (Alps are also young by the way). Though I am no Geologist, I would still not rule out a future eruption in this Chain.

    And thank you for re-confirming my fears of road trips. I shall never take a road trip unless I am hiring a car and accompanied by a driver (I can drive, but I won't). And maximum bet I would take is 500km.

    A tip I would share. Please purchase the local SIM card wherever you land. Schengen SIM cards are cheap and offer good deal for tourists (Mine cost just 32 Euros with 4 months validity and 3GB/day data)

    Sad to know much of your trip got screwed up. But good that you enjoyed Montluçon atleast if not anything else.. 😊😊

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Glad you enjoyed this old post Abir. Montluçon is a lovely and undiscovered city and one that I would never have venture to if Lolo hadn’t broken down.
      Ha, ha, don’t let me put you off road trips! We should have been more cautious and not gone on a long journey after only purchasing the car a few weeks beforehand.
      These things happen and as you know, when you’re travelling the unexpected always happens…keep things spicy! 😉
      Thanks for the SIM tip. Is this a special one? I’ve never heard of a tourist SIM.

      1. Abirbhav Avatar

        Well, the SIM is not something special. I get such SIM cards in the airport only.. 😊 Getting international roaming facility activated turns out to be way more expensive (and perhaps unreliable as well).

        Yes, I agree, maybe purchasing the car a bit earlier might have exposed the faults beforehand and given you a chance to get it repaired.

        Still, even if I do go, I will be taking all the necessary precautions, whatever is known.. Poor Lolo.

        But thanks again for Montluçon. This wasn’t the way to discover this gem of a city, but it was discovered nevertheless.. 😊😍

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Hindsight is a beautiful thing. 😉
        Yeah, we could have fixed Lola quite easily had we been in the UK at the time. But, being in France and at the mercy of a towing company and its garage, we never stood a chance.
        No problem. At least there’s always positives that come out of crappy situations! 🙂

      3. Abirbhav Avatar

        Well, you are right. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and so is Foresight.. 😉
        Upon a second thought, I would like to go on for a road trip, provided I collect the contact details of Authorized Motor Service stations of the Car Manufacturer (Peugeot in this case) in France and Italy, especially along the route I am taking.
        Perhaps that would de-risk me a bit. Maybe you are doing this already post the demise of poor Lola in France.
        I am sure though France gave you an overall decent experience, and not much to feel bad about, right? 🙂

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Sounds very cautious Abir but whatever works and you feel comfortable with is good as at least it gets you out there… 😉
        France is a beautiful country. Had some amazing experiences in France and especially Normandy.

      5. Abirbhav Avatar

        You are right Nilla.. We can de-risk ourselves till the limits of our knowledge and risk taking appetite.. You can really never know the road unless you physically get there.
        Agreed with you, France is damn beautiful.. 🙂 Infact I am strictly staying out of Paris the next time I visit France.. Normandy seems to be a good option as you suggested.. 🙂

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You probably need a good week to see Normandy and really absorb the D-Day landing beaches – incredibly moving. 🙂

      7. Abirbhav Avatar

        Oh yes, very much true Nilla..!!
        Although I am not that intrigued by World War history, yet I shall definitely visit the war memorials, if any. I visited the Memorial of Sinti and Roma victims of Nazism in Berlin. It was moving and sad indeed.
        Thank you for the tips Nilla.. 😀

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        All war memorials are extremely moving. Especially when you see the scores of tombstones in hundreds of rows, thousands of young men that lost their lives – it’s tragic.
        One inscription on a tombstone at the Chungkai War Cemetery, Thailand: “When comes the promised time that war shall be no more?”

      9. Abirbhav Avatar

        Right, Nilla.. All war memorials are quite moving and tragic.

  2. Sartenada Avatar

    I love this kind road report (prices, km etc.). Happy weekend.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you and hope it helps other travellers along the way.

      I love road trips and hope to do another one soon. Have you done any road trips lately? 🙂

  3. mohamadkarbi Avatar

    There is something in my heart about Italy. Yet I had enough time in most of my visits to Italy, I never thought of leaving it to neighbors. Your posts are encouraging for different plans in my next trip if any. Interesting information and wonderful pictures. Thank you for the wonderful site and rich information.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for your thoughts.

      I hope that my posts provide you with some valuable tips for your next trip…never say “if any”. There is always another journey around the corner. 🙂

      1. mohamadkarbi Avatar

        Your posts are helping for sure. Thank you for the information and encouragement

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Excellent! I love to help other travellers on/with their journey.

  4.  Avatar

    How long does it take from Rome to Cozenza

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, thanks for stopping by; some times for you…
      Driving: about 5 hours
      Bus: about 6 hours
      Train: about 6 hours
      Flying: an hour

      Hope that helps!

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