October 2019. A campsite in Cornwall, the rain lashing down while we sat in the caravan. “You know what? I want a beach holiday, lets look at heading to the south of France next year when we go. Guaranteed sunshine, white sands, turquoise seas, bliss. Lets do it”
Fast forward 2 years, 10 months later. Article 50 has been signed, the UK has left the EU, and a new respiratory virus has changed the world. We’ve lived through unprecedented times, our lives but on hold, milestones for the children missed out, time lost that we will never get back.
We are finally off to France! Our longest trip yet, 2500 miles, a tow from Caen in Northern France to Perpignan in the South. Then back.
The Caravan, our beloved Fleetwood Heritage, now 14 years old, is still as good as new, fully serviced, loved and looked after. We are heading to the Motorhome and caravan show in October but we love our Fleetwood so we will see if we can find anything that can match it. Our new (to us) tow car, a Nissan Navara ready to go and loaded with awnings and camping gear from our friends at Isabella. Tablets and devices memories fully loaded with downloaded films, series and games to entertain the children on the long road ahead.
Our Ferry crossing was at night, a 6 hour trip across the channel from Portsmouth to Caen. Our first time since Brexit, we arrived an hour early, and thanks to the extra checks now required, boarded the ferry an hour late. A quick drink and then off to the cabin to get some sleep. It finally felt real, we were on our way!
We landed in Caen at 7am. Again, the alien experience of a passport check off the Ferry, we finally left the port an hour later and set off on what the Sat Nav said was an 8 hour trek to our first site, a single overnight stay at Moulin De Campech, a site pretty much in between Bordeaux and Toulouse.
We discovered that Google Maps is a liar. 8 hours into the drive, it was still giving us an arrival time of another 4 hours. It was as if time was stopping, or actually going backwards, we’d drive for a couple of hours, look at the screen, and the arrival time hadn’t changed. Thankfully, French roads (we used the Tolls) are relatively clear and we finally arrived 12 and a half hours later at 8.30pm. The lovely owners at the site kept the pool open for an extra half hour so the kids could at least have a dip after so long in the car and put some food on for us even though the restaurant had closed at 8pm. Because of the horrendous forest fires in the area, we were unable to set the Cadac up to cook anything so the extra mile taken by the site owners to feed us was most welcome.
On those fires, the entire area was a tinderbox. It was 42 degrees when we arrived, and it had not rained in months. We had seen the firefighters and volunteers while on the road, they looked exhausted and it put our long journey into perspective.
After a very warm night, Google maps was telling us it was a 4 hour tow to Perpignan, and our home for the week, the famed La Brasilia.
Once again. Google Maps lied to us. We had forgot that the weekend we were travelling was a French bank holiday, and it seemed the entire population was heading south. Horrendous traffic around Toulouse meant that we finally arrived in Perpignan after 7 long, hot hours on the road.
After driving for pretty much 19 hours of the last 48 I was about done. It was still 42 degrees, and I had the caravan and awning to set up.
La Brasilia. Our home for the next week. If I’m absolutely honest, a site that would not usually be high on the list of “must go to” for me. A huge site, with lots of swimming pools, arcades, restaurants and ***Shudders*** an Animation team.
The idea of organised fun leaves me cold. However, the children are now that bit older, they want to do different things and La Brasilia ticked the boxes. I surprised myself by actually quite liking it. It was not In Your Face, I didn’t see a single member of staff dressed in an overly large character costume, the pools were spotless, and it was always easy to find a seat/sun lounger.
However. When we arrived, we asked for a pitch away from the main entertainment area, which, we were given, unfortunately, it was right next to the neighbouring campsites entertainment area, who, EVERY SINGLE NIGHT had the same incredibly shouty compare shouting the same things to the same music until midnight. It got to the point where we recognised the final song they played EVERY NIGHT so we at least knew that the torture would soon be over.
I’m being a bit of an old curmudgeonly fart here. La Brasilia was exactly as it purported to be, it did what it did incredibly well, the beach was fantastic, Perpignan was lovely, the weather glorious, our first week flew by and before we knew it we were thinking about pack down and moving on to our next site.
We have been working with Isabella for several years now, and as tourers we have found the Air range of awnings they offer as life savers in terms of ease of use and convenience, especially with a young family, a young family who are nowadays more than capable of putting the awning up for us!
Our Cirrus North is an outstanding awning. A single point of inflation, we had it up and pegged out in under half an hour. A huge advantage when its 42 degrees! On this trip we were staying at multiple sites for relatively short durations so we had also taken Isabella’s new Arc Canopy. We had an early start to the next site so we had taken and packed down the Cirrus a couple of days before and put up the Arc Air Canopy in minutes, and when I say minutes I mean literally that. We loved it. It was so easy, yet still provided enough shade and cover from the heat. We also use an Isabella Windbreak, which combined with the canopy offered some privacy and shelter when cooking.
So with the majority of the kit packed away, the bikes back on the roof rack, the alarm was set for an early morning dart to our next site. Saint Emilion.
The Arc Canopy being so easy to erect and deflate, we had kept it up overnight so we had somewhere to have a quick breakfast before we left, again, within minutes it was down and in its bag, packed into the back of the car and away we went.
The journey to Saint Emilion was thankfully uneventful and Google Maps this time was a bit more truthful. After a four hour tow we arrived at La Yelloh Saint Emilion.
Le Yelloh are the same group that own La Brasilia, however this site felt far more relaxed, set in the vineyards of Saint Emilion, a huge boating and fishing lake, swimming pool, bar and restaurant, it was beautiful. Again, spotlessly clean with friendly helpful staff.
We were spoiled with our pitch, right next to the lake, we opted to put the Arc Canopy up again rather than the full awning, the weather was still glorious and its open feel was just perfect for evening next to the lake watching the sun go down with a good Rose. The Children loved the pool, loved the peddle boats and kayaks on the lake and cycling around the site to the basketball and tennis courts.
Saint Emilion itself is a beautiful place, I’d recommend it to anyone. An ancient town filled with Wine merchants, beautiful architecture and restaurants. We cycled from the campsite, through the vineyards to the town, climbed the ancient bell tower and marvelled at the astronomical prices of the fine wines being sold to investors in wine merchants.
We stayed for 4 nights, found an amazing aqua park in Libourne, where we spent the day on the water slides and floating around in the lazy river. We fished the lake and caught a couple of Bream, more cycling, around the vineyards and lazing by the pool. A truly wonderful place.
Because of the ease of use of the Air Canopy and other Isabella kit we had, we didn’t bother packing down until the morning we were leaving, it was so nice not to have rush. We had a long drive back north to Le Mans, to our favourite site in France. We were going back to Chateau Canteloup.
We found Canteloup by accident 7 years ago. We needed an overnight stay en route to La Rochelle. We’ve been back there every year ever since. It was with a tiny amount of trepidation that we made the long trip north. Canteloup has new owners. Had they ruined it?
We arrived tired but pleased to be back to what felt like home. Any fears we had were immediately quashed on meeting the new owners. They were lovely, they totally “got” Canteloup, and they knew they had a winning formula, we were given a choice of pitch, we opted to head down to the lake and set up on the enormous open space that we knew so well.
Again, we opted for the Arc Canopy, I can’t express what an excellent awning this is. The weather was perfect for it and it lent itself beautifully to the wide open space of Canteloup.
We stayed at Canteloup for three nights. We spent our days in the pool and at the park, we cycled around the gardens and woodland and spent our evenings chatting with other guests and the owners on the veranda, drinking the excellent local cider and Rose. It really was just perfect.
Sadly, our epic journey was coming to an end. After 17 days in France our ferry was leaving Caen at 4pm. We packed everything down in the morning (not before treating ourselves to the fresh croissant and pain au chocolat that were sold fresh from the local patisserie on the site every morning) and waved a sad au revoir to the best campsite in France.
After a wait of over 2 years our trip was over. We sat at the back of the ferry and watched France disappear on the horizon as we headed back to Blighty. As I mentioned at the start of this, the two years from when we first planned this trip to when we actually went were the hardest we and all of us have ever had to endure, who would of thought that such a momentous and horrendous pandemic would happen like this in our lifetime. We all lost something and for some it was even worse, losing someone.
But life did and does go on, and being able to make memories like we did this summer makes us incredibly lucky. It proves the old adage, that everything will be alright in the end, and if its not alright, its not the end.
Ma famille compte plus que tout