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Camping Abroad

2011 - Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic
August 14th
Germany/Austria
After a very pleasant ovenight at Blackhorse Farm near Dover (after our mammoth 10+ hours drive from Scotland) we arrived at Dunkerque with a spring in our step and a song in our hearts - OK, a bit flowery - we were excited.  More so because this was our first camping trip abroad where nothing except the ferry was booked and we had no real schedule to keep.  This holiday was to turn out very different from others in that it ended up being a whistle stop sightseeing tour where we spent short periods of time in each place.  This wasn't the intention when we first set out, it sort of evolved that way.  I considered it a recce or taster for future travels.  A change in strategy this year was to book into the campsites on a day-to-basis instead of booking into a campsite for, say 5 days, upon arrival.  This worked better for us. The full holiday was a marvellous experience although as usual we drove too far between stops, spent too much money and took far too much stuff (see my home page post on "what to take").  I really have to look at strategies.

Our first stop was at Camping Sudafel, in Germany about 5 km from Luxembourg.
relaxing after a long drive
This was intended to be an overnight before continuing but we stayed 2 nights as I wanted to see Trier.   Also I had noticed a wee town called Vianden in Luxembourg when we were driving through that looked nice and fancied visiting there as well.  Camping Sudafel itself was nice enough.  It was within a small village beside a river.  The village itself had a few bar/restaurants, a bakery, bank and a couple of small shops.  The site had clean facilities, a small bar on site and friendly staff.  My first shower was an experience.  I couldn't get any hot water.  After a FROZEN shower I found out they were coin operated!   Pays to check before undressing.

We had a pleasant drive the 10 or so kilometers to Vianden the next morning, passing through a green, lush landscape.  Vianden is a nice town with cafe/bars and a river running through it.  There was a fine looking burg or castle overlooking the town. 
We strolled through the town before stopping for a coffee in a cafe overlooking the river.  It was here we were to eat the first of many huge beautiful desserts, mine was a melt-in-the-mouth crepe with cherries, ice cream and cherry liquer, yummy - I wanted to frame it. 
Vianden
Early afternoon we went to visit Trier, Germany's oldest town, about 20 kilometers from the site.  I had been looking forward to it.  Have you spotted my first mistake?  You don't visit the oldest anything, anywhere, at lunchtime when you haven't a clue about the best place to park!  We drove in circles for about 2 hours and couldn't get parked anywhere and gave up.  I was most disappointed when I discovered upon arriving back at site we could have parked just outside the town and walked a short distance of about 20 minutes to get in.  So, didn't see Trier - so near and yet so far!

Our next stop was to be the Mosel region of Germany.  But I thought it would make more sense to drive South and stop at the Mosel on the way back up and perhaps give Trier another try.  Until now we were undecided about the Black Forest or Bavaria but decided to head for Bavaria - 7 hours drive away.  It was a good choice - Bavaria is a lovely region of Germany.  Lots of mountains, lakes and pretty villages.  
Pretty village - can't remember which one!
The campsite we stayed on was Camping Seegatterl, a site 5 km from the lovely town of Reit-im-Winkl, almost on the border between Germany and Austria.  Reit-im-Winkl is the main town in this area and whilst not very big is pretty, has some lovely restaurants, a Schnapps museum and all the shops you would need. Beautiful baskets filled with sweet-smelling, colourful flowers hung from most of the buildings and it was a lovely place to while away an afternoon "testing" the Schnapps before buying some to take home.  

Before first arriving at our campsite and only a few kilomteteres from it we had passed a beautiful lake and decided to go back and spend the day there.  The lake was in Walchsee and was just over the border in Austria.
just before we hired the boat

having fun just before trying to get back onto the boat!
This was a lovely place and there was a smashing looking campsite on the lake's edge that looked really lovely and if I return to that area I would try it out.  The surrounding scenery was gorgeous and the lake was a clear, sparkling green and very inviting. We hired a small boat and spent some time splashing about in the water.  I learned a big lesson here.  Don't jump off a boat without knowing how to get back on it!  After a bit of water fun I tried to get back onto the boat and couldn't do it.  Billy tried to haul me in but I pulled a chest muscle in the process (I was to be in pain with this for the rest of my holiday). Panic then set in and I started screaming that I was going to drown (technically and in sound mind I could have easily swam the 50 or so meters to shore!). I am sure that at one point Billy must have been weighing up his options!  Eventually, I held onto the boat while Billy maneuvoured the boat to the water's edge and I could climb back on.  Mack ignored all this and continued his own swim.    He can be so unsympathetic!

About 2 kilometers walk from the campsite (so I'm told, it was the longest 2 km I've ever walked) was an area with 3 small lakes.  We walked there for a picnic and a swim one day.   The walk took us through sweet meadows and a lush forest before eventually coming to the first and biggest of the lakes.

When looking for a nice spot we inadvertently came across a group of about 20 naturists.  Now, I have never bathed nude.  And whilst I'm not averse to the idea I would imagine a certain amount of priming and preening is required before unrobing to the general public.  Since I was therefore unprimed and unpreened I considered it kinder to the other bathers that we take ourselves to another part of the lake where we would remain covered.   I got told off here, very nicely, by a German gentleman.  Mack was so excited when he saw the lake - after a long, hot walk - before we knew it he was off and in. I did see a sign saying "nein hunds" or words similar but I didn't have the heart to haul him out. 
First glimpse of the lake
We followed suit before it was pointed out to us that dogs weren't allowed in the lake.  He did explain that if I took him to another part of the lake where there were no people it would be permissable.  An older German lady then joined the discussion and told us to ignore him as the dog was fine.  Since we wanted to avoid an international incident we did move to a quieter part of the lake and continued to have a fine day. 

Just beside the campsite there was a very popular drive up the mountains to a place called Winklemoose-alm, a ski resort with lovely walks and trails not just for skiers but for hikers and cyclists.  We discovered that to get to these natural tourist attractions, both here an in Austria, you usually had to pay between 5 and 10 euros for the privilage.  This did include parking when you got there.   I considered it a small price to pay for the enjoyment of the views and walks.  Another lovely place and enjoyable afternoon.  
Bavaria
After 4 days, having sampled some of the delights of Bavaria we (I) decided it would be nice to drive further down to Austria.  I had seen a campsite in one of my camping books that was on the edge of a small town that looked nice.  Upon speaking to the lovely lady owner of the campsite in Bavaria of our plans she agreed that it was a very nice site but if we drove another 10 kilometers or so she could recommend another site she thought we would like.  This site was called Camping Kals and was in the Hohe Tauern National Park and lay just below Austria's highest mountain, Grobglockner (3798 m).  We took her advice and drove the 4 hours down into Camping Kals near the village of Kals, stopping just inside Austria to buy a vignette (about 7 euros) for the bongo.  A vignette is a sort of tax disc required for travel on main roads in Austria.  We loved Camping Kals immediately.  It was set amongst stunning scenery within a circle of mountains and was the sort of campsite we could happily sit at all day with a pair of binoculars.  The toilet and shower block was modern and immaculate and the owners, particularly the young lady owner who spoke very good English was extremely helpful giving us information regarding the local walks and attractions. 
The beautiful Camping Kals
 The campsite was about 40 minutes walk from Kals where there was a decent sized grocery store, a bank and a couple of cafes and between the campsite and Kals were a couple of hotels/restaurants, loads of walks and a couple of cablecars up to the mountains.  We spent 5 wonderful days here and could (should) have spent a bit longer.  About 2 km from the site was the lovely drive up to Kalser Glocknerstrabe where you could get a lovely close up view of the Grobglockner and again do some lovely walks.
The big mountain in the distance!
We walked along one of the trails for a couple of hours before having a lovely 2 course meal at the restaurant, very reasonable I thought at 26 euros for 2x2 course meals with cokes.  My dessert was delicious - but I don't know what it was.  It looked like a tennis-ball sized sponge but had the texture of dumpling.  Inside was a chocolaty sauce and it was covered with what looked like cigarette ash and sat in a light vanilla flavoured custard.  I know my description won't be selling this but it was heavenly. I should add here that with one exception (more about that later) throughout our whole holiday, unless we ordered pizza and pomme frittes we had no clue what we were going to get until it was laid in front of us and even then it took some discernment to truly know what we were eating.  Neither of us can speak a word of German or Austrian (or Czech or Luxembourgish for that matter) and the only words that we could understand on the menus were schwein and salat so initially we ate a lot of pork and salad but usually didn't know what form the pork would take on the plate. Then we just ordered and took pot luck. We are not scared to try different food so this added to the fun.

One day we went into the large town of Lienz about a half hour drive from the site.  Lienz is the major town here and where I would imagine where most folk do their main shopping.  It has a pretty town centre and a fine river and we spent a nice couple of hours wandering about and people watching. 

The drive to and from Lienz was very pleasant and you could see the Dolomites in the distance.  It would have been very easy to persuade myself to drive on towards Italy and the Dolomites but common sense  (Billy) prevailed and we have left that to another adventure.   We stopped off a couple of times on the way back to site to let Mack have a run about and a swim and to enjoy the marvellous scenery. 
On the way back from Lienz
Billy had been eyeing up a walk we could see from our campsite pitch.  It was all uphill and I thought it looked fairly difficult.  He had also wanted to go up in one of the cablecars to the top of a mountain.  I worked out the pros and cons of each and whilst I would have loved to have gone up in the cablecar thereby taking out the hard slog, I am claustrophobic and the thought of sitting in one of the enclosed cars in the blistering heat (in the 30's) and the thought of it breaking down thereby suffocating me (I have a very vivid imagination) persuaded me that the walk up would be lovely.  And it was.  And as difficult as I had first thought.  There were wonderful views all the way up and despite it being strenuous I really enjoyed it even though my leg muscles were killing me and my chest was still giving me gyp.  At the top of the first hill we stopped for a well earned rest and a coke before heading back down.  It was a wonderful day and I really felt I had achieved something.  I know Billy would have liked to have reached the summit, and normally I would have too but it was another 2 or so hours away and just a bit too much for me.
After our walk enjoying the scenery
Another day, another lovely drive took us to a waterfall walk not far from the village of Virgen.  I've seen bigger waterfalls but the walk itself was lovely. We took a picnic and ate it by the river (cheese and tuc biscuits are my forte) and walked for a couple of hours in the shade of the trees.
That night we went to a hotel a 15 minute walk from Camping Kals.  It had a lovely restaurant with waitresses dressed in traditional costume  who made us and Mack very welcome.  An English-speaking waiter came to our table and sat beside us and explained and described every single item on the menu.  The meal was wonderful.  We both had a starter of tiny mushrooms done in a creamy wine sauce with tiny potato dumplings - yum - and Billy had wolf fish? and I had beautiful tender pork with fresh vegetables and thin noodles.  A lovely crisp, colourful salad was shared.  As was a couple of bottles of wine.  If ever the campsite owners read this I do hope they pass on how grateful we were to the waiter.   I loved the food in Austria.  It was what I call earthy food, tasty and well presented.
Wonderful meal and helpful waiter
After 5 days we started heading back North. We drove back towards Bavaria with the intention of staying another couple of nights in another part of the region, near Passau.  En-route we stopped for an overnight at Camping Torrenerhof in a place called Golling just a few kilometers off the motorway and about half-way between Camping Kals and Passau.  The site was attached to a hotel and was basic but clean.  We had a nice meal in the hotel a few glasses of wine, relaxed and ready for the next day.

Czech Republic
About half an hour from Passau we spotted a roadsign for the Czech Republic. Mmm, what to do?  A few hours later we were set up in a campsite in the Czech village of Chvalsiny.  I must admit to a few nerves regarding this impulsive decision.  Mainly because apart from a city break to Prague a few years ago I knew nothing about the country, in particular the rules on driving or dogs.  I needn't have worried though, the same rules appled so everything was easy enough.  I stopped at the first petrol station to ask advice about vignettes etc but was told unless I was using the main roads in and around Prague I wouldn't need one.  I didn't have any Czech currency either and quickly changed 50 euros (at a miserable rate) at the border crossing.  In the event it wasn't necessary as Koruny, Euros and most cards are widely accepted everywhere, even parking meters.

I loved the Czech Republic.  Camping Chvalsiny was one of our two favourite sites, Camping Kals being the other. The owners were friendly and helpful and the facilities were modern and immaculate.  There was also a swimming pool that I made good use of whilst Billy splashed about with Mack in the pond.  The site was set in lovely countryside a few minutes walk from the small village where you could have a meal at one of the 2 restaurants in the village.  The village also had 2 small grocery stores. 
Camping Chvalsiny
the small village of Chvalsiny
Cesky Krumlov
The beautiful medieval town of Cesky Krumlov was only a short 9km drive from Camping Chvalsiny.  Cesky Krumlov is on the Unesco World Hertitage list and it was very easy to see why with it's castle, wooden baroque theatre and museums.  I was very taken with the lovely buildings and quaint streets and would happily have sat all day just taking in the beauty of the town.  Again, we had a nice lunch in one of the many restaurants. One observation I made while in the Czech Republic was not to go to a restaurant on an empty belly.  Whilst the order is swiftly taken and the cutlery set and the drinks quickly delivered, the meal on a few occasions was served at what I would best describe as a relaxed pace.  I used this time productively and I can vouch for the Mojitas!
After lunch we went down to the river where Mack entertained the tourists with his party trick of putting his head right into the water and keeping it there till he brings up something, a stick or stone, in his teeth.  He can keep his head under for quite some time for a dog and over the years has perfected this. 
Cesky Krumlov
The next day we managed a twin visit.  First we went to another Unesco World Heritage village, Holasovic.  This was a very small village not much more than 2 or 3 streets but very lovely with a couple of small family restaurants offering typical Czech food.  
pork, ham, saurkraut, dumpling

We spent a morning there before driving a further 20 km to the large town of Ceske Budejovice.  This town had a beautiful square where we sat for some time sampling some more Mojitos (at least the non-driver did!) before returning to Holasovic to sample some of the local fare.  It was very, very hot, about 35 degrees so most of it was spent hiding from the sun.  As soon as we got back to the campsite I was in that swimming pool in the blink of an eye!
 
Holasovic

Cesky Budejovice

The blink of an eye - so refreshing!
We had thought about spending a bit more time here but were aware of a long drive back through Germany and wanted to break it up a bit with a couple of stops  So we left the next day having had a great time.  Next stop Germany.

Germany
We headed for the Mosel region but stopped after about 6 hours (at our limited 80 kmh with trailer and with stops) at Azur Camping just beside a town called Wertheim.  It rained all day and we suddenly found ourselves in 20 degree cool having come from 35 degree hot!  Luckily the rain had stopped by the time we pitched up. The site is situated at the mouth of the Tauber and Main rivers and we managed to pitch with a fine view to the river. We got settled and relaxed at watching the big boats go past and eating the remainder of our food - cold meats, cheeses and pickles and half a baguette from a lunchtime meal.  The last of our red wine was the accompaniement.
view from our pitch at Azur Camping

Weirthem
My intention had been to go shopping but we were very tired after the long drive and left it to the next day.  So we thought.  Early next morning having realised we forgot to order bread from reception for breakfast and having no fruit whatsoever I asked where the nearest supermarket was so we could stock up (I was more worried about our wine supply).  Sorry, no supermarkets on a Sunday.  OK, where is the nearest small grocery store?  Sorry, none here.  A garage with a food shelf?  Nope! 

Castle in Wertheim
So we had a very pleasant walk along the river to the town where we had coffee and apfelstrudel for breakfast in the lovely medieval part of the town.  A couple of hours later after walking up to the old castle and giving Mack his obligatory swim we had a wonderful lunch in a Thai restaurant (nicest soup I have had in my life!).  We had an idea what we were eating here because there were pictures of ducks, fish and cows on the menu.  On the way back we managed to buy some bread to eat with our tin of sweetcorn and packet of dried potato when we got back to site!

When we got back to site, and to build up an appetite, we took the bikes of the back of the bongo for the first time this holiday (it had been too hot before) and had a leisurely cycle alongside the path by the river for a couple of hours.  Next day we  were off again, destination the Mosel, first stop Lidl.

On the 29th August we stopped at Baren-Camp in the village of Bullay on the Mosel river.  We had looked for a site I had read about in Ernst behind a vineyard but couldn't find it so drove a bit further and liked the look of this one.  We had a great riverside pitch where I could indulge my new-found hobby of watching boats and smiling at passing cyclists. 

I loved the gentle beauty of the Mosel.  The graceful river and miles of vineyards attract a multitude of visitors and the network of cycle paths makes it a pleasant way to visit the small villages along the river.
We drove about 40km to Bernkastel Kues, a centuries old town famous for its gabled timber-framed houses and a big tourist attraction where I had my first Currywurst - sausages with a sweet curry sauce - upstanding at a tall wooden table with a cold beer.
Bernkastel-Kues


On our way back we stopped a couple of times to take in the views and take some photographic opporchancities!

That evening we cycled to the left towards the village of Neef, passing lovely vineyards along the way.  Unfortunately, after a few kilometers we came off the cycle track and onto the road and because Mack was in his trailer we turned back.

The next day we got back on our bikes with a picnic and headed for the town of Zell, about 5 kilometers away.  We took our time, giving Mack some "him" time and stopping along the way for a coffee and cake.
Zell
 Several years ago when we were in Tuscany we did a wine tour.  It was very enjoyable learning and trying the different wines and I would have loved to have done a similar tour here in the Mosel.  Alas, we didn't have the time to go on a professional tour so I thought it would be a good idea if we arranged our own.  The village of Bullay has about 5 restaurant/bars all selling wine from their own vineyards.  My idea was to start at the top and work our way down having one glass of wine in each to try. At the first restaurant we had a fine meal and, silly me, 2 caraffes of white reisling instead of 2 glasses.  Very nice.  The next establishment was a bar where, when I asked for the wine list, we were given an option of one house wine.  Another 2 glasses each, also very nice, though I don't know what it was.  Third establishment I decided I wanted to try a local red wine.  It went down a treat.  9.30 pm - lights out!

Our last day we relaxed, read, strolled and took Mack to the vet for the necessary treatment for his return home - wonderful value at only 24 euros at a vets in Zell.  We had a lovely barbeque before packing up ready for our last day's drive to Dunkerque tomorrow.  
We were originally going to stay at Chateau Du Gandspette, a campsite we have stayed at before near St Omer, about 40 minutes drive from Dunkerque.  We were approaching St Omer when Billy suggested we try a campsite nearer or in Dunkerque as he just wanted to get up and get on the ferry the next morning.  I decided to take a chance and according to archiescampings POI's on our Sat nav Des Dunes in Gravelines about 5 km from Dunkerque was the nearest campite.  The approach to Gravelines isn't particularly pretty, being fairly industrial but the village it is in is fine and the site itself was nice enough, very clean and had a friendly receptionist/owner.  There was a fair mix of nationalities on site but mainly French holidaymakers in the site chalets.  It was a 5 minute walk to the beach which was great for Mack and very popular with windsurfers.  If you looked to the left you get a great view of what looks like a nuclear station but look the other way and you could be at any beach in a nice resort.  The site was perfect for the purpose and very handy for the ferry therefore I would be happy to use again.

We had a fantastic time.  Overall we drove 5013 km (3115 miles).  The 3 countries we visited were all very different and each held their own attractions for us.  Being Scottish we love rugged scenery, mountains, lakes and scenic walks and Austria gave us that in spades.  I also loved the food in Austria.  Bavaria was very similar.  I love culture and history and architecture and the Czech Republic offered it all.  And the Mosel was gentle and pretty and relaxed with the majestic Mosel River holding court throughout the region, home to fine boats and cruisers.

What would I do differently.  Buy a decent road map.  The map we had was very frustrating, most of the villages and towns we stayed at wasn't on it which makes it difficult when planning days out!  Cut the clothing allowance by 2 thirds.  You may have noticed I had the same pair of flipflops and same 2 pairs of shorts almost the entire 3 weeks (although perhaps I shouldn't draw attention to that)! And I've said the same the last 3 years, shorter distances between campsites.  I havent mastered that yet.

2010 - France

We are heading for the Pyrenees.  But first stop in France after leaving Calais was the aire at Le Baie de Somme.  This is a lovely aire, one we used last year as it is only about an hour and a half from Calais so a great place to stop for breakfast or a meal if, like us, you drive for 10 hours and straight onto the ferry.  This aire has loads of space for the dog to have a good stretch and runabout and he did!  There is a big grassy area, picnic spots a couple of ponds and a small stream.  There are plenty of eateries in the building.  This aire is very well used and one I would have no hesitation in using for an overnight.  Plenty use it for that purpose.
We stopped for an overnight about 5 hours down the road at the municipal in Chartres, Bord de l'Eure.  This is a popular site for overnights and was perfect for us.  A lovely stroll along the river took us into the town itself where there were loads of places to eat and some lovely old buildings.  The cathedral is beautiful and very impressive.  We had a nice meal in the town before heading back along the river to the campsite.  We slept like logs, knackered!
Next overnight was a campsite in the small town Uzerche about 6 hours from Chartres.  The town was very pleasant and a stone's throw from the campsite.  We spent a lovely evening walking about and sat outside a small bar listening to a band of musicians "jamming" in the street before buying a load of cheeses, cold meats and baguettes to accompany our red wine back at the campervan.  The site itself sat beside a small river popular with canoeists.  The only drawback for us was the the site was very, very shaded and therefore felt quite cool, even with the temperature in the open in the mid 20's.  For that reason only we probably wouldn't use the site again. 

Camping Pyrenees Natura
At last, the Pyrenees.  As we approached the Pyrenees and got our first sighting of the gorgeous mountains I got really excited.  Are we nearly there?  I had read about a site called Camping Pyrenees Natura near Argeles Gazost and this was where we were headed.  When we got there the site was just as I had imagined.  Small, pretty, loads of shrubs and greenery and lovely views of the surrounding mountains (once we could see them).  It was also freezing!  I was so disappointed.  We had left Scotland 3 days ago and driven a thousand miles for.......cold, damp weather.  So we got settled, wrapped in our fleeces and socks and tried to heat up with whiskey laced coffee.  Very dejected.  Next morning we got up and went for a drive.  About lunchtime the sun came out - hooray - and would have burned a hole in us.  As the week went on it got hotter and hotter hitting about 30 degrees by the time we left.  Apparently, the day we arrived was the last day of a couple of weeks of really poor, wet weather. 
Col D'Abisque
I could rattle on for ages about this area.  It was truly stunning.  About a mile from the site was a pretty lake with walks aplenty leading into the hills surrounding it.  This is where the main pic on my blog was taken.  Another day we drove up into the mountains following some of the route I had noted from watching the Tour de France.  We finished up at the Col D'Abisque having reached the top after almost an hour in 2nd gear!  This was one of the highlights of the Pyrenees.  We walked for a while before having a picnic at the centre at the top and just took in the surrounding views. 


Another highlight was the Cirque Du Gavarnie.  It was only about 35 km from the site but once we got to the entrance of the village it took us about 40 minutes to drive the last 2 km.  It was very busy.  A tip, if you go try and time it for early in the morning, we arrived about lunchtime.   We almost gave up whilst we were waiting in the traffic jam but what a mistake that would have been.  The place is breathtaking and definately worth putting yourself out for.

Important note:  A lot of the Pyrenees is National Park and dogs are not allowed in most of the National Park.  This tends to be the higher areas though and as we are strollers as opposed to hikers it didn't make too much difference to us and you can see the gorgeous areas we went with him.  The only place we didn't manage to go that we had wanted was the Pont D'Espagne.  But Que Sera.

Everyone was very friendly.  We happened across a Basque festival one day in one small village and although no-one spoke English in that village they did take the time to try to communicate with us and fill us with Riccard.  Went down a treat. 

Mack hurt his paw.  After a few days we decided it would be better to get him to a vet. So we went into Argeles Gazost and got directions to the vet from the Tourist Office.  We couldnt understand the instructions and were overheard by an elderly lady who insisted in walking with us about a kilometer out of her way to take us there.  So kind.  Observation:  The prescription we got from the vet was to be taken to an ordinary pharmacist.  Apparently that's where you get your pet-medicine.  I don't know if that was only in this area but I thought it was a great idea - and so much cheaper.

Stayed a week here before moving on toward the Ardeche.  En-route we stopped for an overnight in Villeneuve des Beziers.  We liked it here so much we stayed for a couple of nights and retrospectively I wish I had stayed longer.  Although only a mile or so away from a site  (in Cap D'Agde) I had disliked the year before I really liked this place.  When I thought about it my original dislike for the area was based on one overnight after a long, long drive when we were desperate for a pitch for a night and were given a really awful one (now I realise they were actually doing us a favour because they were  fully booked)!  So I saw this part of the med with new eyes and really liked what I saw. 

The campsite was called Les Berges du Canal and had a really lovely, friendly feel to it.  It sat right beside the canal where you could walk for miles in both directions and was only a couple of minutes from the town where there was a good choice of restaurants and bars.  There was also a jazz festival on which added to the buzz.  We have a habit of seeking out the kind of bars the locals would use and it was no different here.  We had a very amusing night with the locals who made sure we enjoyed (more) Riccard with them.  The barman just kept topping up our glass and filling our dish with olives.  It would have been impolite to refuse!
Canal Du Midi alongside the campsite

Portinagnes Beach
We found a lovely beach we could take our dog onto here at the med.  This was a big deal for me as I do enjoy the odd beach day and it is one of the sacrifices as a dog owner I have made.  And it was a smashing bit of the beach.  All too often owners with dogs are pushed onto a bit of sand that isn't particularly nice but this was just lovely.  We all enjoyed a swim in the sea and a good old beach sunbathe in Portinagnes.  If you look at the photograph you will see in the distance how busy it was.  It was busy in each direction.  In our part, the doggy permitted part, we almost had the beach to ourselves!
Walking along the Canal Du Midi
Billy likes the photo above.  He said I look mysterious in it - I'm actually thinking about the restaurant a bit further up the canal - I was starving!

It was ROASTING in this area!  The heat one night was dreadful and we had the choice of keeping the campervan door shut and being microwaved or leaving the campervan door wide open all night and being murdered.  We chose being murdered!
Next we headed for the Ardeche.  This area reminded me very much of the Tarn Gorge area, very pretty, very green, loads of pretty quaint towns and gorges and loads and loads of river fun.  Every day we swam in a different river.  We stayed in Domaine De Gil near Aubenas.  This was a nice site and very geared towards families with young children or couples - again with a river running alongside it that was great for swimming or splashing about in.  We visited all the tourist sites in the Ardeche, the Pont D'Arc was just as it looks in the postcards.
Pont D'Arc in the Ardeche

My personal favourite though was Pont D'iabli.  Very similar to Pont D'Arc but on a small scale and not so busy!

Heading towards home we drove towards the Burgundy region and stopped for a couple of nights at a campsite near Auxerre, Les Ceriselles.  This site was very nice and very popular (with an older clientelle).  We had a nice day walking along the Canal Du Nivernais.  I wished we had taken bikes with us.  We had a pleasant 2 nights here but from what I could see we were the youngest there and there were no children to be seen.  It was a bit Stepfordy for me, and very, very quiet shh!  But having read about the site since I came home I reckon it was only because when we were there it towards the end of the season when most kids would be back at school.  At 11 euros per night with Camping Cheques though it was worth visiting.  Would I go back?  Yes, but maybe a few weeks earlier when there was a bit more of a buzz to it.

Two nights before the ferry home.  Boo hoo!  Chateau de Gandspette.  A lovely site, friendly staff, nice wee bar, pizza's etc, swimming pool and a great way to finish a holiday.  Very handy as there is a vet about a mile from the site for the necessaries for the dog.

We visited the Blockhause Bunker about half a mile along from the site.  I was truly educated about the sacrifices the French made during the war and spent an enjoyable, though thought-provoking morning here.

Our last night in France was spent having a lovely meal in St Omer. 

This was a wonderful holiday.  Notes:  The best bit of kit we had was the Decathlon Tarp. Essential for shade from the unrelenting sun and very versatile.  We did a total of 3303 miles (5328 km) from home to home.  We spent 144 euros in tolls and £500 fuel.  We used Camping Cheques for some of the campsites and paid full price for others (some as expensive as nearly 30 euros per night), a total of £400 in site fees for 19 nights. (note to self:  next time only use Camping Cheques, ACSI or Municipals).







2009

August.  For three full weeks. Our very first independent camping foray abroad.  I was so excited.  I had researched, and researched and researched and felt that I was prepared for anything.  Nothing prepared me for how beautiful France was and I was overawed many times during this holiday.  I had booked most of our campsites as I was a bit nervous about winging it the first time but soon found out there really was no need.

When we got off the ferry at Calais we headed for our stopover at the Municipal Camping D'Olivet, near Orleans.  The drive took us about 6 hours with a couple of stops for the dog.  This site was very nice with decent sized pitches.  There was a pizza van on-site and that is how we dined on our first night camping in France.  It was so good to feel some heat after the miserable summer we had just endured in Scotland and we sat outside on our pretty shaded pitch for hours before giving in to bedtime.

Our next stop was Les Peupliers in Riviere Sur Tarn near Millau, another 6 or so hours from Orleans.  This site had been well recommended on the UK Campsite forum (http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/) by members on there and I was keen to try it out.  Note - information from this forum has been invaluable to me. 

Anyway, the site was very busy when we arrived, it being the last big holiday weekend for the French and popular with families and couples.   The toilet facilities were very good, there was a small bar and restaurant and a small swimming pool.  Our pitch looked out onto the river and it was very funny when our dog Mack spotted the river.  He just jumped straight in without any consideration and spend a good while swimming about before we could get him out.  He must have been dying for a swim after our long drive, even though we had stopped several times for him.  It wasn't just Mack who enjoyed that river.  We swam in it every day, it was fantastic.

We spent 8 days here.  There was loads to see and do and we spent most of our time driving about sightseeing and stopping at the many small beaches along the rivers in the Tarn Gorge for spontaneous picnics.  The villages in this area were so picturesque and the area has retained it's Frenchness, probably one of the reasons we loved it.  It is also an area not overrun with Brits, sorry Brits - another reason we liked it.


On one of the days we decided to drive down to Carcassone.  If you ever get the chance to cross the Millau Bridge do it - quite stunning!
Millau Bridge

We didn't realise it was such a long drive and took us over 3 hours to get there.  Anyway, we had a smashing day in the lovely medieval city of Carcassone, sightseeing and eating before heading back. I had the idea after we left Carcassone that we would head to the Med for the night before going back to our pitch at the Tarn Gorge (we had left some of our stuff there).  I am a bit dim sometimes and again didn't realise what kind of drive we had ahead of us.  So, we headed for the manic traffic at the Med, fought our way through the busy, busy, busy streets and finally, after a couple of hours, got a pitch at a campsite in Cap D'Adge - not at all our cup of tea.  Too busy.  Actually the site itself was fine, very family orientated with loads of good facilities, it's just that we don't do all-singing, all-dancing any more.

After leaving the Tarn Gorge we headed for the Dordogne.   I phoned en-route and booked ourselves into a Camping Cheque site, Domaine de la Faurie.  This site was very pretty with loads of shrubs and greenery and lovely and peaceful with a small swimming pool and a nice bar.  We spent 4 days here and in retrospect wished we had spent longer.  But, on this, our first real visit to France I wanted to see the WHOLE of France in 3 weeks and had my poor husband driving thousands of miles to enable me to do so!  Anyway, managed a good bit of sightseeing while there with my highlight being Rocamadour, a stunning village very popular with tourists to the Dordogne.
Next we drove up to Normandy.  We booked into a site next to Omaha Beach, Camping Cormoran, a site very popular with British visitors.  Although a bit bigger and busier than we would normally like we enjoyed this site nevertheless.  Our first full day we spent driving about seeing the war sites. Very humbling.  On the second day we went into Bayeux and had a nice lunch before coming back to the site and having a lovely long walk along the beach.  I must say that although I was enjoying Normandy I wasn't as enchanted as I had been further South.  We had intended spending 6 days in Normandy however due to bereavement we had to cut our holiday short.  The staff couldn't have been kinder or more helpful helping me to get a vet on the Sunday for the necessary treatment to get our dog back and advising me on the nearest tourist information centre so I could book a short-notice ferry.  So it was adieu France.