A major consideration when travelling through France is that of the very expensive Road Tolls, which can sometimes be in excess of twenty pounds a pop. If you try avoid them, which at times provides some unexpected gems, you do also run the risk of ending up on tiny lane country roads; which in a large bus conversion can make for some pretty hair-raising driving. Another consideration is that travelling via motorhome is incredibly popular in France and subsequently a lot of places have signs saying no campervan parking so you’ll need all your cunning and wits about you to bag a cheeky spot at times! For ease of finding somewhere to stay, and having the added advantage of having water and waste drops, there are a host of lovely campingcar aires across the country which provide just that for between $3-$10. these things do add up in the end!
UK to North West Coast of France
Calais – Saint-Valery-sur-Somme – Mont Saint-Michel – St Malo – Paimpont – Ile D Oleron – Bayonne – Bidart
After a 7 hour slog in torrential downpour from Yorkshire, on the 3rd of August we caught the Eurotunnel Shuttle from Folkestone to Calais. The Shuttle was defiantly the cheapest way to get across to France – we paid about GBP160 to take our bus across. You simply arrive two hours before departure, get in a queue 15mins before you leave, drive on to the train, and then 30 minutes later you are in France. We laid in bed and put the projector on feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves that we were in our own underwater cinema.
We didn’t want to linger in Calais too long so we decided to drive straight through to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. This was an hour and a half drive southwest from Calais. It was our first experience at finding parking somewhere and we were not very successful. We ended up parking at the side of a busy road, both exhausted we didn’t even walk into town. There was a large Carrefour nearby so we stocked up on food and did some laundry before heading on our way. (A lot of the large supermarkets in France have laundry machines in the car park which are very useful – saves carrying all your laundry through town looking for a launderette!)
The next morning we decided to press onto Mont Saint-Michel, which is known as a Wonder of the Western World – and certainly didn’t disappoint. We found a cheap camp site called La Bidonniere for 10 Euros a night and decided that it was worth it to pay that for the use of water to top up our tanks, wifi and toilet emptying facilities. Find the link to the site here: https://www.campercontact.com/fr/france/basse-normandie-14-50-61/ardevon/12402/aire-de-camping-car-aire-de-camping-car-la-bidonniere.aspx
Also there was very little on street parking near here, and the huge public car park charges around the same to park overnight with no facilities. As we got arrived in the late afternoon we decided to try out our new folding bikes and cycle across to Mont Saint – Michel. It was amazing to see this magical island topped by a gravity defying medieval monastery! We spent the evening wondering about the town and looking around the monastery. There were lots of bars and restaurants to choose from and we decided to sit outside at La Mere Pouland and share a carafe of French cider, which is soo much better than the UK stuff!
Next morning we set of for Paimpont, stopping first in St Malo (45 mins away). We managed to find a free campervan parking car park in St Malo near a football stadium. Find the link to the site here: https://wego.here.com/france/saint-malo/parking-facility/complexe-sportif-de-marville–250jx7ps-c2abd5a9d86d0d3d769140ae993a5c77?x=ep&map=48.64438,-2.00532,15,normal
However we were a little bit concerned about the location so decided to have a quick walk into the old town to get some lunch and head on our way. I was pleasantly surprised by the walled town; it was a lovely contrast to the industrial outskirts of the city we had parked in. There was music playing on every corner and people sat outside the many bars and restaurants; enjoying the sunshine with a glass of wine or two! We grabbed a baguette to share and sat in the square enjoying the sights.
We decided to push onto Paimpont which was an hour and a half inland. Having lived in Dubai the majority of my life I was very excited to spend some time in the forest. Surrounded by an ancient forest, Paimpont is the perfect stepping-off point to explore the legendary forest of Brocéliande that was supposedly home to King Arthur and the wizard Merlin. We parked up in a lovely green camp site, which was only 6 euros a night and walked into the old town. Link to site here : https://www.campercontact.com/en/france/bretagne-22-29-35-56/paimpont/768/motorhome-parking-aire-de-camping-car.aspx .
I couldn’t believe how magical it was when you pass through into the old town, it is like stepping back in time, several people were even dressed in medieval costumes on the street! We sat out and had a carafe of cider which we drank out of tea cups in the sun, before getting some food at La terrasse de l’Abbaye, which is a bustling BBQ restaurant next to the old Chateaux. We thought we had ordered a plate of grilled sausages and fries, but we ended up getting one sausage wrapped in a strange traditional crepe that we meagrely shared! We decided to get another flagan of cider to make up for it, before strolling back to the campsite and cracking open a bottle of wine or two!
The next morning we decided to walk off our hangovers by following one of the many trails that lead from the town into the forest. We lay by the side of the river and had a picnic of French baguettes filled with cheese and ham, before heading back for an early night in our bed cinema watching films!
From Paimpont we pushed onto Ile D Oleron, my first choice would have been to go to Ars-en –Rie but the toll charge to get onto the island across the bridge is 16 Euros! So we settled for its slightly less pristine sister island. It is the second largest island in France after Corsica. We drove straight through to Chateau d’Oleron, which is a Capital of the Island named after the castle and citadelle. On the outskirts of the town they have the most amazing old Oyster port that they have turned into a vibrant community of art workshops, shops and restaurants. We managed to park up outside one of these old huts on the outskirts of town and spent the evening strolling around the town. We had a beer at one of the old huts before walking into the old town to watch some live music in the town square under an umbrella in the rain (very romantic). We got up at the crack of dawn to get on our way before any of the local shop owners arrived and shouted at us for parking up our campervan right outside their shops!
Next stop on the itinerary was Bayonne, this was a fair distance and took us about 6 hours in the bus bobbing along at a comfortable 55mph. We stopped at the first campsite we found which was Aire de Caming-cars de la Bare. Link to site here: https://www.campercontact.com/en/france/aquitaine-24-33-40-47-64/anglet/18954/motorhome-parking-aire-de-camping-cars-de-la-barre.aspx .
We were exhausted from the drive so went straight to sleep, but the campsite location wasn’t great. We decided to head off the next morning but the bus was having some technical issues so we drove straight to a garage nearby. The garage owner told us we could park up overnight at his shop and he would look at our bus first thing in the morning. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, the shop was right in the center of Bayonne and we took the opportunity to explore the city. I absolutely loved the energy of this place and the live music was amazing! We spent the evening bar hopping, wandering around the city and listening to various local musicans and bands playing on the street.
Next day with the bus in tip top condition again thanks to the amazing French mechanics (loose wiring to one of the engine cylinders), we headed down to the seaside town of Bidart, where we sneakily managed to park up outside someone’s house and walk down to the beach. This whole coast between Bayonne and San Sebastian if full of cool little pretty surf towns, defiantly well worth a look.
Next stop San Sebastian!