Sarlat la Caneda – 28/9 – 1/10

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Well we have to thank Jonah for having had a spare couple of hours whilst on a business trip for finding this one. Sarlat la Caneda is right on the edge of the Dordogne region and it is a beautiful old walled city which has been ‘preserved’ impeccably – even down to the last tumbling building… it tumbles with a certain style. Obviously this does unfortunately mean that there are a reasonable number of tourists, but occasionally even we make sacrifices!

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The campsite (Camping Les Acacias – 12 euros per night inclusive) is about 5km outside the town centre in a village called ‘La Caneda’. The campsite is a family run friendly place with really good facilities and ignoring the odd squall from the ducks and geese – we are in Foie Fras country, so I have a feeling that may have something to do with it – it is very tranquil. Unfortunately it shuts on the 1st October, so we are staying as long as they will let us before we get kicked out.

Despite all the lovely weather we have been having, I am sure you will be pleased to hear that it is obviously the end of the summer in France …. It rained heavily all night Sunday into mid-morning and then from about 8pm on Monday night and carried on until mid afternoon today…. luckily we aren’t too close to the dordogne river….

A few days in the mountains …..24th – 28th Sept

24/9

After leaving Lyon we headed into the countryside to find another vineyard as wine stocks were getting low. We travelled back into the Loire, but instead of staying by the river, we headed into the hills close to a small medieval town called Ambierle.   The farmer had 3.5 hectares of vine (2.5 red and 1 between white and rose), in addition to rearing about 60 pigs a year. They produced three different types of red and we opted for the slightly fuller bodied at 6 euros a bottle called ‘Côte Roannaise – Cuvée Tradion 2012’ I am not sure if it is available in the UK, but it definitely got my stamp of approval. Unfortunately the farmer was preparing the pig the following day so we weren’t able to purchase any charcuterie but he did point us in the direction of a local flour mill which he uses to make bread.

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After a quick stroll up the side of the vineyard (and a slide back down again…) to see the pigs we set off to have a look at Ambierle which is perched on top of a hill with a huge priory and a church with a beautiful multi-coloured tiled roof. The farmer had mentioned that there was a ’Maison du Pais’ which sold the flour, but they only had a 1kg bag of the cereal flour, so map in hand we set out to find the mill (and the flour) which was just off of our route to Vichy down a very windy road.

We stopped for lunch in Vichy which is an elegant spa town with beautiful buildings and lots of green spaces on the side of the river before heading through Clermont Ferrand (The home to Michelin Tyres) and up into the hills to our campsite (Indigo Royat 16 euros inclusive) looking over Royat (spa town) and Clermont Ferrand (very industrial).

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Wanting to get away from the industrial noise we headed back into the countryside on a slight detour to a tiny little village called Fridefront which is right at the bottom of Cantal (part of Massif Central)… although if you have looked at the map of our travels so far it is fairly normal for us to zigzag a little so possibly it was planned …. The area is miles and miles of rolling hills with an enormous lake stretching out across it – ideal walking.

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We selected ‘Ferme des deaux vallees’ to try out some local cooking and weren’t disappointed. We went on a short walk when we arrived to help build up an appetite and played some cards whilst taking in the sunset.

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Dinner was served for 15 of us around a long table and included a spinach, chestnut and wild mushroom sponge for the entrée, Roast Beef (as rare as it could be and delicious with it) served with a local speciality which is a puree of mash potato and cheese ….. so stringy she had to cut it with scissors when she served it, a large plate of cheese all finished off with a large slice of either pear or plum tart – delicious!

27/9

We woke to the sound of cockerels and cow bells and a view that demonstrated how high we were and why it was so cold 🙂

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After a lovely walk through the forest and down to a reservoir we set off on our trek through the mountains towards Sarlat, taking in some beautiful scenery including a lunch stop in one of Frances’ most beautiful villages called Estaing for lunch.

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We finally stopped for the night at another farm for the night en route in a place called Saint Sulpice. This farm had a mixture of goats, pigs, horses, chickens and ducks amongst other things and we stocked up on the local speciality ‘Rocamadur’ which is a part dry goats cheese – Delicious !

Lyon – 22/9 – 24/9

Allee Camping International – 16 Euros all inclusive

As much as we are trying to avoid big cities we felt that we had to stop in Lyon as we have heard so much about it. The campsite is about 9 km outside Lyon and well connected in so far as buses and metro, but we were advised that the roads are a little busy to risk cycling into the centre.

The campsite is fairly large and well equipped but it is in an industrial area so traffic noise starts quite early, however it suited the purpose for a couple of nights enabling us to see the city.

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Lyon is a large but beautiful city with the Rhone and the Saone rivers running through the middle segmenting the city into fairly well defined areas – Old City, The ‘Almost Island’ (as it feels like an island in the middle of the rivers, but isn’t), and the Red Cross ( or The working Hill as it used to be known).  We hadn’t really expected it to be quite so hilly, but we were quite glad that we hadn’t cycled in at the end of the day having walked 29 kilometers to cover the city!

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There is an impressive Basilica that sits on top of the hill and looks down over the city and lots of lovely streets full of boutiques and restaurants and one of the most impressive indoor food markets that we have walked around – all in all an interesting city.

Our route so far …

Just in case you haven’t seen it, we have added a new page to the blog which links to a map to show the journey so far.

Just scroll to the top of the page and ‘Our route so far‘ is now between ‘Home‘ and ‘What are we up to

We will update it each time we are online (and move to a new place) but it won’t send you a notification …. so if you are interested you will need to remember to click on the link to have a look.

Enjoy 🙂

Chevrerie La Ramaz – Hauteville Lompnes – 21/9

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We thought we would try and find a goat farm to stay on as we have got a bit of a taste for goats cheese since we have been in France and there are so many varieties.   After leaving Annecy we went from blue skies to torrential rain, to hail and then back to blue skies again – looking on the positive side Mika got a bit of a wash which we had been promising her for a week or so… .

The farm was situated in the middle of nowhere on the side of a mountain – I guess if I had thought about it that would have been where we would look for goats – and they had approximately 100 females and three lucky males 🙂

The farm is part of the ‘France Passion’ so in exchange for staying on their land we felt that it was only fair to sample some of the produce ….. Saucisson a la chevre (that is charcuterie sausage to the english), Goats Cheese Brick (Demi Sec), Honey beer (ok, that had nothing to do with goats but looked interesting) and goats milk yogurt…..this is turning out to be quite an expensive alternative to campsites…. but they were all lovely.

We learnt probably more than the average person wants to know about goats – they lactate for about 8 months of the year producing on average 2 litres of goats milk a day, on average they have about 6 or 7 years of ‘milking’ life and the gestation period is 5 months….. As part of the cheese making process there is a very rich/acidic bi-product which is produced (I guess the equivelant of whey) which rather than wasting, they use to raise a handful of pigs with – so no waste, everything on the farm was efficiently planned and managed.

It was an interesting (and tasty) stop well worth the trip, all we have to do now is find a place that produces blue goats cheese as we have only found it a couple of times but it is lovely.

Annecy – 19/9 – 21/9

Camping au couer du lac – 16 euros per night inclusive

We came through Annecy 9 years ago when we briefly thought about buying a small hotel/chalet in France and always said that we would come back as it was so beautiful. The journey from Dijon was a long one, but as the weather was about to change and parts of southern France were already suffering the consequences following torrential rain we thought it would be best to not to cross the mountains with poor weather and tackled it head on.

The journey wasn’t that bad, the weather stayed dry most of the way and the roads twisted through the mountains providing us with some beautiful views as well as tired arms 🙂 Unfortunately as the journey took slightly longer than expected we arrived into Annecy at rush hour and with bumper to bumper traffic (the first we have seen since we arrived in France back in March) someone decided to take a closer look at our back bumper and gave us a nudge up the backside. Thankfully the damage looks minimal with just a slight crack to the bumper near the number plate… but not really the welcome we had planned for.

Oddly, as it is such a beautiful place, many of the campsites in Annecy are only open until mid-September we managed to find one which had one more week before it shuts its doors and not surprisingly, it was busy.

We woke up to sunshine and as we were right on the side of the lake, I went for a run and Keith a cycle to take in some of  the stunning scenery. As we got back to the motorhome the skies opened and it pretty much stayed that way until after lunch. The rain didn’t stop us from walking into Annecy and visiting the rather wet market to stock up on fruit and vegetables, but once it cleared up we got a better view of the town itself which is beautiful and we sat and ate lunch looking over the lake…..

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The old town is built on canals which feed into the lake and it has lots of windy cobbled streets with boutique type shops and it even has a chateau 🙂

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After a heavy night of rain we set off on a cycle ride around the lake on Saturday morning which is 42km and a little hilly in parts 🙂 Part way round we stopped at a small town which was hosting a Red Bull Extreme sports triathlon type competition which appeared to include parascending from the top of the mountain to land on a floating platform in the lake as well as mountain biking and probably several other sports which we didn’t say to see…. It was quite spectacular though.

Anyone looking for an tranquil place to go but with the options of lots of outdoor sports – walking, climbing, cycling, kayaaking, Ski-ing, etc …. Annecy is the place…. I would happily live here 🙂

Dijon – 16/9 – 18/9

Camping Du Lac Kir (11,30 euros per night exc. electricity)

From Sancerre we travelled through the rolling hills passing some beautiful villages until we got to Dijon. Just meters from the campsite we came to a halt with a 3m bridge…… Something that most people wouldn’t think about, but when your motorhome is 3.1m high and you don’t really fancy turning it into a convertible an inch makes all the difference :). However, after much deliberation and persuasion by the campsite managers that it is actually 3.5m we progressed through without a problem. The campsite is about 2.5km outside Dijon and not surprisingly considering its name, on the edge of a lake with really nice spacious pitches.

We set out to explore Dijon on foot and although it is not particular picturesque it has a lovely old town and lots of ornate churches in very different styles as well as an exhibition of Francois Rude who created some of the most incredible sculptures that you may have seen in famous locations around France including the following which is located at the Arc du Triumph http://mba.dijon.fr/musee/musee-rude

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We totalled up our distances today and since we left Bagnoles De L’Orne we have covered just over 1000 miles in the motorhome and 756.5 kms on the bike/walking 🙂

Bue (near Sancerre) 15/9

We left the campsite at Orleans at lunch time and headed towards Sancerre to find another ‘France Passion’ place to stay. As some of you (the white wine lovers at least) will know, Sancerre is rolling hills covered with vine. We are just under two weeks from the ‘vindanges’ which is when they cut the crop and start the wine making process, so we thought we would try and find out more about the wines from the region and selected an independent vineyard from the book to stop for the night at.

The place we had chosen was called Domain Auchere which is located at the end of a little village called Bue about 10km outside Sancerre. As we couldn’t find anyone in, we settled down with a cup of tea but were soon interrupted by ‘Dad’ who owned the house across the road, used to own the family vinyards and evidently liked a glass or two :).  He invited us to have a glass of wine with him … which we could hardly refuse despite it being 3pm and explained to us a little about his family and the vineyard. He has passed the majority of the vineyard to his two sons, one on either side of the road, who each make approximately 80,000 bottles of wine a year.

Later on we met the owner of the vineyard who explained that white wine makes up 80% of their crop and that they export approximately 60% of the white wine to the rest of Europe keeping the rest to sell within France. Only 20% of each crop is red and generally it is kept locally or for the Parisiennes.  Having tasted it, if you do find any Sancere red on the shelves I definately recommend trying it.

For those of you who didn’t know … and wanted to, White wine is made by pressing the white grapes, rose is also made by pressing the red grapes, and red wine is a much longer distillation process (of approximately 10 days in this case) which draws the colour out of the red grapes. The whole process from cutting the grapes off of the vine through to being ready to send to market takes approximately 3 months, and it isn’t until the 3 month point that they really know if it is a good crop or not.

We bought a couple of bottles of red to take with us and settled into a very peaceful night surrounded by vine (photo to follow)

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When we left the vineyard in the morning we headed back towards Sancerre to have a look around. Just before we turned off the main road the night before you could see the town of Sancerre mounted on a hill just across the valley – I wish I had taken a photo as it looked like it was just floating above the cloud. Unfortunately in the morning it was hazy and although beautiful… not to the lens.

Orleans – 12/9/14 – 15/9/14

Whilst doing some research into places to stay in France we came across a book called ‘France Passion’ which supposedly details several farms, vinyards, restaurants and other local independent producers who invite people with mortorhomes to come and stay free of charge in exchange for buying some of their produce or eating with them.  We only found out about the book a couple of weeks ago and as we don’t have a mailing address, the nearest stockest was in Tours so we went and bought the guide on Friday morning as we left.

Keith browsed through the guide whilst I drove to Blois where we stopped for lunch and a walk around.  Blois is centered around its Chateau which, from the outside doesn’t really look that impressive (it is all relative don’t forget)…

However, when we walked around the other side and looked into the courtyard the detail in the stonework is probably the most intricate we have seen yet with the most beautiful staircase spiralling up from the courtyard.  Unfortunately they had blocked most of the area of so that you couldn’t take photos and as we didn’t go in I will have to leave you to have a look on the internet 🙂  http://www.chateaudeblois.fr/?lang=en The rest of Blois was attractive but not really much else to do.

With the ‘France Passion’ book in hand we headed towards Orleans to try out our first farm stay…. en route we passed through the Chambord Estate …. a fine example of French Rennaisance architecture…..

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Now if we were wise and read the detailed description we would have realised what we were letting ourselves in for.  The farm sold its fruit and vegetables, local goats cheese and wines as well as home made cakes, breads, jams and pate.  It also provided an evening meal should we have wanted to partake using all the produce from the farm – mostly focussing around chicken and duck.

As we had already got food for the evening we stocked up on lots of local produce and settled in for the evening to the sound of ducks quacking and cockerals…erm, doing their thing 🙂

The French cockerals are early risers… 4am I think he started.  I wouldn’t have minded but I think he was still up at 22:30… obviously knew he had guests.  So, note to self the concept of ‘France Passion’ is great and the hosts were really friendly … next time choose something slightly quieter like a vinyard.

After buying a bit more fruit and veg we set off into Orleans to a Municipal campsite (the france passion places generally only allow you to stay the night).

Camping Municipal Oliviet (16 euros per night without electricity) is roughly 6km outside Orleans, very tranquil, eco friendly and with cycle paths into the centre and along the Loire.  It is lovely, we would definately come back here – but recommend booking or arriving early if you want a space.

We ventured into Orleans to go to the farmers market and then again later to walk around the city.  It has the same kind of feel as Nantes, probably because it is a university town combined with a fairly large old town, Keith and I both liked it a lot.  The cathedral is enormous and beautiful and whilst we were walking around Orleans they had at least two weddings, so they obviously get good use of it!

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Sunday morning we did another loop of the Loire heading along the north side of the river east for about 30km to the first bridge and then back on the other side.  There is something about the Loire, Keith and I both think it is the most attractive river we have seen.  It is probably something to do with the fact that it isn’t very deep so there are lots of sand banks / islands which provide a fantastic mixture of textures.

Tours – 10/9 – 12/9

Camping Acacias – (16 euros per night inclusive of electricity)

Well, it was going to happen at some point – at least we didn’t go from 5 star luxury to 0 Star …. This one is about a 3 Star and to be fair the facilities are clean and the water is hot …. We have just been spoilt 🙂 and it didn’t help that the weather has turned a little and the trees were chucking acorns at us from a great height… we are just picky!

We left Saumur on Wednesday morning and headed towards Chateau Azay Le Rideau to take in a bit more of the Chateau scene.

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The chateau is pristine and worth a visit if you are in the area. However, if you are only going to visit one chateau whilst in the Loire, you must go and see Chateau Chenonceaux.  Unfortunately we saw the latter the day after the former and however lovely the former was, the latter is spectacular both inside and out.

Thursday was another day of cycling, in the morning over to Chateau Chenonceaux (as below)

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and then across to Amboise and back to Tours along the Loire – 90km round trip. We didn’t stop in Amboise, but from the quick cycle through it looked like a beautiful town with yet another chateau – they are quite common – on the edge of the Loire. We arrived in Tours late afternoon and parked the bikes up in front of the cathedral.  Tours is a larger more industrial town, but it has an attractive old town (along with another chateau). which was worth a wander around.

We are now however Chateau’d out ….. I wouldn’t mind but we are only half way across the Loire valley.  Worse still we are leaving red wine country and entering white wine territory … what to do ??