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Across France Winter 2013 PDF Printable Version E-mail



WINTER 2013-2014

Margaret and Barry Williamson

Continued  from: Travels in Slovenia October 2013

Continued at: In Italy and Sicily Winter 2013/14

Our autumn travels in Slovenia had ended in an abrupt return to the UK and the funeral of Barry's brother, Michael. Whilst in England we also changed the Sprinter van, with which we tow our caravan, for a newer VW Crafter. Towards the end of November we resumed our winter journey to Sicily, where we will spend Christmas and welcome the start of 2014.

Here we describe the crossing of France from Calais to Lyon and then across the Alps through the Frejus Tunnel to Genoa and the Italian Riviera. 

Map of the Route through France en route to Italy and Corsica

Index of the Campsites we used

1 France - Vraignes en Vermandois: Camping des Hortensias (muddy farm site in Picardy)

2  France – Geraudot-Plage: Camping Les Rives du Lac (ACSI discount, nr Troyes)

3  France – Dardilly: Camping Indigo International  (ACSI discount, nr Lyon)

4  Italy – Arenzano: Caravan Park La Vesima (ACSI discount, nr Genova – Avoid!)

5  Italy – Antignano:): Camping Village Miramare (Very expensive, nr Livorno/Leghorn)

6  Italy - Rome: Camping Roma (Expensive but nearest camp to city)

7  Italy - Pompeii: Camping Spartacus (ACSI discount, opposite the excavations)

8  Italy – Corigliano Calabro: Camping Onda Azzura (cheap overwintering site in Calabria)

9  Italy – Marina di Nicotera: Camping Village Mimosa (ACSI discount, nr Rosarno)

10 Sicily – Catania: Camping Jonio (ACSI discount – Avoid!)

11 Sicily – Avola: Camping Sabbiadoro (ACSI discount – Avoid above all! Access v diff.)

12 Sicily - Punta Braccetto: Camping Luminoso (ACSI discount + long-stay reductions, nr S Croce Camerina - English-managed and highly recommended)

Note: For more information on these campsites, including price, GPS position and comments, see relevant entry in the travel log below. 


Canterbury, England to Camping des Hortensias, Vraignes en Vermandois, Picardy, France - 19 English miles (Dover-Calais ferry) 113 French miles

Open all year. www.campinghortensias.com.  €18 inc 8 amp elec. Showers €1.50. Free WiFi. N 49.88777  E 3.06488

At 8 am on a calm dry Friday morning we left the Camping & Caravanning Club site at Canterbury to drive 19 miles along the A2 to Dover's Eastern Docks. Arriving early for the 10.15 am P&O ferry to Calais that we'd booked on-line, we were waved straight through the check-in and onto the 'Pride of France' sailing at 9.25 am. The 90-minute crossing was just long enough to enjoy coffee and cake and buy a supply of Bertie Bassett's Allsorts before landing in Calais at noon, French time. 

Rain began to drizzle as we took the A26 Autoroute des Anglais southeast but it was a joy to drive on a motorway with so little traffic after the congestion of England. There are tolls to pay on most French autoroutes but we were only charged category 2 even with the caravan (cat 2 for a vehicle up to 3.5 tons, cat 3 for heavier motorhomes).

After 70 French miles near Arras we turned south onto the A1 towards Paris. Glimpsing the Canadian Memorial on Vimy Ridge and passing several small Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries, we thought of the carnage of 1916 in this area. To underline the point, we crossed the River Somme before taking exit 13 (Peronne South), 102 miles from Calais.

Then it was due east on N29 and D1029 for the final 11 miles to one of the few campsites we knew to be open along our route: a farm site. It really should have been closed, given the state of the place, and no-one else was staying. The grass pitches were all bogged down in mud, the showers locked ('I could put the hot water on for €1.50 per shower' – 'No, please don't bother, Madame'). The only place to park either caravan or van was on the lane running through the site, also very muddy. Reluctantly, we stayed 2 nights as there are so few alternatives at this time of year (the 3 sites in Peronne had all closed in October).

At Vraignes en Vermandois - A Visit to Peronne

At camp reception we found an excellent free 'Guide to the Sites of the First World War' in English, published by Somme Tourisme as part of the commemoration of the 2014 centenary of the Great War. They also supplied a map Le Circuit du Souvenir (The Remembrance Trail) and we considered revisiting the Somme battlefields. See www.somme-battlefields.com.

However, next day was bitingly cold and wet so instead we drove 10 miles into Peronne, a town on the River Somme that suffered heavily, remaining under German occupation until its liberation by Australian troops in September 1918. We visited the Historial de la Grande Guerre - a new WWI museum inside the medieval Chateau (open daily 10 am-6 pm, closed mid-Dec to 1 March 2014, entry for Seniors €6). See www.historial.org. After looking round the bewilderingly extensive collection of objects and photographs, we sat through a 30-minute film with a French commentary composed of excerpts from books, poems and letters written during the Great War. It was difficult to make sense of the whole exhibition and we felt too detached from the presentation to sense the emotion evoked by a Commonwealth War Grave cemetery or battlefield memorial. A party of children wandering round with clipboards for their high school project didn't improve our concentration.

While in Peronne we shopped at Lidl and bought patisserie and a fill of diesel at the Intermarche supermarket.

Vraignes en Vermandois to Camping Les Rives du Lac, Geraudot Plage, Champagne-Ardennes - 160 miles

Open all year. www.campinglesrivesdulac.com.  ACSI Card rate €15.10 inc taxes, 6 amp elec and heated showers. Free WiFi at Reception only. N 48.30268  E 4.33752

From Vraignes it was 10 miles east on D1029 to meet the A26 and head southeast. The first toll was at 65 miles, before the ring round Reims, then A26 toll motorway again until exit 23 (Troyes) at 148 miles. Continue east on D619 to Lusigny-sur-Barse and turn north on a minor road up the side of Lac d'Orient to Geraudot village. Turn right along the north shore of the lake for one mile to a tidy campsite with level hard standing.

We settled in, had lunch and set about washing off the mud that covered the lower half of our caravan and van, from the farm site at Vraignes en Vermandois - one site we won't revisit.

At Geraudot Plage

It's very quiet here near the lake, surrounded by oak woods in the Parc Naturel Regional de la Foret d'Orient. Medieval monks left a heritage of ponds, which modern engineers turned into artificial lakes to control the level of the Aube river. The area attracts overwintering and migratory birds (we spotted 3 Cranes grazing in a field) and there is a cycle path round the Lac d'Orient. See www.lacs-champagne.fr

That sounded ideal for a break but it remained bitterly cold – dry and still, with mist hanging over the trees and a heavy overnight frost. After a day catching up with emails we decided to move on. A place to return to at a warmer time of year.

Geraudot Plage to Camping Indigo International, Dardilly, nr Lyon, Rhone-Alpes - 217 miles

Open all year. www.camping-indigo.com.  ACSI Card rate €15.22 inc taxes, 10 amp elec and heated showers. Free WiFi at Reception only. N 45.81948  E 4.76168

Driving through the forest to Vendeuvre-sur-Barse, 'Prudence' signs warned of huntsmen at large. After 14 miles we joined the A5, junction 22, then stayed on motorways southeast via Dijon to Lyon (A5, A31, A6), with a lunch break on the services south of Beaune.

From A6 exit 33 (Dardilly/Porte de Lyon) it was one busy mile to the well signed Complexe Touristique  with campsite and hotels, lying on the west side of the motorway and about 5 miles NW of Lyon. A good site, fairly busy, with well heated facilities and a café/bar, though no meals. The free WiFi actually worked on our pitch near Reception, if we logged in again every 2 hours!

At Dardilly

There's a handy Esso filling station by the campsite entrance and an Auchan hypermarket 2 miles away, across the motorway near exit 33. We visited both these, parking with difficulty by the delivery bay at Auchan as the main car park had height barriers.

Also spent time planning our onward route to Italy and phoning campsites, both French and Italian. Several listed as 'open all year' were in fact closed. After checking the alpine weather at Modane (the webcam showed clear roads and only light snow at the entrance to the Frejus tunnel) we decided to take the shorter route through the tunnel to Italy, rather than driving south to follow the coastal motorways round the Riviera.



Dardilly, nr Lyon, France, to Caravan Park La Vesima, Arenzano, nr Genoa, Liguria, Italy - 314 miles via Frejus Tunnel

Open all year. www.caravanparklavesima.it.  ACSI Card rate €16 inc 10 amp elec and 4-minute showers. WiFi €2 per hour (1 hour free on arrival). N 44.41437  E 8.70475

The first of December was a Sunday, an ideal day for an international journey (free of trucks on the motorways) – and what a long drive it proved to be.

It was cold and dry as we circled the Peripherique to the north of Lyon. After almost 20 miles we joined A43, then headed east and through a pair of tunnels to Chambery. At 91 miles A43 turned south for Modane and the Frejus Tunnel. As the webcam had shown, there was some snow on the verges but the road was clear and the frosted scenery beautiful. Stopped for lunch on the last French services. We entered the Frejus Tunnel (at 1237 m/4,082 ft) after driving 136 miles and paying €38.10 in motorway tolls. The 13 km/8 mile tunnel under the Alps cost a further €54.10.


Emerging into Piemonte, we soon exited the motorway at Oulx West and took rd 335 to Salbertrand, where we knew Camping Gran Bosco in the wooded slopes of a national park. Only yesterday we'd rung to check it was open – 'Yes, no problem'. Reaching the gates, there was a substantial problem: snow on all the paths and pitches, deep and crisp and even, with no sign of anybody around! So it's 'Plan B'.

Back to motorway E70 and through a series of short tunnels to Turin, where we turned south on A6, confident that we'd make the next campsite open on our route before dusk. The nice lady at Camping Cascina near Bastia Mondovi had also promised 'yes, no problem', saying there was some snow on the sports field but we could park on the road round the edge. We duly took the Mondovi exit and Sat-Navigated our way to the campsite. The not-so-nice lady had omitted to mention the steep narrow lane, uphill through thick snow, which was the only access. Cursing, we returned to the A6 and 'Plan C'.

All we could do was continue down A6 to Savona, where the coast would be snow-free, though as we descended there were warning signs for crosswinds. Meeting A10, we turned east towards Genoa, hoping that 'La Vesima' ('yes, no problem') would admit us after dark. Warnings of high winds, with some lengthy instructions in Italian, flashed overhead as we continued to the Arenzano exit, after a record 311 miles and another €41.90 in Italian tolls.

The campsite, 3 miles east along SS1, the Via Aurelia, was imprisoned behind high automatic gates of solid metal and looked firmly closed. However, the intercom worked, the gates slid open and a friendly English-speaking receptionist raised the inside barrier to usher us onto an empty place among the statics. It was very lucky that we'd left the motorway at Arenzano, just before a gusty viaduct now towering high above us. Apparently the signs had warned of severe danger to caravans and high-sided vehicles, though non-Italian drivers were obviously dispensable!

Safely off the road, if tired and hungry, we settled in as the receptionist chased a young donkey between the vans in the dark … it's that kind of site!

Continued at: In Italy and Sicily Winter 2013/14