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2006 May Return to the UK PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

RETURN TO THE UK 2006

Margaret and Barry Williamson

May 2006

In May 2006 we motorhomed across Europe, from Patras in the Greek Peloponnese to Portsmouth on the English Channel. On this two-ferry journey we travelled faster and paused less than usual, our aim being a (hopefully) brief visit to Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham for a new fridge/freezer, service and MOT before returning to continental Europe.

4 May    72 miles     IONION BEACH to PATRAS, GREECE

Our last day in Greece, driving to Patras for the Minoan Lines ferry to Italy

As we were01_At_Ionion_Beach.JPG leaving the excellent Ionion Beach Camping at Glyfa, George told of the Fligos family's latest plans, to add a sports centre and indoor heated pool. Over the 11 years we have visited Ionion Beach, it has been transformed, with luxury apartments and outdoor pool enhancing the huge campsite, restaurant and shop, all run by the family. Since our recent visit in January, there is another new 'comfort station' (as the Americans say) and the site's interior lanes have been paved: a rare example of a Greek campsite which is constantly improving. We'll be back!

Driving the 10 miles to the New National Road, we paused half-way at Vartholomio to buy bread, raid the bank and mail some letters. A post office workers' strike (he was outside on the pavement, cleaning his motorbike) foiled that last item! We slipped through Gastouni, busy with its Thursday morning market, and turned north onto the highway to Patras, Greece's third largest city, its port second only to Piraeus in size and confusion.16_New_Gulf_of_Corinth_Bridge.JPG

Bypassing the city on the new road, running inland through short tunnels, we emerged 5 miles north-east at Rion to eat our lunch. The Venetian Castle of Morea, which guards the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth, broods under the shadow of the graceful new bridge spanning the Gulf, finished just in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Turning back into the chaoticGR3_(99).JPG port traffic, we eventually found Gate 7 and a place to park on the dock. The new terminal building has desks for all the ferry lines but the excellent new Tourist Information Centre is a very long walk away, on the waterfront, with no parking. Town planning is not a Greek forte.

Minoan Lines offered us the best fare to AnGR3_(96).JPGcona, beating rivals Superfast and Anek, with a special offer for over-60's during May a quiet month between Easter and summer visitors. The new 'Europa Palace' ferry sailed at 6 pm and we enjoyed Camping on Board (with an electric hook-up and good toilets/showers nearby), shaGR3_(98).JPGring the camping deck with just 2 Dutch motorhomes and a Swiss campervan.

We explored the ferry, bought 2 interesting books about olive oil (with recipes) and returned to dine in the motorhome a big advantage, given the restaurant prices! The ferry called at Igoumenitsa at about 11 pm, then the very smooth crossing of the Adriatic ensured a sound night's sleep.

5 May    166 miles     ANCONA to MODENA SERVICES, ITALY

Arrival at Patras, then driving the Autostrada to Modena

During the morning on board 'Europa Palace' we worked on theAncona.jpg laptops, writing up a 'Farewell to Greece' and sorting photographs. We arrived in Ancona at 2 pm Italian time (putting our clocks back one hour), after 21 hours at an average speed of 30 mph = 630 miles at sea.

Driving straight out of the port we followed the circuitous signs and the busy SS16 Via Adriatica to the A14 motorway, reached after 20 miles which took 50 minutes! After crossing the River Esino we continued north-west up the coast on a fine sunny afternoon. The Autostrada turns inland by Rimini (62 miles from Ancona), running straight (like a good Roman road), parallel with the Via Emilia. It crosses the Ru1_Free_Camping_Italian_style.JPGbicon and passes through fruit orchards, wheat fields and acres of lettuces to the outskirts of Bologna, where Friday's homeward rush-hour slowed our progress round the ring road and we learnt a new Italian word: Coda (traffic jam). We played a game of finding Italian words which don't end in a vowel, scoring just one each (il and con).

The service station on the A14 at Modena is an excellent for an overnight, with a large area designated for caravans which always has plenty of space. We parked and made dinner, to be joined by 6 other motorhomes, all Italian.

Many long-distance coaches took a break here and we thought of John Foster, travelling in Italy. Texting Lisi (it's her birthday today) we learnt that he is near Milan and so we sent him a message as well.

6 May    285 miles     MODENA SERVICES, ITALY to BOURGNEUF, FRANCE

A long drive from Italy and through the Frejus Tunnel into France

An early start, driving west from Modena on the A1 motorway, past Parma and across the River Taro. After 60 miles, at Piacenza, we paid the first toll - 18 for over 200 miles of motorway and one free night since Ancona. (Beware losing the ticket collected on joining an Italian motorway there is a large fine!) We saw the wide River Po to our north as we circled Piacenza on its free ring road, then joined the A21 for Torino (Turin).

20 miles on, we crossed from Emilia Romagna into Lombardy, the flat fertile flood plain of the Po and its tributaries, often misty in winter. After another 22 miles a sign indicates the 45th parallel, near Voghea, meaning we were half-way between the North Pole and the Equator.

Hills were appearing and we began to climb as we entered Piemonte, 2 miles later. By Alessandrio, at 200 ft, it was rainy and noticeably cooler and the traffic busier. We lunched on the services at Asti (noticing the vineyards). The next toll was payable at Torino (8.30), then another 1.30 to circle its ringroad, up at 720 ft. The motorway now climbed more seriously, through a series of short tunnels, with several small tolls.

Up at 3,400 ft near Oulx, in heavy rain, we stopped at Gran BosApproach_to_Frejus_Tunnel.jpgco services, the last before the Frejus Tunnel. This service station also has plenty of parking space for overnighting, as well as a Camper Service point. We topped up our fresh water, emptied the waste and made a pot of tea. The entrance to the Frejus Tunnel, 232 miles from Modena, is at 4,213 ft, with a little snow still on the peaks. We paid the tunnel toll (41.30 credit cards accepted) and drove 8 miles through the Alps to emerge into sunny France (Savoy) at 4,000 ft.

Happily we descended on the toll-free N6, north down the valley which it shared with river, railway and new Peage Autoroute. After the village of Aigubelle, shortly before meeting the main Chambery-Albertville road, the D925 turns off N6 to the left for a couple of miles to Bourgneuf. Here we again spent the night on the Aire de Camping Cars tucked away behind the church, close to a baker's, newsagent's and pizzeria very convenient.

Rain set in as dusk fell and all was quiet once the pizzeria closed. Just us and some lovely Alpine cattle watching from the misty field behind. We were still at 1,000 ft.

Our only (but major) disappointment today was to learn (too late) from John Foster that we could have met him today at the monastery of Certosa di Pavia, just north of our route between Piacenza and Alessandria. We've marked it on the atlas for next time, but he won't still be there!

7 May    265 miles     BOURGNEUF to Camping Municipal de la Saulaie, CHARITE-sur-LOIRE

A quiet Sunday drive across France

South-west on the N6 in sunshine, light Sunday traffic and no lorries, to Chambery, which was busy with a large flea-market. We left the town on N504, north up the west shore of Lake Bourget for a few miles, with nice misty views across to Aix-les-Bains, before turning west through the short tunnel under the Col du Chat to Belley (47 miles). Then the road ran north again for 50 miles, through very pretty gorges to Bourg-en-Bresse, where it turned west for 23 miles to Macon, on the broad River Saone.

Immediately after crossing the river, we met the N6 (turn right for the town and campsite or, as we did, left for McDonald's and lunch!) From Macon we took N79 north-west, which proved to be a good dual carriageway. It crossed a col at 1,245 ft and remained high through the rich pastures of Charolles, grazed by strong blond Charollais cattle.

From Digoin a brand new toll-free highway (not shown on our 1999 French road atlas!) took us west to meet the N7, just 5 miles south of Moulins. We turned north to Nevers, passing close to the French Grand Prix circuit at Magny-Cours (with a nearby good Camping Municipal at Chevenon). A new ring road bypasses Nevers, and N7 continues to meet the Loire 15 miles further on, at Charite sur Loire.

Here there is a fine grassy Camping Municipal, marooned on an island between the 2 bridges over the Loire, just a short walk from the delightful old town. We settled in, paid the friendly Gardien 13.00 and watched grey herons fishing in the river below the bridge as nesting terns skimmed the surface.

Heavy rain overnight.

8 May    285 miles     CHARITE-sur-LOIRE to Camping Municipal Capricieuse, LUC-sur-MER

From the Loire to the Channel on VE Day

We followed the wide N7 north up the Loire (though the river was rarely in sight), past Briare and round the new Gien bypass. Then on D952 through the Forest of Orleans, via Les Bordes (where we once camped on a quiet site in the forest) and onto the busier N60, going west to Orleans.

Fortunately, the French celebrate VE Day as a public holiday, which meant that businesses were closed and roads fairly quiet and lorry-free. War memorials were decked with tricolore flags and fresh flowers and we wondered why we British don't mark the date. After we did play a larger part in the victory!

After Orleans we took the minor D955 road north-west towards Alencon, pausing to make lunch on a car park at Chateaudun. We crossed a vast fertile plain, still up at around 500 ft, growing wheat and oil-seed rape in fields of contrasting gold and green. The municipal camping at Alencon is good (in fact, Margaret did a piece on it for the MMM), but we wanted to get further into Normandy and perhaps even reach the Channel today, so we slipped past on N138 north to Sees, then N158 to Argentan and Falaise.

At Falaise we stopped to check out the Camping Municipal du Chateau, sited below the impressive medieval castle (birthplace of William the Conqueror). It looked fine but the access, down a steep narrow winding lane, did not! So on we drove to Caen, round the ring road to the east, then a final 10 miles to its port at Ouistreham, where Brittany Ferries have a terminal for crossing to Portsmouth.

There were aGR3_(101).JPG few busy car parks round the port, including one for motorhomes with a service point. With 3 days in hand before our booked crossing, we turned west along the coast on D514 in search of a comfortable campsite. The first option was Camping Oasis at Lion-sur-Mer, about 4 miles along. The guardian was impatient (he was about to close at 7 pm), there was no washing machine or toilet-emptying point and the basic 'facilities' smelt as if they were used for that purpose. All at a proposed cost of over 22 - we drove on!

Only 2.5 miles further west, we came to the little resort of Luc-sur-Mer and found an excellent municipal campsite, just a few hundred yards from the sea. Spacious, clean, complete with full camper-service point, laundrette and a very helpful manager. Price (with low season discount) under 15.

9/11 May    At Camping Municipal Capricieuse, LUC-sur-MER

A sojourn on the Coast of Normandy

Time to write this log, update our website, send emails and make arrangements 21 megabytes worth on the laptop! It was good to hear Radio 4 again on long wave, after months of the BBC World Service's intermittent short wave reception.

We also caught up with domestic chores, celebrated Barry's birthday, watched videos and walked round Luc-sur-Mer, a seawater spa offering Thalassotherapie, traditional Hammam baths and a casino. It's very quiet, recalling Chris de Burgh's lyrics about 'an out-of-season holiday town in the rain'. With a chill mist over the cold grey channel, it also reminds Margaret of her native Cleveleys, without the donkeys.

12 May    LUC-sur-MER, FRANCE PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND

Brittany Ferries take us across the Channel despite action by French fishermenl

Due to sail from Ouistreham at 9 am, we were away early to drive 6 miles GR3_(106).JPGwest and check in by 7.30 am. Mais non, we found the ferry, delayed last night by striking French fishermen, was still on its way from England and would not be sailing until 11.30 am maybe!

We were offered GR3_(105).JPGa place on the 'Normandie Express', a high-speed twin-hulled hydrofoil, due to sail at 12.30 and reach Portsmouth in 2 hours less than the normal ferry. We opted for the usual boat (if it arrived) and joined the short queue of caravans, which are not allowed on the high-speed. A pleasant couple of hours passed, drinking coffee with crGR3_(107).JPGoissants from the port bakery and ironically - looking round the colourful fish market, with no shortage of crustaceans and flat fish, all sold with free bunches of parsley and lemons.

The regular ferry boat 'Normandie' docked at 10.30 am and was turned round in record time, sailing as predicted. All the coaches and cars were waiting for the high-speed, which overtook us some way across the Channel, so we almost had a private yacht, with just 27 passengers!

After complimentary wGR3_(115).JPGine-tasting in the shop, we enjoyeGR3_(111).JPGd the rare treat of a 3-course lunch in the restaurant, offering a 25% discount on its menu as an apology for the delay king prawn salad, steaks and delicious patisserie. The crossing was smooth and calm. It was even sunny on arrival at Portsmouth, sailing past the Isle of Wight and the historic dockyards, marked by the masts of Nelson's 'Victory'. It had been a long but interesting day!