Allan Rogers heads for
the Med in a VW campervan
called The Blue Lady.
One of the benefits of travelling off-season is that there are often cut price deals available and we got one by booking early on the ferry to Le Havre from Portsmouth. Car ferries can be different. Some have all the trimmings of a cruise liner, ours did not.
We sailed on the ‘Baie De Seine’ a ship that was part of a ‘No Frills’ service called "Brittany Ferries Economie." It may been called an “economic service” but what it lacked in lounges, bars and entertainment was certainly made up for in the money saved. It enable us to afford a higher quality of the cabin. With it’s big TV and en-suite shower it was spacious and comfortable. We travelled on the top deck while on an open deck below our campervan was squeezed in beside the container trucks.
The next morning we sailed into Le Havre and after a mistaken but enjoyable foray into the countryside we turned tail and joined the A29 motorway. This took us over the spectacular Normandy Bridge. As The Blue Lady climbed the spans that arched skywards above the mouth of the River Seine it felt as though we had taken her mountaineering.
The plan was to hop swiftly from region to region using the auto routes before taking rural roads to campsites. Ones that offer seasonally discounted prices. The best way to find these is by using the universally popular, Camping Card ACSI Guide. It currently details over two thousand sites in Europe. The reduction given using the card that comes with the guide means that you pay between EUR 11(£10) and EUR 19 (£17) per day.
Our first stop was in the Calvados area of Normandy. We stayed overnight at Castel Camping Le Brevedent, EUR 17 (£15 ) where an old hunting lodge, stands above a pleasantly wooded campsite. The ducks and chickens pottering around the apple trees added to the appeal.
Being within striking distance of the channel ports most of our camping neighbours were British. It was the ubiquitous Dutch that we found at our next stop. This was further down France at Saint Germain-Les-Belle in Limousin, just five minutes from the A20 motorway.
Camping de Montreal, EUR 15 (£13) is attractivly located above a lake and as we sat, in what seemed like our own hedged garden, we watched an otter swim out from the shallows.
Inspired by his activity we took a stroll round the lake before climbing the hill up to the village. The view re-enforced our desire to use the quiet country roads and this we did with much ooh-ing and ahh-ing about the timeless beauty of it all. Eventually we did rejoin the toll roads and enjoyed a trouble free, swift trip down to the Mediterranean.
Part of the ‘trouble free’ bit was due to a device that sits at the top of your windscreen and sends a signal that automatically raises the tollbooth barriers. You move swiftly through without scrabbling for change or causing a queue at the payment booths.
(The windows of these are at the wrong side for UK vehicles so getting out can cause delays.) Using the automatic system certainly improves the holiday mood and the cost the journey is not immediately felt. You pay later of course when it comes out of your bank account.
For information go on line and visit www.tolltickets.com
Constant warm sunshine and superb beaches, some with sand as soft as flour draw visitors to the affordable, western end of the Mediterranean. Fascinating little villages and the relaxed ambience add to the pleasure. You can find basic campsites that have a small pool and access to the beach for EUR 15 (£13) 15 but for a little extra your ACSI Handbook can guide you to popular ones that have a great range of facilities.
At the resort of Marseillan Plage in the five star campsite ‘Les Meiterranees Beach Garden’ , EUR 19 (£17), you can wake to aroma of baugettes being baked and choose from five swimming pools. It is one of a group of large sites that are maintained by a small army of gardeners. The emplacements are of a generous size and, being close to a shallow beach, it is popular with young families. The little people, many of whom zoom around on scooters, are well catered for and we followed a bizarre line of inflatable crocodiles carried on their heads down to the beach. The children also have their own show performed each evening by the entertainment staff before the one for the adults gets underway.
The absense of older children is key to the bargain rates that are available in September and June. In high summer when the school holidays begin the numbers swell and prices for the touring pitches can reach almost three times the discounted rate.
In the area there are some 25 kilometers of beaches. A popular one with the French is on the shore of the Etang de Thau, (a sort of inland sea.) You find it in the little town of Meze, backed by a few pine trees.
You can make your holiday budget go further by visiting the towns that have the supermarkets. The shops on the campsites are always more expensive. You can find branches of Aldi, Lidl, and Price Leader. Also worth a visit is the Hyper-U at Agde even if it is only to enjoy lunch and experience the mouth watering range of food and wine in the self-service restaurant.
There are markets in different towns most days, except Fridays, but the one that I enjoyed most was in Marsellian Plage. It is definitely slanted towards the needs of the tourist. My straw hat blew away on the beach while I was swimming so I was pleased to buy a replacement for only three euros., (£2.70.) Sitting in the café supping my beer and watching the colourful scene, I paused, turned it over and read the label “Made in China, 100% paper.” In spite of that it worked well. Even after I sat on it I was able to knock it back into shape, in fact quite a variety of shapes.
It was a great holiday and we were swimming about three times a day. The big bonus on this particular adventure came about because of the availability of low cost airfares. Rather than drive back north straight away we stored the campervan at a gardinage and flew home with Ryanair. We used the small but attractive Beziers-Cap D’Agde airport where we passed beds of flowers as we boarded the plane.
Return flights were booked for September so that we might enjoy another month of pleasure at discounted prices. The cost of the flights and the storage of the campervan were well offset by the saving in fuel and ferry fares, not to mention the ‘wear and tear’ on the driver!