Luckily, as we approached the automated check in at the Eurotunnel terminal, an earlier train option flashed up on the screen. Even better, it would cost us no extra! An hour later, we’d be driving off the train at Calais, ready for some French travels through Burgundy!
In these times of hand sanitising and face masks, the ease of the tunnel came into its own. The reassurance of having to stay in the campervan proved more than welcome on our first post-Covid trip abroad.
It had never felt so good to be back traveling, doing normal things again and the freedom of being on the road. The Eurotunnel was so well organised, making the whole process so much more relaxed. On top of that, it actually seemed quiet, although our departure time of 8pm may have played a part in that.
For our first night stop in France, we chose our firm favorite – the Aire at Gravelines, situated about 20 minutes away from Calais. Here, spending our first night in the company of a few other motorhomes seemed like old times.
Our journey South towards the Burgundy region took around five hours. Unusually, the toll roads were really busy or did they just seem this way after months hidden behind closed doors?
With the help of a really good book “Back Roads France”, we picked out a route, leaving the toll roads behind at Auxerre to begin our French travels through Burgundy.
Several years ago on a previous trip, we’d come across a gorgeous wine route running from Dijon to Beaune. So on this trip, we decided to just concentrate on the bits in the book that we hadn’t done before.
Any good intentions to stop the night at Auxerre suddenly didn’t seemed so appealing. As our French travels through Burgundy began, the need for somewhere quieter set in.
Firstly, it was super hot and our need for shade became to great to manage in the open sun. Then, Auxerre itself just seemed too busy and a bit big for our liking. After eventually finding the Aire taken over by a fun fair, the choice to move on was an easy one to make.
Heading off in a Southerly direction, we soon came across a charming little Aire at a tiny marina. Located in the sleepy town of Cravant, it was the perfect place to stop.
A parking spot right alongside the canal beckoned. Finally, all we had to do was sip on wine whilst watching the pleasure boats pass us by. A perfect start to our French travels through Burgundy.
This small ancient town of Cravant is surrounded by a canal network. Where the water flows, so do miles of cycle paths and walking routes, running alongside. All are really well signposted bringing the perfect opportunity to explore safely in the open air.
After deciding to stay an extra night at our canal-side setting, it was time for us to actually explore the town. The sleepy, gated old centre with no fewer than three Lavoir’s or ancient outdoor laundry’s is just lovely.
Soon, we stumbled upon a field of blooming sunflowers perched above the town, isn’t that just one of the things about France in Summertime? Everything just seems alive with nature, colour and above all life!
It didn’t take long before Nigel stripped down to his birthday suit amongst the sunflowers for a photo opportunity. Hiding his modesty behind a very large yellow head. It’s a good job these French villages are deserted in mid-afternoon!
Another evening stroll took us to an abandoned locomotive, where we had a go at taking a timed photo. Surely that can’t be too difficult, can it?
Well after several attempts at the self-timer, eventually we got it together to capture us dangling from the front like a couple of pro’s. There’s no stopping us now!
We liked Cravant so much that we stayed another night. With that it was time to get out the bikes and set off along the miles of cycle paths alongside the canal.
The beautiful route followed the waterways, which at this time of year are filled with tourist boats enjoying the leisurely pace on the canals.
Passing fields of sunflowers and pretty stone built villages, cycling the quiet countryside was a delight. Amongst the birds and the butterflies, our tyres rode. Soon arriving at the small town of Mailly-Le-Chateau.
Here, canoes moored up under the shady trees on a crystal clear, reed-filled river. Above us on the hilltop sat the main town along with it’s chateau overlooking the water.
We didn’t have any energy to peddle up the steep road, instead, choosing to return to the campervan for a late lunch. This scenic route had taken us a few hours, covering a distance of around 20 miles.
A lazy afternoon under the shade of an old tree was all that we wanted to do in the scorching heat. Just us, a hammock and a peaceful spot watching the world go by on the water.
Some days are just made for catching up on the world of chores. Today was one of them, leaving Cravant behind for the next town along at Vermenton.
Whilst Nigel filled the campervan up with fuel, I braved the supermarket, our first one in France. Masks are compulsory indoors here, but to be honest, there isn’t much else that resembles a pandemic approach.
The obligatory one metre distancing seems to be forgotten about, at the same time the supermarket didn’t have any where near the same safety measures as our British ones do.
There were no floor markings or arrows to show the spacing and direction of flow, neither bucket loads of disinfectant spray for the trolley. The only indication other than face masks, were a tub of hand sanitser and a plastic screen at the check out.
Thankfully, an outdoor laundry made the laundrette job a little easier. At least being in the open air meant less germs to breathe in!
Next up, our lunch under another shady tree. It’s been so hot, 30C most days, so the shade is so welcome.
Our picturesque parking spot alongside the Canal du Niverais also brought an opportunity for some fresh produce. It’s been a while since we did any scrumping, but Nigel found a fully laden tree where the apples looked too good to leave to nature.
As I went off exploring on foot, Nige collected a bucket of perfect apples to add to our daily fruit intake.
Later, our driving route reached the hilltop town of Vézelay. Standing high above the Burgundy countryside, it’s famous for it’s impressive church and historic architecture.
After parking on an Aire below the main centre, we managed to walk round before darkness fell. At least at this time in the evening the coolness makes it a little easier. Apparently the chutch holds relics of Mary Magdeline, although we didn’t venture inside ourselves.
It was good but strange to see people eating out in restaurants, bringing an air of normality to this virus-driven world.
Next we began meandering our way through the Morvan countryside. First though, a morning stroll through the little village of Bazoches.
The main attraction here is the Chateau de Bazoches, open to the public and usually home to Summer concerts.
As we drove through the lush countryside and remote villages, suddenly we turned the corner to be greeted by a gorgeous wooded glen beside a gentle stream.
This is the hamlet of Chalaux, soon we noticed the main attraction being the river beyond the stream. Rafting is the name of the game, bringing several inflatable boats downstream thanks to the water released further upstream from a dam.
The virus certainly hadn’t deterred the adventure seekers, who were shuttled in on mini-buses to take to the water. We were just happy enough to watch from the comfort of our deck chairs.
Before the afternoon was over, a walk beckoned. Following the usual yellow markings which are so familiar across France. The easily read directions on trees, lamp posts or the ground, directed us on a 11km route.
Soon we were passing isolated hamlets, where life seemed to stop still. Next, came Lac de Crescent, where fisherman and swimmers enjoyed the waterside setting next to a scented forest.
We decided to stop the night in our pretty little spot. After a supper of traditional French cheese, saussison and vin rouge, our itchy feet sprang into action once again.
This time, we took a riverside walk through the woods where the wildlife of the night came out to play. Firstly, thick orange slugs, followed by bats and a tooting owl. All in all making it a perfect end to a beautiful Summer day.
Well, the rain had to come soon enough and today it arrived! Not to be deterred, when a break came between showers we ventured into the little town of Saulieu.
It turned out to be a bit of a damp squid. The same going for the dull personality of the lady in the tourist office. Going in fully prepared in mask, hands sanitised and wearing a smile underneath didn’t seem to impress her much. Instead, a couple of grunts later, out I came with a map of the region ready to explore the lakes of The Morvan.
Unfortunately, in the rain everything en-route looked a little less uninviting. Add the fact that we needed the dump and typically failed to find one working!
Lac de Settons is the main attraction, which is home to water sports and a few scattered lakeside cafes along with a small village. After that it’s the smaller Lac de Saint-Angen followed by Lac de Pannciere.
After driving around all three, we gave up finding a dump or a break in the rain again. Moving swiftly on towards Autun, before finally finding a working dump at Chateau Chinon, a hilltop town in the middle of The Morvan.
Finally, the sky cleared, the loo was emptied and a full tank of fresh water on board again. This time our route took us to Roussillon-en-Morvan, where we came across some lovely gorges to save the day.
Arriving as most people were leaving, we found a forest parking spot right next to the start of the gorge walks. As soon as the walking shoes were laced, we were off exploring on foot.
Before we knew it, we’d been out two hours, walking over the rocky path through the gorges before emerging into the thick forest. Spending the night in the trees, the day turned out good in the end!
Some days, we don’t get very far at all and today was one such day. The sort where we come across a place, park up for a coffee and then decide just to stay.
Well, this is what happened at Autun, a Roman town complete with the remains of an amphitheater. First of all we parked at the Aire located beside a small lake. We really just intended to take a walk through the historic old town, however, then we came across a walking route sign for some cascades.
Feeling like we needed to see these for ourselves, no sooner had we finished walking through the ancient old town, than we found ourselves taking the marked 45 minute trail up into the hills.
First though came an ancient Pyramid of stone. Standing tall, high above the town, it’s still all a bit of a mystery as to why it was built.
What they do know is that the surrounding area was some sort of burial ground, either way it was a bit different and certainly caught our imagination.
A little further on, through a wooded glen were the rather dry cascades. I guess there should have been a torrent of water gushing over the rocky stream but all we found though was a trickle.
However, it was a lovely walk and the shade made it even better. The temperature being 32C and even worse inside the campervan at a crazy 39C.
Finally, another small town called Nolay was last but not least on our French travels through Burgandy.
This turned out to be one of those typical ancient French villages, consisting of half-timbered houses, warped into a variety of odd shapes due to the passage of time.
In the centre stood a large wooden market square and a few restaurants offering pavement dining. After a cloudy start, the sun soon made an appearance, searing down through our straw hats.
Our French travels through Burgundy were complete. After having left Nolay and reaching the colourful roofed town of Beaune where our previous travels have taken us.
So now the Alps called. Unfortunately, the roads through the remaining towns of Burgundy towards Bourg-en-Bresse took forever. Traffic jams constantly held us back, where lorries on narrows sections stood still and never-ending traffic lights made the queues more annoying.
Where had everyone come from? Has France changed overnight? Usually we’re lucky to see a few cars on the road, but now, it seems the only way to go is by toll road.
With that, we glided onto the motorway and in no time at all stopped for the night at a free aire at Izernore, a few miles from Nantua.
Next, our Summer travels see us arrive at Lac Leman en-route to the Alps, where we take an unexpected wrong turn into Switzerland!