Calais to The Dordogne
Welcome to part 2 of our Summer travel diaries series. It’s Summer 2022 and we’re heading off into the heat for some long awaited adventures across the Channel. This time we hit the road after arriving on Le Shuttle at Calais , making our way to The Dordogne.
The night sky is dark, but the air is still hot and humid. It’s July and we’re driving along the coast towards St.Valery Sur Somme.
I don’t know about you, but we always have a bit of a predicament when we arrive at Calais. Now don’t get me wrong, because, we always love this route, simply because it’s quick, cheap and easy. But, once we arrive on French soil, usually at night, we’re always a bit stuck for a good place to park the night.
Northern France Isn’t the Best
As much as we absolutely adore France, for us Northern France just isn’t the best. I suppose, you could say, it’s a means to an end.
The North coast is an un-avoidable area, which leads to probably the best country in the World for motorhome travels.
So, the burning question – “where shall we stop tonight”? No matter how many times we arrive in Calais, there’s never a “must stop” location. If only there was, to get us into the French mood within a short distance of the ports and tunnel. Unfortunately, there no longer is.
Calais Plage and Cite Europe – Calais to The Dordogne
Who remembers the fab Aire at Calais Plage?
Years ago, we’d pull up beside the water at Calais Plage. Yes, come rain or shine this popular Aire was the start and end point for our European adventures.
Like many Aires, this random parking area complete with shabby dump (just the way we like it) has long since gone. Instead it’s replaced by a formal set up by a campsite.
If we didn’t feel like driving to the beach, we’d often stop at Cite Europe, but overnight parking here has stopped too. It makes us sad to know these iconic motorhome locations are no longer around for others to enjoy.
The big demise came when they became unsafe to stop. So, this meant, we began staying further afield. Eventually, the Aire at the beach closed. Instead, Gravelines and Wissant became our preferred stops, but neither are particularly spectacular.
Where to Stay the 1st Night?
So, the big problem with living 7 hours from Folkestone or Dover, is that we have to make a first stop somewhere within close proximity to Calais.
Either that, or stay the night in England, before getting a crossing to France. This is always more difficult, simply because France is much easier without planning ahead, thanks to the Aire system.
So, tonight, after arriving in Calais, we decide to head further afield towards St. Valery Sur Somme.
It’s about an hour and 15 minutes away, but it’s hopefully worth the drive to get us out of the areas around Calais. It’s an easy route along the coast, but the extra hour drive means it’s going to be midnight before we arrive.
Arriving in the Dark -Calais to The Dordogne
Isn’t it always more difficult in the dark? We want to stop the opposite side of the estuary to St.Valery at Le Crotoy.
Everything looks different and finding places aren’t as simple under a moonlit sky. This year, we’ve got the Camping-Car Park card so we want to try out one of their Aires at Le Crotoy, but are efforts fail miserably.
We find it ok, drive up to the barrier and I hop out to swipe my new card against the barrier machine. Guess what? Yes, nothing happens, so I swipe again, insert it, check again, look around but nothing. Oh my, this is all we need at midnight.
We’re boiling hot, tired and now we’re about to wake up the occupants on the Aire.
There’s not a sole in sight, and we just don’t know what to do to gain access into this Aire. By now, we realise we have to give up and try elsewhere.
Le Crotoy has a Few Aires – Calais to The Dordogne
Well, it’s back to the other options in Le Crotoy, which just happens to have possibly more Aires than you can imagine. So, we drive on, trying to be as quiet as possible around this sleepy coastal town.
We frantically, check our Garmin Sat nav which luckily has Campercontact built in, so the list of Aires are shown without using data.
Then, we drive to the nearest one in the town, but it’s really full! Oh no, what next? Thankfully, there’s another Aire, but can we find it? No is the answer! We just keep going wrong, but eventually, get to it somehow and thank goodness, there’s space to stop the night.
We enter through the barrier, park up and dim the lights. A quick cold shower is all we need before sinking into our comfy bed – at last we can relax.
Market day at Le Crotoy
We wake to searing sunshine as the heatwave blazes down on Europe. Not to be deterred, we take to having a quick look around Le Crotoy before continuing on our journey South.
From the Aire, we find a really good cycle path heading in the direction of St.Valery sur Somme. There’s plenty of people out and about on bikes, but we’re out on foot. At the end of the day, it feels good to be out in the Summer sun.
We turn right and within a few minutes we find ourselves at a small harbour and a promenade path along the estuary.
There’s one thing that quickly reminds us we’re now in France. Yes, it’s market day and there are stalls lining the prom and streets selling everything imaginable.
It all looks familiar
As usual, we soon realise we’ve been here before, there’s a familiarity to this place, but our last visit wasn’t in the heat of Summer. Is it just us, or do you also get a case of travel amnesia? Later on, we check our travel diaries which confirm, we have indeed been here before in 2016, when the weather was cool and the town looked grey.
However, Le Crotoy is a pretty sort of place and the town itself is quite good, with plenty of shops and eateries and pleasant walks too. This is the kind of place where you could just plonk for a bit, especially for those not wanting to travel far into France.
Being right on the sea also brings a typical seaside town sort of feel and in weather like this, there’s endless possibilities for getting out and about to explore more.
The Toll Roads are Calling
After a couple of hours, we feel ready to move on. After all, we’ve a couple of days driving ahead yet from Calais to The Dordogne and we’ve only covered about 60 miles so far.
Back at the Aire, we empty the waste water at the dump and pay the 9 Euro overnight fee at the pay machine. As the barrier opens to let us out, we set our sights on driving a good chunk of the journey.
At the moment, we don’t quite know where we’ll stop the night, so we’ll drive until we feel we’ve had enough.
I know many people like to use the non-toll roads though France, and we’re no exception. Although, we always use the quickest route – the toll roads to make the initial headway to our first destination on a trip.
To make life easier, we have the Emovis Tag in the windscreen. In other words, the toll payment system that means we don’t have to stop to pay. We’ve had it some years, the advantage of no queuing and payment automatically coming out of our bank makes travel simpler.
Heading towards The Loire
The toll roads are superb as always. Travels without delays and free flowing traffic, makes driving in France so much more enjoyable than Britain.
We stop for lunch and toilet stops, as well as coffee – with no rush but plenty of emphasis on making headway. By 7pm we’re ready to call it a day.
Luckily, just north of Tours on The Loire is another Camping-Car Park and we’re determined to try it again. The village is called Bruere sur Loir and it’s typically French in every way. By that, I mean, sleepy, rustic and the odd barking dog, but not much else going on.
Even the Bolongerie has given way to an automated Baguette vending machine – technology has no bounds.
Locked Out Again
So, now’s the moment of truth – will our Camping-Car Park card work tonight? We pull up to the barrier on this former municipal campsite, which by the way looks empty of motorhomes.
I hop out and try my luck. Then I swipe, tap, press some buttons, do it all again and again, but nothing happens. Oh no, we’re stuck again, what’s going on here?
Now it’s time to contact the helpline number at the barrier and sure enough the English spoken voice on the other side knows instantly that it’s me. My oh my, technology again playing spooks.
I’ve no idea what the chap did, but he assures me we’re good to go and with that the barrier opens and in we enter.
The Aire is Empty
Maybe we should have confirmed our card somehow online before using it? Anyway, this place looks great, but it’s a shame the Aire is empty.
What a pity, because it’s lovely and despite us having our pick of places to park, we feel a bit lost on our own. We choose a pitch for some shade, anything to stop the glare of the intense sun. It’s rather good though, because each pitch is separated by a hedge and the parched grass is level.
I stretch the legs and take a look around. The old toilet block is still there, but it’s lying in a sorry state. Inside, last years Autumn leaves grace the remnants of what had been a shower area. There’s nothing left to be used by punters, but there’s a good dump area. This we’ll use to fill and empty before heading off in the morning.
After walk round the village, and being accosted by a very bouncy stray dog, we realise that’s about all that’s going on here. An overnight storm means we have to close the windows, meaning another very sticky night ahead.
Calais To The Dordogne – Making Headway
A drive South again in the heat is soothed by the rain falling from storm clouds. Our destination is now the Dordogne, as Calais seems a distant memory and our goal gets closer.
Like all things, today the driving seems to be taking forever. Perhaps we’re out of practice or just at that leg of the journey when the novelty of arriving at Calais has worn off.
Now we just want to get to our first region.
There’s loads of British vans on the road, a bit different to normal and we’ve no idea why. Unless of course, it’s the 2 years of locking us away that’s made people want to flee whilst they can.
Donzenac Medieval Town
Just South of Limoges at a Medieval town named Donzenac, we decide to pull into another Camping-Car Park Aire. These seem to be more like Aires on steroids compared to the normal Aires found across France. No doubt, we think these are going to be the norm before long.
As more and more Aires are closing and the “free camping” frenzy ends with so many bans now in place, it wouldn’t surprise us if a more regimented system like this is soon widespread.
Also, as we pull up to the barrier, we realise this one is busy. Thankfully, the card works and we drive onto a well marked pitch. Although these aires are lovely, I’m not sure if they’re a bit too “campsite” looking for our taste. However, we’re just grateful there is anything at all, so we’re definitely not moaning.
Before night falls, we need to stretch the legs. The old town is perched up on a hill, which means a bit of a steep walk after Nigel’s home made curry.
Donzenac is a nice enough place, but it’s nothing exceptional. After 15 minutes we arrive in the town centre, where a few bars and pavement eateries await.
We’re not stopping, just walking before making our way back down the hill. Now it’s time for a shower, sleep and enthusiasm for the next leg of the journey when we’ll finally arrive after leaving Calais for The Dordogne.
By the way, we notice a very useful outdoor laundry at the supermarket opposite the road to the Aire. We’re not needing it but it’s super useful for those staying.