Our main plan for May’s motorhome tour was not to plan. Tina, my lovely wife wanted to freestyle and just see where we ended up. I wanted that too, but secretly realised that a little bit of inter-web research might make our totally freestyled trip better! Whilst we all love the idea of drifting into an adventure we decided that knowing where we were going in the first 24 hours made some sense. We bought the excellent ‘All The Aires France North & South Fourth Editions guides’ from www.Vicarious-Shop.com which gave us the comfort of knowing we had motorhome overnight accommodation identified without booking a site or planning ahead. Basing a road trip around the Aires gives you freedom to go wherever you fancy and not being tied down to the rigidity of pre-booked campsites which might or might not be nice. We booked the Brittany Ferries Portsmouth to Caen overnight route with a cabin as our first 24 hours pointed towards the east side of The Loire Valley and that was nearly the end of the tour planning.
We have a 2018 Adria Compact SP Plus which is a 6 metre motorhome and comfortably shorter than the general 7.5m length limit allowed by French Aires. We double checked that our motorhome insurance policy provided fully comprehensive cover in Europe and also bought single trip European Breakdown and Travel Insurance cover. We also bought a UK sticker and headlamp deflectors and also a Crit’air sticker for less than a fiver on the https//:www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/. This identifies your vehicles air pollutant emissions as some cities/regions require these to be displayed and we didn’t want any barriers to our wanderlust. The good news is that once you’ve bought the sticker it doesn’t expire and you’ll avoid being fined. We took two 6kg propane gas cannisters as its common to use gas as a power source rather than an electricity hook up when staying in the Aires. Our final act of not planning our tour was to stock up on gin, tonic, water, food and currency including 1 and 2 Euro coins for some Aire service points as we were arriving on a Sunday and France has more Bank Holiday Mondays in May than you can wave a stick at and literally all the shops close.
So before you can freestyle there is a wee bit of inevitable preparation and housekeeping needed!
We decided to avoid toll roads as you see more of the real France using the normal roads which are generally quite quiet and quite brilliant. Our first night saw us park up at the Aire in the lee of Chateaudun Chateau all for the princely cost of 2 Euros. It was interesting to observe that motorhomes will use Aires as appropriate parking and an opportunity to dump waste and refresh water during the day when visiting a town without any intention for an overnight stay. The lesson learnt that a ‘full’ Aire during the day doesn’t necessarily mean there wont be a space by early evening. Chateaudun Chateau was enchanting.
A quiet night by the river and an impromptu game of tennis at the Aire at La Ferte St Cyr on our way to stay at Chambord Chateau which is one of Frances most famous Chateau’s. It didn’t disappoint and the Aire is in one of the chateau’s car parks so when everyone goes home you can still wander around the grounds. The length of time you can stay in an Aire varies and it is typically 24-48 hours but can be longer so you just need to check on the signage.
The next morning we headed to Blois and parked in an Aire which was supposed to be closed on the Avenue Du President Wilson and walked into the historic town and also visited the Chateau Royal de Blois which was grand. Afterwards we carried on to Amboise and stayed at the commercial Amboise Aires (#2) known as a ‘Camping-Car Park’ which was located on an island in the middle of the river Loire with wonderful views of the Chateau Amboise. These were new to us and are basically commercial Aires with a typical cost of £10-£12 per night or a third of what we pay in the UK overnight! You register at the entrance machine and buy night credits which attach to a plastic card and you then zap in and zap out. Simple once you know and we did find a number of these commercial Aires on our travels and they tend to have electric hook ups within the price. Amboise was our favourite place.
On to the commercial Aire at Saumur (Camping-Car Park) which was again on an island on the Loire. The tapas bar L’Offard on a boat on the island was amazing as was the Chateau de Saumur. We saw a 60lb+ catfish in the river margins so don’t go swimming!
After a few nights we went to Le Lude and stayed at the commercial Aire (Camping-Car Park). The Chateau du Lude had a wonderful selection of domestic historical items and great gardens by the river. There are so many chateaus in the Loire valley that you can knock yourself out with the grandest and biggest ones but we’d recommend visiting a mix of large and small and saving some for next time.
Onwards to Sable Sur Sarthe to the Aire by the river. Great location but no service point so come prepared. We were going to visit the motor museum at Le Mans but it was closed for a month so we will do that another time. Then to Laval which we would recommend as a town to visit but the Aire is the town car park and was full so we moved onto the commercial Aire at St Jean Sur Mayenne where we stayed a few nights. We took in a run along the river and also cycled into Louverne to buy provisions.
As our trip was coming to a close, we decided to head to stay at the Aire at Port En Bassin to see the Omaha Beach which was poignant and made us grateful and sad in equal measures. Then to Caen and homeward bound.
We certainly freestyled and the Aires allow you to do that and we’ve already ‘not planned’ another tour in the autumn. Bonne Vacances!
Al and Tina Denness