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Know of wonderful places (camp sites, parks, towns etc) en route from UK to South West France?

(5 Posts)
venetianred Sat 16-Jul-11 21:16:37

We have made this crazy, exciting spur-of-the moment decision and just bought a campervan today for a trip for five weeks to France leaving next Friday.

We plan to go on the 'Chunnel Train' then head for St Nazaire area and head south ending up in the Landes Forest then near Bidart. We may then go past Carcassone to Avignon before returning to England....however would love to hear from people who have done this trip or visited any of these areas.

We do realise there are 'aires' on the way that we can stop at, but would love to hear about anyone's 'little gems' on the way - especially lovely national parks, charming towns, and especially any campgrounds you can really recommend.

I do speak some French so that will help, but have never visited any of these areas except for Avignon.

We are travelling with our two children - 5yr old daughter and 2yr old son.

Thank you.

GnomeDePlume Sat 16-Jul-11 21:51:04

Some tips:

- we have visited Carcassone many times, arrive early and have breakfast there.
- Carnac in South Brittany is worth a visit. The standing stones are magical.
- When visiting any town aim to arrive early and head for the paid parking (many towns have specific campervan parking)
- Dont drive for longer than 2 hours without taking a break
- If on the motorway stop early for lunch (before 12) then get back on the road while everyone else is having their lunch
- the aires on French motorways fall into essentially 2 categories - picnic stops with basic toilet facilities, petrol station stops with all facilities. Sometimes you will find that a petrol station stop is mostly for trucks. If you dont like the look of a stop then just move on, the next one will be better.

Is there any particular reason why you have picked the Landes region? Personally, I find the scenery dull (flat with lots of trees and not many interesting historical places).

Cathar country (Carcasonne hinterland) is full of good countryside with excellent castles (the Cathars were mad and took over castles at the top of steep mountains). Mirepoix is worth a visit.

If Roman France interests you then the area around Nimes is full of interesting places:
- Arles
- Orange
- Nimes itself
- Glanum

Medieval France:
- Les Baux de Provence (up there with Carcassone IMO)
- Aigues Mortes
- Conques

Do go through the Dordogne if you have the time:
- Sarlat la Caneda
- Domme
- Castelnaud

The lovely thing about travelling with your DCs at this age is that you can do it all again in a few years time!

GnomeDePlume Sat 16-Jul-11 21:58:14

Personally, I would skip Avignon. You do the bridge, see the pope's palace and think 'and......'. Do Nimes, Arles etc instead!

Use the little tourist trains. These are great with children. Sometimes the drama and animated conversations between the drivers and motorists or pedestrians are worth the price on their own.

Check out market days. If you want to go to a market then arrive early. If you arent fussed then go on a different day. The car parks will be full of people visiting the market or the market is in the carpark!

Enjoy it all. I have just asked DH if we can go but he said 'no'. I am deeply jealous.

venetianred Sun 17-Jul-11 07:02:17

Hi Gnome - thanks so much for all your great ideas. I will get the map out later and take a look at where some of them are.

We are going to the Landes Forest because my dp has an emotional attachment to the area - and around Bidart...so he is taking us to show us the lovely beaches. Avignon is because my cousin lives there.

I am interested in Carcassone, and you are right, I have heard so much about the Dordogne over the years that it would be great to detour and see it.

Carnac sounds interesting. St Nazaire area/La Rochelle?Bordeaux etc are all areas I have never been to and know nothing about. I read once about a Park just north of St Nazaire, and that the islands around Quimper are nice....but must start reading all about these places. I do know Ile de Re is teeming with French holiday makers and best avoiding.

I read online a tip that you should stop every two hours. My dh and I are of the type that we should 'crack on' and get some miles under our feet, but did read yesterday the same tip, so maybe we should take it seriously. Is it because kids get cranky and hate the trip?

What do you mean by tourist trains? Where are you thinking of? I've only been to France by myself, never with family, so it's all a bit 'new'.

Thanks again.

GnomeDePlume Sun 17-Jul-11 10:36:04

Tourist train in Carcassonne:

http://petit-train-cite-carcassonne.com/

Many towns have these. They are great with children as they save legs from getting tired. You can normally find out about them in the town tourist office.

Break every 2 hours. This can simply be a quick trot round to swap drivers or a petrol stop or a stop for the children to go to the loo. It is important for safety and will make the journey more pleasant for everyone.

St Emilion is another good place to visit if you will be in the Bordeaux area.

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