Monday, 25 May 2015

Week 3 Burgundy - Beaujolais - Cote de Rhone

Day 15. May 21st. Auxonne - Meursault. 45 miles.

A leisurely drive, we took some time to explore St Jean de Losnes - a place where several rivers converge - it had a large marina and was a starting point of river cruises. There are boats for sale.....oooh!


Onwards and it took no time to reach Meursault our next site. Le Grappe D'Or  (The golden bunch) appears very laid back - a sign asked us to park up in a pitch and report back at 5pm to pay. It was just 1.30 pm so we settled on to the biggest pitch (well why not?) overlooking Meursault and the vineyards and took lunch outside.

Meursault from Rex. 

We walked the 1/2 mile to the centre of Meursault - what an beautiful ville - clean, lots of artisan patisseries, traiteurs, gift shops, (expensive) restaurants and wine sellers, manicured and gorgeous. The viticulteurs' houses were also impressive.

Apparently the Hotel de Ville was used in a  French film called  La Grande Vadrouille - for the "cult scenes"?!( Gerard Oury director) - some info for you film buffs!

A lovely Hotel with a Trompe l'oiel Madame - and Carol.

Spent time doing nothing sitting by Rex in the sunshine and dinner chez Rex.

Day 16. Meursault. Cycle ride to Puligney Montrachet. 15 kms.

Today there was a local market in Meursault so we walked there in the morning. We bought vegetables and cheeses from the stalls which would have been cheaper from the local supermarket but we wanted to support the local economy. Fromage, a pain au cereal and a crumble mrytille (blueberry) tart from the artisan boulongerie, and a bottle of rosé. Then back to the site for an al fresco lunch made with our purchases - delicious!

After some time relaxing in the sun we decided we needed some activity so got on our bikes and cycled to Puligny Montrachet. Those of you who know your Burgundy wines will recognise some seriously expensive wine names as we cycle around the area. It was delightful meandering leisurely through the highly maintained vineyards. There are similar vineyard cycle routes as in Alsace with cyclers and walkers allowed on the small roads used by the wine growers and prohibited to other vehicles, but it is flatter here. 

Back to the site via Meursault again - it is beginning to be our favourite place in Burgundy!
Dinner in the on site restaurant which was pleasant. We sat by a lovely family - the mum was Italian and dad German - the young son ? 2 years could speak both languages and the parents good english also - impressive! Actually they were an exception as the majority of persons on this site are Dutch. The site is Dutch owned so don't know if that's anything to do with it but big vans come and go at the start and end of each day.

Day 17. May 23rd. Cycle ride Meursault - Beaune. 20 kms ( including a 2 km detour lost in the outskirts of Beaune!)

Off to Beaune for the market  - cycled via Volnay and Pommard which are both lovely places renowned for their light red wines. 

The market in Beaune was impressive. We decided to buy ingredients for a picnic lunch in the market hall. We chose several salad items including a salad called Museau de porc - actually this is pig's nose! Unfortunately the stall did not provide forks so lead to a frantic search for a shop which sold forks. Found some in the Casino supermarket - phew!  
Wandered around Beaune which is a lovely place - the capital of Burgundy. Passed by the Hotel Dieu (the hospice of Beaune) - an alms house originally for beggars - not a bad gaffe!

Then had our picnic in a park - the pig's nose was very tasty although Carol couldn't quite get over   the little queasy feeling after consuming such delicacy! (S'not to everyones's taste - ha ha!)

We retraced our steps back to the centre and called in at la Maison du vin - this shop had a small art gallery attached showing modern art for all to freely peruse - Warhol, Piccaso,Dali, Miro, Litchenstein amongst the ones we recognised! Then on to the wines from €75 upwards - we admired the bottles especially the one labled €2000! Eschachaut or something,  and cooly left. We remember visiting here in the 90's where for a nominal fee you were given free reign to taste all the wines including Grand Crus - we had a great time even though the kids were bored rigid. Today you pay a sliding scale for a limited tasting, €10 for 6, €15 for 10 and so on, and obviously the better the wines the more the charge so we gave it a miss.

Walked a little way around the remparts and then back through the town to pick up our bikes, and retraced our lovely route back to Meursault.

Now it would be rude not to sample the produce of the area, so after peering in to several wine tasting / producers places and although still on our bikes and a little sweaty we plucked up the courage and entered the grandest: Bernard Delagrange. We were greeted by a formidable looking Madame "Vous désirez quelque chose?".  She lead us to a private tasting area by-passing a party of rather loud Americans requesting the most expensive wine of the house. Now, we don't think it right to taste grand crus and then not buy anything, so we asked to taste the cheapest, no, the least expensive and sorry-to-trouble-you-Madame, wines available which suited our budget - which we did and very nice too, but the nice Madame insisted we try the €22 Meursault so we did just to be polite. We were a little underwhelmed so bought a couple of the cheaper ones which we could fit in our saddlebags and whilst it was packaged she asked us to view the XV century caves.

And a wander round the garden -

We were so impressed by how graciously we were treated given we bought a pityfull amount. Graham said so in French to Madame who replied "C'est normale!"

The tasting bug was with us now and we sought out another producer - Ropiteau. Felix gave us a tasting of our favourite cheaper Chardonnay and then we tried the white Meursault. Wow! This was it, the nectar we imagined, and we were only half-way up the price range at €29,70. Fabulous and full.  Absolutely gorgeous and not to be confused with cut price supermaket Meursault available in the UK.

Then the red - not to Graham's taste which was due to his poor palate according to Felix. Apparently we are hooked on the more sugary Bordeaux and ahem, vulgar wines from Australia and so unable to appreciate fully his Pinot Noir. However we were still invited to visit the Caves as he packaged our sole bottle of cheap €9 Chardonnay. (And those of you who are lucky enough to celebrate my next birthday might be sharing it between you).

The nectar.

Meursault is now officially Graham's favourite place in France.

Back to the site for a pasta supper and the pleasure of watching Eurovision on French TV! The French entrant was even worse than ours and they are talking of pulling out. Can you imagine FH calling for a referendum?

Carol is of the opinion we should go South tomorrow as the weather forecast is not too promising in a couple of days. Graham is reluctant to bomb down the autoroute to the far south so a compromise is reached. We will go to Fleurie north of Lyon - another wine producing area - quelle surprise! Carol hopes to persuade Graham to then continue south - we will see....

Score for La Grappe D'or 8.5/10. A fantastic location, friendly staff, restaurant on site. Pool not yet open. Shower facilities a little basic - but clean.

Day 18. May 24th. Meursault - Fleurie 42 miles.

Another nothing day - travelled to Fleurie driving through Macon which looked a lovely town. A quick dash through a supermarket for supplies before closing time - it's Dimanche and in France all shops still shut most of the day! Given it is also a bank holiday Monday we are lucky to find anywhere open.

On to the site in Fleurie. Took ages choosing a pitch - decided to be next to the shower block.
Poor choice! We have holiday lodges behind us whose occupants were out when we arrived and so we are stuck with excited children screeching in the showers and their equally excitable parents drinking, shouting and singing the Marseillaise! It's a bank holiday weekend! Oh well - come tomorrow afternoon we hope peace will return.

Spent the rest of the day dossing by the van in mostly sunshine, dinner a one pot rice wonder cooked by Graham which was very nice. 
Then watched a French dubbed daft film called Cowboys contre Envahisseurs (Aliens) - at least the tv works. And no adverts throughout the film , as usually french tv has a quota of 5mins adverts to 1 minute feature!

Day 19. May 25th. Fleurie. Cycled 27kms.

Another vineyard cycle day for us complete with the usual picnic.
Cycled to Fleurie and then via Lancie and Villié Morgan to Chiroubles, a nice 27kms circular route.

A view of Fleurie en route.

It was much more hilly than we thought it would be, Carol was seriously worried her battery would give out! Nearly half way up to Chiroubles here.

In Chiroubles we saw a poster advertising a picnic with a local vignoble Christophe Savoye - so we cycled into his cave entrance to be greeted by the man himself. Rows of picnic tables were laid out and also games for children.

Christophe invited us into his tasting room and gave us a tasting of his wines from the youngest through to the more expensive. Cheese, saucisson, bread were laid out to nibble. Very impressive. If you've ever wondered, as I have, how many grapes make a bottle, then the answer chez Christophe is 3 for the most concentrated: 3 ceps (vines) to one bottle. No wonder it's so nice!

We bought a bottle of Cuvee Prestige 2012 and was invited to sit in the picnic area to enjoy our picnic complete with another glass of wine . Another glass of wine suited to be served with cheese appeared towards the end of our lunch - such generosity!

Christophe and future viticulteur fils photo-bombed by strange man with a bottle of wine.

Sat at an ajoining table was Maria and André from Lyon with their 3 children. We spend an enjoyable time speaking with them both practicing the other's language. Maria is from Slovakia and spoke excellent english. André is in real estate (handy!) so gave us an insiders guide to house buying in France.
The children were delightful playing happily whilst we chatted. We swapped contact details as we left and took a group picture with a windswept Carol. 

Back to Fleurie via the Vin de Fleurie shop and further tastings of the wines of the week - one of which had been produced by the husband of the lovely lady serving us. Decided to buy a bottle - not his unfortunately - sorry Madame! Carol will have to put up with no white wine this evening as Fleurie is a white free zone!

It was quite cool weather wise as we returned back to camp and tomorrow is predicted to be worse - so will move on to nearer Macon in search of the white wines we like.

Score for La Grappe de Fleurie. 8.5/10. Unfortunately too cold for the lovely looking pool. Clean facilities but still preferred showering chez Rex. Nicely located a short distance from the centre of Fleurie.
Day 20. May 26th. Fleurie - Pelussin. 72 miles

So a fond farewell to Fleurie and onwards down south in search of warm weather -we made a decision to turn away from Macon for now. Got lost negociating through Villefranche-Sur-Saone and then on through vast Lyon to Vienne and a stopover at Condrieau for lunch. The temperature appeared to be going up from 15 degrees to 18. 

We began our ascent to our site at Pelussin and the temperature began dropping and the wind picked up! When will we learn that hills mean cold!

The site did not meet it's write up - yes there is a swimming pool but on the edge of the site which at present is cold and windy. The pitches are sloping dramatically on a hill. Never mind we'll make the best of it and aim to make an early getaway tomorrow.
We took a walk through woods to an old rail viaduct before dinner. Brrr it's chilly! We will aim for a low river side position tomorrow in search of shelter and warmth, and hope the resulting hair style is less bouffant!

View from the hills.
Nearby fields of corn with wild cornflowers and poppies - so beautiful and french!

Score for Bel'Epoque du Pilat. 7/10. Would probably be lovely in good weather. Hilly unequal pitches in dense wooded areas. Middle of nowhere. 

Day 21. May 27th. Pellusin - St Jean- De-Muzols

Woke to a sunny but chilly morning. After much debate we set off back to the Rhone Valley driving just a little more south. Graham would have preferred to have headed back to Macon but graciously conceded (again!) to Carol's southern wish. A short drive along the curving roads circumnavigating the hills led to a medieval village called Malleval an unexpected delight. No time to stop - no room to stop!

Then back on the main road to St Jean de Muzols.
The sun was beating down as we arrived and the site is much more like it! ( Phew - C)
Settled on to the pitch and then a spot of sunbathing by the pool.

Lunch al fresco - note the tablecloth, reclining chair and awning - oh yes we are now able to almost fully hold our heads up compared to our peers camping French style! We let ourselves down by the lack of floral arrangement on the table or groundcover but we are getting there (have got fancy bread basket please note - purchased in Beaune market).

At last we have a dossing day, it is so much easier to doss in the sun than in the cold. Doss, swim, doss, swim. We then pottered down to the shallow river beneath our site and up to the station of the "Train de L'Ardeche", a steam train which departs a few minutes away by foot from the site.The train takes trips through the Gorges du Doux . How Thomas the Tank loving children must love staying here as the  trains pass by tooting their horns complete with waving passengers within easy view of the site! (Brought a lump to my throat recalling the Railway Children " Daddy my Daddy!" - sob. - C)

We hope to stay a couple more days to enable Graham to build up his resilience prior to the drive back north on the - gasp- péage motorways! Yes Graham has been finally worn down by the detours and stop and go driving on the B roads. Actually it was Villefranche which did us in - stopping at every bus stop every 400m across town to pick up one person can get to you after a while in a RHD vehicle.

Tomorrow we may have a cycle ride out and perhaps try some wine - well we are in Côte de Rhone territory now and it would be rude not to!!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Week 2. Route de vin d'Alsace

Week 2  Day 8, May 14th. Celles - sur- Plaine. 

Today we awoke to a rather dull start after a night of rain. Ever hopeful we headed off on our bikes to tour the nearby lake with a picnic in the rucksack. After approx 2kms it started to rain, we donned our raincoats and carried on - the rain became worse and we made an executive decision to return to the campsite. By the time we got back we were thoroughly soaked!

Carol makes haste to no avail - still got a thorough soaking!

Coffee and cake followed chez Rex and we also ate our picnic in the van.
Later the rain abated and we retraced our route to the Lake Pierre Percée (Drilled Rock - I think). There followed another hill climb of 2 kms up to a barrage with views across the vast lake/reservoir. 
View from the barrage.
The lake was built to supplement a river because at times there was not enough water to cool the nearby nuclear power station. At the same time they built an underground pipe to feed a leisure lake (where our campsite is) which drives a hydro electric plant - all underground. The power plant generates 18,000 kW and the second lake is a leisure site with canoes, swimming etc.
Carol contemplating the possibility of another soaking!

The descent was over in no time and we continued on circumnavigating a smaller lake on our return to the campsite at a gentle pace ( just right - C)

A cup of tea in the van and for a moment the sun shone teasing us before the heavens opened again!
Still at least we have booked a table at Hotel des Lacs - yes oh Yes -C) and it is a 5 minutes walk away so we shouldn't get too wet!
So we had dinner at the Hotel des Lacs - we had the fixed price menu which started with hors d'oeuvres riche- woo! - what arrived was a platter of salad items with a slice of luncheon meat and egg mayonnaise liken'd to the salad bar at a Pizza Hut - we were slightly disappointed. However the main was nice - Graham had fillet mignon in a sauce brun with frites. Carol had fish of the day fresh au bout de la ligne (we think not) - salmon in a creamy sauce, with lovely dauphinois potatoes. Carol then tried ille flottante - soft meringue in custard sauce - which was nice but bet not as good as some. But at 19€ for 2 courses and 22.50€ for 3 it was very reasonably priced.
Still raining as we retired - we will decide tomorrow if we stay or move on dependant on the forecast.

Score for Camping des Lac 9/10. Great location. Free Wifi. Shame about the weather.

Day 9, May 15th. Celles - sur- Plaine - Obernai  72 miles.

It was raining as we woke and so the decision was made to move on.
The weather forecast shows rain for today - sunny periods from tomorrow until Tuesday when rain is predicted for several days.
We decided to head for the Route de Vins in the hope of being able to cycle to some of the wine producing villages before the weather changes - Hic!
We went up to the Col de Donan weaving our way upwards through pine clad hills - at the top where on a fine day you can see Germany and even the Swiss Alps. We saw - nothing - damp low clouds shrouded everywhere. Here is our view. 
Please excuse the swarm of bee like image at the top of the picture - it is a problem with the camera which happened last year too and then fixed itself. 

In a navigation error we ended up in a remote but pretty village called Natzwiller. As the roads became ever narrower we were glad our van was quite small.

Returning to the road we passed Le Struthof - the only concentration camp in France built by the Nazis during WW2. Apparently it is estimated that nearly 22,000 deportees lost their lives here between 1941 and 1945. We saw the huge monument dedicated to the Deported. It was clearly a popular attraction as there were lots of cars parked up - but we could not face entering the place and felt quite contemplative as we passed by, especially given the grim weather. 

Onwards to Le Hohwald which indeed was picturesque and looked to be a popular spot for walkers and tourists. Unfortunately both the Café and Salon de Thé were fermé - so we had a quick stroll round and headed off.
An interesting statue in the centre of le Hohwald. Is it a sunshade or an umbrella?

And a lovely house.

Drove on through Andlau, Eichhoffen, Intterwiller and had lunch chez Rex on the edge of Nothalten as the weather picked up -  all villages on the Route de Vin.
View of Nothalten from Rex at lunchtime
On to Sélestat for a supermarket shop in an enormous Leclerc and then parked up to visit the Maison du Pain. This is a museum dedicated to bread making. On entering we were given a couple of freshly baked bread rolls and sent on our way on the self guided tour. Well it was a good way to spend a rainy afternoon! and what we don't know about French bread making following the tour! 100 parts de farine, 62 parts de l'eau, 1,8 parts sel and 18 parts levure. Bake-off here we come.

We headed off to Obernai to our next planned stop. As we arrived at the campsite a sign stated no more room for campervans! - so we turned to go when a kindly German Wolfgang ran up to us and said there was 1 more space left after him, and he had asked the site manager to reserve it for us as we had arrived just 1 minute after him. Danke schün Wolfgang!
The site is very very busy - not what we are used to but we're happy to be in a conveniently based place for exploring some of the northern parts of the Route de Vins.

Day 10. Obernai. May 16th. Cycle trip aprox 13 .5 kms.

Today we cycled along the route de vin through a few small villages. A lovely ride through gently rolling countryside and picturesque villages.  Firstly we arrived in Ottrott which looked to be a small lively place, onwards on to Boersch - a village picturesque but fermé 
The bar entering Boersch

On again to Bischoffsheim again - fermé - and back to Obernai along a cycle path past vineyards. 

Obernai was ouvert! A pretty large touristy town with the usual timber framed alpine looking houses.
We had lunch in a restaurant sitting outside in mostly sunshine. We noted the restaurant had a selection of vegan/vegetarian dishes - some with Tofu - rather unique in France!
Carol had Tarte Flambé - a very thin based pizza like dish - with soft cheese base rather than tomato - with smoked ham and sundried tomatoes. Graham had Ravioli in a cream, fig and basil sauce. We shared half a carafe of white wine and had a leisurely lunchtime (this is more like it ! - C). 

A short leisurely cycle to the campsite and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling and plotting where to go next, and a back up plan if the weather becomes rainy for a prolonged period of time.

Score for Le Vallon de L'Ehn. 8/10. Great location. We were last in so can't complain about rather noisy pitch overlooking the children's playground! Friendly site.

Day 11. May 17th. Obernai - Turckheim. 38 miles.

Before departing we did a return cycle trip to see the villages to the south of us Obernai - Mittlebergheim. 30 kms.
We packed a picnic and followed cycle paths through the vineyards - Bernardswiller - Goxwiller - Gertwiller (where there is a museum/shop of Gingerbread - Pain épice - apparently the gingerbread capital of the world!) We visited the shop but wracked with the usual indecision left with nothing!
On to Barr a lovely town with a fabulous patisserie which we called in on the way back to purchase a couple of delicasies - including a mini Koffleburg - a local Alsacien cake.

Then on to our last village Mittlelbergheim - another typical Alsacien village. We decided to turn back just before Andlau and retraced our tracks.
En route time for a picnic
Mmm - another picnic - this is the life says Carol(?)

Back to Obernai and in the van for a short drive to Turckheim just south of Colmar.
We are staying on a site on the outskirts of Turckheim. As we settled into our pitch a stork flew overhead and settled into a tree nearby - Colmar is famous for it's resident storks who nest in the city centre and also our campsite evidently!
Our campsite stork on patrol.

As we sat enjoying a couple of beers a couple peered over the adjoining hedge - Chris(tine) and John from near Birmingham - who came and kept us amused for an hour telling tales of their travels in their Brummie accents!
Tomorrow the weather is promised to be good so we hope to get back on the bikes for more vineyard villages visiting - try saying that after a few !

Day 12. May 18th. Turckheim. Cycled from Turckheim to Riquewihr and back - 30 kms ( allowing for a few wrong turns!)

After a walk in to Turckheim for picnic provisions we picked up the bikes and set off. It is a beautiful sunny day at last! The cycle route took us through hillside vineyards although the inclines were a little more challenging than yesterday! 

We went via Katzenthal - how's this for a church tower!

On via - Ammerschwihr - Sigolsheim - Kientzheim (gorgeous!) to Riquewihr. All the villages we passed through were picture postcard pretty and charming. The villages here are maybe a bit prettier than further north but the hills between are quite large, and the cycling was a lot easier up near Obernai.  For anyone thinking of coming, get a cycle map from the tourist office. Between the fields there are single track roads used by viticulteurs and the odd local resident so are not shared with normal traffic and offer relaxing routes through spectacular scenery. 

Riquewihr is a bit of a tourist trap full of coach parties calling by on their European tours. It is still very picturesque and well worth a visit. We picniqued sitting on a bench centre town in glorious sunshine and watched the world go by. After a circular walk around the town we had the obligatory ice cream before retracing our route back.

Back to the van for a well deserved beer and shower. Sat under the awning with the sun still shining brightly - yippee!

Tonight we are going to walk in to Turckheim centre for dinner in a restaurant (What 2 dinners out in less than a week !) a treat for Carol for enduring 2 consecutive days of cycle trips! 
We walked through the deserted streets of Turckheim peering into empty restaurants where we didn't want to be the only diners. Turned a corner and saw people at tables outside of one - the Auberge de la Comtessa - we requested a table inside and it was full of people! This must be the place to go!
The decor was very French - a mix of grand style and lots of nic nacs - on our table we had a large lamp, a ceramic candlestick with lit candle, a decorative jug, a birdcage thing with plastic rabbits in it and a plastic bicycle! (this feels like one of those memory games) and still room for place settings! 
We enjoyed an interesting 3 course table d'hôte with the buzz of chatter around us - lovely. Won't go through the food but just to say we are always surprised when dining a la Francais - there is always something presented we did not anticipate or read in the menu. 

Day 13. May 19th. Colmar

Today was promised to be a dull day so we caught a bus to Colmar -  a town in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards - it's main attractions  are the Musée d'Unterlinden and Petite Venise.
The bus ride proved interesting as we had to change at a stop called Europe. We thought it would be a large shopping centre, but no. Europe appeared to be a large estate of social housing with stops en route called Rome, Berlin, Londres, Belgrade etc! We were directed to our connecting bus by the helpful bus driver and on to Colmar. As we stopped at a bus stop a young woman who had been sitting in front of us got off there from our previous bus got on to see the English couple from the previous bus grinning like loons - we'd beaten a local to a seat.
A very old house - not sure what - in Colmar

Unfortunately the musée was closed for renovation (not another!). Fortunately the main attraction - the Issenheim Alterpiece has been relocated to the nearby Eglise des Dominicains. The Alterpiece painted by Matthias Grünewald at the beginning of the 16thC for the high alter at Issenheim is a masterpiece of expressionist style, colour, light, poetry and humour - apparently. It certainly was interesting hearing the audio interpretation of the symbolism within the paintings depicting the crucifiction,nativity and other lurid imaginary happenings to St Anthony. We didn't take any pictures as they never do justice to such images - however the thoughts we took with us was those painters certainly had a vivid imagination!

Had lunch in the covered market - the cleanest and most diner friendly marché we have ever seen!
On to Petite Venise which was definitely petite but very pretty. It was not the right weather for a punt on the water unfortunately.

Back to the bus via a fab homeware shop where Carol bought a tablecloth for the table when dining Al fresco chez Rex - she can now hold her head high! (must take photo of said dressed table under the awning - C)

Back to the site and a cup of tea sitting in bright sunshine.

Then on to the Caves de Turckhein for a little wine tasting. Graham told the sales lady he had never had Gewurtztraminer (lie!) and she felt duty bound to indoctrinate him to the virtues of Gewurtztraminer with a vertical tasting from different terroirs and maturations. When the time came to  choose which wine to buy we were a little fuzzy on which ones we preferred, and left purchasing a Pinot Blanc and a Pinot Gris after all that!

Later we sit chez Rex deliberating whether to stay in the area or move more South as poor weather is predicted after the weekend, further west is best at the moment.  

Score for Le Medieval - 9.5 /10. Great location near to town and bus and train links. Easy walk to centre. Clean and modern facilities. Free wifi. Friendly reception. Only lack of pool gave it a near perfect score.

Day 14. May 20th. Turckheim to Auxonne.

Having looked at the weather forecast which predicted rain for a week in a few days - we decided to head west with a view to going further south if the weather does not improve. So we headed for Dijon.

A bit of a nothing day . Long drive and supermarket shop. Had lunch chez Rex by the river at Ranchot.
On to Auxonne East of Dijon - the town is by the river Saone. Unfortunately one of our party we misread the description and the site is rather more rustic than anticipated. The swimming pool is the municipal one next door which is yet to be filled with water even though the ACSI guide says open from 15/5. Parked up overlooking the river. From now one we have strict rules about division of duties. 

It rained heavily on arrival but we managed a walk into the town before dinner Chez Rex but think we have seen as much as we wish. We have been spoilt staying near such lovely places in Alsace , this town looks a little run down - although had a rather magnificent church. So will leave tomorrow and head for Meursault. Funny how we seem to gravitate towards wine growing regions!

Score for Camping De l'Arquebuse 6/10. Nicely situated - walking distance to town along the riverside.
Restaurant on site. Looks to be well set up for children. Strong smell of strange tobacco near the office and sanitary facilities woeful.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Week 1. Zeebrugge - Parc Naturel Regional Des Vosges Du Nord

May 7th  Day 1 Election Day! 

Zeebrugge to Luxembourg  211 miles.

With force 7 winds overnight we thought we would have had a rough crossing on the ferry - but the force was with us! - as any sailor will tell you it's better to have wind behind than be against the wind and it was a strong westerly which blew us across the North Sea with minimal discomfort.

Arrived to a chilly rainy Zeebrugge and a rather grim drive through the industrial outskirts in pouring rain, but within a couple of hours the sun was shining ( at times), and the temperature a pleasant 15 degrees. 

Arrived at the campsite in the outskirts of Luxembourg (Alzingen) at about 2.30pm to a friendly welcome and a spotlessly clean site. Also free WiFi so we can tune in to the BBC web election coverage - yes we actually will like this!

Most campers appear to be Dutch but we have spoken to a few Brits, mostly en route to Italy. The couple in a motor home parked beside us were from York - small world.

Once settled on to our pitch we walked to the local supermarket and, having never tasted Luxembougois wine, we purchased a local wine - a Pinot Gris.
We intend to have an early night and look forward to a tour of Luxembourg City tomorrow.
Waiting for a drink on arrival- honestly the service can be so slow!

May 8th. Day 2.  

Luxembourg City.  Cycled 14 kms. ( probably more because signs continued to state same distance on passing several times!)

Carol spent time in the early hours peeking at the BBC election coverage on the iPad. Don't know why cos it didn't change the result. Let's just say one of us is happy in this van. 

Today we cycled in to Luxembourg City for a day sightseeing.
Whilst making our way in to the centre we passed the Palace of the Grand Duke. There were a couple of soldiers guarding the entrance with machine guns and also a couple of leather clad policemen with motorbikes. As Carol attempted to take photos - soldiers first and then hoped to take a picture of the rather gorgeous policemen (designer looking leathers, matching designer stubble,dark glasses, sultry looks -C ) - the policemen shot on to their bikes applying their helmets as the gates were opened and 2 black limos with tinted windows swept past with presumably some dignitaries/ royal persons inside. The guards then shut their boxes and disappeared inside. Unfortunately we had forgotten the camera so pictures were hastily taken by phone of which Carol's technique leaves a lot to be desired! 

Whilst browsing a postcard rack nearby we were interested to see various postcards of the Grand Duke , his wife and various family members could be purchased. There were postcards with the royal family in many different poses and dress styles and costumes( uniforms). I wonder if our Royal Family ever thought of this money spinning idea?! to help add to the coffers.

We took a peek in to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and here's a photo of Graham being photo bombed as Carol took another phone photo!

We had lunch in the park just below the city walls - a picnic much to Graham's delight.( Wonder how long it will be before a proper restaurant lunch...... C ). Then walked through the centre and around some of the city wall. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of construction/ reconstruction being carried out so we didn't see the place at it's best.Interestingly one of the most strikingly opulent looking building was the Bank of Luxembourg - as picture taken from a distance below.

There appeared to be a street market/fair in the main square - not sure if it was a permanent arrangement or seasonal. By the look of the food on sale it would appear that the favourite food of the people of Luxembourg was differing types of sausages ending with brurst. Although we saw 1 stall cooking/smoking whole sides of salmon which looked tasty- only saw this after the picnic unfortunately!

Luxembourg City appeared a clean and very affluent looking place, judging from the Porsches and Maseratis we saw, with an amazing amount of beaurocratic/ administrative buildings for such a small place! Graham left muttering about the amount or not-  of work which may take place in such splendid surroundings!

Tomorrow we venture in to Lorraine, France- possibly driving through Germany en route.

For any camping visitors to the blog we will continue to rate the campsites visited - just in case they wish to follow in our footsteps!
Bon Accueil, Alzingem - 8/10. Great location, good sized pitches, clean and friendly. The showers were a bit brutal - either scalding hot or freezing cold dependent on your luck! Nice and clean though and separate from the toilet area which makes a nice change. 

May 9th. Day 3

 Luxembourg to Sturzelbronn.

We managed to get on the road before 11am including a Supermarket shop! - a fantastic achievement for us.

Took the autoroute through Germany and back in to France - Lorraine. Graham wished to visit a fort on the Maginot Line en route so we decided on the Gros Ouvrage du Simserhof just west of a town called Bitche - pronounced as it sounds!

We arrived at 1pm - had lunch Chez Rex and then headed for the entrance to the attraction. Had to wait til 2.30pm for an English tour - there followed a short film, a ride through the ammunition rail route of the immense fort followed by a walking guided tour of the barracks. Left at 5.30 pm - a very comprehensive and informative visit - even Carol was interested most of the time!

For those of you that are not aware of the Maginot Line - it was a series of forts and linked tunnels deep in the ground along the East of France right from the north to Nice. It cost millions of francs to build with the hope of preventing a repeat of the WWI invasion from you-know-who. The forts were self sufficient and the troops could live for 3 months without need for any contact from outside.

As it was in this particular fort the troops were there for 10 months until ordered to surrender without any loss of life. The Germans invaded Belgium quicker than anticipated instead of France and entered through the back door so to speak!  The poor troops who had spent months below ground ready to fight for their country were rounded up and sent to prisoner of war camps in Germany. A few troops were kept on to show the Germans how to maintain it. When the Germans left they tried to blow the place up to no avail although it was said to have been rigged up for the French to do just that if able prior to invasion - our guide says it may have been a final defiant act of sabotage on behalf of the french, after all, it did cost €80m. 

The French army kept the fort until 2010 but ceased maintaining it after the mid 1960's - previous to that it served some function for NATO in the Cold War. The building was sold to the local people in 2010 for 1€ - and is now run by the community as a museum, and a bloody good one it is too.

It's in fantastic condition and the architecture is amazing.  The 80-odd year old tunnels go on for miles. They had every need catered for including a hospital, dental studio and mortuary. The officers lived in considerably more comfort than the rest of the troops even having their own kitchen and dining areas and their own sit down toilets, whilst the troops managed with hole in the ground squat toilets shared between many more soldiers - apologies for these sanitary details but Carol was most interested - must be the nursing background!
They had enough supplies to endure 3 months without outside contact but only 2 weeks supply of wine! Fortunately the supply chain for wine continued without interruption until their surrender.

Gunners on duty were 2km away from lunch served in the cuisine! So the gunners were served their meals at their posts - guess they were real warm! Spot the cables!

Soldiers walked, ammunition goes by train - this pulls 350 tonnes.

Officers also go by train. Note the wine rack at the back. Must get one of those in my Mercedes! 

All air in the tunnels was filtered before it came in, to avoid gas attacks, and the air pressure in the fort and all tunnels was higher than outside. These are the filters. There are 4 sets of these. They still work and the noise from just one was deafening. 

Emergency generators, two off.

The vist lasted just over an hour, it was damp and cold and we were glad to see the sun at the end. Imagine being there for 10 months!
Our guide was a young German - looked to be in his 20's - we wondered how he felt talking about the German invasion - he said he had taken some British WW2 veterans on a tour recently and he felt humbled.
Another young female guide said she was so fed up of French visitors complimenting her on her French accent as they thought she was German ( she spoke in a local accent) that she says she comes from Bitcher Land!

After a rather lengthy search for a garage for diesel in Bitche we made our way to our  campsite for a couple of nights in Sturzelbronn 12 kms from Bitche. A tranquil site overlooking a small lake in a forested area. There are many static caravans with varying types of add on gazebos etc and a handful of touring pitches. Our pitch is right on the edge of the lake. We are the only Brits on site - amongst the French and Germans and the cause of much curiosity given the looks from the strolling people passing by! 

The view from from Rex and the outdoor swimming pool, with diving platform. 

May 10th Day 4.    Sturzelbronn

Today we had a bit of a nothing day as Graham would say. We were listening to a German radio last night which had a song playing "give me the sun and I will waste my time" how right!

Had breakfast outside overlooking the lake. Whiled away a few hours reading and sunbathing. Lunch also Al fresco . Walked for a couple of hours along the forest trails failing miserably to find a route provided by the campsite. And back for pre dinner drinks and dinner chez Rex.

Tomorrow we hope to do more travelling and sightseeing but unsure as yet where we will end up for the night. The weather forecast shows 4 more days of good weather before rain and lower temperatures are predicted. We guess we will then head for the larger towns/cities to utilise their indoor attractions!

As the campsite emptied after the weekend visitors we were left rather isolated - nice and peaceful though!

Score for Camping du Muhlenbach 9/10. Fantastic views of the tranquil lake. Friendly staff. In season a bar. A shop with basic items but limited opening hours. In season this could be a 10/10.

May 11th. Day 5.  Sturzelbronn to Saverne. 73 miles.

Our route today. Sightseeing tour day. 

On the road by 10.30 am - what is the matter with us! - perhaps being near the German border has made us more efficient!

We drove on through some very pretty villages - Obersteinbach and Niedersteinbach. In Neidersteinbach Graham had a good long conversation with an elderly male resident jardinier who passed by with his wheelbarrow and put the world to rights! 300 citizens when he was born lived in Niedersteinbach and now only 100, all the young ones have left, and it looked like he didn't have long either. The butcher and baker shut down, I doubt he drives so he eats what he grows and gets the rest from the travelling vans. 

The church and some houses at Neidersteinbach.

We continued on to Chateau de Fleckenstein. Now in ruins it was built originally in the 12th century and added on to in the 16th C. It was destroyed in 1680. When the last baron died in 1720 it became the property of the Prince of Rohan. Taken back in the French Revolution it now belongs to the community. It has been preserved - now having shop, visitor centre etc. Mostly it is visited for the great views of the forested area which surrounds it.
A model of how it looked in the 16th C

View of the ruins on the walk up

Très artistique!
Views from the top.

After a hasty lunch chez Rex we continued on to Wissembourg on the border with Germany - French side. A quaint town with ramparts. A little reminiscent of Bruges - with small canals overlooked by ye olde worlde timber framed houses. The owner of our last camp site had promised us the best patisserie in France! No really, there is a national concours to find the best pastry maker each year who can wear the blue, white and red collar, and this year it was Patisserie Rebert in Wissembourg - what luck!  We checked at the Tourist Office where we could find such delights - it was fermé!  Yes we had endured rather stale bread cheese butties to put us on for no avail! In fact most of Wissembourg was closed like a ghost town. So dear reader remember do not visit Wissembourg for a bun on a Monday as you will be sure to be disappointed! But the town itself is lovely. 

We have decided to head for Saverne. En route we detour to Hunsbach - regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in the whole of France (Michelin Guide). It was indeed picturesque - all the houses were timber framed and painted white. We came across a patisserie/ cafe and so encountered a shop person who could not understand us at first attempts. Carol asked for une noisette, ou une café crème to an incomprehensible shrug and stare. Graham finally broke through asking for un café au lait. (Why not call it what it is?). We ordered 2 cakes to accompany our coffee and finally our shop keeper warmed to us and attempted to converse. Now, we are used to locals speaking first German and then French to a visitor but this woman spoke neither. She understood French only if spoken loud and slow and she said her 1st language is Alsacienne. She was really hard to understand. Whilst we enjoyed our break another resident came in to the shop - a very small lady dressed in a thick quilted winter jacket, there was a conversation and the woman said she was kalt. Kalt! It was 30 degrees and we were in shorts and tee shirts! We were beginning to feel we were in Royston Vasey! As we left Graham persuaded our Alsacienne hostess to pose by the cake counter for a photo

. We left with a cheery Au Revoir but did not look back to see the reaction to the visit from Les Anglais!

Rex parked up in Hunsbach

Walking through Royston Vasey.

We did a quick supermarket shop on the outskirts of Haguenot - wine, beer , gin - all the essentials!
When perusing the ready meal section Carol's eye was drawn to a beef in sauce regional dish - looking on the ingredient list was amazed to see viande de cheval (horse meat) contributed to 35% of the content! Well at least it was labeled was Graham's response. Needless to say we left it on the shelf.

On to Saverne. We arrived at our campsite - chose our pitch and headed for the small swimming pool. The maintenance man was just closing up but kindly re-opened to allow us a brief dip after a tiring and sticky day. What a hero!

May 12 th. Day 6. Saverne

Today a non-touring day.
Cycled to Saverne and on to the Jardin Botanique du col de Saverne. 2.5kms up hill with no flat bits was a little hairy with cars and lorries whizzing by on hairpin bends and a sharp gradient to 335m , 1,099ft. A good work out for Graham and thank God for the electric bike says Carol. The garden had views across the foothills of the Vosges and apparently the Black Forest on a clear day - can't say it was obvious to us and it is a clear sunny day. There were various rare orchids scattered through the gardens but of the small wild looking type. Think you needed to be well into orchids and gardens to get the best out of a visit here but very picturesque all the same. Unfortunately it was situated between one of the hairpin bends and so it was not as tranquil as we had anticipated - and not the ideal spot for a - yes - quiet picnic!
The cycle back downhill took no time! - and we left our bikes in the centre of Saverne to explore the town.
Saverne is a small town dominated by the Chateau Du Rohan situated right in the centre. An imposing palace like building it is now used as a Primary school and youth centre amongst other things. It was originally built for a Pope - destroyed by fire and renovated by Napolean. We saw children playing happily on the lawns near to sculptured shrubs - viva la Revolution! The Chateau overlooks a Marina where boats can be hired to cruise the canals. We enjoyed a stroll around the town and the marina fortified by a rather delicious ice cream.

After a little shopping -sandals for Graham (he'd forgotten to pack some) and a visit to a Traiteur to buy Crevettes salad, something that looked like potato rosti and a slice of salmon en croute to enjoy tonight for dinner with salad, - hopefully Al fresco as it is still very hot - feels like 28 degrees C.
We are enjoying the sun while we can.
Back for a quick dip in the pool to cool off and aim to spend the rest of the day chilling out doing nothing much at all!
Score for Seasonova Les Portes d'Alsace. 9/10. A generous score mostly based on the enjoyment of the small but lovely swimming pool. The shower block was communal so you walked by the urinals to the showers! - not sure this was because it was out of season as another door to what looked to be similar facilities next door was locked. At least the washing up area was separate! It was situated a bit of a hike up a hill from the centre of Saverne - so although described as walking distance away it felt too far to attempt a visit to a restaurant as we anticipted the walk back  would be daunting - what a shame ( -G).

May 13th. Day 7. Saverne to Celles- sur- Plaine ( via la- Petite-Pierre). 72 miles.

A short detour up to La Petite Pierre another one of the prettiest villages in Alsace - allegedly. Apparently it is a popular summer resort in the heart of the low Vosges and the starting point of more than 62 miles of marked footpaths ( Michelin - again! )
A strangely familiar rambler.

We took a short walk to see the Maison des Paiens - a Renaissance house built in 1530 on the site of a Roman Watchtower.

Apparently there is a walk to the Chateau of La Petite Pierre but excuse us but we've got Chateau weariness  so here's a photo of it from a distance!

We thought it was a pretty village but more touristy, looking to be geared up for summer tour groups if the local hotels were anything to go by.

We took our leave and headed back on the road.

Back to the N4 and onwards to Celles sur Plaine.
A quick detour to replenish stocks at a supermarket and then another picnic lunch on the communal bench in Nonhigny - where we were observed by a couple of locals sat on a bench opposite, and then as we were preparing to leave relinquished the table to a swarm of cyclists who had completed a petit tour de 90 km. Bravo said Graham as we got back in the van. We were impressed until we met Kennie and Sheila from Inverness. Kennie is cycling 100kms or so each day while Shiela drives the van to the next campsite. We caught up with them a couple of times on our travels. Kennie is not cycling all the time otherwise Sheila would just see roads and supermarkets. No, he is allowed just 5 days and hills are Kennie's specialities, so he has to choose the hilliest bits to maximise his enjoyment. (Sounds like someone we know!)

Celles - sur- Plaine is a village on the edge of Lac de Pierre Percée - there appears to be lots of water type sports on offer and what looks to be cycle tracks around the lake. The campsite is in the village centre and there appears to be a local restaurant! - yes oh yes thinks Carol!  However Graham has offered to cook Pasta a l'Alsacien tonight - the restaurant better be open tomorrow!(-C)

We picked a pitch overlooking the river and put our awning up for the first time to shield us from the glorious sunshine.
View from Rex on our river side pitch.

An hour later and Carol is writing today's ramblings under the awning whilst thunder strikes and pouring rain hits the top of the awning! Well at least you can sit outside in the rain with an awning!

After dinner we glanced through the pouring rain over to Kenny and Sheila's rather smaller VW van and could imagine how cramped it would be sheltering in there with their black Labrador. So we invited them over to us and put the world to rights over a few glasses of wine.  Tomorrow Kennie is cycling another 100 km or so and Sheila will meet him for lunch once he has satisfied his competitive cycling fix.

Tomorrow we aim to cycle to and around some of the lake at a more leisurely pace - weather permitting.