ROAD TRIP - FRANCE

 
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Another lady appeared in our household last year and she comes under the name of a Jaguar XJS. So now there’s more competition for Hannah and I (Laurie's daughter). The boy does love his cars, especially this one. So much so a bucket and cleaning kit came on holiday with us. We bought the car as an enjoyable investment and planning a road trip in our new convertible was definitely going to be enjoyable.

It was our first holiday (other than 3 days) where we were going to be on our own since our honeymoon. We decided to take full advantage of this and decided to go just before the schools break up for a couple of reasons - it’s cheaper and it also meant that we didn’t have to make any plans. We decided to 'drive' by the seats of our pants, listen to great advice, follow our gut instinct and not pre-book any hotels. In my head it would be fun and romantic, reality was probably navigation rows and staying in dodgy hostels. But hey why not test those marriage vows. Luckily for us it was the former, we found our rhythm, Laurie did nearly all the driving (happy as a pig in ****) and I did the research on locations, hotels and restaurants. It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought thanks to our lovely readers and the people we stayed with. 

Thanks to booking.com accommodation was easier than I thought too. I tried all the sights but always reverted back to this one. It had the highest quality for the best price and definitely had the more quirky places to stay. I gave ourselves a budget so that narrowed down the search straight away (£75-£100 per night, including breakfast if possible). I was almost playing a game with myself to see the best place I could find for that price. There were plenty and the best advice I can give you on this is narrow down the area and make sure you scan through a few pages, I would find our accommodation by page four or five and it usually wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes over a coffee. Sometimes we would only book the hotel four hours before we turned up. Once we were there we would decide if we wanted to stay another night or not.

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There was anther detail that made our holiday go so well and that was the French roads. I’ve never experienced anything like it. No pot holes and in seven days and 1200 miles there wasn’t one traffic jam, even when we went on the equivalent of the M25 around Bordeaux. We would cruise through beautiful countryside and stunning villages for up to four hours and it would feel like two. One other tip to make the driving more fun is to make sure you have some music. Our car is of the  CD vintage but we also took our portable Bose speaker so we could play anything on Tidal (Similar to Spotify). We used a map (old-school) and Google maps when needed which is great when you're entering busy cities or trying to work out ferry crossing times. 

Another tip is to make sure you pack well. It can be really annoying and stressful when you're packing and unpacking every day and trying to find things. I used lots of little cotton bags that I’d collected from purchases or shoes. That way everything had its place. Separate bags for our underwear, electricals, shoes etc. I even had a separate bag that stayed in the boot of our car for dirty clothes so our suitcase became easier to search through as the days passed. Next take out road rescue insurance. Make sure you can get home with your car no matter what’s wrong with it. You can usually add it on to your road rescue that you have at home and it isn’t expensive. However if you have a classic car like us you will be paying more. Finally book your ferries in plenty of time. The earlier you book the better the deal –like flights. You’ll know the best company when you know what route you want to do.

The holiday was more than we ever could have imagined. It was a real break from adulthood not having any plans. This may sound corny but it really frees your soul. I guess it’s because so much of our lives are controlled by work and routine and always knowing what’s next. So a holiday like this gives you a real sense of freedom, like stepping back in time and being 21 again, with nothing else to worry about other than what’s happening right now.

So as you troll through the pics I’ll tell you the best places we stayed, the most delicious restaurants and the mistakes we made. Enjoy and I hope it helps to inspire you! 

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Lewes - Le Mans
Our plans started by getting the DFDS ferry from Newhaven (20 minutes from our house) to Dieppe. We then started our drive through France and we had seven days to do do this until before meeting friends in the Costa Brava. Our first aim was Le Mans (four hour drive) to get down through the north of France. We didn’t feel there was much to see hear hear as we weren’t doing any coastal routes. Laurie had spent a few weekends in Le mans for the to Le Mans 24hr. He knew it wasn’t ideal but thought it was good pit stop, a place to rest our heads for the night. As it turned out out it was difficult to find a place to stay that wasn’t of a type (Ibis). Eventually I found a B&B on the outskirts that ticked every box, Hôtel des 4 continents. There are two parts to this B&B, traditional - Domaine De Chatenay and more modern/characterful - Hôtel des 4 continents. We stayed in the latter in their Sahara room. We slept so well here and the breakfast was delicious. On our way out of the area we found the most idillic place to stay 20 minutes down the road, La Flèche, It was stunning so if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in this region, this is a must and it will be for us next time.

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It was quite a drive to our next stop Île de Ré so we had stopped for lunch en route. The place we would have loved for this and a little adventure was Saumur. It looked stunning from a distance on our drive. Unfortunately because we were against time we decided to head for Niort that was a little more en route but we'll definitely stay in Saumur next time. We found a great restaurant called La Villa in Noirt. Incredible food and the perfect spot to have a break and a bit of people watching before we finished our drive to Île de Ré – a great recommendation from an Instagram follower (loisavery).

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Île de Ré

With a quick Google I knew this was a must. Île de Ré is an island off the west coast of France. It’s known for its, salt marshes, cobbled streets soaked in lavender and it’s stunning beaches backed by dunes and pine trees. On arrival we immediately decided to stay two nights. The days were spent exploring the island (30km in length) on a bike - discovering secluded beaches and idyllic villages, and the evenings drinking beer and rosé in cool beach bars. It’s a place we both can’t wait to go back to. We were only there for 48 hours but there’s so much to tell you about this magical island that I will be doing a travel blog of it in the next week or two. The hotel we stayed in was L'Océan Hôtel and I cant recommend it enough – it also has a great fish restaurant. Every meal we had on this island was incredible - for lunch or dinner I would recommend The Beach Bar for great simple food and Le Bible for something a little more special, where we had some of the best food I’ve tasted in France.   

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Le Bible

Margaux, Bordeaux
The drive down to Bordeaux is beautiful as you enter the wine region. What we didn’t expect were the views across the river from Blaye to Lamarque, it was stunning. The ferry ride was only 15 minutes and Google maps worked it all out for us.

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While searching for a place to stay I came across Les Mélusines a wonderful house owned by an artist and his wife. On every picture there was a sense of colour and creativity so we had to stay in their home. It lived up to all expectations and we were treated like family. Our bedroom was elaborate and comfortable just like the rest of the house. It was also in a great location and half the price of staying in Margaux yet only a 10 minute drive away. The breakfast was simple and just enough get you on your way. For dinner we went to Le Savoie in Margaux where we had delicious traditional french food and wine. 

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After visiting Saint Emillion last year we decided that this year we would visit Margaux which is known for some of the finest wines in France, and we weren’t disappointed. We headed to two vineyards Château Chatenac Brown (corporate owned) and Château Dauzac (family owned). You can buy anything here from €25 to a Grand Cru Classé for €800. We usually enjoy anything from €25 to €50. It may seem a little excessive but it’s our chance to enjoy wine that would be double the price at home.

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Pyrenees - Foix

Our next Place of call was the Pyrenees, a drive Laurie had been really looking forward to and would eventually drop us in to Spain. The Pyrenees mountain range separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe, stretching more than 430 km between Spain and France and rising higher than 3,400 m in elevation so it was a good chance for Laurie to test the car out. This was going to be a huge drive so we decided to stay in Foix which is roughly half way. I found an incredible place, Chateau du Val Larbont. It was utterly breathtaking. I couldn’t believe it was in our budget. The grounds were  beautiful and filled with horses, a donkey and dogs. The couple who owned it were so warm and helpful and they served us the best breakfast we’d had on our trip.

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Michel from Chateau du Val Larbont also gave us a wonderful spot to visit for lunch on route to Spain, Hostal D´ Eller, unfortunately it wasn’t open for the season but you have to go here if you can. Even with the disappointment of being closed it was still worth the adventure of finding it. It’s in the tiniest of villages on top of a mountain where you will question if you’re on the right track. We struggled to get pictures so you’ll have to trust us on this. I’d also like to add here that we found an incredible area to visit, Rocamadour. We had to miss it this time as it seemed a little out of our way. Looking back we should have made time. Rocamadour is a small clifftop village in south-central France. It is known for the Cité Réligieuse complex of religious buildings, accessed via the Grand Escalier staircase. The pictures don't do it justice, Google and you’ll see!

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Cadaqués

This was the final stop on or road trip and all thanks to the recommendation of our host at the Chateau du Val Larbont. This place definitely had the wow factor - It looks greek, is filled with French tourists yet has that wonderful laid back attitude that the Spanish are so good at. Expect to find a picturesque coastal town that’s sophisticated yet bohemian and you can see it down every narrow street and around every corner. You wont be disappointed with the food either. Our favourite places for lunch or dinner were Enoteca MF and MUT (our favourite). Another great all rounder for breakfast, lunch and cocktails is Bar Boia. After dinner we strolled back up the cobbled streets with a bottle of wine and a couple glasses and enjoyed the incredible view near our hotel Tramuntana. This hotel is a faultless balance of simplicity and minimalism. Perfectly located and only a 5 minute walk to the beach. You can enjoy a simple breakfast at the hotel or head out to the seafront at S’entina and enjoy fresh orange juice, coffee and eggs while you take in the view. The sand is rustic on the beaches of Cadaqués but if you can get your head around that you can have blissful days soaking up the sun and swimming in the clear ocean. We would have definitely stayed hear an extra day or two but we were meeting friends in Begur.

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On our route home we drove drove across the top of Spain to Bilbao (seven hours) so we could get the Brittany Ferry back to Portsmouth which is  about a 24 hour journey. We thought it would be a great way to finish our holiday, just sleep, relax and take in the views – and we did just that. The cabins were comfortable and the view we woke up was like nothing I’ve seen. It was so peaceful and serene with nothing in sight but the ocean. After a good breakfast we went back on the deck to watch our arrival home. It was so beautiful watching all of the sailing boats as we pulled in to Portsmouth and it definitely helped to soften the edges of the realisation that our holiday of a lifetime had just reached its final destination.

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