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e l s p e ci a l
The C么te Sauvage is dotted with sandy coves backed by rocky cliffs; some can be accessed by steps 26 | July 2015 | www.practicalmotorhome.com
TOTAL DISTANCE 500 miles
AUTO-SLEEPER Kemerton XL
DURATION 5 days
Just 2.5 hours south of St Malo we discovered sunshine and wonderful sites
Falling in love with the
PHOTOGRAPHY Phil Russell
Claudia Dowell and Bryony Symes unearth fantastic beasts and wild beaches on France’s Atlantic coastline
www.practicalmotorhome.com | July 2015 | 27
The Kemerton XL rests on a large pitch at Nantes Camping
ottage pie, mum!’ It seemed incredible, but the same people were clustered around the menu board in Brittany Ferries’ self-service restaurant on the crossing home as were there on the journey out. And, although the menu had changed, the same food conversation was going on between a lady of around 60 and her mother. We were using Brittany Ferries’ mid-week, overnight ferry service between St Malo and Portsmouth. As I looked around and observed that many of the passengers boasted more mature years than my own, I had to admire the spirit of those of retirement age and beyond who were seeking adventure and new experiences, and making good use of the low season. That included the dear old thing blocking everyone’s view of the dinner choice. France isn’t far, but you can cross in real comfort if you book a cabin on an overnight crossing, as we had done. France is a big country, too, with a huge variety of landscapes, great cities, beautiful villages, fine food and wine – and a very accommodating attitude towards motorhomes. It’s little wonder, then, that it proves such a draw for us Brits. JOURNEY OUT WEST Our destination was the west coast – far enough for a high chance of early spring sunshine, but not so far that the drive would be exhausting. Colleague Bryony and I had settled on centring our trip around the city of Nantes, which straddles the Loire River. Here we could get a taste of city life, but also explore the coast to the west and south. Finding a site that was open in the low season had been a challenge, but Bryony had come up trumps with the five-star Nantes Camping, a municipal site just two miles north of the heart of the city. We were thrilled that it had its own restaurant and bar, which would take care of evening meals when we were too tired to speak, let alone butter a piece of bread. More important for those with a 28 | July 2015 | www.practicalmotorhome.com
Camping La Pindière
Guérande Batz-sur-Mer Pointe du Croisic
Saint-Nazaire submarine pens
La Maison dans la Loire
NANTES Le Nid Les Hangar à Machines Bananes de l’Île
GRAND TOUR Loire-Atlantique
The pizzas at the on-site restaurant, Les Terrasses du Petit Port, were excellent
Les Machines de l’Île’s magnificent elephant ‘walks’ the Île de Nantes motorhome, though, is that it is on tram link to the city centre. Bryony – well known for her organisational skills – had checked the approach to the site online. That was just as well because the entrance was on a roundabout, but with her navigation we sailed through to reception without a hitch. The staff spoke excellent English and soon had us settled on our pitch. We headed straight to the restaurant for lunch; it was busy with locals, and very good. We then spent the afternoon checking out the amenities – which included a large swimming pool at the
leisure centre across the road that site guests could use for free – and puzzling over the French instructions at the tram stop. Back at reception we discovered that a Nantes pass for 24, 48 or 72 hours would cover our travel around the city, and get us into the top attractions. We bought a 48-hour pass and, with a list of attractions in hand and a shocking lack of imagination for a dinner venue, headed back to the site restaurant. AN AWESOME ELEPHANT We were like excited children as we used our passes to board the tram at
Morrhonnière-Petit Port: neither of us wanted to put off riding the Les Machines de l’Île’s Grand Éléphant. It takes about 40 minutes and two tram rides to reach the former shipbuilding yards of the Île de Nantes; we could have walked it in just over an hour, but wanted to save energy. It was thrilling to see the 12-metre elephant standing in the glass and steel warehouse that was built for a very different purpose in the early 20th century. Nantes’ shipbuilding yards closed in 1987, and the city suffered an economic decline as a result. The council called for ideas to bolster its ailing fortunes and, incredibly, went for the mad-cap projects put forward by Les Machines de l’Île’s François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice. Two projects have since been completed, and we couldn’t wait to climb aboard the first: the huge, beautifully adorned wooden elephant. Our ride wasn’t due to start until 2pm, so we went in search of lunch. To be close to the forthcoming action we had lunch in the hangar at Stereolux, a café/bar that serves the theatre there. Somehow I managed to order a French version of fish and chips, much to the waiter’s amusement. We climbed two flights of stairs to board the beast, and there was a bit of a scramble to get the best viewpoint from the top of the howdah (elephant www.practicalmotorhome.com | July 2015 | 29
GRAND TOUR Loire-Atlantique Nantes and the Loire-Atlantique département were formerly part of the province of Brittany, and Nantes was the capital; hence the castle’s moniker of Château des Ducs de Bretagne. Its separation from Brittany was as recent as 1941. Francis II, the last duke of independent Brittany before it became part of France, constructed the present castle in the 15th century. His daughter, Duchess Anne of Brittany – twice Queen of France through her marriages to Charles VIII and Louis XII – continued the work, and it became the Breton residence of the kings of France in the 16th century. Since then it has undergone many changes, but was sold by the government to the city of Nantes in 1915, and it became a museum in 1924. The museum tells the history of the city in a tour taking in the colonial period, its very prominent role in the slave trade and its occupation by the Germans in World War II. The tour is set over several floors, and access is made easy with a lift to all of them. The castle’s exterior is very much that of the fortress built as a defence against the French king, while the buildings that overlook the courtyard are more in the style of Loire châteaux. The castle is, in fact, the last on the River Loire before it reaches the sea. After a tour of the ramparts, and some impersonating of gargoyles, our Equipped with their Nantes Passes the ladies plan their day in front of the Château des Ducs de Bretagne
Claudia and Bryony rest at the Hangar à Bananes. This Rings sculpture runs the length of the wharf thoughts turned to lunch; so we found a table at the castle’s restaurant, Les Oubliettes (these were underground prisons in European medieval castles – nice!).Main Nantes’ Breton origins are Wast Water is England’s evident in its restaurants, deepest lake Insetmany Clareof takes which serve and timegalettes to reflect atcrêpes. Dove Cottage We had delicious salads and a reviving beer (chocolat chaud in Bryony’s case) followed by crêpes, before tackling the cathedral.
According to one story I read, it was on the cathedral steps that the commander of the Musketeers, D’Artagnan, arrested Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances in France under King Louis XIV, for serious pilfering of the royal coffers. The Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul is one of the last great Gothic churches to be built in France. The roof caught fire in 1972, causing an immense amount of damage, but the restoration has left a soaring interior of gleaming white stone punctuated by brightly coloured stained-glass windows. There are two significant tombs to look out for: that of the aforementioned Francis II and his wife Margaret, and the cenotaph of General Juchault de Lamoricière, an opponent of Napoleon III and leader of the papal army. Both are impressive. RETREAT TO A NEST Bryony and I had both read about Le Nid (the nest), a bar occupying the 32nd floor of the only high-rise building in Nantes: Tour de Bretagne. We had to queue for the lift, and I admit to some disappointment when we got to the right floor. The room was decorated with egg-shaped chairs and a heronlike bird whose body formed the bar. It was busy and the staff brusque, so we contented ourselves with views of the city from the terrace surrounding the bar. I loved that someone had painted a splattered egg on a roof below! www.practicalmotorhome.com | July 2015 | 32
Loire-Atlantique We walked from the Place Bretagne to the Place Royale, stopping for a quick photo on the monumental fountain there. We were en route to Passage Pommeraye, a wonderfully over-the-top neo-classical shopping mall that houses the most marvellous chocolate shop. We spent a good half-hour (and more than €40 in my case) in there buying gifts to take home and treats to take back to the ’van. Next, we made our way to Place Graslin for a feast for the eyes, as well as the belly, at the highly decorated La Cigale brasserie. We were lucky to secure the last available table for dinner, and settled down to take in our surroundings. The brasserie opened in 1895, and its tiled interior is a glorious celebration of the Art Nouveau style that was so popular at the time. Outside, the restaurant had set up an oyster bar, but we were happy to stay in the warm and watch as the lights in the square came on while we waited for our small but expensive mashed-potato-and-
The château’s café is a great spot for lunch. The salads are superb
duck dinner. We got through two baskets of bread that night. PRESSING ON TO PORNIC We wanted to see something of the surrounding area, and the seaside town of Pornic – south-west of Nantes – looked rather charming from photos we’d seen on the web. It is also the location of the castle that, in the 15th century, belonged to the infamous Giles de Rais. He fought alongside Joan of Arc and was convicted as a serial child killer, becoming known as Bluebeard.
From the site we drove north to Porte de Renne before heading west on the E60, then the N171: we were following a rather circuitous route that would take in St Nazaire for its German submarine base. Before WW2 St Nazaire was one of the largest harbours on France’s Atlantic coast: it was commandeered by Germany in 1940 as a submarine base. The vast concrete U-boat pens built by the Germans stand almost unscathed, despite a targeted British bombing attack. We were able to park just alongside the pens, and walked through to get some idea of their scale. There is a museum, but it was closed on the day we visited; a shame, but we did stop for a coffee. We drove around to the quay opposite (where it’s easy to park) for a view of the pens from the water, then followed the road through and saw the two warships that had been destined for Russia, but which were now on hold because of the conflict in Ukraine.
Left and top The Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul underwent extensive renovation after a fire in the 1970s Above The view of Nantes from Le Nid café on the 32nd floor of Tour Bretagne 33 | July 2015 | www.practicalmotorhome.com
GRAND TOUR Loire-Atlantique
Left The Passage Pommeraye undercover shopping mall houses a fantastic chocolate shop and more Above top and bottom The coastline along this stretch is rugged and rocky Below Bryony snaps the bleak submarine pens at St Nazaire To get across the Loire to Pornic, we had to take the very long, very high St Nazaire bridge, which seemed higher still because we were in a motorhome – it quite took my breath away and I was glad there were no tolls (or trolls, for that matter) to deal with. Our attempts to get to Pornic harbour in the ’van were thwarted by signs forbidding motorhomes access to the narrow streets, but we found a free car park and walked down. Lunch was top of our agenda, and we settled for galettes at a harbourside café painted bright yellow. Bluebeard’s Castle stands nearby on a promontory, but it’s now privately owned and we were unable to get inside. We bought ice creams and explored the surrounding streets, but little was open aside from a boulangerie. It was getting late, so we headed back to camp and had dinner at a newly opened African restaurant about 10 minutes’ walk from the site. Restaurant Aboussouan didn’t look promising from the outside, but it was surprisingly good.
FINDING A PICNIC PERCH West of Nantes is the Côte d’Amour, a gorgeous stretch of coastline along the Croisic peninsula; it offers one of Brittany’s poshest resorts, with miles of sandy beaches at La Baule. We followed the previous day’s route out of Nantes, taking the E60 then the N171 and D213 until we saw signs for Pornichet, another much-lauded seaside resort. We drove along the Boulevard des Océanides, where it is possible to park either to the side or along the middle of the road, but although the vast sandy beaches were tempting we felt daunted by the blocks of holiday apartments and hotels, so moved on. We drove through most of La Baule until we had to cross a river and enter the town of Le Pouliguen; here things got a lot more interesting, with plenty of small boats bobbing around in the estuary and cafés lining the street that faced it. Making our way through the charming town, we followed signs for the Côte Sauvage along the D45 to
Batz-sur-Mer. This was more like it: long sandy beaches had given way to a rocky coastline, and we stopped occasionally on the side of the road to explore the shallow cliffs. At Port Lin there is a nice beach, and you can park in the square, but we motored on. Along the way we admired the leaning pine trees that looked as though they had been tortured and shaped by very strong winds. There are walking-cum-cycling paths along this stretch of coast, and these are well used. We had picked a glorious sunny day for our drive and were looking for
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The pretty fishing village of Pornichet is overlooked by the castle of Gilles de Rais, the infamous Bluebeard from the 15th century the perfect spot to stop for a picnic. We passed a car park that had a barrier on one side (but several motorhomes were parked up on the other), and drove on until we reach le Pointe du Croisic. Parking under the tortured trees was available, so we took advantage of it: this was a beautiful spot for lunch. Climbing over the rocky beach, we found a perch to stop and eat our sandwiches. We scoured rock pools and, while Bryony practised jumping from rock to rock, I watched a gaggle of geese as they foraged in the shallow water. The attractive town of Le Croisic has a one-way system so is a little difficult to negotiate in a motorhome, but not impossible. We left the town and crossed the salt marshes, for which this area is famous, on our way towards Guérande. The marshes form a vast patchwork of watery square pens. We saw some being attended to and others had scarecrows to deter the egrets. This area is a big centre for migratory birds, but for now we migratory birds were concentrating hard on staying on the road that lifted us above the salty wetlands. TIME TO RETURN HOME We found a car park outside one of the gates to the walled town of Guerande; it reminded me very much of the Bastide towns in the Dordogne. From the outside it looked like a castle, but once through the gate there are streets of houses, shops and restaurants. It’s always my luck to visit such places at lunchtime, and this time it was also the low season, so very little was open. I did 38 | July 2015 | www.practicalmotorhome.com
find a shop where I bought kilos of coarse grey salt, which is supposed to be wonderful for cooking. Of course, though, it meant that I had to carry it around the town while we explored the medieval streets. The square outside the Collegial Church of Saint Aubin was dotted with metal sculptures on poles of the salt workers, paludiers – I rather liked them. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the square hosts a market, but of course we had picked the wrong day and instead stopped at a café for un grand crème before heading back to the motorhome. It was frustrating that so few sites were open during low season, but in the interests of research we decided to try just one more before heading for the ferry. Héric is an hour south of Rennes and just a short drive from the E3, which makes the three-star La Pindière campsite a very good stop-over point. It has a restaurant and a covered outdoor swimming pool. Unfortunately for us the restaurant wasn’t open on the
day we were visiting, so a visit to the supermarket was called for. Fortunately for us the supermarket was huge and we decided to stock up on wine to take back to the UK. Should your ’van have a Peugeot base vehicle you might want to note that Héric has a Peugeot service centre; it also has a cinema, two boulangeries, a church and a hairdresser’s. However, Héric’s greatest commendation is that it is just half an hour from Nantes and an hour to the Croisic and Guerande peninsulas for those quick visits. Bryony and I loved the quirky, arty personality of Nantes and the contrast with the rugged natural beauty of the Côte Sauvage, and we had been blessed with fantastic weather to explore this exciting area. It certainly gave us a lot to think about on the ferry home as we watched a man panicking to find a big enough bag to hold his winnings from the fruit machine – honestly, it went on for about five minutes. We, however, felt like the really lucky ones. Claudia and Bryony stroll the sandy beach near Pornichet on the Côte d’Amour
TOUR ESSENTIALS Nantes Camping
21 Boulevard du Petit Port, 44300 Nantes Open All year Tel 0033 (0)2 40 74 47 94 Web www.nantes-camping.fr Price pitch+2+hook-up: €19.90-€29.90 (£14.45-£21.75) This was a real find: a five-star municipal site, two miles outside Nantes, with 47 pitches for motorhomes and an aire that can take 15 vans. The site is well laid out in a wooded valley; trees muffle any noise from the nearby road. You will need an access code for the security barrier. Each pitch is equipped with electric and water hook-up – you can hire an adaptor for the water hook-up from reception – and there are two drive-over service points. The two new washblocks were first rate with huge shower cubicles; although there were only two toilets in the ladies, and one was a facility for the disabled. Reception doubled as a library and tourist information centre. The staff spoke
excellent English and can help you out with Nantes Passes, tram and bus tickets and tickets for the swimming pool located at the leisure centre across the road. We made good use of the on-site restaurant, Les Terrasses du Petit Port, which comprised a bar, restaurant and an outside dining area. The pizzas were excellent and can be ordered to take away Tuesday to Saturday between 6 and 9pm. The restaurant was popular with local people, too.
Camping La Pindière
44810 Héric Open All year Tel 0033 (0)2 40 57 65 41 Web http://en.camping-la-pindiere.com Price pitch+2+10A hook-up: €19.10-€22.80 (£13.85-£16.55) If you are using St Malo port and travelling down or up the west side of France, this site makes a great stopover. It is very close to the E3 at Héric, and the town has bakeries and a large supermarket with fuel.
GRAND TOUR Loire-Atlantique The site itself has a security barrier, while the pitches are grass, separated by hedges and have electric hook-up with water points nearby. There are two washblocks, a laundry room and washingup area, plus facilities for the disabled. There’s also a drive-over service area. Lunch, dinner or takeaways are available just a few steps from your pitch at the on-site restaurant, L’Auberge des Pyrénées, open Wednesday to Sunday.
Sites that are open from April onwards…
• Yelloh! Village La Chênaie, Loire-Atlantique, France
36 Rue du Patisseau, 44210 Pornic, France Open 10 April-6 September Tel 0033 (0)2 40 82 07 31 Web www.yellohvillage.co.uk/camping/ la_chenaie Price €18-€48 (£13-£34.70)
• Les Paludiers
44740 Batz-sur-Mer, France Open 4 April-27 September Web www.flowercampings.com Price €19-€32 (£13.70-£23.13)
• Camping La Fontaine
Nantes Camping is a top municipal site that lies two miles outside of the city
For 2015 the Kemerton XL has been updated with a new cab. Inside, the nearside worktop has been extended to the back of the third travel seat; it’s also been elevated above the seat base to provide space for feet when in bed mode. The windscreen’s privacy blinds now meet in the middle, too. We used The Caravan Club’s Red Pennant insurance, which covers the ’van and its occupants (www.caravanclub.co.uk/insurance). For a full review of the Auto-Sleeper Kemerton XL, see the December 2014 issue.
Pitches at Camping La Pindière are grass. A drive-over service point is available
Way to go
We used the Brittany Ferries mid-week overnight crossing between Portsmouth and St Malo, booking a four-berth cabin between the two of us. These come equipped with en-suite shower and toilet. The self-service restaurant offers a varied menu for dinner and breakfast. Web http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/
Food and drink
• Les Terrasses du Petit Port (At the Nantes Camping site) Address 21 Boulevard du Petit Port 44300 Nantes Tel 0033 (0)2 28 20 02 14 Web www.lesterrassesdupetitport.fr • La Cigale Brasserie Address 4 place Graslin, 44000 Nantes Tel 0033 (0)2 51 84 94 94 Web www.lacigale.com
The Auto-Sleeper Kemerton XL gets a new cab and interior tweaks for 2015
• Restaurant Aboussouan Address 57 Boulevard Gabriel Lauriol, 44300 Nantes
Rd de St Molf – Kersavary 44350 Guérande, France Open 3 April-28 August Tel 0033 (0)2 40 24 96 19 Web http://en.camping-lafontaine.com/ Price €19.15-€38.35 (£13.84-£27.72) Tel 0033 (0)9 86 22 11 03 Web http://restaurant-aboussouan.fr
Find out more
• Nantes Pass and tourist office http://en.nantes-tourisme.com/citycard-3098.html • Les Machines de l’Île For the great elephant, the marine worlds carousel and the machine gallery www.lesmachines-nantes.fr • Château des Ducs de Bretagne www.chateaunantes.fr • Cathedral of St Paul and St Peter, Nantes www.cathedrale-nantes.cef.fr • Loire-Atlantique tourism www.france-voyage.com/guide/loireatlantique-departement.htm
Fuel...................................................£165 Food and drink......................... £265.43 Site fees........................................ £87.05 Nantes Pass + elephant ride..... £36.90 Ferry................................................ £558 TOTAL.......................................£1112.38 www.practicalmotorhome.com | July 2015 | 41