More than the average French person, perhaps?
I first visited France in 1978, followed by a couple of trips to Corsica in the nineteen-eighties, and have been a regular visitor to France since 1990 for holidays or house-sitting. During that time, I’ve stayed in eighty-five different places ... from Paris to the tiniest hamlet in Limousin.
A few years ago, a friend asked me how many places in France I’d stayed in. As I didn’t really know, I decided to jot down the names of all the towns and villages in the back of a notebook. As I write this, it totals 85. I have an ambition to reach 100 before I become too old and decrepit to enjoy overseas travel!
My husband and I regularly drive, usually outside of high season, to the Riviera and also to the Mediterranean Pyrénées. Anyone who has driven from the north to the south of France (or vice-versa) will know how big France feels when undertaking that journey. To make it more bearable and part of the holiday, we find attractive places to stay on the way. This has certainly helped with our tally but we’ve also spent longer periods in Provence, the Pyrénées-Orientales and the Charente-Maritime.
Our favourite stop-overs near to the Autoroute du Soleil are Auxerre, Beaune and Mâcon. We tend to choose smaller towns but have also stayed in Lyon on one occasion when the autoroute was closed due to a huge traffic jam. Our stay proved far more enjoyable than we expected as we found a hotel in the old town and liked wandering by the rivers that flow through the city and having a meal in one of the many restaurants for which Lyon is so famous.
Sometimes we have more than one stop-over which has given us the opportunity to stay, for a night or two, in places not far from the Riviera and we’ve so far stayed in Avignon, Orange, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Aix-en-Provence and Nyons. A favourite, on the return journey, is Honfleur, on the coast of northern France, a small, picturesque port and such a contrast to ports on the Riviera.
It doesn’t always work out, however. A few years ago, we arrived in Le Mans in the middle of January with no hotel reservation. We hadn’t realised that the sales started that day and the town was manic. After trying the Ibis which was full, we drove around a little and saw a sign for a hotel just off the main square. It looked fine from the outside ... When we returned after parking the car and checking-in, we were directed through some large doors where there was a totally different standard of decor and fittings and, when we looked out of the window, we could see a burnt-out building! The room was just about OK but we did rather worry that we were going to be murdered in our bed! My husband put a chair in front of the door so at least we’d have some warning of an intruder. Needless to say, all was fine and we’re sorry to Le Mans for thinking badly of it! Since then, we have always booked our hotels in advance to in an attempt to avoid such stress ...
If we’re travelling to the Pyrénées-Orientales, we use the Brittany Ferries western Channel route of Portsmouth – Saint-Malo (a civilised choice as the ship leaves at 2015 most days and arrives at 0815 meaning there is time for dinner and breakfast on board and a reasonable night’s sleep in a comfortable cabin). We’ve had great stop-overs in La Rochelle, the Île de Ré, Saint-Émilion, Fougeres, Vitré, Albi, and Saint-Palais-sur-Mer to name but a few.
So if you find that you need to drive to the top or bottom or France, don’t rush it and enjoy a leisurely stop-over or two along the way.
We have a page on the house-sitting website, Mind My House, should you be interested in finding out more about our free house-sitting service.
My novel, ‘Thirty-five minutes from St Tropez’, is available for EUR 2,68 or £1.54 from Amazon Kindle Books. If you don’t have a Kindle, it is still possible to download it to your laptop or tablet.