So here we go, the long-planned long holiday awaited us! We had 19 days of #vanlife ahead of us, and we were heading across France to the Alps. We had no fixed itinerary as such, except meeting my brother Robin and his girlfriend Jenny on a Monday half way through, and spending a week with them – they are in the middle of a 6 month van/climbing trip of the Alps. We did have fixed start and end dates though – between my chemo sessions. Chemo on the Wednesday, and then we were determined to be off on the Friday, driving through the worst of it, and enjoying Berta’s air conditioning as a bonus. And then back 3 weeks later for the next Wednesday session. It was going to be a test of my limits a little, how far can I walk, how much uphill can I walk, how high can I go oxygen-wise, how much heat can I put up with, and how will the tiredness go. But hey ho, if you don’t try, you don’t know!
We did manage to get off on the Friday, well stocked with food and Berta having had a recent cam belt change, brake check etc. Our first first couple of days we knew was just going to be slogging across France, it’s painful for us to stay on the motorways knowing that a) the N roads are so much more interesting and you’re missing so much not taking them, and b) the horrendous cost of tolls, but on this occasion the aim was to get there, so motorways it was. There are various ways we could have done this, we did up to Bordeaux, then across via Lyon to Annecy, our first stop on the trip.
For once we actually managed to get off on time!
Leaving home at 9am, and getting comfortably over the border at Irún. We were looking for an early lunch stop close to the motorway, and found a nice shady spot on Park4Night in the town of Larroze at junction 11 with a couple of picnic benches. It was already very hot!
Today was the big driving day, so on we went, stopping at a few motorway aires on the way, we continued on up to Bordeaux, then across past the Puy de Dôme (a little bit of non-motorway here to break up the drive) to Clermont Ferrand, to another Park4Night spot on a lake at Saint-Rémy-sur-Durolle.
Then we had one of those moments, we had not realised that we were there the night before Bastille Day (14th July), and it appeared that this lake was the location of the biggest fiestas in the region! Including the AC area of course. Not what you want to find after a long drive! But luckily, there was another parking area marked nearby at the village of Palladuc, which had a large (empty) car park with 2 reserved AC spaces at the far end, and gave us a very peaceful night. Phew! Emergency averted – though not without a little stress!
Palladuc had no services or shops, so the next morning we headed down to the Carrefour we’d spotted near the motorway exit the night before. After a quick shop, we had an unceremonious breakfast in the car park! The aim this morning was to get to Annecy and try and get a campsite spot.
It was an interesting weekend to be in France! 14th Bastille Day, 15th France in the World Cup Final, and 16th the Tour de France arrived in Annecy. Hmm.
I’d contacted several campsites around Annecy before we left to see if I could book anything, but no luck. However, one site, the Camping le Solitaire du Lac at Saint Jorioz had said that it may be worth turning up and asking, just in case they had last minute space, as it was only 2 nights we were looking for. So, we made a beeline for them, and yes! We were in luck! A place at the far end of the campsite (the nicer end), and a lovely site too. A little sardineish, but with private direct lake swimming, croissants and bread in the morning, and close to a bus stop to Annecy.
And this was our first try out of Berta’s latest addition – our new Fiamma F65S awning! And it worked a treat, storm straps on, it didn’t move in the wind and ensuing mega thunderstorm, weathering the rain as we smugly had dinner underneath – excellent! We’d snuck in a pre-dinner swim too which was lovely – warm clean lake water and views to the mountains and Annecy across the lake.
We finished off with an evening walk to check out Saint Jorioz and its waterfront, where there are bars, boule, and a more formal beach set up – and then on the way back were treated to Annecy’s Bastille Day fireworks across the lake – a real treat!
French campsites are so quiet at night! It’s complete silence by 2230, and so a very nice quiet night. Plenty of good clean showers and toilets, and no queues even at peak morning time. We stopped by reception to pick up some bread and croissants, and then walked up to the bus stop on the main road. A slightly late bus took us into Annecy – very easy (the campsite had the bus timetable), and dropped us off in front of the Hotel de Ville. We walked around the park on lake front, and then randomly decided as we had a bit of time before lunch, we’d take a boat trip around the lake. 15€ each for an hour’s trip, and it was a very pleasant and cool way to spend the morning. A bit of a sketchy English commentary, but it took us round to see the main sights, and as far as the Chateau de Duingt which I’d wanted to see – very lovely from the water, as well as the mansions on the eastern side and famous restaurants. Recommendable!
After we disembarked we went off to find a lunch spot. Annecy is busy – busy busy, and it’s one of those places you have no idea if you’re going to strike gold for food or not as there are so many restaurants. We took our chances and snapped up a free table at one of the canalside restaurants – and we stuck lucky! Sat next to us eating were the parents of the waitress, who were very friendly and spoke Spanish too. We had some good food, and then they recommended to us the best ice cream place in Annecy, the Glacier des Alpes – and it was worth the queue – great ice cream! We spent another hour or so exploring the back streets of Annecy, walking up to the castle but not going in, and reveling in the pre-World Cup excitement. We spent another hour waiting for the bus back relaxing in the lakeside park – one of those cool urban parks with loads of random stuff going on, listening to the incessant car horns of the football fans (you’d have thought they’d already won!).
We got the bus back from Annecy station, and watched the rest of the football from the campsite bar, and then more incessant car horns for the rest of the evening! We had another wander around the lakefront at Saint Jorioz, catching a lovely sunset, and another quiet night.
We packed ourselves up the next morning, and sadly left Annecy and on towards the Swiss border. Well, not quite, but in that direction.
We’d had to decide which side of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) we were going to go round to get to our next stop – and we decided the French side (south side) in the end. Cheaper in France, and a last opportunity to stock up. We stopped at a Super U and Lidl just after Annemasse to do this, lots of organic produce in both, and then headed to where we thought we might get some lake access.
We started by heading to Tougues, which had lots of car parks with height barriers, but also a bit of free road parking. It was pretty empty, but our first chance to dip our feet in the lake – and would have been a nice stop, but we decided to continue on.
Next we hit the jackpot, the little, very pretty lakeside town of Nernier. Here there were surprisingly 2 dirt car parks next to each other, the first with a thinner entrance, but the second nice and spacious. And no apparent restrictions. We parked up and had a quick lunch in the van, and then had a little explore – with our swimming stuff! Good job as the lovely town had an equally lovely marina, with a small swimming beach – so in we swum with great views across the lake.
We then continued on to our main objective, Yvoire – the real reason for choosing the French side. I’d heard it was a very picturesque medieval village, with very controlled parking on the outskirts, suitable for motorhomes. Indeed, a large car park with barriers, and paid parking of course. No shade. We walked into town…and phew! This was medieval madness. One of those places clearly best visited after the coachparties have left – it was packed, and every (very pretty) building was a gift shop/restaurant/ice cream parlour. It was a little calmer down at the water’s edge, but a bit of an overkill for us. Gonzalo went for a sit down, whilst I visited the extremely overpriced Jardin 5 Sens, a really pretty small formal garden split into 5 senses sections. It had some lovely flowers and was a nice walk around – but 12€ entry was pretty steep for what realistically took 30 minutes.
So we headed off out of Yvoire with a bit of a sigh of relief, and continued round the lake. The road goes around Thonon-les-Bains, and then right through Evian-les-Bains of mineral water fame – nice to drive past the elegant buildings, and looks like an interesting place to explore. We stopped briefly on the side of the road further on for a photo stop (we could finally see some mountains!), lots of places to do so, and then reached the Swiss border at Saint Gingolph.
Continued in Alps – 2/4 – Switzerland