West coast of France campervan tour

Having decided there's no need to travel half way across a country between camping stays, to mix things up a bit, this summer's fortnight holiday will be spent along France's West coast, starting at Ile d'Oleron and then heading a couple of hours south for each of our other two bases.

We were worried about a reported two hour delay near to the Folkestone Channel Tunnel terminal and so, before the Dartford Crossing, we put back our scheduled train by 90 minutes. The traffic was just clearing as we got nearer and as it turns out we'd have been ten minutes early for our original booking.

The delay meant it was already 10.30pm by the time we were on French roads and wouldn't reach our chosen aire, Neufchattel en Bray, until 1am. Unfortunately the aire was completely full and so we had no choice but to continue. We arrived at our second choice of aire at 3am. The two extra hours drive through the night meant two hours less the following day though.
We departed the aire at 8am and the other motorhomes would have been unaware we'd even been there. Their occupants were asleep when we arrived and still asleep when we left.

The journey to Ile d'Oleron was fairly pain free; the traffic around La Rochelle was slow but at least it was moving. We stopped to stock up with food, beer and wine at a Super U supermarket just before the bridge over to the island and we arrived at Camping Indigo Chenes Verts at 1.30pm. Official check-in is at 2pm, but we've never been turned away when arriving slightly early at an Indigo site before, and weren't on this occasion.
Our pitch was quite spacious considering it was a standard one. The 'plus' pitches were fully booked for this site. Ensuring the door was facing the early evening sun, we set ourselves up for our first four nights. By 2.30pm we were on our way to the beach.

There are miles of sandy beaches around the island. Half an hour's walk along the beach from our campsite brings you to a 'clothing optional' section that's perfect for swimming and we spent a couple of hours there before returning to camp.

After showering to remove sand and suntan lotion we cooked sausages for a dinner of hotdogs and cracked open the beers to spend the first of four relaxed evenings under our awning, drinking and people watching.

After a while, to our horror, next to the tent directly opposite us, a car containing a couple with a baby pulled up. We both imagined sharing sleepless nights with the inconsiderate parents who'd take a baby to a campsite.

As it was the baby was silent almost all the time because at the slightest peep of a cry one or other parent would gently sing 'Row the Boat' over and over. This quickly quietened the child, although the faint sound of the nursery rhyme would continue for quite a time. So rather than the annoyance of a crying baby in the evenings we struggled to stay awake - I'd love either parent to sing 'Row the Boat' to me if I ever have trouble sleeping.

We never did work out if they were singing the song in English or French. It wasn't loud enough, more just a gentle hum. Still the song was discernible and regular enough for it still to be in my head eight days later!

Another of our fellow campers Tony named Napoleon. He was there with his wife and another bloody baby. One evening he raked the leaves on the ground between his tent and the road to form a little line. He looked remarkably pleased with himself and showed his handiwork to his wife. This puzzled us no end until a German guy in the caravan next to him went to walk across the line and Napoleon stopped him, pointing out that he was cutting across their pitch. I'd literally noticed nobody taking that shortcut in the couple of hours we'd been people watching so I cannot even conceive how it was such a big deal to the guy. They weren't even sitting on that side of their tent that it would be a bother. The next day he'd formed a wall using their two bikes and a parasol. What a knob.

He proved just how big of a knob he was the following day as his wife struggled to manage cooking the dinner with a baby strapped to her front while he watched from the comfort of a hammock in the trees.

We chatted briefly with the German guy guilty of crossing Napoleon's pitch when his caravan's electricity failed. He followed another lead connected at the same hookup point as his own to Cleopatra and came over to ask if ours was functioning. It was. A few minutes later I remembered we have a device to check an electric socket to ensure live and neutral aren't reversed - something that can happen on French campsites and so you should carry a lead with crossed wires to reverse it back, but you can't buy them because selling a lead with crossed wires is illegal; so we use the checker only to ignore what it says and carry on regardless - anyway, it's also good for indicating if there is any power, so I dug it out and offered its use. They'd already identified a problem in the caravan though. Two days later they'd have another electrical problem after trying to use a 2000 watt grill to cook meat. They tripped the fuse on their hookup socket, dispelling the myth that overloading a campsite electric hookup will blow the whole site.

When not people watching of an evening we used our two of our days on the island on the beach and one day cycling. This was our second trip to the island - we were there at almost the same time last summer - and so we wanted to explore some as yet unseen parts.

We took advantage of a cloudy day to set off on our bikes, heading north. Oleron is a fabulous island to cycle on with cycle ways separate from the roads most of the time. Signposts show cyclists routes between towns, and the whole island is flat, so getting around is a breeze.

We cycled north, stopping at the little port town of Saint Pierre D'Oleron to mooch around its shops. We were quite surprised to find a tiny little Decathlon store selling just sea, beach and camping equipment, quite the find as I bought a larger rucksack for just €7.99, and we bought a ground sheet so when sitting outside in the evening we didn't have dust and pine needles underfoot.

We continued on to a beach on the north west coast just before the most northerly tip where Phare de Chassiron lighthouse is situated. We cycled across sand to reach a relatively unoccupied spot and as the sun was now out we sat for an hour or so.
Deciding to continue our bike ride we gathered up our belongings into our rucksacks and bought Ben & Jerry's ice creams from a little beach side shack. We then set off towards Saint-Georges-d'Oléron and a route that would take is home via the centre of the island.

It would take us home very slowly though, because suddenly cycling became terribly hard for me. I couldn't stand to be in the sun, my back ached and my legs weren't up to pedaling. I thought I'd perhaps got sunstroke, but we'd later decide it was dehydration.

We took the shortest route back to camp, bypassing Dolus where we'd planned to buy tinned tomatoes to make Greek stifado for dinner. I recovered very quickly after having plenty of water to drink, and dinner was still stifado, but made with wine instead of tinned tomatoes.

We actually struggled to use up what little food shopping we did at Lidl upon our arrival so we decided to buy even less at our supermarket stop when moving to our next base, for five nights, at Lac du Carcass.


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