Domaine Les Gandins and a trip to Vichy

Cleopatra, Tony and I were greeted like old friends when we arrived for our three-night stay at Domaine Les Gandins in the Auvergne. This was our fourth visit to our favourite French campsite, discovered through Cool Camping in our first year of campervan ownership.

Pitching up in the beautiful grounds of an impressive country manor, the river Sioule  meandering past, makes for an unrivalled relaxing holiday.

On our first afternoon we took a dip in the river and then spent a quiet evening enjoying the warm, fuzzy feeling of being back in our happy place. We made a creamy vegetable stew flavoured with lemon and coriander seed and then took a carafe of wine down to the river.

We discussed our plans for the next day and I suggested cycling to Vichy. Google Maps advised it would take one hour and twenty minutes which sounded achievable and I don't know why we haven't considered it on our previous trips.

We set off for Vichy just before 10am. I set Google Maps directions on my phone which I returned to my pocket and let the voice instructions guide us. Google found a great little track that kept us off the main roads for much of the way. Barely a mile of the route took us on a busy road.

Towards the latter part of our ride we whizzed down a long steep hill and I commented how I wasn't looking forward to going back up it later. I could foresee half an hour's walking and pushing the bikes in the midday sun.

We locked up the bikes next to the indoor market and set about seeing the town, famous for its hot water springs.

Several shops lured us in, just to browse, before we left the centre to walk along the river. There's a brand-new, smart-looking boardwalk along the banks of the Allier river. We passed several cafes adorned with colourful chairs and parasols and even a stretch of sandy beach.

We popped into the Hall des Sources where the thermal waters can be seen bubbling up in the foyer.

By now it was lunchtime and the shops were closed while the outside tables at restaurants were busy. Having not eaten breakfast we decided we'd buy picnic provisions from the Lidl we had passed on the outskirts of town. We enjoyed our picnic in the shade of a tree and then committed ourselves to what we expected to be a difficult return journey.

Google had other plans for our route back and we took a road we didn't recognise, followed by a track into a wood. It was a pleasant cycle but we were left confused about why Google Maps would send us home by a different route. What we didn't appreciate is just how clever Google Maps actually is. Our track brought us back onto the road at the apex of the hill we'd been dreading - we'd made the ascent slowly over a longer distance so we hadn't even realised we'd done it. Well done Google - we'll never doubt you again!

Back at sunny Domaine Les Gandins we found the pool was quiet and we cooled off with a quick swim. We sat enjoying small bottles of beer for a while and played a few games of Molkky on the grass while our dinner of vegetable curry cooked.

On our last full day we got up in a more leisurely fashion and it was nearly lunchtime before we were back on our bikes. The ancient town of Charroux was beckoning - we've been back to visit ever since discovering it on our second stay at Domaine Les Gandins.

Charroux is perched high up on a hill with uninterrupted views all around. We enjoy mooching around its quiet streets. It feels laid back and chilled out. This time we explored further, almost leaving the town on three of its sides to be sure we hadn't missed anything.

Tony snapped photos of occasional 'A Vendre' signs for later research into the properties for sale. The cheapest house was still on the market a year after we first spotted it, trees growing up through where there once was a roof.

We ate a cheese-topped baguette for lunch, in the shade of the beautiful old tree in one corner of the village. Tony and I both agreed that if we did ever live in Charroux we'd spend a lot of time sitting beneath that tree reading books. If I ever go missing, one of the first places to look for me should be that village and that tree.

The cycle back to Domaine Les Gandins is easy since its downhill most of the way. We swam in the river again, this time walking up stream for a way and then floating down with the current.

For our third and final night we dined on a fabulous quiche cooked for us by Domaine Les Gandins owner Bruno, a self-declared King of the Quiche. If you'd rather not cook, you can enjoy a superb table d'hôte menu with other diners at the long dining table under the trees, or order a take-out quiche. Hand delivered by Bruno to our seats beside Cleopatra in a pizza box was the best quiche we've ever tasted. It was ham and cheese on top of the flakiest of pastries. King of the Quiches is a well-deserved title!

Last nights are always a wrench, but never more so than leaving Domaine Les Gandins. With full bellies and contented hearts we drifted off to sleep.

In the early hours of the morning we were woken by a storm. Thunder and lightening and pouring rain were joined by strong gusts of wind and I knew we needed to wind in the awning. I put on my shorts and dashed outside to grab one of the supports so the wind couldn't catch the canopy and bend it. I hammered on the window for Tony to come and help. Rain lashed at me as I held on to the awning while Tony hastily put away the table and its contents. When the awning was safely retracted we both were soaked through.

We drifted straight back to sleep, and I don't know for how long the storm lasted, but it was calm again when I woke at 8am and the pop-top fabric was magically dry.

We left Domaine Les Gandins at just after 9am, a five-hour drive ahead of us, as we travel west to Île de Ré and back to our island-hopping itinerary.

Video review of Domaine Les Gandins

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