Paul Davis (http://wannabepikey.blogspot.co.uk/) and crew head for the French Alps for some chilling out, manic driving, snails, mountains and beer!
Thursday 19th August
This holiday seems to have been a long time coming. It was back in the long and dark winter nights of January that it was planned, but being a bit of a worrier I wanted to plan out trip onto the continent as thoroughly as possible.
We have company this holiday in the form of one of the boy’s girlfriend and we are travelling with Mr & Mrs Shag and mini shag.
Late afternoon we are all hitched up and set off to our overnight stop at Blackhorse Farm CC Site in Folkstone. We know we won’t be arriving until after reception has shut, so made arrangements for payment and a late check in before we leave. After an uneventful 274 mile tow we pulled into the site, retrieved our details from the notice board and set up site. My review can be read here.
We had a few drinks and a laugh before settling down for the night. I am unable to explain why, but I could not settle and was on edge, really worried about towing onto the train in the morning. Unable to sleep at all, I got back up at 3am and wandered the site, talking to people setting off for early morning ferries.
Friday 20th August
By 5.30am it was time to drag everyone out of their pits and head for the tunnel terminal. Everyone is very excited to see signs for “France This Way” and check in is swift and stress free.
Despite me worrying all night boarding the train is quite simple. I really do feel like a dick sometimes!
Before we know it we are moving and travelling deep under the sea bed. I get a bollocking from herself for getting out to nose around, just after the tannoy says to stay in your vehicle.
We really are loaded up for this trip. Five adults, a roof box, 4 bikes, a kayak, full awning, tent and a 1.5 tonne caravan with all the gubbins! Fuel consumption figures are making me weep (in public too). Time is taken to fit the beam benders and sticker for the dash and visor to reminding me to drive on the right.
Before we know it, it’s light again outside and we are in Froggyville! Disembarking is straight forward, no customs and we are straight onto the auto route, on the right hand side, eek!
We have no plans as to where to stop tonight, but have 2 nights before we are due on our site in The Alps. It strikes us immediately how good the Froggy auto routes are to drive on, good smooth surfaces and virtually traffic free. Very soon it also strikes us how expensive they are to travel on as we hit our first toll booth!
We are making easy progress eating up the KMs, but I keep losing Mr Shag in my mirrors. Turns out he was slip streaming me to improve on his already very good mpg figures he’s getting out of his A4 – the git.
Gas Oil is quite expensive on the auto routes, but I am relieved that service stations seem to be sites every 15 miles or so along the way.
We stop off at an Aire for lunch. Mr Shag get a chair out, plonks himself down next to the caravan in the car park and quips “France isn’t like I thought it would be mind!” whilst taking in his surroundings. We are all in stitches and I have a good feeling about this holiday.
We are motoring, and the Shogun has a thirst like a Youth rugby team on a Saturday night. The float in the tank must have been stuck because all of a sudden the needle drops from just over 1/3 full to empty and the light comes on. Still. not to worry, I think to myself. There will be a service station along now in a few miles.
In the distance I see a fuel pump sign, and as we get closer it says 70km. I shit myself, and ease off the gas. Mrs Shag phones to remonstrate with me because I have slowed down.
TomTom POIs are loaded up and says fuel can be got in 25 miles. It’s going to be a bloody close call! We follow the directions, and the needle is now under the empty line. I am bricking it and things are a little tense. On exit of the auto route the Shogun is running a bit lumpy and we come across an automated toll payment machine. I am frightened to switch off in case the car will not start again, and herself is struggling to work out how to use the machine.
My temper is at tipping point and I storm out of the car. The machine is like something out of the Krypton Factor but we eventually get it sussed. I run round back to the driver’s seat, hop in, but herself is nowhere to be seen. Herself is walking back down the road to speak to Mr & Mrs Shag.
I ask her where she is going, and she says she was going to explain to Mr & Mrs Shag how to use the machine. I lost it, and I think I shouted something like “F**k them, get in the f*****g car woman!”
The Shogun is spluttering but after just a mile TomTom cheerfully announces “You have reached your destination.” My heart sinks as I note the chain across the entrance and a Doberman (complete with elastic band round it’s willy) sat guarding the place. We are in the middle of nowhere, with no fuel and I think I’m about to have a coronary.
Desperately trying to reconsult TomTom, typing with fingers like a bunch of bananas, he tells us there is fuel in 2 miles. Off we trundle (by now everyone in the car is praying) and after a while he tells us to turn left and announces once again “You have reached your destination.”
No fuel station visible! Nothing! Zilch! I rip him off his mount and start to cry. We are on a back road and I spot the French equivalent of a corner shop with a 1960s pump on the pavement! Surely not? We drive up to it and it looks knackered, like it’s not been used for decades. We turn round and are about to head off when this dirty smelly little man runs out to meet us shouting “Gasoil?”
I could have kissed him! In fact he nearly kissed us! Between me and Mr Shag he took about 220 euros, probably a month’s takings.
I made my apologies to everyone and with peace and tranquillity restored we hit the road again. By late afternoon it was time to search out a campsite. Phoning ahead we confirmed that a site in Dole had room for us.
Dole is a pretty town. We saw enough of it while trying to find the campsite! We book in and pitch up (420 Km today). BBQ for tea before chilling with some well deserved beers. We laughed uncontrollably looking back at the day’s events.
Saturday 21st August
We are up quite early having decided last night to move on. We are not really impressed with the site. It’s cramped, a little shabby and despite the crippling heat is a bit muddy underfoot.
We all agreed that we don’t really want to be here when The Alps are calling. We phone our site to check if they could accept us a day early, reserve pitches and hitch up in record speed after breakfast.
With a full tank we hit the auto route and head into the mountains. Until now, France has been quite flat. A few inclines but nothing to write home about. I know we have to start gaining altitude soon, but was not prepared for what confronted us. As we started to climb I note a sign that warns of a 15% gradient for about 10 miles. I floor the Shogun leaving Mr Shag gasping for air in a cloud of black diesel smoke!
It’s every man for himself (throwing women and children behind him) as I hurtle along passing far too many broken down towing vehicles for comfort. The needle starts to creep up and I can feel the heat of the transmission in the foot well. The air con gets turned off, the heating goes to full blast and the windows get opened. The needle drops and we reach the top of the climb into some serious tunnel action!
On entering the first tunnel we left blazing sunshine, a few KMs later we exit into cloudy skies and drizzle. I just know that Mrs Shag is going to be cursing by now!
The views are spectacular as the auto route threads it’s way into the Alps.
227 Km later we are treated to the vista of Lake Annecey and roll up to our campsite on the southern shores called La Lac Bleu. We check in, get set up and start to chill. We have arrived.
We are pitched next to each other and Mr Shag came up to me and say “Shag, I think we’ve hit the jackpot here Shag!” I cannot agree more, below is the view from our pitch, we are within spitting distance from the shore.
Sunday 22nd August – Wednesday 1st September
This is probably the best camp site we have ever stayed on. My review can be read here. It really is superb here and it’s difficult to motivate yourself to leave the site. The weather is hot and long days are spent playing on or in the lake. The kids are happy, we are happy. Apart from nipping out for food shopping we stay put just chilling.
Long days spend on site are followed by long nights drinking under the clear alpine skies. It is during these long evenings that we get to know Joel very well. Joel is the night security on site. he started off by giving us warnings not to make any noise after 10pm. By the end of the holiday he was joining us for a drink!
After about 4 days I start to get itchy feet. Idyllic as it is, there is really no point in coming all this way and not see anything of the surrounding area, except for the inside of Lidl.
We did get out and about. A pleasant day was spent touring on the eastern shore of the lake, stopping off in the rather posh resort of Talloirs along the way.
Much of our time on site has been spent watching the para gliders leaping off the nearby mountain. We took a spin up the twisting mountain road and the views from up there were spectacular with the buildings reminding me of Switzerland. Refreshments were taken in the cafe at the top before being ripped off buying tourist tat from the gift shop.
The lake has been the draw on this site. It has a great pool complex with a main pool, some lazy rivers and a jacuzzi. Mid holiday the boys suddenly take an interest in the pool and are spending a lot of time up there. Out of interest I wander up to see them stretched out, shades on trying their best to impress some euro totty at poolside.
I ruin any chances they may have had by firstly saying hello to them and secondly doing my impression of a harpooned walrus in the water!
Market day in Annecy itself was interesting. Apart from taking an hour to find a space to park (much of the car parking is underground with restricted head room which is not much good if you’re driving a 4×4 with a roof box on). We take in the sights and look round the market before having a relaxing lunch in the lakeside park.
The weather is generally very good, but being quite high up in the mountains it can go from one extreme to another. One evening we were sat out in shorts and tee shirts enjoying a drink and listening to a storm in the next valley, then the storm moved behind us and instead of going further away it came straight back at us?
Wow! Sheets of rain and a spectacular light show with deafening thunder claps. Being on rock, any water that hits the surface stays on the surface, and our awnings were under 50mm of water in no time. We were all out with oars digging channels to let trapped rain water escape into the lake. Believe it or not, it was quite good fun, and the rain stopped as quick as it started.
By mid holiday I am approaching the situation where I am fast running out of pants that do not benefit from a go-faster stripe. Luckily herself invested in a camping twin tub washing machine before we left, so for one afternoon our awning was converted in to Wishy Washy’s Launderette.
It was strangely therapeutic doing the washing in the sun looking over the scantily clad young ladies catching some rays lakeside.
Again we are due a good spin out. We took some advice from Joel (who is now our best friend and insists on having a glass to drink his beer out of) on where we could find some summer snow. He suggests Chamonix, but that is too far and too expensive. The second suggestion was Cormet de Roselend in the mountains above Albertville.
Mrs Shag is not too well so we all squeeze into the Shogun and armed with a map we set off for the hills. Stopping in Albertville on the way to firstly look at the Olympic stadium. It was shut and fenced off! and secondly to take a wander around Decathlon. What a shop! They sell crossbows, guns, knives and everything. Unfortunately herself was with us so we had to make do with buying a few folding shovels in readiness for the next storm.
Moving up into the mountains the scenery was breathtaking with a new vista on every hairpin. It was hard going doing it driving solo but there was one lunatic towing a caravan and several lunatics on pushbikes doing the trip. We reached the summit where next stop was Italy, no snow sadly but we got a bit of off roading in!
After a few more days of just chilling on site, and with the end of our stay here fast approaching it’s time for one last big trip out. Mrs Shag is still not well and is suffering, as is Mr Shag (Mrs Shag does not suffer quietly!).
Our new best mate, Joel, fancies himself as a bit of a physio (we think he’s a phycho, but the spelling is really close) and explains how he once has a ‘paraplegic’ dog. Under the influence of drink, myself and Mr Shag think this qualifies him to have a pop at Mrs Shag’s back. Our awning is turned into a treatment room and Mrs Shag gets Joel’s full works treatment.
They stay on site and Mini Shag joins us for the day out.
We head off, not really knowing where we are going to, but we have a picnic so don’t care! We stop off at a place that does archery. This place is cool though. You don’t just fire at targets, they have little stuffed bambis around the place in between the trees. Herself is appalled but we all think it’s great.
We find a picnic spot high in the mountains before heading to the alpine resort of La Cluzaz. Sadly it’s too late to use the cable car system but the kids do a bit of ringo jumping and ices skating before heading back to site.
We’d not eaten out this holiday, so that was put right on our last night. We took a spin into Annecy and had a great meal in a restaurant by the side of the canal, followed by a walk around the old town that was brightly lit up.
Thursday 2nd September
We have 2 days to get back to Calais for our crossing on Saturday. The plan was to do about 300 miles today and the other 250 miles tomorrow.
The Shogun is doing a lot better on fuel today, largely due to the fact that some git nicked our bikes in Annecy. Well, 3 of them anyway. They moved mine out of the way to get at the other three. I don’t know what upset me most, the fact that we had 3 bikes nicked or the fact that they left mine behind?
That lead to the youngest saying “That’s it Dad, it’s official, your bike is too shit to steal!”
We got 350 miles under our belts and me and Mr Shag are , err, how can you put it? Shagged. We get the map out and start looking for campsites in the area. Mrs Shag has other ideas, she is suffering and wants to catch an early crossing tomorrow to get home and see the Doc.
She points to the map and says, “Look it’s only that far!” to which I reply “Mrs Shag, it’s 200 miles mun. That’s as far as home to London, on top of the 350 miles we’ve already done, and it’s tea time now!”
Mrs Shag is not listening and my head has gone. We tow through northern France at dangerous speeds and reach our campsite for the next 2 nights at 8.30pm just as they are shutting up shop for the night. We book in at La Bienn Assise and are pitched in no time (no awnings) and go out for a meal before crashing for the night.
Friday 3rd September
We wake fresh after a really good night’s kip. The benefit of our lunatic effort yesterday is that today we have a free day. Cite de Europe is the destination this morning for some serious retail therapy.
Back on site we chill in the sunshine, larking about playing ball, drinking and eating snails.
Saturday 4th September
Despite the foolish amount of beer we drank last night we are up bright and early and on our way to the tunnel terminal.
The French side is a complete contract to the British side. It is chaotic!
Somehow we manage to catch our train and are on the motorway heading through Kent and on our final leg homeward.
It strikes us immediately how shit the UK roads are and how much traffic there is on them!