After last year’s holiday to La Rochelle, mostly on motorways, this year’s French holiday was aiming to have more relaxed driving, doing about 170 miles a day, and avoiding motorways. With the help of Tomtom’s “my drive”, the planned route worked very well most of the time. I used my Michelin maps when the Tomtom started sending us cross country down tiny gravel strewn back roads in the centre of France.
After logging into your account, Tomtom’s “my drive”, allows you to make routes on your home PC or laptop, and then save them to your account. When the satnav is switched on, hey presto! It uploads the routes to your satnav! Customising the route options allows you to avoid toll roads, highways, and unpaved roads, and gives options for how flat and twisty you want the route. I mostly chose the “flat” option, and the “straight” option.
Day 1, it was about 3pm when we left Dieppe, with 170 miles to go, cross country, following my Tomtom route that it had worked out for me, but that I hadn’t really checked!!! It worked really well; it took us on empty roads, though towns and villages. We stopped for lunch in Buchy, French stick, salami and cheese, which was the standard option for lunch from then on!! After the crowded roads of the South East of England, France was fantastic, no traffic, great roads, warm and sunny and roof down the whole time. Just following the Tomtom, which was behaving itself impeccably this first day. We drove straight through a wind farm later that afternoon. Wow they’re big! Arriving at Orleans at about 10pm, the chap in the hotel (ibis Orleans Centre Gare) was really helpful. The hotel car park was full, but he gave us a private underground locked garage to park in ! Better than the standard hotel car park!!
Day 2, starting off at a reasonable time after breakfast, day 2 was the same as day 1. Empty roads, warm and sunny, roof down, etc. Fantastic!! Did the 170 miles to Vichy by teatime!
View from the Vichy hotel room. That's the secure car park. Gate opens on request
Vichy is strange, it has a nice river running through it, but the main attraction was, and still is, the water source. Come and drink the water, straight from the spring, slightly sparkling. It’ll cure all ills! The main square has the water source building at one end. I would describe it as ornate, a cross between a conservatory, and a swimming pool. Voices echo inside the building, and it has lots of blue tiles, but has lots of decoration, is clean, and you can drink the water for free ! A once in a lifetime experience!! The large centre of the square has lots of mature trees, in rows and columns. Around the edge is a covered walkway, which looks like it was built in “Victorian” times, with ornate cast iron posts. Other ornate architectural buildings are located around the square. It feels very peaceful, even on a Saturday night when they have live music at the “Casino Café” near the centre, that draws quite a crowd.
Inside the "source" building in Vichy
Day 3 & 4, thirty or so miles away from Vichy, is Clermont-Ferrand, rebuilt, industrial town, home to Michelin, slap bang in the middle of France. Day 3 was spent on the top of Puy-du-Dome. An extinct volcano, adjacent to Clermont. It has fantastic views over Clermont and the surrounding area. Has a train to the top, TV mast, restaurant, Roman ruined temple, lots of paragliders, and is quite busy.
View from the top of Puy-du-Dome
Biggest tyre in the world apparently.
Day 4 was spent at the “Michelin L’aventure”, which curiously enough, doesn’t mention much about Dunlop! But has some great stuff inside, including the railway locomotive with tyres and the vintage Michelin air compressor with Bibendum astride it!
Day 5, the 100 miles to (15190) Condat, was eventful, in that it was the first route I’d made, with the “wiggly hilly” options, on the Tomtom my drive route planner. It started off well, but we had to consult the Michelin maps half way through, as it had started to take us down narrow back roads, that were a bit too “rural”. The Lac Des Moines Hotel in Condat was fantastic, the food there was fantastic, and the view over the adjoining lake was stunning. Our room overlooked this, wow!
View from the hotel room at Le Lac Des Moines in Condat.
Evening excursion from Condat took us to the top of the pass at Puy-Mary. The 1/4 mile walk to the summit from the car park is incredibly steep, but easy to walk, if your lungs don't burst first !!!! Views are amazing !
Spot the slk.
Day 6 took us 140 miles southwest to Les-Eyzies-du-Tayac. It was hot now, 33 degrees C when we got into Les-Eyzies, which was packed full of tourists and families. Why, why, why! OK, so i had only planned it at the last minute. The stress was rising, as it’s a one road town, and I can’t see either the hotel, or anywhere much to park. Half an hour later it was all sorted, with private hotel parking to the rear of the hotel. At the time I arranged the route, I had no idea that Les-Eyzies is in the middle of a valley, full of Neolithic caves and remains, and is a big tourist draw. The highlight being the Font-de-Gaume cave nearby, which contains the only poly-graphic cave paintings in Europe, that can be viewed by the public. Here comes the catch, the only way to get tickets, is to wait at the ticket office which opens at 9.30am. But you need to be sitting on one of the 48 or so seats outside, to guarantee a ticket. (As they only issue 65 or so tickets every day). This means getting down there before 7am! We had only planned to stay one night here, but arranged a second night and got up early next morning to join the queue outside the ticket office. It was still dark when we got there at about 6.45, but there were already a dozen or so people already queing before us. Passing trucks would toot and flash as they drove past us. I guess they’re used to seeing a bunch of people sitting by the side of the road in the dark, every day, waiting for the office to open. It was worth the wait, the fight I was expecting for the tickets never materialised, although there were a few disappointed people that didn’t get there early enough. The cave visit for me was a bucket list item that I didn’t even know I wanted. But if you are visiting the area, there are a lot of other caves/museums to go to as well, if you don’t manage to get a ticket.
Main drag in Les-Eyzies
Early morning, waiting for the booking office to open. make sure you've got your seat !
Neanderthal model in one of the museums. Do you know this person ??
Day 7 took us the 160 miles to La Rochelle, Back to the “flat, straight” My Drive routes on the Tomtom and it was working fine again. We stayed at “Mercure La Rochelle Vieux Port”, a large hotel next to the marina and aquarium, in the centre of town, with lots of hotel parking. Great!
La Rochelle is halfway down France on the left, where the French go on holiday, and it’s heaving. It was warm and sunny, full of yachts, ancient towers, houses and restaurants. It really has a holiday atmosphere and is a great place to stay. 3 nights here, giving us the opportunity to see our friend again, who lives nearby.
La Rochelle. Our hotel is on the left.
One small beer near the market place in La Rochelle. Five euros for a quarter litre. Yes i know i should be drinking wine but i hate the hangovers after the compulsory 2 bottles
Back to the hotel from our friends place after midnight allowed us to get the best space in the private hotel car park. Nice SL got one as well !
Stopping for lunch on the way to Le Mans. Beats London !
Day 10 took us to Le Mans, 160 miles. We drove down the Mulsanne straight, once we’d got there. It’s big, wide, has large Armco barriers at the sides, and really feels like a race track! Turn right at the bottom, and then take the left hander through “Indianapolis”, it’s a lovely corner, banked and wide, so, drop a gear and floor it right through !! Sideways with the tyres squealing, great
Day 11 saw us spending a couple of hours in the Le Mans museum, before driving to Dieppe and the midnight ferry home. Not so warm and sunny today turning greyer as we traveled further north. Then my son phoned. He’s fallen off his bike. He’s ok but the bikes a mess. Then 20 miles from Dieppe a car going pass us the opposite way spits up a stone. Bang, chip on my new windscreen right in my line of sight. Oh well, welcome home! Apart from one day when we had a few drops of rain, It was sunny and we had the roof down the whole time. We were only going slow, banging along at about 50. But the satnav generally worked, and it was really relaxing. I’d recommend it to anyone.