Hi There! Now, finally I’m posting the long awaited second part of our road trip to all corners of France. Well, not all the corners, we’ve managed to skip most of beautiful Brittany, but there is certainly a plan to visit there one day. So without further ado…
Driving from the north coast to the west coast towards La Rochelle
We left Roz-sur-Couesnon (please don’t ask me to pronounce that!) on the north coast on the third day and headed for La Rochelle on the Atlantic west coast. I so loved the outskirts of La Rochelle about 40km out, villages such as Luçon seem like such a quiet peaceful place to live.
It is almost entirely flat and there are canals running throughout the landscape. Most houses are painted a light color or white, and I especially love white. The villages we drove through had an almost Spanish feel to them.
Île de Ré
Before sightseeing in the city of La Rochelle towards the evening, we first drove over the toll bridge to Île de Ré (island). Can I just say one thing? Love. I.loved.this.place.
It would be great to go back there again and spend more time exploring the hiking and biking trails, maybe one day. We spent our afternoon walking around the old town of Les Portes-en-Ré, window shopping, stopped in the small cathedral, and had the most exquisite ice-cream dessert before leaving. We grabbed a real-estate sampler before heading off, just in case we cared to daydream a bit back home.
We took in a bit of sightseeing in La Rochelle that evening. Nothing much or too late because we were already pretty exhausted from our island walk. Although, we couldn’t resist and stopped long enough to sit down and have the first best coffee with real cream since being in France. I’m telling you, there is nothing like freshly brewed coffee after drinking instant for a few days! La Rochelle has a decidedly Arabic feel to it. Whenever I’m in a town I sense a certain vibe…and this one was Arabic. (sounds hippi-ish, but it is what it is friends!) A very young, hip sort of place, our son Chris would love it!
Driving from La Rochelle to Bordeaux was one of the shorter and more relaxing routes we had on this road-trip. We did a lot of country roads and not much highway. I loved cruising along these country roads, with all the hillside vineyards and shady trees in town squares. It almost reminded me of back home and the vineyards in the Heilbronn region…almost, France is just France, there is nothing else that really compares!
Bordeaux was the largest city we visited on this trip, and the most elegant. The city is like a beautiful and very sophisticated lady. It lies on the banks of the Garonne River and walking along it was a real highlight for us. It was quite an adventure finding a parking spot and we parked in a deep underground garage along the river…it was pretty scary going down there as we weren’t really sure it was actually a parking garage! (blame it on short term memory loss or bad signage) But it was all good, dark and wet, but good.
We actually got into a thunderstorm while walking over the bridge and found shelter under a store awning along with a few others and waited for the rain to stop. Even though it was pouring rain, everyone seemed very at ease, as if this sort of thing happened at least once a day. When all was over, we walked around looking for a place to eat and settled on a British style fish & chips bar. That was my first time eating fish & chips and I really loved it with the beer, but not something you could eat every day. It was so funny, while we were there, the owner got company. She was a slim Asian girl and had her own food with her…a salad and water. Talk about making me feel guilty for just downing a beer and some greasy fish & chips!
What I noticed in visiting La Rochelle and Bordeaux was that there were a lot of young people. The median age must be around 20. Maybe because they are university towns, but maybe the French just have more kids. It’s like getting a live lesson in demographics and they do teach us that we in Germany are really not having that many kids.
Driving from Bordeaux to Narbonne
This was one of our longer routes and we traveled it mostly by highway. It took us right past Carcassonne and I would have loved to stop there. Well, our budget wasn’t just confined to money, but also time, so it just didn’t work out**. When we’re on the road and ET has a plan to get to a certain destination by a certain time, it’s best not to suggest unplanned activities, ;)! That’s all I’m going to say to that, except that I would really love to visit Carcassonne one day. As much as I love castles, it was disappointing to pass by, but there you go, already another destination for another time!
** mental note to myself…ET is the perfect partner for a rally race
Narbonne and Gruissan
We reached Narbonne just about the same time when all school kids had out and people started heading home from work. There was a lot of activity. The old town center was a little shabby (I like it like that, ya know) but beautiful nonetheless. The cathedral Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur de Narbonne was a sight to behold, even in its still unfinished state. The inside especially had me captivated. When first entering, there is a huge painting of Jesus on the Cross and it made such an impact on me that I could do nothing but stand there and stare at it. You remember, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself because of Carcassonne and it happened to be my 50th birthday. But seeing Him there, well it made all the difference for me that day.
After our tour through the old town center of Narbonne, we desperately wanted to see the waterfront again so we headed towards the small fishing and vacation village Gruissan, close to where Narbonne also has its official port.
Friends, I’m telling you the drive to Gruissan was more than adventurous. Have you ever driven a road between two flooded waterways and the road is suddenly blocked by a sign and the sign says “danger, proceed at your own risk”? Well, guess what we did? Yes, we followed the French car in front of us and proceeded to drive on this road. It was one of those moments where ET actually listened to me. I just figured that the French driver in front of us would know what he/she was doing… there was no way we could possibly turn around on this narrow road. We did eventually make it to the other side safely, but it’s one of those things we will not forcibly do again! Hey, just one more situation where following road signs is just much better than listening to the TomTom. We’ve had quite a bit of those situations throughout the years!
Gruissan has a beautiful old town center and a lot of vacation homes nearby. Most of these houses are on stilts and directly by the sea. I’m almost certain they are not lived in year-round. It was so beach-y, cottage-y, so unlike home… and sitting here writing about it right now really has me longing for it!
That evening we hit a beach restaurant for one of our few meals in a real live restaurant. With appetizer, main dish and dessert, we took our time (très français indeed). It was my birthday after all. I had a salad with chicken as the appetizer, then steak for the main course and a chocolate cake with warm chocolate filling and ice-cream for dessert. I was way on the far side of well-fed that night! Maybe it’s a cliche, but now I know why the French apparently leave food on their plates when done, it is basically impossible for one tummy to take it all in!
After our meal by the waterfront we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the last leg of the tour, to Ramatuelle near Saint Tropez. We did so much sightseeing there, it’s our happy place you know. I’ll cover the happy place in part 3.
Where we stayed
A small side note: We kept to the budget hotels on our entire trip, which are nice enough and a comfortable way to book a room from the Internet. True bed and breakfasts would have been nice, but they are also pricey. If you have experienced otherwise, please, do tell! We have yet to try out Airbnb and other such sites, mainly because hubs likes to just stay in hotels.
La Rochelle: B&B Hôtel LA ROCHELLE Beaulieu Puilboreau; Brand new budget hotel just opened in 2014, very clean and quiet although in commercial zone and close to highway. If we would have had a day longer I would have gone shopping in the huge furniture stores in this area, but alas, the time.
Bordeaux: Hotel Gardenia on the outskirts of the city. So funny, there is a story behind this hotel which could be a post all by itself, but let me just say…fire alarm at 4:30 in the morning and a very distraught manager, complete with tiny barking guard dog! Ah, but don’t let that scare you off, it was well kept and clean, and that alarm was probably just someone very bored without a life, ;)!
Narbonne: Ibis Narbonne Hotel Not much to say here, small but clean rooms, breakfast was plentiful and the staff was friendly.
Where we ate
La Rochelle: We didn’t actually eat anywhere in particular, just said ice-cream and snacks we always kept in the cooler. We got ourselves some bread and sausage at Lidl (a popular direct supermarket in Europe) and fixed ourselves something back at the hotel. Keeping within that budget to make these trips even possible, and that is why we usually skip eating out at restaurants. I know for some that may sound like a radical strategy when traveling and not a very relaxing thing to do, but it’s actually fun getting a picnic at the grocers instead of searching for the perfect eatery. I could write a whole other post on this way of traveling.
My motto here is, “where something is won, something must be lost”, and honestly I’d rather skip the fancy-schmancy hotels and restaurants in order to travel and see the sights. Anyway, on to the next places…
Bordeaux: Yes Mum fish and chips Yummy and hot, crispy, greasy fish and chips along with lots of reggae.
Gruissan: Brasserie L&L One of the few restaurants we actually ate in. Three lovely courses and full tummies. The reviews on-line don’t do it justice…or where we just very hungry?
Well, that’s it for this time. I sure hope you enjoyed this road-trip through France travel-blog so far. If you missed part 1, please follow this link: Roadtrip France Part 1, North Coast
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment below. Maybe you’ve been to one of these places and have some better insights as to where eating and sleeping can be done in style without breaking the budget, I would love your feedback.
I’m so looking forward to posting Part 3, where we road-tripped it along the Mediterranean coast.
Have a lovely weekend!