Established 1976

Serial French trip organiser, Huw Morris, came up with a new venue for us
to visit for 2018. Once more he organised the ferry and accommodation
and a suggested route. We headed first towards Bath and on to the Toll
Bridge at Bathampton and the lunch stop at the Bathampton Mill alongside
the river. If you are in the area it certainly worth a visit but it does get
busy, so don’t get there too late. The only deviation to our planned route
was the cancellation of a planned visit to the city centre of Salisbury
following on from the second Novichok incident. Surprisingly, none of the
travellers were keen to risk it. A quick substitute was an afternoon break at
the Bell, a nice old pub in the New Forrest, sitting in the garden enjoying a
cream tea. We actually cleaned them out of scones, not bad for a small
Our ferry was booked to leave at a civilised time, 8.15pm and would not
arrive in St.Malo until the same time in the morning. We would have time
for an evening meal, a wander about and a good night’s sleep, followed by
a reasonably leisurely breakfast on board for a change. The plan had been
to all meet up on the dockside and journey together in case of any
difficulties. Typically French, they had revamped the port exits and there
was no space to accommodate a meeting. Best laid plans etc. the only thing
was to press on and see what happened. Sally and I set off with the Satnav
suitably primed and Sally armed with her maps. Our TomTom kept trying
to get us to turn off the main road and down some very narrow looking
roads, including the wrong way down a one-way street! The map reader
disputed the suggested route, which was just as well. There was Huw’s
wife Gwenda on the side of the road flagging the cars down with a Welsh
flag as each one appeared, inevitably she got a lot of attention from the
passing male population on their way to work.
We soon had most of the group assembled in the side road and set off
towards our coffee stop in Chateaubriant about an hour and a half drive in
the glorious sunshine, even at speed the sun was hot in the car despite the
roof being down and the windows open. The chosen café turned out to be
less desirable than the website suggested so we moved into the town and
found a nicer establishment for a relaxing break under their umbrellas.

Traditional French town buildings.

 Modern theatre in the midst of the old.

Suitably refreshed, the cars headed off on the route to the hotel in Mosnes
near to Amboise, a run of about three hours through the French
countryside. Coming from Wales it always surprises me how vast the
country seems with its flat landscape. We are used to the view being
shortened by hills and mountains at home. After a very pleasant run with
Huw and Gwenda for company, we decided to stop for a break alongside
the Loire River, watching the world go by and enjoying an ice-cream with
a coffee and friends is a very civilised way to enjoy life. With only about
an hour or so to go, we set off on the last leg of the journey to the Domain
des Thomeaux in Mosnes, our Hotel for the next three days. Both MG’s
were quite ready to have a rest after a hot day crunching the miles, I’m sure
they both smiled when we parked up in the hotel carpark.
The nearest large town to Mosnes is Amboise and it was market day and
hot. A classic convey headed into the centre looking for a parking area.
Huw was a bit quicker than the rest of us and shot into an open carpark and
an unoccupied bay. The rest of us turned into the next carpark to be met by
a barrier but no ticket machine, what do we do now? As if by magic the
barrier lifted and let us in, not so lucky was the Frogeye of Tony and Liz,
the barrier refused to budge despite juggling back and forth. We had to
hold up the traffic to let them reverse out of the entrance to find another
carpark, one friendly to Frogeyes. Looking around our ticket machine we
entered our registration number to get a ticket, only to be informed that we
could go! The three of us in this carpark all tried to obtain a ticket but to no
avail. Luckily for us, a lady on a bike took pity on us and in perfect
English, informed us that we should enter our respective registration
numbers on our return to the carpark. The computer would then work out
how long we had been parked and show us the fee to pay! Easy when you
know how. The lady also informed us that the entrance barrier was
activated by an ANPR camera; it is obviously set for euro type number
plates only so no classics, surprising when you think how many French
cars still have black and silver number plates. Feeling smug with our new
found knowledge, we sauntered off to the market before lunching in town.
Normally we look to see where the locals eat, however today we looked to
see which one had room under the outside umbrella and on the shady side
of the road. Proper summer and we are looking to hide from the sun!!?

Eat on the right-hand side today Amboise Castle looms over us.

With such good weather to play in, we decided to have a look at some of
the Chateaux in the area, something this part of France is well known for.
We all set off for Chateau de Chambord, a pleasant drive away, we entered
the car park. More unmanned gates, fingers crossed. Looking at the booth
by the Chateau entrance, we were to pay on the way out, simple…
The walk into the grounds certainly tested our heat endurance, what a day
40 degrees, not what we are used to. By now we were so hot we elected to
sit under a tree near to the café and look at the outside of the massive
building while enjoying a cold drink and an ice-cream. I found the number
of French tourists visiting the various Chateaux quite a surprise, bearing in
mind how republican they are as a nation and how few of their upper-class
survived the revolution. These buildings appear to have been adopted as a
national asset to be kept intact, although a number of the landed gentry
seem to have regained properties in certain areas. They are all beautifully
kept and maintained unlike some of our larger properties which could do
with a bit of general TLC.

How is that for a family home?  Bullet riddled wall from WW2.

Amazingly for such a well preserved building, it was surprising to see the
damage to the stonework inflicted during the Second World War. There
must have been quite a battle at some time. Suitably cooled off, we made
our way back to the car for the return journey to the hotel. We stopped at
the pay point in the car park and paid our dues remembering to retrieve the
ticket for the exit. French car parks have been reprogrammed to hold Brexit
against UK cars, the gate resolutely refused to let us out despite numerous
attempts. Time to press the help button!
A gruff Pierre on the other end told us how to use the exit, not that it
worked. In the end Pierre drove up in a golf type buggy to get rid of these
idiot tourists. It turned out that you put the ticket in the machine, then your
credit card which is what we had done. No,no! You put the ticket in and
before it returns you insert your credit card in together!! That bit must have
got lost in the translation; my French was as bad as his English. We
declared a draw and left.
If you use a Satnav in a foreign country, don’t trust it. We drove through
numerous farm tracks and through the middle of a vineyard in amongst the
vines, before reaching a main road that took us back to the safety of our
hotel. Use a map; at least you can see where the roads go to even if you
have to stop to read it.
The next day we decided that as it was so hot we would pop back into
Amboise and have a walk around to see what they had in the town,
however as we passed a café that we had stopped at before, the smell of
coffee was too much to pass up. So it was we spent a couple of hours under
an umbrella. We had decided it was near enough to lunch time to have a
light bite and then go exploring. Following a walk around the town, we
decided to drive to a nearby Chateau that was built out into the river Cher.

Chateau de Chenonceau had a nice old fashioned car park; it was free, so no
exit problems. They charged you to go into the grounds instead, much
more civilised and easier to fathom out. Walking into the grounds we
noticed what looked like smoke generators which people were walking in
and out of. Closer inspection proved them to be cold water vapour pipes
which sprayed out on a timer to help keep visitors cool and as the day got
hotter, each sprayer had a queue of sweaty tourists waiting for their turn.
Our return to the hotel on this occasion was made with the map, and a
much better set of roads made the journey a pleasure, unlike the previous
Chateau visit.

Free cold vapour sprays,  very busy. A real waterfront property.

Our last night coincided with the Bastille Day celebrations and we were
treated to a free firework display by the hotel to finish the night off. It was
great just sitting in the garden with a drink and watching the show on a still
warm evening. What a way to finish the trip off.
We set off the next morning, nearly getting wiped out by a local lady who
ran a red light, not expecting any traffic to be using the green light to go
anywhere. I think she must have had a good celebration the night before.
It was so hot; the satnav stopped working en route and didn’t work again
until we got back to Swansea and the cooler temperatures.
Our return ferry was from Caen to Portsmouth. As you enter the outskirts
of the town the sides of the roads and roundabouts are full of would be
migrants, having moved along from Calais and the other ports in the hope
of easier passage. The police have their hands full trying to stop them from
clambering on passing vehicles to gain access to the ferry terminal, scary.
Many thanks to Huw and Gwenda for organising the trip, where next I