Our first proper trip away in the motorhome this year was to the south-west of France, including parts of the Atlantic coast, some of the highlights of the French Pyreness and some of the towns and cities that lay on our route north from Toulouse back to Calais.
Our stopover guide for the whole trip was Vicarious Books’ All the Aires France, which is recommended although certain details were out of date in a few places. Despite this, we used it to find a stopping place for every night but one, when we wild camped. Most of the aires we used were free.
The trip started with a drive down from Calais to La Rochelle, which we broke for the night in the town of Oissel. Both aire and town seemed in excellent order and in the aire’s case, was free and with full services, although parking was limited to around five motorhomes.
The weather was colder than expected and not much fun in our van, which has no heating, so we were keen to press on further south. Unfortunately heavy rain and low temperatures kept us company most of the way to the Ile de Re, our first port of call en route to La Rochelle. The island was a curious mixture of holiday camps, empty villas and St Martin de Re, a contrastingly upmarket and very attractive town with a substantial marina.
All of St Martin’s historic buildings had been beautifully preserved and restored – a trait we noticed in many of the places we visited in France – and the town obviously caters to a wealthy and fashionable crowd during the summer season – it reminded me a bit of St Ives, in Cornwall.
Access to the Ile de Re is via a toll bridge and overnight camping for motorhomes is strictly controlled. We didn’t stay the night but instead made our way back over the bridge to La Rochelle, which has several aires, including a reasonably-sized one near the city centre. It’s free (May 2010) and is within ten minutes walk of the Place de Verdun and the city centre. It isn’t the most salubrious location but has all services and seemed safe enough – it was full the whole time we were there. I don’t know when the best time to arrive is – people were constantly coming and going in search of a space the whole time we were there. Click here for a short video of the aire.
We stayed at La Rochelle for two nights and spent the second day exploring the city and relaxing. The historic port area is very attractive and tours of the three towers are available for those who are interested. The whole of the city centre is impressively well-preserved and very clean – well worth a visit.
We also noticed that La Rochelle has some kind of shared-use electric car scheme – we saw cars hooked up to charging points in several places around the city centre:
These are obviously older cars that have been converted to electric cars, and on further investigation it appears that the Liselec scheme is a self-service, shared use scheme that residents of the city can subscribe to. For €5.50 per month, they get a card that will unlock all of these cars and allow them to be driven away. Each of the pickup/dropoff points has dedicated parking and charging facilities, so it’s quite an attractive idea. La Rochelle has 50 cars and 7 charging-cum-parking points, all of which are available without booking, 24/7.