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French Alps part 1
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In 2009 we decided to visit the French Alps for our long summer touring holiday on the Continent. We followed our general practice of not booking sites in advance but had a list of "possibles" which we had selected from the Caravan Club's "Caravan Europe 1" and "Alan Rogers - France" Guidebooks and ACSI DVD. As we had spent c£400 on tolls on our previous summer's French holiday we had resolved to mainly avoid toll roads and only use them to bypass the centres of any large cities enroute. We left home late in the afternoon of Wednesday 22 July and travelled to Dover via the M6, M6 Toll, M6, M1, M25 (clockwise) and M20. We arrived at South Mimms Services, on the M25, late on the Saturday evening and paid to overnight in car park there.

We woke early the next morning, Friday 24 July, and before 05.00hrs we were back on the M25 travelling towards Dover. Our early start meant that we were able travel around the M25 and exit onto the M20, before the rush-hour began and so we were able to make our fastest ever navigation of the M25! We arrived at the outskirts of Dover in plenty of time for our booked 08.00hrs ferry crossing with Norfolk Line.

Unfortunately our fast circuit of the M25 was wasted as when we arrived on the front at Dover we joined a very slow moving traffic jam. We later discovered a “computer failure” at P&O ferries had snarled-up the port bound traffic in Dover and caused us to miss our 08.00hrs booking with Norfolk Line. Along with many other Norfolk Line passengers we were put on the 10.00hrs ferry. The ferry was nearly empty, presumably because the passengers were the others who had booked, but missed, the 08.00hrs ferry and those booked on that ferry were still caught up in the traffic jam behind us!

We arrived at Dunkerque at 11.00hrs. As we were, by then, running 2 hours late we decided to find a pitch near the port with a view to nearby and make an early start the next day. We had stayed at Chateau Gandspette on previous holidays and so we phoned from near the ferry terminal and managed to get a pitch. "Holiday inertia", however set in and we stayed at Chateau Gandspette for 3 nights.

We got a good welcome at Camping Chateau Gandspette and were shown to our pitch by a lad on a bike. Interestingly this was the only time in this summer’s 5 French campsites that we were actually shown to the pitch personally on arrival. The pitch was in the older part of the site just down from the Chateau. The pitch, although large, was NOT in good condition. There were several large holes in the turf – one was so large and dangerous, as it was near to the caravan door, that I filled it with 2 levelling ramps! At 27€ per night for the 2 of us, ‘van, car and EHU, I feel this site is overpriced. I believe Chateau Gandspette takes advantage of its popularity with British campers heading to/from Calais/Dunkerque, in an area which has a dearth of good campsites.

Camping du Lac de Liez

The viewOn Monday 27 July we made an early start from Camping Chateau Gandspette and travelled towards Lille on the A25. At Lille we turned on to the A23 towards Valenciennes where we took the N649 to Maubeuge. At Maubeuge we turned due south onto the N2 towards Laon. From Laon we turned south east on the D1044 and D944. On the outskirts of Reims we joined the toll A26/E17 to bypass the city. On the south western side of Reims we joined the N44 and then the N4 and travelled south east toward St Dizier. At St Dizier we took the N67 to Chaumont where we joined the N619 and N19 south east to our next stop at Camping du Lac de Liez on the outskirts of Langres.

From the outskirts of Langres we followed the Alan Roger POI on our satnav and clear road signs from Langres to reach Camping du Lac de Liez. We had phoned ahead to reserve a pitch on the day that we arrived, as is our custom. This site is popular as a stopover site as it is near to the A24 and A6 autoroutes. Our journey from Camping Chateau Gandspette to Camping du Lac de Liez was 328 miles.

Camping du Lac de Liez is set in a rural situation overlooking a large lake, actually a reservoir for the Canal Marne-Saone. The very wide entrance drive to the site was ideal and gave plenty of space for parking several outfits on each side whilst booking in. The reception staff spoke excellent English and were helpful and welcoming. Cary asked for a pitch with a view of the lake. The site entrance/exit is secured by a code-operated barrier.

The site is laid out in terraces on the hillside overlooking the lake. The site has a number of mobile homes and chalets, both in specific areas and scattered amongst the touring pitches for tents and caravans. It has a lovely modern amenities area near the entrance. These buildings included reception with tourist info, a small, well-stocked, shop, including bread, a bar, a children’s games room, a restaurant and a huge decking restaurant terrace overlooking the lake and site’s outdoor swimming pool. The outdoor swimming pool, which I understand is relatively recent, was a reasonable temperature and stayed open quite late into the evening. This was a bonus as we could swim after a day out. There is, also, a small indoor pool with a spa and sauna but we did not use these. There is wi-fi and an internet computer access in the bar and terrace area at 5€ and 8€ per hour respectively. Wi-fi range was limited to this area – I tried it unsuccessfully further away.

Our pitchOur actual pitch was a little disappointing as it looked as though it had previously had a mobile home on it and was rather patchy grass and hardstanding. A kindly Dutch family on the next pitch helped to push our 'van onto our pitch nose first to try and take advantage of the view. Although it was at the bottom of the site, nearest the lake, it unfortunately did not really have the promised view of the lake because the hedge was badly in need of cutting and obstructed most of the view. Most of the other pitches were much more grassy – we were just unfortunate in the one that we were allocated. There are 2 modern toilet blocks serving different parts of the site.

Although we did not visit the lake it is very scenic. It is used as a centre for water sports and pediloes and boats can be hired. The lake and its sandy beach can be reached by steps from the campsite. There are, also, several public car parks near the lake as it a popular spot. I understand that there are, also, cycle tracks and footpaths around the wooded shores of the lake.

LangresOn Tuesday 28 July we had a restful day at the campsite. On Wednesday 29 July we drove to the lovely, hilltop, walled town of Langres which is about 2 miles from the site. Langres is well worth a visit as it is classified as one of the 50 most beautiful towns in France. We parked in the large car park at the foot of the hill and took the lift up to the town's street level. The town's ancient walls and towers are preserved almost intact and it is possible to walk the perimeter of the town on top of the walls.

As it was very hot we took the tourist train tour of the town starting from the Tourist Information office. This tour included an English commentary on a handset. “Train” tickets are booked from the Tourist Information and we got a discounted price by using a voucher from a “passport” book given to us by the campsite. The town walls are so wide that the “train” actually drives along the tops of the wall for part of its route. It was very interesting tour although the fact that the carriages were completely enclosed in Perspex made it a very warm ride on a sunny afternoon. The trainThe town, which is obviously very strictly controlled in terms of permitted building, has a wealth of interesting buildings.

We took the opportunity to have a look around the Camping Navarre municipal site which is actually situated inside, and next to the city walls. That site has a new toilet block and is very handy for the shops and other town amenities. There is an Aldi supermarket, where we stocked up on essentials, just around the corner from Camping Navarre. French Aldis accepted our credit cards, unlike the UK ones. We had thought of staying at Camping Navarre on the way home but ended up using a different route. If towing to Camping Navarre it is important to approach it from the main road and follow the signs to the nearby Tourist Information Office, thus avoiding the narrow streets of the town.

I am happy to recommend Camping du Lac de la Liez both as a night halt and for longer stays. I did, however, feel that at 31.90€ per night (2 adults, ‘van, car and EHU) it was rather pricey for what it offered, although it did include a full service pitch – so no aquaroll filling/wastemaster emptying. Again I think its position as an ideal night-halt give it a strong position with regard to charges. Both sites in Langres are featured in “Alan Rogers – France” and the Caravan Club’s “Caravan Europe” (Vol 1) campsite guides.

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