A meander along the Maas
As we leave The Netherlands behind, the weather perks up slightly. We move into Belgium where we visit Namur, a city on a river-crossing with one of the biggest citadels we’ve ever seen! It’s huge! The city is quite nice although we find the area near the station to be quite rough and intimidating. The city Aire is crammed into the tiniest of spaces and although Namur is hardly a huge metropole, the city noise is constant and long before daylight, the city cleaning trucks have well and truly woken us up and we decide to move on.
We don’t really have much of a travel plan at this point, other than to travel in the direction of San Sebastian in Northern Spain so that leaves quite a lot of options open to us. We search around for aires and places that sound fun and we decide to leave Belgium after only one stop and cross the border by a whisker to stay in Givet, France. A small town on the River Maas (or Meuse) with yet another citadel, albeit a much smaller one than the one in Namur. Here it is time to celebrate another Flip-flop birthday, and as the weather is good, we decide to have a few drinks in the sun on a terrace along the river.
The aire in Givet is brand new, with the Motorhome service point being installed as we were there (not operational yet during our visit). Situated on the bank of the river, it’s lovely to watch the swans glide by and the fish jump. There aren’t any barges coming along this part of the river and it’s too late in the season for pleasure yachts so the river is very quiet.
It is the first real sunny day of our trip and we’re not on EHU (electric hook up), so we decide to test our solar panels which we had installed when we bought Ritzie. We’ve been a bit dubious about our solar panel but where we haven’t really had any sun, it’s been difficult to say if anything was really wrong. Now though, we could see our leisure batteries weren’t charging, and a quick test near the control panel confirmed this. A very short inspection later and Stuart had found that they hadn’t installed the fuses to create the circuit! What a shocker! A quick trip to the local car mechanic to get the right fuses and soon the issue was fixed and we were soaking up our free solar!
Over the next few days we don’t do a great deal of sight-seeing. We pootle from Aire to Aire along the river as they are such lovely spots in tiny, quiet villages. It’s a bit of a rest after everything we’ve done in Holland recently. We stop in Haybes where we see a Kingfisher on the river. We move on to Revin where the Aire is on the river and next to an Intermarché with a laundromat, so we get our laundry done and we also watch England beat the All-blacks to win the Rugby World Cup semi-final here. Our need to do laundry means we miss out on a great sounding Aire in Fumay so we will have to come back.
It’s a lovely few days in this very northern tip of France but as we’re not far from the Champagne region, we decide to go to Épernay. We’ve visited this area before, on our first European motorhome trip in April 2017. We weren’t sure if we’d been to Épernay that time or not, but we certainly hand’t spent the night there. When we approached the Aire, we realised we had visited before but on that occasion everything had been shut and deserted. This time it was like a different place! Shops were open, people were about, there were tourists, the sun was out, the terraces were open and champagne was flowing!
Making our way to the aptly named Avenue de Champagne, we visited Moët & Chandon first. They do tours of their cellar including a glass of champagne from €25 pp (up to €45 pp with more champagne). They also have a very flash-looking boutique where they sell all things Moët & Chandon. It looked like a proper tourist trap so we didn’t stay too long.
We decided to see if there were any other tours to be done so we visited the Tourist Information office. Here we got side-tracked by some local champagne producers offering tastings of their wares and along with a very friendly Belgian couple we got stuck in to various different types of champagne. It was a hardship really… After a very pleasant time in the tourist information office, we didn’t really learn anything else about the local tours, although there were plenty of leaflets for them. We wandered slowly back through town to the Aire where we watched the locals play pétanque.
We decided to find a nice France Passion stop the next day to stay at a champagne vineyard and to stock up on some delicious local produce. We were both looking forward to it. The area had looked absolutely stunning in the autumn sun, with the vines shimmering on the hillsides in all shades of green, gold, bronze and even red. It really was a stunning sight and we were looking forward to try to take some nice photos as well as sampling & buying some more champagne.
The next morning we woke up to rain… Again! A quick glance at the forecast revealed that the sun wasn’t coming back anytime soon and we’d missed our opportunity to capture the beauty of the vines in autumn colours in this region at least. Who knows, we might get another chance further south… Suddenly the France Passion idea wasn’t quite as appealing either, so we decided to put some miles in instead and make our way towards Bourges where we were planning to spend a few days as we wait for a parcel to be delivered.
We spend a day or so doing chores around Bourges. There is a Rapido dealer here who can fix some small niggly bits on our van for us and there is a Narbonne Accesoires (one of the best and most impressive caravan & motorhomes accessories chain stores we’ve ever seen!) where we can get new levelling blocks (our old ones are falling to bits after several years of heavy use) and cupholders to try to stop the rattling during the driving and to keep our cups in one piece. And finally there is also a Decathlon where we buy some pétanque balls, something we’ve talked about doing for ages.
As the weather is very autumnal, we don’t do much else apart from a fairly muddy game of pétanque. We move on to an Aire in Mehun sur Yèvre which turns out to be a very nice village with an ancient castle ruins, an impressive town gate, a beautiful park and some nice shops.
Next we move to the campsite in Bourges where we’re having a parcel delivered and from where we will explore the centre of Bourges, after having seen the outer commercial areas extensively. It mostly just rains again, so another wash-out. But we don’t let it stop us! We venture out and explore the town, which turns out to be really charming with lots of beautiful, wonky, medieval buildings. We found a small market on Thursday morning and the city centre is very lively with lots of shops and restaurants.
We’ll be making our way towards Bordeaux slowly where we’re hoping to meet up with our friends Sarah & Andy from Only the Bare Necessities who are back from their amazing PCT hiking adventure in the USA and after a few weeks recovery in the UK are back on the road again. We can’t wait to hear their stories!