North of France and onward

Discussion in 'EMEA' started by listener, Jul 5, 2020.

  1. listener

    listener Adventurer

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    Hey everyone,

    I am planning a trip with my wife in couple of weeks. We will start from Dunkirk and then follow the French coast to the west all the way hopefulyl to spain (Perhaps Portugal) camping along the route.

    I would aprechiate any good tips about good camping spots, places to visit anything really is very much aprechiated.
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  2. Moto Mikey

    Moto Mikey Been here awhile

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    I'm in the process of planning a similar trip (France, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Monaco, and western Switzerland). Not sure when I might be going, but possibly August or September depending on how things go with Europe opening up. Once I have a rough route planned, I'll post it up. A few highlights planned so far include: Normandy coast, Pyrenees, Picos, Cote d'Azur, Route de Grandes Alpes.
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  3. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    Along the French coast you will be hard pressed to avoid campsites. The less touristic places have them further apart.
    The north eastern coast round to Biaritz is very varied. Dunes and cliffs. Rocky and sandy. Stoney and shelving or wide and shallow. Pretty much any way the ocean can meet the shore is there.
    As you go round, sometimes there are busy resorts with lots of people. Other places, habitation is sparse and low density - towns tend to be further inland.
    It really depends what you want to see and do, and how far from the coast you are prepared to deviate.


    One of my favourite coastal towns is Boulogne. Admitted, not much of a trip from Dunkirk, but despite a few tourists (just enough to ensure plenty of good places to eat and accommodation to sleep it off) the place has the feel of a real town. There is the Old Town, and that definer of French society, a bi weekly (Wed + Sat) market on Place Dalton. Places to sit, sip your bitter brew of choice and watch the world go by.
    I can think of at least a handful of memorable restaurants. Menus at around €40 pp.

    Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine is worth a look. Very quaint and historic. Stay or look and move on. A short boat trip under the Pont de Normandie can be great fun, especially if there is a bit of a blow.
    Dieppe seems to have lost it's way since the ferry boats no long come right into town. Le Harve, again not much fun there IME.

    The Baie de Normandie, the D-Day landings and the start of the Liberation of Europe. It may or may not be of interest, but it certainly is for the visitors and people who live there. Stretches for miles, the Anglo/Canadian part and the US bit. Memorials, museums all along. My favourite has been Arromanches for a long time. The Cinema 360 and the Musee de Debarquement I always enjoy.
    The shoreline isn't much right across the bay. The hinterland is also flat and not of great interest. The Cotetan peninsular also lacks much in the way of interest for me - I mostly just cross along the bottom.
    There is Bayeux and Cherbourg to explore if you are into towns.

    If you have the strength to face down the tourists hoardes and the people who live off them for the first 200 metres, Mont St Michel is really nice, if harder work and steeper than it looks.
    Past there, the coast starts to rise up to rocky cliffs by the time you get to Dinard. Stays that way to Finnisterre, I much enjoy this area in the shoulder season. Less people and fiercer weather goes well with rugged cliffs.
    I have stayed in a remote campsite,several miles from Quimper (a big holiday destination). This proved to be a good base to explore. The interior of Brittany is resolutely argricultural, but with little historic towns and villages with their castles and chateaux. Josselin springs to mind.

    Apart from the Isles, which I haven't visited in decades, the next place of note is La Rochelle. Pretty, but focused on holidays, lots of places to eat good seafood though.

    Past La Rochelle, the shoreline becomes flat, giving wide beaches, with mostly dunes behind. This is great for families, wide spaces for the kids to play and explore safely. Probably not a great attrantant for a bike trip, but lots of campsites and interesting little finds off the beaten track. We stumbles on an out of the way church, where you could climb the tower and see for miles. It had been used by the Resistance to spot the nazis coming.

    The Gironde estuary.... Bordeaux and the vineyards. Great food available, but as it is a world famous wine area, rarely cheap. One of my own little preferences is to tour vineyards. Where I normally go, this is never a problem. The Bordeaux region (that covers a huge number of different Appelation over quite a wide area) tends to be more "reserved". I have been to a couple of top vineyards there, escorted by a sufficiently rich wine lover. Other wise, if that is something you would want to do, a bit of research would be necessary.

    South of there, there is Europe largest sand dune at Archon. Another holiday centre by all accounts. Last time I crossed the stretch to Biaritz - Les Landes - it was really uncomfortably hot on the bike. Mostly sort a heathland with no shade and bright sun reflected off the sand.
    Biaritz and St Juan de Luz are popular destinations for surf boarding.


    Lots of camping all the way round. Lots of places to eat or buy food. Lots of places to visit. Really depends on what you want to see and spend your time doing - and how far off track you want to go.
    A few kms off the coast and everything is different. Few tourists, but being France, there will still be the occasional campsite and place to eat or market to provision yourself.

    Have fun
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  4. listener

    listener Adventurer

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    @nickguzzi Thank you man this are wonderful tips, I will need time to process this all trough map but for sure I'm taking it in to account. We are not that big on crowded tourists places, of course we will visit D-Day landings just because it is very historic place to visit but if we can we plan to avoid highly touristic spots and find some nice hidden camping sites if possible at all. Also we are not tied to a route so deviation a bit inland is def. an option.
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  5. Riteris

    Riteris Dessert Runner

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    It seems to me, a ride along the coast to Spain and not look at touristy stuff would be a waste. There is a lot to see there.
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  6. listener

    listener Adventurer

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    Of course we will look at some touristy stuff but generally we are not fans of huge crowded places with tons of tourists if it is not really worth it. Also sometimes you can find really nice hidden gems off the beaten paths as well.
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  7. Riteris

    Riteris Dessert Runner

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    Touristy or historic, I will let you decide. But, if you don’t stop and see western civilization’s oldest graphic novel, you might forever hate yourself :D

    Everything else we saw on our trips there were found in guide books so I cannot recommend anything non-touristy.
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  8. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    Riding back roads in France does not require any sort of guide book. Sure you will miss some stuff - but then you are never, ever, going to see it all anyway.
    Just set off in the vague direction you wish to end up in and follow interesting roads and signs. Stop - this is fairly crucial - Stop at places that appeal to you.
    Do not use the by-pass or ring road. Do not fail to stop and browse at markets. Do not - ever - pass up a village having a fete of any variety.
    Buy your food from markets. Use the small local eateries, especially the ones with names you do not know. Choose menu items you haven't a clue what it is.

    From the days before any form of electronic navigation: start point ie where you are > chose an arbitary place to head for ( do not get obsessed with getting there, because you may not) > for want of any thing better, imagine a straight line between the two. This is not a commitment. Alter any of the parameters if a city or obvious tourist trap intervenes. Stuff like motorways disqualifies the route. Set out in as straight a line as possible. Of course meander at will. Seeing signs for something interesting trumps the original.

    To a certain extent, a gps "use most direct route" can mirror the above, but using a satnav tends to become dominant, stopping you finding your own way, similar to using guide books.
    Remember the gps system has no interest in your entertainment, enlightenment or wellbeing. It is just a mindless unfeeling algorithm. Use it to find a restaurant or hotel - campsites are almost everywhere - at least in non covid times.
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  9. Its not Ginger!

    Its not Ginger! Long timer

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    Wot Nick Said ;-)
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  10. glitch_oz

    glitch_oz Long timer

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    Just a few bits from many years back...
    Nick mentioned Boulogne, a little to the south is Le Touquet (the former Paris Plage) and the historic coastal health resort of Berck sur Mer with its rather grande and historic Maritime Hospital at the end of the imposing esplanade.
    Nice little town...

    30mins further south is the Mouth of the Somme, where the Somme River flows into the Channel. Le Hourdel on the southern headland has a cute harbour (but somewhat muddy at low tide). https://bit.ly/2DdTSS1
    The road ends in a parking lot nowadays with a footpath through the dunes and one of the old German bunkers they tried to blow up (and only managed to blow out of the dunes onto the beach).

    Cayeux sur Mer just a few km south again has some quiet camping @ Camping le Bois des Pins. https://bit.ly/2ZIp17Q
    La Baie de Somme is a quiet stretch of the coast most times.

    It gets even quieter south of Dieppe, the coastal cliffs broken by narrow valleys and creeks running into the ocean.
    Historic family-seaside holiday places of the rich Parisiennes of the past, ornate 3 and 4 storey timber-constructions aplenty, jammed into the narrow valleys.
    Like Petites Dalles....one of many which also boast great seafood cafes and small family-run restaurants. https://bit.ly/38wNJfe

    Plenty of tourist stuff, harbours, naval history and museums etc at Le Havre.
    Finding a quiet area area around there is a task though as the Seine river-mouth has a lot of traffic/ shipyards/ storage tanks and so on.
    Maybe grab one of the small ferries to get to the "Seine Peninsulas" https://bit.ly/31SKgXo
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  11. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    As Oz points out, you will barely get the engine warm before there is somewhere else worth investigating. And that is only along the coast road. If you start meandering inland then the places of interest increase exponentially.
    I once had a long trip, starting in Boulogne back in the days when the catamaran service went from there, 4 weeks and never more than 100kms from my start point.
    Etape, next to Le Touquet, was the main hospital and embarkation point for wounded back to Blighty. Early 20C medicine and industrial grade maiming machinery resulted in this becoming the largest Common Wealth War Grave (CWWG) site in France. There are quite a few other natioalities too. Mostly German.
    Also has an interesting Friday market and a fish restaurant run by the local fisherman's co-operative.
    I mention it just as an example of how dense places of interest are.

    More places I didn't mention are Deauville, Trouville or even Le Crotoy (right on the mouth of theSomme, and backing on to a vast birs reserve). Like Le Touquet, seaside towns mostly established to cater for the explosion of people wanting to travel after the introduction of railways and the Belle Epoque. Lots of Art Nouveau buildings still standing.

    Anyone not being able to find a campsite in France must be blind. Anywhere near a coast otr any sort of attraction there will be something. Anything from a full five star with pool and waterslide, restaurant and bar - and usually a bunch of organised we-pitch-your-tent companies. Sometimes a Club 18-30 nearby, you may be able to vicariously share the all night disco. To the corner of a farmers field. Sometimes signs for miles in advance, sometimes a chunk of timber with a shaky spray painted "campings". I have been on Camping municpals that fit round the edge of the village football pitch, on the local school playing field where you use the kids sized toilets - and only one, jeton operated, shower. This was one of the best BTW ever.

    If you can't find a pitch you like on google or on the info board outside every rural village in France, enter the name of village or commune aand look for the website. If they have camping, it will be there.
    Also regional web sites often have lists of attractions, which will include the places with camping - both Municipal and private.

    Beware however of that scourge of the modern world - the Camping Car. Absolutely frightful things, they not only block the road all day, but slowly strangle small communities by using the facilities provided, but very often bringing all their other provisions with them. Nothing gets returned to the local shops of eateries. Having spoken to few "tourists" in them, many bring every thing from home, they don't ever use even the local supermarkets.
    Quite a few camp sites have been converted to suit the horrors. Site leveled, and graveled. Toilets removed to make way for a sluice/blackwater dump. Completely impossible for a tent camper to use.
    How anyone can consider them any form of holiday I don't know. Husband tired and frustrated from pushing the barge around all day, wife chained to the domestic chores like at home, and kids if they have any, bored, bored, bored.
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  12. glitch_oz

    glitch_oz Long timer

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    Man, you sure know how to paint a picture :lol3
    Dead-accurate, too!
    AKA: campervans
    Pain in the blurter, the world over.
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  13. listener

    listener Adventurer

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    Thank you guys this is great information. @nickguzzi I think you describe pretty much what the plan is and how we taught about it. Idea is to spred pins on the map that would be nice to see and then just drive and see where road takes us no obligations, if we happen to be near something we pinned that is great if not that is also ok. We will try to buy stuff at local markets and prepare dinner/breakfast when we are up to it on our small camping stove and rest of the meals have wherever we happen to be.
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  14. Johann

    Johann Commuterus Tankslapperus

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    Don´t get hung up on always trying to find/follow the road closest to the coast, a lot of times there will be much better options slightly inland. Coast roads can have long sections with very low speed limits, slow moving traffic every time you hit a small town, more pedestrian crossings and parked cars. They´re good to dip in and out of, especially towards the end of the day as that is where you´ll find the highest concentration of campsites but often the idea is nicer than the reality.
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  15. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    Absolutely right Johann.
    Some of the dullest roads ever are along the coast. Back of dunes with sand and scrub one side, seemingly endless salt marsh and lagoons with the attendant mozzies on the other.

    I have my own (and my partner's ) lists of interests. These take precedence over heading towards a nominal daily destination. I can, and often do, get quite "off track". Even heading in completely different direction. Except I don't really have plans and destinations. Places to head towards - yes. Somewhere I must get to come what may - no.
    Well, restaurants and sometimes vineyards.
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  16. JanisK

    JanisK Adventurer

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    Gorges du Verdon
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  17. listener

    listener Adventurer

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    Looks wonderful will keep it in mind for next trip for this it will be mostly northern France.
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  18. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    You said down to the Pyrenees... Would have saved a lot of typing.

    I have mentioned Boulogne - I wouldn't take it off the list. Lots of villages up the coast road, starting with Wimereux. The Aloze bistro, part of the prestige Hotel Atlantique, provides excellent food, service and atmosphere. Last before Calais is Wissant, where the more rustic La Challoupe servs a mostly, but not exclusive fish menu.
    If you want a few more recommendations for eating in the Boulogne area, there is a thread I started about eating in France somewhere around.

    Arras, Amiens, Reims, although I prefer Epernay. For a more solemn note, Verdun. Takes a couple of days to ride round the complete site and do a few stop-offs. It does get lots of French tourists, understandably. Quite a few modest eateries.
    Lens is a place most would avoid, but it is the home of the Louvre Nord. A very modern take on displaying art and artifacts. The grounds are laid out in the modern horticultural style too. Fairly extensive and can provide a nice walk. Not far from the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge, and the Memorial 14-18 at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette - the name of every soldier, from all nations, carved round the inside. Very moving, very peaceful. Very thought provoking.
    St Omer has a decent restaurant Le Cygne. Nice square to sit and watch the world go by.
    Montreuil sur Mer, although it is a long time since any waves lapped at the base of the mound. Interesting walk round the walls of the Citadelle.
    Between the two, there is a small chocolatier at the tiny village of Beusant. A tour and talk, samples and of course the oportunity to buy.
    Not far a way, there was a small goat's farm. Sadly the lady retired and her facinating demonstrations and tastings have ended. But as always, be on the look out for the many others.


    Lots of people only think of the D-Day beaches when Normandy is mentioned, but further east, along the Oise and Eure valleys are nice areas to get lost in. Almost due south of Abbeville.
    Or trundle along the lower Seine. The big bends, lots of abbeys - use the chain ferries to cross the river back and forth. Up river, the Gardens of Monet (don't forget the house) in Giverney are not to be missed, even if you are not arty or green fingered.
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  19. listener

    listener Adventurer

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    @nickguzzi Yes, sorry for misunderstanding I was mostly referring to suggestion of Gorges du Verdon that is close to Nice on other side... Yes plan is to ride West and if we get to Spain great, even Portugal (Though that is highly unlikely)
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  20. Its not Ginger!

    Its not Ginger! Long timer

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    Same often applies to roads along banks of big lakes, lots of folk I talk to have this vision of wafting along a coast road or banks of a mountain lake, breathing the fresh air, looking at the stunning natural beauty - the reality is they will be crawling behind a long line of camper vans, sucking in diesel fumes and having to concentrate on the risks the old / dopey people driving them pose rather than taking in the scenery - all whilst making very slow progress and getting boiled alive in their bike kit.

    Normally they go ahead regardless and then return with tales of how awful it all was ;-)
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