After weeks of sweltering temperatures of the last few weeks in the south of France, it is a relief to be in the cooler and greener north, where one doesn’t feel like melting away, with very little energy or inclination to do very much at all. Even the dog is a lot happier now, going for longer walks without panting all the way or throwing himself upside down refusing to move. I am in my ‘Goldilocks’ zone now, that being the mid 20sC: not too hot, not too cold, just perfect. Oh heck, I have become a northerner!
We spent 6 days at the charming L’Île Bouchard municipal campsite, right on the river Vienne, where we enjoyed a few swims in the small sandy beach that even had a lifeguard in the afternoons. It was mainly quiet except for a small group of teenagers who arrived every afternoon on their noisy motorbikes and playing their radios a bit too loudly and we moved pitches on our first day due to this, but once we were away from the ‘musical youth’, it was all very peaceful.
Adonis did one session of fishing, but not finding it deep enough, he desisted in his attempt. Nevertheless, after our week on the coast, it was lovely to be by a river again surrounded by trees and in the shade.
We didn’t do much other than walking, swimming, reading, cooking, playing chess and I even did some crocheting as my brain cells starter working again in the cooler temperatures and I was able to concentrate on one task for more than a minute. We finally dragged ourselves outside the campsite area on Sunday morning to explore the town a little bit and take some photos.
Our curiosity was piqued by a group of young people carrying a large banner, singing and clapping and obviously walking with a purpose and a destination in mind, so, being as they were walking in the same direction as us back to the campsite across the river, we followed them at a distance wondering where they were headed. Our curiosity was satisfied shortly after when they entered St Gilles Parish Church (also known as Our Lady of Prayer) home to Our Lady of Prayer Sanctuary. The belief is that 4 little girls claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary and Angel Gabriel at this church between 8th and 14th December 1957 and it has been a destination for pilgrims ever since and the diocesan authorities agreed to the construction of a grotto, but the Vatican hasn’t recognised it officially, unlike Fatima in Portugal, with which it shares striking similarities. Believe what you may. It is still a very pretty Romanic church from 11th century and even St Jean-Arc stopped came here for a mass in 1429 after meeting with Charles VII in nearby Chinon.
When we went inside, the church was full to the brim and I wasn’t able to take photos as to not disturb the congregation and as we exited, some priests and choir boys were making a special entrance bearing candles and an incense burner and the congregation started to sing. Not being the religious type, we left them in peace and walked back to the campsite for a cooling beer, for it was getting quite hot by then approaching midday.
After a quick shop at the very convenient SuperU opposite the campsite, we left L’Île Bouchard on Monday morning for St-Calais, about 30 km S.E. of Le Mans on the D357. This is not an official aire as such, but a large car park with big bays where overnighting is allowed and there is even a tap of drinking water available too, plus lots of recycling bins, always a winner with me and my obsession with recycling as much waste as I can. It is by a large lake and park with picnic tables and pedals available at weekends and we loved the calm of a Monday afternoon and night, as well as the long walk with Beano around the lake, which he managed effortlessly. This is definitely a very nice place to stop for a day or two.
From St-Calais, we headed towards Le Mans and north for Alençon, making our stopover at the charming Ventes-du-Four free aire, right at the edge of Forêt de Perseigne, a mere 10 km east of Alençon, offering a superb walk or mountain bike ride through the forest, already changing into golden and auburn autumn colours: a sheer delight, and I could have walked forever following one of the official treks criss-crossing the forest. It is our second time here and I can assure you it won’t be the last.
We left this idyllic spot this morning headed for another all-time favourite aire of ours: the absolutely wonderful and beautiful aire at Broglie, on our way to Rouen on D438. This place is rising in popularity, unsurprisingly, and by midday all but one of the 11 pitches had been taken. Not only is this aire one of the prettiest we know, but the village itself with its medieval half-timbered Norman houses, a variety o shops, the gorgeous walk along the Charentonne river, the weir, the water gardens and a very good vet to get your dog checked for the Pet Passport before returning to the UK, make this the ideal place to stop for a couple of days, which is what we intend to do.