Motorhome Europe Part 6: Belgium and France

The farewells are always difficult, and even more when you got used to a partner for almost three months. So ending our “Motorhome Europe” experience was tough.

We had already passed the fifth part of the trip and we were in Holland (haven’t you read the fifth part? CLICK NOW!). Spain was just around the corner and this was the last stage of our “motorhome Europe” journey. We still had Belgium and France ahead before reaching our final destination. But we could already smell the melancholy of an adventure that was coming to an end.

Or maybe it was that we were near the sea, and the sea water always brings with it that scent of travel, of stories that come and go.

Anyway, I’m going to stop chatting to tell you about what you came to read: Motorhome Europe in 90 days, part 6, Belgium and France.

Are you ready? Let’s go!

 

Motorhome Europe Experience: Belgium


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Belgium was not one of the countries with which we felt more attracted before starting the trip. But we got a very pleasant surprise when discovering in it one of the most beautiful medieval cities of all our adventure. I’m not talking about Bruges, something that would be more than obvious.

I’m talking about the first stop on our Motorhome Europe road trip through Belgium: Ghent.

 

Motorhome Europe Experience: Stage 1. Utrecht to Ghent – 188 kilometers

 

It is surprising to know that the vast majority of people who visit Belgium talk about Brussels and Bruges without taking into account a city that is right in the middle, 30 minutes by train away from each.

Ghent not only is filled with art and cultural life, but it is the Flemish city with the largest number of historical buildings in the country. To walk through its historical center is to travel through time, it is not being able to look at your feet because at each step you marvel at another beautiful building. One after another.

The Castle of the Counts of Flanders, from the 12th century, with its intact defensive system that seems to float on the river Lys; the bell tower of the 14th century, a World Heritage Site, with its 91 meters high, dominating the city from the Central Square of Ghent; the beautiful Church of Saint Nicholas from the 13th century and its Gothic style; the Cathedral of Saint Bavón, or the Town Hall of varied styles.

These are just some of the wonderful buildings that can be enjoyed in this city that few give themselves the luxury of visiting on the first trip to Belgium.

What a great mistake!

Ghent in our opinion should be the first city to be visited. At night it acquires a very particular charm with all its buildings illuminated reflecting their shapes in the waters of the river. I leave here some photos so you can see something of what we saw and judge with your own eyes:

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We left the motorhome in a huge free parking lot on the outskirts of the city, but only 10 minutes by bike, or an easy half-hour walk. It is located on the banks of the river and is very quiet to sleep at night. Here on the map:

 

Motorhome Europe Experience: Stage 2. Ghent to Bruges – 47 kilometers

Beyond that Ghent was our favorite, a trip to Belgium without going through the beautiful city of Bruges would be almost a sacrilege. Beyond its mass of tourists in excess, Bruges continues to be a charming medieval city. For a good reason, it is known as the Venice of the north.

Its name comes from Flemish: Brug means “bridge”. Its large number of bridges give “her” the deserving plural of the term. Dominated by the Bell Tower of its Main Square, the urban center of Bruges – declared World Heritage by Unesco in the year 2000 – with its cobblestone streets, its bridges, its brick arches, the horse-drawn carriages, the swans on the waters, and the lack of motor vehicles, is, like Ghent, a time travel to those years in which Bruges was an important trade center of the Flanders region.

It became at one time one of the richest cities in Europe due to the wool business.

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Not everything was perfect in Bruges throughout its history. In the 15th century, the Zwin River became endangered and the city lost what made it so special for trade: access to the sea.

Its decline lasted several centuries until the twentieth century when they began a strong reconstruction of the city, respecting its architecture and medieval urban development, which transformed it into a magnificent tourist magnet that attracts more than 3 million visitors per year, making it the most visited city in Belgium even in front of its capital.

Bruges is very small and can be visited in a day. As we always say, the rhythm is decided by what you want to do and in this thing of how many days to devote to each place, there is no truth.

We left the motorhome on the outskirts of Bruges – you can not enter the city by car – in a very quiet and nearby neighborhood, just 15 minutes walk to the city center.

You can sleep there as well, although being close to the street we found it somewhat noisy to fall asleep so we decided to keep going. But to walk the city, this parking is ideal. Here on the map:

 

Motorhome Europe Experience:

France in a motorhome – Second Part


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This second and last part of our favorite country of our Motorhome Europe Experience was going to be very particular. It was no longer going to be so much about towns, gastronomy, and joie de vivre.

We were about to embark on a journey through the most recent history of mankind. And just the word “embark” has a lot to do with that story. We were entering Norman lands, founded as such in the year 911 by the Viking King Rollo after committing to the then King Charles III of France to protect these lands from pirate attacks.

Hence its name: Normandy means “men of the north” in reference to those Vikings who took the region by arms. Passed hand in hand between France and England, Normandy had its huge and sad historical moment during the Second World War, that June 6th, 1944, when the beginning of the end took place.

 

Motorhome Europe: Stage 1. Bruges to Cap Blanc Nez –  125 kilometers

To arrive at this enormous beach of grayish sands, with those cliffs of white limestone, and green tops; to look towards that sea that seemed to be confused with the same sand and with the horizon, generating a sensation of eternity, of floating in an impossible environment, with the fog invading the coast; to see above an old war bunker, to know that there were not great things happening there, not on that beach, but not being able to avoid feeling small, feeling the need to leave, to run, to get out of there.

Wanting to stay because that place is magical, but wanting to leave because the air in all this Norman coast is heavy. That’s how it feels when you get to Cap Blanc Nez on a cool fall afternoon when the sun went down and there’s nothing left but yourself on the beach. This part of our Motorhome Europe Experience was dense but amazing.

The wonderful thing about this place is that it can be covered both through the beach and above the cliffs, from where you get spectacular views of the surroundings and enjoy its magnitude.

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Barely 200 meters away from the beach there’s a campsite. Here on the map:

 

Motorhome Europe: Stage 2. Cap Blanc Nez to Rouen – 208 kilometers

We kept going with our Motorhome Europe Experience and this time we went after the steps of Joan of Arc. We arrived at this beautiful medieval city, capital of the Norman region. It was founded during the Roman Empire on the banks of the Seine River and reached its maximum splendor in the third century with its amphitheater and its large baths.

In the year 911, it passed into the hands of the Vikings and then, after the Hundred Years War, fell into English power, and it was there during that period that Jean of Arc, the great French army leader, was taken into trial and burned after being accused of witchcraft.

The city of a hundred bell towers, as this important French maritime center is known, has an enormous architectural wealth with its abbey church of Saint-Ouen of Gothic style consecrated in the year 1562.

Under its 130 meters in height, Joan of Arc was imprisoned throughout her trial. Because of its enormous beauty, it is often confused with the Rouen Notre-Dame Cathedral, another of the Gothic treasures of the city, the inspiration of Monet for his series of 1890.

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The Great Clock of 1389 and the Old Market Square where a cross stands in the exact place where Joan of Arc was burned in the bonfire are other of the places that invite us to visit this beautiful French city that serves us as the perfect break between beach and beach.

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We left our vehicle in a parking that was only for motorhomes:

But the place was a bit unsafe, and beyond the fact that things rarely happen there one of the great advice that can be given to a motorhome driver who is just starting in this world is “if you do not like what the place looks like, look for another one”.

The most important thing when it comes to enjoying a good Motorhome Europe Experience and sleeping in the motorhome is to feel comfortable and safe. So we continued on our way to a parking lot in the middle of nature that promised us a night of silence and tranquility. We found so much silence that we decided to stay two nights.

 

Motorhome Europe: Stage 3. Rouen to Parc Forestier Roumare Forest – 12,6 kilometers

We arrived late at night to this forest so the only thing we could hear was the sound of birds, wild boars, and deer. We were the only ones there, but in that feeling of loneliness was that we found a great place of tranquility to spend a beautiful night. In the map:

 

The Parc Forestiere in the Forest of Roumare is a beautiful natural park created in 1966, an ideal place to visit with the little ones since there they will be able to see in a protected environment -and of semi-freedom- wild boars, deer, birds, among other animals. We do not support the concept of the zoo. In fact, we are not taking our son there as we are against animal confinement.

But this park is different, since more than being enclosed, the animals seem to be in a place of protection, with a huge forest almost at their entire disposal. So it’s a good opportunity for children to discover these animals in their natural state.

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Motorhome Europe: Stage 4.Parc Forestier to Étretat – 95 kilometers

One of the high points of our little tour of Normandy was this town of just 1400 inhabitants. Nothing better to describe this site than what we said in our article about the 31 Most Beautiful Villages in France:

 

“It is not for the town itself, beyond that it is a charming place, but for its imposing cliffs and rock formations that can be enjoyed both from the top and from the beach. Both for one side and the other can be accessed by an easy climb to the top of the cliffs where you can contemplate the sea and the strange shapes that the erosion of water and wind have drawn on the rocks. If you turn your back on the town and look towards the sea, the ideal thing is to go towards the cliffs on your left to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets in France. The beauty of the place is so great that Étretat was able to attract great artists such as Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet, and Claude Monet, who were inspired by their nature for some of their works of art, such as the famous painting “Étretat, l’aiguille et la falaise”, painted in 1885 by Monet. Nothing better to end the day than a meal in one of the many seafood restaurants on the seafront with views of the sea and the cliffs. We chose the restaurant Le Homard Bleu, the last before the stairs that go up to the cliff.”

 

And if that is not enough, I leave you some photographs so you can enjoy the unique beauty of the place.

 

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We left the motorhome in the motorhome service area of the town, just 10 minutes by bike from the cliffs. It is right next to the municipal campsite that only opens in high season. Here on the map:

 

Motorhome Europe: Stage 5. Étretat to Formigny – 159 kilometers

We chose a small cider-producing farm to stay for a few days and soak up the history we had been looking for in Normandy: the D-Day. With all the services included (loading and unloading, electricity, and wifi) for 10 euros per night, we found the ideal place to base in the area since it was 30 minutes from Utah Beach, 6 minutes from Omaha, and 14 from Pointe du Hoc, the three places we would visit during our stay. Here on the map, the Ferme du Lavoir:

 

Visiting the landing beaches is very particular. At first sight, they are only beaches, the coarse sand, the dark sea, the clouds always present in the Norman region. But when we think about everything that happened there just over 70 years ago, our skin bristles. All the men who lost their lives on that coast defending the freedom of a continent oppressed by the Nazi party.

Those on both sides, since they were all young people who were sent to the front by men in suits who sat behind a desk to lead the world. Thousands and thousands of soldiers who crossed the waters to coordinate what was the greatest strategic plan of war of the modern age and put an end to the bloody Second World War.

In those waters, they descended from their boats. Countless teenagers and young people with their boots and soaked suits, dodging bullets, trying to advance on enemy territory. But now there are only beaches, and a monument in homage to the heroes, and a huge and sad cemetery with the thousands of victims.

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Maybe that’s why the visit to Pointe du Hoc was really shocking. That afternoon the place hit us in the face and left us on the floor. It is there where you can really understand the magnitude of those battles, of those explosions, of that rain of bullets that fell and came from all possible directions.

Despite having heard many times about the Normandy landings, we had never been taught about this place and about the heroic and key actions of a group of men whose victory was fundamental for D-Day to succeed.

But I’m not going to tell you again. If you have not read it yet, I invite you to read the article about these Pointe du Hoc Heroes by clicking HERE.

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Motorhome Europe: Stage 6. Formigny to Mont Saint Michel – 147 kilometers

We knew that Mont Saint Michel was one of the most visited sites in all of France. In summer there are up to 20,000 visitors per day! (Exactly, I’m thinking the same as you think: “do not go in summer unless you like to walk in a single line looking at handicrafts”). But that islet is so beautiful with the abbey on top that it is an irresistible visit, even after having been there a few years ago.

To get there, there are two ways: on foot or on the only bus that arrives at the entrance to the fortified city. Personal vehicles can no longer get there, and bicycles are also prohibited. You have to leave them in one of the parking spaces demarcated for that purpose right next to the bus stop.

If it were not for the horde of tourists and the souvenir houses, to enter Mont Saint Michel would be to travel in time -as we have done so many times during this trip-. Historical monument since 1862, Great Site of France, and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

There is no adjective that can be used to describe this architectural marvel, the fruit of the man who built, in the tenth century, that pre-Romanesque church that rises at its highest point (with the Saint Michel statue) 170 meters high, and nature, which transforms the setting with the dance of the tides, which in the past transformed the walled city into a place almost impossible to invade since they erased any type of terrestrial communication with the continent.

Nowadays the built roads allow access to the bay at all times, and it is almost impossible to transform it into an isolated island (in fact in 2013 the tides separated the islet from the continent for a period of 20 minutes, something that did not happen since 1879.). But its environment changes if it is surrounded by waters or surrounded by damp sands.

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In the year 2018, these will be the dates in which you will be able to appreciate the place transformed into an island: February 2nd and 3rd / March 3rd and 4th / August 12th to 14th / September 10th to 12th/October 9th and 10th. It is recommended to arrive there two hours before and not make the crossing to the island on foot.

The tide grows at a galloping speed and in a matter of minutes increases by 15 meters. When the tides are low they can move up to 15 kilometers away from the islet.

I leave you with a video for you to enjoy this awesome event of nature:

 

We left the motorhome in a beautiful self-service area just 15 minutes by bike from the bus stop to access the Mount, bordering the river on a path to enjoy. Here on the map:

 

Motorhome Europe: Stage 7. Mont Saint Michel to Nantes – 184 kilometers

 

The city of the Loire Valley, formerly belonging to the region of Brittany, on the banks of the river of the same name, was going to be a passing city on our journey but ended up being a very pleasant surprise.

We had just one day to go through it, so we decided to follow the famous line painted on the ground that transports us to the history of the city, and feel for a while as part of the Wizard of Oz story – only that the line would be green in this case, and a line, and not a path of yellow tiles like the one that took the protagonists to Emerald City.

This route of 40 stages is known as Le Voyage a Nantes, or “The Journey to Nantes”. This line takes us to the 19th century and to the neighborhood where we discover the Pommeraye Passage, a three-stories shopping center, with its typical architecture of the romanticism, and the Graslin theater of 1788, located in the heart of the beautiful Place Graslin.

Through it, we will also reach the world of Jules Verne, born in this city in 1828. The green line takes you to the place where he was born, to the museum dedicated to his life and creations, and to the famous Isle of Nantes, also known as the Island of Creativity.

Here you can enjoy the art exhibition of the giant machines (The Island of Machines), the beautiful carousel of the Marine Worlds, several stories high (25 meters high and 20 meters in diameter) inspired by the universe of Jules Verne, and the famous robot elephant, 12 meters high and weighing 40 tons, that carries travelers on its back in its slow and short journey, while it sprays water from its trunk to those who admire it from below.

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The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany of the 13th century and the Nantes Cathedral of the 15th century are other important historical monuments to visit in this French city that gave us a very nice day. We left the motorhome in a parking lot very close to the center of the city (by tram, or bicycle). Here on the map:

 

Motorhome Europe: Stage 8. Nantes to Bourdeaux – 347 kilometers

 

The last great French city would be the capital of the region world known for the wines. Walk along the banks of the Garonne River enjoying the beautiful architecture of the place; “float” on a small layer of water that reflects the sky and the Place de la Bourse; admire the beauty of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew of the 11th century; cross the stone bridge built by Napoleon Bonaparte with its 17 arches corresponding to each letter of the emperor’s name; enjoy a good wine from the region. All that and more can be done in this beautiful city that is worth a trip.

I leave you a picture of what for us was the most beautiful corner of the city: the Place de Bourse, a square that is almost 300 years old and that meant the first breach that opened up from the medieval walls of the city as a way to show the foreigner who came from the Garonne river a more modern and attractive face of Bordeaux.

It was designed by Jacques Gabriel, First Architect of King Louis XV. Since 2006 this square has the largest water mirror in the world: le Miroir d’Eau, a spectacular work of 3450 square meters that fills with water for short periods of time and then, after being emptied, leaves a thin film -2 cm- of water on the granite plate that allows the entire square and its buildings to be perfectly reflected with the sky and clouds above.

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Motorhome Europe: Stage 9. Bourdeaux to Saint Juan de Luz – 204 kilometers

The border with Spain was getting closer and so was our motorhome Europe experience. I’m not going to cheat you, we already felt the need to listen to our own language again, to leave the roads aside for a while and feel the stillness on our feet for a while as well.

But France was going to see us off with a beautiful town on the Basque coast. In the Bay of Biscay, on its shores, Saint Jean de Luz rises, a small and attractive town with a very pleasant promenade.

In the seventeenth century, this city was known by the English as The Snake Nest because of the fear imposed by the Basque fishermen who became fearsome corsairs, who ventured out to hunt enemy ships. Coursic was perhaps the most famous of all the corsairs, and a letter written in 1691 and addressed to the King of France, Louis XIV, spoke of the prowess of this corsair saying: “Your Majesty could go from Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Ciboure without getting your feet wet, taking the decks of the boats taken from the enemy. ”

In this town, you can visit the famous Louis XIV House in which the monarch spent a brief but important period.

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There are no great things to do here, but nothing better than a coastal town, with its typical buildings, its beach, and its rich cuisine to enjoy a day of leisurely travel.

We left the motorhome 10 minutes walk from the center of the city, in a public and free parking. Here on the map:

Now we only had 12 kilometers to reach the border with Spain. The last part of our unforgettable motorhome Europe trip was coming. 90 days, 9000 kilometers, a family experience without equal. The next post will be the final one.

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Written by Pie & Pata
Happy is he/she who enjoys family travel.