If you are here, it is because you have already read the first part of our motorhome road trip in Europe. Haven´t you read it yet? Go ahead and click on this link: Motorhome Travel in Europe, Spain. I´ll be here waiting for you.
Now that you have traveled with us through Spain, I invite you to get back on board our beautiful house with wheels and cross the Pyrenees together to reach one of the most charming countries in Europe: France. There´s a reason why we dedicated a special post to its 31 most beautiful villages (click on that previous link if you haven´t read it). As we mentioned in that article, France has a very special meaning for us since it was there where we first traveled together as a couple and where we fell in love. But I do not want to talk to you about us now. I want you to continue discovering the best corners of the continent to travel with your motorhome. Shall we?
- 1 Part 2: France in a motorhome – First Part
- 1.1 Stage 1: Roncesvalles (Spain) to Saint Jean Pied de Port (France) – 27,5 kilometers
- 1.2 Stage 2: Saint Jean Pied de Port to Lourdes – 164 kilometers
- 1.3 Stage 3: Lourdes to Lac de Lourdes – 3 kilometers
- 1.4 Stage 4: Lac de Lourdes to Castelnaudary – 230 kilometers
- 1.6 Stage 5: Castelnaudary to Minerve – 90 kilometers
- 1.7 Stage 6: Minerve to Lyon – 412 kilometers
- 1.8 Stage 7: Lyon to Dijon – 196 kilometers
- 1.9 Stage 8: Dijon to Cromary – 104 kilometers
- 1.10 Stage 9: Cromary to Colmar – 160 kilometers
Part 2: France in a motorhome – First Part
Before we begin: it is the first part in France since on our return we will come back to this beautiful country.
Stage 1: Roncesvalles (Spain) to Saint Jean Pied de Port (France) – 27,5 kilometers
In the Aquitaine region, we find this beautiful French village that is part of the French Basque Country and that was, until 1512, part of the Kingdom of Navarre. It is a beautiful walled citadel built during the time of the Cardinal – and then Prime Minister -Richelieu to prevent possible Spanish attacks. Today, it is the pilgrims who cross its beautiful cobblestone streets on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
Just 8 kilometers separate Saint-Jean- Pied- de-Port from the Spanish border, but as soon as you enter this town, you begin to feel that “I don´t know what” of the small French towns. Maybe it’s something very personal, but we cannot help it. We keep falling in love with these towns. Maybe it is because of their cobbled streets that go up to the town castle. Maybe it is because of their bridges that cross rivers (the Nive in this case) that go into the citadels. Maybe it´s their wines and their cheeses. Or maybe it´s about the green and red flags hanging from the windows, or the colorful flowers everywhere. Whatever the reason is, we are in France and we feel happy.
We left our motorhome in a parking lot at a very short walk distance from the center (10 minutes). The parking is on a small slope so to return to the motorhome you have to climb up, but nothing that cannot be done. This is the parking lot on the map:
It is not possible to spend the night there so we decided to continue our journey to the next stop: Lourdes.
Stage 2: Saint Jean Pied de Port to Lourdes – 164 kilometers
It was somewhat late when we arrived in Lourdes so we preferred to leave the visit for the next morning. We chose a campsite this time. Le Vieux Berger is located just 2 kilometers away from the city center and has all the amenities to spend a nice day and a natural environment that is worth to be enjoyed. That’s how surrounded by mountains, we went to sleep. There is a campsite somewhat closer to the center called Camping de La Poste. But we went for the natural environment that Le Vieux Berger offered us and because it had a kid´s playground.
To get to the center of Lourdes there is nothing better than a couple of bicycles. In medium and large sized cities it is always advisable to find a place in the suburbs to park the motorhome and arrive by bicycle or public transport. Unless the apps we named in our first article in this series ( CamperContact and Park4Night) show suitable places to leave the vehicle, we could be going around and around without finding a place to park it.
Let’s go back in time 160 years, more precisely to February 11, 1858. Lourdes was a small village with humble houses and a population that was mostly illiterate (80%). Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old girl, along with two of her sisters, went to fetch firewood because there was no more left in her house. It was also good for them to walk and feel the outdoors, and be able to leave that precarious house where they lived with their parents who did what they could to feed their children despite their extreme poverty.
When they reached the Gave River they felt a strong breeze running down their backs. But the leaves of the trees were completely still, and nothing moved around. The breeze was felt one more time. Bernadette turned around and there, inside a large cave 3 meters and a half high by 3 meters and a half wide that nature had excavated in the mountain, she appeared for the first time. She was a beautiful woman, dressed in white, with a huge smile and an imposing presence, calm but imposing.
Bernadette recalled: “In the opening of a rock, called Masse-Vieille cave, I saw a young woman. Thinking I was just confused about what I was seeing, I rubbed my eyes; but when I opened them again, I could still see the young woman, who was smiling at me and making signs for me to approach. The woman wore a white tunic with a veil that covered her head and reached to her feet, on each of which she had a yellow rose, the same color as the beads of her rosary. The girdle of the tunic was blue. (…) I was afraid. Then I saw that the girl was still smiling. I reached into my pocket to pick up the rosary that I always carry with me and it fell to the ground. My hand was shaking. I knelt. I saw that the young woman crossed herself … I made the sign of the cross and I prayed with the young woman … While I was praying, she was passing the beads of the rosary (…) After that, she smiled at me again. (…) That Lady did not speak to me until the third time. “
It was a total of 18 appearances that this girl experienced, who went from being a poor crazy girl to a miraculous saint. Today the city of Lourdes with just 15,000 inhabitants, in the French region of Midi-Pyrénées, receives an annual tributary of more than 6 million visitors and has become one of the most important pilgrimage centers of the Catholic world. Its Shrine, composed of 22 places of worship distributed in 52 hectares, is really impressive from its architecture and its natural environment, surrounded by mountains, with the river Gave flowing there below, and the grotto where an image of the Virgin marks us the place of the miraculous apparitions. Believing or not believing, religious or not, it is a place of great energy and it is thrilling to see the thousands of pilgrims praying to the Virgin.
Stage 3: Lourdes to Lac de Lourdes – 3 kilometers
Just 3 kilometers away from the city we find a beautiful glacier lake where you can spend the day with your family: picnic tables, a huge park for children, and a natural pool within the waters of the lake, delimited by protection nets so that kids can swim in the waters without having to worry about their safety.
From here, you can take foot or bike trails to go around the lake and enjoy the forests that surround it. The motorhome can be left perfectly in the lake free parking lot, and you can even stay overnight (without services). On the map:
Stage 4: Lac de Lourdes to Castelnaudary – 230 kilometers
We left our motorhome in the service area – well located although somewhat tight – and we set out to tour this small French commune in the Occitan region.
Castelnaudary is located 60 kilometers from Toulouse and just 40 kilometers from the beautiful walled city of Carcassonne. The Canal de Midi runs through its center and it is what gives it a unique beauty. Compared with the other French towns it is not the most beautiful thing we have seen but the walk around the river is worth it and even more if you have a bicycle. The Grand Bassin is an artificial lake of 7 hectares on whose banks you can enjoy the typical cuisine of the region.
Stage 5: Castelnaudary to Minerve – 90 kilometers
Looking for the most beautiful villages in France, we arrived at this amazing little place in the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon, nestled high on a rocky plateau surrounded by huge canyons formed by the passage of two rivers: the Cesse and the Brian.
Minerve was an important Cathar city. It was there where hundreds of Cathars found refuge during the Albigensian Crusade, that movement promoted by the Catholic Church to eradicate from Europe the heretic Cathar who with their religious belief about a dual world, that of God in heaven and souls, and that of the Devil in the earthly and material world, was questioning the Catholic beliefs and especially the Church, whom they branded as corrupt.
Minerve was an ideal place to find protection: on top of rocky cliffs, surrounded by two rivers, with a single point of entry to the walled citadel. The Crusaders had a hard time invading the place. They succeeded in destroying the sources of water and food of the Cathars, who were forced to accept their surrender, and then fell into the “purifying” fire of the Crusaders. Another of the many stories of war in the name of God that have left so many deaths, and unfortunately continues to do so. Poor God, using his name in vain to justify other deeper questions. But let’s not get analytical now, this is a travel blog! I apologize. Let’s keep going.
The motorhome is left in the parking lot of the village -4 euros for a full-day, free from 6 PM and with the possibility of overnight:
Minerve cannot be accessed with any type of vehicle. The whole town is pedestrian. But without a doubt the parking lot is the best place to enjoy the most wonderful view of the place: the rocks falling towards the waters of the river (dry in summer, which allows access to the caves carved by the water in the cliffs) , the leafy Mediterranean forest on the surrounding hills, and there below us, the stone village of Minerve, stopped in time, with its scarcely 120 inhabitants and its memories of that fateful July 22, 1210 when 140 people perished in the Crusaders fire after not wanting to abjure their faith.
Stage 6: Minerve to Lyon – 412 kilometers
The regions that separate the small and quiet town of Minerve from the lively and huge city of Lyon were already traveled by us during our trip to France in 2013, so we preferred to make that trip faster. But if you have never been there we recommend you to stop at the Cevennes Park, and in the cities of Nimes, Avignon, Aix- en- Provence, and the wonderful villages of the Provence: Gordes, Roussillon, Ile- Sur-la – Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse, among others.
We left the motorhome in a parking lot very close to the center (a distance possible to be walked on foot, and ideal for the bicycle) completely free of charge and we spent the night there. It was a very safe and quiet place. On the map:
From Lyon we are going to forget about the bad time that we had to live (Of Bicycle, locks, and the wind on my face), and we will concentrate on talking about one of the most beautiful cities in France, whose old quarter has little to envy to Paris, and that is saying a lot. Lyon is the third most populated city in France with more than 500.000 inhabitants, behind the capital of the country and Marseille. Therefore, we avoid entering the city center with the motorhome.
Not only is it a city full of life and young movement due to its three great universities (it is the second university city of the country), but it is one of the great gastronomic exponents of France. In fact, the famous chef Paul Bocuse, founder of the nouvelle cuisine who died on January 20 of this year, waved with all the honors in France, was born just 10 kilometers away from the city, and it was in Lyon where he explored the world of gastronomy for the first time. So whether you like the history, the nightlife, or the food, Lyon does not fail at all.
Where the Rhône and Saône rivers converge, between the latter and the hill of Fourviere crowned by the Basilica of Notre – Dame and the metal tower inspired by the Eiffel Tower, the most beautiful neighborhood in the entire city stretches before us: Vieux Lyon, the medieval and Renaissance part of the city, divided into three Parts: Saint-Georges, Saint-Jean and Saint-Paul. This neighborhood is one of the sectors that are protected by the UNESCO as World Heritage of Humanity since 1998.
The hill of the Croix- Rousse and its district that was the center of the silk industry, the hill of Fourviere and its Roman theater and basilica, and the Presqu’Ile (“almost island”) and its Renaissance streets, are only some of the heritage riches of this beautiful French city that is worth traveling to, crossing its bridges and enjoying it from its streets.
Stage 7: Lyon to Dijon – 196 kilometers
There is no place to leave the motorhome in the heart of Dijon, but there are several parking options a few minutes away on foot. We decided on a picnic area where it is possible to spend the night and it was only 25 minutes walk from the center. The environment was so beautiful that we decided to spend that first day touring the forest that surrounded it: the Parc des Carrieres Baquin. On the map:
In addition to being world famous for its mustard and Burgundy wines, this city overflows with architectural beauty on every corner. Houses of the Middle Ages, the Gothic Church of Notre Dame de Dijon from the 13th century and its owl that brings good luck to those who touch it, the beautiful Place de la Libération with the Palace of the Dukes and the States of Burgundy that nowadays houses the Town Hall and the Museum of Fine Arts, which transform Dijón into one of the most important French cities on an artistic level.
The surroundings of Dijon invite you to a walk through vineyards and small medieval towns. But this city is so beautiful, and so unexpected, that there is little desire to leave. Undoubtedly one of the high points of our first French stage.
Stage 8: Dijon to Cromary – 104 kilometers
If we talk about the high points of our first French stage, we cannot stop thinking about Cromary, perhaps THE highest point of all. For some reason, we chose it as part of our best 10 travel experiences of 2017. It was there that we began to fall in love with the concept of Slow Travel. It was at that campsite on the banks of the river, and from where the hikes started through fields of corn surrounded by mountains and forests, where we decided to stop for a little while, stop walking in a hurry, and enjoy the simple fact of being, there, now, together.
Cromary is so small and unknown that Wikipedia dedicates just a sentence to it. But we could be talking hours and hours about this wonderful place in the Franche-Comté region. The camping that we chose, and that was a true paradise, was Camping Verterive, on the banks of the Ognon River, with a private beach to relax for a few days. On the map:
I leave here some photos of our unforgettable walk:
Stage 9: Cromary to Colmar – 160 kilometers
Our last stop in this first France stage was in the beautiful region of Alsace, a zone passed over again and again between French and Germans. Hence the Alsatian pride of belonging to France, and the Germanic architecture that characterizes these flowery villages in the last eastern bastion of the country.
After Strasbourg and Mulhouse, Colmar is the third largest city in Alsace, with almost 70,000 inhabitants. It is the capital of the wines of the Alsace and cultural city. Its historic center houses large buildings of German Gothic style and early Renaissance, with its characteristic pastel shades, exposed wooden beams, and full of flowers. The most beautiful thing about Colmar is its canals that run through its streets and achieve their maximum expression in the neighborhood known as Little Venice from where small boats depart and take you on a different travel experience through the city.
The night in Colmar is very lively, with music on the street, terraces where you can eat the typical Alsatian food with German roots, and enjoy a great city with the air of a village.
We left the motorhome in the service area of the Port de Plaisance, the marina of the city, 1.5 kilometers from the center, which makes it an ideal place to visit not only the city of Colmar on foot but also the surrounding Alsatian villages by bicycle. On the map:
Villages like Riquewihr (50 minutes from Colmar), or Eguisheim (25), are ideal getaways for a beautiful day among vineyards, lonely roads, and flowery villages.
Now it was time to say goodbye to France (for the time being) and cross the border into Germany, crossing the Rhine. But soon we would continue discovering the beauties of this country. We must carry on with our adventure towards Poland, and for that, we still had some countries to go through.
Check the third part HERE!
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