Practicalities of Travelling in France:

This is a compilation of other blog posts (see here and here) that focuses on the day-to-day practicalities of travelling in France.

Where we stayed:

Practicalities of Travelling in France

France-Passion: We stayed primarily at France-Passion sites – over 2,000 farms, vineyards, etc. that allow you to park for free in exchange for looking at their products if they have anything for sale – there is no obligation but we never walked away empty handed. We bought red, white and rose wine, champagne, grape and apple juice, goat cheese, pasta, gingerbread, jam, eggs, and vegetables. All the sites we tried were open and welcoming: www.france-passion.com. An annual subscription is approximately €30.

Aires: These are free or paid parking areas provided by the towns and cities. They often include wastewater dumping, blackwater dumping, paid electricity, freshwater, and sometimes bathrooms. We found them through the Park4Night app (can be used offline after subscribing and downloading a regional map). All of the aires we visited were open for parking, but a few had services shut off for the winter, especially high in the French Alps. We did not stay at motorway aires; they are not generally recommended for staying the night but do have services (gasoline/petrol/diesel, blackwater dumping, picnic tables, restaurants, etc.).

Wild Camping: Wild camping is legal in France (with some conditions and limitations) but with a big motorhome and a small child we didn’t want to risk having to move in the night, so we were cautious in selecting a spot. We found it difficult to be sure that we would feel comfortable with a site based only on online reviews but if we found a site that looked good we used Park4Night to check if there were any reviews for the area (for example, one of our favourite sites was a quiet stretch of road on the banks of the Rhine, where we wild camped for two nights at what was originally planned to be a lunch spot; it looked like it would be OK to stay and we confirmed on Park4Night that other people had stayed without any problems).

Campsites: These range from 1-4 stars depending on the facilities available and can also be found on Park4night. We stayed in a few campsites at the beginning of our trip and then stopped using them when we had figured other solutions for internet, laundry, and dumping waste. Many campsites close for winter.

Water/Electricity/Dumping:

Water and electricity are available on some France-Passion sites (indicated in the guidebook). Otherwise we used Park4Night to find aires – often stopping en route to a France-Passion site rather than staying the night if they had paid parking or were busy.

Driving:

Our most essential navigation tip for motorhomes is to set your GPS for the size of your vehicle – so you are not directed toward low tunnels, weak bridges, or very narrow village roads. Unfortunately, this is not possible in Google Maps. Our inbuilt motorhome GPS has this feature and when it stopped working during the trip we switched to the CoPilot app. The app works offline on a cell phone and we have found it mostly reliable though it has directed us toward a few small streets; if something doesn’t look right, we do not follow it. We see fewer problems when we use the ‘easiest route’ rather than ‘fastest route’ setting. We used Google Maps to find bakeries, grocery stores, etc. and downloaded offline maps of each region so we can use it without an internet connection. Tip: If the search results appear limited, search for the foreign language word, such as boulangerie instead of bakery.

Practicalities of Travelling in France

Priorité à droite: The French highway code states that a when two drivers approach an intersection from different roads, the driver on the left is required to yield, unless directed otherwise by signage. This means that a driver pulling onto a road from the right could have right-of-way. In practice, there seem to be signs overruling priorité à droite almost everywhere  – but we have seen some villages where it is in place. This article from The Local explains it quite well.

Tolls (Péage): It has always been possible for us to pay tolls by credit card however tolls, in general, can be expensive – one 7km tunnel cost us 17 euros! (as the toll is based on the size of the vehicle). We mostly set our GPS to avoid toll roads and we have seen some beautiful country and villages (and also some terrifying narrow village streets and one-lane roads).

Food:

Large chain grocery stores (such as Intermarché, Carrefour, SuperU and E.Leclerc) tend to be located on the outskirts of towns and cities and have parking lots large enough for our motorhome. We have found most of the staples we need (sometimes only after googling “what is X called in France” or “where can I buy X in France” (e.g. baking powder is called levure chimique or levure alsacienne, peanut butter is usually in the organic (bio) aisle). The stores often have a petrol station.

We learned that if you are looking high quality products in super- or hyper-markets it helps to look for the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) or the old AOC (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) label – this is a protection for products produced in specific regions using traditional methods. We also picked up lots of delicious cheeses which were marked down to two euros because they were nearing their expiration

The best food we bought came from France-Passion sites, speciality stores (e.g. bread – boulangerie, pastries – patisserie, cheese – fromagerie, goat cheese – chèvrerie, etc.) and local markets. Market days can be searched for on this site (select “chercher un marché” (search for a market) “autour de moi” (around me).

Picard is a French chain which offers good quality frozen food. We would plan to buy a couple of items and end up with a bag full of frozen goodies, including salmon, international foods such as falafels, and surprisingly good French favourites such as gougères (pastry puffs). Amelia loved the strawberry banana popsicles.

General:

Laundry: We have some heavy clothes like jeans that take too long to air dry. We struggled to find places with washers and dryers other than campsites until we noticed the washers and dryers which are available in the parking lots of many grocery stores. These can be found on this website (search “a proximite” – nearby – and be sure to find a “laverie” – not a photobooth).

Homewares: Grocery stores have some housewares and we also visited Ikea when stocking our motorhome.

Clothing/Outdoors: Decathlon was a useful stop for hiking boots and warm clothes.

Practicalities of Travelling in France

Money: We make all of our payments using a Revolut card. Revolt is an online bank and will do currency conversions at the Interbank rate.  You also get a virtual card (that you can link to Google Pay or your Apple Wallet) for free that can be used for online shopping. You can fund your Revolt account by charging your current credit or debit card.

LPG: Our heater and stove run on LPG gas (called GPL in France). We also used gas designated as GPLc with no problems. Sites supplying LPG can be found on:  www.mylpg.eu 

Internet: We purchased a sim card from a provider called Free and use it in a mifi device (which provides wifi for our motorhome). For €20 per month, the Free sim gives us 210 GB per month in France (and 25 GB per month while roaming). We purchased the sim from a kiosk (bourne) inside a tobacconist shop. You will need to put an address in France. From what we understand, there is no contract but we have not yet cancelled.  Update April 2022: We found that the 25 GB per month outside of France was not sufficient and so have switched to Tiekom.com based in Spain. They offer 300 GB per month for a monthly €40. We have encountered no issues. We learnt about it here and Camino was very helpful. You have to have the SIM card mailed to you and the package must be signed for.

Translations: we use Google Translate and downloaded the French dictionary so we can use it offline. The camera mode (point it at text to translate) has also been very helpful.  If you are connected to the internet, Google Translate can perform a real-time voice/dictation translation. Update May 2021: DeepL – is much better at high quality translations

Covid: We used https://reopen.europa.eu/ for information on requirements for crossing borders and this site to search for places offering covid tests in France (in case we needed to get tested before crossing a border). We use The Local for French news in English.

Practicalities of Travelling in France

Attractions: We visited many farms and vineyards via France-Passion and we also enjoyed visiting some of the villages designated as the most beautiful villages in France (“Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”). They might be crowded during the summer; during the off-season they have been perfect. We have also – by chance – found ourselves following some driving routes such as the “Route du Grande Alpes” – there are many of these routes promoted by local tourist offices. Information on walking/hiking paths can be found on www.sentiers-en-france.eu.

Back to France and our second French Noël

After an incredible Scandinavian summer, at the beginning of October we arrived back in France. While we had spent 6 months in France previously, we knew that there was much more that we wanted to explore in the motorhome. First, however, we spent a few days in a gite (guest house) at a horseback riding stable where we could relax while Amelia took riding lessons. She was also excited to cook some treats in a bigger kitchen with an oven, including homemade strawberry granola bars for the next stage of our trip. 

Monets_Garden

After our break,  we visited Monet’s house and garden in Giverny. The garden has been planted with an incredible array of seasonal flowers so that it bursts with colour throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. We were lucky to visit on a sunny afternoon in mid-October and we had the Water Lily Pond to ourselves for a few minutes at the end of the day. It was magical in a way that such heavily visited destinations seldom can be. 

Sunset

We then began exploring the coast following a list of suggestions sent to us by our Les Eyzies friend and neighbour Antoine, who is originally from Normandy. Our first stop was the Alabaster Coast where white chalk cliffs stretch from Dieppe to Étretat. We explored the beautiful small town of Veules-les-Roses and wild camped with incredible sunset views. Our next stop was the busy port of Honfleur, where we shared a motorhome aire with 180 motorhomes (Amelia carefully counted them and noted the countries that they had come from), rode the merry-go-round, and had crepes and hot (and very alcoholic!) cider spiked with calvados. Then we visited France’s smallest port, Port Racine, enjoying the beautiful country views on the Cotentin peninsula. Throughout Normandy, we stayed at France Passion sites to stock up on local products: apples, apple cider, apple juice, calvados, and fresh cheese. 

Normandy

As we continued through the countryside, Mont Saint-Michel appeared in distance like fantastic fairy-tale castle floating in the sea. Much like Carcassonne, it is more alluring from a distance (the interior is filled with tourist shops) but we still enjoyed a walk around the ramparts. We then returned in the evening to see it surrounded by water and to catch a glimpse of the city by lamplight. As we returned to our shuttle bus, we were hit by the first bands of rain from a terrific storm. That evening, the motorhome rocked wildly and branches broke in the wind but we escaped without any damage. Our final stops in Normandy were more sombre. We visited the Bayeux Tapestry – woven almost one thousand years ago and showing scenes from the battle of Hastings in life-like detail – and the D-Day beaches along with the Normandy American Cemetery, where white crosses marking the graves stretch as far as you can see.

Rose_granite

It was then time to move on to Brittany. Our first stop was a big campsite with many activities – a treat for Amelia and still very quiet because it was not yet school holidays. Over three days, Amelia spent about 12 hours in the heated indoor pool/waterpark and she rode the ziplines and tried the tree climbing adventure course. This was good practice for a bigger tree climbing course, the Forêt Adrénaline Carnac, which was one of Amelia’s highlights in Brittany. We all also enjoyed the rose granite coast (another screen-saver bucket list item!), the misty and mossy Huelgoat forest, the mystical standing stones around Carnac, and a smaller site where it was possible to walk amongst standing stones without a guide – another magical experience.

Steampunk_Animals

Amelia was keen to celebrate Halloween/trick-or-treat, but because trick-or-treat is not a typical French custom, we decided to visit the Broceliande forest for the Celtic festival of Samhain. This included a witches’ market and a fire show. Finally, we stopped in Nantes to shop in a Mexican market and see the city’s incredible steam-punk machines, such as a carousel of fantastical sea creatures and a 12 m / 39 ft tall animatronic elephant

When we arrived back in France, we had also posted on Worldschooling and French home education Facebook groups so that we could find some playdates for Amelia. Our first visit was with Tracy and her family in Normandy: Amelia had a wonderful time exploring a corn-field jungle and jumping on the trampoline with a welcoming group of English-speaking children. Next, we were happy to be invited to visit the “Traveling Twins” family – Amelia loved meeting their girls and we enjoyed chatting about traveling and worldschooling with Anja and Nick. As we left Brittany, we squeezed in our last visit with Kat, Mark, and kids. Mark cooked up a delicious South African potjie, we chatted and laughed late into the night, and decided to stay an extra day! Our last stop was a France Passion to pick up some cognac and then we arrived back “home” in Les Eyzies in our friends’ little cottage where we have spent so much time. 

Horse_riding

We were very happy to visit with our friends and catch up on their news and we settled in to enjoy our second French Noël (Christmas), this time without a lockdown. We picked holly in the forest and enjoyed having a fire, a Christmas tree decorated with homemade ornaments, and lots of meals involving melted cheese. Amelia was able to take riding lessons (group lessons in French but the owner speaks English) at the beautiful Ferme Des Eymaries and a wonderful art class with a group of English-speaking children, where she was very happy to catch up with her friend Lauren. Independently, Amelia practiced her new passion of gymnastics – learning from videos, our neighbour Agnès, and even an online Outschool class.

Bordeaux

At the beginning of December, we were treated to our first snowfall in Les Eyzies – the snow only lasted a few hours but it transformed our familiar landscapes into a winter wonderland. We visited local markets in Le Bugue and St Cyprien (full of olives, oranges, and seafood) and Christmas markets in Sarlat (Mexican-themed with ice-skating!) and Bordeaux (we saw beautiful Christmas lights and tasted delicious aligot). Near Bordeaux, we also hiked on the Dune du Pilat (the tallest sand dune in Europe). We had a wonderful time feasting, toasting, and celebrating Christmas eve with our neighbours Antoine, Peter, Agnès – and of course their dogs Happy and Topsy. For the new year, we are visiting Cayman, and then we will see what the future brings – perhaps Italy and Greece in the footsteps of our friends The Chouters & Bijou and Frenchy Le Van

Scandinavia to France

After leaving Norway, we had only a few weeks before we needed to be back in France. Due to our particular visa situation, we can spend unlimited time in France but only 90 days in any 180-day period in the rest of the Schengen Zone.

Back in France

As we drove through Sweden, we immediately fell in love with the forests and lakes – like Norway, it is a wild camping paradise. At our first lunch stop, we plunged from a dock into a sun-warmed lake, enjoying a peaceful end to the summer. We also camped at beautiful Lake Fegen, a site we bookmarked from a photo by Frenchy Le Van when we were only dreaming of visiting Scandinavia. During a few days of rainy weather, we visited Ikea to pick up some cosy new furnishing for the motorhome (during our travels we had read about hygge) and ate some Swedish meatballs and veggie meatballs with delicious lingonberry jam and gravy. As we mentioned in our last blog, Amelia had also been looking forward to eating Swedish banana pizza. We found a highly-rated pizza takeaway and ordered a banana pizza (it also had chicken, peanuts, and curry powder) and a kabab pizza (cooked and then topped with a pile of french fries). The banana pizza was surprisingly good – though Amelia gave it 3 out 10 stars because it “tasted like bananas”. She loved the “french fry pizza” and rated it 10 out of 10! Amelia’s highlight however was Sweden’s unbelievable playgrounds: we wish every country with the resources would follow Sweden’s example. For Gary, we stopped at Öckerö, an island port which he sailed from 24 years ago in the Tall Ships Races. The ship he sailed, Hawila, had been sold but we soon tracked her down near Copenhagen. We decided to continue on to Denmark and promised Amelia more playgrounds.

Back in France

When we reached Denmark, we able to tour Hawila and learn about the plans for her future. Then we visited Copenhagen and enjoyed the Reffen street food market and its fantastic array of international foods – especially a taste of home with some sweet fried plantains! With some advice from our friend Jane and her sister, we made a circle of Zeeland and some of the surrounding islands, enjoying the quaint thatched cottages and the beautiful late summer light, spotting wild ponies in Dovns Klint, and taking as many opportunities as possible to eat fish with remoulade sauce. We also tried Smørrebrød (Danish open-faced sandwiches) – picking some up for a picnic at a park that Amelia didn’t want to leave. We soon learned that despite being what we would consider “sandwiches” they are not finger food! Nonetheless they were delicious. Denmark also has great playgrounds, though some seem to be aimed at slightly younger children than the playgrounds we visited in Sweden. Amelia’s favourite playground activity was navigating the model traffic circles and roads in Copenhagen parks – important for teaching children traffic rules in a country where they cycle from a young age. She also loved the fabulous playground in Kolding which had a full track with moon cars, free paddle boats, and many play structures. On a playground next to one of our campsites, Amelia heard another child speaking English and Spanish and immediately ran over to meet her. We started chatting to the family and they invited us to visit them. We spent a couple of fun days together – eating delicious Spanish food cooked by Elvira, trying the town children’s sport of crab racing, and marvelling at Kjeld’s Lego collection – before it was time for us to move on.

By that time, our time in the Schengen Zone was nearly done so we headed back through Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium with very few stops – just a few playgrounds, some shopping for international foods in Germany, and one last stop for Belgian ‘frites’.

And very soon we were back in France!

Our second four weeks in Norway

Our second month in Norway was even more awe-inspiring than the first. After meeting with Linda and Steven from The Chouters, we continued north on the Kystriksveien (Coastal Highway/FV 17) coastal route. This is a 630km scenic route which is more beautiful but slower than the E6 highway: there are six ferry crossings on the main route and many more possible crossings to additional islands.

Arctic_Circle

As we headed north along the route, we began to cross incredible lunar landscapes and, on a ferry, we entered the Arctic Circle (and brought out our Cayman Islands flag). Linda and Steven recommended a wild camping site that overlooked Svartisen Glacier and Amelia picked wild blueberries and raspberries. We also saw the Saltstraumen maelstrom, where some of the world’s strongest tidal currents form whirlpools when the tide rushes in and out of the fjord.

We parked by a beach just outside Bodø. Soon other motorhomes arrived and Amelia met some French children and played with them in the golden evening light. While the kids played, the parents told us about their experiences in the Lofoten Islands, particularly the Reinebringen hike, and we shared Vin de Noix (fortified walnut wine) and Vin de Sureau (fortified elderflower wine) that we made in France. We also chatted with a couple from the Netherlands who also had a Weinberg motorhome. Amelia became interested in spotting license plates during our travels and mentioned to them that she had noticed their “NL” license plates. We were touched when they left us a bag of treats and a sweet note from the “NL Weinsberg” before driving off early the next morning.

Reinebringen

The next day, we drove into Bodø where it is possible to catch a ferry to the Lofoten Islands. There was a forecast for sunny weather the next morning, followed by a week of rain, so we decided to catch a night ferry to Moskenes, near the western tip of the Lofoten Islands. It was our roughest ferry crossing yet and we were glad to see an incredible wall of jagged mountains as we approached the islands in the twilight. We drove to the town of “Å” a few miles away and stayed in a parking lot which was filled with motorhomes from all over Europe. The next day, we woke up early and set off to hike Reinebringen while it was still sunny. It was a difficult hike up 1,560 steps but the views from the top were truly spectacular. We felt as if we had stepped into one of computer screen saver photos that had tempted us before we had even started our travels.

Next, we stopped in the town of Reine and found it very touristy – even late in the summer and in a Covid year with no cruise ships or tour buses. A cold rain began to fall the next day so we took the opportunity to visit a glassblowing shop that had been recommended by our friends at Frenchy Le Van – it was a perfect day to watch amazing glass blowing demonstrations by a roaring furnace.

Birthday_Campsite

We then began driving back through the chain of islands toward the mainland, following recommendations from the wonderfully comprehensive Motoroamers blog – they even have an eBook on the Lofoten  Islands. We found the islands to be much less busy once we left Reine and particularly enjoyed the 815 route – a quiet road with spectacular granite boulders and spiky mountains. Next, we drove through Andoya and took an evening ferry to Senya – following even more scenic routes. We did not find these islands to be quite as stunning as the Lofoten Islands (almost an impossible act to follow) but if the Lofoten Islands were too busy we thought they would be preferable! We agreed that we loved the lack of crowds and the sense of discovery and exploration that we found in Norway; the popular places are popular for a reason but many areas that are off the beaten track are just as spectacular. Too soon, it was time to head south. We found a small friendly campsite and settled in for a couple of days to celebrate Gary’s birthday – including his first ‘polar plunge’ within the Arctic Circle.

Given that the Kystriksveien which we took on the way north is a scenic route and the E6 is an inland highway, we had low expectations for the drive south. However, the northern portion of the E6 was surprisingly scenic. We would still pick the coastal highway if we were only driving one way in Norway but we enjoyed seeing granite domes, fjords, forest, and high plateau – including reindeer by the Arctic Circle Centre and musk ox habitat near Hjerkin.

Morning_Mist

On our way to the Lofoten Islands, we took a route near the coast and missed several highly recommended scenic routes and sites, planning to see them on our way south. First, we visited Briksdalbreen Glacier. The surrounding area is also spectacular, with rivers and lakes coloured a shocking blue by ‘rock flour’ – rocks which have been pulverized to dust by the movement of the glacier and which are suspended in the water. We then drove more incredible scenic routes, including Trollstigen (a dramatic mountain road with a 10% grade and eleven hairpin bends), Dalsnibba Utsiktspunkt (literally jaw-dropping scenery which we viewed through gaps in the mist), Gamle Strynefjellsveg (landscapes from another planet with guard stones lining the road like teeth), and the Flåm scenic route (where we were fortunate to see flaming autumn foliage reflected in the dark water).

We left Norway by way of Moss, near Oslo, where we visited Gary’s old friends Bernhard and Olaug – spending some wonderful time together and joining them for a typically Norwegian taco dinner . It was sad to say goodbye to Bernhard and Olaug and leave Norway after two months of wonderful travels but at the same time we were excited to enter our next country: Sweden, where Amelia was looking forward to trying banana pizza – you’ll find her review in our next blog 😊

Practicalities of Travelling in Norway:

Because of the uncertainty of travel during COVID-19, we did very little itinerary planning before we arrived in Norway. We were lucky to find some extremely helpful and comprehensive motorhome blogs to help us get up to speed…e.g.

Motoroamers

OurTour Motorhome Blog

Wandering Bird

The Gap Decaders

We also met Linda and Steven from The Chouters & Bijou while we were in Norway and loved reading their very funny and beautifully-illustrated blogs while they travelled south and we travelled north.

You can read our Norway itineraries here:

And we have added a few other notes below:

  1. AutoPASS: be sure to order an electronic tag for both AutoPass and AutoPASS Ferry when you are starting to plan your trip so that you can have the tag mailed to you. If this isn’t possible, you can still register online: normally, you will still benefit from the AutoPASS discount when your license plate is scanned.
  2. When to visit: we arrived at the middle of July and left at the middle of September – perfect for outside activities, hiking and picking berries. We felt lucky to stay for the beginning of autumn: attractions were quieter in late August (after Norwegian schools re-opened) and in September, trees were turning orange and red near Flåm. Spring would be an interesting time to visit to see rushing waterfalls, the last of the snow, and the arrival of thousands of puffins, though road conditions and hikes could be more challenging. In winter, there are opportunities for skiing, visiting ice caves, and seeing the northern lights. 
  3. Tourist Offices: we found excellent informational materials (including a booklet/magazine for each region) in the various tourism offices along our route.  A number of the offices offered free Wi-Fi.
  4. Scenic routes: early in our trip, we picked up a booklet on the stunning Norwegian Scenic Routes . We then prioritized these drives and travelled 14 of the 18 routes: see our itinerary posts above. The scenery is literally jaw-dropping while driving and we snapped hundreds of pictures out the window but you cannot truly appreciate the scale, the colours, and the sensations until you are outside your vehicle. We recommended getting out as often as possible, whether it is to hike or just to stand by the road soaking in the smell of salt or seaweed from the fjords, the sound of bells on wandering sheep, the colour of the fjords or the size of the mountains.
  5. Groceries: we brought a lot of food with us that we had purchased at a discount store in Germany and found that we were able to buy anything else we needed in Norwegian groceries stores ( for a description of the various stores see this post from Life in Norway). Generally we shopped at Coop (in their larger “Extra” or “Mega” stores) or Kiwi. Bunnpris and REMA 1000 are discount stores but we didn’t always find the prices low enough to justify the more limited selection.
  6. Food: popular snack foods include hotdogs, svele pancakes (folded in half to make a sandwich with brown cheese and butter or butter and sugar; often served on ferries), waffles, and tacos (a Friday-night favourite; we love tacos and we were happy to be able to buy taco ingredients – though only ‘Old El Paso’ style brands). In addition, we also enjoyed eating salmon and wild berries, and apples and plums from the many orchards on the side of the fjords. We snacked on spring rolls and churros while exploring Trondheim but otherwise we didn’t eat out in Norway.
  7. Where to stay: we found this link to be a helpful summary of rules for parking (vs camping) in Norway. We used Park4Night and spent most of our nights wild camping. It is also possible to find your own sites. Marinas are also a good option for paid sites with facilities; many campsites seemed crowded and expensive but we enjoyed staying at Oldevatn Camping which offered free boats to explore a glacial lake.
  8. Diesel prices: Diesel pricing baffled us (and a lot of other motorhomers too).  We drove past one station in the morning and the price was NOK14.49/litre and when we drove past again after lunch it was NOK17.49/litre (50 litres would be €15 more expensive!)  From what we could gather, diesel prices are generally cheapest on Sundays and first thing on Monday mornings. 
  9. Propane: It is true that LPG/GPL is not as widely available as in countries such as France but we found that we would drive past a pump twice a week.  We would fill up when we could instead of when we needed to.  It also appeared that filling ‘foreign’ gas bottles was possible. Both Park4Night and MyLPG helped us find filling stations.
  10. Dumping/water etc: there are many options on Park4Night.
  11. Laundry: we only found laundry facilities at campsites and marinas. Some will let you use the facilities without an overnight stay.
  12. KID bank account: There were 2 occasions when we needed to make a wire transfer (to pay AutoPASS until we changed to charging a credit card and to pay a parking ticket).  Both times the SWIFT payment/wire failed.  It appears that this happened because a KID (“kundeidentifikasjon” or customer identification) is needed.  You need to request the details of the bank account for non-KID payments.
  13. Internet: Norway has excellent cell phone coverage so it is easiest to use data rather than depending on campsite Wi-Fi (often poor signal strength) or free Wi-Fi. If you are looking for free Wi-Fi, grocery stores, gas stations, and tourist offices seemed to be the best places to check.
  14. Public bathrooms: abundant and very clean. Many had stunning views or were uniquely designed.
  15. Swimming pools: due to cool weather when we visited, the warm indoor public swimming pools were a highlight for our daughter. She loved them so much that we visited about one pool per week. Depending on the size of the facility, they may have waterslides, diving boards, climbing walls, and even whirlpools and wave pools. These are public pools not luxury spas, but for adults, there may be designated lanes for lap swimming, jacuzzis, steam rooms, and saunas. Two favourites: Lustrabadet and Atlanterhaven but the smaller pools (in nearly every large town) are also fun and generally less expensive.  
  16. Hiking: we did some amazing hiking in Norway, including the extremely popular hikes of Preikestolen/Pulpit Rock and Reinebringen. If you search for “hikes in Norway” you will see many challenging 10 to 12 hour hikes but during our trip we naturally came across many easier family-friendly opportunities e.g. a short walks to Briksdalsbreen Glacier and Torghatten.

Our favourites in Norway:

First of all, the incredible scenery. The fjord region was how we imagined Norway – but more spectacular – and we were surprised by the variety of the landscapes even within this region. The inner fjords, far from the sea, are classic ‘fjordland’ with dramatic views around every bend in the road. We especially loved seeing the different coloured water – ranging from ice-blue glacier melt to dark black reflecting the autumn leaves. The outer fjords, near the ocean, are lower – but they have incredible sea cliffs (such as Hornalen) and bird islands (such as Runde). The “top” Norway places truly are stunning: Preikestolen, Lofoten islands, Geiranger fjord, Trollstigen, and Flåm scenic lookout. We were lucky to see them in an unusual year when they were not too busy. Otherwise, they would be best off season or there are many other uncrowded and spectacular areas to explore. Some of our other favourites: amazing wild camping; hiking – particularly Reinebringen; picking wild blueberries and raspberries in the forests and along the edges of the fjords; glacial rivers and lakes; fjord horses; wild reindeer near the Arctic Circle Centre; drinks on a floating dock in Trondheim; and swimming in the fjords, including a “polar plunge” in the Arctic Circle.

And Amelia loved the swimming pools and making friends with other children at wild camps and campsites.

We couldn’t possibly recommend a Norway road-trip more highly.

Low vs High Tide

We arrived at the end of Saltfjorden (outside Bodø) at low tide. Six hours later it was high tide and the parking spot was much busier I took another photo.

Drag the slider left and right to compare the two photos.

This turned out to be one of our favourite campsites because of the people we met. We chatted with a couple from the Netherlands in another Weinsberg motorhome; they left us a note and entirely unexpected gift of Norwegian candies when they drove off early the next morning. Then Amelia met three French children travelling in a campervan – the kids played on the beach for hours and we shared an after-dinner glass of vin de noix and of vin de sureau (both made in Les Eyzies) with their parents!

Our first four weeks in Norway

WOW!   Norway is impressive.  In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slartibartfast, designer of planets, wins an award for the Norwegian fjords.  We know now that the award was well-deserved.

Janice was impressed by the scenery between Kristiansand and Stavanger; Gary, who visited Stavanger 24 years ago, knew the coast would become more spectacular as we travelled north.

Gary re-lived parts of his visit to Stavanger by suggesting we drive down to Lysebotn (at the end of Lysefjord) and then catch the ferry to Forsund. We drove through a lunar landscape at the end of the fjord, and then viewed its vertical nearly 1,000m (3,300′) granite walls from the bottom, during the ferry crossing, and from the top at Preikestolen (“Pulpit Rock”).  The hike to Preikistolen is challenging (8 km/5 miles in total with a climb of 300m/1,000’). Amelia made a friend the night before our hike and was thrilled to meet her at the top. It took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to hike up and then we spent the whole day at Pulpit rock and glacial lakes along the path with Amelia’s friend and her family. Amelia rated the experience 10/10 (a high score usually only achieved by water parks) and she has been enthusiastic about other hikes – especially if their completion is celebrated with expensive Norwegian ice cream!

At a tourist office, we picked up a brochure for “Fjord Norway” which stretches from Stavanger to Ålesund. Even though we usually travel slowly, and we only have a period of 90 days in the Schengen zone, we decided to head north through the fjords to Ålesund. Then, when we reached Ålesund, we decided to continue to Kristiansund – and then the Lofoten Islands.

Gaularfjellet-Utsikten

Norway has a number of National Scenic Routes, which we have followed as we have driven north. Our favourite routes have included the magnificent mountains and glacial lake Røldalsvatnet, Hardangerfjord (covered in orchards), the bleak, windswept Hardangervidda plateau, driving up to Gaularfjellet Utsikten from Balestrand, road 776 from Høylandet, and the Kystriksveien route (Fv17, Coastal Route), especially the island of Leka, Torghatten (hole in the mountain), and the Svartisen Glacier. We still have Trollstigen and Geirangerfjord ahead of us, as we plan to see them as we head south.

Tunnel

The mountains make for narrow, twisty roads with lots of tunnels – they are often dark, and the walls are unsurfaced as they have been hacked through solid granite. Gary guessed we had driven through 100 kilometres (60 miles) of tunnels but then as he thought about it, he figured that we often drive through 10km of tunnels a day, so we have easily driven through 200km (120 miles) of tunnels in these four weeks! A couple of tunnels completed 360° turns inside the mountains and the most amazing so far was the tunnel near Eidefjord with a roundabout in the middle!

Polar-Plunge

Norway is a paradise for wild camping. Lay-byes next to a fjord or lake, picnic areas, and visitor centre parking areas are often available. It took a couple of nights to get used to this new (to us) way of camping but now we are quite happy parked next to a quiet road with an amazing, always changing view. From our overnight parkings we have seen dolphins, glaciers, sea cliffs, farms, forests, ferry docks, and harbours and we have barbequed, had beach bonfires, and even done a ‘polar plunge’ into a fjord.

Summertime is berry time and we have collected our share of wild blueberries and raspberries. Amelia has fallen in love with cooking after watching “Cook with Amber”. She suggested making parfaits and frozen yogurt bark with wild berries and some of her other favourite Amber recipes for the trip have included peanut butter energy balls, guacamole, carrot pitas, salmon sushi hand rolls, and rice balls.

Some of Amelia’s other favourites have been the heated swimming pools which also have water slides. She also enjoyed visiting the island of Leka and investigating the mystery of little Svanhild, who as a 3 ½ year old in 1932, was apparently taken from a coastal farm by a sea eagle. She was found 7 hours later, mostly unharmed, on an inaccessible ledge in the mountains below a sea eagle’s nest. Ornithologists still question whether a sea eagle could carry her weight but, having seen the location of the ledge where she was found, it is difficult to imagine any other explanation.

A pleasant surprise was meeting up with motorhomers Linda and Steven; they used the same dealership as us to buy their motorhome and have been travelling in Europe for the past 2+ years. When we contacted them after reading a post on their blog about Norway, we were just 10km apart. They were heading south and we were heading north but we were able to meet for a quick coffee in Brønnøysund.

Originally, we had planned to spend about four weeks in Norway. Well, we have been here four weeks and we are still heading north. The scenery is so amazing that we are compelled to see what is in the next valley.

We have an idea of where we might turn around and head south but who knows? What will the next 4 weeks bring us?

Read Part II of our summer trip here

We pay a flying visit to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark

Our goal was reach Norway without being caught by any border closures or lockdowns (four lockdowns is enough for now) so we rushed north from France. Along the way, we had just a taste of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.

While we love France, it was exciting to cross the border from France to Belgium and feel that we were on the move at last. We settled in a small paid parking lot by a canal (goodbye to abundant free aires and France Passion sites) and immediately discovered a large park and playground, equipped with water pumps and channels for kids to play with. For dinner, we stopped at a frituur for Belgian beers and piles of frites with ketchup and mayo. The next morning, we went to a bakery and tried a new pastry – it was a hardy dough wrapped around a spiced whole apple – a new favourite.  We prefer to drive just 1.5 hours per day (with some days of no driving) but to make our way north we had some longer days. We enjoyed refuelling with delicious Belgian chocolate on long drives.

Cycling through the trees

We visited two interesting cycling attractions in Belgium – Cycling through Water in Bokrijk and Cycle through the Trees in Bosland. The first is a path through a lake that puts cyclists at eye-level with the water; the second is a circling ramp raising up through the treetops. Gary crashed off his bike but fortunately his helmet absorbed the shock of his fall, and aside from a few scrapes and bruises he was OK to keep going.  

Waffle in Ghent

Next stop, Ghent; thank you to friends for the recommendation. We stayed in a campsite near a lake; Amelia managed many hours of playground time with a new friend (an English speaking seven-year-old with a birthday the day after hers) plus a morning swim (polar plunge style! – she is still our Caribbean baby). Despite cold rain which chased us home early, we enjoyed the historic centre of the city, with its twin cathedrals and bell tower, and a €10 strawberry and cream waffle from a street stand that didn’t have prices on the menu! But Amelia’s bucket list was complete with “waffles and fries” (from a song she learned at school in Cayman).

Maesland

We then crossed the border into the Netherlands. We had asked where it was possible to see windmills and were told “everywhere”, which was definitely true – old fashioned wooden windmills and modern wind turbines dotted the landscape. We also cycled along the impressive Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier and spent the night parked the Hoek van Holland (right along the Rotterdam harbour canal with enormous ships passing just outside the window). Guess what – another playground, this time with a zipline – and we counted almost 40 swans in the river! We also made a quick stop at De Maeslantkering and had a tour of the site. Our final night was spent in a grassy field by a canal. Amazing to see so much land that would be underwater (the lowest point in the Netherlands is seven metres below sea level!) if not for incredible feats of engineering and lots of drainage ditches. It felt a bit dystopian considering climate change – and just after we left, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany were hit by tragic floods.

It was raining when we entered Germany. We stopped at a Lidl for groceries and to stock up on pantry items for Norway, where we had heard that groceries would be more expensive. Wanting a hardy hot meal, we cooked Spaetzle and sausage back at the motorhome. We planned to get a new sim card (which would work in Germany and Scandinavia) but could not get it working; this reminded us of all the problems we had when we arrived in France. We decided to increase the (international) data limit on our French sim card but will be somewhat limited on data.

Big ship

The next day, the weather cleared and we passed many fruit stands; we loaded up on strawberries and cherries. That night, we stopped on a canal near Hamburg. The area had been recommended by our friends John and Kellie; the exact site where they had stayed was full, but we found another one close by with a large playground on one side and a collection of food trucks/stands on the other. We bought a sausage and fries and potato pancakes to share, along with salad (made by Amelia) and fruit from the motorhome, and ate on the sea wall while watching the passing ships.

For each border crossing, we prepared a stack of passports and documents but we were not stopped until we reached Denmark. After a few checks and questions, we were waved across.

Finally, it felt like we had reached the north; we enjoyed the golden afternoon light and pretty fields dotted with flowers. We stayed in a motorhome site with horses and an extremely friendly cat that Amelia nicknamed Mr. Cuddles.

Legoland

The next day we cycled to Legoland – the busiest place we have been in the past 1.5 years but a lifelong dream for the Redferns 😊 And it was all very well organized and not crowded. We enjoyed the miniature cities and water rides (as there were only very short lines, Amelia was able to ride her favourites as many times as she wanted). She also went on her first roller coaster ride (and then did it 2 more times). And she met some lovely princesses who chatted with us about our travels.

The next morning, we stopped at a bakery for bread, and on impulse Gary picked up a couple of custard pastries. He mentioned something about “Danish Pastries”, which Janice said she had never heard of – then “Wait, these are Danishes?” (they certainly seemed to be). We have not yet learned if they are more Danish than, for example, “French Toast” is French.

We anxiously checked the news many times on our trip north; we wanted to balance having reasonable driving days and seeing a little bit of the countries we were travelling through with the risk of possibly missing out on Norway if restrictions changed. On Saturday, it was announced that France was set to go on Norway’s red list on Monday – one day after our scheduled ferry departure. While we are vaccinated and could still enter from a red country, it appeared that Amelia would have to quarantine and we weren’t sure of the rules for her entry.

Fish and Chips

For our final night in Denmark, we drove to Hirtshals, which felt like the end of the world. We were glad to stop and have a cosy cup of tea (and a strawberry smoothie for Amelia) in the motorhome without going outside. Sand was blowing so hard in the wind that we couldn’t approach the beach, but in the evening, we walked down to the harbour and ate delicious fish and chips and fish cakes. The next morning, we woke up at 5am because it was already so bright. The motorhome was rocking so much in the wind that Janice felt a bit ‘seasick’. We were worried our ferry being cancelled but as it got later, we saw people going to the beach in bathrobes (to swim?) and walking small dogs, so we realised that the wind must be nothing out of the ordinary.

We were extremely nervous about missing the ferry to Norway on the last day that we might be allowed to enter, but everything went smoothly (except for the rocking of the boat; there were many seasick passengers). Janice immediately stopped feeling motion sick when we were actually on the water; Gary and Amelia felt a bit queasy so spent the crossing on deck while Janice caught up on some internet time – researching Norway, which we had not been able to do previously. Thanks to some very comprehensive motorhome blogs we quickly picked up some important tips (e.g., duty on alcohol, priority right driving, no potatoes!) and some ideas for our itinerary.

And then – we arrived in Norway. Amelia had a covid antigen test at the ferry port (which she said was much better than the long swab for a PCR test) and we were on our way.

So, waffles and fries, chocolate, dikes, windmills, sausages, shipping, greenhouses, LegoLand, fried fish – just a flying glimpse so we will have to go back one day.

A Roll of the Dice – We Land in Les Eyzies and Keep Coming Back

In late October 2020, we were meandering around in wine country near Chablis, waiting for our long-delayed motorhome license plates. Newspapers had been reporting higher Covid case numbers every week, but everything felt normal in this part of France – we were not under the curfews or other restrictions which had been applied in other areas. We knew that the French president was scheduled to give a speech but thought that additional regional restrictions would be the most likely outcome. However, a strict national lockdown was announced, going into effect at midnight the next day and applying to all parts of France. What to do? Gary went to sleep, knowing that there would be a long drive the next day, wherever we were going. Janice stayed up most of the night contacting friends, posting questions to Facebook, and researching options. Through the night and when we woke up we were stunned by the kindness and generosity of friends and strangers across Europe and the UK. They offered us ideas and connections, and invited us to park on their properties. We were unsure about staying in the motorhome in winter without the possibility of driving regularly to charge the batteries and empty the toilet , so when friends offered the use of their holiday cottage in Dordogne, France, we immediately said, “that’s the place!”. With no more planning, we set out for a 10-hour drive to the south of France. We arrived in the small town of Les Eyzies after dark, passing cliffs towering over the road and arriving at a small stone cottage surrounded by mist . Kathy, who kept the key to the cottage for our friends, kindly let us in and loaned Amelia a wonderful stack of children’s books and DVDs to help us with the lockdown.

It was a strict confinement, with movements limited to only essential trips and a 1-km radius for exercise. All movements required attestation forms (sworn statements with our reasons for leaving home). We first ventured out into our town and we were amazed by the ancient rock shelter and medieval buildings above Les Eyzies. We stood out as the only ‘tourists’ gaping at the rocks and communicating with gestures and Google Translate in the bakery and the Post Office. Rumours soon spread around town that we were an “Australian” family with a “camping car” (French term for motorhome), stranded by Covid.

Just after we arrived, we met our wonderful neighbours Peter and Agnès and became great friends. Peter is Irish, raises guide dogs (Amelia fell in love with his two dogs, Happy and Topsy) and he has walked the length of France. Agnès is French and has taught English in France and French in London. They met on Peter’s walk through France when Topsy hurt her paw at Sorcerer’s Cave and Agnès offered them a ride back to their campsite. Agnès started giving us French lessons, starting with survival phrases so we could stop pointing and start asking for what we needed. She had a brilliant technique of helping us write dialogues for the bakery, the markets, etc. and then practicing them with us dynamically, repeating the words while moving around the house. The dialogues included both sides of the conversation (both what we needed to say and also the likely responses) so we could ask for what we needed and so that we were no longer confused by instructions, questions, and pleasantries such as “would you like a bag?” and “have a good day”! She also introduced us to the brilliant online translator DeepL. You can reach Agnès here.

Despite the lockdown, we loved the area with its deep mossy forests and incredible history. Coming from the Caribbean, sitting in front of the replace, picking holly in the forest , and sipping vin chaud at markets were all new experiences. After 6 weeks, the lockdown nally lifted, and we stayed for Christmas and New Years with new friends (bringing Amelia home from Christmas dinner immediately after dessert – at 1am). After traveling to Portugal in January, so Amelia could attend forest school, we returned to Les Eyzies in May – as it turned out , just in time for France’s third lockdown. Well, we were used to being confined in Les Eyzies and soon this lockdown was over and we started visiting more of the attractions in the area. We didn’t like the idea of leaving  before we could go canoeing and try other activities so we went on a small trip to the south of France (link) and  then returned for more exploring. Here are some of our favourites from our time in Les Eyzies. We could not have ended up in a better place and we can’t thank Tim and Andrea enough for hosting us and our friends in the area for all their ideas, suggestions, and the new places and experiences they have introduced us to.

Recommendations:

Food Shopping and Markets:

  • Our first challenge when we arrived during the lockdown was to find the best places for food shopping. We had been excited to try new foods in France but with restaurants closed and no more visits to France Passion sites (link to the travel in France blog) our options seemed limited. Would we be eating pasta at home? But luckily, bakeries, cheese shops, markets all were deemed essential and stayed open (other “essentials” were another story).
  • For basic food shopping, we went to Intermarche in Le Bugue or Carrefour in Sarlat . We learned that if you are looking high quality products in super- or hyper-markets it helps to look for the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) or the old AOC (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) label – this is a protection for products produced in speci c regions using traditional methods. We also picked up lots of delicious cheeses which were marked down to two euros because they were nearing their expiration – there was an area for these cheeses in both supermarkets
  • Our favourite che e se shop, Fromagerie D’Audrix, was in Le Bugue and they also had stands in local markets. We were very intimidated by the selection at rst and we would stand frozen at the counter until we started asking them to choose for us: “trois fromages pour un assiette de fromage ?” (three cheeses for a cheese plate).
  • We love all the French pastries that we tried, including incredibly light and flaky croissants, pain aux chocolat , pain aux raisins, and chaussons aux pommes. There was also a wonderful choice of interesting fresh bre ad including pain aux noix (walnut bread) and pain bûchette spécial au maïs (not corn bread but bread made with cornmeal). In our local bakery, Amelia always got a lollipop and we learned to ask for our baguettes “pas trop cuit” (not too cooked) to accommodate her wiggly teeth. Maison Lissajoux in Sarlat has incredible pastries and bread, including flavors such as fig and goji berry, etc. – well worth a special trip.
  • Most towns have a market day. For all markets, go to https://www.jours-de-marche.fr/ and select ‘chercher un marché.’ We particularly enjoyed the markets in Saint- Cyprien, Sarlat , and Le Bugue (where there is a stand with Ethiopian co ee – also serving what Amelia says is the world’s best hot chocolate).
  • Picard is a French chain which o ers good quality frozen food. We would plan to buy a couple of items and end up with a bag full of frozen goodies, including salmon, international foods such as falafels, and surprisingly good French favourites such as gougieres (pastry puffs). Amelia loved the strawberry banana popsicles.
  • Decathlon was a useful stop for hiking boots and warm clothes. There is a small store in Sarlat and a larger one near Perigueux.
  • We got haircuts! Planet Hair is a mobile hair salon at the market in Plazac (as well as other locations) – no English spoken but we did ne with showing photos of what we wanted: Amelia got a cute bob. While waiting, we walked through town to see the medieval gardens, forti ed church, and ancient cemetery.
  • Ecomusee de la Noix in Castelnaud has wonderful nut products, including caramelized walnuts (cerneux de noix grilles et caramelises aux noix de perigord).
  • Our favorite local wine was a recommendation from Ruud from the wine list at Hôtel Le Cro-Magnon – Saint- Exupery vineyard.

Les Eyzies:

  • Hiking trails: when we arrived in lockdown, we started exploring the walking trails in our area during our daily exercise period. There are numerous trails in and around Les Ezyies; ranging from less than an hour to full day hikes. We often walked along Chemin du Vieux Porche which ends in a footpath that gives views across the valley (and good mobile signal – this was important when we were waiting to get internet installed in the house!). We also hiked the 7 Towers trail and Gorge d ‘ Enfer is also nearby. More details can be found at: https://thedordogne.com/marked-hiking-trails-in-les-eyzies-de-tayac/. Another favorite was a path that runs along the back of Les Eyzies under the cliffs – it is an ancient path, used by Cro-Magnons, and is magical.
  • Birdwatching: we saw a Wallcreeper (Tichodrome échelette) at Eglise de Tayac without realizing how lucky we were.  We often saw photographers and their telephoto lenses trying to get a shot.
  • River: we loved accessing the Vézère River downstream from the school/mairie and also at an island which was perfect for exploring and swimming. There is a small bamboo forest next to the camping car aire – a magical place for children to slip into.
  • Playground: For young children, there is a small playground near the school.
  • Restaurants: First on our list was our friends’ restaurant at Hôtel Le Cro-Magnon. Everything we had was delicious – don’t skip the luscious desserts and you must also try the amazing homemade limoncello. Neighbours also recommended (but we haven’t had a chance to try) Le Maison and Le Passeur.
  • Museums: Les Eyzies has a fantastic pre-history museum. There is a full-sized mammoth, other re-constructed prehistoric animal replicas, incredible rock carvings and artifacts and comprehensive signage in English.

Picturesque nearby towns:

Too many to mention. We were lucky in the towns that we visited were quiet due to Covid – we may have had a di erent impression in high season. The Vézère River joins the Dordogne River in Limeuil; along the Dordogne River valley there is also Beynac (with its castle, Château de Beynac – the movie Chocolat was lmed here) and Domme (a walled hilltop village and part of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France/”The Most Beautiful Villages of France”). Another village with that designation is Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère; it was one of our favorite villages in France. We visited on a canoe trip (see below). See also the markets section of this post – Saint Cyprien and the medieval centre of Sarlat are beautiful and have great markets. While there are no restaurants or other facilities, it is also interesting to pass through the beautiful town of Urval and see the 14 century bread oven (Four Banal).

Canoeing:

We wanted a short route to leave lots of time for exploring and swimming, so we started in Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, taking a two-hour trip past a waterfall and three chateaus, visiting an island, and rope swinging into the river just before the beach. Another time, we would like to canoe more of the Vézère, passing Roque San Christophe and ending in Les Eyzies.

Caves/ Rock shelters:

  • We found Roque Saint Christophe to be a great introduction to the area; rock shelters at the bottom may have been used by neanderthal and Cro-Magnon people and the upper rock ledges supported a citadel in Medieval times. All the signs have an English version on the back – some aspects are based on speculation but this gave us a wonderful picture of the sweep of history in the area.
  • The prehistoric caves of Combarelles and Font du Gaume cannot be missed – see our separate blog post.
  • We walked around the Sorcerer’s Cave area before it reopened and couldn’t go in to see the painting of the sorcerer, so we were glad to see a similar painting in Font du Gaume.
  • Goure de Padirac was an absolutely spectacular cave – see our separate blog post .

Castles/ Chate aux/ Playgrounds:

  • There are many beautiful castles in the area. We visited Castlenaud and another stop was the Jardins de Marqueyssac – it has sweeping views of both Castelnaud and Beynac and playgrounds (including a route through the trees) for children. Beynac featured as the villain’s castle in the Cinderella movie ‘Ever After.’
  • Commarque is an amazing site with a rock shelter below the castle – we were unable to visit the inside, but it was magical being the only people on the site on a cold misty day in December.
  • Amelia loved Bois de Lutins – it is a small adventure park on a lake which is well-shaded and has aerial walkways and small cabins in the trees, plus aerial trampolines, a bouncy castle, an obstacle course, etc. Wear closed toed shoes. You can bring your own food; there are picnic tables and taps for refilling water bottles. It was a very pleasant place to spend a day.

Food and wine :

  • We enjoyed the traditional 4-course meal (starter, main, cheese, dessert). It made for very social meals.
  • Our neighbour Agnès made incredible fondue from the area where she used to live and also introduced us to raclette – she topped the cheese with shallot and melted it a special raclette maker.
  • Our two favourite cheeses were Mont D’Or and Tomme des Croquants au noix. Mont D’Or can be baked in the oven with wine and garlic and then eaten with potatoes (we liked this recipe from the blog of David Lebovovitz). Thanks to Aunt Emily for introducing us to his recipes. It is a pity Mont D’Or is only available in winter! The Tomme is rubbed with walnut liquer, giving it a nutty avour. We happened upon the Tomme des Croquants au noix in the market in Domme and then again in the market in Saint Cyprien.
  • Irish potato cakes – not at all French but introduced to us by our friend, Peter. The cakes became an instant favourite; a tasty, warm and filling dinner for a cold winter’s night!
  • Vin de noix – notice how many foods contain noix (walnuts)? This a fortified wine made by macerating green walnuts in wine – we rst heard of this in the Inspector Bruno books which are set in the area (the fictional town of St . Denis is based on Le Bugue). In June, when our walnuts were ready, we tried our hand at making a batch. We also helped Agnès make vin du sureau (Elderflower wine) – together, we spent three hours pulling o the beautiful sweet-smelling petals.

Horses:

  • Amelia had riding lessons at the beautiful Ferme Des Eymaries. Horses roam wild through the valley and Amelia took lessons with other children and even went on trail rides through the forest . Her favourite horses were a little white pony called Cendrillon (Cinderella) and a chestnut horse called Printemps (Spring).
  • We have also visited the beautiful free roaming horses at Ferme Du Fonluc and we had an incredible trail ride as a family. Make sure to book for at least a 2 hour ride at Ferme Du Fonluc to allow time to visit the prehistoric rock shelter and ride up through the forest and along the ridges above Les Eyzies.

Favourites:

If we had to pick favourites, they would be Padirac, Font du Gaume, canoeing with a stop in Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, horseback riding, and the museum. And if you ask Amelia,Bois de Lutins!

More suggestions?

While we spent a lot of time in Les Eyzies, most of it was in lockdown. We are planning to return to the area in the autumn so if you have any suggestions of must-visit places, please let us know!

PS: The links to external websites are for information only; we are not affliates of these entities nor do we earn any commission from them.

Incredible caves near Les Eyzies

Grouffe de Padirac

Yesterday we visited an incredible cave – Gouffre de Padirac. We descended into an open pit, walked through a tunnel filled with stalactites, and then took a small boat along a subterranean river. We had heard of underground rivers but never imagined crystal-clear water in enormous, vaulted chambers. The ceiling of the Grand Dome in Padirac is over 300 ft above an underground lake, due to erosion over millions of years.

Splash stalactite

Padirac was first explored in 1898 with rope ladders and a collapsible canvas boat called the “Crocodile”, which once capsized and plunged the explorers into total darkness in the depths of the cave. Luckily one match survived which allowed them to light a candle and find their way out. We were glad to go on a tour and see the cave illuminated with electric light – a tourist attraction in itself when it was installed in 1900. The early explorers could not see the height of the chambers with their lanterns so they raised a small paper balloon on a string to measure the height of the Grand Dome. They also used dye to map the river; it is now known that it flows underground for 20 km before joining the Dordogne River. 

Before we left Les Eyzies we had another stunning cave experience only a few kilometres from home: historic sites have reopened after the lockdown and we finally saw the prehistoric etchings and paintings in the caves of Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume. Group size was limited to 4 people due to Covid so it was just our family and our friend, Agnès, who had previously worked in the caves and is passionate about prehistory. We felt incredibly lucky to have a “private” tour.

The term “Cro-Magnon” comes from a location just down the road from us (by Hôtel Le Cro-Magnon!) where Homo sapiens skeletons were discovered during the construction of the railroad. The Cro-Magnon people in the area lived in rock shelters (open cliff overhangs) but they painted and carved the walls of many immense caves. The caves go back thousands of feet – it is amazing to think of people crawling and wiggling through low, narrow tunnels with only early animal-fat oil lamps and yet they still managed to etch and paint the deepest parts.

Lion at Combarelles

When we visited Combarelles, we looked at the walls and saw nothing but scratches. Then the guide traced a shape with a light, and suddenly an etched animal leapt out at us. The etchings in Combarelles and the paintings in Font-de-Gaume show mammoths, cave bears, woolly rhinos, reindeer, horses, bison, and even lions (can you see the lion to the left?) – we found it incredible to think of these animals living in France. We could see the contours of muscles, shading of fur, animal expressions, etc. – incredibly life-like and detailed though they were made about 11,000 to 17,000 years ago. The shape of the walls was used to make the animals more 3D and, in some cases, as a trick of the flickering light, they appeared to move…we saw a reindeer running!   

Amazing experiences, and incredible caves, which gave us a glimpse of the scale of geological time and human history.