Wednesday 26th April 2017, and Jay and I woke up very early, in our gorgeous spot by the river Loire in Iggy the Hymer. The traffic on the adjacent road was a bit too busy for long lies. But, more than anything, it was the sheer happiness of being alive that had us bouncing happily out from the duvet and into the pleasant Springtime air of La Flèche. Day three in France!
Day three! And it was only just beginning! It was impossible that we had only been here for such a short time. So much seemed to have happened already. And yet we were only just starting. Weeks lay before us. A fairytale gift that was already enveloping us in a magical cloak of timelessness.
Edinburgh felt like a distant dream. Was it really only Sunday that we had set Iggy’s nose on the road to Dover? Surely not? Surely it was another life? Two other people? Not us? For we had been on the road forever. And the road was waiting for us to carry on.
With what was fast becoming our usual practice, we set the Satnav in the general direction of two hours “that-a-way” – towards Portugal for the next few days – and swung Iggy out onto that waiting road. Heading South – our favourite direction – I would then have a flick through our books and apps looking for a likely stopping spot for the night.
Today’s lucky winner was an interesting sounding town called Niort in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. With a medieval old town, and what looked like an exceptionally nice town Aire, it sounded like a great stop for our second last day in France. Thursday we would stop somewhere around the Bordeaux area, and Friday we would cross the border into Spain.
But those other days could wait! Today we were here, driving between fields and woods of frosty, morning mist, and I wanted a proper French breakfast! Just for fun!
Once we started doing longer tours in Iggy, we wouldn’t have the luxury of lots of eating out. Our budget just wouldn’t be able to afford it. But this shorter trip meant we had a little more room to splurge. We were celebrating! Celebrating our new life. Celebrating our freedom. Celebrating our dreams coming true. And spoiling ourselves with a cafe pastry and coffee on a beautiful morning in France seemed like a great way to do it to me. Though Jay was sensibly pointing out that we had croissants and coffee in the cupboard. Humbug!!
But…as luck would have it, right round the next bend, we saw a sign pointing up a side road for a motorhome aire in a town called Thouars!
“Look Jay! It’s a sign!” I laughed
“Very funny!” says Jay.
“No really! There’s a sign! Come on! Let’s see where it goes!” teased the devil on his shoulder. Otherwise known as me. Cough…cough…innocent smile of an angel face. Cough..!!
Jay gave in and swung Iggy round the junction in the direction of an interesting looking town up on a hill nearby.
Yay! We were going for breakfast!
Any doubts about whether it was a good idea disappeared with the morning mist as we pulled into the free Aire at Thouars. ( N.46976, W0.21201) Now we’re talking baby! France we adore you! You’re inviting us to stop here? Okay then! It would be almost rude not to!
What a find! As random, breakfast stops go Thouars was definitely a gift from the world of “try and see”. The medieval old town centre was delightful and we spent a happy hour wandering the empty, early morning streets in search of an open cafe.
Finally we found this tiny Tabac, open for business opposite the exquisitely carved, 15th century église de St, Medard. Just in time as there were only two pastries left! The morning was surprisingly cold up in Thouars, so we stayed indoors to munch our goodies and sip the strong, smoky French espresso, while marvelling at the view through the glass.
Coffee over we ambled back to Iggy, stopping to crick our necks at the 13th Century Plantagenet tower gate on the way. The south was calling. Breakfast was over. But lunch was waiting in Niort and it was time to get back on the road.
Luckily our feet had a chance to rest a bit on the drive to Niort, as first impressions looked like we might be in for quite a bit more walking before the day was over.
First impressions weren’t wrong when it came to the town Aire either! (N.46.32949, W0.46443) It was every bit as good as we’d heard and well worth the 10€ fee. Situated just across the river from the historical centre, with riverside walks, individual hedged bays, full services with electric hook up (EHU) included, and even some picnic areas, it really shows just what level of facilities motorhomers can reasonably expect for their money.
We took our time getting settled and plugging into a EHU for the first time. It’s funny how nervous we got over simple things like that, but you never know if something’s simple until you do it! And we did. And it was. Nearly as simple as putting a plug into a socket at home! One more tick on our road to motorhome mastery!
If there is such a thing we had a lot of long drives to go until we reached it. But every day was bringing something new. New sights, new challenges, new experiences. We could feel ourselves growing with every passing turn of Iggy’s wheels. And not just widthways from all the delicious French food either!
Chores done we set off over the pretty stone bridge to discover what Niort had to offer the passing tourer. It didn’t take too many steps outside the Aire before we caught our first site of a few of the main attractions.
The gleaming glass of the old market building begged for attention. The church roof in the background beckoned enticingly. The river gurgled sleepily of leafy, lazy strolls. But nothing was getting our attention away from the immense, towering presence of the Donjon de Niort dominating the skyline.
It truly was an impressive big beastie of a building, and we were very tempted for a peep inside. But time was trickling on and we wanted to see more of the town in our limited time here. And so we contented ourselves with a wander around the outside of the massive stone walls.
Onwards we dawdled our way through the sights of the old town and on into the more modern areas of the centre where the ancient architecture made way for modern art buildings and sculptures. A bustling, energetic town with art exhibitions in the street and young people slalom skating in the parks.
Hours passed in a happy haze as our feet groaned more and more. Calling us to a half hour break for coffee and a slow look round one of the beautiful churches.
Finally we turned our weary bones homewards. Oh it’s so nice to have your home with you as you travel! Good old Iggy waiting warmly with all our cosy “us” things at the end of the long, pretty walk along the river and through the park. We made it back to the welcoming walls of the Aire just as the light began to fade from the sky.
Tomorrow the road would call us South again. Tonight? Dinner, a glass of wine, and a nice hot shower for our aching feet!