France June 2020

At the start of June we travelled 91km from Jarnac to a small camping ground in Les Mathes. This is between Royan and La Rochelle on the Atlantic Coast. We have been there before and decided to return at this stage of the virus, because it’s a quiet campsite of adults, with a beautiful indoor/outdoor heated pool. There are also miles of good bicycle paths, restaurants, markets etc. It’s very much a tourist destination and when we have been there before, its been crawling with thousands of people. This time we have been shocked at the lack of tourists. On the weekend more people come, but during the week it’s mostly the occasional French retiree. The place is empty but the restaurants and shops are open. It feels eerily deserted.

After our time in Jarnac when it was so hot, as soon as we got to the coast and a place with a good pool the weather turned cold, windy and rainy! That lasted for 12 days and during that time we had over 7 inches of rain! In our Australian city of Adelaide, the average annual rainfall is just 3 times that – for a whole year!

We have become used to reading the weather apps to plan our day and managed to dodge the showers most days, to get out and about.

We have done some lovely bike rides into La Palmyere and to La Tremblade. To La Palmyere there are two ways to go – the 12km scenic route through the forest and along the coast or the direct route on a bicycle path next to the road. We usually take the scenic route in and the direct route home. The ride through the forest is lovely because of all the bird song. On the direct route home we go past all the horse stables, riding schools, pony clubs and the Equestrian Cabaret. Grubie loved that part!

We generally do a little shopping and stop for a coffee or to have lunch. Our favourite restaurants are along the beachfront, rather than all those in the town.  We’re happy to report that the disease infecting the moules (mussels) has now gone and they’re back on the menu! Two big bowls of moules with ‘frites’ (chips) and a bottle of rose -32 Euro. Thanks very much!

The ride to La Tremblade is equally pretty, mostly through forest and farmland with the last little bit through the town and along the canal. It’s about 13km. One day as we rode we saw two wild boar running along in the brush beside the path, about 2 metres away from us. Gave us quite a fright!

La Tremblade is a real town with residents and businesses, rather than a tourist town like la Palmyere. It has a fabulous ‘covered market’ for food, so we often rode there for fruit & veg, meat and seafood.

Just out of La Tremblade along the very tidal canal are the oyster and moules businesses and their attached restaurants. The canal is lined with very pretty little fishing shacks, many of which have been turned into holiday homes, with their yachts and powerboats moored out front. We enjoyed some lovely meals along this canal during the month of June.

The weather improved and we had some lovely hot sunny days around the fabulous pool. Les Mathes is the most convivial campsite and it was good to catch up with our old friends Jasper, Pauline, Andre and Laurent.

As always we met some lovely people and made new friends. The people next to us were ‘newbies’, out for the first time in a camping car. Michael spent lots of time with them, sharing the knowledge he has gained after 3.5 years full-time in a camping car. The couple were very grateful and made us lunch one day – ‘witlof et jambon gratin’. Basically it was a whole witlof wrapped in ham with a cheese sauce and melted cheese on top. Absolutely delicious! It tasted a bit like a pizza.

We also met Dom and Yolande who live only 30km from Jarnac, in a village called Jonzac. They were a lovely couple, who were good for our language skills. While they would speak English, they would always say to us every time we opened our mouth, “Speak French”. Challenging, but we did improve. We shared dinner with them at the restaurant on ‘paella night’ and then Dom organized a cheese tasting for us. He bought the 7 different cheeses and we provided the wine & cognac. We learnt a lot about the different styles and aging of cheese, which is a French obsession.

It’s been interesting to watch how the various departments and villages operate the easing of restrictions. Jarnac, which hasn’t had any cases, is still quite careful with physical markings and barriers, sanitisers provided and many shops requiring masks. Lots of people wear them anyway, even though France doesn’t have a ‘mask law’ like Spain,  only requiring them to be worn on public transport. In La Palmyere and La Tramblade on the coast, everything seemed to go out the window, with several restaurants we visited trying to seat us right next to other people rather than keeping the distance. When Luna Park opened, which is near our campsite, Michael went for a look and was disgusted – no markings or barriers, no santitisers and very few people wearing masks. Apparently you can’t catch the virus when you’re on holidays!

All of this has made us quite nervous about the holiday season, with all the people coming out of Paris and others big cities and heading to the holiday regions, especially on the coast. We have booked a small campsite near a little village on the Mediterranean for August and hope that will help us avoid the bulk of the holidaymakers.

Of course, the major thing that happened to us this month was losing Grubie on Tuesday, June 16th.  We still miss her dreadfully and have had some very hard days where we have felt quite depressed and haven’t felt like doing much. Our worst day was on Sunday 28th when we travelled from Les Mathes back to Jarnac. It was our first time travelling and shopping without Grubie and it hit us hard. It was great to be back among friends, with lots of sympathy and hugs. Marcia and Willie came and took us out for dinner – that sparked us up a lot.

We saw Liam and Stephanie and gave them some of Grubie’s things, for her friend Opale.  Liam brightens up Michael’s day with some of the funny cartoons he posts our Jarnac friends messenger group.

 

One reason for our return to Jarnac was to have ‘part two’ of our car repairs done at a little village in nearby Hiersac. The brake pads were replaced, as was the onboard computer – at a coast of 892 euro!! That was a nasty shock! But it had to be done, especially if we’re to pass the control technic test next month.

Jarnac is such a beautiful place; it’s always wonderful to return and relax among the friends we have made over the three years we have visited.