Le Val de Vie in La Vendée and baring bits in Biarritz

Tuesday 23rd September 2014

Up with the Larks (the ones that get up at 9:00am), break-fast was soon despatched (doesn’t take long to drink a coffee), we then said our farewells to Steve & Ann (got a hug! – but not with Steve – man hugs are OK, Steve – just not with me!) and we hit the road.

What does that mean? – ‘Hit’ the road?

Not once did we actually ‘hit’ the road so don’t blame us if you see a road that’s been hit, blame Jack.

Anyroadup, we drove Twernt down to Maché, where Bill, Andrea’s other half, had kindly arranged a campsite stay for us.

It was a featureless journey, well featureless apart from all the beautiful scenery that appeared left, right and centre of us. If you’d taken that beautiful scenery away it would definitely have been featureless. Perhaps I should have said that it was a routine, incident-free journey.

It was a routine, incident-free journey of some 240 miles down to Andrea’s home town.

Bill just happened to be in his car close to the camping entrance and showed us where we needed to go – I suspect that Bill had been loitering there for a few hours in anticipation of us arriving – just to make sure that we were OK – Bill’s a cracking, very caring, chap.

When I say cracking, I don’t mean that in the sense that he’s cracking up or even anything like that – just a good and caring guy – who’s always cracking open a can of beer – that makes him a cracking chap doesn’t it? A large can of beer costs something like 30p here, so why waste money buying bottled water? Way to go, Bill!

Camping le Val de Vie is a great camping site, one part of the site is given over to ‘residential’ mobile homes and the second part, the camping area, is open until 1st October each year; I suspect that it may be possible to camp here during the ‘closed’ periods as the ‘residential’ sector is, I believe, open all year.

The park is owned and run by Pascal, a serving gendarme officer, and his wife, Florence.

There were less than a handful of other campers during our stay here – space and peace!

‘Val de Vie’ has a very informative website at   http://www.camping-val-de-vie.com/

After settling ourselves in, we discovered that today was Andrea and Bill’s ‘turn’ to host the weekly ‘Tuesday Club’ – a weekly soirée held in rotation by the local ex-pats – and there are quite a lot of them here in Maché!

Initially, I stayed outside with Tilly, my Cocker Spaniel; this hound doesn’t take well to crowds or strangers, and, although in reality she is a very loving, pussy-cat, kind of dog, that description of her is reversed once we are in any type of company.

She’s never actually bitten anyone, but you wouldn’t think that was true should you get too close to her/us. Vicious little bitch – except she’s not!

Tilley has a Jekyll and Hyde character to her nature – this picture was taken when she was undecided on which persona to adopt

2. Camping Val de Vie - Mache

Camping at Val de Vie

Kathy, a friend of Bill & Andrea, offered to ‘take charge’ of Tilley, allowing me to mingle with the many guests that were doing their utmost to prove that Bill & Andrea hadn’t acquired enough beer & vino – Bill & Andrea actually had enough alcohol to supply an army of failed AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) members hell-bent on making up for lost time.

And, I understand, the Maché assemblage failed in their quest, but not for a lack of trying.

Kathy, however, did triumph with Tilley: Kathy is a retired Teacher so once Tilley passed through registration with Kathy there was only ever going to be one winner!

Amanda said that she thought that Bill & Andrea had bought about £500 worth of alcohol for the evening; my calculator informs me that, at 30p a can, that’s something like 1,666 cans of beer – or 50 cans or so per person!

I only saw a handful of cans left when we headed back to Twernt – My Uncle Terry (see my Hungry Horse blog) would never have allowed ANY cans to be left over – you’d love it here Terry!

Sterling effort from the ex-pats though!

I must be careful that I don’t portray these lovely ex-pats as a heavy-duty beer-swilling community – they weren’t! (They’ drank a lot of vino as well!).

I had a Dr’s appointment for the next morning so it was back to Twernt to gather my documents together – Bill said the €23 consultation fee may be waived by showing my EHIC card – else I would need to submit a claim to the NHS in England to get the €23 refunded to me.

I was happy to pay the fee and not unduly concerned about whether or not it came back to me; I just wanted to get rid of the result of having been invaded by mozzie’s.


Wednesday 24th September 2014

I don’t know if it was the beer or whether it was the threat to my wallet our wallet of having €23 extracted from it……..but……when I woke this morning and hit the shower (OK, I know, and you by now know, that I didn’t actually ‘hit’ the shower), I checked the mozzie sites on my legs, and, unbelievably, the large ‘red’ areas had faded…..a lot.

I consulted the oracle of all things medical and the diagnosis was ‘Well, that should save us €23’.

The same oracle quickly called Andrea and cancelled the Dr’s appointment.

‘Yes, but it might return’, I protested.

‘Well, if it is does, you’d better start saving up for another €23 consultation fee; I’m off to a coffee morning with Andrea and her friends and I’ll donate this consultation fee to the charity they’re fund-raising for’.

Seeing some ‘me time’ on the immediate horizon, I just replied ‘OK’.

I had the Nexus Tablet, WiFi and I was alone for a few hours so I did what all chaps would do in such similar circumstances….I got my costings up to date and did some more cleaning of Twernt’s exterior.

Then came GREAT news from England, son William had just passed his driving test, Alle-bloody-yulah! Will, at 23, had never shown any urgent need to become a car driver, but once his day had to start at 5:00am to get to his new job by 9:00am, becoming a car owner had taken on a new meaning for Will. Well done Will, just take it easy out there…….and then go a bit slower than that.

Amanda returned from her coffee and cakes morning at 1:35pm (as you would) and then ventured off exploring the local area whilst I continued with my ‘man’ duties.

That evening we went over to Bill & Andrea’s home and Bill cooked a meal for the 4 of us – thanks Bill, excellent Boeuf Bourguignon!

3. Approach to Apremont Lake at Mache

The road leading down to the Apremont Lake at Mache – there’s a large, isolated, ‘wilding’ parking area here. Bill said that motorhomes overnight here from time to time; it’s just that not many know that it exists. Very peaceful – Watch out for mozzies though!

4. Apremont Lake at Mache

Apremont Lake at Mache – a very beautiful area


Thursday 25th September 2014

Andrea and Amanda, under instruction from Olive, took the dogs for a morning walk around the lake, they were accompanied by Olive and her dog, Pepi.

Olive is one of the ex-pats living close to Bill & Andrea, she and her husband, another ‘Roy’, also have a house in Brittany and, I believe, a house in the UK. If you think of Barbara Woodhouse on steroids then you’re getting close to the character of Olive.

Olive definitely knows her own mind and we are all fortunate in that she knows our minds for us!

A positive and vibrant person who can conduct instant analysis and situation remedy without the need to pause for breath.

Everyone needs an Olive close to them, we wouldn’t have so many dithering lost souls then!

With the 3 ladies and 3 hounds taking in the walk around the lake, I grabbed at the opportunity to do ……….. nothing.

And it was going well, I was having a lot of success, until…….

…. there was a faint scratching sound at Twernts door.

Thinking it was just a wayward bird, I ignored it and carried on busying myself with doing absolutely nothing – aided by a cup of coffee, a cigarette hanging out of the offside window and the view across the campsite.

Then the faint scratching sound happened again.

Coffee cup on boom table, cigarette discarded, I grudgingly got up and opened the door.

‘Shakey!’ ‘WTF are you doing here’.

He didn’t answer but neither did he tell me off for swearing.

No sign of Amanda or Tilley – just Shakey alone at Twernts door.

This has never happened before, my first thought was that something must have happened to Amanda & Tilley.

I locked up Twernt, and, having no idea which route they’d taken, Shakey and I headed the half a mile or so over to Bill & Andreas place.

As Bill’s place came into view, I could see that Bill was on his cell phone and immediately thought that he must be talking to Andrea so that meant some comms existed and their location would be known.

Bill told me that Shakey had already been to his house but had then wandered off again as Bill went indoors to find a suitable lead to put on Shakey (a tape measure Bill? I could have told you that Shakey is about 2 foot long and 15″ tall), no need to go that length Bill, no telling what heights Bill’s prepared to go to when he’s helping others. He’ll know the answer though, he’s got a tape measure.

The long & short of it (as measured by Bill) is that Shakey had wandered off during the walk. He then ‘sniff-traced’ his way back to his start point at Bill & Andrea’s house and then decided to do the same back to Twernt – some 1 and a half miles or more in a place that we had only been at for some 40 hours or so!

I was proud of him.

Elsewhere, Amanda was mortified and somewhat hysterical. She was by now displaying the early symptoms of having a full-blown panic attack.

I was informed of this by Bill and I was very concerned – I knew that she didn’t have a brown paper bag to blow in to.

Of course, no one had thought about Olive who was still with Amanda some mile or so away.

Olive told Amanda many things, but was especially accurate when she said that Shakey must have sniff-traced (what is the proper term for that?) his way back ‘home’.

Olive also relayed a story of when she lost her dog, Pepi, whilst out on a walk some miles from her home; she just went home herself and then went back the next morning to pick Pepi up – Pepi was dutifully waiting at the spot that they’d last been at.

Shakey would NOT have done that.

Can’t think what started off Amanda’s near panic attack!

But I do know that you don’t need a brown paper bag when you’ve got an Olive.

Lovely lady is Olive; sadly her husband, Roy is suffering the C thing and is currently undergoing chemo. Roy is a biker originally from Long Eaton (the next town to Castle Donington). Good luck both.

Amanda, Andrea and Bill took off in the afternoon for a trip into Apremont whilst I busied myself (not) around Twernt.

Apremont Chateau

Apremont: Andrea & Amanda

This little fellow was on the hedge at the side of Twernt, looked like a sparrow but not so sure having now seen that beak, maybe a finch?


Friday 26th September 2014

The computers are en-route and tracking shows that they’re in France and are due for delivery on Monday!

It was another very hot day, somewhere around 31c. We hadn’t seen any rain since before August 28th when we left the walled garden. Happy days.

For lunch, Bill & Andrea took us along to one of their favourite restaurant haunts and we enjoyed a 3-course meal and drinks for about €15 a head whilst sitting on a terrace overlooking the Apremont Lake.

In the afternoon, back at ‘Val de Vie’ I chatted to our immediate neighbour, Mike, who was here in his pristine 2 berth caravan. A small caravan that must have lent itself to easier handling when you’re travelling solo, as Mike was.

We  chatted for a while and I discovered that Mike is from Hinckley, which isn’t too far from our former home in Castle Donington – he was visiting this site where he’d had previous holidays with his wife, Shirley, who sadly passed away just under 2 years ago.

Mike, a former Police Inspector, has been retired for a few years now and was previously a motorhomer who was now mooching around France with his small caravan.

All of this had me wondering along a path that it could very easily have been me if the events of 10 years ago had produced a different result. It’s a thin line that dictates the paths that we each end up on.

I was both sad and happy for Mike, sad for his loss but happy that he’d found some courage and strength to be doing what he was doing and especially where he was doing it – retracing the ‘happy time places’ that he’d previously shared with his wife; I could only imagine what he must be thinking and feeling. Terry & Viv were in my thoughts again.

We had a BBQ planned for the next afternoon so I invited Mike – I was aware that he may prefer to ‘do his own thing’, so I asked him in as casual a manner as I could muster and was pleased when he accepted.


Saturday 27th September 2014

Amanda & Andrea went in search of replenishing our vittles, visiting both Lidl and Hyper U at Aizenay.

I set our camp up into BBQ mode:

8. Prepping for BBQ at Val de Vie

Proper chairs, makeshift chairs (luckily everyone brought their own chairs), camping table, Cadac BBQ, a carpet thingy and my ladder so I could get on with some Twernt cleaning as my entertainment offering. Of course, I later discovered that I’d forgotten the Twernt table, plates, knives, forks, condiments and masses of other stuff but how was I supposed to know we’d need all that ‘kitcheny’ stuff? Sometimes women expect too much and I’ve heard that said before – this must be one of the times they were referring to.

Amanda returned from her shopping jaunt and messed around in the kitchen for a while – getting her side of the BBQ organised – I must say it didn’t take me as long to set the BBQ area up as it was taking Amanda to mess around in the kitchen with all of her kitchen toys……….

9. More prepping for BBQ at Val de Vie

Amanda playing her kitchen toys

So, as punishment for taking too long on the shopping and food prep, and, because I’d done the basic BBQ set up in record time, Amanda accepted her loser’s role and assumed all chef duties.

901. Le Chef Extraordinaire

Losers don’t usually smile this much when they’re paying the price of defeat. I’m thinking this exercise will have to be repeated……….

Luckily everyone thought that the basic BBQ camp set up was great so we all had a good time:

902. The biblically chosen crew

Amanda, standing, and then from the rear L2R:, Kathy, Mike, Andrea and Steve. Centre foreground is Bill

Kathy and her husband, Steve, joined us and we ate and drank until it was dark.

Steve is a retired Fireman and he’s about 6′ 5″, maybe 6′ 6″ or maybe even 6′ 7″; if he ever chooses to tour in a caravan he has the benefit of not needing a tow-car  –  he could carry a caravan on his shoulders!

Kathy might have to walk though.

We hope everyone enjoyed it; Mike was a mine of information on WW2 topics


Sunday 28th September 2014

A day of lazing around at the Val de Vie and making plans for tomorrow, the computers are due to arrive!


Monday 29th September 2014

We checked out of Val de Vie and moved to a parking area close to Bill & Andrea’s gaff. We planned to throw the computer parcel onto Twernt’s bed and head off down to Biarritz.

In the event, the courier, who must have heard about our plan, decided to deliver the parcel at 4:15pm!

We said our farewells to Bill and Andrea intending to drive south with ‘Biarritz’ programmed into our Super-Trooper navigation doofah.

A big thanks to Bill & Andrea; it was great getting to spend some time with you and some of your friends – you have a great lifestyle there and long may it continue. Thanks all.

I also hope that we might meet Mike again somewhere down the line.

We drove around 100 miles and then requested assistance from Super Trooper to find us an aire within 10 miles of our new location.

Super-Trooper led us into Chef-Boutonne and also guided us through some very narrow streets (!) to the Chef du Parc Aire –  a free aire.

Chef-Boutonne, the Chef-du-Parc Aire - we arrived at dusk and headed out just after dawn.

Chef-Boutonne: the Chef-du-Parc Aire – we arrived at dusk and headed out just after dawn.

There was a lot of space on this aire and only a handful of motorhomes on it.


Tuesday 30th September 2014 and Wednesday 1st October 2014

With a target of Biarritz firmly in our minds, we got an early start and Super Trooper took us on a different exit route through Chef-Boutonne which was much easier to negotiate than our entry route. Also, for the first time in a long time we saw a red squirrel as we drove out and we also noted that the local town would have been worth a visit had we stayed longer.

Not being one for idling when I’ve got a target in mind, we pressed on and quickly put the almost 250 miles down to Biarritz behind us. Having said that, I should also point out that I drive Twernt at between 50 and 60mph, 55mph on cruise wherever possible. That level of speed allied to making only one very brief stop equals ‘pressing on’, or at least it does in Twernt. A lot of motorhomes overtook us on the drive down (and even more trucks).

The Avenue de la Milady Aire was busy. Twernt’s front end protruded into the exit pathway used by all motorhomes parked in the ‘incoming’ section of this ‘U’ shaped aire plus those parked ‘camera-side’ in the next picture below.

We were parked in the ‘outgoing’ section of the ‘U’ shaped aire.

Being a thoughtful and considerate motorhome owner, and with the words of Goldwing owning, canal boat living, Dennis, ringing in my ears (from 1982 in Holland!), I decided to stay put and ‘Mek ’em ave it’ (as Dennis often said).

It was Dennis’s answer to just about everything, “Arr, mek ’em ave it”, just about the only other words that he ever uttered were, “Arr, Gi’ it sum”.

That also reminds me of a story that a colleague (from when I worked at the now non-existent BL Cars) told me about a train journey that he made from London to Manchester.

This was back in the days when you could get onto a train and be in just one compartment that covered the width of the train – no corridor to other compartments, you’re there at least until the train stops somewhere down the line.

This chap, Eric (no not that Eric! – this Eric was a Dealer Account Auditor), found himself in one of these ‘self contained’ compartments.

There was just one other occupant of the compartment.

About 30-35 minutes into their journey Eric wanted to smoke a cigarette, and, realising that he was in a ‘No Smoking’ compartment, he politely asked his fellow traveller ‘Do you mind if I smoke’.

The other chap replied ‘You can burst into flames for all I care’.

Eric marked the chap’s card (no travel chat here then), lit and smoked his cigarette and then returned to staring quietly out of the window.

Another 30 or 35 minutes went by, and then, quite unexpectedly, the other chap brought a packet of No. 6 cigarettes out of his pocket, opened the pack and offered the pack across to Eric.

Eric, seeing that there was only 2 or 3 cigarettes left in the packet, said, ‘Is that all you’ve got’.

‘Mr Surly’ replied ;’Well how many did you want?’

Eric took a cigarette, smoked it and returned to staring out of the window for the rest of their journey. Nothing else was said.

He was forever talking about that trip with a chap that spoke only twice, ‘You can burst into flames for all I care’ and ‘Well how many do you want’.

Following this trip, Eric was forever scarred and made sure that he always entered ‘smoking’ compartments after that.

From that I learnt that it’s not always a good idea to ask for a clarification of a circumstance when I know that I’m in the wrong; let them ask me.

In the meantime ‘I’ll mek ’em ave it’, ‘Gi’ it sum’ – and get on with unpacking the new computers.

And that’s what I did, in spite of the huddled groups of French motorhomers that were huffing and a-puffing and pointing and a-nodding towards Twernt.

‘Ave it.

903. Biarritz aire - Milady

Twernt needs a little more space than some other motorhomes. He wasn’t the only one protruding out into the ‘through’ road – he was on day 2 though!

Whilst I occupied myself with looking mean (to pre-empt any attempts to ask me to move Twernt) and with setting up the new computer gear, Amanda took herself off to explore this stunningly beautiful area;, today, we find it hard to decide between Durdle Door and Biarritz as our favourite destination to date.

904. Milady in the morning

Milady Beach at Biarritz

905. Milady being prepped for the day

Can’t have these ‘well to do’s’ putting up with footprints in the sand at the start of each day can we? So this tractor smooths the sand for their daily enjoyment.

The rich and famous (plus the motorhomers from the Aire paying €12 a night to be in Biarritz) are seen here enjoying the playground of the rich. We only paid €6 a night as no one collected on Day 1 when the pay-machine was broken – Just to give this an accurate focus: we paid a total of €12 for 2 nights in Biarritz (including EHU).

Quentin and Tarquin surfing at MiLady

Penelope and Seraphina in their daily battle with the waves at Milady

P1020685

And, in the cheap seats, wearing her charity shop shirt, my very own Amanda at Milady Beach

P1020687

Those comments are disgraceful I hear! ‘Look out’, ‘Here comes a Seagull’ is my reply

A fisherman at Milady Beach, Biarritz – Some fish for sport, others out of necessity in order to survive. I regretfully forgot to ask this chap which category he belonged to.

This may look like a fishing boat to you, but I have my suspicions about its cargo as it came too close, for my liking, to Quentin and Tarquin. Could be wrong though.

909-2 Miladies rocks

However, if these are the ‘rocks’ it was carrying you can see the size of the problem in Biarritz. My advice is that you stay away from the place……….I need a bigger parking space when we return.

That’s better – I can see you’ve taken my advice

Zoom shot of the bridge seen in the distance in the previous picture

and before we knew it, we were done with Biarritz, done with France and about to head into Spain……………….Twernt a bad place, Biarritz, we’ll be back………….


6 thoughts on “Le Val de Vie in La Vendée and baring bits in Biarritz

  1. I loved this blog! I always like seeing where your mind wanders to and hearing stories from your past. You and Mum both look well 🙂

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    • Thanks son, Ma is being uber-active right now whilst I try and complete blog catch-up; 3 more blogs should do it. I like getting the stays/trips recorded on here but my ‘wandering off’ into other stuff is time-consuming – I need an ‘Olive’ (!) to keep me focussed! Enjoy your Pirates game. xx

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    • Thanks Eric, it’s blog, blog, sleep, blog for me. 3 to go and I can rejoin the human race! Checkout the ‘Itineo’ that just came in, should have recorded his parking antics…plus his moho rear-end has disappeared (can’t think why!); worth a picture – once he leaves on a ‘walkies’ trip!. Imortal DAC are playing Culatrense here today at 3:00pm, entrance is €2.50, the pitch is only 50 yards from us – I may watch some of the match (from the hill behind us – free from there!).

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  2. Sorry matey, had a prior engagement for an active Saturday in this glorious sunshine ? Met up with Chris & Sarah in town and spent the ‘whole’ afternoon watching Live ‘Premiership’ football !!!!!

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