November 15, 2019 Tournan-sur-Rhone FR

We had big hopes for today, but nothing went well.  Our plan was to revisit a town we had fond memories of from our very first trip to France.  Tournan-sur-Rhone is both the originator of Syrah, one of my favorite wines, and has a fabulous chocolate factory.  

The day started out with a hiccup when we were trapped in the campground after we had packed up.  We were ready to roll about 8:30 when we realized the office for the campground did not open until 9 so we messed around for 30 minutes and headed to the office where no one was in sight, they did not arrive until 9:15, so we were an hour late getting going.

To expedite travel today we decided to pony up a large sum of money (€50) for tolls.  We needed to cover about 380 km’s to Tournan.  The first 200km’s went as planned though we cringed at each toll booth.  Then we began to run into a pattern of 30 or 40 km’s at speed followed by 8 to 10 km’s of crawling along in a traffic jam for 30 to 45 minutes.  One of the traffic jams was interesting as the Gendarmerie had closed two lanes on the freeway creating a huge bottleneck, and when it closed down to one lane they diverted 100% of the commercial trucks into the two closed lanes and parked them nose to tail, we have no idea why.   So our 4 to 5 hour trip was delayed by 1 hour starting and took 90 minutes longer than we planned.  The good news is Ton turned the dash of François into an impromptu dryer, so a lot of our soaked clothes got dried out as we crawled along the A7 autoroute.

The French police diverted 100% of the trucks into the right lane and parked them there, we are not sure why, it caused a 6 mile traffic jam as you would expect.

The final surprise was there was 4 to 6 inches of snow at Tournan when we arrived. Luckily the campground was open and we were able to get a spot facing the Rhone.  The snow made things pretty, but walking the 1.5 km’s on icy sidewalks and bridges did not seem like a good idea in fading light, so we missed the chocolate factory.  Hopefully tomorrow.

We did not expect six inches of snow at our destination today!

The next annoyance of the day is that we are in a cell phone dark spot and have only 2g service on our WiFi.  Ton spilled her wine to cap off the day.  Well some days are better than others.

We do have a nice view of the Rhone from our cold campsite.

September 24, 2018 Chartres FR

Our plan when we arrived was to head towards Spain, so of course we drove north today to Chartres.  Along the way we decided to visit Normandy and Brittany on our way to Spain, so we had to divert north to get to Normandy.

We decided to visit Chartres primarily to see its Gothic Cathedral.  We visited Sens Cathedral the other day which is billed as the first Gothic Cathedral, and Chartres is supposed to be the best example of a Gothic Cathedral.  Chartres still has its’ original stained glass as during both wars they removed it and stored it safely.  During WWII the cathedral was in danger as the allies moved towards Paris, but an American Colonel successfully negotiated with a German General to declare Chartres open, so there was no  battle fought in the city.

The exterior of the Chartres Cathedral.  Note the contrast between the recently cleaned upper part, and the uncleaned lower part.  The maintenance of these buildings is daunting.

On our way out of Chinon we decided we wanted to visit a winery, we drove thru the countryside only to find it was closed.  Disappointed again, we wrote off getting a taste of any Chinon wine, but on our way out of town Ton spotted the new tasting room for the winery we had driven out into the country to see.  Pierre and Bertrand Couly had opened a new tasting room on the highway to Chartres, Chinon Red wines are what we call Cabernet Franc in the US.  We spoke to the wife of the owner and she did a great job explaining the wines of the area.  She was aware of Oregon wines as her husband had spent some time at Sokol Blosser winery in Oregon in the 1980’s.

The very fine winery Pierre & Bertrand Couly.  As the owner said you do not have to have an old facility to make traditional wines.

The three hour drive to Chartres was uneventful as the “N” road that we used most of the way was quite good.  We parked in a free overnight spot, and walked about a mile into town to see the cathedral.  The cathedral was indeed impressive, and the interior stain glass windows were among the best we have seen in France.  The cathedral was constructed in the early 1200’s after the previous Romanesque Cathedral had burned.  The cathedral is deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site.  Besides admiring the beauty of the building we also again discussed the maintenance of these immense buildings.  Just keeping the exterior clean is a full time job. 

One of the stain glass “Roses” at Chartres, this one dates from around 1210 and is the original glass.

After touring the cathedral we decided not to wait for the light show, so we walked back to François.  Frankly we were a little peeved with one of the attendants who would not let us take the last crypt tour, and did it in a way that seemed unnecessarily officious to us while simultaneously refusing to speak English, even though we had just heard him giving an explanation of the tour in perfect English to another person.  I hope he was just having a bad day.  We had a light dinner and a relatively early night as we have a long drive to Normandy tomorrow.

Some of the art work inside the Cathedral.  

September 23, 2018 Chinon FR

We woke up to another blustery day. The weather forecast called for rain most of the day and they were right.  We are trying to get back into the rythym of France, and we forgot that Sundays are really a day of rest.  

Our plans were to drive to two towns to visit wineries and walk around the towns. Most of the drive today was on a road which is on top of a levee for the Loire River, it was quite pretty, and would have been even better if it was not raining most of the way.

This was about the only blue sky we saw today.

The first town we stopped at was Bourgueil.  It seemed like a nice enough town and there were a bunch of wineries that looked interesting but everything was closed up.  We took a quick stroll thru town and then it started to rain so we headed back to François.

The Abby in Bourgueil.  Built around 1150.

We had decided to treat ourselves to a proper campground with showers and indoor plumbing so we are parked in the municipal campground looking at the Fort of Chinon.  When we arrived it was raining quite hard so Ton made a nice lunch, and prepared dinner while Ron lounged around in bed until the rain stopped.  

The Fort of Chinon, with the town below it behind the trees.

The castle at Chinon is another medieval fort that is partly in ruins but dominates the area.  It is quite a climb to the top so we decided to take a look at it from the bottom of the hill, and head to a winery that google said was open.  We had a walk thru the town which also has some examples of half timbered homes which are common in the area.  It was a nice walk and it did not rain which was a good thing because the winery was not open.  Finally learning that Sunday is indeed a day of rest (despite what google might think) we headed back to François had dinner, a long hot shower, and listened to the rain on the roof.

The French often refer to the retail part of a winery as the Cave, it is the French equivalent of cellar.  In this case it really is a cave.

September 22, 2018 Chateau de Chambord FR

Well, plans change. We had originally planned to go to Orleans for the day, but last night we discussed spending a few days in the Loire Valley.  When we woke up it was spitting rain and a little windy, The Weather Channel said it was going to improve as the day went on so we decided to skip Orleans, and head to Chateau de Chambord.

Ron plugged a GPS coordinate into the Garmin which was supposed to be for the motorhome parking at the Chateau and we took off.  The Garmin said it was only a 68km drive, and the roads were good.  Right at the end we started to think something was amiss as we suddenly started to get on smaller and smaller roads and this is maybe the largest tourist attraction in the Loire Valley.  At the end the GPS proudly announced we had arrived, but we were looking at a field next to a little village.  Either Ron inputed the coordinates wrong or the coordinates were wrong in the app we use to find places to stay.  Anyway after a little more research we were on our way to the Chateau.

Thirty minutes later we arrived and what a first impression.  The chateau is magnificent in scale.  As we walked up to the entrance Ton said that this must cost a fortune to maintain.  This would become a theme of the day. 

The first view of the Chateau, it really is immense.

The Chateau was originally constructed from 1519 to 1547 by King François I.  It is built in the Renaissance style and has 11 towers on the roof that are supposed to look like Istanbul.

The rear of the chateau from the immense gardens.

While it is really something to look at it is indeed difficult to maintain.  When you watch the movie of the history of the Chateau it goes something like this, François builds it, and then loses interest in it and it deteriorates, another king gives it to someone who spends a fortune on it and then loses interest and it deteriorates, it passes to another owner who spends a fortune etc.  In fact it may be the greatest white elephant in France.

The ceiling on the third floor, the salamander was the symbol of François I.  

It is now maintained by the French National Park Service and they are clearly spending a fortune to restore and maintain it.  Hopefully they will succeed as it is worth keeping.

These gardens were just restored last year.

September 21, 2018 Orleans FR

It was time to get moving.  Last night with some encouragement from Robyn we decided to head to Normandy.  Orleans seemed like a good first leg for the trip.  The first few days of the trip the weather had been perfect, but when we woke this morning it was just starting to rain.  It pretty much rained the whole way to Orleans though the roads were good and pretty stress free.

Our first stop was the aire which is about 5km from the city center.  When we got there the weather was still pretty unsettled so we decided that Orleans could wait for tomorrow and settled in.  The one thing interesting was the aire shared its space with the local pétanque club which is the French version of Bocci.  Unlike other pétanque games we had watched this group was really good.

The view from the aire tonight.  

In the evening we decided to take a stroll on the footpath along the River Loire.  Not expecting much we were surprised when around a bend in the river about 200 yards from the campground there was a really nice church.  Exploring a little further we came into a little village with a park on the grounds of an old Chateau.  It was an unexpected find for us.

April 26, 2018 Tournon-sur-Rhone FR

We are finally having to focus more on direction than interesting places.  We picked the destination of Tournon-sur-Rhone based on it being a good distance north towards Sens.

When we arrived in Tournon we were not initially impressed.  It was a nice enough town with a nice view of the Rhone River.   There were two river cruise boats docked near town.  We learned that Tournon had a sister city on the other side of the river called Hermitage.  They were connected by a  wooden pedestrian bridge.  

The wooden bridge across the Rhone between Tournon and Hermitage.

We found another aire for the night and headed into town.  We did a pass thru Tournon and it was pleasant, and then headed over to Hermitage as Ton wanted to get some pictures of the Rhone and the river cruise boats.  Once we reached Hermitage we saw they had a chocolate museum.  The chocolate museum was really awesome.  It is called Valrhona, and is attached to a factory by the same name.  We decided not to take the tour, but just went thru the attached store.  The store had all you could eat samples of all of their chocolates.  Ron probably ate about 5€ worth of samples, and Ton about 4€ worth.  The chocolate was excellent, and we were almost tempted to buy some but we were full from our free samples!

One of the river cruise ships pulling away from the dock in Hermitage.

On the way back we saw some vineyards on the Tournon side of the river that were really interesting looking.  They were on this incredible slope of about 15 degrees with old stone walls between parcels.  We decided to walk over to get a better view.  They were even more impressive up close.  It turns out that this is a  Grand Cru ( the highest quality wine in France) for Syrah, and is considered the spiritual birth place for Syrah.  So we are going to look for a bottle of the local stuff tomorrow to check it out.

The hills above Tournon which are supposed to be the spiritual home of the Syrah grape.

November 16, 2019 Tournon-Sur-Rhone FR

We woke up early with only two things in mind for the day.  Head over to the Valrhona Chocolate company, and then jump in François and do a marathon drive on the Autoroute to Sens.

Both missions were accomplished, when we went out for our walk to the chocolate company we were surprised to see two river cruise ships tied up to the docks right next to the campground.  The fog was dense and you could barely see them but they loomed in the dark.  We think all of the passengers had already taken off for their day trips as the crew of one of the ships were engaged in a vigorous snow ball fight on the top deck which is usually used for the passengers to enjoy the sun and the views.

The pedestrian bridge across the Rhone shrouded in fog.

We arrived at the factory and Ton did some sampling and shopping while I sampled and tried to figure out why our internet was out of order.  Ton was much more successful than I was.  After much sampling and comparison we departed Valrhona with a kilo of chocolate to take home to Oregon.

François sitting on the banks of the Rhone, trust me.

We quickly packed up and headed to the autoroute.  At the entrance to the autoroute I was distracted going up to the gate where you get the ticket to enter.  In France they have a Telepass station where you put a transponder in the car and do not need to stop at the toll gates.  As I drove up to one of the two entrance gates I was not paying attention, so when I pulled up to the machine that usually dispenses the ticket you need, nothing happened, and then after a few seconds a recording began lecturing me in French about the fact that I had entered the telepass gate, after about 20 seconds of being scolded in French, and having a picture taken of our plate (there was a flash at the rear of François which I presume was a camera going off), the machine dispensed the ticket we needed, the barrier went up and we were on our way.  I fear there may be a fine in our future.

Windshield shot of a castle off of the A6.

The rest of the day consisted of us navigating the 430 km’s on the autoroute, and paying a huge toll at the end.  Before heading back to the aire in Gron which is our normal beginning and end of trip stop we also filled up a thirsty François to the tune of €120.  The days when we see the least are often the most expensive.

Fall colors as we return to Burgundy.


September 24, 2018 Chartres FR

Our plan when we arrived was to head towards Spain, so of course we drove north today to Chartres.  Along the way we decided to visit Normandy and Brittany on our way to Spain, so we had to divert north to get to Normandy.

We decided to visit Chartres primarily to see its Gothic Cathedral.  We visited Sens Cathedral the other day which is billed as the first Gothic Cathedral, and Chartres is supposed to be the best example of a Gothic Cathedral.  Chartres still has its’ original stained glass as during both wars they removed it and stored it safely.  During WWII the cathedral was in danger as the allies moved towards Paris, but an American Colonel successfully negotiated with a German General to declare Chartres an open city, so there was no  battle fought for the city.

The exterior of the Chartres Cathedral.  Note the contrast between the recenly cleaned upper part, and the uncleaned lower part.  The maintenance of these buildings is daunting.

On our way out of Chinon we decided we wanted to visit a winery, we drove thru the countryside only to find it was closed.  Disappointed again, we wrote off getting a taste of any Chinon wine, but on our way out of town Ton spotted the new tasting room for the winery we had driven out into the country to see.  Pierre and Bertrand Couly had opened a new tasting room on the highway to Chartres, Chinon Red wines are what we call Cabernet Franc in the US.  We spoke to the wife of the owner and she did a great job explaining the wines of the area.  She was aware of Oregon wines as her husband had spent some time at Sokol Blosser winery in Oregon in the 1980’s.

The very fine winery Pierre & Bertrand Couly.  As the owner said you do not have to have an old facility to make traditional wines.

The three hour drive to Chartres was uneventful as the “N” road that we used most of the way was quite good.  We parked in a free overnight spot, and walked about a mile into town to see the cathedral.  The cathedral was indeed impressive, and the interior stain glass windows were among the best we have seen in France.  The cathedral was constructed in the early 1200’s after the previous Romanesque Cathedral had burned.  The cathedral is deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site.  Besides admiring the beauty of the building we also again discussed the maintenance of these immense buildings.  Just keeping the exterior clean is a full time job. 

One of the stain glass “Roses” at Chartres, this one dates from around 1210 and is the original glass.

After touring the cathedral we decided not to wait for the light show, so we walked back to François.  Frankly we were a little peeved with one of the attendants who would not let us take the last crypt tour, and did it in a way that seemed unnecessarily officious to us while simultaneously refusing to speak English, even though we had just heard him giving an explanation of the tour in perfect English to another person.  I hope he was just having a bad day.  We had a light dinner and a relatively early night as we have a long drive to Normandy tomorrow.

Some of the art work in side the Cathedral.

September 22, 2018 Chateau de Chambord FR

Well, plans change. We had originally planned to go to Orleans for the day, but last night we discussed spending a few days in the Loire Valley.  When we woke up it was spitting rain and a little windy, The Weather Channel said it was going to improve as the day went on so we decided to skip Orleans, and head to Chateau de Chambord.

Ron plugged a GPS coordinate into the Garmin which was supposed to be for the motorhome parking at the Chateau and we took off.  The Garmin said it was only a 68km drive, and the roads were good.  Right at the end we started to think something was amiss as we suddenly started to get on smaller and smaller roads and this is maybe the largest tourist attraction in the Loire Valley.  At the end the GPS proudly announced we had arrived, but we were looking at a field next to a little village.  Either Ron inputted the coordinates wrong or the coordinates were wrong in the app we use to find places to stay.  Anyway after a little more research we were on our way to the Chateau.

Thirty minutes later we arrived and what a first impression.  The chateau is magnificent in scale.  As we walked up to the entrance Ton said that this must cost a fortune to maintain.  This would become a theme of the day. 

The first view of the Chateau, it really is immense.

The Chateau was originally constructed from 1519 to 1547 by King François I.  It is built in the Renaissance style and has 11 towers on the roof that are supposed to look like Istanbul.

The back of the Chateau. The roof was supposed to be modeled on the skyline of Constantinople (now Istanbul).

While it is really something to look at it is indeed difficult to maintain.  When you watch the movie of the history of the Chateau it goes something like this, François builds it, and then loses interest in it and it deteriorates, another king gives it to someone who spends a fortune on it and then loses interest and it deteriorates, it passes to another owner who spends a fortune etc.  In fact it may be the greatest white elephant in France.

The ceiling on the third floor, the salamander was the symbol of François I.  

It is now maintained by the French National Park Service and they are clearly spending a fortune to restore and maintain it.  Hopefully they will succeed as it is worth keeping.

These gardens were beautifully restored in 2017.


September 21, 2018 Orleans FR

It was time to get moving.  Last night with some encouragement from Robyn we decided to head to Normandy.  Orleans seemed like a good first leg for the trip.  The first few days of the trip the weather had been perfect, but when we woke this morning it was just starting to rain.  It pretty much rained the whole way to Orleans though the roads were good and pretty stress free.

Our first stop was the aire which is about 5km from the city center.  When we got there the weather was still pretty unsettled so we decided that Orleans could wait for tomorrow and settled in.  The one thing interesting was the aire shared its space with the local pétanque club which is the French version of Bocci.  Unlike other pétanque games we had watched, this group was really good.

The view from the aire tonight.  

In the evening we decided to take a stroll on the footpath along the River Loire.  Not expecting much we were surprised when around a bend in the river about 200 yards from the campground there was a really nice church.  Exploring a little further we came into a little village with a park on the grounds of an old Chateau.  It was an unexpected find for us.

April 26, 2018 Tournon-sur-Rhone FR

We are finally having to focus more on direction than interesting places.  We picked the destination of Tournon-sur-Rhone based on it being a good distance north towards Sens.

When we arrived in Tournon we were not initially impressed.  It was a nice enough town with a nice view of the Rhone River.   There were two river cruise boats docked near town.  We learned that Tournon had a sister city on the other side of the river called Hermitage.  They were connected by a nice wooden pedestrian bridge.  

The wooden bridge across the Rhone between Tournon and Hermitage.

We found another aire for the night and headed into town.  We did a pass thru Tournon and it was nice, and then headed over to Hermitage as Ton wanted to get some pictures of the Rhone and the river cruise boats.  Once we reached Hermitage we saw they had a chocolate museum.  The chocolate museum was really awesome.  It is called Valrhona, and is attached to a factory by the same name.  We decided not to take the tour, but just went thru the attached store.  The store had all you could eat samples of all of their chocolates.  Ron probably ate about 5€ worth of samples, and Ton about 4€ worth.  The chocolate was excellent, and we were almost tempted to buy some but we were full from our free samples!

One of the river cruise ships pulling away from the dock in Hermitage.

On the way back we saw some vineyards on the Tournon side of the river that were really interesting looking.  They were on this incredible slope of about 15 degrees with old stone walls between parcels.  We decided to walk over to get a better view.  They were even more impressive up close.  It turns out that this is a  Grand Cru ( the highest quality wine in France) for Syrah, and is considered the spiritual birth place for Syrah.  So we are going to look for a bottle of the local stuff tomorrow to check it out.

The hills above Tournan which are supposed to be the spiritual home of the Syrah grape.