Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 4: Loire valley, Atlantic coast

Map of trip to France
27.7: Munich -> Strasbourg
28.7: Strasbourg -> Verdun -> Reims -> Paris
29.7: Paris
30.7: Paris
31.7: Paris
1.8: Paris -> Disneyland -> Paris
2.8: Paris
3.8: Paris -> Chambord castle -> Blois -> Tours
4.8: Tours -> Villandry castle -> Azay Le Rideau -> Tours
5.8: Tours -> Azay Le Rideau -> Chenonceau castle -> Tours
6.8: Tours -> Rigny-Usse castle -> Tours
7.8: Tours -> Les Sables D Olonne -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
8.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
9.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> St Gilles Croix de Vie -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
10.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
11.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> Lyon
12.8: Lyon
13.8: Lyon -> Geneva

5.8: Tours -> Azay Le Rideau castle -> Chenonceau castle -> Tours
Hotel Etap, Tours Centre.
Weather: warm in the morning, blue sky mixed with clouds in the morning which makes one wonder how the weather will develop over the day. Almost spotless blue sky in the late afternoon and evening. 28.5°C in the late afternoon.

We leave the hotel as usual after 12pm and arrive at the Azay-le-Rideau castle at 1:15pm (entry ticket: 7.50 Euro). The castle is beautiful and lies in a beautiful setting. The castle interior is kind of interesting, but not that impressive. After the castle visit we buy some overpriced ice-creams in a cafe. So far we have only found overpriced ice-creams in France (2-3 times what they cost in Germany or Italy; no idea why ice-cream has to be so expensive). The quality of this ice-cream is also poor, as it has been refrozen.

It's 3 something pm when we leave for the next destination, the Chenonceau castle. We only arrive there shortly after 4pm, partly because due to the GPS navigation system I miss a motorway exit and have to make a detour. At the castle there is a huge queue of people in front of the ticket office (I spend about 20-30 minutes in the queue). The ticket costs 10 Euro.

Since it is already quite late and we still haven't had lunch, we eat a sandwich in a nearby cafe before entering the castle. Chenonceau is very nice, especially the bridge over the river, but is less impressive than I had imagined from brochures and pictures. Azay Le Rideau is at least as nice. Again, also at this castle they sell overpriced ice-cream of poor quality.

While at the castle Alissia and I rent a row boat for half an hour (4 Euro). Now, had you been at the castle you would have seen the funny scene of a big guy and a small 4 year old girl on a row boat fighting for the control of the rows. It takes a while until Alissia finally realises that she is not strong and big enough to move those rows (and after some bruises Alissia also understands that she cannot sit on my lap holding the rows while I am rowing).

Finally at 6:35pm we leave Chenonceau and drive back to Tours, arriving around 7:40pm at the Carrefour shopping complex near the hotel (we stopped somewhere to refuel the car). We have a dinner in the Flunch restaurant of the shopping complex (good food, good choice and also good value), then head back to the hotel. Around 10pm I check briefly my emails in the McDonalds restaurant near the train station.

6.8: Tours -> Rigny-Usse castle -> Tours
Hotel Etap, Tours Centre.
Weather: already very warm in the morning, the temperature tops out today at 34°C (and doesn't drop below 32°C before the evening). Almost spotless blue sky.

We leave the hotel after noon, heading towards the Carrefour shopping complex. The plan for today is to take it easy, doing first some shopping, then bringing Alissia to a children playground in the afternoon. We later skip this plan because of the strong sun and strong heat, as the playground is open air and Alissia would roast under the sun in the heat.

Anyway, it's already 1pm and we still haven't had neither breakfast nor lunch. We go to the same restaurant where we had dinner yesterday (the Flunch restaurant). Again they have an wide choice of good food at very good prices. Alissia, Shirley and I spend in total 24 Euro and that includes three meals, desserts and drinks.

After the lunch we do some shopping in the mall. It's a very big shopping complex, fully air-conditioned and with a very big free parking outside. I have a look at the Saturn electronics store. Very big store with a wide choice of electronics and music/video stuff. Even bigger than the Saturn stores in Munich. Expensive DSLRs with lenses on it are available for testing (in German photo shops and stores all DLSRs are inside glass cabinets and you have to ask the staff to show you the camera).

At 2:20pm we leave for the Rigny-Usse castle, which looks quite interesting on the brochure I picked up in the mall. Alissia likes to explore castles and I figure out that she'll have an interesting time in this castle. Thanks to the satellite navigation system I manage to take again the wrong motorway exit and have to drive 8+8 km of motorway for nothing and pay twice 1.20 Euro of motorway tolls.

In any case, at 3:15pm we arrive in Rigny-Usse. Next to the castle is a dusty free car parking. It's very hot and we still need to feed Natasha who has already been complaining for a while (where is my milk?). We head to the ticket office, and surprise, surprise, the tickets cost a whopping 12 Euro per person. Compared to the two castles we visited yesterday, the Rigny-Usse castle is way overpriced - it is far less interesting, but more expensive.

In any case we get the tickets and enter the castle. The special thing about the Rigny-Usse castle is that it lies on a hillside surrounded by forest and in the castle room they have recreated scenes with live-size puppets representing fairy tales. There is a room showing the sleeping beauty in her bed being woken up by the prince, in another room you see the evil witch preparing a magic potion and so on. In other rooms they have recreated scenes from the 1920s showing people in cocktail dress having a drink, one room shows a scene from the 18th century and so on. Rigny-Usse is the Disneyland of the Loire valley castles. Alissia likes it as she walks up and down the staircase eagerly exploring the entire castle.

At 5:35pm we leave the castle and drive back to the hotel, arriving there around 6:30pm. On the way back the satellite navigation system directs us into a street which is temporarily closed and we have to drive back and find a different route. The overall status of the roads and streets we have seen so far in France is almost ok, although the quality of the streets is not on the same level as it is in Germany. Traffic is almost ok, with people behaving correctly most of the time but not always (to make an example, in one case the car in front of us simply passes a red traffic light).

In the hotel we take a rest, then at 7:30pm we go to the Ibis hotel opposite the Etap hotel and have a dinner there. After the dinner, I go to the McDonalds where I check my emails and surf the web.

Tomorrow we are heading to Les Sables d'Olonne. The idea is to spend a few days on the beach relaxing.

7.8: Tours -> Les Sables D Olonne -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
Hotel La Garenne, Bretignolles-sur-Mer. 60 Euro for a small room with attached bath (bathtub with hot shower). No A/C, no telephone. satellite TV, no Internet in the room. This place is a bit run down, but at least the toilet works. The location is excellent - the beach is in walking distance (about 200m). This place also has a restaurant.
Weather: overcast the whole day, every now and then it rains with varying intensity, from a light drizzle to a heavy shower. Strong wind on the motorway, and strong wind as well along the coast. Temperatures between 21 and 25°C during the day.

We get up before 10am and manage to check out by 11:45am. We drive to the Carrefour shopping mall where we have a lunch at 12pm at the Flunch restaurant. Around 1pm we leave for Les Sables d'Olonne. The GPS navigation system (Magellan 1215) predicts initially an arrival time of 4:05pm. In reality we'll arrive at 4:15pm, because the navigation system sends us to the wrong motorway exit (internal maps are not up to date) but we manage to recover some time while driving.

Very heavy wind on the motorway, which pushes the car to the left and right and makes concentration necessary when driving. We arrive in Les Sables d'Olonne at 4:15pm, then lose time trying to get down town to the tourist office. Very heavy traffic with traffic jams in Les Sables d'Olonne.

Les Sables d'Olonne seems to be a boom town on this summer afternoon. Full of people, full of cars, hotels fully booked. The whole world seems to be in this place, all French seem to have converged to this place today. There is one huge long beach facing the Atlantic ocean with its dirty water. This is not exactly a place where to relax and take it easy.

Around 5pm I enquire at the tourist office about hotel rooms. We had already noticed while driving to the tourist office that the local Ibis hotel is charging 91 Euro for a room vs. the 63 Euro Ibis hotels usually charges elsewhere in France. This is almost a 50% premium over the standard rates, which indicates that rooms here are more expensive than elsewhere. The tourist office gives us a list of hotels and marks the hotels which are still available.

After a number of phone calls it becomes apparent that the few hotels which the tourist office marked as still available are actually booked out. One hotel has a room for 120 Euro, which is more than we are willing to spend. Also the private rooms are already booked out according to the tourist office. I ask if there are perhaps hotels along the coast out of Les Sables d'Olonne, but the staff in the tourist office insists that along the coast the situation is the same as in Les Sables d'Olonne. Pretty scary. I start regretting to have driven to this place.

I call the Etap hotel in La Roche sur Yon and they still have rooms available. Fine. La Roche sur Yon will be our fall-back solution in case we can't find a hotel along the coast. Then we drive a bit through Les Sables d'Olonne, south along the coast, looking for a hotel with a 'rooms available' sign. Very difficult to drive by car here as there are traffic jams everywhere. We arrive at the Mercure hotel, then drive a bit further. It appears that there is no coastal road along which to drive looking for a hotel. So we get back to the Mercure hotel. This belongs to the Accor chain, to which also the Ibis and Etap hotels belong. In the Mercure hotel I ask about a nearby Ibis hotel (there is no Etap hotel in Les Sables d'Olonne, but there is an Ibis hotel and in general there are many more Ibis hotels than Etap hotels in France).

It turns out that the Ibis hotel in Les Sables d'Olonne just sold out the last two available rooms, but the staff in the Mercure hotel gives me a list of Ibis hotels in La Rochelle. La Rochelle is a nice city about 60km south along the coast. I call all three Ibis hotels in La Rochelle. The first two are booked out, the thírd one has one room, but when I mention that I have one child they say that the room is just for two people.

At this point I decide to use the fall-back option, but after calling the Etap hotel in La Roche sur Yon it turns out that also this place is now fully booked. It's now 6:30pm and for a moment I don't know what to do. The idea was to spend a few relaxing days on a beach, but now it seems that it was a dumb idea to drive to the coast as everybody else also had the same idea and everything is fully booked. Had I known that the situation is like this, I would have booked a room before driving here.

In this moment I remember that the Magellan navigation system has a directory of points of interest. This includes a category 'hotels'. You can for instance specify a city or location and the Magellan navigation system will generate a list of nearby hotels with address and telephone number. I check the map of the coast around Les Sables d'Olonne. The next city along the coast to the north is Bretignolles-sur-Mer. I enter that into the navigation system and get a list of hotels in this city. I call the first on the list, the hotel La Garenne, expecting to be told that it is fully booked. Surprise, surprise, they do have a room. 60 Euro and the room has an attached bath. Can the room also accomodate one child? Yes, no problem. Fine, I book the room and enter the destination into the navigation system.

Around 7:20pm we arrive at the La Garenne hotel. We unload our luggage and Shirley feeds Natasha in the room. At 8:30pm we go out of the hotel and look for a restaurant. The pizzeria near the hotel is full and there are people queueing up. I look a bit further and find the La Pergola pizzeria restaurant, which has a good choice of pasta dishes (Shirley would like to have some pasta) and an available table. Around 8:45pm we settle down in this restaurant. The food will only arrive one hour later, but at least they give us a free drink as an apology. The pasta dish actually is quite good. At almost 11pm we go back to the hotel.

Copyright 2008 Alfred Molon