I left France four days earlier than planned due to my campervan breaking down on the 28th. Stupidly, the campsite I was at didn't open the gates until 7:30am, so while I got up early to be on the first boat back to the UK, I was thwarted by giant steel gates locking me in. They finally opened and I went to the ferry terminal in Calais. The nice man at the ticket booth there sold me a ticket for a later ferry because it was cheaper, but said I could take the 8:30 one that I wanted to take as it apparently operates on a first-come basis. Winner! The campers and cars in Calais went through quite a rigorous checking procedure as officials with big guns made sure there was no one being smuggled over to England. I drove on to the ferry and then we set sail.
I had mixed emotions about leaving France. I was so angry about the campervan being unreliable (shout out to Spaceships for their crap camper and service), and glad I'd made the decision to leave because it was really a stressful experience. I was also really glad to be able to talk to people in English - I don't know very much French so it was quite difficult talking to people in France. But it truly was the most amazing experience I have ever had. Not only did I see some absolutely incredible sights and went to places I never thought I would get to, but I did it on my own and without any major problems. I'm so proud of myself for that. When I came back people were saying I was brave to do it, but if you want something enough, you just need to break it down into smaller, manageable chunks to not let it overwhelm you. That's what I did. I'm so glad I did it, and I will do it again.... maybe in 2018 though (and with a better camper!)
This is my intended trip and what I actually did according to my Google Timeline. As you can see, I covered off most of it except the top left corner, which I was supposed to do in the last 4 days.
I've thought through all of the things I had seen and done throughout my month and whittled it down to a top 20 places and experiences. It was a tough choice - every day was filled with something new and exciting and different - but I got there in the end.....
- The first time I saw the vineyards stretching out to the horizon and over every single bit of land available. It was such a beautiful, orderly sight.
- Travelling through Champagne and buying Champagne directly from the small producers. This photo was from the Champagne tour of Taittinger, which was so interesting and informative!
- Strasbourg - I have wanted to visit for ages but flying or train-ing there just seemed ridiculously expensive. It was one of the "must see" destinations on my map and I was glad to be able to drive myself there!
- Riquewihr and other little towns on the Alsace wine route. Riquewihr had come to my attention on Instagram (and apparently to the attention of loads of other people). It was a bit touristy for my liking but it and the other little towns on the route were so pretty!
- Dijon. I only added Dijon to my map because it was a good place to stop on the way. I was not prepared to love it as much as I did and goes down as one of my favourite cities on the trip.
- Isle-sur-la-Sorgue - as far as highlights go, this is not a good one. But this was the first time my camper broke down and I will forever equate this town with that stress. Good thing it was gorgeous!
- Sunset in Gordes - the sun dropping low over the Luberon valley was one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. I had seen the sun going down from the campsite and basically ran down the bush path into town (almost stepping on a snake in the process). I didn't quite make it as far as I wanted to, but I got to see the beautiful colours of the dusky Provencal sky nonetheless. . The whole thing was just painfully beautiful I thought my heart would explode!
- Birthday morning in Gordes. Gordes makes it to my highlights list twice on account of it being probably my #1 favourite village/city/town. I wanted to spend my birthday in Provence and I did so in one of the most beautiful places in France!
- Abbaye de Senanque. I pinned an image of this to Pinterest many years ago and I finally made it here on my birthday. What a lovely present to myself hehe
- The doorways of Arles were just so beautiful. I only spent 2 hours there and it is definitely somewhere I would go back to.
- Sunflowers. Honestly, these flowers were everywhere in France and made me so happy!
- Flamingos in the Carmague. What can I say - pink, slightly unco, weird looking birds. They are my spiritual animal!
- Pont du Gard was an amazingly old Roman bridge which is still in pretty good condition now. It's just SO OLD! And humans made it all that time ago. It blows the mind. We would never bother to make anything so beautiful and huge without machinery these days.
- Chateau des Milandes was one of my favourite chateaux, not because of the building itself but because of the woman who used to own it. Josephine Baker was a woman well ahead of her time!
- Marqueyssac. Hands down the best place I went to.
- Chateau de Hautfort. The chateau used in one of my all-time favourite movies Ever After
- Chateau d'Azay le Rideau - despite being covered in scaffolding, this was a highlight because I have wanted to go there for so long. It was only accessible to me because I could drive there; I previously couldn't find any tours that went there (they always just covered off the "main" chateaux)
- I have visited the gardens of Villandry before but they never cease to amaze me. I'd like to go again in a different season to see what the clever gardeners do when it gets cold!
- Chateau de Montpoupon was surprisingly my favourite chateau. It was a much lesser-known chateau and felt like the owners had just popped out for the day, as it was quite homely and not as "presented" as other chateaux
- I visited Le Jardin Plume as a detour on my drive from Blois to Calais after my camper had died for the third time. It was just beautiful.
So, this brings an end to my France trip. It was great to relive it through my photos over these past 6 months and I hope you have also enjoyed reading it. If I learnt anything from this trip it was just to do it. Yes scary things could happen, but they can also happen if you just stay at home. Better to be out doing something you love.