Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Planet France

Canterbury to Neufchatel en Bray 129 miles. 

Really we should be utterly blasé about crossing the channel. We have made the trip well over a hundred times and the last crossing was less than a month ago. Nevertheless, I still get a little frisson of excitement as we drive out of Calais docks or the tunnel terminal and head south. For us it signals freedom and a sense of entering a bigger world that perhaps we islanders feel more keenly than our continental neighbours. I know it's literally untrue that the sky is always blue, but it does seem so more often than not; today was no exception. And France, for all its familiarity, does seem foreign, sometimes more a different planet than a neighbouring country. 

Our plan, drive to Auchun, buy a few items for lunch, fill-up at the petrol station then head to the aire at Neufchatel en Bray about 100 miles southwest, near Dieppe. We executed the plan perfectly, apart from the lunch items bit. We did pick-up a few bits and pieces, but due to Auchun having an autumn wine sale, we also nabbed about 50 bottles of excellent wine on a bogof deal, so the visit which should have cost about €10 actually set us back €142. Still, it's all safely packed away in the rear garage to soften the blow of being in Buxton after Christmas, and the bottles which cost a little over €3 euros would be £8 pounds or more in Majestic wine back home. We had lunch in the van with a seriously un-romantic view of Boulogne Auchun which now features incomprehensible, but colourful murals running the length of one side. I don't think they improve the aspect, but full marks for the valiant effort.

The French go for jollification on an epic scale (with liberal use of ghastly green)
Vive l'Auchun! (Bogof wine deals...)

Planet France - garish 60s inspired seating)

Planet France - nightmarish roundabout duck...
It's less than a three hour drive to Neufchatel, less if you use the payage the whole way, but we saved a few euros by using the old N1 for a while. Even so we arrived at Neufchatel early enough to have a mooch around the town.

Planet France - empty roads..yay!

It's a pleasant place, with only one claim to fame. Neufchatel cheese is a camembert style product, but made with lait cru giving it a distinctive tang. It comes in heart shaped slabs and the town is very proud of it. The large cheese market was closed, but lots of other shops stock it. In case you are unsure about its origins, the town's main roundabout is resplendent with cow sculptures - not any old beast, but the brown and white patched variety which I assume is a breed of dairy cattle specific to this region. Even the local bakers have cashed in on cheese themed products producing a heart shaped cream meringue cake emulating the look and shape of Neufchatel's renowned fromage. We skipped the opportunity to sample this, opting to buy an apple tart instead, something else that is a Norman specialty.

Neufchatel celebrates the bovine

Normandy = timber framed buildings

A meringue pretending to be a cheese
We visited here last year and cycled part of the voie verte which follows the route of a disused railway. The track passes the entrance to the campsite and motorhome aire, so we took a short walk at dusk. The countryside hereabouts is very bucolic, little.river valleys and rolling hills dotted with half timbered farms. The days where people could pick up a French rural property for next to nothing are long past. However the area around the Pays de Bray is still quite inexpensive by British standards and given its proximity to the Dieppe ferry link I could see it being a tempting prospect if a slice of the French lifestyle was more important to you than. a 'place in the sun'.

Pete supports sustainable transport
Great aire - but not cheap at 12 euros for 24hr hours.

The motor home aire here is one of the best in France, apart from both times we have used it the credit card payment and exit system has failed and we have had to summon help from the campsite next door to raise the barrier. I am sure we will revisit here, both as a stopping place on the way to Spain, or somewhere on the nearby continent with an interesting cycle path - good for a short break.


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