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ManVanNoPlan visits Reims, Troyes & Chablis

ManVanNoPlan visits Reims, Troyes & Chablis
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Week 2 of the 2022 Autumn Road Trip
Monday 10th of October.

Day 8 – Thieu to Soissons. (49.3932662, 3.3277581)

It seems like we have been away from the UK for ages, but it was only last Monday that we sailed into the Hook of Holland and today we are moving on and crossing into France and our third country in our first week.

Things did not go to plan, however. The first thing that did not go to plan happened within the first hour of driving. We were heading for a town in France called Soissons which should have been a two-and-a-half hour-drive. The first half hour or so was on dual carriageway then onto normal roads. So far so good until we came to a ‘ROUTE BAREE’ sign blocking the road ahead. I started to follow the yellow deviation signs while my digital Navigator was having a bit of a meltdown!

Long story short, it took more than half an hour to get back on track past the long stretch of road being resurfaced. I have no idea if this was in Belgium or France as on both sides of the border French is spoken and there was no sign to be seen anywhere to indicate where the border was. We sussed a bit later that we were now in France when we passed through a small town that was definitely French due to the change in architecture and the vehicle number plates.

I pulled over into a lay by to apply three ‘Angle Mortes’ stickers that you must display in France on all vehicles over 3,500kg.

Most of the rest of the drive was on dead straight roads that the Romans would have been proud of and there was one particular stretch that seemed not to have been resurfaced since Roman times and it was so rough that the vibration caused the display for the rear camera to stop working.

The next thing that did not go to plan was highlighted when we past around the bypass of Laon and one of the roundabouts at a huge Carrefour supermarket was gridlocked with, mostly cars, queuing for fuel. It seems that the French tanker drivers are on strike and fuel is becoming scarce and if we had known we could have topped up Bessie before leaving Belgium.

We arrived in Soissons and popped into a Lidl to shop before heading on to the municipal campsite. Like Belgium we thought the prices in Lidl were higher than in the UK, apart from the wine!

At the campsite I checked the trip recorder, and it estimates we have fuel for 135 miles, enough to get us to the much larger Reims which is 44 miles away. We got talking to a Dutch couple who are parked near us on their way to Spain, but they have only got enough fuel for another 20 miles!


You may remember back in May we had to leave Denmark as there was no gas to refill our tanks and now we may have a problem filling our tank with diesel. The joys of motorhome travel on the continent!

The upside to Motorhome Travel on the continent is that we had a great dinner washed down with a delicious €1.99 bottle of wine.

Tuesday 11th of October.
Day 9 – Soissons.

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping…”

Who remembers these lyrics penned by Art Garfunkel and what have they got to do with our motorhome travel blog I hear you all ask?

We were due to spend today exploring Soissons but overnight events would put paid to that plan! If anyone has ever suffered a bout of gout you will know that it usually first manifests itself during the night in the form of excruciating pain in the joint of a big toe.

I had a bout of gout a few years ago so when I felt the first pangs of pain during the night in the joint of my left big toe I knew what was ahead.

We spent the morning relaxing and I worked on the last blog and The Navigator made use of the site’s washing machine to wash some clothes. The pain in my toe was off the scale and I knew we wouldn’t be walking the short distance into the town after lunch.

I decided it was worth the pain to get the bikes out and cycle into town to see if a chemist could give me something to ease the pain as a minimum, or make the gout disappear altogether, which was the preferred option.


We cycled into the centre of town where a friendly gendarme cycling in the opposite direction stopped us and suggested we should not be cycling up a one-way street in the wrong direction. The French and their rules eh! It was a fair point I suppose, but we were about two hundred yards short of the big green neon sign that denotes a pharmacy, however the bikes had to be chained up and we had to walk the rest of the way with every step tortuous for me.

I found out from the young guy behind the pharmacy counter, who did not know what the word gout was, but thanks to Google Translate, we worked out that it is ‘goutte’ in French. That established, he said he couldn’t help as I would need a prescription from a doctor.

About another agonising two hundred yards away we could see another green neon sign so we headed off there to see if somehow they could be of more assistance, and indeed one of the young women behind the counter spoke fairly good English but she told us the same story and explained to us that a hospital was only a five-minute walk away and a doctor could issue a prescription there.

The five-minute walk was just over half a very painful hour away, but I managed to hobble there. Two other couples were sitting in a waiting room, so we joined them and stared at a door with no handle. Eventually, we sussed out that the doorbell that had a red arrow pointing at it had to be pressed.


This done, the door opened, and a nurse ushered into the reception area and I explained I had ‘goutte’ and needed a prescription. She immediately started writing on what looked like a prescription pad. Success, I thought, but she then tore of the piece of paper and gave it to a woman sitting at a desk who entered the details from the piece of paper, my driving license and the UK Global Health Card which luckily, I had in my wallet.

If this was leading to the prescription being issued this would show how efficient the French medical system was compared with the A & E horror stories from back home. Unfortunately, what was printed off was a little sticker which she applied to a wristband and we were then ushered back outside into the non-descript waiting room with the two other couples.


We sat there for an hour before I was summoned back into the reception area, but The Navigator wasn’t allowed to accompany me. I was taken along a corridor to the last room and gestured to lie on the bed. We were joined by another nurse who proceeded to prepare a syringe and the original nurse pointed at my sleeve and gestured to bare my arm.

When I had gout before I took a course of tablets to ease the pain, but it looked like I was about to be injected here, or so I mistakenly thought. The nurse with the syringe then left the room never to be seen again which confused me and the original nurse then proceeded to take my blood pressure, heart monitor and temperature via my ear! So far so good. She then entered all the data into a computer, said something to me and I only recognised the word ‘docteur’ and then she left me to presumably await a doctor.

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It was about an hour later when the ‘docteur’ finally arrived, examined my toe, asked me some questions (thankfully in English) and left saying he would write out a prescription. I put my sock and shoe back on and sat on the bed waiting for him to come back with the prescription when about five minutes later a new nurse burst through the door and in rapid French started to gesture and tell me to take my shoe and cardigan off again. In my best French accent, I replied “Non” and then, again in my best French Alo Alo accent, “Docteur” and “Prescription” and used the internationally recognised gesture of writing with my right index finger onto my left palm.

She got the jist, turned on her heels and never was seen again. She had left the door open and my original nurse passed by, did a double take to see me still sitting there and gestured for me to follow her to the reception area where the doctor was sitting typing at a computer. He printed off the prescription and explained what the three sets of medication were for, and when to take them.

So with that and many ‘mercis’ and ‘au revoirs’ to the doctors and assembled nurses I emerged back into the waiting room to be reunited with The Navigator.

We walked back to the pharmacie with the English speaking assistant and obtained the medication which cost €13.50 (£11.68). We cycled back to Bessie snapping a few pictures along the way.


Our visit to Soissons did not go to plan but the hospital visit could not be avoided in the circumstances. It looked an interesting town, from what we saw of it anyway, and can highly recommend the Municipal Camping site, which, for €13 a night (£11.75), was good value, although we passed on the cold showers!

Wednesday 12th of October.
Day 10 – Soisson to Reims (49.239958, 4.085747)

The medication had an immediate effect and in the morning my toe was no longer painful, although it was still stiff, and I had to walk with a limp.

We serviced the van as the next two stopovers would have no facilities at all. The first of those would be at Reims, the capital of the champagne region. I have to declare an interest in that I have been here before, but The Navigator hasn’t, more of my previous visit shortly…

I mentioned earlier that there was a fuel shortage in France due to striking tanker drivers but as we had driven past a Inter Marche supermarket there was a queue of cars at the pumps so we hoped that they would still have fuel today. We joined the queue and were inching forward when a young girl came over and (thanks to Google Translate) said we could skip the queue and fill up at the pump usually reserved for lorries. It turned out she worked at the garage and was out for a cigarette break and took pity on us.


I filled up Bessie to the brim which would give us a range of 495 miles, more than enough to see what we wanted to see and then head into Germany. Suitably impressed that it only took 24 minutes from joining the queue to getting back on the road again, we headed for our next destination of Reims.

I took the scenic route from Soissons to Reims hoping to see the famous champagne vineyards and although it was a scenic drive, there were no vineyards to be seen, instead it was sugerbeat that was the crop in the flat fields everywhere.

At one roundabout we unexpectedly came across a WW1 memorial so we stopped for a look. It was well tended as you would expect and we read that it had been inaugurated my General De Gaul no less.


Thankfully these two WW2 relics are not Russian invaders taking aim at Bessie!


Google maps had informed me would be passing through the Reims Clear Air Zone which would be a problem as I didn’t have the necessary windscreen sticker to say we were exempt. I think I managed to get to the Hyper U shopping complex without going through any part of the Zone but if I did there will be a fine waiting for us once we get home!

The Hyper U site is on the outskirts of Reims and usually they have facilities for motorhome, but not this one. That said, we didn’t need any facilities, just a corner of the car park to park up and sleep there.


After buying a few things in the hypermarket we had lunch at a new place to us called O’Taco and the wraps we had were delicious. The shopping was deposited in Bessie and we then caught the shuttle bus into the centre of Reims.

In what now seems like a previous life, I was working for Egmont Children’s Books twenty odd years ago and was due to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, but someone forgot to book flights for myself, my manager Mary, and colleague Peter. The solution was for the three of us to drive to Bologna and our first overnight stop after meeting and setting off from our office in London, was Reims. We had arrived late at night, stayed in a hotel not far from the cathedral, which we walked past on our way to a delicious meal washed down with some champagne. Company expenses are a wonderful thing! It was late so we didn’t really pay much attention to the cathedral as we were more needing to be fed and watered, and in the morning, we were up sharpish and on the road to our next overnight stopover at Como in Italy.


The Navigator and I got off the bus near the cathedral and headed there first. Regular readers of these blogs will know that we usually end up in the town/city main church or cathedral and we both think this is the most impressive facade of any we have ever visited. Antwerp’s cathedral was €12 to enter and this was going to be at least that, and if not more!

What do we know, it was free! The inside, and although impressive, did not live up to the incredible front wall which had detailed carvings seemingly on every surface. Note-Dame de Reims was the traditional location for the coronation of the Kings of France. How they built such high structures such as this in the 13th and 14th centuries defies belief.


After spending some time in and around it, I was on a mission to find the restaurant my colleagues and I ate in, and I think I found it, the Cafe du Palais, two streets away from the cathedral, so The Navigator and I splashed out and indulged ourselves in some champagne to celebrate being in the centre of the champagne industry. If I’m honest I’m not a great fan of sparkling wine but this was delicious, and we enjoyed sitting watching the world go by and soaking up the sunshine as we did so.


Reims is a beautiful, and a prosperous city and we had a walk about the centre before taking the bus back, the driver refusing to take any money for some reason.


Thursday 13th of October.
Day 11 – Reims to Troyes (48.328148, 4.108720)

Yesterday had been beautiful, as good as any Scottish summers day but today dawned grey and dull. We were moving on to Troyes, just short of two hours south of here and I was going to drive on the country roads rather than the main roads Google Maps was suggesting.

After navigating out of Reims and avoiding the Clear Air Zone (hopefully) we were soon in the countryside driving through very colourful vineyards as the leaves were displaying the full range of autumnal colours. There were dozens of signs displaying the names of the owners of the vines, all but two of them we had never heard of. The two instantly recognisable names were Mumm and Veuve Clicot.


It didn’t take too long for vineyards to give way to the huge flat fields where sugar beet was being harvested and piled up in massive mounds beside the road, no doubt for lorries to take away soon. Initially we thought they were potatoes as they were the same colour and the size of a baked potato, but the plants were not big enough to be potatoes.

The place we were aiming for was a secure compound owned by MacArthur Glen, the company that owns out of town shopping malls around the world. There are no facilities on offer, but the parking is free and randomly patrolled by security guards.

The Navigator was dispatched to the office for the code to open the gate and came back with a card which offered a 10% discount at dozens of shops in the Designer Outlet and all the Factory Shops.

Three things prevented us from taking advantage of this discount card,
1. We weren’t interested in trailing around this massive spread out shopping complex.
2. It had started to drizzle, the first daytime rain since leaving home.
3. I had a tummy bug and couldn’t stray far from the toilet!

The site filled up as the evening progressed and there were several nationalities now parked up, but no Brits. In the evening we watched some YouTube videos and Manchester United making incredibly heavy weather of trying to beat a very average Cypriot team.

Friday 14th of October.
Day 12 – Troyes to Chablis (47.819146, 3.801482 )

My tummy bug had relented and the forecast rain had not started yet so we made an early start and took the bus, which passes the site, into town for only €2 each.

Hands up anyone who has ever heard of Troyes. Not many I bet and that included us if I’m being honest. The bus takes about twenty minutes into the centre of the city and drops you off outside the indoor market, which like all French markets was superb. It had a mix of food stalls, and all had a wonderful display of fresh fish, meat and vegetables.


I had found out about Troyes by studying the map to see which towns were en route from Reims to Chablis, and Troyes was the perfect location for a stopover. The next thing to do was search YouTube for some videos on Troyes and I urge you to do the same as my pictures, taken on what was a dull day do not do it justice.

Here is how Wikipedia describes it…
“Troyes is located on the Seine river about 140 km (87 mi) south-east of Paris and is situated within the Champagne wine region.
Troyes developed as early as the Roman era, when it was known as Augustobona Tricassium. It stood at the hub of numerous highways, primarily the Via Agrippa. The city has a rich historical past, from the liberation of the city on August 25, 1944, during the Second World War, the marriage of Henry V and Catherine of France, and the Champagne fairs to which merchants came from all over Christendom. The city has a rich architectural and urban heritage: many buildings are protected as historical monuments, including the half-timbered houses (mainly of the 16th century) that survived in the old town. They have contributed to Troyes being designated as a City of Art and History.”


There is still a bit of renovation work going on to the cathedral but the city has been renovated to a high standard, both buildings and the streets. Entry to the massive cathedral was free and, as usual with a free cathedral we had a good look around.


Can you spot The Navigator?

It had started to rain and as I had been “nil by mouth” yesterday and was now starving so we had a early lunch and eventually, after some confusion, got on the correct bus back to be reunited with Bessie.

Our next stop on the way towards Chablis was meant to be at the Municipal Camping site at Tonnerre, about an hour south of Troyes. It rained most of the way, but it was a lovely drive through forests displaying their autumnal colours, all the scenery was lacking was sunshine to brighten it up.

Google Maps deposited up at the gates of the campsite only for us to find it was closed for the season. A municipal worker turned up in his van and made some alternative suggestions, all of which were closed. I found on Google Maps that there was a motorhome service point in Chablis, so we headed there to at least service the van for the weekend. That accomplished, I again studied the map and found a car park designated as a Motorhome Aire, and it was only three minutes away. It was a real result finding it as we were on the banks of the Serein River in a park with lots of walkways, within sight of the Chablis vineyards and within walking distance of the town centre. Result!


Saturday 15th of October.
Day 13 – Chablis.

I was not expecting a good sleep last night as,
1. It was pouring most of the night.
2. There is a weir a few yards behind us with a 12ft drop.
3. We are within earshot of a church in Chablis that chimes on the quarter hour.

Even with all that potential night-time noise I slept straight through until seven o’clock, although The Navigator did not fare so well.


Earlier I mentioned that colleagues Mary, Peter and I briefly stopped in Reims on the way to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and that was one of the reasons I wanted to revisit Reims, as we never saw much of it back then. We’ll, the same applies to Chablis.

After the Fair was over, we drove home a different route past Parma, Turin, Lyon and up through France and with three alternating drivers we made good progress and eventually pulled off the motorway and spent the night in Chablis. We arrived late, found a rustic hotel and had a lovely meal in a nearby restaurant where I made a ‘faux pas’, as they say in these parts.

Before I started working for children’s book publishers, I worked for ten years selling wines and spirits and had an HNC in wines and spirits to my name. That now meant I was the nominated chooser of wines at any meal, and so it was that night. Bear in mind we were in Chablis, one of the great wine regions of the world and we were on company expenses so it was a given we would be having a decent bottle of Chablis to accompany our meal, and it would be a fitting end to our long road trip to Bologna and back.

The madam brought the menu and wine list and after ordering our food all eyes turned to me to see which of the many domains of Chablis I had chosen. In the end I thought I would leave the choice to the madam, so I said to her, “madame, your finest bottle of Sancerre sil vous plais.”

In my defence we had consumed quite a few aperitifs before this point, and I was feeling no pain. What I was now feeling however was a bit of a prat and the look on the woman’s face was something to behold. Much laughter ensued and she eventually saw the funny side of it, and we went on to have a memorable meal. In the morning we were up bright and early for the last lap back to London and as we waited for Mary to appear, Peter and I had a walk around the small Sunday Market and my abiding memory of it was of a man stirring a vat of blood, which is something you don’t see every day on a market stall.

It had been raining heavily since we arrived in Chablis yesterday afternoon, but it relented for a couple of hours, so we quickly headed into the world-famous wine town of Chablis for a look about.


I looked out for both the hotel we stayed in and the restaurant we ate in without luck. Back at the van we watched seven prosperous looking men get out of two top of the range cars and proceed to change their shoes, retrieve their individual picnic cool bags and walk along to a covered picnic table and spend the next couple of hours talking and eating. Not something that you would see in the UK on a Saturday afternoon!

Sunday 16th of October.
Day 14 – Chablis to Val-de-Meuse.
(48.000706, 5.496204)

We had timed our road trip to be in Chablis on this particular Sunday to see if the man stirring the cauldron of blood was a figment of my imagination or if he, or his descendants, were still here and still stirring away to this day.

The Navigator and I headed off for the short walk into the centre of town where the main street had been closed off and give over to the market stalls. Thankfully the rain had abated, and we would get to enjoy the market without getting soaked.

Chablis is a prosperous town in a prosperous region so the wares on offer were never going to be like the markets in Spain we had frequented where everything is as cheap as possible. Here the stalls were mainly local fruit and vegetables, (especially mushrooms) cheese and meat etc.


We wandered up and down the street and got talking to a man who invited us to try his Caribbean food which consisted of a fishy ball covered in batter and deep fried. The two varieties, cooked in a spicy and plain batter were delicious and we bought five of each to be reheated for lunch later.


We walked right up at the top of the line of stalls and there was the stall with the vat of blood! I had obviously no idea if it was the same man after twenty odd years, but I was just glad I had remembered correctly, which is a feat in itself as the years advance. He tried to explain the process of what he was doing but it was lost on us as he didn’t speak English and our limited French couldn’t comprehend what he said, but I was just pleased he was still there doing whatever it was he was doing.


Satisfied with our couple of days in Chablis, we headed back to Bessie and set off eastwards in the general direction of the next region we want to visit, Alsace, another wine region, bordering Germany. It was to take almost four hours of driving to get there, so, as we are in no hurry now, we will get there in instalments and the first of those was at Val-de-Meuse.

We think we have enough fuel to make it to the German border if need be but will top up if we see a petrol station with diesel available. I also checked the myLPG.eu App to check on LPG gas availability en route and saw that there was a garage listed as stocking it in Chaumont which was not far off the route suggested by Google Maps so that was where we were heading for first.


For the first part of the journey we were still in wine country with the autumnal leaves on the vines making it a colourful drive. This being a Sunday afternoon the villages we passed through were all deserted with no sign of human life detected. It is one of the joys of driving through rural France to pass through the small villages where time seems to have stood still for a very long time.

Having said that, you would like to think that there must be at least one day a year where these ghost villages burst into life and celebrate a local tradition or have a fete!

The houses all seem old and in need of repair with shutters that could do with a lick of paint and it makes you wonder if there is a program on French TV like ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ as there are so many what could be described as do-er upperers!

The greater Chablis wine region gave way to a combination of forests and prairie like flat, massive fields. The Navigator and I had a discussion on what it must be like to be the farmer who has to plough and tend these enormous fields. To me it looked like it must be a soulless task but The Navigator was more sympathetic to their plight and thought that if it was their chosen career, then the farmers would not mind the tedium.

Chaumont is built on a hillside commanding the countryside all around and is quite a large town. We found the garage we were aiming for but it was closed and the fuel prices on the sign outside were all zeroed. They probably had LPG but if there is no fuel it will not be worth their while opening, hoping for a random passing foreign motorhome to fill their Gaslow tanks!

I pulled over and reset Google Maps to a town called Val-de-Meuse which would get us heading in the correct direction again. We were actually heading here anyway as it is approximately half way between Chablis and Alsace and it has a Pass’Etapes Municipal Aire where we can break the journey, service the van, and hook up to electricity as I need power to use my laptop to format this blog and get it online.

Val-de-Meuse is a small hillside town in the Haute-Marne department in North Eastern France and as expected for a Sunday afternoon, everything was closed. The entrance to the Aire was hard to locate, even with a satnav and we had to do an extra lap of the town before we found it.


Sunday 9th of October.
Day 7 – Thieu. (51.471425, 4.089804)

The Pass’Etapes is a national collection of Aires and municipal campsites all over France and once you have their card you tap it on the entry pad and the barrier opens to give you twenty four hours at a very reasonable cost, in this case €10.94 (£9.50) Including electricity. This site was a former municipal campsite now managed by Pass’Etapes and it is massive site with seventy five pitches and initially we had it to ourselves, although later in the evening we would be joined by another British van and two from the Netherlands.

It was a lovely warm afternoon and we had a relaxing afternoon at the van as we saw nothing of any interest in the town as we passed through that would entice us to go for a walk.

The above map shows our route in the second week…

Some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn a small affiliate commission from Amazon if you click through the link and finalise a purchase.


We will be in the Alsace region of France, close to the German border and are looking forward to experiencing new sights and tastes…

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PS – The Fyne Editions website has had a makeover and tons of new titles have been added in the past few weeks so check it out HERE and find lots of inexpensive stocking fillers for Christmas…

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