Van life – Brittany to Pays de la Loire.

We left Brittany this week & left our little oasis at Penmarc’h, said goodbye to our lovely camping neighbours on the beach and drove all the way south passed Lorient and Vannes to a busy little beach at Sarzeau. We pulled up into the designated camper van field alongside an auld fella who was sitting alone outside his small camper van looking a bit cranky while sipping on a glass of rum which was sitting beside half a bottle beside his wireless radio on the table. He sat and watched as we parked up in the bay beside his and looked on as we all hopped out, Ellen & Alex boisterous and energetic, me hushing them, Liam bet from driving & Buckie hopping around on three legs. We parked up and headed off for a swim and watched all the water based activities going on, wind-surfing, beach yoga, zombie sea walkers and forragers. On our way back we said Bonjour to our new neighbour and he beckoned us over. He was still sipping on the same glass of rum. His name was Marcell who was 82 years young and you would swear he was in his 60’s. He gets up every morning to run 10km then waits until the tide is right to go foraging whether it’s for mussels, oysters, shrimp or fish to have with a fresh baguette and a beer for dinner. The day we met him he had just picked himself a bucket of les huiles (oysters) and kindly offered us some. Liam took 6 off him to show the kids how it’s done and let them have a try, they absolutely loved them. We chatted with Marcel for a little while, he was a saxaphone player and he was so happy when Liam took out the banjo to play a tune while he was teaching the children how to count in French (I’ve been doing this for the last two weeks but it only clicked when he taught them). He was reading an english grammar book & he really wanted to practise his english so our chats were in his broken english & my broken french, good craic though. It really is the people you meet that make the most amazing & lasting memories.

Le châteaux de Suscinio

The following morning we went to le châteaux de Suscinio which was a 10 minute drive away. We arrived just as it opened at 10am, the castle was huge and surrounded by a motte. We walked across the drawbridge, through the massive wooden doorway with stone carved stags on either side and we entered the reception / gift shop area to buy our tickets. €9.80 each for Liam & I and kids under 10 go free. The gift shop was lovely, of course the kids wanted everything in it but we just bought a couple of postcards and went on our way up the first round tower of the castle. We spent hours wandering around and exploring, the information displays & artefacts were very interesting, there was medieval board games on display in the window areas for everyone to play and we got to play dress up in one of the duchess’ chambers. The châteaux fell into ruins in the C16th and many of the stones were taken to be used to build all the small local buildings. It was taken over by the local council in the 1970’s when by then the castle had no roof or floors inside it and repair work began. Work is still on-going but I think they’ve done a fantastic job on the tourism side of it, Liam was really impressed with the skilled work that went into the re-build.

The princess & prince of the castle
Overlooking the salt marshes of Suscinio

After exploring the entire châteaux, we were drawn to the five medieval tents out at the back of the castle where each tent had a different exhibit such as bow & arrow making, macramé making (ancient weaving technique), types of clothing from the medieval period and an exhibit about various animals names and identifying animal poops and footprints. A fantastic day of learning for us all.

Le châteaux de Suscinio

Identifying Poops & Footprints

Macramé making

We left the castle as unfortunately there was no overnight camping allowed so we thought we might find a spot near the nearby medieval walled city of Guérande. We should have known we would never find a suitable spot to stayover in a big town and this is why we don’t often visit them but we did park up to have a look around the walled city. We wandered for about an hour, looking at all the beautiful little artisan craft and clothes shops. I could have spent a fortune there but we were super good and only spent €5 on ice creams for the kids. We got back to the camper, pulled out the map and picked our next destination.

Entrance to the walled city of Guèrande
Cathedral of Guèrande

Small streets of Guèrande

Medieval walled town of Guèrande

We headed south again, over the huge bridge over the Loire river and pulled in just on the other side at the seaside town of St. Michel Chef Chef followed by a stay the following night at our very first paid campsite at another seaside touristy town called St. Jean de Monts. There must have been a hundred campevans all packed into the campground, all hooked up to electricity. We definitely prefer wild-camping here especially as most of the free camping places have services. The only reason you would need to park at an actual campground would be to plug in to the mains. The only reason you would need to plug into the mains is to keep the fridge cold and watch the telly. It’s different to Brittany here in the Pays de la Loire province. It’s harder to find a free camping spot & the coastal areas are a lot more built up and touristy so it seems we will be camping a little more inland and exploring some of the beautiful quiet little villages during our time in this region.

St. Nazaire Bridge over the Loire river

Saint Michel Chef Chef

We are currently parked in the little village of Sainte-Foy. It’s stunning here but we’re not so lucky with our neighbours this time. There are only three parking spaces here in front of a little playground and it’s fully serviced, free drinking water, free hook up, free grey water waste (that’s water from the sinks and shower) and cartridge waste (toilet). Our two neighbours, both retired french couples are cranky as hell, they are ridiculously precious about their campervans and have been giving out about us since we arrived. They keep a watchful eye on the kids so they don’t get too close to their vans, one of the men gave out to Alex when he rested his bike on the ground between our camper and his, he came around to check the bike wasn’t touching his camper and told Aex to be careful. Liam went over to the recycling bins and the other neighbour followed him and watched on to make sure he was recycling properly. Other than that, the four of them sit around all day giving out about everything. They were the first people not to greet us as we arrived but the place is just so beautiful and perfect to relax after all our driving this week so we don’t really care about all their complaining, actually it’s quite entertaining, especially when Buckie does a wee on their van tyres or the kids get a little close to their campervans.

Liam on the terrace fixing our skylight

We are getting a lot of work done while we’re here too, we cleaned out our water tank, Liam took the satelite dish off the camper as we have no interest in watching telly, plus the actual dish was blocking the roof light / vent thingy from opening so now that Liam has removed the dish and fixed up the opening mechanism of the roof light with one of my crochet hooks we now have a skylight in our bedroom. We all refer to the campervan as home now, it’s our house with two upstairs bedrooms, one downstairs bedroom, we even have a garage and a rooftop terrace.

For now, I am crochetting and yoga-ing like mad, Liam is fixing things up and breathing Wim Hoff style and missing the cold and the kids are having a blast in the sun playing with all the kids who arrive to play at the playground so I think we’ll chill here for another day or two to reset, maybe unintentionally piss off our neighbours a little bit more & research our next stay along the coast north of La Rochelle. I really hope we find a spot as nice as the ones in Brittany. Next summer, I think we’ll have to explore the east side of Brittany and Normandy, fascinating, friendly & beautiful places.

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