Our time driving through France was cut in two by a couple of days spent in and around Geneva. The first part we were heading south, crossing the border out of Luxembourg and driving down through places like Besançon and Arbois. The second part, starting in the Jura Mountains, saw us drive northeast to Calais, with stop-offs at Troyes, Pierrefonds, and Amiens, among others. The places we found to spend each night were as varied as the places we were visiting during the days.
Some of our favourite camping spots were those with some height, where we could spend the evenings and mornings enjoying views over the surrounding area. We found ourselves at the top of a hillock in Northern France, looking down over the gentle undulations of the land below. There wasn’t much to be seen except for a couple of small villages, just a few houses clustered together, in the expanse of golden green fields. The evening sun caught the light of the wildflowers scattered amongst the long grass as they swayed amiably in the gentle breeze. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset of golden opulence – not one we will forget in a hurry.
Outside of Dijon was another little hillock that made for a very pleasant camping spot. We were surrounded by course shrubbery, which in the warmth of the evening attracted butterflies and bees in abundance. In daylight the view over the surrounding vineyards was peaceful and well suited to the bright sunshine of the long evening. At night, the fields disappeared behind a black veil and the lights of Dijon twinkled alluringly in the distance. There was so little light pollution immediately around us that the stars put on a show and made it very difficult to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Sunrise was calm, the gentle hues slowly reaching across the sky as the sun began its climb over the horizon.
When we park up for the night, we like solitude – and where better to find it than in the middle of the forest in the mountains. Following an old forestry track we delved into the trees. The track lessened and as we emerged into a clearing it petered out completely. In every direction was a wall of trees, their tops capricious and angular against the blue skies and cherubic clouds behind. At night the tree line became a silhouette, framing the starry skies overhead. Morning was bright and hot, the sun’s rays creeping through the branches of the trees and making twinkling gems out of the dew that lay heavy in the grass.
We are always naturally drawn to water when we look for a place to spend the night (some deep rooted evolutionary trait, I am sure) and France did not disappoint. We got to enjoy rivers, crowded either side with lush green trees, the water usually a perfect reflection of the blues overhead. Tiny single track lanes that ended with a perfect piece of shore just for us and the large flat rocks that made up the bed of one in particular made it perfect for a morning paddle!
We also found canals, calm and often teeming with wildlife. One particular evening the clouds boiled overhead, erupting in a ridiculous hailstorm as we were looking for somewhere to park up for the night. The ice fell heavily, clattering off the top of the van (we actually pulled up under some trees to try and protect us from the hailstones that varied in size between marbles and golf balls!) By the time we got out of the van the deluge had blown through and the sun was back out. A mist swirled across the ground, the moisture hung hot and heavy in the air giving the impression we had ventured into some sultry swamp. By the time we set up for the evening the humidity had long passed and we got to enjoy a peaceful evening watching rabbits nibbling in the grass and a grey heron fishing a stone’s throw away.
Another great waterside spot was tucked away in the reeds by a small lake. We guessed it was normally used for fishing as there was a small wooden platform built out into the water. Luckily, nobody came to reclaim it whilst we were there so it was ours for the night. The water was a pale blue, rippling gently in the wind. Dragonflies and damselflies darted across the surface while huge brown fish swam placidly beneath. As the light started to fade the local frogs came alive. It started with just one or two, one or two quickly became ten or fifteen and soon we were engulfed in a chorus of less-than-melodious croaking. There must have been hundreds of them, we were completely surrounded!
Our journey kept us in the northern regions of France, but given the variety of locations, the friendliness of everyone we met and the sheer beauty of the country we experienced during this trip, we are excited to head back and see what the rest of the country has to offer!