After a hectic weekend of socialising, off-roading and workshopping we were both shattered and we took a short drive to the shore of Lake Constance, also known as Bodensee in Germany on Sunday evening. The lake, named after the town of the same name on its shore, is 63km long and borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It was recommended by German friends sometime ago and we only realised how close we were when we looked in the morning for where to go next.
It was lovely drive through a very pretty and pristine area of Germany, full of orchards and with the snow peaked Alps visible in the distance, showing how far we had travelled. We managed to get a lakeside pitch in Birnau-Maurach at a municipal campsite with its own bar next door. We got one beer in the lovely late afternoon sun before sudden dark clouds arrived and we had to pay quickly and dash for cover. Still it made for a nice walk the following morning to the pretty village of Seefelden with its 300 year old half-timbered Fisherman’s house hotel nearby before we hit the road again.
When we left the Krug off-road weekend, we were given several recommendations to visit Titisee, a lake in the southern Black-Forest. So we thought we ought to pass that way based on the many suggestions received and not just because we were tittering childishly at the name 😂. We pulled in just before lunch in the large motorhome parking area by the station, though we were a little suspicious about its popularity when an attendant appeared out of nowhere and helped me to reach the ticket from the entry barrier in the near empty car park.
The town turned out to be touristy and unremarkable with bus loads of Chinese visitors and expensive jewellery, tat shops and delicatessens. Cuckoo clocks appeared to be the main specialty, including a large clock built into the gable end of a jewellery store we arrived to see chime coincidentally, 2 minutes to midday. We did at least get to share a slice of local Black Forest Gateaux, which I can confirm tastes nothing at all like the classic English synthetic cream, frozen variety. However, the Black Forest was not black and we did not see any titi 😂.
We had taken a leisurely three weeks to complete the 1100km to join the off-road weekend, enjoying some beautiful longer stops in Bergerac, Sarlat-La-Canéda and through the Alsace. However, as we left the Off-Road weekend we had only just over a week until Lizzy’s cataract removal operation in Bordeaux, so we had a bit of driving to do. Add to this, Exeter Chiefs, our local Premiership rugby team had made it through to the semi-finals of the Heineken European Rugby Champions Cup, a title they won in 2020.
Exeter face La Rochelle, the current 2022 Champions, having also previously been finalists in 2021. The game happens to be hosted in Bordeaux, where were headed, so of course we had to try and see it, as the campsite that we usually use in Bordeaux is literally a 10 minute walk to the stadium. We were watching the quarter finals and I managed to book the camping moments after the final whistle and flukily got (not great) tickets two days later after being up early one morning. It is practically a home game for La Rochelle, only 2 hours away and they have sold out the last 76 home games in a row, so it really was quite lucky we got in. All that meant we had only 5 days to get back from Germany.
Monday therefore saw us back on the road and back into France and the Alsace, finding another small camping spot in Burnhaupt-Le-Haut. This was really just a stopover, as alongside this journey we were also in frequent communication with Krug finalising questions, options and pricing for a Project Rhino. So any off time was spent working out the specification requirements we needed etc.
Tuesday though we did manage a lovely stop in Beaune, a walled town in the centre of the Burgundy wine region, on the Route of the Grand Cru’s surrounded by the Côte d’Or vineyards. It may well seem that everywhere we go in France is a wine region and indeed the legacy of the Roman wine production is extensive across France. Beaune though is one of the key wine centres in France, the annual wine auction of the Hospices de Beaune is the primary wine auction in France. It was also of interest to us, as Kevin’s mum’s maiden name was Burgoyne, which apparently originates from the Old French name of Bourgogne, indicating someone from the Burgundy region.
Beaune is a really pretty little town (it’s name literally means beautiful in French) and we really enjoyed stretching our legs there after a long drive. After the cold and wet of Germany, the sun came out. The town is filled with the facilities and cellars of many of the local producers as has apparently has been the case since Roman times. Not since we visited Chablis have we seen such a concentration. We walked some of the ramparts which are a quite well preserved border to the vielle ville / old town. Beaune was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015 because of its historical significance in wine production and unique system of terroir (cultivation).
Wednesday, we made as far as Montluçon, but we favoured the out of town free Aire near a big lake for some nice dog walking. It was a 50min+ walk into the medieval town centre and we had contracts to read, so we settled for a walk round the lake in the late afternoon sun. In the morning, we got to do another lap, this time seeing a coypu swimming in the lake, a very rare sight for us. We had frequently seen deer as we drove and many many raptor birds, which I only wish I was better at identifying as there is a really healthy population across this Central European area.
Thursday’s drive took us to another beautiful old town of Périgueux in the Dordogne, not far from Limoges. I had heard this was an area now favoured by expat Brits once Provence became too expensive and the several English voices and guy selling French lessons at the supermarket seemed to confirm it. We could understand why, as we travelled down the largely empty roads in lovely countryside through lovely towns and villages.
Périgueux was apparently the Celtic capital Petrocorcli, a latinization of the Celtic word for four tribes until the Roman invasion of Gaul when the Romans took over the town and built amphitheatres, temples and baths. There are a number of ruins still to be seen however, our time there was short and it was really quite warm at 27 degrees in the early evening. Therefore, we settled for a nice glass of local wine and a planchette of cheese and meats at a wine bar near the very impressive looking 12th century cathedral and a walk along the river.
Finally, by Friday, we made it to Bordeaux via supermarkets, pharmacy for Lizzy’s pre-op meds etc. We finally got settled in to the campsite which is very much not one of our favourites but is convenient. At least it was another balmy evening and we could sit out until dark listening to the very vociferous frogs, at least once we had made an emergency trip to the shop for citronella to deter the large mosquitoes that accompanied them. A small celebration for the evening as we signed the contract for our Krug Project Rhino 🦏🥂🍾. Sadly, in a an unusual lack of forward planning, it was not with a bottle of vintage Krug champagne 😂 I think the cost-saving might be a good thing though 😳😊.
Saturday, in keeping with tradition, we had to circumnavigate the lake beside the camp site to give the girls a good bit of exercise as, on Saturday night we had to head in to Bordeaux to sample the atmosphere in anticipation of the big rugby game tomorrow. We warmed up by watching the English Roses beat France in the Ladies Six Nations and then the first half of Leinster v Toulouse in this weekend’s other Semi-Final for the European Rugby Champions Cup. We then dashed into the city centre and managed to catch the last 20minutes of the game in our new Bordeaux local, the Dog and Duck.
We had a great night there with the landlord when we were here in November, he being married to a French woman, appreciating the chance to speak English for the night. He remembered us when we went in again and was kind enough to buy us a drink. He was telling us that he was robbed of the chance to enjoy a State Banquet for King Charles who was due to visit recently before the pension protests cancelled his visit. Although from his frank talking I am not sure he is a royalist himself 😂.
We managed to get into a fabulous seafood restaurant for dinner where Kevin got his dream seafood platter 🦞🦀 We were not there long before a group of travelling Exeter fans joined us on the next table, after asking if they could photo our dinner first 😂 They duly sent the photos on to various seafood fans / fisherman friends back home before ordering their own, Kevin providing the usual seafood advisory role.
The meal turned into a four hour long session with the Exeter fans who had been out since lunch 😂🍷😳 but we had a great night. It is only when you have to explain your life to strangers you realise what an unbelievable story it sounds!
Sunday was a somewhat later start than normal 😳. The match anticipation has really mounted on the campsite. Every van has La Rochelle / Stade Rochelais flags outside. There has been car horns going since about 11am. People are camped everywhere, in the car park, outside the holiday lodges in tents, all along the verge on the road to the stadium. Everyone is camped out with barbecues, armfuls of baguettes and crates of wine. The atmosphere is amazing, we have never seen anything like it, even a World Cup in New Zealand. Amusingly, the fact both teams wear yellow and black means there is a funny double take when Kevin walks by in his Exeter shirt, lots of Fr-english banter in true good natured rugby style. Cannot wait for the game, though I think our chances are pretty slim it will be fun either way 🏉🏟️🍻🍺