Road Trip, Part 3: Le Mans to our New (Temporary) Home in France

After a much better night than we’d had in a while we woke up just before 8am and headed into the restaurant for our breakfast. The restaurant was lovely and clean, just like the room, and there was plenty of food to choose from. Result. DD was still pretty excited about her whole overnight in a hotel experience, which translated into mucking about wanting different things but not really eating anything. A few croissants and a small amount of packing later and we were on the road and quickly back on the autoroute heading towards Amiens. Not bad for 9.30am. Within 20 minutes both littlies were asleep. Looking good. The plan for the day was to drive for 2 hours then stop and continue onwards in the same stop-start fashion until we arrived at our new home. The Garmin estimated an 8.5-hour journey with an arrival time of 6pm. With stops that amounted to another 12-hour day but we had to work around the smalls, stopping as needed.

After a fairly manageable day one it turned out we were in for a more chaotic day two, mostly because the novelty of being strapped in a car seat for the best part of every waking our had worn off for DD. She stayed awake longer, whinged more, slept less, screamed a whole lot. We made a couple of stops, one in “hang in their” mode, as we really didn’t want to stop before 2 hours unless we had to, so managed to persaude DD to hold out until what would normally have been lunch time. There was a point in our journey where we came off the autoroute and wiggled across country, from Poitier to Limoges, before joining the A20 and continuing southward towards Toulouse. As chief navigator I decided that would make a good place for a pitstop too, so after driving through a couple of small towns and completely missing the turnings for their Aires, we pulled into Mazerolles.

Now, I really wouldn’t mind terrible food in France if so much wasn’t made of the quality of English food. Let’s just say the offerings at this particular stop were laughable. In the end we paid the best part of ten whole and precious euros for some chips, a frankfurter sausage, and some potato salad. Okay, fine you might say, but there was no mayo, no vinegar, nothing. Just chips, the ketchup that they came sprayed with, a sorry looking sausage (meat content undoubtedly <50%) and this very odd and very small salad which was quite clearly made with mayonnaise. Since our primary aim of this particular pit stop was to feed and water DD in the hope that she would drop off to sleep for some of the afternoon, it was definitely towards the failure end of the success barometer.
And did I mention it was pushing 32 degrees outside? On the upside it was a nice spot. There was a lake for DD to potter around and, had we been better organised (or even just been bothered to walk over the road to the boulangerie!), a lovely spot for a picnic. If you do decide to stop here on your way through France, either take provisions or buy from over the road!

After our very disappointing lunch, we were back in the car and on our way. We picked up some diesel from a local garage, knocking 20 cents off the price on the autoroute, and cracked on. Limoge? Check. Here’s where it got though in terms of navigation, as my Michelin Tourist and Motoring Atlas, newly purchased from the services at Maidstone, ran out of pages! Yes, my new map, bought solely as backup to the Garmin for this trip, was- and still is, missing pagses 207 to 251! Actually, it also has two lots of pages 205 and 206, but that’s beside the by. What this meant was I had to navigate very loosely from the large scale maps that more or less just show the autoroutes. Luckily, I am crazy about maps so actually rather enjoyed all of this. Luckily, the Garmin was plotting a steady course entirely consistent with the one we had preplanned via the Michelin site and most of the journey from Limoge was just one long slog on the A20, so the map wasn’t needed. Onward towards Toulouse.

Looking at the clock we later realised we were bang on target to hit Toulouse at 5pm. Rush hour! We considered a pit stop before – maybe an hour before – where we could get some food and sit out the worst of the traffic – or just hammering it and resting again after, but it turned out that DD and DS were calling the shots so we stopped largely in response to screaming and shouting (DD) or endless sobbing (DS) from the back seat. That meant two more stops before Toulouse – one for a quick reset and another for something resembling “dinner”. As it turned out Toulouse at rush hour was nowhere near as horrendous as James remembered, leaving him wondering whether he had accidentally driven through the centre rather than around the outside when he attempted it on his prior UK to France driving adventure about 20 years earlier. Whatever the reason, we were soon past the city and heading into more familiar territority. One more child-induced pitstop later, this time at a visitor centre alongside the Canal du Midi (regrettably closed but noted for future visits!), we were heading towards Limoux. Or were we? The Garmin was starting to do strange things, which meant I was having to keep my eye on the ball and overrule it, causing a bit of a headache for James. At one point we ended up on a dusty, unpaved road through a field of vines. Hmm. From that point on I decided to navigate from the map. We’d fallen prey to the whimsy of the Garmin’s interpretation of “shortest” route on earlier trips to France, accounted for by the fact that many “D” roads in France are listed as 90kmh and while that may be the prescribed speed limit it’s often at least twice the speed it’s either possible or sensible to drive at, and so it was in this case. No, no, no. 30 minutes from our destination there was no way we were following the Garmin into the neighbouring valley, presumably on the basis that a track marked on my map, connecting one hamlet to another, was the most direct and therefore fastest route. No.

Soon we were there. Hurray! And what a welcome! Our friend Marie was the first to come out and greet us – she’d been waiting all day – along with a band of helpers she’d enlisted so that we could quickly unload our car. This was made slightly more interesting thanks to a hole in the road, making it impossible to drive the car up to the door, so the help was greatly appreciated. To top things off Marie brought us food, which was most welcome as it was late and no shops were open; we passed one supermarche on our way and by then it was gone 8pm, which in rural France means everything is closed. Thankfully, Debbie the gite manager had made up the sofa bed so, after eating, it was time to get the smalls to bed and try to hit the sack ourselves. We were pooped. We all slept like logs. We’d made it. There was still alot to do but at least now everyone could relax a little and begin the next part of our adventure.

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