The time had finally come to set off on my European tour. In truth I was not as prepared as I had hoped and could have benefited from another couple of days in the UK before setting off. And so on the afternoon of Tuesday 29th June I boarded a SeaFrance ferry at Dover headed for Calais. After arriving in France I decided to make for Reims, avoiding the expensive toll roads.
Diesel in France is cheaper than in the UK and if you use their network of Aires motorhoming can be relatively economic in France. Most motorhome owners will already know about Aires but for the rest of you they are places where motorhomers can sleep in their vehicles for free or very cheaply.
I did not quite make it to Reims on the Tuesday night, instead stopping at the Aires at Stenay which from memory charged €7.00 for which you got electric hookup and access to a shower block (neither of which I used). Payment was to be to the tourist office but since I arrived late and intended to leave early in the morning I was unable to pay. I liked the location of this particular Aires as it was situated on a canal and the local town (complete with ATM machines) was just a short walk away.
On Wednesday I continued my journey south. As I was going to collect Fiona and Monique from Geneva airport on Thursday morning I began to look for places to stay close to the airport. It was a hot, sticky June day and even though the Hymer does not have air conditioning it was bearable in shorts, t-shirt, barefoot with the window open. I’d been told that you could get free wifi internet access by parking close to branches of McDonalds but after attempts at two different branches I concluded the signal was too weak. I was not about to start eating junk food just to get a connection! I finally settled on the Aire at Mijoux as my stopover for Wednesday night and found myself parked next to an English couple who were planning to tour Europe for a few months.
The following morning it was a short drive to Geneva airport and with the girls collected we headed for Camping Le Pontet, just outside Les Contamines Montjoie. The campsite was to be our base for the next three nights and once we had booked in we headed to town to get some supplies, only to find we had to wait for the shops closed for a long lunch as seems typical in France. Eventually the small supermarket opened and we were able to buy the provisions for the next few days.
Friday we awoke to blue skies and set off on foot for our first hike. The chosen route involved an ascent of 1475 metres, was a little over 9 miles and would include the summits of Mont Géroux and the highpoint of the day, Mont Joly at 2525 metres. It was a tough walk on the legs and it was not helped by the fact we were caught in three heavy afternoon rain showers.
Saturday we had planned another long walk but since the legs had not recovered we decided to take it easy instead.
Sunday morning Fiona was not feeling well and so we delayed our departure from the campsite for as long as possible. Eventually we left and made the short drive to our new accommodation, Camping Mer de Glace, in Les Praz, close to Chamonix. Not only did this campsite have free internet access (albeit an unreliable connection) but they also gave us tickets that would allow us to use buses and trains in the area. Since Fiona was not up to the short walk I had planned Monique suggested we use the tickets and catch a train to Servoz as she wanted to visit la Diosaz gorge. The train journey provided us with some good views of the mountains and the steep Bossons glacier. On the way back we stopped early at Chamonix for an evening meal in a restaurant before returning to the campsite.
Monday the weather forecast seemed perfect, no afternoon showers for a change! To reduce the amount of ascent we took the La Flégère cable car from Les Praz from which we hiked to Lac Blanc at a height of 2352 metres. The lake was still frozen in sections and was an intense colour. The views all around were amazing and Fiona was even lucky enough to see an Ibex. The route down back to our campsite was a long one but we made good time even if we arrived back a little heavy legged.
Tuesday morning we departed Camping Mer de Glace and headed a few miles further along the valley to les Chosalets where we checked in for one night at Camping du glacier d’Argentière. Having lost a toenail Fiona was not up to the hard walk we had planned and so we instead did a short valley walk.
Wednesday was the day Fiona and Monique would fly home to London. Monique was keen to see a glacier up close and so was up early on the final day to catch a cable car for views of Glacier d’Argentière. Once she had returned we left the campsite and headed for Annecy. We only had a few hours in Annecy but it was enough to explore the narrow winding streets and soak up the views of the lake. Having said that we all agreed that given the chance, Annecy was a place we would like to explore again.
With time ticking by we drove to Geneva airport and said our goodbyes before my thoughts turned to where to spend the night…..