Ferry crossings are always a difficult choice – time versus comfort. The tail of storm Desmond on a trip to Northern Spain in 2016 has made us apprehensive about ferry crossings, but the journey to Cherbourg, however, was uneventful. A very useful app, Aire Camping Car, listed a free aire in Le Mans. A Motorhome aire is a parking place for motorhomes, some of which are free while others charge a small fee. They can be situated within a car park in the centre of cities, towns and villages, or near tourist attractions. Most allow overnight stopping and have service points and electric points to fill up with clean fresh water and dispose of wastewater and chemical toilet waste. There are many all over Europe, but sadly there are none here in the UK!
Le Mans Aire and Market
After driving up a tramway and going 3 times around Le Mans centre, we parked next to the river where there were camping car facilities. Just while we were settling down for the night a man came running across the road shouting `Interdit! Interdit!’ which my limited French translated as `prohibited’. He was kind enough to explain (in French) that the site had moved to the other side of the bridge. We upped sticks and found the aire which was at the base of the ancient city walls in the old town. The old city by night is floodlit and there are great eating opportunities.
Saturday morning provided a Brocante feast at the flea market. The market provided for all budgets from a couple of euros for antique lace to 1000 euros for a book of original 19th-century dress designs. I ask you, who goes around a market with 1000 euros? I don’t think the owner had any intention of selling. He just wanted to show it off.
A little further south was a town called Niort. We found the Aire in the centre by the river. A kindly French gentleman advised that the council man would not collect the rent at weekends and we could enjoy a free stay including electricity. A wander around Niort revealed an antique shop only open on Saturday afternoons.
Why is it that antique shops only open intermittently and irregularly? This is a universal truth and not just a factor in the UK. Anyway, back to the story. The Niort antique shop was an Aladdin’s cave occupied by a reclusive grey-bearded gentleman who hid at the back of the shop.
We needed to establish a rapport as in the mode of the American Pickers. We selected a galvanized wine crate (always a winner back home) and offered a little more than we usually would. Bingo we had a deal. Each selection produced a better deal than the last as our purchases mounted. The mistake we made was that the items were big and we had bought projects. It was too early in the trip to be sleeping with the discoveries.
Marans’ Pricey Antiques
Marans was our next stop, a walled town with arches into the centre which the Battlestar just squeezed through.
There were several antique shops, the first of which unlocked its doors for us. This was a very expensive place. We couldn’t even afford the discounted yard prices. I felt a little guilty as we didn’t buy anything and she had opened up especially. The second shop was less discomfiting. We were surrounded by cabinets of Baccarat and Lalique glassware at exorbitant prices, but at least we could have a coffee in the café. Eventually, we found a vintage shop and items within our price range. The thing about French tat is that it is stylish and this business owner had an eye. We bought a snakeskin vanity bag, which sold before we arrived home, and a 1950s frilled apricot lamp that is still on the list of Franc’s projects!
Outside the walls of Marans, someone was holding a house sale. These are listed on the Vide Grenier websites. Some are just garage sales others allow you to wander through the house with everything having a price.
Royan our next stopover had a `Trocante’, not a misspelling but a morph of an emporium without cabinets and a pawnshop. It was a tat-mongers dream – shelf upon shelf of French has-beens. The thing is that a French has-been is quite different from a British has-been and is often quite sought after back home. We resisted buying a large red Crocodile but have since regretted not getting it, wondering if it is still there? We would have loved to have taken that through customs!
A Few Buying Notes
You should never forget to respect the French lunch break 12-2pm. The lads at the shop were hustling us out (including a cart wheel) at 11.55am.
Just an aside about eating out: You will search for 20 miles to find a French restaurant that is open on a Monday evening and when you do, it is likely to be an Italian!
March is too early for the Vide Grenier (selling things from the attic) or so we thought. Le Teullieul was to have an indoor Vide Grenier the following day. A local clearance business @TrocLeTeilleul collects `stuff’ and sells it in a department store format in a huge warehouse once a month. We met the owner, who was lovely and let us have first pick the evening before.
Historically, French brides as part of their dowry would have produced embroidered white bed linen. This was generally never used but placed in a drawer wrapped in brown paper. In France, this emerges from clearance but is not valued locally as there is so much of it. I bought a few sets just to try it but wish I had bought more it went so quickly.