Trip Report & photos by Andy Robson
Andy & Chris Robson - green Midget
Ken & Ann Martin - red Midget
Paul & Irene Hollingworth - blue MGB
Back in 2006, six of us from the North Worcestershire group of the MG Car Club spent a marvellous week on holiday at Classic Le Mans, followed by several days touring the Loire chateaux area. Fond memories of that week lingered, so we thought we'd try again, this time with a week in and around the Vendee region, about half way down France's western coast. The plan was to rent a gite large enough to accommodate six adults in comfort, in a pleasant rural village environment, and with a bar and a boulangerie within staggering distance of the gite - one for the morning baguettes and croissants, the other for ease of refreshment without driving.
We found a suitable property on the internet, a large renovated farm house complete with out-buildings, in the tiny village of St. Pardoux, a couple of miles south of Parthenay in the department of Deux-Sevres. It had the added benefit of lots of off-road parking to accommodate the three MGs. Remembering also the good food and pleasant surroundings of our overnight stops from the Le Mans trip, we booked the same two small hotels as we had in 2006, the first being 'Au moyne de Saire' in the village of Reville, near Cherbourg, for our first night, and the other, 'Le Granitiere', in the port town of St. Vaast-la-Hougue for our final night in France. However, since we didn't want to 'blast' the 260-odd miles from Reville to St. Pardoux in one day, preferring instead a leisurely drive, we also located a French-owned B&B called 'Logis de Ville-Prouvee', in the village of Ruille-Froid-Fond, just to the east of Laval, and booked our second night there.
Ready for the 'off'
So, on Thursday 14 May, three couples, two Midgets and one MGB met up at The Nightingale pub on the Evesham Road, near Worcester, and set off for Poole and the good ship 'Barfleur' by which Brittany Ferries would transport us to Cherbourg, co-incidentally the very same boat we had caught in 2006. It hadn't changed much in three years! Unfortunately, the sailing times meant that we arrived in Cherbourg at around 7.30pm and, after a smooth and uneventful crossing, a mad dash ensued in an effort to arrive at our hotel before they stopped serving dinner! Luckily, we made it in time, and enjoyed a good meal, washed down with the requisite bottle(s) of wine. Foolishly, your author managed to leave his electric shaver behind on departure, and had to endure wet shaves for the remainder of the holiday - the scars are still healing!
The weather on the Thursday had been variable for our drive to the coast, and so it continued on the Friday, to the extent that we had to stop in the centre of the town of Vire to erect the hoods after getting caught in a downpour, watched by bemused French shoppers! For the rest of the drive to Ruille and our next B&B, the hoods were up and down more often than a whore's drawers!
All complaints stopped, however, when we saw our B&B. We knew from the internet site that it was a 14th century priory that had become a farmhouse on a working farm, but we had not been prepared for the treasure we found. The outer walls were covered with vines, and the interior was filled with medieval battle weapons, complete with several full suits of armour. The stairs to the first floor leaned at a jaunty angle, and the bedrooms all had large stone fireplaces and four-poster or canopied beds. The French couple who owned and ran the place were charming and welcoming, and luckily spoke good English. At dinner that evening, we were treated to home-grown produce, including the chicken, and some of the hosts' home-brewed wine. Going to bed, the stairs seemed to lean even more than had initially been apparent! This is one B&B we would make an effort to visit again, and would have no hesitation in recommending it to others.
Ville-Prouvee at Ruille-Froid-Fond
Saturday's run down to St. Pardoux was unremarkable, accompanied once again by variable weather, but we did manage to keep the hoods down for the majority of the day, even if it meant getting a bit wet. After crossing the Loire at Angers, we stayed on the quiet 'D' roads, arriving at the farmhouse in late afternoon, unloaded the cars and settled ourselves in. Built on three floors, the house provided three well-sized bedrooms, together with two more we didn't need, and bathrooms to match. There was a good sized dining room and lounge, and a well-equipped kitchen. In the large garden was a stand-alone plunge pool, but this remained covered and unused. Everything seemed to be as we had expected.
Our St. Pardoux farm-house
Following a well-earned dinner, more wine, and a good night's sleep, Sunday saw us set about exploring the area, including taking a walk down the lane for the mile or so into St. Pardoux itself. We were disappointed to note that there appeared to be only one bar, and that didn't look too inviting but, worse yet, the village's only bakery was shut - permanently! In the end, we found ourselves making the eight mile round trip into into Parthenay every couple of days to buy our baguettes, croissants and other provisions from the main supermarket. MGB man Paul elected to have a drive around the nearby villages to see if he could spot any more bars or bakeries, but reported back without success. Sadly, it seemed the whole area, whilst undeniably tranquil and rural, was devoid of much life. We soothed our disappointment by stocking up with large packs of beer and plenty of wine for consumption at the house.
Cars and wives in the spring sunshine
Our travels around during the week took us to various attractive towns and villages. Amongst the highlights of the week was a drive to Coulon, gateway to the Marais Poitevin, or 'Green Venice', where we strolled along the banks of the canals, had lunch in a nice pizzeria, and took a scenic drive around the local quiet side roads alongside the canals. We also spent a day in nearby Parthenay, and discovered that it had an interesting medieval quarter of its own.
Sights and attractions of Coulon
Parthenay's medieval gateway and streets
As had been the case in 2006, the weather gradually improved as the week wore on. Mid-week, we enjoyed a warm and sunny day for a long run along the back roads, via La Rochelle, to the island of Ile de Re. For those who have not visited the place, Ile de Re is a large resort island, popular with holiday-makers, and accessed over an impressive bridge from La Rochelle. There are miles of off-road cycle paths, and several small and pretty villages. The principal town, St, Martin de Re, is reminiscent of places like St. Tropez, with its marina, quayside bars and restaurants, and Mediterranean-like prices! We had a very pleasant day touring the island from one end to the other, and finished it off with a trip into the busy old port area of La Rochelle itself where we strolled around in the warmth of the late afternoon.
St. Martin de Re
Our good ladies and a certain MGB owner cooling off on a warm afternoon!
Other places of note that we visited included the twin villages of Vouvant and Mervant, surrounded by broad rivers and forestry. A pretty medieval village, Vouvant was also filled to bursting with hundreds of cyclists! Once again, the weather was kind, with blue skies and plenty of warm sun.
The picturesque village of Vouvant
On the final Saturday, 23 May, we left the house for the long one-day drive back up to the Cherbourg peninsula and our overnight stop at the hotel 'La Granitiere' in St. Vaast-la-Hougue, also our final night stop in 2006. Sadly, the weather decided that it didn't want to co-operate that day, and during our run to Saumur we got caught in two converging thunderstorms, whereupon it absolutely lashed down with rain, forcing us to take refuge in a supermarket car park. Thankfully, the cars didn't let in much water, but the rest of the day was punctuated by poor weather, meaning we didn't drop the tops all day. Despite the weather, we managed to reach St. Vaast in good time and met up with our congenial host Jean-Paul, who promptly took us round to his garage where he proudly revealed to us the classic yellow Triumph TR3 he had just bought for himself! After a shower and a change of clothes, we found a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed our final dinner of the holiday.
Hotel 'Le Granitiere' and host Jean-Paul's TR3
On Sunday, we boarded Brittany's 'Normandy Vitesse' seacat bound for Poole, headed home through the Cotswolds, and thus ended another French trip in the MGs. Despite being slightly underwhelmed by our holiday farmhouse and its location, we nevertheless had a thoroughly enjoyable week in France, and hope that this won't be last time we take the cars over there.
Fast Seacat and slow Porsche!