As a travel photographer I get to spend around three weeks each summer in France exploring whichever region I am visiting. The beauty of France is that each region has it’s own identity and the French are fiercely proud of their regional identities and produce.
My trips are split up into a block of time spent getting to know an area well for about two weeks and then time either side camping in a new area en route with a view to spending more time in that area in future if I feel there is more to discover. Each aspect of my trip has its plus and minus points. Spending a block of time in one place mean you can get under the skin of that village, town and countryside. Staying in a gite or mobile home affords relative comfort and reduces the risk of “disasters”. The camping either side is where the fun begins. I refuse point blank to bring a large tent for a few nights “under the stars” and have experimented over the years with a variety of different tents. With one tent we didn’t bother with a run through of putting it up before we left home so had an interesting time erecting it after arriving late to a campsite which had given us a decidedly rocky pitch. Luckily, a camper on the next door pitch offered to help bash in the tent pegs.
All this serves to highlight that a journey can be interesting and throw up experiences and chance meetings that are unexpected. You learn about the kindness of strangers and about your own ability to manage in a stressful situation. It also gives you something to “dine out on” when you return home. How much more fun is it to have a laugh, once you get home, about the time the tent flooded and the argument over whether an airbed is yours or not only to discover that you have been landed with the one that deflates in the night. Bad weather helps as it provides an “in” for a conversation at the sinks or shower block where you can then learn about interesting places to visit in the region or a good restaurant.
France is such a vast country to explore and the temptation to drive straight down the autoroute to your destination means you miss the enjoyment of stumbling upon a village or town with something special to offer. I have lived in France for two years and there is so much to discover. South East of Boulogne you will find Les Sept Vallées where you can sample local cheeses direct from the farm; visit a chocolate factory at Beussent; and try a very pleasant sparkling wine made from red currents at Loison sur Créquoise. This is just the tip of the artisan iceberg and each region will offer similar delights.
For us, one journey sans-autoroute bought the fun of discovering a shop selling life sized plastic cows. By taking things slowly we were able to stop and have a look. The downside to the slow route is in driving a right hand drive car and getting stuck behind large farm machinery which seems to clog the roads in August. We ended up bein
g over taken by two tractors as we struggled along in second gear but this caused great amusement from my passengers.
Other journeys have brought the chance to view beautiful rolling landscapes and chance encounters with interesting buildings like the little chapel outside Embry not far from Calais.
So, if you want to have and adventure, ditch the autoroute and see what the slow roads show you.
Liz Garnett – www.lizgarnett.com