Pressing commitments mean that I’ll be missing the Tour De Remparts this year, though a short notice gap in the calendar meant that we did take the time for a drive through France to The Charente to visit the old city itself and also the surrounding area. With a Lexus RX450h F Sport parked outside, a fast sea crossing with Brittany Ferries all booked and the promise of 30c and sunshine, it seemed foolish not to. If you’re heading for the Remparts event this September, here’s a few ideas that will make your trip a pleasant one.
We went outbound via Brittany Ferries taking the fast crossing on the way out from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. While that puts you a little further north on the coast that say, St Malo or Caen, it’s a quicker crossing on this small, ex New Zealand catamaran. Tale a look at the jet drives from the rear deck, but don’t poke your head around the corner, at 40 knots, it’s a stiff breeze.
Our Lexus navigation wanted us to take the Peage to to the west, but we tweaked the settings to keep us away from toll roads and that gave us a reroute that went via Le Mans. Stop at the circuit museum, then take a chance to drive the public road aspect of the track down the Mulsanne straight before turning off through the town of Mulsanne and then take the D938 south to Tours. This road is a caricature of a French D Road, trees lining both sides creating a beautiful avenue. The trees lining many roads in France were reputedly planted on the oders of Napolen to shade his troops from the sun. They’ve have been blamed on road fatalities and removed in modern times, much to the outrage of environmentalists.
On The Peage.
If you’re on a mission to be there as soon as possible, then yes, take the empty Peage. There’s a marked difference in Peage driving style since my last visit a few years ago. The Gendarmes have been clamping down tight and these days, it seems everyone drives on the cruise control at 130kph. Very very few exceptions. After a few kilometres, it became apparent why. We took the Peage south from Tours to Poitier and spotted three different speed traps. you want to have fun driving in France these days? Stay away from the Peage. A trip to Angouleme from Cean will set you back more that 40 Euros in fees, plus you’re missing out on some lovely towns en-route.
Angouleme is beautiful, a walled town situated on a hill. One thing the race photographs don’t show you is the elevation towards the end of the lap, as the cars climb steeply back up the hill to the Cathedral start line. Local workers were just beginning to fit the barriers when we were there, so we took a stroll into the old town, filled with bars, Boulangerie and restaurants serving food for very competitive pricing. If you have the time, stroll down the hill and across a footbridge and take a look around the comic book museum. Decades of comic book art from across the world, all carefully displayed in a cool air conditioned environment.
If you’re looking for accommodation in the town itself, or someone to organise the entire trip for you, take a visit to Classic GT who are taking more than 100 guests this year. I’m a gite fan, so we headed further south, just a few kilometres along the brilliant D674 to Montmoreaux and a farmhouse gite for utter silence each evening. Lexus resting in the early evening sun, barbeque coals turning white and an ice cold glass of local Charente white for less than 4 Euros.
Charente sky is deep, deep sapphire blue. Wake in the morning, take a coffee onto the patio. Not a single cloud in the sky for week after week on end. Chill and watch the sun climb slowly, as the temperature warms the paving under your feet and the Salamanders stir into life from behind the blue shutters. Overhead, jets carve across the sky, soundless at altitude, en-route to Spain and North Africa.
I’ll write a little later about the Lexus RX450h itself, but we were constantly surprised each morning at how much driving we did on electric power while running down to the Boulangerie for baguettes. The trick to dining in the French countryside is to tap into the local knowledge. Wisdom was that there was a local restaurant at just 13 Euros for a five course meal, including wine…. A spot of low speed creeping about in Hybrid power found us the location, no signage, just a few tables outside with a faded old “33 Export” sign above the door. “Get there early” was the tip, so we parked alongside a Lexus SC430 on Luxembourg plates at 12.15. By 12.45, the place was full, the parking area a mix of locals and cars from across Europe. And yes, it really was 13 Euros. Including wine. If you want to try it, drive south from Angouleme on the D674 to Chalais, turn right and head for a tiny hamlet of Bardenac. And then follow your nose.
As for the Circuit Des Remparts, their website link below gives full details of the race schedule and entry list. If you’re making your own way, Brittany Ferries offer several variations on crossings, both high speed and overnight along the south coast that land you into northern France at strategic points. Set your navigation to stay off the Peage, better still take along a co-driver and a map. Enjoy the wonderful French roads, but watch for the huge agricultural machinery and above all, don’t be suckered into overtaking past side roads on those long, long straights. Take some sun cream, find a place to watch some fine old racing cars around a historic city, inhale Castrol R and drink some fine French wine.
I think that about covers it.
Circuit De Remparts Official website http://www.circuit-des-remparts.com/
Brittany Ferries http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/
Lexus RX450h http://www.lexus.co.uk/
Comic book museum, Angouleme http://www.citebd.org/
Official Angouleme tourism website http://www.angouleme-tourisme.co.uk/
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