A quick run south heading through the north-east corner of France to the centre, taking in the Champagne Region countryside, with rural stopovers near Bourges, in La Martineche and at St. Priest Taurion.
We left the comfortable campsite in Ypres and headed south into France, skirting around Lille and beyond. We also bypassed Soissons as we stayed away from all motorways, instead enjoying the wonderful countryside views. We had been greatly favoured by the weather, with the crisp autumn days framing the copper and lime-coloured trees within a deep blue frame. Everywhere we looked was a stunning vista of gently rolling hills, each lit up with the full autumnal spectrum of beautiful leaves and grasses. It was a simple pleasure to spend our days rolling through such countryside, and the miles and hours passed by quickly with the constant beauty acting as a welcome distraction.
Our first day in France was quite a long drive for us, especially on backroads, and we finally decided to call our day to an end at Champion Daniel, a small family-run Champagne producer south-west of Reims, near the village of Montmirail. We first went in to chat to the proprietor, and they were happy to have us stay. For our €7 we were provided with electric hook-up, water and Wi-Fi, along with a tasting of one of their champagnes, with no obligation to buy. That night, under a blanket of darkness and stars, we had our DSLR camera and tripod out, along with the new addition to Benny, a telescope, one we had borrowed from Nicky’s Dad for use at our upcoming house-sits. We wrapped up warm and spent time examining and photographing the clear, crisp night sky, with a focus on the bright gibbous moon.
The next morning we awoke early to a visual treat; low rolling mist was resting in the valley, over the vines adjacent to where we were parked, and mixed with the redness of the newly-rising sun the vista was simply spectacular. After many minutes of appreciating the spectacle, we said our goodbyes to the owners and their very friendly cocker spaniel before getting back to the open road. We quickly drove south, stopping only briefly for lunch on the banks of the Loire river. We bypassed by the main city of Bourges, missing their historic cathedral, on the easy-flowing ring-road, stopping to overnight further south in St. Amand Montrond, a large free aire near a lovely lake. There we had a lovely 4km evening stroll around the lake shore, enjoying both the setting sun and rising moon bright in the clear sky.
Continuing southwards, we stopped in the village of Genouillac to stretch our legs and have a look around. We had been looking on-line at a few very nice properties near here and wanted to get a personal feel for the region. Although the countryside and villages were very pretty, we felt it was still a little too north and too far from an international airport to be in serious contention to serve as our fixed French base. So we continued deep into the Creuse countryside to La Martineche, where we parked at a rural museum in honour of Martin Nadaud, a celebrated local craftsman. We found out later it had closed for the season just two days before, so we couldn’t visit the museum, but the aire was still available, free and empty, so we availed ourselves of their hospitality and settled in.
Our first night we sat out at one of their picnic tables and enjoyed a few glasses of red as we soaked up the autumnal countryside view. It would have been serenely peaceful except for a passing horde of scrambler motorcyclists tearing up the roads nearby, but after a deafening few moments they were gone and the wonderful silence again prevailed. We had noticed signs depicting a local circular walk of around 10km, through forest trails and over the local dales. We decided to follow it the next morning, as a running route. Nicky had not run in years, since back surgery forced her to give up competing in triathlon, but on this occasion she was feeling up for a Fartlek-style walk-run around the route. We could walk when necessary, run when we wished; either way a lovely few hours out in the countryside.
The morning was bright and clear but started bitterly cold, and we overdressed, unsure both of the weather and how much running we’d actually do. But as the rising sun finally penetrated the valley over the neighbouring hills, it turned the day into a scorcher, reaching 23 degrees. Together, smiling, we ran well over half the distance, loving the colourful forest trails and revitalising clear air, although we ended up carrying most of our layers for the duration. The path was a little over 10Km in total; it roamed over undulating hills, into tall forests and through ancient stone-built villages, where we visited churches and other historic points of interest. We relaxed on the grass back in the aire, sun-bathing in the warming glow of the afternoon sun as we ate lunch, before moving off down the road once again.
We decided to move a little closer to the main city of Limoges, a place we hoped to see next, so we sauntered down the mountain to stop at nearby St. Priest Taurion. We parked there in another quiet, free aire with all necessary services, set by the river and overlooked by a stone arched bridge carrying a train-line. The local boulangerie was less than a minute’s walk away, so we had all we needed for a relaxing stay within easy reach. We had an ambling walk along the riverside, and a quick explore of the town, before retiring for the night. The next morning Nicky was struggling to comfortably walk, her first run in many years having its stiffening revenge on her legs. So we spent an additional lazy day relaxing in the winter sunshine, where Nicky preoccupied herself with photography down on the pretty banks of the river.
As we ended up spending two nights in St. Priest Taurion, we were well rested before finally moving on to explore the regional capital city of Limoges, less than twenty minutes’ drive away. The morning had delivered yet another bright and clear winter day, and we were looking forward to spending our time exploring the regional capital under such rich blue skies. We rolled out of town, sad to be leaving such a relaxing spot, but feeling ready for more light adventures.