The trip from Trébeurden to Huelgoat was only 65 kilometres so we left at 4.30 pm thinking that would be plenty of time to make it before curfew started at 6 pm.
What we didn’t anticipate how much the narrow country lanes and the twists and turns could slow you down when driving a camper van.
So there we were, driving along at 5.59 pm behind a very slow car with still quite a way to go! Would we get stopped for breaking curfew? Would the camp site we were heading for close its gates on the dot of 6pm?
The sun was setting as we passed through the village of Huelgoat and for a moment the spectacular sunset put the anxiety of breaking the curfew out of our minds.
By 6.10 we had made it to our stop for the night, thankful for not getting in any trouble and happy to see the gates still wide open!
The next day we followed the walking path out of the council “Aire” (parking where camper vans can stay overnight) through a wooded area alongside a lovely gurgling brook.
It wasn’t long before we started to notice some massive moss-covered boulders scattered along the way. These exceptionally large ancient rocks gave the woods an ancient mystical quality and we weren’t surprised to find out later that the area had many Arthurian legends attached to it.
We also later learnt that these woods, containing oak, beech and chestnut trees, are among the last vestiges of the ancient forest that once covered inland Brittany.
Some of the trees, like the boulders, were covered in the softest of green mosses – it was an enchanting sight.
As we continued our walk through this magical setting we came across a clearing at the centre of which was an amazingly beautiful evergreen tree.
Curiously, it had a fence round it but there was no information about it at all. Two things piqued my interest – firstly, there was a definite atmosphere created by this tree, the type of feeling that gives you goose bumps, and secondly there was a deeply worn path round it forming a perfect circle. We wondered if there were locals that could tell us if there were some kind of rituals associated with the tree but there was absolutely no one around and an Internet search has come up with nothing.
Our path took us to a group of old stone cottages on the outskirts of the village.
Crossing over the road we continued our tramp along an ancient trackway which we followed as it circled round through the village and back to the stone cottages.
Our next stop was in a commercial site near Vannes a medieval walled town which sounded lovely. Unfortunately the town was much larger than we had thought with sprawling suburbs and lots of traffic and people. We stocked up with a few essentials at the supermarket and spent the night in an official site with power and water. The next day we set off for somewhere quieter.
We decided to head away from Brittany to take a look at the Loire Valley for the first time in our lives. Our first stop was a very quiet spot called Juigné-sur-Loire.
This was a small village – not far from Angers – famous for its slate quarries that date back to Roman times. Throughout the centuries the quarries have provided slate for roads, piles, stakes for vines, walls and for building houses.
In 1348 slate from here was used in the reconstruction of the Beaufort-en-Vallée castle, and in 1367, slate quarried at Juigné-sur-Loire was used to repair the castle in Angers.
We were surprised to learn that after The Great Fire of London in 1666, slate from the quarries was also used in the reconstruction of London.
Considering 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the municipal buildings of the city were destroyed, that would have required a lot of slate to be dug out of the ground, shipped down the Loire and across the Channel to London!
The slate quarries are closed now and the 27 hectare site has been turned into a fabulous recreation area. Paths meander through forests of beautiful trees and around undulating open areas where you can see the remains of the slate that had been mined there over the centuries.
Some of the trees growing in this beautiful area are unusual for this part of the world as a microclimate exists due to the mounds of slate warming the earth. This warm earth allows the growth of trees such as Lebanon Cedar and Corsican Pine – more normally found in Mediterranean regions.
We walked for a long time and got a teeny bit lost, then realised we didn’t have long to get back to the van before the 6 pm curfew. The last part of our walk was at a smarter pace than previously and fortunately we arrived in plenty of time in the end.
We stayed the night for free in the parking area of Le Potager de Garennes (Garenne’s vegetable garden) part of the Domaine des 2 Moulins (Two Windmills property).
The farm shop was open when we arrived and walking in we realised that as well as selling delectable fresh fruit and vegetables, there was a small winery as well. Sadly we weren’t able to do a tasting but of course we did buy a bottle or two (very drinkable!) as well as some delicious fruit and vegetables.
The following day we were driving alongside the wide and very full River Loire. The Loire is the longest river in France and surely must have the fastest current judging by the incredible flow of water rushing along while we were there.
The road winds right alongside the river and takes you through some lovely typical “shabby chic” villages, past wine cellars advertising tastings and cliffs with caves where amazing homes and wine stores have been built. The caves were the end product of the cliffs being quarried for tuffeau stone.
We arrived at town of Saumur which has been a major equitation centre since 1783 when the military cavalry school was built. The very first thing we saw was the famous French military riding academy. This is one of the most prestigious classical riding academies in the world.
Fortunately there was some training being conducted over the jump course so we were able to witness an instructor from the famous Cadre Noir putting one of the cadets through his paces.
As we drove through the town we could see the famous Chateau de Saumur perched up high in a hill so we decided to drive up there for a closer look even though we wouldn’t be able to go in. Sadly we missed out, among other things, on the Museum of the Horse inside the Chateau.
Even though we were unable to go inside the Chateau, it was definitely worth the detour as it was lovely to have a close view of this fairytale castle and the glorious views it commands over the mighty River Loire.