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Travel: Crêpes, châteaux – and a campervan to call home

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Sarah Loughlin explores the best campervan destinations to visit in France this summer:

PACKING and airports are my two least favourite things. So when my boyfriend suggested buying an old builders' van and converting it into our very own mobile home, I was thrilled.

The dreaded airport security line, undressing and unpacking your bag into small trays while hopping along taking off your shoes was now a thing of the past.

Instead, we drove through passport control and parked in line for the ferry, jumped out of the van and made a quick cup of tea in the sunshine until it was time to board – a much more civilised experience.

No one asked to see my liquids or made sure my bag was only 23 kg, so with all the little nooks and crannies in the van I was now free to pack as I liked, unlimited wardrobe changes for all weather and occasions could be stashed under seats and in cupboards ready for the trip.

Jersey is the perfect place to have a camper, because with St Malo just an hour away by ferry, what better way to start the summer than with a road trip around France?

In less than ten hours you can be pretty much anywhere. Here are my top destinations for a road trip in your campervan this summer:

St Malo

(5 min from ferry)

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Away from the busy Old Town there is a marina with restaurants and bars strewn around it. You can easily park your van in the car park just off Rue de la Montre overnight, as there are no height barriers or parking charges.

To get into the French spirit, head across the road to Crêperie Solidor for a gallette and a jug of cidre, served in the traditional Breton mugs. Great value and a nice relaxing atmosphere.

If you fancy stretching your legs, it is only a 25-minute walk into the Old Town. La Licorne, just inside the town wall, has a goat's cheese, walnut and honey crêpe to die for.

Saumur

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Saumur

(2 hr 50 min from ferry)

Famed for its sparkling wines, Saumur is a great place to stop overnight to break up the drive.

Camping Flower, on Ile d'Offard, is a 20-minute walk from the town centre, has nice shower facilities and views out over the Loire river and the Château de Saumur. They also have an onsite spa.

Saumur has a friendly town centre full of locals and tourists drinking wine or coffee and gossiping the afternoon away. A 20-minute walk from town, Bouvet Ladubay offers bike tours of its underground wine cellars (caves de vin) for four euros, including a wine tasting.

If you enjoy the wine, why not walk up to Louis de Grenelle, where you can taste a selection of their wines for four euros – make sure to try Si, the limited-edition wine celebrating their 150-year anniversary.

On the way back to the camp site, stop at the château on top of the hill where there is a great café to stop and take in the views of the town.

Argentat

Sarah Loughlin at the Cascades Murel

(6 hr 45 min from ferry)

The small medieval town of Argentat is a great base to visit some of the incredible sites in this area of France. You can park your camper van easily in a quiet square just off Avenue Henri IV, which is close to the restaurants along the Dordogne river front and has no parking restrictions or height barriers.

Drive 20 minutes to the town of Forgés and follow the signs to Cascades de Murel either by car or foot.

There are three impressive waterfalls and several hiking routes, depending on how active you are feeling. It is a few kilometres from Forgés to the top car park, and from there it is about a ten-minute walk to the first waterfall. From the car park you can do a loop which takes about two hours up to the town of Albussac and back, including all three waterfalls.

Vallon-Pont-d'Arc

Cirques des Gens

(8 hr 50 min from ferry)

Vallon is a bustling town with lots going on. There is a campervan service point in the town centre which costs six euros for 24 hours.

The local highlights include the Gorges de l'Ardeche, a prehistoric gorge carved by the river. It is best explored by canoe – trips can be organised from the tourist office in town.

If you don't fancy taking to the water, there is a nice hike from Vallon down to the Pont d'Arc (a bridge carved into the stone gorge by the water) which is a three-hour round trip. There is a nice sandy beach next to the Pont which is perfect for picnics, or just up the road there is Prehistoric Lodge, a riverside restaurant ideal for a mid-hike coffee break.

If you fancy seeing more of the gorge, drive up to Chauzon and then follow the signs to Cirque des Gens, a natural semi-circle carved into the rock by the river. From here you can hike down and walk along the bottom next to the river to take in the impressive scale of the gorge.

Chamonix

(8 hr 40 min from ferry)

A ski resort in the winter, Chamonix is a hub for all things extreme: excellent for climbing, hiking, and mountain biking in the summer, as well as luxury spas, amazing restaurants and more leisurely outdoor expeditions.

Take the Montenvers to the top of the Mer de Glace, from where you can walk through a tunnel dug into the glacier and learn about the history of Chamonix inside the icy museum.

Once at the top you can hike a few hours over to the Aiguille de Midi middle station, take the cable car up to the top and 'step into the void' which is a glass part of the view point overhanging the mountain top. Make sure you pick a sunny day for great views over the valley.

You can park your camper just outside town in a car park opposite the Lac des Gaillands.

If you fancy a relaxing day after your hike, the heated roof-top pool and hot tubs at the Hotel Park Suisse Spa will do the trick for 25 euros per person).

Avignon

Avignon

(9 hr from ferry)

This amazing walled city, once home to the Papacy, is a must. You can either park on the Allée Antoine Pinay next to the Rhone river for free, or if you want some facilities, Camping de Pont d'Avignon has nice pitches set among the trees and is only a short walk to town.

Palais des Papes is the highlight: make sure to get the audio guide and learn about the history of the town and the Papal residence.

The Pont Saint-Bénézet is also worth a visit, but not before a quick lunch stop on the Place de l'Horloge. If the weather is nice and you are partial to a croque madame, head to Le Forum. It will not disappoint.

Cassis

Cassis beach

(10 hr from ferry)

Just outside the busy town of Marseilles, Cassis is a port town set into the cliffs. It has a small beach, shops and bars.

Camping Les Cigales is just a few minutes' drive up the hill from town and has all the facilities you need, with good-sized pitches and hedge rows to separate them. From here you can visit Les Calanques for world-renowned rock-climbing, or great hiking.

Park in the Luminy car park and hike down to the sleepy fishing village of Morgiou – the views of the turquoise Mediterranean Sea are incredible.

Happy camping!

  • Sarah Loughlin is a travel writer from London currently living in Jersey. See her website for more travel tips and inspiration.

CONDOR Ferries are offering one lucky reader the chance to win return tickets for two passengers plus a car to St Malo. Travel dates are subject to availability, and the prize must be taken by Sunday 5 July 2015 (excluding school and bank holidays).Simply answer this question:

Which river flows through Argentat?

Send your answer to myTime Condor Competition, Features Desk, Jersey Evening Post, PO Box 582, Jersey, JE4 8XQ or email features@jerseyeveningpost.com with myTime Condor in the subject line. The closing date is Thursday 21 May.

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