Welcome to the October edition of the newsletter, which if full of good news (for a change). We have just returned from our Provence & Ardeche Tour and it gives me great pleasure to be able to write a tour report for the first time in two years. A full report coming up.
There is further good news with an easing and simplification of travel restrictions. We are now moving to a single 'red list' for travel, rather than the somewhat convoluted traffic light system. Full details below.
Although we will all miss the cancelled October NEC Show, the good news is that the February Show is definitely on and we have our little slice of the NEC booked and ready to go.
We have another great one-pot recipe and this month's motorhoming tips are all about the new UK sticker.
The Provence and Ardeche Tour
It was with great excitement that we headed off to Dover for the first time in quite a while. Our fellow travellers were clearly 'up for it' and were not going to be put off by a poxy virus and a few new travel rules post-Brexit. The biggest discussion point on Day 1 was the contents of all of our fridges as you are no longer allowed to take certain products into the EU. However, once we had all decided that peanut butter was not a dairy product, we all felt happy and content as we headed for the port.
We weren't sure just how busy things were going to be under the current circumstances and how difficult it would be getting out of the country. In turns out that we need not have worried. There were no queues at the port and after a quick check of the QR code, we were on board. Disappointingly, no-one even check the contents of the fridge!
Our first two nights were spent driving through the beautifully empty countryside of both the Champagne and Burgundy regions of France. We drank red wine (mainly) and ate beef bourguignon (what else). Quick weather update: hot.
It was then onto the Ardeche with our stop in on our magnificent 5-star campsite with access directly onto the Ardeche river. Regular readers (and some traumatised customers) may remember the last time we stayed here where we took canoes out on the river and through a stretch of rapids onto the Pont D'Arc. I swore I would never do it again but it's amazing what 18 months in lockdown does for you.
Having read everyone the safety notice and the small print of Crossings Ts and Cs, we headed off down the river. What followed was three hours of glorious and mainly sedate paddling (downhill), under the famous arch carved out of the rock and onto a rendezvous point, where we all got picked up and taken back (uphill) to the start point. For me, this paddling expedition was one of the highlights of the whole tour.
After a few days on and around the Ardeche we headed further south and into Provence for the first time. We based ourselves around Avignon, famed for its papal palaces and walled ramparts. It is most famous for its bridge, even though they still haven't finished it! There is so much to do in and around Avignon with guests heading off to Arles, Nimes, the Pont du Gard and a couple of them even driving all the way up and over Mont Ventoux.
The pace dropped a little as we then spent a couple of nights deep in the Luberon just outside one of Provence's prettiest towns. We are keeping the exact location a secret as it is so nice. We were luck in that we caught a massive market in the town when we there, which really added to the ambience. The French don't have a word for ambience. The grape harvest was also in full swing with trailer-loads being checked in at the local vineyards. The smell is indescribable. Quick weather update: hotter.
What followed is probably one of the best drives in France as we headed into the Haute Provence Alpes and on to the historic town of Sisteron. If you are feeling brave you can tackle the 'yellow' road right through the Gorges du Verdon. Even from the slightly less challenging 'red' road, the scenery is breathtaking. To be honest, you can take the motorway through here and it still looks great.
Yet more fantastic driving took us back into the Ardeche, but this time to the slightly less touristy east side. Our energetic group undertook various activities here including hiking, cycling and even a bit of river swimming. Our friendly campsite owners did us proud plying us with the local fizzy wine and taking us into the hills where we were able to pull the grapes off the actual vines where they made it. I have to say (having eaten around 2kg of grapes) that it is almost a shame to turn them into wine. I have never tasted anything like it. During this short walk we had vines, truffles, lavender, honey and mulberries all within 100 metres of each other.
It was time to head north as we headed back into Burgundy, this time staying around the historic town of Beaune. Although the tour is technically Provence & Ardeche, we extended it a little bit this year adding in a bit more Burgundy and a bit of the Alsace too. Beaune is one of the those places that is pretty from every direction. Again we were lucky in catching the local market, which made for a lively bustling morning and then a sedate and peaceful afternoon.
Our final leg of the journey took us through the Vosges mountains, skirting the German border, onto the glorious city of Strasbourg. If you want somewhere to sit, eat and drink and watch the world go by, then this is your place. The city snakes around the Ill River and being a university town, the banks are lined with bright young things contemplating deep philosophical issues (like what's new on Netflix). Perhaps the prettiest quarter of the city is Little France, with its half-timbered houses and narrow cobbled streets lined with restaurants. Weather report: still hot.
So with a degree of sadness, we headed off back to the Champagne region for a final night. Weather report: cold and wet. Time to come home.
We would like to say a big official thank-you to everyone who came on this tour. It has been a tricky time over the last couple of years and it was brilliant for us to be able to get out and about again with such an enthusiastic and wonderful group of like-minded people. Thanks.
We will be running the 18-day version of the tour again next year. Full details are on the website: https://www.crossingsmotorhometours.com/2022-provence-and-the-ardeche
Travel restrictions easing
The latest easing of travel restrictions come into play on 4th October. The confusing traffic light system is being replaced with a simple 'red list'. If a country is on the red list, basically, you don't go. None of the countries that we visit next year are on the red list.
The UK entry requirements for fully vaccinated travellers have also been simplified. You now only need to have a Day 2 antigen test when you return from your trip. These are the cheaper style tests that only cost around £20. By next year, we are hoping that they will get rid of this requirement too.
There is a little bit of extra form-filling and a requirement to prove your vaccination status. Having just been through the process you may be interested to know that we had no problems travelling through France. We had to complete one form to leave the country and another one to come back in. Nobody checked either of them! We had to download the NHS app so that we could show our QR codes to prove we are vaccinated and we also did the same thing with the French version. These were checked. Both are free to use, easy to install and worked without a hitch.
Generally the direction of travel (pardon the pun) is looking good for fully vaccinated travellers as things continue to ease up.
Coq au Van (the amusingly titled recipe feature)
Tuna Noodle Casserole
6 oz. egg noodles
2 (4-oz.) cans tuna in water
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (10-oz.) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 c. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (about 8 oz.)
Handful of frozen peas
4 oz. crushed potato chips
Preheat oven to 450°F. Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain and return to the pot. Stir in soup and up to 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vegetables, cheese, tuna and peas to pot with noodles and stir to combine. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and topped with potato chips.
Bake until top is browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.
You need to replace your GB sticker or number plate, with a UK one. This change came into place on 27th September. We had a changing over ceremony while we were away on tour!
This applies to the small GB sticker on your number plate and to any larger stickers you may have displayed on your van. It only applies if you are taking your vehicle abroad. Fines for not displaying a UK sticker are likely to vary from one European country to another.
You can buy stickers cheaply online and even buy little blue ones that fit neatly over the existing GB sign on your number plate.
Keep in touch
Please feel free to contact us at any time. When we are away, calls will bounce to our mobiles at no expense to yourself.