Take the Slow Road: France by Martin Dorey – Review
By David Schuster
Take the Slow Road: France is the fourth book in the ‘Slow Road’ series by Martin Dorey. Having previously covered England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland by camper van, he now turns his steering wheel towards our neighbour across La Manche. Dorey is a writer, broadcaster and environmentalist, but above all a traveller. He’s clearly someone to listen to for motorhome-based wisdom, having presented the BBC2 show One Man and his Camper Van and written several other books on the subject, besides those in this series.
Occupying the middle ground between textbook and travelogue, which Bloomsbury excel at, this is a substantial 400-odd page tome, beautifully and attractively laid out, and absolutely stuffed with lovely, intriguing and sometimes whimsical photographs. There is a clear map of France with all of the routes on both front and back covers, which fold out to make handy bookmarks.
The first section of the book deals with the nuts and bolts of motorhome travel, but all with a French focus. So, for example, the chapter on ‘Essential Camping Kit’ not only lists the general requirements for levelling chocks and spirit level, necessary for a good night’s sleep, but also the Crit’Air pollution sticker, essential to pass through some cities, if you wish to avoid a hefty fine. There’s a useful overview of country-specific rules of the road, top ten campsites and highlights of the country as a whole.
France is a country that embraces all forms of outdoor living, and there is an excellent passage explaining the different categories of the 8,000 registered campsites, from the moho-dedicated ‘aires de camping car’ and other sites such as the many ‘aire naturelle’ and ‘camping à la ferme’, which cater for all visitors, and have toilets! It also covers the complex subject of ‘camping sauvage’, off-site camping, in a clear and reassuring way.
The joy of this volume however comes in the latter portion; 26 regionally grouped drives of varied length and geographical character, covering the coasts, rivers and mountains of this varied landscape. Each of these follows a set format; a summary with statistics, a personal travelogue, notes on driving the route, campsites and things to do and see along the way.
“Brings the journeys to life”
The summary and statistics allow you to easily decide if it’s for you. For example, Castres to Perpignan; a drive of 146 miles over a leisurely four or five days, taking in ‘The Five Sons of Carcassonne’. These are the spectacular hilltop citadels of the doomed Cathars which, hugging the crags of the Pyrenees, look like flights of fancy from films such as Lord of the Rings.
What really sets this book apart however, is that Dorey and his partner Lizzy have driven all these roads themselves. The author’s chatty prose really brings the journeys to life, ranging from poetic to gently humorous, all written with a cheerful and slightly ironic style.
Of the Museum of the Inquisition in Carcassonne he says, “It looks a bit gruesome and a bit weird and also a bit crap, which is the way I like my museums.” Sheltering from the rain on the country’s northwest coast Martin describes the weather sculptured rocks they shelter beneath. “A rosy pink with particles of glistening white quartz and dark splodges, occasionally covered in grey-green lichen, contrasts with the milky green sea and patches of peaty purple heather and yellow gorse-covered ground.”
There’s also a memorable encounter in the much warmer climes towards Montpellier. “It’s particularly hot so Lizzy decides she’ll swim before lunch to cool off. The water looks incredibly inviting and I can see trout swimming lazily against the current… From the rapid above us I see a kayak head downstream towards us. I shout a warning to Lizzy as she swims back to the bank. But it’s too late for her to get out. The occupants, suddenly aware of her nakedness, find something interesting to look at on the other bank, as if to save her modesty as they up the pace slightly.”
I’d recommend Take the Slow Road: France without hesitation to anyone who owns a camper van, wishes they did or plans to hire one. Over and above that, this is a great companion for anyone contemplating a road trip to our European neighbours. It’s only 21 miles away: What are you waiting for?
‘Take the Slow Road: France’ by Martin Dorey is published by Conway, £20 paperback