Our third day on the road featured a chateau, our first campground, and sampling 8-courses at a Michelin starred restaurant. Oh and one raging head cold.
This morning we woke up on the cliffs overlooking the Opal Coast. Alison didn’t sleep too well, as she was a bit worried about boondocking in a parking lot. In the end there were no issues and it was a quiet night.
We took our time getting on our way, enjoying a cup of coffee and a short walk to the cliff edge. We expected every other motorhome would be up and gone by 7am but everybody seems to have wanted to sleep in. Around 10am, we headed towards Boulogne-sur-Mer and our first night in a campground, Les Cytises, in Isques, just south of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
On the way, we spotted a LeClerc and decided to get our shopping done. We parked up in a very full parking lot and then realized it was a Saturday. On a holiday weekend. D’oh! The shop was packed! And if you think French drivers are bad, just give them a shopping cart!
We grabbed what we needed (plus some rubber mats for under the cat food and litter box) and made ourselves scarce. We got a bit misdirected, on our search for the campground, and ended up heading towards Chateau d’Hardelot. The Chateau was on our agenda for later in the day, so since we were apparently going in that direction anyway, we decided to accept our fate and make the visit earlier. Of course, we arrived just as they closed for lunch. Argh!
The guided tours started again at 14:00 so rather than waste fuel driving to the campground and back, we decided to hang out in the motorhome. This is the great thing about a motorhome, you don’t have to drive anywhere to be home! We spent the two hours writing and grabbing a bite to eat.
Chateau d’Hardelot has an interesting history mixed with French and English backgrounds. Originally surrounded by water, there have been fortifications there for the last thousand years. In the 20th century, it was used variously as a resort, a golf club, and a retirement home. However, it fell into disrepair (as things like this seem to do), so it was bought by the community in the mid-80s, by which time most of the original wood had been destroyed by fungus and mould.
In the 90’s the Département de Pas-de-Calais took over and a plan for renovation was put into place. Today, phase 3 of the renovations are almost complete. The Département has restored the castle to what historians assume it would have looked like for particular periods. Each room displays a different period and style, all of which has been detailed with pieces on loan from the museums of the Louvre, Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Saint-Omer.
In a further twist the Département decided to use the castle as a way to celebrate the reconciliation, or “rapprochement,” between the English and French over the years. Since the two countries have been at war for longer than they’ve been at peace, it is not a story I expected them to be trying to tell. To explain the gradual change in attitudes between these two countries, each room features furniture, paintings, or some other work, which symbolizes or represents a historical change. For instance, the wallpaper in one room may have fleur-de-lis, but the paintings are of English royalty. Each room has some kind of story, best explained by a tour guide. There were books available for a self-guided tour, but the guide is much better.
The castle also features a Tudor garden, but it is closed for maintenance at the moment. From a walk around the castle itself, you can see the garden. It looks like their cedars were particularly hard hit by something and had died off. That probably explains the work being done. The Département is also hard at work building an Elizabethan theatre in the garden, which will open in 2016 and seat 400 people.
Overall the castle was worth the detour. The tour took about an hour and the rooms feature some beautiful furniture and works from collections around France. Once the garden work is complete, the exterior will also offer a splendid view of the chateau.
After our tour, we backtracked to our point of misdirection (a roundabout) and headed off for our campground, Les Cytises. We found Les Cytises soon after, tucked into a valley near a sports field (and a train track, it turns out). The lady was very nice but she declined to give us the ASCI price. In the book the price per night was 14€ but she insisted she was misinformed about the program when she committed. Regardless, the price for a night (off-season) was 18.10€, including power and WiFi. We decided to stay two nights, mainly because we wanted to get some laundry and work done.
First we needed to service Amelia, meaning empty the grey (shower, sink) and black (sewage) tanks and fill the fresh water tank. Grey water was easy, just position Amelia over the grate on the ground and turn a valve. The black tank is a bit more involved, requiring me to pull the tank out of Amelia to dump it, rinse it, and then put it back in.
We managed our servicing ok, with no major incidents. The black tank was not quite as disgusting as I thought it might be. We opted not to take on any fresh water at this point, as the water we had smelled of rotten eggs and we wanted to use it all up first.
Servicing complete, we found a spot (#86), parked, and hooked up. Our first time with power! But nothing worked. The gas didn’t work (again) and neither our fridge or heater would operate on electrics. I was beside myself with frustration. Nothing ever seemed to work! Or it would work for a bit and then just quit. I was already sick and the hassle of this machine was starting to really get to me.
At this point I was in complete misery, as my head cold was on with a vengeance. I had a fever, runny nosy, and splitting headache. I just wanted to curl into a ball. However, we were committed to dinner at Le Matelot, a one-star Michelin restaurant in Boulogne-sur-Mer. I was in such rough shape, we debated even going for dinner and called to see if we could change the reservation to the next day. Unfortunately, I got the front desk who told me to call back at 18:30 when the restaurant staff would be available.
Since it was uncertain if we would be able to change the reservation, we decided to go anyway. The campground closed the gates at 11pm so we needed to get to the restaurant, eat, and get back before then. We did our best to get cleaned up and headed in to Boulogne-sur-Mer. Our contact at the tourism office said we could park in the Nausicaa Acquarium’s parking lot, across the street from the restaurant. However, when we arrived, there were signs there explicitly banning camping cars. We decided not to risk it.
We drove along the main street, next to the water where we found a few open spots. In the first place we parked, a lady came out to ask us to move. She told us her son has a mental disability and watching the water keeps him calm, but our motorhome blocks his view. Oops! She needs a sign out front then.
After a bit more driving around we found a spot closer to the restaurant. We locked up the cats and walked up to the restaurant. Guess what? They didn’t open until 19:30, so we were an hour early. Great. Just what I needed.
We trudged back to the motorhome ready to give up on the world. I was freezing and miserable. Miraculously the gas decided to work so I was able to crank up the heat. I wrapped myself in a blanket and curled into a ball for the next hour. That helped me feel a bit better.
At 19h30 we headed back to Le Matelot where we were seated next to the front window. The decor of the restaurant is classic seaside French but at the same time a bit modern. The room sat 40 at most and I didn’t see any stairs or corridors to other seating. Our fixed menu for the night was an eight-course tasting menu, which sounded delicious but I was in no shape to really taste. Of course, I tried anyway. Suffering for the art, right?
The amuse bouche was delicious, but I would have been happy with a bowl of the split pea soup they had in one of the three amuses! I could barely taste the salmon or the mussels in the other two amuses. For our starter we had crab in a red beet foam followed by scallops, lightly seared and served in a coconut broth. I couldn’t finish the crab and had no sense of the flavours in either. By this point I was already feeling quite full.
Our fourth course was a beautifully prepared small sole. Probably the tastiest fish I have ever had. And I couldn’t taste a lot, so this is saying something! I was devastated that I couldn’t finish it. I apologized to the waiter profusely, as I really did want to enjoy the whole thing. But I had to ask him to hold off on any other dishes as I just couldn’t eat them. Alison then made a valiant effort to finish the remaining courses, all of which looked lovely. I’d really like to go back just to taste the soufflé she had for dessert!!
We left the restaurant full and glad we made the trip. I, however, needed to go to bed ASAP. We got back to the camp ground before 11pm and pulled straight into our site. No hookup (since it didn’t work) but the gas worked. So Alison made me some NeoCitran (like Lemsip in the UK) and we crawled into bed with our kitties.
Looking for things to do in Pas-de-Calais? Check out our article about 4 Things to Do in Pas-de-Calais on CheeseWeb, including Alison’s full review of Le Matelot.
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