Holiday delights: we drove our Volvo to the French Midi…

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Driving through the scenic valley of the Doubs, home region of the famous painter Gustave Courbet, here parked in front of an old brick manufactory. 

Our faithful Volvo 850 has some busy times lately. After the Swedish trip, it was time to take it to France, enjoying it driving through historic towns and mountain passes. The Volvo needed little preparation. Oil consumption is nil, so no topping up was necessary. We just had the rear windscreen wiper changed, and that was it. We already mentioned we had the car cleaned, with some more thorough valeting of the interior. Of course we were careful to check the tire pressures before the trip. Here follows our (travel) story…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Inside beautiful Besançon, cars are prevented from reaching the city centre…

With our faithful TomTom set up, we headed south, and decided to have a first stop at Besançon. We were so fortunate to have the good idea to avoid Luxembourg completely and drive from Brussels via Longwy, immediately entering France. Driving leisurely at the legal speed limits, which were mostly set at 110 km/h, consumption hovered between 7 and 8 liters of 95 octane fuel. Of course it runs sweetly on the new formulated “Euro” 95 fuel, Volvo’s can do this since…1977! Being totally in the holiday mood, we decided to stay on the Routes Nationales after Nancy. It proved to be quite a relaxing drive indeed, appreciating the good quality of the RN’s, well maintained and usually in excellent condition.

We had booked a fine hotel in the historic centre of Besançon, which is a stunning renaissance town with Vauban defense walls around it.

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Unfortunately, a “braderie” or flea market was going on in the centre at the moment of our arrival, and the hotel proved that day totally inaccessible by car. In our modest opinion, European and National politicians are eager to make city centre’s car free, but then fail to provide adequate provisions for tourists who happen to have luggage and are not 19 year old athletes. So gentlemen politicians, why not provide for the unfortunate few hotel owners who are the victims of these draconic,  albeit temporary measures, a couple of nice electric golf cars with the city logo on it, which can be used as luggage shuttles? Or some healthy young students? Now the poor hotel owner, manifestly going literally a (very) long way to satisfy his clients, came personally to haul our luggage on his shoulders and carry it a few hundred meters to his fine hotel. We suggested he should have a good conversation with his mayor. The local politicians should provide solutions for their hotel businesses for these special days when the city centre is locked off for a special event. “C’est l’Europe”,  the hotel owner answered. Well, it is not. Europe issues a directive with aims to alleviate the city centre’s from car traffic, but it leaves the national authorities and local politicians the free choice on the ways and means to implement it.

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It must be said that the overnight tariffs for the parking house in the city centre are very low indeed, and that the next morning the hotel was totally accessible by car, once the flea market was over. Here you see our Volvo parked in front of the Hotel Vauban the next morning. Loading the luggage proved a breeze…

We had the same problem in the historic centre of Ventimiglia, but that is another story, of which more later…

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The fortified city of Besançon offers some stunning perspectives…

The next day, we set our sails to Ornans, the birthplace of Gustave Courbet. A smaller characteristic town, dubbed “Venice of the North” as it has the Loue running through it. He painted with love the region around this town, in the valley of the Doubs, and indeed it is beautiful.

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Our Volvo was in very good company on the market square of Ornans, with an Alpine Berlinette parked next to it, which was taking part in a local “Rally des Doubs”.

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We drove through the impressive “Forêt de la Joux” or the forest of the Joux via Champagnole to Les Rousses,

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and then went on to Gex via the magnificent Col de la Faucille, which offers truly stunning views on the Lac Léman.

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Of course, Geneva and the magnificent view from the Col de la Faucille was tempting us, see the photo below,

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but we stopped short of it and visited Ferney Voltaire, where the château of the famous French philosopher Voltaire offered us a grand view over its gardens, with Geneva in the background. Certainly a magnificent backdrop for all the philosophical thoughts one might have…

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From there on, it was heading further to our holiday house, via Grenoble and Valence.

There our Volvo was happy to meet its brothers, amongst others the shining black New Beetle Cabrio, which was taking us further around during our holiday in the French Midi, and driving us through the Alps to the Italian Riviera and back, but that is another story. Stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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