1000 Miles in 7 days across France

I’m mindful that in a modern car, no one would worry about a no Autoroute trip to Brantome in the Dordogne and back in a week. Bristol owners too, happily cross the Patagonian Desert in 40 degrees or drive over mountain roads in Indonesia that terrify local truck drivers without so much as a by or leave, which makes my effort in my 400 seem rather dull and hardly worth mentioning. However I’ve completely rebuilt the car and so feel quite proud of what we’ve done in it. last year we travelled 2000 miles in two weeks with a few teething problems and this time, after lots of work, it was much better, if not perfect. I still have a little more work to do.

JEL450 was made in 1949 so I thought I’d better check out the Motor year book to get some idea of how things were then. I quote: The atmosphere of freedom from restrictions, the good food and fine and wine.......... come as a welcome relief from the austerity of our own country at this time. Prices however, have risen a little since then and I quote again: The writer considers that a tourist can live well at the rate of about £3 a day per person plus £1 for petrol when motoring all day. Hotel rooms are inexpensive, about 10/- is normal, but meals are also 10/- and wine extra. In first class Hotels £1 for a meal is normal, but the meals are to remember!

Prices have risen considerably in France in recent years, we have a far worse exchange rate now, so it has become an expensive, but still wonderful place to visit and perfect for enjoying an old car. It has the same population as the UK, but is three times the size!

The quickest and least painful route out of the UK from here is to Portsmouth and on the ferry to Caen. There for 93 Euros we stayed in La Glycene in Benouville, but only for breakfast. Sadly we arrived too late for the excellent dinners they do, but the beds and breakfast were good and we were on the road to Loches shortly after 9 AM.

The Autoroute is probably the best way to circumnavigate Argentan and Le Mans, but we chose the hard way and found ourselves on the Le Mans circuit for our trouble! We arrived in Loches, tired but happy, by mid afternoon.

Loches is a little off the tourist trail, but in my opinion, one of the nicest towns in the Loire. It’s steeped in History, Jean D’arc included, It has a river, a Medieval Fort, a magnificent Chateau, excellent shops and a good selection of restaurants. We stayed in the centre of town in the excellent Hotel de France. Full of old world charm, tastefully decorated and slightly down at heel with an absolutely splendid dining room and first class food. It was exactly what I like most in hotels when I’m on holiday and not the kind that reminds me of work!

The drive from Loches to Brantome has to be one of the best anywhere. Nearly 200 miles of rolling hills, woods and farm land interrupted by the odd beautiful town, Chateau or whatever. It really was a revelation and probably representative of what we’d have experienced if we’d travelled in the forties. The D5 is one to remember, exploring the narrower and less used passes in the Alps or Pyrenees is more dramatic, but we were happy.

We spent two nights in Brantome in the most expensive of hotels, the Moulin de l’ Abbaye, which was a retirement present from my wife Caroline’s firm. It is a superb place adjoining the Abbey, astride the river and almost in the centre of a another stunningly beautiful town. Two nights were not enough, but I don’t doubt that we shall return.

Our next stop was in Fontevraud back in the Loire and the Hotel del La Croix Blanche, which is another ideal destination for a car club. They have secure parking, a Michelin restaurant and a Brasserie and the rooms are well equipped and comfortable. Prices are good too. The following morning we drove back to Caen for the overnight ferry home. The 6.30 AM arrival at Portsmouth was a bit of a shock but it got us home on relatively empty Brit roads.

The Bristol causes a stir wherever I take it, everyone seems to love the looks and the colour, audiences gather round it wherever it’s parked and almost every time I returned to it, there were people photographing themselves with it. I’ve never known anything like it and the Bentley is popular. It’s also comparatively fast, it cruises all day at between 50-75 mph (it’s noisy if you go faster), it does over 25 mpg, it handles extremely well, the opening rear window together with sliding front ones, that don’t much increase noise levels, and the light colour mean all help to keep occupants cool and comfortable in a hot weather. The Bentley is not as fast on hills, uses far more fuel, is very noisy with the windows open and needs a stiffer anti-roll, so is different rather than better. It is more comfortable, has a better ride and is quieter, so better suited to cooler weather.

I hope readers will Google all the locations I’ve described, enjoy the photos and possible even do something similar themselves. We both really enjoyed it.

ashley james