1 September 2017

After our trip around Central Europe we were both in need of some quiet time for our next holiday. But as it includes accessible accommodation I thought it would still be nice to share it with our followers, even if it is now a while ago.

On the way down: Rennes

Our first stop is a bit too far away to drive in one go, so on the way down we make a stop in the capital of Brittany, Rennes, for two nights. This gives us a chance to recover from the long drive down and also gives us a chance to have a bit of a walk around the city, which we wouldn’t do if we were only there for one night. So we have found a hotel in the centre of the city: Hotel Anne de Bretagne, which allows us to walk around the old centre from the hotel. It is difficult to find a parking spot in front of the hotel to check in and then I find out that they didn’t understand I wanted to reserve a parking spot in their garage. They don’t have a spot for the first night, but I can get in the garage the next day, so I unload the luggage and find a disabled parking spot in one of the side streets.

There are a few steps at the entrance of the hotel, but there is a fold-out ramp which the receptionist puts out when I need it. It blocks the sidewalk in front of the hotel which is why it can’t stay out. Our room is on the ground floor, but you have to get through a few doors to get there. The room is quite roomy with a separate seating area. The TV is in the middle and can be turned either towards the bed or towards the seating area. The double bed is a nice height for us. However, then we run into problems, because the door to the bathroom opens towards the bed. The bed is so close to the door that the door can’t open completely, which means you can’t get around the door to get the wheelchair in the bathroom. A quick question at reception and they help to move the bed towards the window. That doesn’t leave me a lot of room to get around the bed, and hubby needs to sleep at the wrong side of the bed, which makes transfers a bit more difficult, but he can get into the bathroom. That is quite big again, but the design leaves a bit to be desired. There is a nice wheel-in shower with a sturdy shower seat (but hard, so hubby doesn’t like it), a double wheel under wash basin and plenty of grab bars around the bathroom. However, the toilet is placed in a niche in the wall, which leaves absoutely no room for a carer to help with a transfer. The disabled toilet around the corner in the corridor is slightly better, so we decide to use that during our stay to prevent me from doing my back in trying to get hubby on the toilet.

As we have been driving all day, running into traffic jams getting into the city, we want to get straight out for something to eat. Unfortunately, the receptionist has no clue about accessible places near the hotel and I don’t really want to use the car again. Most places we find in the area where she sends us are not accessible. In the end I order a takeaway pizza which we eat in the hotel room.

The next day we find a nice coffee place near the hotel. They don’t sell croissants but are quite happy for me to get some fresh croissants in the bakery around the corner and eat them with our coffees. Then we walk towards the old centre. The street where we are on has a nice wide sidewalk with nicely dropped curbs. However, as soon as you get in the older bit it is mostly cobbled and on a hill, and sometimes you have to look for a smooth sidewalk, or places to cross. Especially the Tourist Information Centre is difficult to get too, although they do have a special entrance for wheelchairs. We still have a nice walk around and enjoy the architecture and history of the place.

As the weather is lovely we have lunch somewhere on the street. The tables are quite close together as usual, so it is not easy to get the wheelchair in, but it is better then having to try and get inside somewhere. Late in the afternoon we go back to the hotel, so we can use the toilet there (I didn’t see any accessible public toilets). On the way back we see a nice Crèperie which looks accessible enough, reasonably close to the hotel (so what we needed the day before, but couldn’t find). But of course it doesn’t open until after 7 pm. This leaves enough time for a nice rest and a drink before dinner.

Ile d’Oléron

Where it was nice and sunny walking around Rennes, the next day is quite wet, so I am happy I can take all the luggage to the parking garage under the hotel and pack the car without getting wet. We have breakfast in a roadside restaurant driving further south, and lunch in a carpark in a village in the Vendée. We are going back to the Ile d’Oléron, where we have been several times before. So I won’t describe the accommodation at l’Accolade again. If you want to know, you will have to look through earlier posts. For us, it is the perfect spot to combine peace and quiet with respite care. Unfortunately, new French regulations are making it difficult for the organisation to continue with their good work.

Because we have been here before, we don’t feel the need to go and see a lot of things. We can just relax. If we want to drive around the island to see some of our favourite spots we can do just that. Or go out to one of our favourite restaurants for a spot of lunch and then take the scenic route back. Just one day we go for a longer drive to visit a historic town that we haven’t seen before, Talmont-sur-Gironde. The village was fortified by the English King Edward I, and was important during the 100 years war. It is quite touristy. There is a big parking lot by the entrance of the village and it is lovely to walk around, although as usual there are a lot of cobbled streets, but there are lovely views over the river as well. The two weeks fly by, and soon its time to pack and continue south.

Pyrenees

We love trying out new places in areas we haven’t been to before. Especially if we have seen the area watching the Tour de France on tv. So for the last week of our holiday we have booked a holiday home we have found through social media. The Dutch owners call it Gevonden Glimlach, which translates as ‘found smile’. It is located just outside the small village of Ferrières in a valley in the Pyrenees, south of Pau. The house is situated in a garden next to a fast flowing mountain stream, with mountains rising high all around you. The spot is really idyllic. The house has been made suitable for wheelchairusers which doesn’t mean accessibility is always easy.

To get into the house, you have to get up a steepish ramp, and another ramp has to be put down on the inside of the threshhold because the door won’t close with the ramp down. So the wheelchair user always needs help to get in and out. Once inside there is a large living-diningroom with woodburner and sliding doors to the terrace and gardens. With help you can get the wheelchair through these doors without ramps. Behind the living room is a nice kitchen, a showerroom and separate toilet, none of which are accessible, because the door isn’t wide enough. In the living room are stairs leading upstairs where there are several bedrooms, but I have hardly been up there. There is an accessible bedroom and bathroom connected to the house too. However to get to it you have to get out the front door again. There is a door into the room next to the front door, but there you run straight against the wall of the bathroom and hubby’s chair can’t make the corner. So you have to go around the corner and enter the bedroom through french doors to the garden. Again assistance is necessary. The room is quite large, but not very cosy, looks more like a professional kitchen with the kitchen removed. Having said that, there was a kitchen block in a cupboard in the corner. There is a profiling bed and a normal bed, but I have to move the profiling bed all the time. One position to be able to open the outside door, another to get the wheelchair in the bathroom. There is a big dresser in the room, but that is already full, so basically no room to put your own stuff away, so you have to live out of your suitcase, which is continually in the way. The bathroom is on the small side and basic. A washbasin on one side with mirror, a washbasin on the other side under the stairs that you can get your legs under, but no mirror and no room to put things down. Toilet with grabrails, and just enough room for transfers, and accessible shower. As we are well into september nights are quite cool and having to go outside to another room to go to bed or toilet is not always nice. Having said all this, because the location was so idyllic, we really enjoy our stay here and put up with the difficulties. It is so nice and quiet that we love just staying in and around the house, listening to the water flowing quite fast in the brook alongside the garden or to the bells of the cows and sheep being transported from the fields high in the mountains to the fields in the lower valleys, creating alternative traffic jams.

Still we have to leave the house sometimes, especially as there are no shops near by. We usually combine going to the shops with a visit. One of these trips brings us to Pau. Even if the city is on a hillside and not everywhere is easily reachable in a wheelchair we have a great day there. The tourist office supply a city ‘walking’ tour for disabled and elderly, so you can see the sights and views towards the Pyrenees, avoiding steps, most cobbles and steeper streets. It also mentions disabled toilets and parking spots. Actually, some streets are paved with a modern cobblestone, which looks very much like a cobblestone but is nice and flat on top. We have a lovely lunch somewhere outside along the tour and visit the castle of the later King Henry IV (of Navarre), although we don’t have enough time to visit the castle gardens.

On two other occasions we drive around in the mountains surrounding us, drive over the cols that the cyclists go over in the Tour de France, enjoying the views and some of the villages along the way. On one of those drives we pass through Lourdes, but decide against stopping and looking around  as it is very busy with tourists, even this time of year.

On the way back: Poitiers

Because of the distance we are making two stops on the way back home. The first of which is in the city of Poitiers. This is an important city in the region of Aquitaine, one heavily connected with one of it’s most famous rulers: Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II of England, but also Duke of Aquitaine in her own right. With a little help of Tripadvisor we have booked a room in the Hotel de l’Europe. The hotel is at the edge of the old centre of Poitiers, very close to the City Hall and the lovely square in front of it. It looks like it is an old coaching inn renovated to a modern hotel. You drive through an arch from the road and park your car where I can imagine the coaches used to be stalled at an overnight stop. Our accessible room is not in the main building, but  in one of the annexes next door, and it is on the fourth floor. Both the room and the bathroom are a bit tight, but perfectly adequate. We have a lovely walk around the old town from the hotel and have a lovely dinner on one of the squares close to the hotel. Next morning we have breakfast in a bakery near the hotel before we move on.

First we make a stop at the Abbey of Fontevraud, where both Eleanor and Henry are buried, together with Richard the Lionheart. It has been a while since we were here and it is lovely to see how they have developed the area. However, one of the improvements was not to our liking. Where before you could enter the abbey through the gate, now you have to go through the shop, which means you have to go up the ramp especially created for easy access, and therefore has been paved with cobblestones! Not the best idea. And then you have to go down a very long ramp at the inside too. Just going through the gate was a lot easier. Access to the church is a lot easier though, although you have to go the long way around. A nice visit, which means this is not just part of the long drive home, but more part of the holiday.

From here we go to our next stop, the familiar B&B-hotel in Rouen, where we have stopped many times before. The next day we take the motorway towards the North, not the one to Lille, but the one to Calais, and stop in Boulogne to have a look around the old walled city centre. We find a parking with disabled parking facilities but walking around the old centre is difficult. It is all cobbled, hardly any dropped curbs, and usually the side walks are not wide enough anyway. After we have seen the basilica and the outside of the castle we give up and just have lunch somewhere outside. It isn’t until after we leave that we see there is a lovely level walk around the outside of the city walls.

From here it is not far to get home, so after a lovely meal on the road that’s another holiday finished.