Road trip to the South of France – Part 3: aftermath

The hotel

The hotel was gorgeous, with a little balcony over looking the sea and across to Saint Tropez, and a cosy little French feel, although all the service expected of a Best Western. After the stress of getting ourselves packed and moved, we wandered into the gorgeous town and felt ourselves relaxing. On our wanders, we found L’Amiral,  a beautiful restaurant in the marina which was pretty pricey but we decided to treat ourselves and booked it for that evening. We wandered back to our hotel and went down to the pool and read our books.  Feeling suitably relaxed we got ready for dinner and walked back up to the marina. The meal was amazing! We had such a gorgeous meal, the service was brilliant and we truly relaxed and forgot all about our car nightmare.

The next morning we opened the curtains to torrential rain. The view across the water was nothing but grey and Saint Tropez had disappeared! We read in our room for a while and by lunchtime it had totally cleared up and was blazing sunshine again. We walked back into the town and found a nice restaurant for dinner that evening. Looking for somewhere to have lunch in the meantime, we went to Cafe Maxime for lunch and it was brilliant. My husband had a burger and I had a chicken burger – the best I’ve ever eaten!! That evening we wandered back and walked through the beautiful cobbled streets in Sainte-Maxime and stopped off for a lovely Italian meal.

Where is our car?!

Monday morning we woke up and we got straight on the phone to our insurance company and asked them to call the garage and make sure they looked at our car first thing. We had worked out that if we left by Monday lunchtime at the latest and drove all through the day and night, we might just make it home in time for work on the Tuesday. Nothing. We kept checking and by lunchtime it was clear they hadn’t looked at the car let alone fixed it. We spoke to our insurance company who then decided that they would buy us both flights from Nice back to Birmingham International that evening, and they would pay for one of us to return another time to collect the car and drive it home. It wasn’t ideal but they were so good and covered the flights as well as the hotel and taxis. The taxi to Nice airport on its own was 200 Euros!

So once again we packed up (which was slightly trickier now that we had all our luggage from the car to pack into two bags for the plane!) and we were waiting for our taxi at 4:30pm when we received a call from the insurance company. The garage had finally looked at our car and the quote to fix it was 3,900 Euros!! More than the car is worth! They said the diesel particulate filter needed replacing which is incredibly expensive. Not knowing what else we could do, we went ahead with the flight and considered our options once more.

  1. We pay the money, get the car fixed and then fly back and drive it 1,000 miles home
  2. We just leave the car and have it scrapped in France as the repairs are more than the car is worth
  3. We try and get the car home some way and get it looked at / fixed in the UK instead.

Home at last

In the end we made it home safe and on time, and called garages near our home in the UK. We were quoted £950 to get the repairs done and we paid £250 to have the car repatriated – which was cheaper than driving it home in terms of fuel and toll roads anyway. When we did get the car back, we took it to our local garage who managed to unblock the diesel particulate filter and it only cost us £95! We were so relieved, but also so happy that we had bought the European breakdown assistance. For £35 we accessed a weekend in a beautiful hotel, flights and baggage home and taxis totalling more than £1,000! Moral of the story – get European breakdown cover!

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Road trip to the South of France – Part 2: the disaster

St Tropez
Road trip to the South of France – Part 2: the disaster

Continued from the first part of the story!

We decided to explore a little more and travel to Cannes and Antibes…and this is where our trouble began. On the windy day at Saint Tropez, our car engine lights had come on, including the diesel particulate filter.

St Tropez
St Tropez

We read that you should drive the car in a low gear at high revs to clear the issue. We had been doing that but the light had stayed on. Anyway, we set off for Cannes and drove along the coast – breath-taking. We continued on to Antibes at on a roundabout with a VW garage on it (of all places) the car suddenly shut down. We could drive it but it wouldn’t go over 30mph and more engine lights came on. We pulled up to the garage but found it was shut for lunch.

My husband and I, we have realised, take it in turns to flap when something goes wrong, and this time it was his turn. He wanted to turn around and try to head back but I assured him that if we just waited, went for some lunch, we could come back and go into the garage for help. He agreed and we went into the centre of Antibes and had a look around. We parked up and went into a beautiful hotel and looked out to the sea – and saw Abramovich’s yacht! We wandered along the front and found a beachside restaurant, Le Bord de Mer Chez Vincent in Juan Les Pins where we sat down to consider our options and get some food. I have the most amazing St Jacques scallops while my husband moped over a pizza and took the occassional picture of Abramovich’s yacht.

St Jacques Scallops in Antibes
St Jacques Scallops in Antibes

We finished up and came up with a plan. We had taken European breakdown cover with AXA for just £35 (best £35 we’ve ever spent!) We called and they advised us to try the VW garage first. We went in and they said they were booked up for the next week and couldn’t help but did advise us to drive with low gear and high revs. We left a little crestfallen and called back our insurance company. They decided they’d call round other VW garages but in the meantime we should try and head back to Port Grimaud if we could, or sit and wait to be towed but they were advising it would be a few hours at least. We bit the bullet and tried to head back to our campsite.

This involved going on the toll motorways with a car that at times (momentum and downward hills helped this) wouldn’t go over 30 miles an hour!! We were nearly back when the insurance company called and said that the only garage they could get us in to would be near Marseilles and could we drive there? On the basis of the last terrifying hour, we asked if they could instead recover the car and tow it there which they were happy to arrange for the next morning at 8am.

Now at this point it is probably important that I tell you that this was Thursday. We were leaving the south of France on the Saturday morning to drive half way up and stay, then continue our journey on the Sunday to get to Le Touquet on the Sunday. Our crossing was Bank Holiday Monday in the morning, to be home and back to work on the Tuesday. So basically, we needed to get the car back on Friday evening at the latest in order to pack it up and get on the road…

So the mechanic turned up on Friday at 8am and looked at the car. He drove it and decided that he couldn’t fix it and it would need to be taken to the garage. He left with the car and we settled down for our last day on holiday and waited patiently for news of the car. We had heard nothing by lunchtime and spoke to AXA who chased the garage. Nothing. We chased again at 4pm and were advised that the garage hadn’t even looked at our car and that they were shut until Monday now!

This time panic set in with me. We had to check out the next morning by 10am and had nowhere to go and no way to get home! My husband got on the phone and the insurance company really came through for us. They said that they would pay for us to stay in a hotel for the weekend, with a budget for two nights of £300!

My husband selected a lovely hotel in nearby Sainte-Maxime, The Montfleuri Best Western, with breakfast included and AXA went off and booked it for us. They then booked a car to come and get us and take us to the hotel the next morning. So we packed up and checked out on the Saturday morning and were met by a private car which took us to our new hotel.

 

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Road trip to the South of France – Part 1: getting there…

On our way to the South of France
On our way to the South of France
On our way to the South of France

We set off in our VW Passat at around 6pm on Friday night to get to Dover for our first overnight stop on our road trip to the South of France. We stayed in a Premier Inn near to the ferry terminal – but it was so busy and on a main road so didn’t get much sleep. Mentioned this on check-out and they gave us a refund on their ‘Good Night Guarantee’ which was a bonus!

Crossed over to Calais and made our way south to our first stop in Macon. I’d booked a Budget Ibis much to my husband’s dislike but for £30 it was a bargain! We arrived around 6pm, and sat outside at their restaurant and had dinner and (a fair few bottles of) wine. The food was incredible and was finished off by a crème brulee and a mint chocolate mousse (one each but we shared 🙂 ). It was a beautiful night and we sat outside and soaked up the atmosphere until around 11pm before retiring. We got up the next morning and added breakfast for a reasonable 6Euros each and we were good to go.

I took over the driving and we followed the road south through Lyon on to the south coast. We arrived at Grimaud around 2pm and checked in to our Eurocamp caravan.

We’ve stayed in Eurocamp before and the caravans are always clean and have everything you might need. We set off out again through Sainte-Maxime and found ourselves a Carre Four where we stocked up on wine, cheese and other essentials!

During our time there we visited Saint Tropez – on the windiest day I’ve ever known! – and on our way back got a text from my dad warning that there was an imminent strike in France meaning there would be a severe shortage of fuel. With a 1,000 mile drive home we pulled into a garage and filled the car to the top with diesel…just as well we did. The next garage we passed had queues of 20 or more cars and over the next day or so the strike really took hold and most garages were closed, those that we open were reduced to 20 Euros of fuel at a time!

Port Grimaud is amazing – like a little French Venice – and we spent some time here. Another day we rented sun beds on a tiny secluded beach and crossed the road to a pizza stop and had the most amazing pizzas.

Clearly, however, nothing – not even holidays – is a straightforward affair with me… find more of the story here

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