3rd April 2008 - 7th April 2008
For our third French Weekender we opted to go to Sedan in the Ardennes. Our hotel in Sedan was the fabulous 3* Hotellerie Le Château Fort – a medieval castle, no less! The hotel overlooks the town of Sedan, on the banks of the River Meuse, in the heart of the Ardennes and was a fabulous base for our MINI adventure.
The Runners and Riders were 12 MINIS and 23 people making this the biggest French Weekender so far!
1. Beastie and Pea
2. PAA100 and Natalie
3. Stu and Alex
4. RVW Storm and SuperAsh
5. Jaffaracer and Carol
6. Minifriz and MandyMoo
7. Minisoopercooper and Scrogg
8. Matrog and Becca
9. Dealmaker and StarGirl
10. Chrisandjax and Hoosierboy
For the third time an intrepid group of Mini fanatics set out for a French Adventure, this time to Chateau Fort Sedan on the Belgian border. Most of us met up in Portsmouth for a pre-sailing meal and then headed down to the docks to catch the overnight ferry to Le Havre. Having found our cabins and dropped off our luggage it was down to the Dirty Duck for an hour or two of “socializing”- an essential part of any French Weekender!
Our Captain announcing our imminent arrival in Le Havre awakened us at 6am, so there was just time for us to shower and pack up our stuff and then it was down to the car deck to prepare to leave. With TomTom itineries for the journey there was no worry that anyone would get seriously lost, but it is always better to begin adventures together, so we waited just outside the harbour so that we could convoy together, and although we got a bit split up in the town, we were soon out on the open road, encountering our first tollbooth which is always an opportunity for fun!
We made our first stop a breakfast stop, as most of us had not eaten on the boat that morning, then it was on to Compiegne for lunch, where we met up with some more Weekenders who had travelled from Dover. We had a lovely lunch sitting outside in Compiegne and all too soon we were off again, this time to the Old Racetrack at Reims, where we met up with our last Weekender who had come from Switzerland to join us. After a few photos and a walk about this haunting place we set off at some speed, superchargers whining and engines roaring to our final destination of Fort Sedan. Even as we approached and were quite close, we could not see the largest fort in Europe, but then turning a corner – there it was – very imposing, with an entrance through a magnificent gateway in the wall into a massive inner courtyard.
We met up in the bar later and decided to leave our fate in the hands of the girl on Reception, by letting her phone round and find us somewhere to eat. The place itself proved somewhat harder to find, but that was due more to poor map reading skills and too long at the bar!
Saturday was to be the day of the Photo competition – we had already been given our instructions for the day and the recommended route. The idea was to drive around and take pictures, aiming to be as creative as possible within the titles provided. Marks were to be awarded for artistic merit, photographic competence and creative composition. We spent most of this day in Belgium starting in Fort Bouillon, with coffee and lunch stops on the way – a smoky café meant Belgium, a smoke free café France – and the weather became worse as the day went on, so that as we ended our day at Hitler’s Bunker the weather was cold and wet. The judges were already in session for the photo competition when we returned and after the intensive scoring grid had done it’s worst; MandyMoo and MinFriz were declared the winners. We had no plans for an evening meal that night other than to try to investigate a beer-brewing brasserie opposite the castle. Although a little horrified at the thought of a rowdy group of English filling their premises, the very pleasant waitress found us a large table upstairs where we could be as silly as we liked, alone! We dined on huge plates of sausage, ham and sauerkraut, drank the beer and had a wonderful time.
Sunday was as yet unplanned but we had decided we would return to Bouillon first and buy some provisions for our traditional Sunday evening room party. There was a small Medieval market there too and whilst Andy managed to purchase a job lot of saucissons at a discount price, others of us tried on crowns, and bought bread, chickens and wine. Then followed a spirited drive through the Ardennes forest going to all the places that ended with –mont , with all the usual features of a run including U-turns, bends, huge puddles and by now snow, which was falling quite fast. After a lunch stop, we took a shorter way back and stopped off to buy some more food and drink for the party. The party itself began in Stu’s room as he had a larger room than most of us, but as we all crowded in it became clear we needed more space, so we moved to RVW’s who had a family room of massive proportions with a dining table and three-piece suite in his living room. When we were all assembled, we went out of his French doors onto the battlements for a group photo – it was by now cold outside and the smiles are a result of the fun and silliness of the moment – it certainly wasn’t pleasant to be out there waiting for four different people to take their group pics. Once in again, and the wine began to flow and the food slowly vanished, the silly talk got louder and then we had the traditional quiz, won by Scrogg ably assisted by Minisoopercooper. At the end of the evening, MiniFriz felt the need to carry Beastie back along the corridor to the lift, but a Beastie is heavier than he looks and ended up getting dropped, with Darren falling on top of him! But all was well in the end and we travelled down to our room in style.
Monday morning saw the snow that had been forecast and the Minis did look appealing, snow covered and lined up against the walls of the castle but inevitably this brought out the child in us all and a few snowballs were hurled. We decided not to go the whole journey home on the motorways and the first part was to be on N roads, which are fine in places, but well used by trucks. It seems our driving skills weren’t appreciated by everyone on the road, with the result that our back marker –Minisoopercooper- was stopped twice by the gendarmes, not for speeding, because he wasn’t, but for being English and in a red Mini. They were after us! We took to the country roads for the last few miles before the motorway, and then took it carefully back to Boulogne, where some of us had time for a little shopping. After a brief journey back on the ferry, we went our separate ways, with only time for a few quick hugs with those around us, as inevitably the cars get split up on the ferry.
It’s always sad to travel home alone after a holiday like this – it just doesn’t seem right not to have a friend in sight. But we have plans and ideas brewing for next year…