Zoe & Steve Marciniak

From Sheffield To Île-de-Ré  in a Figaro

With a French map to hand Members Zoe & Steve Marciniak (plus son Feliks) set off on 1200 mile adventure to relish the slower pace of life on offer.

Another grey February morning finds the Fig is sat outside on the drive looking forlorn. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could use it for what it was intended and actually spend some time riding around with the roof down in sunshine.

Before the day was out and common sense kicked in we had booked the Fig onto a ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo with the Île de Ré as our final destination. Around about that point reality set in. Firstly, we live in Sheffield and the total journey via friends in the Loire valley was 1200 miles. Secondly, there are three of us, well two and a half and not really much room in a Fig for luggage and a child and finally but most importantly, the longest journey it had done whilst we had it was 50 miles.
Sorting out a trip of this sort was surprisingly straightforward. Booking the ferry was quick and as the half term falls outside of French school holidays accommodation was easy on the notoriously difficult Île de Ré. We opted to look for places with private parking to avoid leaving the Fig on public roads overnight.

A quick call to Classic Line confirmed that we had European Insurance cover and European breakdown on our policy as standard.  The worry that the car would break down was on our mind, but the car had always been reliable and our gut instinct was that the car would be fine.  However, we decided to take on a service from Pete at South Yorkshire Figaros before leaving. Plus, if all else fails, an ability to speak French would ensure we got home.

We decided to split the trip up into 3 hour segments to avoid long periods of driving and give our son the opportunity to run around a little also.

Stage One – Sheffield to St Albans
Very smooth and surprisingly little petrol used. Daily riding around town had given us the feeling that the little Fig was surprisingly thirsty, however on the open road it seemed to be sipping petrol. Less than half a tank got us to St. Albans. After a night with family and a photo opportunity by the Abbey we headed along the M25 (with the top down) to Brooklands. Brooklands was the first true motor racing circuit in the UK with its banked track and it is now a classic car and plane museum. Interestingly, the Fig was treated as a classic and we were guided into the classic car compound. Here it received considerably less interest than the Lagonda alongside but more than the Austin Princess. Not sure what to make of this. Brooklands is certainly worth a few hours of anyone’s time if in the area.

Stage Two – The Crossing
On to Portsmouth and the ferry.  A fairly uneventful crossing and then the open roads of France. The first thing to note is the roads really are quieter and of a better standard than the UK. The second is the lack of traffic in front of us. A quick look in the mirror told us why (our “pootling” speed had garnered a little queue). What we also noticed was the attention that the Fig gets. Wherever we went we got admiring glances and the conversation flowed. There really aren’t that many Figs there and we had people coming over to look and chat constantly and this included people slowing down for a closer look on the roads. The general assumption was that the Fig was a French car from the 50’s and I guess the presumption was that only the French have that level of style.
First stop was the seaside town of Pornic. This is a small Breton harbour town famed for Moules et Frites, Cider and Breton cider bowls. Pornic is half way to the Île de Ré but actually quite a detour from the main roads. It makes a pleasant stop en route the South especially with the top down. The Fig was eating up the miles, no overheating in the sun and much less fuel than expected consumed.
Onwards now to the Île de Ré. A further 3 hours and we were on the bridge from La Rochelle across to the island. The island really is a stunning place. Archaic French planning laws mean that the Île forbids any high rise or overly commercial development. The result is a wonderful place with whitewashed houses, miles of startling white sandy beaches and maze of tiny windy roads made for an open top Fig. Everywhere we stopped we were greeted with questions about the car and quite a few comments about the bravery of travelling that far in such an old car. Driving with the top down was the reason for coming here and we made the most of the lovely weather.

Stage three – Northern France
A trip up the Loire valley to the picturesque medieval town of Château Gontier. An altogether different environment for the Fig. The Northern part of the Loire is an area called Mayenne and although not quite as illustrious as its southern neighbour is beautifully green with winding, meandering rivers, orchards and a pace of life miles away from England. We were now well over half way through the journey and the Fig wasn’t missing a beat. Oil and water levels were unchanged and it was coping well with the long distances. Why had we waited this long to do this in the

Fig ?
After a short break with friends an uneventful journey back to St Malo followed. Leaving the ferry at Portsmouth we were left with the single longest journey, a four hour run back to Sheffield which we just managed on a single tank of fuel, arriving with just vapour in the tank. A melancholy soundtrack was needed for the return journey and with the North of England ahead and the sun setting, it had to be Elbow.

Fig ran perfectly, not a beat missed, weather excellent, top down all the way, three happy campers and plans being made for next year.