A Citroën DS day out to Angoulême

At the end of April we were favoured with the company of David and Sandra who were here for the week to enjoy a DS and gîte holiday with the use of the DS23ie, and then with Pete and Lindi in their DS23 Pallas in the second half of the week. The occasion was Pete’s birthday and so what better excuse to enjoy a day out to Angoulême in the three DS’!  This was to be David and Sandra’s second visit there that week, the first having been a little frenetic when tackling the tricky underground car parks that serve the top of the old city around the ramparts.

Citroën DS23 Pallas Horse chestnut Vanzay family gite holidays swimming pool classic car hire southwest france

Pete and Lindi’s Citroën DS23 Pallas

After handing the keys for the DS23ie to them late Saturday afternoon (I collected them from La Rochelle airport as part of the arrangements) they had just a couple of days of DS driving before making this first trip to Angoulême.  Now it has to be said that the DS is a long car – hence the cabin is so roomy and the drive so leisurely – and the long bonnet is a change from today’s modern, compact cars.  The car parks in the old parts of Angoulême and Poitiers are underground and multi-storey and are a little tight to get around, even in a modern car.  Just to make it more challenging, the light down there is not too good either, especially on descending from bright sunshine.  On their return to La Grange that evening they recounted the stress of finding themselves descending the ramp to the car park with a couple of cars behind piloted by unsympathetic French drivers, finding a space to squeeze into and then the difficulty of getting back out again.  This must have been even more stressful since a number of kind-hearted French folk were trying to assist, but obviously in a foreign language!   They wanted to let me know about their episode so that I could warn all others who haven’t experienced these car parks that it is a challenge even in your own car, let alone an unfamiliar classic car.  My first encounter with the very same car park was in the Jaguar MK2 which, for me, was a quite terrifying experience getting around the tight corners (without power steering) and up and down the steep slopes, taking great care not to bottom out on the sharp gradient changes.  These are not a problem for the DS with it’s awesome suspension but all Healey, Jag or similar such classic owners: beware of these car parks!

Anyhow, we were en route on the N10 with the promise of a more accessible car park on arrival (Champ de Mars – under the new shopping arcade).  A convoy of three DS’ travelling down the N10 turned more than a few heads, especially since we were making a good pace to get there in time for lunch!  In fact, I was so busy overtaking a line of lorries in the DSuper 5 with a line of DS’ astern that we missed our first exit (Angoulême nord, bringing you in on the old N10), having to settle for the next.  Either way, the last run up to the ramparts of Angouleme old town is a steep climb.  This was a chance for us all to perfect our hill starts, which in the DS involves the use of the handbrake like any other car, except the handbrake action is cunningly on a foot pedal to the left.  It sounds complicated but in practise it’s very easy and in many respects a more natural action than using your hand to hold and release the handbrake in other cars.  Having got right up to the very top in place Francis Louvel for lunch at Chez Paul it was clear that parking in the square was about as likely as at midday in Soho Square.  A chance to drop down past the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre onto the start/finish straight of the Circuit des Remparts race course (marked out with the starting grid), left at the hairpin Virage Carnot before dropping down at Virage du Théâtre to find our way to Le Champ de Mars. We can all lay claim to having driven at least a part of the circuit!

Cathedral Saint-Pierre Angoulême Circuit des Remparts race day gite holidays family swimming pool classic car hire Charente Deux Sevres

Cathedral Saint-Pierre Angoulême

The sight of all three Citroëns lined up in the car park almost looked like a club outing……

We settled down for another great lunch of excellent French food in the unhurried atmosphere of the terrace at Chez Paul, the restaurant of choice for the Bugatti owners at the Circuit des Remparts weekend.  In fact the place Francis Louvel is all restaurants and so a very popular spot but the tranquility of the terrace out back is in pleasant contrast.  We discovered over lunch that David and Sandra know Lindi’s brother through work – one of those amazing coincidences that leave you pondering the size of the world!

Angoulême place Francis Louvel Chez Paul restaurant gite holidays family swimming pool deux sevres charente

One of the lanes leading to place Francis Louvel and Chez Paul

A cautionary note …. don’t make your lunch very liquid.  Here in France the authorities are determined to consign to the history books the typical caricature of a boozy long French lunch and a drive home.  The French police are vigilant and don’t need an excuse to stop a driver.  As I understand things a UK license holder cannot have their license endorsed by the French authorities but they can and will confiscate your “wheels” – an undesirable result for sure.

Back on the road for a more leisurely drive back up the N10.  We’d considered a country route back via Aigre and Villefagnan but by this time it was heading towards evening and since the N10 route is only 50 or so minutes from Vanzay, this became the chosen route. Not forgetting, of course, that the next day, Saturday, is the May Day holiday in France where virtually everything shuts and so one DS departed the N10 for the SuperU at Sauzé-Vaussais with the others continuing home to Vanzay.

Great drive out with great people to a great city……… Happy days!

Postscript: Thanks to David and Sandra for taking such good care of the DS23ie during their stay and very good luck in finding a good example of the DS to buy back in England.