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Travel: Depeche Mode trip sure is a rockin' way to see France in summertime

A driving music pilrimage took Andrea McKernon and her husband Jonathan Morrow– Ultra Depeche Mode 'devotees' – across France by car to see the veteran rockers and sample some of the music festivals on offer during summer

If Depeche Mode bring to mind an 80s boyband, you’ve been snoozing for three decades
Andrea McKernon

LOOK away now if you want to read about a relaxing break. This is On The Road, Easy Rider, Thelma And Louise true grit, serious, industrial driving – with rock n roll at its core.

The mission? To take two Depeche Mode ‘devotees’ to two music festivals in France. The reason? These veteran electronic rockers are finishing up a year-and-a-half world tour. We take my car, do Airbnb, hotels and a bit of camping. Camping stove, cool box and other outdoor gear is excavated and sleeping bags and folding chairs borrowed from the kids of friends at an age where they're appalled at the very thought of roughing it anywhere.

We’ve rented a European sat nav, got oil reserves, told car insurance company, booked a ferry from Rosslare to Cherbourg, got tickets to two music festivals where ‘The Mode’ are playing, and enough travel insurance and vehicle warranty to cover five truckloads of roadies.

He is the more obsessed devotee and has been to see the supergroup more than 18 times. I’ve loved the group’s material for many years. But until you get to see them live, you’ll never know of the true musicianship of Dave Gahan and the group’s songwriter Martin Gore – the latter responsible for their massive hits Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence, Let Me Show You The World In My Eyes – until you witness it in concert. I’ve clocked up a respectable six shows.

Caen Cathedral, Normandy

If Depeche Mode creates in your mind a 1980s pop, boyband group, famous for Just Can’t Get Enough, you’ve been snoozing for three decades. They are huge almost everywhere but in their native Britain. The Basildon boys are about 60 now and have fans (known as devotees) across Europe, north and south America and Canada.

So on to StenaLine’s car ferry with a nation of kids, grannies, parents, dogs, bikers, caravans, loaded up cars with bikes, campervans, trailer vans and push bikes. All are on a summer holiday adventure and as we’re lying in the spotless and comfortable cabin, it’s a lovely sound to hear youngsters playing on the bunk beds next door, talking to their parents and full of excitement about their upcoming holidays.

With lots to do onboard, the time passes easily as we make our way south east to France, with the stars bright out on the sea.

Rolling off the ferry, he (who has never driven on the other side of the road) is amazed and freaked out at my driving on the right. It is like he has entered some alternative universe, with roundabouts going the other way and junctions in mirror mode.

Sculpture of US troops at Utah Beach

I’m a cool and well-worn road hog so I take it slow and in my stride.

Our first gig is the Festival Beauregard in Normandy near the city of Caen. Our Airbnb is a cabin in a guy’s garden. And what a great spot it is as a base to get to the gig and have a look about the area.

We visit the Normandy landing beaches – Utah and Omaha – still bearing the remains of the German coastal defence bunkers, and the American Cemetery.

There are tanks, from Sherman to Renault. The bunkers and tunnels that cut through Omaha Beach especially are fascinating – in their construction of steel and stone, but also in looking out and imagining what must have been a terrifying sight for a German soldier.

Remarkably only about 30 German soldiers were manning this coastal region – made famous in numerous war movies – on the day. They saw almost 160,000 forces making their way to the beaches – and to them.

It’s a great place to revisit the sites of the D-Day landings but also a sombre experience reading the names of the dead on the various memorials.

Caen, setting for Festival Beauregard

At Utah Beach, the landing area for the famous 101st Airborne Division of the US army, there is a landing craft mock-up with a sculpture of three US soldiers arriving ashore. The battery at Azeville, a prime target for the Allies, is also impressive.

The nearby village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont abounds with stories and recognition of the efforts and sacrifice of the American GIs who landed there.

Caen, where we are bunkering down before the concert, saw heavy fighting where the British landed ashore.

Depeche Mode are headlining a three-day event in the city. We only go to see The Mode. Let’s face it, French contemporary music is for the French.

Bordeaux, World Cup final day

It’s a lovely setting and a great crowd, but not big in terms of devotee numbers.

The band is superb as usual. It’s a lovely festival feel and the weather is warm and glorious with no mud and not a Wellie in sight. The lights of the chateau glow blue as darkness falls on a wonderful night.

The band packs up to go across the country – and so do we.

The next stop for Depeche Mode is a trip right across France to Aix les Bains on the Swiss border. It’s a toll road trip to get across in good time for the Musilac Festival.

A good day’s driving gets us to a lovely campsite where we watch France beat Belgium in the World Cup semi-final. We’re supporting France, since we’re in the country.

Aix les Bains is an old spa town that thrived up until the 1960s – before people began to board planes to farther afield continental destinations. It has a big, beautiful lake – perfect for swimming – circled by impressive mountains.

Our accommodation doesn’t work out and everywhere is booked up for the festival, out so after a late afternoon dip in Lake Bourget, the camp cooker cranked up for dinner is just the ticket before the gig.

We head to the festival where Simple Minds and The Stranglers are also playing.

Musilac is being televised on French TV and from the big screens, the setting is impressive. Devotees are here in big numbers and it is superb and worth the two-day trip. The buzz is phenomenal.

Back across the country to the ferry at Cherbourg via a few stops including the gorgeous city of Bordeaux for the Bastille Day fireworks and the World Cup final next day where we watch triumphant fans celebrate victory in la Coupe du Monde with cries of ‘Allez les bleus’.

Sleepovers in Clermont-Ferrand, La Rochelle and Nantes completes our musical tour of this beautiful country.

A road trip to remember. Vive la France. Vive Depeche Mode.

FACT FILE

:: Andrea and Jonathan travelled on the Stena Line Rosslare to Cherbourg service, which offers three sailings a week on the Stena Horizon from €109 for a single car plus driver. Crossing time is approximately 18 hours.

:: The Stena Horizon offers facilities including free WiFi, ensuite cabins, meal deals, shopping in the onboard shop with up to 50 per cent off big brands, free movies throughout the crossing and lots of fun for kids.

:: To make a booking, see stenaline.ie

:: To find out more about Stena Line follow them on facebook.com/StenaLineUKIE or on Twitter @StenaLineUKIE

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