(Apologies to any French speakers if I have that wrong – I mean the middle/interior of France!)
Wednesday 5th April
We spent our first night, Monday, at Camping de St Michel near Mont St Michel. By the time we’d got ourselves organised, drank a glass of wine sitting outside the van and cooked dinner it was quite late and we were tired, but still of course needed to watch Broadchurch! The van has satellite TV but we need to remember there’s an hour’s time difference…
Lazy start on Tuesday – again spending too long getting organised. But hey, we’ve got six months so there’s no rush. The aim for this week is to get to the south of France so we decided to just head southwards rather than spend time in Brittany (which is very easy to get to for us). We drove down to Saumur, in drizzly weather, with a few accidental detours along the way. We’re using a satnav which has a penchant for unscenic main roads, and has a hard time accepting that we might want to go a different route. Also using a road atlas of Europe, on which the scale is such that entire towns and roads apparently don’t exist. Half way through the day I had the bright idea of using Google maps on my phone. I love Google maps. All that lovely zooming in to be able to tell Ignatius exactly which turn to take etc. Still had a few problems however, as not every road is suitable for 2.3m wide Gertie!
We arrived in Saumur, which is on the banks of the Loire, about 4pm. The campsite was on an island in the Loire, with a view across the river to Saumur chateau. We walked into the town centre, up to the castle, then had dinner in town in a lovely little restaurant where the waitress helped us learn French by saying everything in French first then English.
Ignatius said “Have I ever told you how much I like France” !!
Today we managed to leave a bit earlier, just as well as we had a lot planned. Weather much better today, thankfully! Shortish drive along very scenic roads beside the Loire to Loches, where we discovered it was market day. Whenever I’ve imagined this trip, I’ve imagined shopping for cheese, tomatoes and olives in markets, then finding some beautiful spot to sit and eat them. So that’s exactly what we did.
Drove on down with a couple of additional short stops, to Puy de Dome in the Volcans d’Auvergne national park. We’re in a free motorhome park tonight. Puy de Dome is an extinct (we hope) volcano, rising to 1465m. There’s a little train that goes up it, which we hope to do in the morning. Today was a long day – too much driving probably. We’d said we would do no more than 4 hours a day but today was more like 6 hours without the stops. Tomorrow should be a shorter day.
Thursday 6th April
We’d hoped to go up the volcano in the train this morning, but awoke to thick mist. Couldn’t even see the mountain let alone the summit. So we added it to the wishlist of ‘stuff to do later’ as we do intend being back in this region later on in the trip. Besides, it was blimming cold this morning – I had my woolly hat on!
Headed on southwards along a very scenic road towards Lac de Naussac with a couple of brief stops along the way. We’re free-camping here beside the lake. Glorious sunshine but quite a chill in the air – I guess because the altitude here is 945m.
Friday 7th April
It was COLD when we awoke – about 3 degrees C. But beautiful weather. Drove on down towards Provence, passing through part of the Ardeche national park and then the Cevennes. Beautiful scenery throughout – dramatic mountains, gorges, a huge dam and a road that hugged the sides of the mountains. Eventually emerged onto the flat plains of the Rhone valley, where the temperature substantially increased, the trees were already well in leaf and the valley floor was filled with vineyards.
We drove as far as Arles, where we found a camping spot in an aire beside the Rhone costing just 5 euro a night. And here it was WARM – 23 degrees C! Unloaded our bikes and went off exploring the town, ending up eating a lovely meal sitting on a terrace outside a small restaurant.
Saturday 8th April
In some ways this was the day the trip really began. The first few days were all about getting to the south of France, and we’d picked Arles with its Roman remains, medieval town centre and Van Gogh connections to be the first place to stay and explore properly. It was market day, and right behind our aire was part of the market – the part where you can buy sheep, tractors, cow bells and animal feed. Also, coffee, saucisse, more cheese, jam. We then cycled into the centre of town, locked up the bikes and set off to tour the Arenes (like the Coliseum in Rome) the Theatre Ancienne, a spooky set of underground Roman passages, and a beautiful medieval cloisters.
In the early evening we took a Van Gogh tour, where our tour guide was Ann who’d also done the tour earlier of the Arenes. She became quite a friend! Van Gogh lived in Arles for a few years and painted some of his most well-known works there – Starry Night, the Cafe terrace at night etc
Sunday 9th April
Drove to Les Baux-de-Provence which is a wonderful little village and castle perched high on a mountain. Gertie of course isn’t allowed up there and wouldn’t fit through the streets anyway, so you park down on the main road and walk up a lot of steps to reach the town. All twisty medieval streets and amazing views across Provence. Nearby, which we also visited, is the Carriere et Lumiere – a sound and light show like no other. Inside a huge underground limestone quarry they project artwork on the walls and play music. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful.
We’re camping tonight at a campsite – partly so we can get wifi in the van and have a chance at loading up a blog post at last!
So far, all going to plan and it’s been everything I had hoped for.