Final day of driving Alpine passes, as covered by Ignatius in the last blog. Given the temperatures at lower altitudes with all Europe in a heatwave (apart from the UK), I for one felt pretty reluctant to be leaving the mountains. But, ever onwards, we had a plan of sorts. Our route took us through lots more pretty scenery and finally to the outskirts of Nice. From there we drove along the Var valley and ended up in the gorgeous medieval town of Entrevaux, where there was a free camperstop.
As we drove into Entrevaux a digital display told us it was 42 degrees. So once parked, all we did was find a cafe with tables in deep shade that still caught the bit of breeze, sat there and had several cold drinks. Thankfully we’d parked Gertie in the shade and the breeze continued all evening, so overall it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We survived anyway!
Forecast was for another hot day so we got up fairly early and did the Entrevaux sight-seeing. Walked up a steep set of zig-zags to the old citadel and explored that. Fabulous views from the top. Then wandered through the twisting narrow streets of the old Medieval town. Wonderful little place.
As the temperature was rising there was only one thing we could do for the afternoon – head to the nearest lakeside and go swimming. Lac de Castillon is actually a reservoir but who cares, the water was a startling shade of blue, cool and gorgeous. We parked up, went for a swim, had lunch, went for another swim and generally lazed the afternoon away, before driving to Castellane at the end of the lake and to a car park/camperstop there. Ate a meal out in the town in the evening.
It was a hot night, and the Italians in the car park all decided to have a party, so not the best sleep I’ve had.
Castellane is one of the jumping-off points for exploring the Verdon Gorge and that’s why we headed over here. Still too hot to do much in the way of walking although we did make it up to a chapel above the village with spectacular views. Then we drove along the northern side of the gorge. It is certainly amazing scenery and more accessible than some of the gorges in the Alps we’ve driven the last few days. We took it slowly, and ended up stopping for the night at Palud-sur-Verdon, a small village on the northern side of the gorge.
Drove to Moustiers Sainte-Marie, a hill town at the western end of the gorge and had a wander around. Very busy, but a pretty place. From there we fancied another lake swim so headed to Lac de Sainte-Croix (another reservoir) to cool off and have lunch, and do a bit more planning as to where next.
We headed west and spent the night at a layby near Vinon-sur-Verdon. Quiet in the night but trucks began going past early in the morning.
We’d decided to go back to Arles. If you’ve read this blog from the start and paid attention you might remember that we visited Arles at the end of our first week and loved it. The temperature was much cooler today than the last few days. We arrived at the camperstop on the banks of the Rhone at lunchtime and spent the afternoon on admin and catch-up etc. And I finally finished the edits on my novel!
Sunset across the river was beautiful.
Got the bikes off and cycled into Arles. First stop the tourist information to find out whether we could catch up with our friend Ann – the tour guide we had for two tours way back in April. We discovered she’d be giving a tour at the Roman amphitheatre in the afternoon so decided to try to catch her there.
We rode our bikes a couple of km out of town alongside a canal, to a bridge that was painted by Vincent van Gogh, then went to the archeology museum. Most interesting thing there was a complete Roman barge dredged up from the river.
Had a late lunch – it wouldn’t have been late only the service was soooo slow – then went to catch Ann before her tour and say hello, remember us? She did, and was delighted we’d stopped by again.
Final bit of sight-seeing in Arles was the Roman necropolis, then back to Gertie for a second night by the Rhone.
Drove to Avignon, which is a place we have long wanted to see. The car park recommended in our Camperstop book, and also on the Park4Night app, turned out to have a height restriction barrier so instead we found a track beside the river, where about 10 other campers were parked. Used our bikes to get from there into the town.
We went around the Palais des Papes. Avignon was the centre of the Catholic church for a while in the 14th century, and several popes lived here and built a huge palace. The building is impressive but sadly I found the visit very frustrating. They’ve put some hideous modern art in many of the rooms, and the information boards telling the story of the popes and the palace were not laid out in any logical sequence. Could have been a great visit but was pretty disappointing on the whole.
We then went to the bridge – the main thing Avignon is famous for, the one in the song. It’s only half a bridge – the rest fell down bit by bit as it was built on shifting banks of pebbles in the river. There were thousands of people around so no room to dance on it!
Our campervan was parked on a large island in the Rhone and before returning to it we cycled some pleasant rural lanes around the island – away from all the crowds in the city.
Back at Gertie we were just beginning to decide what to cook for dinner when there was a knocking on the side of the van, and it was the police. Apparently you’re not allowed to camp here and there was a sign (they said) to say so (we never saw it). All vans were being asked to move, and those unoccupied had notices put under their windscreens.
So we moved on – first time we have been asked to move on in over 4 months travel. Our next planned stop was just up the road in Chateauneuf-du-Pape so we headed there, to the chateau car park on a hill above the village. Glorious views from there all the way over to Mt Ventoux, so we felt we”d landed on our feet. We had a pleasant meal out in the village.
Unfortunately around 4.30 in the morning a few young blokes decided to have a party in their car in the car park – loud French techno music, shouting, etc. About two hours of that before they finally left us in peace again. The perils of free-camping – it’s always a bit of a lottery! Mind you, campsites can be noisy too.
After a lie-in we drove down to a wine museum at a vineyard just outside Chateauneuf-du-Pape which I’d found on Google maps and which turned out to be very interesting. Also did some wine-tasting which inevitably led to wine-purchasing.
Then drove up the road to Orange. This town was given to the Dutch in lieu of support in some conflict or other so was then a Dutch enclave in Provence for some time, and is where William of Orange’s title came from. The main sight here is a well-preserved Roman theatre, one of only 3 in the world where the huge stage wall is intact. Very impressive. We’ve seen several ruins of theatres so to see one almost complete was very interesting.
Left there to drive to a camperstop at Remoulins which is near Pont du Gard.
Visited Pont du Gard – a three tier Roman bridge. It was part of an aqueduct carrying water many miles from its source at Uzes to the town of Nimes. Very impressive structure. At some point in the 18th century a road bridge was added at the lowest level so you can walk across. Interesting museum all about Roman water engineering. It was well laid out but a bit dimly lit in places. Had to use my phone torch to be able to read all the info boards (must be getting old).
We then headed towards the Cevennes national park, stopping in Ales to get LPG and also get a map from the tourist information. On our way into the Cevennes we called at a campsite to check its pricing and then decided to stay the night there (it was cheap and had a washing machine – our two main requirements!) Did two lots of washing and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. I’d meant to finish this blog (started on 11th) but there was no internet coverage – our third main requirement of a campsite.
We’ve driven part of the Corniche de Cevennes route this morning, and are currently parked at a picnic spot high in the hills with a view through the trees. Very pretty spot, with 4G coverage, so I can get this blog finished and published!