A long hop south.
We are fed up with grey skies and Meteo France shows better weather to the south and east, although each time I look at their website it seems to have changed. There must be a better chance of some sun the further south you go, so we hit the road again. Long straight roads through the forest and after a couple of roundabouts sat-nav says “Drive for 182 miles”, yes, the next junction is in 182 miles when we turn off the free motorway…..lovely stuff! At Souillac we turn west and follow the Dordogne for a few miles before crossing it and turning up narrow village roads to our chosen site at St. Julien-de-Lampon. The site entrance is up an even narrower lane between farm buildings so close I have to fold one mirror in to get through. Le Mondou (GPS 44°51’48.60″N 1°22’24.53E) is a small basic site run by a very laid back Dutch couple. It is certainly peaceful and very rural with not a hint of traffic noise but not really geared up for larger motorhomes. The whole atmosphere is relaxed and like the owners, laid back. The biggest problem for us is that despite driving over 200 miles south the sky is still grey with no hint of that elusive sun. It looks as though we will have to head for the Med.
After the hop we skip.
The decision is made, we are moving on again, this time south east towards Beziers and the Canal du Midi. After a long drive the previous day we might do this in two bites and as we have to pass through Rodez stop at the very pleasant aire (GPS 44º21’28.49″N 2º35’39.45″E) on the outskirts of town. Set well back from the road the aire is surrounded by open grassland and there is a popular path beside the river which seems to be used by every jogger in the world. There are only seven pitches, which are separated by low hedges and the whole area is fenced off and surrounded with small trees and shrubs. The water and dump facilities are the best I have seen on an aire and it is all free. Congratulations are due to the local mayor and council for their forward thinking. Of course, it goes without saying, that the French manage to cram at least fourteen camping-cars onto a seven pitch aire with ease.
As we drive over the hills heading east from the Dordogne there are signs of brightness in the sky ahead and the further east we go the brighter it is. As we crest the top of a hill the forest trees on the hills ahead are bathed in weak sunlight which gets stronger and the shadows get sharper as we drive on. By the time we arrive at the aire it is a lovely day, the sun is shining and there is wall to wall blue sky.
First a hop, then a skip and now a jump to the Med.
Yet more grey skies when we awake as mist hangs around the hills. Rodez is about 1700ft above sea level so we are in low cloud. Once again we are heading east and the road climbs to well beyond 2000ft and we get through the mist and into beautiful sunshine above. What a spectacular drive over the ‘Grand Causses’ and then dropping down into the Tarn Valley and Millau with its Viaduct lit up by the sun ahead.
Soon after Millau we join the A75 motorway, now going south towards our intended stop at Béziers. We find the Canal du Midi and Les Berges du Canal campsite where we had intended to stop but one look and it is obviously not the sort of site we like. It all looks crowded, very tight and scruffy. Plan B is required!
Our old favorite Gruissan will fit the bill so the sat-nav is reset and we head 45km further south. There are two very popular and large aires at Gruissan, one by the marina where we have stayed twice before, the other by the beach (GPS 43°05’44.98N 3°06’35.98″E) which was closed last year when we were here. This time it is open and has space, the sun is shining, it is very warm and it seems a great place to spend a few days. We find a pitch on the edge of the aire with good views across the sands to the sea with the foothills of the Pyrénées beyond.
It is a lovely evening but during the night it buckets down with rain and I have to leap out of bed to shut down all the roof lights that are wide open. Like a plonker I have left the awning out although it is secured down fairly well. In the early hours the wind starts to get up and I spend ages lying awake wondering if it will be allright. Eventually it starts to flap as the wind gets up and we have to rescue it at five thirty in the morning. The wind continued, non stop, until the following evening, rocking the van and hurling sand everywhere. This must be the only motorhome in the world where one can get seasick while stationary.
We spend four nights at the Gruissan aire and the wind doesn’t abate the whole time we are there. It is like a Mistral except instead of blowing down the Rhone Valley it seems to be coming from the Massif Central in the north or perhaps from the Pyrénées and circling round. At any rate it just keeps blowing from a north westerly direction and just when one thinks it will stop it just picks up where it left off.
A move to La Cité.
The constant battering of wind and sand is getting to us and our batteries are slowly draining despite the sun and our solar panel. On Wednesday we move inland to Carcassonne and Camping de la Cité (GPS 43°12’00.65″N 2°21’13.03″E), a site we have been to twice before. After staying on aires it seems expensive at €23.40 per night but we have a huge pitch in a good position with hook up to recharge the batteries.
So far this trip we have done just on 1000 miles @ 25.1mpg.
On Thursday we walk into the old Cité and wander around. This is the furthest that Kate has walked since well before her hip replacement and she is pleased that she managed the rough cobbles and steep slope up the the entrance of the old fortress. With its enormous walls, turrets, towers and narrow twisty streets the old Cité of Carcassonne is a magical place, even taking into account the hordes of tourists milling around. Sure, there are the usual tat tourist shops and more restaurants and bars than you could shake a stick at but look beyond all that at the buildings and ancient defenses and try to imagine life there centuries before. It is all beautifully restored and can be quite magical.
We will spend three days here and then, depending on the weather, probably go back to Gruissan.
After her exertions on Thursday Kate decided that another long walk into the newer city of Carcassonne was a step too far so the day was spent sitting in the sun. At last, after five days of buffeting, the wind had dropped to a pleasant breeze and one can really feel the heat that is still in the September sun.
Saturday 21st September and back to the Med.
After three days at Carcassonne we are heading back down the N113 towards Narbonne and then Gruissan, but this time we are going to the aire at the marina (GPS 43°06’15.13″N 3°05’58.80″E). Although we arrive at lunch time the aire is already fairly full and there are no spaces along the edge overlooking the boats in the marina. We have to settle for a space in the middle for the night and then, when someone moves in the morning we will nip into their space. There are motorhomes of all shapes and sizes here and just in front of us is a Belgian registered Concorde. These large ‘vans’ always look impressive but I am doubly impressed when the owner drives up to the rear of it with a Smart car. A large rear panel is opened, steel ramps pulled out and a winch cable is hooked onto the front of the car. Extracting a remote control on a long cable from a small side locker the owner then pulls the car up into the rear garage, chocks are placed behind the wheels, a tie down strap clipped to a shackle and tightened and the door swung shut. Just how cool is that? Not that I am jealous of course…………well just a little perhaps.
The Concorde owner and his neighbour, also Belgian, spent most of the evening having the loudest possible conversation whilst sat outside drinking.
On Sunday morning the Belgian contingent leave so we grab one of the spaces before someone else jumps in. Now we have a nice pitch on the edge of the aire and overlooking rows of yachts. The sun is hot, the wind has dropped and we can stroll round the marina when we feel the need for a little gentle exercise.
After a lovely sunny day on Monday the weather suddenly changed during the evening when a strong northerly wind started blowing. It was a noisy night with the stiff breeze moaning through the rigging of the yachts and making our open bedroom window rattle. Tuesday morning was cloudy and breezy and there was a mass evacuation of the aire as people moved on to other places. I had already paid for the day so we stayed put but planned our next move.
There are now spaces aplenty round the edge of the aire and by lunchtime we have new neighbours each side of us, both Bloody Belgians. They are friends and also talk at the top of their voices as well as one of them having two yappy little dogs. Both couples sit at the front of their motorhomes having a conversation with one another at ‘warp seven’ volume but after my noisy throat clearing and ‘hurumping’ the hint is taken and they move closer together and moderate the volume.
Further across the aire two Brit vans arrive together, one of which also has a yappy dog which sets off the Belgian ones. They also conduct much of their conversation at the tops of their voices particularly when speaking to friends on their mobile phone. Thank God we are moving on in the morning otherwise we might have an international incident on our hands.
I intended to get away sharpish in the morning so, as afternoon turned to evening, we went off in search of croissants for breakfast. By this time the cloud had rolled away, the sun was back and it was a lovely evening. Having secured breakfast for the next morning we strolled back round the marina for the last time this year. The breeze was warm, the sun shining and although it was the latter half of September and therefore autumn we were still dressed in shorts and tee shirts. We sat for a while watching the small fish that were everywhere and thoughts of the winter that would soon be with us sent a shiver down both our spines.
Starting to trek north. Wednesday 25th September.
Dampness and low cloud greeted us when we got up. Everything outside was wet as I packed up ready to leave Gruissan. It seemed a good day to be leaving the Med.
We had found a site that we fancied in the Caravan Club brochure and as it was in an area we didn’t know and was also in the rough direction we needed to travel. We thought we would give it a try. We were heading north west and retracing our previous route to Carcassonne, then on past Toulouse and Auch to turn north into the Gascony region and a small village called La Romieu, not far from Condom. After we bypassed Carcassonne the sun started to show itself and soon we were into full sun and gorgeous scenery. Vin yard after vin yard turned to field after huge field of sunflowers and subtle changes to the landscape. The traffic round Toulouse was manic but it was a good road as we sailed round the outside of the city and past the enormous Airbus site. Eventually we turned onto narrow, winding, hilly roads through a truly rural landscape and yet more sunflowers. We crested a small brow and there, ahead of us, was an ancient village dominated by two enormous church towers……we had reached La Romieu.
Le Camp de Florence (GPS 43°58’57.62″N 0°30’06.68″E) was well signed and easily accessable. The office was still closed for lunch so we walked onto the site for a look around and immediately found a pitch we thought was perfect. There are many sites where you feel uncertain when you turn up…..will it be quiet? Are the pitches too small and crowded? Is it secure? At this site everything just felt right. The office, bar and restaurant are housed in a lovely old building with plenty of space to eat and drink ‘al fresco’, the receptionist was charming and spoke excellent English and the pitches were well spaced and had lovely views over the village and countryside. We immediately decided we would stay for three or four days. That evening we treated ourselves to a meal in the restaurant, or rather, outside the restaurant under a large gazebo. The food was good, the wine even better, the service friendly and efficient and there was a selection of music being played that we both enjoyed. Perfect!
On Thursday morning we strolled into the village, bought some salad things and just wandered. The afternoon was spent alternating between sitting in the sun and trying to keep cool. We ate supper outside in the warm evening air where we sat until well after dark, me still in swimming trunks and at last starting to cool down.
We returned to the village on Friday, this time to look around the church. Tickets at €4.90 are purchased from the Office de Tourism which is in the main street and right beside the church and includes an English guide sheet to explain the history and architecture. Those who have a head for heights and are sure footed can climb the steep and narrow spiral staircases into the towers.
La Romieu means a Roman Pilgrim and was founded by two Benedictine monks in 1062. Between 1312 and 1318 a Collegiate Church was built by a local man who had been chamberlain to Pope Clement V in Avignon. The church, enormous for a tiny village, had a cloister, two huge towers and a palace attached. Although ransacked at various times in its long history it is now a formidable and very beautiful monument which is listed by Unesco. The centre of the village has also undergone a makeover in recent years and has been ‘prettied up’ with pleasant paving and restored stonework to the ancient buildings. It is all very delightful and made more so by its situation in peaceful rolling countryside……there is no hustle and bustle in these parts.
It had been my intention to post updates as we travelled, almost on a daily basis, that has been scuppered by the lack of free wi-fi at most of the places we have stopped. Therefore the blog has to be uploaded in large chunks and without the photos. Pictures will have to wait for faster connections or until we get home. Appologies to my regular readers……..all three of you.