Head for the Med

Day 15 of our trundle and we were heading over the high hills towards the Ardèche.

We started in drizzle and rain and when we hit the real hills we were at over 1,300m high and in thick cloud. Last time we used the N102 to Aubenas it was a hot sunny day and we were climbing from east to west, this time it was dull and damp and the spectacular scenery just didn’t look quite the same.

We were going to Camping Beau Rivage, just outside of Vallon Pont D’arc, to meet up with our caravanning friends Jenny and John. We don’t often use sites but I have to say this was an excellent choice.

It’s not a huge site but it is one of the best cared for that we have seen. Everything was immaculate with the hedges and shrubs clipped to within an inch of their lives. The family that own the site are extremely friendly and all the pitches are a good size. Our pitch was right at the front overlooking the river and was good value for the ACSI price of €17, including 10a hook-up.

Reflections on the Ardèche

Reflections on the Ardèche

We spent five nights at Beau Rivage and very much enjoyed a couple of days with our friends in their car driving round the winding roads beside the Ardèche and up into some of the old hill villages.

Ardèche

Canoes on the Ardèche

Canoes on the Ardèche

Aiguèze

Aiguèze

Lunch

Lunch

Vinezac

Vinezac

Chassiers

Three wise monkeys

Three wise monkeys

L'Ardèche

L’Ardèche

Once again the changeable weather played its part and we had a very wet weekend. As a little compensation it was the Spanish F1 GP that weekend and as the Ch4 reception was borderline with the heavy rain we watched the race live on German RTL TV with the commentary via BBC Radio 5 over the internet. Only problem was the radio commentary was about 6-7 seconds later than the pictures which made for frustrating viewing.

Evening calm

Evening calm on the river

On the Monday we said goodbye to our friends and headed south to try and find some Mediterranean sun. I had seen photos posted by other motorhomes of the aire at Carro (GPS. 43.32932º 5.04050º), between Marseille and the Camargue.

Carro 2

Rough sea at Carro

The popular aire is right by the rocky beach with the small harbour behind. There are about 80 marked out pitches and entrance is via a credit card barrier which is €9 per night. There are lovely views out to sea if you manage to get at the front as we did and views over the harbour at the rear. In the strong wind the sea was rough but the windsurfers seemed happy enough and were out on the water until it was too dark to see much.

Carro

View from the aire

Carro harbour

Pretty harbour at Carro

After two nights we partly retraced our steps with a lovely drive over the Camargue towards Montpellier then down the A9 to Narbonne and our frequent haunt of Gruissan.

As usual it was windy when we arrived but the weather forecasts were saying that the wind would drop the next day and it would remain sunny.

Gruissan village

The old village of Gruissan

We quite expected the aire at the marina to be busy and were surprised to find it almost empty. That allowed us to find a nice quiet corner spot where we could spread ourselves out a bit without intruding on anyone else. Sure enough, the next day the wind dropped, the sun was out and that started a week of perfect weather. As the Pentecost holiday weekend approached the aire soon filled up and by Saturday night it was packed. Tucked up in our corner we were OK except for the constant loud nattering of our French neighbours who seemed to have a continuous stream of family come to meet them. Gawd, those Frenchies can jabber!! Still it’s all part of holidaying in France.

Wine o'clock

Wine o’clock

After a lovely week  at Gruissan we drove a short distance inland to Homps on the Canal du Midi.

The aire de Camping-Car really is just a piece of scruffy and often muddy waste land but is beside a lovely village and on the bank of the canal. There are no facilities apart from rubbish and recycling bins so you need to have water on board and empty waste tanks. It is though, a peaceful and pleasant place to watch folk messing about on boats and to walk beside the canal or through parkland to the nearby lake.

More to come…………….

Homps

Canal du Midi at Homps

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Has the weather gone bonkers?

After only 11 days back home from our last short French trip we were back through the tunnel and  at Cite Europe once more. After a pleasant meal out and a stocking up session in Carrefour the next morning saw us driving south on the well worn route to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine, among our favourite places in France.

Watching the ships go by.

Watching the ships go by

We stopped for four nights by the river, the first couple of days were very pleasant and we were able to sit on the river bank enjoying the views and the sun. On Sunday it rained for most of the day and then hammered down during the night. Monday morning was cold and damp as we got ready to move on. 

As we drove out of La Mailleraye it started to snow!!! This was the last day of April and the next day was Mayday, it was almost summer…….what the heck was going on?

If we were 3000ft up in the Alps it might be understandable but we were driving beside the River Seine, not much higher than sea level. It wasn’t just a bit of sleet or a tiny flurry either, this was serious heavy snow that was starting to lay on the fields and roadside. The temperature sensor was showing 2ºc, the windscreen was misting up despite the blower going full belt and snow was building up on both sides of the screen.

By the time we were well south of Rouen the snow stopped and very gradually the sky lightened and the temperature rose a little although the light rain continued.

We were heading to Sully-sur-Loire, a small town dominated by an impressive ‘fairy tale’ chateau.

As we approached the town, crossing the bridge over the Loire, the chateau certainly impressed with its towers and pinnacles. Turning across the front of the chateau we followed the road beside the river and at the end of the chateau grounds was our Aire de Camping Car (GPS 47.77111º 2.38407º). 

The aire at Sully

Aire de Camping Car at Sully

Negotiating the entrance took some care as it is a tight chicane guarded by huge rocks and stout posts. Once inside there was plenty of space with marked out bays and we found a good spot with a view of the river. The excellent aire is free with free water and waste facilities.

From the aire one can walk to the town through the grounds of the chateau which is in public ownership. It really is a lovely place and is now on our favourites list. Oh, another plus point…..a bread van called at the aire in the morning, just in time for breakfast. The croissants were wonderful!

Mirror image

Mirror image

Reflections

Reflections

Blossom

Blossom by the water

After two very peaceful nights at Sully we had a short drive through lovely countryside to another regular favourite of ours. Sancoins, with its free aire beside the disused Canal du Berry is always a pleasant place to spend a few days, particularly when the sun shines. It’s one of those aires where you can put chairs, tables and awnings out on the canal bank and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Sancoins aire

The aire at Sancoins

Beside the canal

Enjoying the sun

Canal du Berry

Canal du Berry

We had several very pleasant days beside the canal at Sancoins where, at last the weather was kind.

After we left Sancoins we went south to our next stop at Montpeyroux, a small hilltop village just off the A75 between Clermont-Ferrand and Issoire. The free aire (GPS 45.62373º 3.199110º) is on the edge of the village in the car parking area and has wonderful views across the hills and mountains that still had snow on the slopes. As night fell we ate dinner watching the twinkling lights in the villages below and distant lightning flashing in the clouds.

Snow capped hills

Snow capped hills. The view from the aire

Village map

Village map

Montpeyroux

Montpeyroux

Defending the valley

Keeping watch over the valley

Montpeyroux 2

Stone houses

Lovely mellow stone houses

The following day we continued down the A75 before turning on to the N102 past Brioude and on to another lovely village at Lavaudieu.

Entrance to Lavaudieu

The entrance to Lavaudieu

Place de Marie

Place de Marie

Church tower

Church tower

After a wander around and plenty of photos we continued south to our overnight stop on the free aire (GPS 45.07492º 3.76167º) beside the aerodrome at Loudes, not far from Le Puy-en-Velay. Although there is a parachute club there it was all very quiet with just two small aircraft taxying out and one of those returning to the hangar with a rough sounding engine.

Loudes aire and airfield

The aire and airfield at Loudes

Fortunately, by this time the ‘bonkers’ weather was a distant memory.

To be continued………….

Catching up

It’s a hot sunny day and we are beside the Canal du Midi, the temperature gauge is showing 32ºc and we are hiding in the van trying to keep cool.

It is past the middle of May and we have been away for a month…….time to get the laptop out and start updating things.

I was jolted out of my lazy holiday reverie a few days ago by one of the many followers of this blog who reminded me that I hadn’t updated the blog or a  thread that was running on the Motorhome Fun forum. There is quite a lot to catch up on so here is the first part………….

The last time this blog was updated we had just returned from what was to have been a winter of warm sun and relaxing days in Spain and Portugal. It didn’t work out as planned as the weather was pretty awful for the first part and then we both got flu and feeling rather grotty we decided to return home. We got home in time for New Year but really didn’t feel much like celebrating.

While we haven’t been on any long trips since New Year we haven’t been entirely inactive.

Celine, our Carthago C-Line, needed a habitation service in February and as it has to go to our dealer in Staffordshire we made a short break of it. We had three nights at Drayton Manor C&CC site, not our first choice but our favourite site near there was solidly booked because of the NEC show. The weather was mediocre but we were away in the van so who cared?

We had a quick trip to Lincolnshire in March for our usual, much needed, dose of jet noise at RAF Coningsby. Just two nights away but it was good weather and some good flying.

For the last three years we have taken out a Frequent Traveler package with Eurotunnel which gives us 5 return crossings to France within 12 months of renewing the package. Our package expires in early June 2018 and we still had two unused returns. Not wanting to see them go to waste we took a short trip across to northern France early in April with the intention of a longer trip in May and early June.

After the usual late afternoon crossing on 5th April we stopped at Cite Europe for the first night before driving south to Neufchâtel-en-Bray.

Info sign at aire

There is an excellent aire on the edge of town which is attached to the next-door campsite. Entrance is through a credit card barrier and the 14 well laid out pitches all have 10a hook-up.

Aire at Neufchâtel-en-Bray

Each pitch is on hard standing with an equal size patch of well mown grass to relax on. Everything is kept immaculate, even the hedges between the pitches are trimmed to within millimetres. Outside the aire is a disused railway which has been well surfaced and is now a Greenway/Avenue Vert. There are lovely walks/cycle rides through a beautiful valley.

Valley views

View from the greenway.

 

Chateau at Mesnières-en-Bray

The chateau at Mesnières-en-Bray, a short cycle ride from the aire.

At €12 per night it’s not the cheapest aire but is highly recomended.

After three nights we moved a little further south to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine for four nights but as the weather was looking poor we headed back home.

Harry keeps watch

Harry keeping watch

Our next and current trip was to be much longer and the updates will be along soon……….

The best laid plans…………

The original plan was to stay in Spain and perhaps Portugal through the worst of the winter, returning home in mid February, when we had various domestic commitments.

What we didn’t build into our plan was the advent of a serious outbreak of flu sweeping round the world. Despite our flu jabs we both started to become unwell with what we first thought was a simple cold.

After only three nights and feeling a bit groggy we left Pinar San Jośe and drove east to Gibraltar. Heading for the port we stopped at the marina in La Linea where there is a very well located aire right on the quayside (GPS 36.15665º -5.35573º). With the imposing Rock of Gibraltar behind and the marina in front it was a pleasant spot for a night.

View over the marina

The marina at La Linea

 

We had a walk towards the border but the traffic was non-stop, not our sort of place, so we retreated back to the MoHo and put the kettle on.

Next day we headed north, past the busy Costa del Sol, where we had last visited well over 30 yers ago. We planned to spend Christmas and New Year at Totana where we knew there would be a bunch of Brits so we were making our way slowly there.

Our next stop was another marina, this time at Almerimar, a few miles south west of Almeria.

Almerimar Aire

Almerimar Aire

 

Once again the parking was on the quay (GPS 36.69680º -2.79408º) so there were good views of the boats and across the beach behind. Had we been fully fit we would have really enjoyed that spot but by now we were both feeling rather wretched so we really couldn’t be bothered. We walked the short distance to a supermarket for urgent supplies of food but by the time we got back we were both exhausted.

Marina at Almerimar

View over Almerimar marina

After three nights we continued north to Totana and Camperstop Sierra Espuna (GPS 37.79397º -1.51099º). I had warned them that we weren’t in the best of health, we still thought it was just a cold, and they reserved a spot for us in the corner, our own isolation ward.

Rainbow over Totana

Rainbow over Totana

 

By now it was becoming increasingly obvious that we didn’t have just a cold and after a few days Kate decided that she just wanted to be in her own home. Just a few days before Christmas we started heading back to the UK.

Reluctantly leaving Totana on 22nd December we stopped overnight at Valencia, then took the long drive over the French border to stop at Gruissan, near Narbonne. Regular readers will know we very much like Gruissan and can happily spend weeks there in the summer. In winter it can feel a little bleak and windswept but on Christmas Eve the sun shone and, feeling a bit better, I even got the bike out and went for a ride. I only went a short distance but when I got back I realised how unwell I must have really been…….I was knackered.

Christmas Eve at Gruissan

Christmas Eve at Gruissan

 

Christmas Day was cloudy and breezy but we spent a quiet day and celebrated with a nice supper.

Boxing Day was back on the road and north on the A75, stopping for the night at Montpeyroux, just south of Clermont-Ferrand. The free aire (GPS 45.62465º 3.20044º) is close to the motorway but quiet and close to an interesting village. It was cold and getting dark when we arrived so we left the exploring for a future visit.

After overnight stops at Lamotte-Beuvron, La Mailleraye-sur-Seine and Cite Europe we finally arrived home on 30th December.

It was not quite the winter trip we had visualised. First the weather had been worse than we expected, then getting what we afterwards realised was probably Australian Flu. All in all a bit of a disastrous trip but hey, you can’t win them all.

My apologies to regular followers for my tardiness in updating the blog. When we first got home we just didn’t feel like doing anything but as we felt better other domestic things intruded.

On the bright side, the days are starting to get longer and spring will soon be here. The ‘itchy feet’ syndrome is starting to make itself felt and we will soon be back on the road.

The Weather Gremlins Strike Again.

In September we went to France and had to keep going south to get away from a wet and cold weather front that chased us all the way from the UK.

On this trip we have been relentlessly pursued by a blast of cold air from the Arctic which has stretched right across France and Spain. It has meant frost, snow and very cold nights all the way south.

Two days ago we arrived at the coast of southern Spain and at last it was warm, although cloudy. The clouds followed us all the way from Salamanca to just outside Cadiz. Last night Storm Ana passed through which meant high winds and torrential rain all night and most of this morning.

Can we now have some of that sun we were promised Mr. Weatherman?

We did have a couple of days of decent but cold weather while in Salamanca thank goodness.

Last Thursday we joined up with Jenny and John (https://jennyandjohngocaravanning.wordpress.com) and got the bus into the historic centre of Salamanca.

We were staying on the Camping Regio site (www.campingregio.com) just outside of town. The large site is behind a posh hotel of the same name and the bus stop is in the hotel car park – very convenient.

Camping Regio

The impressive entrance to the camp site.

The number 20 bus takes you right into the old part of the city and terminates close to the famous Plaza Mayor. The fare is €1.40 and you get the return bus where you got off. Hotel Regio is the end of the return route.

What a lovely city Salamanca is. Everywhere you look is fantastic architecture with towers and bells all around. University buildings, cathedrals, the public library plus the huge Plaza Mayor, there was a lovely view in every direction. It was surprisingly busy, with tourists and locals mingling in the bustling streets and squares.

Plaza Mayor

The Famous Plaza Mayor.

Click on any photo for the full size version.

Elegant Architecture

Such Elegance.

 

Taking a break in the Square

A little rest from all that walking.

On Friday morning we said our good byes to Jenny and John and continued our trek south.

We left in fog but as we drove down the A66 the fog cleared and the sky started to brighten up again. It was a public holiday so traffic was extremely light and we made decent time past Cáceres and Merida to our overnight stop at Monesterio, a small and unremarkable town just off the motorway. There is a free aire just on the edge of town which even has electric hook-up.

After a quiet night we woke to more fog which quickly cleared once we started driving.

On the edge of Seville we stopped at a huge and very smart Carrefour to stock up on food before continuing south towards Cadiz.

Now we are parked under the pine trees at Camping Pinar San José, close to Cape Trafalgar. This ACSI site has all the facilities you could wish for and now the holiday weekend is over and most of the Spanish have left, is nice and peaceful.

Storm Ana has passed, the sky is starting to get brighter, although we can hear the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.

I think I can just see a patch of blue sky, things are starting to look up.

“Go South”, They Said.

“It will be warmer’, they said.

“Spain is the place”, they said.

So we did! The further south we went the colder it got!

We are now in Salamanca, it is almost midday as I write this, the sun is shining but the trees are still white with frost.

Morning frost

Frosty trees and it’s almost midday.

For some time we had been contemplating heading to Spain to cut the long grey winter months short. A couple of months sun and warmth seemed so much more preferable than cold, damp cloudy skies.

We left home a week ago with a pristine clean and shiny motorhome. It had been dry for ages and Celine, our Carthago C-Line, had been washed and polished ready for our long trip.

Predictably, the day we left was wet so my spotless van was mucky before we even reached Folkestone and the tunnel. Our exit also coincided with what the weathermen call an ‘Arctic Plunge’. Weather fronts are no respecters of national borders and this Arctic Plunge wasn’t going to be stopped by the English Channel. Oh no, it marched right on down, across France and into Spain.

We usually stop at aires in France, perhaps breaking our journey with the odd day or two at favoured places. We plan to reach our night stop by early afternoon, so driving for 3-4 hours per day. It can easily take us more than a week to get towards Spain. This time, with very cold weather, we didn’t break the journey with prolonged stays anywhere.

First night, after a late PM crossing in the tunnel, we stopped at Cite Europe, right next to the tunnel terminal. Next day, south for a night at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine, then crossed the Loire at Saumur, stopping at Montreuil-Bellay for the third night. For much of the route the cointryside was covered in a think layer of overnight snow although, thank goodness, the roads were clear.

Montreuil-Bellay aire

Montreuil-Bellay aire.

After Montreuil we headed south west to Blaye, the wine town on the banks of the Gironde river.

Blaye aire

The aire at Blaye.

Blaye Aire and Gironde

The aire and the mighty River Gironde.

Blaye

Blaye.

As we arrived the sun popped out for a while and we wrapped up warm and went to explore the Citadel which overlooks the town and river.

The Citadel

The impressive and very solid Citadel.

Citadel walls

The Citadel looks over the town.

On Sunday we threw caution to the wind and splashed out on the toll road from Bordeaux to Biarritz. There are a couple of diversions off the motorway which avoid the peage but we thought the three payments of €5.40 + €1.90 were worth it for the easier and quicker drive.

We stopped at Aire de Camping-Car Gabrielle Dorziat (Camper Contact 51886) on the edge of Biarritz. With credit card access through the barrier the aire has electric hook-up plus the usual water and dump facilities. It is extremely quiet and right beside a country park, popular with local dog walkers. At €12 it is pricey for an aire but considering the facilities and where it is must be considered a fair price. At last the temperature was a little warmer and the sun once again popped out from behind the endless clouds for a few moments.

Biarritz Aire

Aire at Biarritz

Da rules

The house rules.

After a very quiet night we hit the peage again to cross into Spain. We took the N1 south from San Sebastian, joining the A1 to Vitoria-Gasteiz then the AP1 to Burgos.

The first part of the journey is through quite built up and industrial areas which, combined with the low cloud and wet roads made the drive very forgettable. We drove on into a more rural landscape which was covered in snow, fortunately the roads were clear.

Well south of Burgos the snow had gone and we pulled off the motorway for our overnight stop at Torquemada.

We last stopped there almost two years ago on our way to Portugal. There is a small aire next to an old chapel and cemetery, which means its dead quiet at night. Although the aire is just beside the road on a junction most of the passing traffic is tractors coming and going between the fields.

Torquamada

The aire at Torquamada, complete with storks nest on the chapel.

Torquamada aire

A frosty start to the day again as we left Torquemada with the sun rising in a blue sky. It looked like being a nice day at last. As we started to drive it became more and more misty until we were in a thick freezing fog. The fog lasted all the way to Salamanca and as we parked at our campsite large slabs of ice slid from the front of our mirrors. So much for the blue skies.

So, here we are, high up on the Spanish plains. The sky is blue and the sun is at last shining, although its jolly cold. Not entirely surprising as we are over 2500ft high and have been for the last couple of days. Our friends Jenny and John have just arrived from down south where they have had unbroken blue sky for weeks.

We will be heading that way in a couple of days time.

Back to the Mediterranean Sun.

On Sunday morning we left a very wet Dordogne valley and retraced our steps back to the south east. It was a fairly short drive back to the aire at Moissac which we had so enjoyed a few days before. Unfortunately this time it was damp and drizzly so we didn’t stir from the warm comfort of the van.

Monday morning was still drizzly as we set off for the Med. On the way up to the Dordogne we had driven via Toulouse but the D820 is a dreary and crowded road to the north of Toulouse with endless industrial units and retail warehouses. Once you get round the city the D813 is very ‘Micky Mouse’ with bus lanes and narrow lanes for other traffic. This time we would go across country using the D630 to Castres, then south and over the Montagne Noir range to Carcassonne and turning east on the N113 to Narbonne, then back to Gruissan.

It turned out to be a good choice of route through lovely countryside and small towns with very little traffic. It was certainly less stressful than negotiating Toulouse.

After on-off drizzle most of the way, the sun was shining by the time we stopped for supplies at Carrefour in Narbonne. Having replenished the stores we arrived to find the Aire de Quatre Vents quite busy again but found a quiet spot at the far end backing on to the marina.

The following morning, Tuesday, as other vans left there were some nice spots available so we moved and found the perfect pitch in a corner with nice views over the water, with the hazy Pyrenees in the distance. The wind had dropped, the sun was out and we were very happy bunnies. At last the weather looked settled and the forecast was good.

Our view

Our little corner.

Our cozy camp

Table, chairs, BBQ and some shade in our private corner.

Sunset over the marina

Masts at sunset, taken from our door.

We stayed put for eight days, sitting in the sun, lazy lunches in the shade of the awning, walking round the marina in the evening before lighting the BBQ and opening a beer or two before supper. I went out on my bike everyday for a bimble round the area, including a couple of longish rides.

Gruissan old village

Gruissan old village from inland on one of my cycle bimbles.

Masts, all in a row.

Masts, all in a row.

Roman remains

A Roman dig, found on one of my bike rides.

Sea salt

Not snow covered Alps or even Pyrenees. These are mountains of sea salt waiting to be cleaned, bagged and sold.

Nets, shacks and boats

Fishing nets, shacks and boats on the edge of the lagoon.

Fishing boats

Fishing boats.

After the mixed and unsettled weather of the previous three weeks this was just perfection.

All good things must come to an end and we had to start heading north and home. The weather forecasts were again looking a bit unsettled so we left lovely Gruissan a day earlier than planned and drove up the excellent A75 and up onto the high hills of the Massif Central.

Our overnight stop was at the lovely small town of Le Malzieu-Ville, just a short way off the motorway.

We stopped there once before and thought it was a delightful spot with its beautifully restored walled old town. The free aire has room for about 7-8 motorhomes but there is lots of parking space either side. Water and dump facilities are also free and although the aire is just on the roadside it is very quiet and peaceful.

(GPS 44.85509º  3.33353º Beware of sat-nav trying to take you down a very narrow turning to the aire, take the previous right turn while in the one-way system. Watch the video in the link below.)

https://youtu.be/uxTYcuZa_Ec

Towers

Towers.

 

Imposing door

An imposing door.

Door knocker

Interesting door and knocker.

Fountain of truth?

Children drinking at a fountain.

As we were at about 3,000ft it was a chilly morning so the heating was deployed while we had breakfast but we were rewarded by a hot air balloon taking off close by and drifting right over us. A lovely sight in the cool clear air.

Hot air balloon

Early morning balloon.

We continued north on the A75 to Clermont-Ferrand then on to the D2009 to Moulins, N7 then D2076 through our usual stop at Sancoins and on to Dun-sur-Auron, just south east of Bourges.

I had circled Dun on the map ages ago as someone had recommended it so we really should go and have a look. As we drove through the town it looked very nice and we found the aire between the old Canal du Berry and the old fortified town walls. However, there was construction work going on and one ore two slightly unsavoury looking characters hanging about in cars plus the road was quite busy. We stopped for some lunch then drove back down the D2076 to Sancoins with its peaceful and free aire where we have stopped so many times before.

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon in the sun but the forecast for the next day wasn’t too hopeful so next day we were back on the road and the long drive to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine where we stopped for three nights.

After our three peaceful nights beside the Seine we returned to Cite Europe for our last night. We stocked up with some wine and beer plus a few other goodies at Carrefour then had a meal in one of the restaurants.

Wednesday morning was breezy and chilly as we went round to Eurotunnel and our crossing home. It seemed even colder when we arrived home, the central heating was quickly turned on and we changed out of shorts and tee shirts into something much thicker and warmer……..we were well and truly home.

Total distance driven was 2334 miles at an average fuel consumption of 25.9mpg.