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.

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The Dordogne and Domaine de Soleil Plage.

The Carthago Owners UK ‘gathering’ was being held at a site right beside the River Dordogne , near Sarlat.

Carthago Owners UK say they are not a ‘club’ but a group of ‘like minded owners’. Also, they don’t hold ‘rallies’ in the same way that many clubs do but have ‘gatherings’, the thought of everyone carrying their chairs across the site to sit around the ‘flag’ while various incantations are mumbled by the leader is not quite their thing. It is far more likely that those incantations are shouted across the busy bar while ordering the G&T’s when everyone meets in the evening.

Anyway, we navigated our way up into the maze of twisty roads that leads into the valley of the Dordogne, through village streets and as we reached the river the roads turned into lanes winding along between cliffs and river. Our Garmin decided to take us right past the lane leading to the site and along an ever narrowing lane with sheer rock cliffs on one side and a stone wall on the other, through blind bends and into narrow village streets. Having got through that lot the bonkers Mrs. Garmin told us to turn around and go back…..aaaaagh!!!

After squeezing back through and meeting a large delivery van on the narrowest corner we eventually arrived, unscathed, at Domaine de Soleil Plage.

Steps to reception

Imposing entrance to reception

It was a very smart looking site with a quite imposing entrance up a flight of steps to the reception area. There we were given a friendly welcome from a staff member, our pitch number and code for the entrance/exit barriers and a thick wad of info about the site and the local area.

Pitches were a reasonable size with trees above and high hedges each side for privacy. All very well in the middle of a hot August but dark and gloomy in a cool and damp September. We much prefer to have open outlook and nice views from our pitch. At least there was 16a electric plus a water tap by the pitch.

There were 40 Carthago’s there, which meant about 80 people who we had never met but some I had chatted to on-line through Facebook.

There was nothing organised for Wednesday or Thursday but everyone met on the terrace by the bar in the evening where there was lots of chat and we started to meet a few other owners. I must say they were a very sociable bunch and easy to get to know even for newcomers like us.

Evening drinks on the terrace

Evening drinks and chat on the terrace

On Friday two coaches waited to take us on a trip out for the day. We drove a short distance along the river to the lovely village of Beynac where we were taken for a cruise along the river in a traditional Gabarre, the flat bottomed working boat of the area. It was a gentle and slow cruise upstream against the current with the boatman giving a most interesting commentary on the history of the area and the river, before turning and drifting back to where we started. A blue heron took no notice of us as we drifted close to his perch on a branch, more interested in looking for his lunch. For once we were lucky with the weather as the sun lit up the lovely honey coloured stone of the buildings.

Beynac

Beynac from the river

Beynac from the gabarre

 

After landing and a short walk round the village we had a terrific lunch in a restaurant beside the river while the heavens opened and soaked those who followed us onto the boats.

We returned to the coaches for a very quick visit to Domme, another very attractive and rather ‘touristy’ village before heading back to the site and getting ready for an organised dinner in the evening.

After another dinner on Saturday night we left the Dordogne on Sunday in yet more rain and set the sat nav to take us back to the only consistently sunny part of France, which meant going back to the south east corner.

Montfort

Montfort

Chateau at Montfort

Chateau at Montfort

Fossiles R us

Could that second word possibly be describing us?

What happened to the weather this year?

For several years now we have come to France in September but have never had weather as bad as this years.

It seems that we arrive somewhere to nice warm sun but within a day or two it gets cold, windy and wet.

We had a pleasant three days at La Mailleraye but the forecast looked poor so we went south to Sancoins. A pleasant couple of days there and it looked dodgy again so another big hop south to Lac de Pareloup. We arrived to nice warm sun but after two days the cloud took over and so we consulted Meteo France again. The only part of the country with good sun appeared to be the far south east between the Spanish border and Montpellier. So, back to the A75 and out of the high hills and down to the coastal plain to Narbonne. After stocking up on fuel and food we returned to another favourite aire at Gruissan.

We arrived at the marina to find the aire very busy but for the first time on this trip it was really warm, around 30ºC……….lovely.

Evening boules game

The evening game of boules on the aire

It had to be too good to be true. The beautiful weather just had to change and the following day was drizzly and grey again. Things improved for Sunday and Monday when the sun came out to play again but, as often happens at Gruissan, the wind howled and whistled through the rigging of the yachts moored behind us.

Out for an evening stroll around the marina we ran into David and Ann who we had met here last year. The following day I joined them for an excellent bike ride to Narbonne Plage and back along the foot of the Montagne de la Clape.

We also again met a couple, plus Jack the dog, who had been following exactly the same route as us from northern France.

When at La Mailleraye I noticed a Brit van on the aire with a distinctive reg. plate. En-route to Sancoins we passed the same van parked in a layby. I had the daft thought that they might also be going to Sancoins but as it was miles north it must have been almost one in a million chance. Blow me if I didn’t see the same MoHo just about to leave Sancoins aire the next morning – I just had to go and have a chat. It turned out that they are readers of this blog and were following my recommendations. They were heading to Gruissan via Lac du Pareloup, just the same route as us as it turned out.

They seem to have enjoyed all the aires so that’s another ‘brownie point’ for the blog and another reason to keep it going.

We only had a few days at Gruissan because we had booked a place at a Carthago Owners UK gathering in the Dordogne. On Tuesday 12th September we headed west to Toulouse then NW to Moissac in Tarn-et-Garronne for an overnight stop.

Moissac aire

Moissac now has a brand new and very nice aire set between the Tarn river and the Canal Lateral a la Garonne. The aire, Aire de Camping-Car Les Berges du Tarn, (GPS 44.09792º 1.09280º) has barrier entry and exit and costs €8 per night, paid by credit card.

Instructions

Instructions in French and English – very welcome.

There are marked out double bays, separated by shrubs, electric hookup plus the usual water fill, waste and toilet dump and rubbish bins. There is loads of space to manoeuvre and the area is very quiet. There is even a picnic/BBQ area beside the entrance.

A few steps from the entrance and you are on the bank of the Tarn, go through the small gate at the back of the aire and you are beside the canal. Although I didn’t try them I understand there are excellent cycle routes from the aire.

We did though, go through the back gate and stroll beside the canal and into town. It is a lovely town, narrow streets, wide open squares and the delightful ancient abbey church of St Pierre (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moissac_Abbey). We entered the church to find a small group of white clad nuns singing what I presumed to be Matins. The enormous entrance to the porch has spectacular carving depicting scenes from the bible.

Abbey Church of St. Pierre

The Abbey Church of St Pierre

Entrance carving

The magnificent carved entrance.

The old town

Lovely townscape.

Narrow streets

Narrow streets.

 

On the Road Again.

Here we are in France again. It is September and already the leaves on the trees are starting to change colour and drop. Where did summer go?

Following my last blog entry we haven’t been entirely static.

After arriving back from France in early July and spending a few days at home we went to Gloucestershire for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford. Like the last couple of years we stayed on the C&MC rally field just outside the airfield. We drove down on the Tuesday before the show and stayed until the following Tuesday. Plenty of time to see the arrivals and departures as well as all of the flying, most of it right over our heads. Highlights for me were seeing some American aircraft I hadn’t seen before, including the U2 spy plane, the B1 (Bone) bomber and the star was the B2 Stealth Bomber. The B2 flew across the Atlantic from its base in Missouri, flew through, turned and flew past again, then returned to its American base. It really did look like something out of Star Wars. Incredible!

B2 Stealth bomber

The eerie sight of the B2 Stealth Bomber. Like something from another world.

BBMF

The BBMF. Music in the sky from seven Merlins and a Griffon.

Reds and Thunderbirds

The Reds escort their American guests, the Thunderbirds.

We had a very pleasant week of jet noise, had some visits from old Vulcan friends and the weather played ball most of the time too.

Back home from RIAT and there was a list of jobs to do around house and garden. One job I may live to regret was improving the lawn. The grass on our lawn has always been poor and it easily gets infested with weeds and moss. The advantage has been that we can go away for several weeks at a time and the grass hardly grows. A quick whizz round with the mower has the lawn looking neat and tidy again. Over the last year or two we had accumulated a large amount of garden compost and soil so I thought it would do the lawn good to spread a few barrow loads over and brush it into the grass. A few days of manual weeding and spreading compost resulted in the grass looking darker and healthier than it ever has. I think I might regret that decision when we return home to waist high grass after this trip.

Celine the motorhome went into a local company to have VB full air suspension fitted while we were home. We got fed up with crashing and banging along British roads and felt that the interior would eventually be shaken apart. A combination of hard commercial tyres and springs, plus pot holed roads, is not good for comfort.

After just over three weeks at home we got itchy feet again so took a short trip up to Lincolnshire and a few nights at Jasmin Camping (https://jasmincamping.com), just outside Sutton by Sea. The site is owned by Jim Brown who runs Motorhome Fun, the web forum and club. It’s a small CL type of site and is right next door to the C&MC Club site but at half the price per night. While there we managed to get a couple of days at RAF Coningsby for another dose of jet noise.

Jasmin Camping

Jasmin Camping.

Another few days at home and with our list of jobs complete we once again headed down the A12, this time with a more subdued and comfortable ride, and the Channel Tunnel for our late afternoon crossing to France.

The aire at Cite Europe was much busier than usual, there must have been 30 vans parked up.

We bought a few essentials from Carrefour, filled with fuel and after a quiet night headed south to our usual stop at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine.

As it was the end of August we expected the aire to be quite busy but even over the weekend it was only half full. I wonder if the new credit card barrier is putting people off?

The Seine

The Seine

After three nights on the Seine and the weather forecast looking a bit ‘iffy’ we headed south again and another favourite place in the centre of France. The free aire at Sancoins is always busy but there is plenty of room and most people seem to just use it for a night stopover. It is quiet and peaceful with pleasant walks beside the disused Canal du Berry or into the town. We usually stop for a few days as it’s the sort of aire where you can get the chairs and awning out and enjoy the sun beside the water.

Sancoins aire

Sancoins Aire

We arrived to find it very busy and were a little concerned to find a family of itinerants, complete with roaming dogs and children, had set up a long term camp with motorhome, van and car. Although we stayed two nights the place didn’t seem so relaxed and easy going as usual, likely due to our prejudices. Whatever the reason, we were aware of being more vigilant than we usually would be so didn’t feel as comfortable.

It seemed that unsettled weather was covering most of France after the very hot spell that had lasted several weeks. South seemed a better bet so on Tuesday we once more hit the road for the 400km drive south to Lac de Pareloup.

After driving across country to Clermont-Ferrand we joined the fabulous A75 motorway south, stopping for a lunch break at a rest area overlooking one of Monsieur Eiffel’s lesser known erections, the Viaduc de Garabit. Perhaps not so perky and erect as his better known one.

Viaduc de Garabit

Viaduc de Garabit

We arrived at the lake in brilliant sunshine. Hooray!

Evening sun by the lake

Evening sunshine by the lake

Over the Hills and Far Away.

After several days of warm sunshine and cool mountain air we tore ourselves away from the lovely views of the Vercors mountains to head west to the high hills of the Aveyron.

We retraced our route down the mountain and back to Grenoble, this time keeping to the west of the city and through the valley to Valence and the bank of the mighty River Rhone. We left the Rhone south of Valence and took to the hills of the Ardeche, driving through Privas to our intended night stop on the aire at Aubenas.

We arrived in time for lunch at a very hot and rather dusty car park (GPS 44.62585º 4.39713º no services) on the bank of the Ardeche river. The pictures in our aire guide showed plenty of trees for shade but in the middle of the day all the shady spots were filled by cars. We has some lunch and then decided, as it was so hot and the old town was a fair climb up the hill on the other side of the river, to go on and find another aire that might be a little more shady.

We continued west along the N102 to the small town of Thueyts where there is a quiet and shady aire tucked away down a side road (GPS 44.67247º 4.21912), beside tennis courts and football pitches. Access to the aire is down one of two roads, one little more than an alleyway and a very tight turn if arriving from the west but OK’ish if coming from the East. Far better to use Chemin de la Condamine (set GPS 44.67468º 4,22003º into the sat-nav for the junction) which is a few hundred metres to the East.

Devils Bridge

A short stroll from the aire is a viewpoint looking down on the Ardeche river far below and the famous Pont du Diable, the Devils Bridge. On a hot afternoon people were jumping off high rocks into the river and swimming across to a small stony beach.

 

Pont Diable

Pont du Diable (Devils Bridge) from the viewpoint.

 

The following day, 21st June, we continued West on the N102 following the Ardeche on a spectacular and twisty road high over the hills. The scenery is dramatic, wild and lovely as you climb and climb before crossing the River Ardeche where it is little more than a rushing stream.

Through Pradelles and then follow the N88 to Mende and eventually the A75 motorway. Turning off the A75 we went down some rather narrow and winding lanes to go cross-country to Salles-Curan and Lac de Pareloup.

We found the aire at Lac de Pareloup (GPS 44.20027º 2.77601º) in September 2016 and loved it (more pictures and description here:- https://motorhomemoments.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/simply-sublime/). This time we spent almost a week just lazing in the sun, enjoying the views across the water and the sunsets.

Sunny pitch

Our sunny pitch

Lunchtime snifter

Lunchtime refreshment

Sunset

Sunset over the lake

The end of our trip was by now fast approaching so we left our lake and started the journey north. After stocking up with food and fuel at Pont-de-Salars we headed to Rodez, then North West towards the Dordogne and our overnight stop at Souillac.

There had been mutterings on Motorhome Fun forum that there was now a charge for stopping on the aire (GPS 44.89152º 1.47653º) that has always been free. Although there is a charge, by credit card, for water and toilet disposal, the aire is still free and shows every sign of staying that way.

We have stopped at Souillac many times and the aire is usually very busy and can be packed tight by evening but this time there was stacks of room. It is still a lovely town to wander round with lots of narrow streets as well as the famous domed Abbey Sainte-Marie which dates back to the 12th Century.

Abbey Sainte-Marie

Abbey Sainte-Marie

Continuing north the next day we hit the free A20 motorway which took us round Limoges and on to Vierzon where we joined the D2020 as far as Salbris and another regular stop-over. There is always a cheerful welcome at Camping de Sologne (GPS 47.43025º 2.05457º) and although there are a couple of free aires just a few km up the road we just like it there. With a good view over the lake with its ducks and resident goose and a reasonable meal in the restaurant plus bread in the morning it makes a first class nights stop.

Camping de Sologne across the lake

Camping de Sologne from across the lake

 

River Sauldre at Salbris

River Sauldre at Salbris

More driving the next day, through Orléans, round Chartres & Dreux then South of Rouen to make our way to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine for a couple of nights on the river bank.

The Seine

By this time the weather forecast wasn’t looking good, with rain forecast for several days. Rather than sit and look out at miserable weather I got on-line and brought our tunnel crossing forward by a day. Sure enough, on Sunday as we left La Mailleraye the rain started and didn’t stop until we were past Bologne. We drove to Cite Europe and after filling with fuel and stocking up on essentials (beer) spent the night on the aire/carpark (GPS 50.93282º 1.81111º) before crossing for home the next morning.

Considering we had started out on the trip with the intention of going to a wet and windy Scotland it had been quite a contrast. We had certainly seen our share of hills and mountains although they were a fair bit higher than the Scottish ones. Without doubt the weather had been a lot warmer and sunnier and we had had the good company of Jenny and John for part of the time. As trips go it was 10/10.

The Rhone Alps.

Several years ago we found a small campsite high in the mountains on our way back north from the Med. We remembered it as being sunny but the air was cool and fresh because of the altitude.

My pilot friends tell me that the temperature drops by 2ºC per 1000ft of altitude so at 4000ft our destination was bound to be a bit more comfortable.

The excellent roads from the lake took us south of Grenoble and then on to the steep, winding assent to Gresse-en-Vercors.

Gresse is a tiny village of the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ variety but has expanded with apartments and houses for the ski season. At the end of the road there are a number of ski lifts and lots of parking space with a small area reserved for camping-cars. Apart from a dump for waste water there are no other facilities for motorhomes.

Just a few hundred yards away though is Camping Les 4 Saisons (GPS 44.89665º 5.55573º), another ACSI site at €17 per night. With loos, showers, 6a hook-up, very friendly owners and wonderful views it is worth every penny.

Pitch with a view

Don’t expect the manicured Caravan Club type pitches, with the grass mown to within an inch of its life. Here the banks between pitches are left so that the wild flowers can grow and seed.

Wild flowers

Wild flowers by the pitches

The place literally buzzes with life and is full of butterflies, one seemed to have a foot fetish as it kept returning and landing on our feet. Most of the time the buzzing of insects is the loudest noise.

Butterfly

The butterfly that loves feet

After the heat and humidity of Annecy the fresh, cool mountain air was a treat.

Le Grand Veymont

Le Grand Veymont

Lake Annecy.

In a recent thread on the Motorhome Fun, forum members listed their favourite places to stay, Lake Annecy rated highly in that varied list. Over several years I have read glowing reports so it was about time we visited to see what all the fuss was about.

Our initial impressions as we drove out of the mountains weren’t good. A big and very busy town, lots of traffic and the road beside the lake was a constant stream of vehicles. Not our sort of place but we were meeting up with friends so would give it a go.

We turned off the busy main road and on to a narrow and quiet lane to arrive at Camping Le Solitaire du Lac, appropriately named as it was very quiet and well away from traffic noise.

We even had a view of the lake from our pitch, although it was just a glimpse of blue through a small gap in the trees.

A glimpse of the lake

Our glimpse of the lake

The site was fairly basic, no restaurant, swimming pool or any of the fripperies that many sites offer these days but at an ACSI price of €17 it was not bad value. Although it was busy there were empty pitches every night. The pitches were not the largest, our friends with caravan, awning and car had difficulty squeezing everything on, but for our motorhome there was adequate space and a bit of shade from the trees. As usual we didn’t check out the toilets and shower block but the water points were few and far between and the water pressure was often a trickle. To fill a motorhome tank by hose you needed to pay extra at the service point which was a bit of a cheek.

Poppies

A field beside the cycle track

I went out on my bike for a bimble along the cycle path that runs beside the lake. My goodness it was a busy cycle track. It was well surfaced and marked out into two lanes by a central white line but you needed to keep your wits about you as there was an assortment of users and speeds. People pushing elderly folk in wheel chairs, girls on roller blades, one young woman pushing baby in a push chair as she belted along at speed, guys on road bikes who thought they were on a Tour de France time trial, and French ladies tootling slowly on their ‘sit up and beg’ bikes who favoured weaving along the central white line. Added to that assortment were the occasional large group of school children and you can see that one needed to concentrate if you were keeping up a decent speed.

A couple of deviations off the track did give me some nice views of the lake though.

Fishing

Fishing

Cool, clear water

Cool, clear water

Boats

Boats and mountains

Lake view

Lakeside peace

We spent four nights by the lake and although it was very hot and humid we very much enjoyed the company of Jenny and John. The world and its ills were very much put to rights, much wine was consumed in the process and we had a lovely drive high into the hills to look down on the lake from above.

Friends

Hanging around with friends

Lake Annecy

Lake Annecy from the hills

Mountain view

The hills are alive……

Although the lake is very attractive, with its surrounding mountains giving it a spectacular background, it was just a bit too busy and crowded for us, Also, being surrounded by hills the heat and humidity seemed to get trapped in and made it uncomfortable to do anything except sit in the shade. We said our goodbyes and headed for the higher hills and some cooler and fresher air.

Keeping cool

Keeping cool