Back to Gruissan.

The wind never seems to drop for long on that part of the French south coast. The Mistral whistles down the Rhone valley and out to the sea and further south, around Narbonne and Gruissan, the Tramontane wind drops down from the Pyrenees in the south and the Massif Central to the north, then out to sea.

All the time we were at Carro the wind never really dropped much although we were able to sit outside for a while. After four days we headed back across the Camargue and back to Gruissan where the wind was much lighter. The good news is that the sun shone all day and every day.

Back at Gruissan we managed to bag our favourite corner spot and after a couple of breezy days the wind dropped and the weather was brilliant.

Enjoying the sun

Kate enjoying the sun

We spent two weeks enjoying the spring weather, spending lots of time in the sun and me going off on the bike for a ride along the coast and through the vineyards.

A ride along the coast

A little bimble along the coast

Eventually the weather looked as though it was going to change which seemed a good time to retreat towards home.

We intended to make it a leisurely drive back, stopping for a day or two here and there as the fancy took us. In the event the weather took over and it was a much quicker return north. There just didn’t seem much point sitting in the van looking out at the rain, we might as well be on the road and making progress.

So, now we are back at our French ‘home from home’ at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine having taken just three days to get back here. We stopped at the free aires of Montpeyroux, just south of Clermont-Ferand, then Sully-sur-Loire.

Tomorrow, Saturday, we drive up to Calais and on Sunday morning take the shuttle home to Blighty.

We never did get to Portugal as planned, maybe some other time.

I hear reports that March in England has been one of the wettest on record while we have only had a few showers on the way back north. 

There are worse places than the south of France to spend March.

Old Gruissan

Old Gruissan

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Moving East.

After our pump trauma we spent a relaxing day at Gruissan on Tuesday.

The stiff breeze dropped and we spent a while sitting in the sun. I went for a few miles bimble on my bike across the causeway and along the beach.

On Wednesday we headed east to Palavas-les-Flots, south of Montpellier. It is one of those towns that has sprung up along the coast that is separated from the ‘mainland’ by huge etang’s, vast shallow lakes and marshes that make a great home to wildlife. The most popular are probably the flamingoes with their rather exotic pink plumage.

There is a large aire situated beside the marina and the river Lez. It is also right beside a busy flyover but we didn’t find the noise of traffic at all intrusive.

Palavas-les-Flots aire

The aire has full facilities, including 10amp hook-up, toilets and showers. For an aire it’s not cheap at €17 per day but to our surprise, knowing how the French hate paying for aires, it was extremely busy. By arriving early, at lunch time, we got one of the few vacant pitches with a view over the river and a distant view of flamingoes on the etang.

Palavas-les-Flots aire and river

River view from the aire

The pitches are marked out and there is just room to get table and chairs and perhaps an awning out. It appeared that a lot of vans are there for the long term.

Palavas-les-Flots

Palavas-les-Flots

Palavas-les-Flots harbour entrance

Harbour entrance

On Thursday we continued east with a short drive along the coast to Aigues-Mortes.

Last time we went there, a few years back, we drove round looking for an aire but after passing loads of carparks with height barriers, gave up and drove on. This time, armed with Camper Contact, we were well prepared and thought we might stop for a night. Sure enough we found the aire/carpark and set off to explore the walled city.

The huge fortified walls look magnificent in that flat landscape, indeed they look so pristine that it’s hard to imagine that they are medieval. They look as though there must have been a great deal of restoration over the years.

City gate

We walked through the quiet, almost deserted, streets, through a couple of squares and into the busier and more commercial area of the old city. There was a funeral taking place in the church of Notre-Dame-des-Sablons so we didn’t go in but the main square, by the Hotel de Ville, was very attractive with its statue of Saint-Louis, known as the founder of the city.

Despite the ancient beginnings of the city most of the buildings show little sign of their early years. Unlike many old villages and towns in France these buildings seem to have been modernised over the years, so one doesn’t get the impression of being in a very historic city.

Aigues-Mortes street

City street

Apart from one or two things there was not a lot to keep us interested so after about an hour or so we left and returned to the Mo-Ho.

It was still only mid-morning so we set course east.

Taking back roads we had a lovely drive in the sunshine, across the Camargue towards Arles. There we joined the very busy N113 and, crossing the Rhone, headed south east in the general direction of Marsailes. At Martigues we turned on to the D5/D49 and on to Carro.

Carro Harbour

Carro harbour

We have been to Carro a couple of times before and love the views over the sea.

Carro Aire

At this time of year the aire is €7, including water and dump, and is set right on the sea shore with panoramic views of sea or harbour. Pitches are marked out with just enough room to open doors and lockers between the vans, if you want to sit out you have to leave room in front. No white pegs and 6 metre rules in force here, the ‘elf ’n safety brigade at the Caravan & Motorhome Club would have a blue fit!!!

Carro Aire 2

Like most of this coast it can get pretty windy and when we arrived it was blowing a hooley.

That didn’t deter the wind surfers who were out in force with the sea roaring and the waves crashing onto the rocks. During the night the wind moderated and by morning it was just a very fresh breeze. Friday was beautiful, a shorts and tee shirt day and 22ºC, just the ticket.

Carro

Evening lighthouse

Evening lighthouse view from the cab

Don’t panic, don’t panic.

Monday morning and I can hear something clicking.

It’s a fast clicking/tapping sound but I can’t tell which direction it’s coming from. It is very windy and gusty though and we have a window open so it could be anything………..I take no more notice.

Later on the same faint sound. Could it be a seagull on the roof?  Could it be the fridge igniter trying to re-light the gas? It stopped again so thought no more of it.

For the third time we heard the mystery sound, only just audible above the sound of the wind, and it was time for serious investigation.

This time as the ‘clicking’ stopped the water pump cycled for a couple of seconds. Ahha, had we found the culprit. The pump is buried deep in a locker underneath the seats and is almost impossible to get at, not helped by having the pump and ‘gubbins’ for our self levelling jacks fitted in front of it. While Kate held the seat cushion up I crawled under the table and, lying flat on the seat base reached in through the small lift up flap. With the aid of a torch I could see tiny traces of water that was slowly seeping from the base of the pump and into the electrical connections underneath. At that point the pump, which had been working fine, stopped completely.

I usually carry a gallon container of fresh water in the garage but this time, when it would be useful, I hadn’t brought any. With a decent container one can always have a supply without having to pump it up from the tank.

A few miles along the coast from where we were was a Carthago dealer who, with luck, might just have a pump in stock.

Navi d’Oc is tucked away in a small industrial area of Vendres, not far from Béziers. Although they were busy and only had two fitters working they had a pump in stock and would fit it while we waited.

The poor technician really struggled to get at the pump, like me he had to lie under the table with his head down the small hatch and work with one hand. Eventually after much struggling and I think a few French oaths, he got the other fitter to help, one crawling half in to the side locker and reaching past the hydraulic pump and the other with his head and one arm down the under seat hatch.

Eventually the job was done and two very relieved motorhomers went into the office to pay the bill. The Pump was €95 plus one hours labour (the job took about an hour and there were two guys working for part of the time) total €137. A very fair price to get us out of trouble.

Thank you Navi d”Oc.

All change.

After our overnight battering at Blaye we had a good look at the weather apps to try and get a steer on the likely forecast for the next week.

Do we keep heading south and down the Atlantic coast, then on across Spain to Portugal, or should we re-think?

The forecasts seemed to show weather fronts coming off the Atlantic for the next week and as we didn’t come abroad to sit in rain and gloom we might have to change track and head east towards the Mediterranean.

The south east corner of France, around Narbonne, was looking good and so it took milliseconds to decide to head there.

South to Bordeaux, then a short stretch of péage on the A62, before going across country to Moissac for an overnight stop.

Moissac aire entrance

We have stopped at Moissac before and the very smart, newish aire, is excellent. 

We were surprised by the number of vans there, expecting it to be almost empty like everywhere else we have stopped on this trip. At €6, paid by CC at the barrier, it includes hook-up as well as water, dump etc so is popular with full timers. A number of vans looked settled in for the long term. There are marked out pitches separated by shrubs, picnic tables and the whole place looks tidy and very well cared for. A bread van called in the morning.

The aire is set between the River Tarn and the Canal Lateral la Garonne in a very quiet area. A small gate at the back of the aire takes you out to the canal towpath and a very pleasant walk in to the town.

After a quiet night we set off again toward Toulouse where we once again jumped on to short sections of péage to get us past the slow and busy areas round the city.

With the sun shining and quiet roads we were happily heading to our home from home in France.

After a quick fuel top up at Narbonne we drove over the hills of  the Clappe and down into Gruissan.

Once again we were surprised by the number of vans on the marina aire, expecting it to be almost empty.

I’m not sure why we like Gruissan so much, we just do.

The aire is just a large dusty carpark but it does have good views across the lagoon and in the distance are the snow covered Pyrenees. An evening stroll around the marina is always pleasant and there are miles of cycle tracks, mostly quite flat. The drawback, particularly at this time of year, is the wind, which can be very gusty. When the wind drops and the sun is up it can be glorious though. We frequently come here intending to stop for a couple of days which turns into a couple of weeks. The same could happen this time.

Lagoon at Gruissan

 

Spring Saunter.

It is early March and that means, for the meteorologists, it’s now spring. 

That also means we are on a search for some early sun and warmth so are heading south once again.

We have had a couple of mini jaunts already this year, a week in a rather chilly and wet Derbyshire and a quick one nighter to Staffordshire to get the habitation/damp check done on the van.

Before all that we had a long wait for a new windscreen to be sent from Germany after a large crack appeared during a short break to Northern France in December.

At last all the home jobs and motorhome services were done and we were free to leave for our planned trip.

Not, as usual, that much had been planned. Last year we met up with friends while down at Gruissan and they were singing the praises of Portugal and gave us details of a few aires and camping spots that they liked. About three years previously we had spent some time in Portugal and really liked the more northern parts but not the very built up Algarve. This time the very rough and ready plan was to head for rural Portugal and hope to find some warmth and sun.

Leaving home at mid-day on a Saturday we took the tunnel and stayed at Cite Europe for the first night. Next day we travelled down to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine, one of our favourite stopping places, beside the river. This year the price has been increased a little to €6.80 a night for two people. Despite all the services being closed for winter the price was still charged. With everything covered over I couldn’t even empty the cassette.

Next day we continued south and thought we might try the aire on an island in the middle of the Loire at Saumur. Although quite expensive for an aire, at around €12, it has all facilities and hook-up and we thought it would be good to explore Saumur again. When we arrived we took a look and both decided that we were very underwhelmed. We carried on for a few more km to the free aire at Montreuil-Belay where we have stopped before.

Those who have read our blog will have seen lots of photos of the places described as we have stopped at them several times in the past. For that reason I haven’t added any photos this time.

The aire at Montreuil-Belay has changed though. The old aire was just a piece of rough land used as a carpark but had lovely views of the chateau and the old monastic buildings. The aire has now been moved to the far side of the adjacent camp site and is purpose built and laid out with proper access roads (GPS 47.13085º -0.16048º). There should be space for around 30 vans. Although it’s not quite finished there are all services and cables are in place for electric hook-ups to be installed. There are also cables in place for a barrier system to be put in so it will no longer be a free stopover. Unfortunately it is also a little closer to the busy main road so not a quiet as before and you lose most of those views of the chateau.

On Tuesday we took another jump south to the old wine town of Blaye, north of Bordeaux and sitting on the banks of the Gironde.

Some people who have left comments on the various camper apps dislike the aire, (GPS 45.12557º 0.66600º) saying it is just a carpark with no services, which is quite true. We rather like it though and always go prepared. 

The Citadel

The aire at Blaye with the Citadel behind

Although parts of the town seem a little ‘faded’, the facade’s of the large buildings lining the ‘front’ make a rather elegant group in the evening sunlight. With the impressive Citadel behind and the river alongside there are 360º views to enjoy. The charge for 24hrs parking is €3, paid by credit card at the machine.

Grand Facade's

The grand facade’s

As we had been driving for four consecutive days we stayed at Blaye for two nights. After a day of showers the wind got up during our second night and roared and howled around, giving the van a real battering. Unfortunately we were sideways on to the wind and at one stage it was so bad I was halfway out of bed with the intention of turning the van round so that we were head on. Eventually it all died down and peace and quiet returned.

Glorious Gruissan

A long overdue update……

After our short stay in Germany and our dash to the sun and warmth of southern France we had arrived at Gruissan and a warm welcome from old friends David and Anne.

For those not fortunate to have been to Gruissan a short description might explain why we keep returning.

Gruissan

A street in the ‘old’ village of Gruissan

Gruissan from the hils

Gruissan, as seen from the hills

This ancient village is situated about 7 miles east of Narbonne on the edge of the sea. It is surrounded by a low lying landscape of étang’s, marshes and canals and has always been a fishing village. A large sandbank, now built on and accessed via a long causeway, almost cuts it off from the sea and creates a large calm lagoon. Some years ago a huge marina was constructed beside the old village and is now mooring for many hundreds of boats as well as apartments, restaurants, bars and shops. 

Masts a plenty

A forest of masts in the marina

There is an Aire de Camping-Car across the causeway and beside the enormous beach but our favourite is situated between the lagoon and the marina. Gentle and calm blue sea on one side, masts and rigging on the other. It is a large and very popular aire which always seems to have a good, laid back atmosphere.Called the Aire of the Four Winds (Aire des Quatre Vents) (GPS 43.10417º 3.09964º) it has the reputation, as the name would imply, of being very windy as cooler air rushes down from the nearby Pyrenees mountains to the south and the Massif Central to the north. This time however we just had gentle breezes off the sea to keep the temperatures comfortable for us northern Europeans.

We stayed for two glorious weeks and spent lazy days alternating between sun and shade, having lunches under the awning, then snoozing for much of the afternoon before a BBQ supper.

Fishing at sunset

Fishing for his supper at sunset

During an evening walk around the marina we bumped into another couple we had met and befriended several years before at Gruissan. Graham and Kath are very experienced motorhomers and we hadn’t seen or heard of them since our first meeting. It was great to see them again and as they also knew David and Anne we were forming our own little Brit community in our corner of the aire.

David and Anne are super keen cyclists and kindly invited me to join them on a few rides. Riding around that area is bliss. Warm weather, mostly flat countryside and cycle paths everywhere make it an absolute pleasure to go for a fairly gentle and sociable bimble without worrying about traffic. David did persuade me to accompany him up into the Montagne de la Clape though. ‘Mountain’ sounds impressive and scary when riding a bike but these are really just rocky, pine covered hills which lie behind Gruissan. David is one of those strange cyclists that actually enjoy climbing hills (Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas are others that come to mind) whereas I will definitely avoid them if at all possible. Still, what I might lack in leg power I can make up with electric power so why not have a go. Even with my battery assistance, when we reached the top and stopped, I was puffing like a knackered old steam engine while David showed no signs of the steep climb. 

Note to self: Must get fitter.

Anne & David. Cyclistes extraordinaire.

Anne & David. Cyclistes Extraordinaire

After two weeks we moved a short way inland to Homps, (GPS 43.26885º 2.71742º) a small village on the Canal du Midi. It’s another place we have been several times before and we always like the view across the canal to the traditional buildings and roofscapes of the village.

Homps

Homps

Canal du Midi

Canal du Midi

This time it was really hot though and without that cooling sea breeze we found it a bit too hot to be comfortable.

With the weather still looking good we left the Med and started a very slow plod north towards home.

Driving up the A75, probably my favourite road anywhere, we climbed up into the hills heading towards Millau. Just before the famous viaduct we turned west and down into the valley of the River Tarn before climbing back up and on to yet another favourite place.

Lac de Pareloup ( GPS 44.20027º 2.77601º)is a huge man made lake situated some 2,500 ft up in lovely countryside. The Aire de Camping-Car has been formed from the previous Municipal Campsite and still has electric hook-up and water on the pitches. The only real difference is that entry is by credit card operated barrier so there are no staff on site.

Pitch with a view

A pitch with a view

Due to the altitude the weather can be changeable and sometimes chilly, this time it was perfect. Despite it being a weekend the aire was not at all crowded but there was lots of activity to watch on the water. On Sunday the local sailing clubs were racing and we counted almost 100 boats out on the lake. The mass of white sails against the deep blue of the water was a beautiful sight under a cloudless sky.

Sails

A mass of sails

Evening calm

After the racing, evening calm

After four lovely days by the Lac we headed across the hills to rejoin the A75 and then north to the hilltop village of Montpeyroux, just south of Clermont-Ferrand.

The free aire (GPS 45.62493º 3.20109º) is part of the general parking for the village but there are water and dump facilities available. Water requires a jetton (token) from the Marie or Tourist Office.

After a stroll around the village we had a peaceful supper watching the light fade across the hills and the distant lights of villages below start to twinkle in the dark. It is a very pleasant and convenient place to stop for the night.

North again the next day and on to another favourite at Sancoins. The canal side aire (GPS 46.83404º 2.91575º) seems to become more popular every time we go there and this time, although we arrived in time for a late lunch, there was only one spot left on the canal bank.

Canal du Berry

The peaceful Canal du Berry

After three nights it was north again to La Mailleraye and another three nights by the Seine before our return home.

The World

Cruising the Seine in style

It had been six glorious weeks and just over 2,000 miles. Apart from a couple of tiny showers, which weren’t enough to even dampen the ground, the weather had been perfect. We had met lovely people and had perhaps the best holiday ever……………..until the next time.

Here comes the Sun.

After a noisy Friday night of thumping music we left the Mosel and retraced our steps back past Luxembourg, then south on the A31 towards Metz, Nancy & Vesoul. The aire at Vesoul where we intended to stay was filled with some sort of event so we continued a little further towards Besançon and a small campsite a short way off the N57 at Cromary. 

Through narrow winding lanes and a couple of small villages we arrived at a small ACSI site tucked away under trees and in the middle of countryside. Camping Verterive is a pretty basic sort of site but is quiet and OK for an overnight stop. The 4amp electrics won’t allow you to go mad but did manage to drive the coffee maker in the morning so I got a few brownie points for that.

Back on the road again and continuing our dash to the sun we passed Bourg-en-Bresse on our way to Lyon. As usual I was intent on keeping off toll roads and the N436/A46 around Lyon was excellent. When the péage started we went onto the N7 with the intention of stopping for the night just south of Vaence. After a short distance of winding road, narrow streets through towns and 3.5 tonne weight limits I was hacked off enough to bite the bullet and admit that the motorway might be the better option. At the next junction we jumped on the A7, to hell with the cost.

We had already decided that we would head down to Narbonne but first a stop at Carro just west of Marseille, which is where the A7 leads.

We are used to almost deserted roads over much of France so it was a surprise to note just how busy the road was for a Sunday. The motorway was packed in both directions. However, most of the time we were bowling along nicely at 100kph and when we passed a sign saying “Marseille 240km” thoughts of another en-route stop were abandoned and we kept plodding towards the sea.

By late afternoon we were driving through the narrow streets and around the pretty harbour of Carro to the aire. (GPS 43.32932º 5.04050º) We were there in May and liked it very much despite the very strong winds at that time. This time there was just a breeze and wall to wall blue sky.

Payment, €9, is by CC at the entrance and includes water and dump. Pitches are marked out but quite narrow, just enough to open doors and lockers, forget C&MC spacings for fire risk.

Not a lot of space

Not a lot of space

but space in front

But room in front

The clue to the appeal of the aire is location, location, location. Right on the rocky shore with views directly out to sea in front, along the shore with lighthouses flashing from the side and overlooking the small harbour at the back, its a lovely spot.

View through the screen

Our view through the screen

 

A tranquil evening

A tranquil evening

No Comment

No comment!!!

After two days at Carro we headed west past Arles, across the Camargue and then south west. To save a large detour we once again joined the péage A9 between Montpelier and Narbonne.

Yet again we were arriving at Gruissan and the Aire des 4 Vents (GPS 43.10440º 3.09940º).

We drove round looking for a suitable pitch and became aware of frantic waving from a couple sitting outside their motorhome. It was David and Anne who we had met twice before at Gruissan. What a lovely welcome to one of our favourite places.

It looked like we might be staying for a while.

Sunset at Gruissan

Sunset at Gruissan