We left the aire at Peñiscola yesterday before getting too comfortable, having spent three nights there. With a loose plan to visit Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, we programmed in the co-ordinates of an aire outside the city to the satnav. When we arrived at said co-ordinates, after a two hour drive, there was no aire to be seen. Oh joy. We pulled in to a garage to look at the guide and sort out Plan B. Oh, there was no Plan B was there. Whilst Tim perused the aires guide I went into the garage to buy some bread and a big bag of bacon crisps. Tim’s priority being to find us somewhere safe to sleep for the night and mine being food. I don’t seem to be able to make decisions if I’m hungry and the situation could have turned ugly quite rapidly!
After not finding a suitable aire in the book we decided to get out our ACSI Campsite book to see what was around Valencia. I found one 9km south of Valencia which would cost us a reasonable €17 per night. Tim’s nervous ‘tic’ returned at the thought of spending that kind of money for one night but needs must when the devil drives. The ACSI book uses a different format for the co-ordinates that we have been using with our other two books and after much faffing and fiddling the destination flag put us in the sea, just off the beach, south of Valencia. Excellento, let’s go.
After a stressful drive, having taken the wrong exit off roundabouts twice, dealing with multiple lane changes, lorries, tailgaters and roadworks we arrived an hour later, at around about the spot we were looking for. We pulled over to decide what to do when we saw directly ahead of us ‘La Marina’ aire at €11 per night. Hallelujah, perfect. It’s a large car-park but that’s fine and the chap on reception was soooo friendly he turned our day around. Tim, also, was saved with parting with €17 so all’s good.
The bus into Valencia was free that day for some sort of mobility festival so we went in for a reccy late afternoon. We got off the bus at the ‘Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias’ or the ‘City of Arts and Sciences’.
Designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela the ‘city’ stretches for over 2km and houses an IMAX cinema, science museum, aquarium, opera house, concert space and landscaped area.
It is mightily impressive but I dread to think how much it all cost, especially with Spain’s economy as it is.
Colossal spend or not we thoroughly enjoyed our stroll around the whole area in lovely 25 degree sunshine.
We returned to the aire on the free bus with a plan the next day to cycle to Valencia to explore the Jardin del Turia, an urban park, adjacent to the City of Arts and Sciences.
A purpose built cyclepath, direct from outside the entrance to the aire, took us into Valencia today in thirty minutes. In October 1957 Valencia was flooded when the Rio Turia (river Turia) burst its banks damaging much of the city.
A decision was made to divert the entire river around the south and west of the city therefore averting any further disaster. What Valencia has now created is the Turia Riverbed Park.
The Park covers around 9km of the former river bed and is Spain’s largest urban park.
Over twenty bridges span its width with many of them original. It’s all beautifully landscaped with cyclepaths, footpaths, trim trails, picnic areas, skate parks, sports facilities and the like.
We cycled the entire length of it and back, which took a good hour, before heading towards the marina and beaches.
Valencia is really very cycle friendly as there are dedicated cycle paths all the way down to the seafront and cycling isn’t banned along the promenade either. The beach is very nice as the hotels have been built quite a distance from the main promenade so weren’t imposing at all.
We enjoyed a drink at one of the beach bars, people watching, before cycling back to the aire.
All in all, an excellent day covering 38 miles, all of which was on dedicated cyclepaths. From our very shaky start yesterday Valencia has more than redeemed itself. Tomorrow the plan is to take the bus into the old town for a look see.
The past week has, again, been one of contrasts. We arrived on the Mediterranean coast on Wednesday 14th September 2016 ready for a restful few days. The first job was to get ‘Spain’ stuck on our map of Europe. It’s taken us nearly four months to reach a new country!
We kicked back and relaxed at one of the aires on The Parc Naturel del Delta de l’Ebre for three nights enjoying some flat cycling every day, a spot of birdwatching and free wifi. The area was designated as a Natural Parc in 1983 and is one of the largest wetland areas in the Western Mediterranean. It is home to around 95 species of breeding birds and also serves as a stopover point for a huge number of migratory birds. Not unlike ourselves really! It’s the first time I think we’ve seen wild flamingos at close quarters. Being a wetland area it attracts its fair share of mosquitos but also hundreds of dragonflies in every different colour imaginable.
We spent three nights there before taking a foray inland to the medieval fortified town of Morella. We didn’t know if it was worth the ninety minute detour inland after having finally reached the coast but it turned out to be a real hightlight for us.
We stayed at the free aire 1km outside the town giving us a marvellous view of the town, especially when lit up at night.
It reminded me a bit of a pavlova or of this egg sandwich we made at our first Helpx!
The castle above the town is over 1000m above sea level with a ring of ancient walls defending the lower reaches.
We did one of the signed walks around the outskirts of the town which gave us fantastic views over the surrounding plains and a view of the castle and walls from a different perspective.
We also paid a very reasonable €3.50 each to visit the castle. The views from the top down over the town and across the surrounding countryside were exceptional and well worth the climb up.
What we really also enjoyed about this area was the landscape.
It’s a mixture of isolated farms amongst rugged terrain, rocky hilltops, woods and ravines. Hundreds of dry stone terraces and walls adorn the hillsides giving an insight into the hard graft and labour it took to farm successfully in this area in days gone by.
Having spent two nights at Morella we drove eastwards to Valderrobres, another medieval town with a fortified castle and 14th Century Gothic church.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around the old town before deciding to head back down to Peñiscola on the coast. Peñiscola is a fortified promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean made famous by the filming here of El Cid in 1960.
It’s also been used recently for the sixth series of Game of Thrones.
It was built by the Knights Templar on the remains of an old Moorish citadel in the 13th Century. Within the walls lie many narrow, windy, cobble stoned streets lined with restaurants and tourist shops.
It is buzzing with mainly Spanish tourists. We stayed on an aire a couple of miles away and enjoyed a leisurely cycle in along a purpose built cyclepath taking us to the ‘city in the sea’ as Peñiscola is known.
It’s very touristy but has a very lively, family friendly, air about it and we enjoyed whiling away a couple of hours exploring. We continued our cycle west along the coast for several miles which revealed much quieter coves with significantly less people!
Today we headed east along the coast on the bikes taking a pitstop for an hour to have a look round the market in Benicarlò.
I went for my first swim in the ‘Med’ this evening but shot out of the water when my legs suddenly started stinging. I think I’ve been stung by a jellyfish although I didn’t see any but, looking at the rash I have, I can’t think of anything else it might be. That’s put me right off a second swim now!
Tomorrow we’re moving on again but, to where, I’m not sure. Best get the maps out and have a look!
Since my last update we visited our last bastide town before we made a beeline for the Pyrénées. Cordes sur Ciel is purported to be the first bastide ever to be built in 1222.
It clings to the Mordagne peak standing 100 metres above the surrounding river valleys.
It is now a major centre for artists and the Cordes Academy holds many exhibitions drawing in visitors from far and wide.
We arrived on Monday 5th September 2016 in the late afternoon. We knew by the number of motorhomes at the aire below the town that it would be worth the visit but thought it best to explore the town on Tuesday morning when it would be cooler.
The temperatures have remained in the low to mid thirties for several days now and the afternoons are really too hot for trekking up and down steep hills.
The main narrow road up from the bottom of the town to the top is very steep and a feast for the eyes: cobbled streets, fortified walls, gothic archways, gothic and medieval houses decorated with flowers, kittens peering down from shuttered windows, the list goes on.
We explored all round the alleyways in the lower and upper town for a couple of hours just marvelling at the sheer scope of it all before hitting the road to make our way to the foothills of the Pyrénées. It was an easy drive skirting round Toulouse on the motorway with the Pyrénées in full view on the horizon. We arrived at the little village of Siex after the two hour drive with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the low 30’s.
We found a little aire tucked away behind the village where another four vans were parked. I said ‘bonjour’ to the lady in the next van and she asked if we were staying for a few days. I said ‘oui’ as we wanted to do some cycling in the area. She then became very animated telling me her husband was a keen cyclist and he could tell me about some of the routes he had done. It turned out that the four vans were all together and whilst the men went out every day on the bikes the wives stayed behind presumably enjoying the sunshine and chewing the fat. Her husband showed me the map of some of the rides they had done and invited us to join them the following day. I politely declined as, even though they all looked to be in their 60’s, they also looked like Tour de France retirees judging by their muscly legs. They were doing rides of 60-70km on road bikes. We would have been left behind on the flat let alone the hills. Also Tim would have killed me if I’d happened to drop in to the conversation that we were partaking in an Anglo-French bike ride the next day. Therefore, on Wednesday we headed off on a 40km bike ride which took us on a gentle incline through the Garbut river valley to the village of Aulus-les-Bains.
Even though it was really hot it was a superb ride as the densely forested hillsides provided some much needed shade.
The water in the river tumbling down the valley is so clear it takes on an almost duck egg blue colour over the rocks.
From Aulus-les-Bains we just had to negotiate the Col de Latrappe, a 1111m pass taking us into the next valley and down into Ousto. The climb is 5km long with an average gradient of 7.4%, the steepest sections being at 10%. It was first used in the Tour de France in 1956 and has been featured another seven times, the last time being in 2011. Only one thing for it really – get the bike into granny gear and grin and bear it. I have to say Tim set off like a rat up a drainpipe and didn’t stop until we got to the summit some 45 minutes later! I expect the ‘Tour’ guys do it in ten minutes but, no matter, we’d conquered our first ‘Col’! The ride back down the other side was exhilarating, with the sun on our backs, whizzing past the poor blighters huffing and puffing up the hill.
We had a beautiful stop for lunch and then cruised down the valley back to Siex feeling very satisfied with ourselves.
Whilst we were in Aulus-les-Bains we spotted another aire which would be ideal to do a couple of walks from and that is where we have been for the last four nights. We have a lovely view of the hills and a field of sheep with clanking bells around their necks behind us.
Aulus-les-Bains is best known for its thermal springs and spa complex.
We’ve done a few walks in the last three days twice climbing up and beyond the Cascade D’ars. The waterfall is 246m high and has three levels.
At the moment there isn’t a massive amount of water coming down but I expect it’s spectacular after several days of rain.
On Friday were woken up by the sound of a saxophone coming from somewhere in the village. Tim went to investigate and returned to the van to collect his clarinet saying there was an old boy playing a soprano sax in the park and he was off to join him. I went down to have a look myself and there they both were sitting on a bench in the park banging out some French tunes.
I sat on the bench opposite with the chaps wife and she explained that they were staying in the village at the thermal spa for three weeks as it helps with their ailments.
I’m currently updating the blog sitting on a bench enjoying the free internet access from the ‘office de tourisme’ whilst watching a cycle race coming down through the village. We want to head over the Pyrénées into Spain in the next couple of weeks but also want to linger a bit longer in the hills to get some more hiking trails under our belts whilst the weather holds. Tomorrow we have a very glamorous day planned with a back log of washing to do and a grocery shop on the agenda so we’ll be heading back down the valley to civilisation before making a further foray into the hills.
The Dordogne has been our friend now for the last 10 days. With the temperatures in the mid thirties every day we haven’t strayed far from it. It really is the most beautiful river with crystal clear water and a combination of limestone and pebbles on the bottom. The natural beaches along much of it’s length are accessible and ideal for paddling and swimming.
We have cooled off in the river at some point everyday and I’ve been able to walk upriver and float back down gently with the current. Parfait!
We left the aire near Beynac-et-Cazanac on Monday 29th August 2016 and headed a little further East with no particular plan in mind. We drove through the little village of Carsac-Aillac which had a pretty area with some shade and picnic benches and decided to stop for some lunch. It turned out that the area was a designated aire and was so lovely we ended up staying for three nights.
A disused railway line, now a cycle path, runs straight through the village running east to Souillac and North to Sarlat-la-Canéda. We followed it cycling east until Peyrillac-et-Millac and then crossed over the river to come back a different way.
We needed to find a laundry on Wednesday so opted to use the cycleway to find one in Sarlat. It was only about 8km, flat (big thumbs up from Tim!) and lovely to be away from the traffic. Unfortunately, the cycleway ends abruptly 2km outside Sarlat. It’s a shame it hasn’t been extended to go right into Sarlat as the last 2km isn’t a particularly pleasant ride with several roundabouts to negotiate into the town. Sarlat redeemed itself on Wednesday though after our experience on Saturday with the market.
Even though Wednesday is a market day it was much smaller and much less busy with mainly local fruit and veg stalls, cheeses, foie gras and the like being pedalled.
We found a laverie at the top of the town and spent the 45 minutes whilst the washing was doing it’s thing wandering around the old town. Sarlat, now we could see it, is impressive! We arrived before the lunchtime rush and had time to wander the narrow streets, soaking up the fifteenth and sixteenth century buildings and restaurants with their tables spilling out onto the footpaths, ready for diners.
I’m not sure how you would choose where to eat for lunch as there were so many gorgeous places on offer. Lucky for us we had fresh French stick and cheese waiting for us back at the van so didn’t have that dilemma! So, washing done and a quick flit to Lidl we got back to the cycle path and free wheeled nearly the whole way back to Carsac-Aillac. We hadn’t really noticed but it had been a slight incline all the way to Sarlat. The afternoon was spent lazing by the river marvelling at how much we are enjoying the Dordogne area and how lucky we are to be doing this.
After three nights at Carsac-Aillac we felt the need to move on to Martel, another medieval town which made it’s name during the 13th and 14th centuries when the viscounts established a court of appeal here.
The aire just outside the town looked newly laid and in reality was no more than a large carpark but it was free and we picked up a really strong signal from one of the hotels wifi. We spent the evening, therefore, in silence binging on the internet!
Tim was as happy as larry doing some research for a new camera as I think we are in need of one. Ours has now got some black dots coming out on the middle of the photos. (Keeping it stuffed down the side of my cycling shorts hasn’t seemed to agree with it!)
We cycled to Carennac, another Beaux Village de France, on Friday. We’d parked up 6km away on the north side of the Dordogne as the village is very narrow and motorhomes aren’t allowed to go through it. Having now seen it I can see why.
The bridge across the Dordogne was also equally narrow and just wide enough for cars or small vans.
The village is very compact and well preserved and is best known for its Quercy architecture.
With the bikes back on the van we made our way to Rocamadour and parked up at the free aire at the chateau above the old town. Now we are into September we hoped it would be less busy even though it was a weekend. The aire was very quiet with about half a dozen vans staying so it looked promising. We had an early evening stroll down to the old town and to take some photos in the evening sunshine.
Rocamadour really does defy gravity with no less than seven churches built into the steep hillside.
In medieval times pilgrims flocked here lured in by the supposed miraculous ability of Rocamadours Black Madonna. Tim remarked, after looking at everyone hobbling up and down the many steps and steep slopes that, miracles or not, you can’t stop getting old! Mmm, another reminder why we are doing this trip now before we aren’t able to support our own body weight up and down all these places.
We felt in need of a good walk on Saturday from Rocamadour down through the valley. We tried to find a place mentioned in the Wild Swim, France book of a blue pool nestled in amongst the woods at the bottom of the valley.
Unfortunately, all we found was a stretch of stagnant water, emerging from the hillside, which neither of us fancied getting into. We noticed some diving equipment drying in the sun and spoke to the couple with it who told us the water is some 30 metres deep running underground and re-surfacing again a further 800m up the valley. Rather them than me, diving doesn’t really appeal.
It was disappointing not to find the pool we were looking for but the walk alone was worth it. The trees on the valley sides seemed to be turning russet brown and red before our eyes in preparation for autumn although it seems a bit early, especially with the temperature in the thirties.
The last couple of days we have been heading further south visiting several Bastide towns along the way.
We are parked up for the night at Cordes-sur-Ciel ready to explore it tomorrow before heading further south west and closer to the Pyrénées to see if we can do some walking and cycling. We are feeling that we have a bit of Bastide Burnout now and crave a bit of open countryside and mountains. Or as Tim said ‘I’ve seen enough of these Bastar Bastide towns now!
We’d better get a move on as we have to be in Faro in Portugal for the 14th November 2016 as I have booked a flight back to the UK to see my parents. I haven’t told them yet so I hope they’ll be there otherwise I’ll have to prostrate myself onto other unsuspecting family. It’ll be a test to see if they read the blog anyway!
We arrived bright and early at the motorhome repairers on Thursday 25th August 2016 after having provisioned up in Bergerac the night before. We’d also sorted out everything we would need for our little sojourn on the bikes whilst ‘Ollie’ was with them for a few days. On arriving, the receptionist said the van would be ready at the end of the day! Doh! After all that preparation the camping trip was now ‘off’! Tim’s eyes lit up though as he was keen to get the van done and get back on the road again (read: ‘he was off the hook in terms of the cycling’).
Hmm, I was a little disappointed as I’d been looking forward to our tour on the bikes as the weather was superb, if a bit too hot, in the thirties. Ah well, the cycle tour would have to wait for another time, possibly when we are in the Pyrénées maybe (!). Tim will get his comeuppance! Still, I had the whole day to run Tim into the ground so we left the garage tout de suite on a tour across country, south of Bergerac, towards the Dordogne river.
We stopped to watch the plums being harvested by a machine that shakes the tree and catches the plums underneath. Interesting to watch but I imagine the novelty soon wears off when there are thousands of trees to do.
After a lumpy 20 miles or so we picked up the cycleway west of Lalinde which follows the disused canal and found a lovely spot for lunch down by the river.
France is never short of places to have a picnic! After lunch we headed as far as we could to the end of the canal where it meets the Dordogne at Mauzac-et-Castang.
We returned along the canal towards Bergerac where we were able to cycle a stretch of newly laid path traversing above the river and away from the main road which gave us some beautiful views.
So with the flat bit done and the temperatures now in the mid thirties we made our way across country again to pick the van up. We arrived back at the garage after our 50 mile round trip tired, hot and sweaty and made full use of the air conditioning in their office.
So with ‘Ollie’ now in fine fettle we returned to our original plan of exploring the Dordogne. We stopped for the night in the Bastide town of Belves at a free aire minutes away from the town centre.
Belves is a medieval town and classed as one of France’s ‘Les plus beaux villages de France’. It sits perched on top of a hill commanding far reaching views across the Nauze valley and surrounding countryside approximately 10km south of the Dordogne river.
On Friday morning, after having a mooch around the town, we swooped back down the valley to river level again to explore the towns and clifftop chateaux that this area is famous for.
During the Hundred Years War the Dordogne marked the frontier between the French held north and the English held land to the south.
We based ourselves, for three nights, at an aire outside Beynac-et-Cazenac as we wanted to explore the area by bike and canoe. It also had some very welcome shade!
The aire was a few minutes’ walk from the river where we could have a swim and a wade across to have a look at the village on the other side.
On Friday we just had a short ride into Beynac-et-Cazenac to find somewhere to restock on some food but my jaw dropped as we rounded the corner into the town. The Chateau looks out from the cliff 200m above the road with the village built into the hillside below it.
Thoughts of shopping went out the window for me, as now I’d seen the chateau, I wanted to get to the top. We weren’t prepared as we only had our cycling shoes on which aren’t ideal on steep slopes and would be a bit treacherous on the way down but nothing was going to stop me! Tim wasn’t happy and all I could hear was a faint muttering about it being highly unlikely that there would be an Intermarché at the top! Nevertheless, he dutifully followed me up and was rewarded by an ice cream and spectacular views at the top.
Having now persuaded Tim that it was worth the crawl up we minced all the way back down in our cycling shoes without incident! We found a small local shop to restock and when we got back to the aire we decided the best way to cool off was to sit in the river in our clothes quaffing a bottle of fizz. Why? Because we can!
On Saturday we took a bike trip to Sarlat-La-Canéda on market day. Big mistake! Sarlat, the capital of the Perigord region, is about 10km north of the Dordogne river. The old town would have been a must see but I just wasn’t feeling the love for it as it was heaving with tourists getting in the way of all the beautiful buildings.
Yes, I know we are tourists too. We should have left it until after August or at least not gone on market day.
We spent about an hour there before heading back down the valley to the river where we had lunch.
Next stop was Domme, another Bastide town, dating back to the 13th Century high above the river. It was a bit of a climb on the bikes to the top but well worth it for the views.
Tim did even concede that they were the best views he had ever seen!
The town is well preserved and, even though very touristy, it was much quieter than Sarlat.
We sat and had a coffee at a cafe with views right across the valley.
Now that we were on the south side of the river we made our way west to return to the aire via Castlenaud-la-Chapelle.
By the time we got to the village, which was directly opposite the aire we were staying on, I turned round to see Tim’s face set in the ‘you’ve pushed me too far’ position. Oops! To be fair he did look done in as we had done about 40 miles of hilly terrain. I did offer to wade across the river portering the bikes and panniers but he opted for the extra five miles to the next bridge across the river and back down the other side. I suppose it wouldn’t have done his street cred much good if he was seen slumped on the grass on the other side of the river whilst he watched the ‘Mrs’ struggle to carry all the stuff across!
As Tim had, by now, had had enough of the bike we opted to do a day trip down the river by canoe on Sunday.
This was a much more civilised affair with the current taking us most of the way with a little bit of paddling in between the faster running bits.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves as it was a spectacular even with all the other people on the river.
We’ve now refuelled, filled up with gas and shopping and we are heading further east along the Dordogne. We’ll soon be crossing into the the Midi-Pyréynées region with a stop at Rocamadour by the weekend or early next week. Hopefully it will be a bit quieter then with the schools restarting in September.
Since my last blog update we have been ambling at a very slow pace. We moved on from Brantome on Thursday 14th July 2016 after having spent three nights there. We had a mooch around the very pretty St. Jean de Cole, 20km north east of Brantome. It is ranked as one of the prettiest villages in the Dordogne and it didn’t disappoint.
Beyond the central square, medieval houses cluster together cheek by jowl down narrow alleyways.
As always in France, the flowers and pastel painted shutters create an air of relaxed calm and tranquillity.
Despite it being the middle of July the village was extremely peaceful with a free aire a two minute walk away.
Even though the aire was free at St. Jean de Cole we opted to retrace our steps through Brantome and continue further on to Bordeilles which we had inadvertently stumbled across on our walk the previous day.
The aire at Bordeilles sits on the banks of the river Dronne and covers two large fields with plenty of shade and space to spread out. The weather had heated up again to the top twenties which was why, we discovered later, we had the second field to ourselves as all the intelligent people were parked up under the shade of the trees.
Still, we don’t get weather like this very often in the UK so we thought we’d best make the most of it. We spent a very pleasant evening slowing cooking in the sun playing scrabble in French! Needless to say, that game didn’t last very long.
As part of the Bastille Day celebrations we did make the effort, this time, to go and see the fireworks.
I found a very quiet spot on the river, a few minutes from the aire, to go for a swim but was quite shocked at how cold the water was.
The water in the River Charente a few days before had been cold but not cold cold but the water at Bordeilles was cold cold cold cold cold! However, swimming ‘au natural’ (by that I mean in nature not sans costume!) in such a beautiful river, with views of the chateau, and an occasional passing canoe was another big tick on my bucket list. That’s two ticked off already – only another 200 odd to go!
In the spirit of living a more active lifestyle we rode our bikes the 11km to Aldi in Brantome. Now we have the time to spend two or three hours on the weekly shop it makes sense to go on the bikes when we can as long as it all fits in two panniers each.
In truth, the 22km round trip was more or less flat. I don’t think it would go down too well with Tim if a soiree to the supermarket on the bikes involved too much altitude.
At Bordeilles, we were really getting into a routine of breakfasting al fresco, learning French al fresco, biking alfresco, swimming al fresco and cooking on the Cobb al fresco whilst watching the sun set, naturally, al fresco! I have dreamt of days such as these!
Having spent four nights at Bordeilles, though, we felt ready to move on. We were going to stop at Perigueux, capital of the Dordogne, but it was sooooo hot we decided a very busy town was not where we wanted to be at that moment. So after refuelling with diesel and LPG, followed by a cheeky trip to Lidl, we made our way to Montsignac.
The aire had been recommended to us by a Welsh chap we met in Cognac. It’s €5 per night which includes electric hook up and water and is a few minutes stroll into the town and down to the river. Montignac is in the valley of the River Vezère.
The town, most of which is medieval, is set on both sides of the Vezère river. It is famous for the Grotte de Lascaux, a deep cavern covered with paintings of animals, discovered in 1940 by four boys who stumbled across it.
The paintings were created by the Cro-Magnon people 17,000 years ago and are among the finest example of prehistoric art in existence. The original cavern was opened to the public in 1948 but, due to the deterioration of the paintings from the breath of over a million visitors, it was closed in 1963. So the saying ‘he could strip paint with his breath’ is true!
A replica, Lascaux II, was painstakingly created by twenty artists and sculptors, using the same techniques and materials as the Cro-Magnon people, 200m away and opened in 1983. That too has now been superseded by Lacaux IV.
We spent our time in Montsignac moseying around all the back streets seeking out interesting buildings and I rounded off the day with a swim, at dusk, in the river. The river flows pretty fast which meant swimming against the flow was nigh on impossible without considerable effort. Therefore, the best policy was for me to drift down the river a mile or so, past all the evening diners eating foie gras, hoping no-one would notice me (unlikely) and for Tim to meet me just beyond the bridge. Excellent.
We only stayed the one night in Montignac before moving on down the valley to the delightful village of St. Léon sur Vezère.
The weather was in the mid thirties by this time and, once again, all the intelligent people parked their vans under the trees facing away from the direct heat of the sun. We, on the other hand, parked where there was the least amount of shade with our side door facing directly into the evening sun. We’ll maybe learn at some point in the future, once we’ve crisped up a bit more, but we appear to be very slow learners!
For all our swimming exploits we have loosely been following Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, France book to give us ideas on where might be accessible, safe and interesting for a swim. St. Léon sur Vezère was listed in the book and we found a nice spot away from all the crowds a further mile or so up the river.
It had cooled down with some cloud cover by Wednesday 20th July 2016 so we cycled along the southern side of the river towards Tursac which afforded some fabulous views over the valley and the surrounding countryside.
We stopped at La Roque St. Christophe not knowing what to expect. It takes a lot to impress me but even I have to admit my jaw dropped at the sight of this enormous troglodytic city. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. Humans settled here, in the natural caves created in the limestone cliff face, over 55,000 years ago. Multi storey dwellings sat in the rock face 80 metres above the Vezère river.
The ‘city’ is over 1km long. Although we don’t tend to ‘do’ tourist attractions per se I have to admit this was worth the €8.50 each we paid to go in. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Hopefully they give a sense of the vastness of it.
We cycled on the road running underneath the city giving us a view of the little people above.
We crossed the bridge to take a picture from the north side of the river whilst enjoying the sunflowers swaying in the breeze.
We continued on and found an interesting spot for a swim under the limestone cliff. This was a step too far for Tim as the water was murky, deep and was a likely home, in his mind, for flesh eating aquatic things!
In all, the cycle was only about 16km but with all our stops, detours and the many sights to take in it felt longer.
We have now moved on a whopping 15km further down the valley to Les-Eysies-de-Tayac at another aire on the riverside. The welcome en France to motorhomers continues to inspire!
So having completed our Helpx assignment at Chateau de Jalesnes, and with 10 days off before our next assignment, we felt the need to feel some sand under our toes and sea air in our hair. The weather for our last four days at the chateau had been really hot and sunny so we were looking forward to a bit of sun, sea, sand and surf somewhere on the Atlantic coast of France. We planned to head due west to Jard sur Mer for a weekend stop at an aire right behind the beach. So far, so good. What I hadn’t planned was how tired I was feeling and the fact that the one cell that is my brain refused to work on our departure from Vernantes. I just couldn’t seem to plan a route to the coast flicking over several pages of our French Road Atlas. In the end we programmed in our destination to satty nav (I know many people name their sat navs but I have such little affection for ours that I don’t feel she deserves a name) and I left her to it. All was apparently going well until an hour into the journey when she tried to take us on the motorway which would have fleeced us of many of our hard earned Euros. We try to avoid toll roads when we can as we now have the time to meander along without a care in the world! After a brief discussion, it was agreed that it was more than likely (read, it was) operator error as Tim had thought he’d programmed her to avoid tolls. So, having faffed and fiddled with the thing for an age we set off again. I can’t say I recall much of the journey over to the coast as I was in and out of consciousness in the passenger seat the entire time. I woke up fifteen minutes from our destination with a sore neck!
We managed to grab the last space on the aire that gave us a sea view between the vegetation and we had a wander along the beach to Jard sur Mer.
It was a pleasant enough little seaside town but nothing memorable. We stayed a couple of nights though to laze about and recover from the last two busy weeks! We were able to watch the first Euro 2016 England v Russia match on Saturday night at a local Tabac. The evening’s drinks were courtesy of our friends Nik and Phil who had kindly furnished us with some Euros before we left the UK so cheers to them!
Tim excelled himself with trying to engage the barman in conversation en francais!!(He’s come on leaps and bounds since the last time we were in France when he just managed to order two portions of chips without the aid of a safety net. He was so chuffed with himself you’d think he’d just negotiated the release of ten hostages!)
Tim asked the barman what the locals were drinking as it looked like a watered down Baileys. The barman explained it was called Pastis de Marseille which is widely quaffed en France. He poured us one on the house and it turned out to be a type of Pernod. I can’t say we’ll be rushing out to buy another one!
On Sunday we headed South down the coast to La Rochelle. We were able to stay at Minemes Marina for two nights for zero euro!
It turned out to be an excellent place to stay as it was a 20 minute stroll, along the harbourside, into the old town of La Rochelle. There was also a solar powered water taxi which took us right into the old harbour.
Two days was enough in La Rochelle and on Tuesday we headed over the bridge to the Ile de Re. The island is apparently a popular holiday destination for well heeled Parisians in July and August. It is 19 miles long by 3 miles wide and is a leisure cyclist’s dream destination.
The highest point on the island is only 19 metres so it is super flat but nothing much stops the wind.
We drove to the West end of the island and parked up at an aire at Saint Clement Des Baleines. The pay machine at the aire was out of order so it looked like we were in for yet another free night! Whoop! (Edit: the Gendarme came and collected our money the next morning – we didn’t argue as he was bigger than us!) We had a cycle around the western end of the island and we can see why it is such a popular holiday destination.
The beaches are all accessible and beautiful. The water is clear, green and clean.
The villages are just delightful and everyone seems to be getting about on a bike.
We decided we would spend the rest of the week on the island as it is such a relaxing place to be. The Ile de Re is famous for its salt and the industry is still going strong today.
The island is also home to many migrating birds with near perfect conditions for them. We were amused to see the town at Ars en Re has been Yarn bombed as nearly every pole and post was covered in colourful knitting!
We were able to catch the France match of Euro 2016 at the next door campsite on Wednesday night.
On Thursday we drove the ten miles to park up at an Aire at Le Bois Plage en Re which is another pretty little town on the southern side of the island. The aire is adjacent to a campsite and right behind the beach. We went for another tootle on the bikes over to the fortified town of St. Martin de Re. The weather was perfect and the town is just superb.
We spent a leisurely couple of hours mooching about soaking up the atmosphere. On returning to the van we had another look at the beach and the surf looked inviting enough to go in. Tim wasn’t convinced – it has to be perfect sunshine and clean, green two foot surf for him to break out his wetsuit so I went in by myself, Billy no mates style. We decided not to bring our bodyboards on the trip as we felt they take up too much valuable room in the van but I did bring my flippers and a little hand paddle thingy that I bought about 10 years ago. It’s enough to surf with and doesn’t eat up much room.
The kitesurfers were out in force – there must be a beach for every wind direction on the island.
We finally found some Ile de Re donkeys on Friday just outside St Martin de Re. They were free range in the city ramparts but had an electric fence around them so we weren’t able to get up too close but I managed a few pictures of them.
Some of them look more like highland cattle than donkeys and a few looked like they could do with a good brush and furcut.
How can anyone not love a donkey???
We’ve spent six days on the Ile de Re having a fantastic time enjoying the relaxed pace of life here.
We’ve cycled the length and breadth of the island so it’s now time to move on to the next chapter of the journey. We’re heading inland again to the Deux Sevres region of the Poitou-Charentes about 100kms from La Rochelle for our next Helpx assignment. This one will be back to working on a small holding with animals – dogs, cats, horses and three donkeys.