Spring has arrived…. .

A few blog posts ago it was the end of February.  We’d just left our rental house in Portugal where we’d spent four months.  It was a much needed prolonged break from travel.  A time to have a complete change, feel part of a community again and try on a different country and culture for an extended period.  I wrote, then, about how our four months had been a success but:

‘We’re happy to be back on the road and eager to see where life takes us next’.

At that time, I think it’s fair to say that we could never have foreseen how drastically our ‘loose’ travel plan of visiting Sardinia and Corsica would change in such a short space of time.  However, I also wrote at the end of that blogpost:

‘We also like change.  Change is good for us.  Change challenges us.  Gets us outside                                                                       our comfort zones’.

And that is one of the things I love about this lifestyle.  Nothing is set in stone.  We can change our plans or adapt them if we want to or our plans can change due to things outside our control.  Fortunately, most of the time we are in control.

Living full-time in a van is an alternative lifestyle that will throw up the usual challenges like where to get post sent, specialist insurance, registering with a doctor, visiting a dentist, what to do with all your stuff, prolonged confinement in poor weather etc etc .  But sometimes other challenges arise that are outside our control.

This came to the forefront of our minds when the UK government ‘strongly advised’ UK nationals to return home during this pandemic.  Normally returning to the UK for an extended period of time for whatever reason wouldn’t be a problem as we could stay on a campsite.  Unfortunately, when tougher measures were introduced to contain the virus all the campsites closed, including the small Certified Sites and Certified Locations affiliated to the Camping and Caravanning Club and Caravan and Motorhome Club.

We are a big fan of these privately owned little sites that allow just five vans and they are always our preferred sites when in the UK.  However, being affiliated to the ‘big’ clubs the same rules have been applied to them during this pandemic.  They had to close.  There is one just a mile and a half from where my parents live which we absolutely love and would have been an ideal place to self isolate for the first two weeks.  Then we could have been on hand to be active in the community there.

Many full-timers are on the driveways of family or friends or other kind hearted people who have offered a space for those in need of it.  It’s a shame as I’m sure many CL and CS sites would have been happy to accept just one full-timing van onto their site providing a bit of income for them in these strange times.

We would have found a solution but fortunately we have landed firmly on our feet in coming back to the chateau.  It’s a bit surreal in a way as we can be oblivious to the outside world here if we choose to be.  We have the freedom to walk the grounds.  We have peace and quiet.  Wifi.  Satisfying work to do.  It makes me feel a bit guilty really when so many other people are suffering right now.

This weekend the chateau should have been full of wedding guests.  It doesn’t look like there will be any weddings anytime soon.  There’s still work to be done though.   We’ve made the most of the spring weather getting out in the grounds.  The vegetable patch has been dug over, paths and flower beds have been weeded, herb gardens planted, grass mowed and seeds sowed.

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Bella, the Burnese puppy.  At six months old she still has some growing to do.

I never used to like gardening.  I always found it a chore.  That was in the days before podcasts though.  Now I can get an education whilst weeding, planting, mowing and sowing.  I’ve just got to work on my concentration.  Never a podcast goes by without my mind wandering off all over the place.

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Digging over the herb garden.

For the first week we weren’t really feeling like we were in confinement.  Then the food supplies dwindled.  The snacks ran out after three days.  What can I say?  I’m an all or nothing kind of person.  Budgeting chocolate or crisps just doesn’t work for me.  We’d done a last shop at Lidl on the day we left Spain as we knew we had to self isolate here for the first two weeks.  The owners and the two other volunteers did offer to shop for us but we’re resourceful.  We’d survive.  Odd combinations of food make a nice change I think.  By the end of last week we were down to the tin of haggis.

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Scotland’s finest.

Our friends Sam and Chris gave us the tinned haggis to try when we visited them in the Highlands in May 2018.  Sorry Sam but it was still in the cupboard at the back of the van.  But, needs must when the devil drives so the tin of haggis got eaten.  Even if it was a few months out of date.  It did taste better than it looked.

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Et voila.  Pedigree Chum on a Plate!

It’s the last day of our confinement now so we’ll be able to stock up on supplies again.

We have our ‘attestation’ forms at the ready if we are stopped on the way to the nearby Super U.

It’s going to feel so different to the last time we were there though.

Stay safe everyone.

À la prochaine!

Time to leave Spain…. .

This last week has seen unprecedented decisions being made around the world in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  We came to the decision on Sunday 22nd March that our time was fast running out in Spain as it was finally confirmed that all short term accommodation, including campsites, had to close by 26th March.  We were still on the aire at Úbeda in north eastern Andalucía mulling over our options.

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The aire at Úbeda.

We were down to just two vans by this stage, us and the French.  The German, Belgian and Spanish vans had decided to call it a day and repatriate themselves to their homes.  I suspect we’d have done the same at the time they had if we’d had a home to go back to.  As we’re ‘full-timing’ in our van and our house is currently rented out this wasn’t an option for us.  When we return to the UK to see family and friends we normally stay on a campsite but by this time all the campsites in the UK were closed as well.  Mmm, what to do?  So we chewed over our options.  And chewed a bit more.  Finally we came up with a Plan A, B, C and D.  Fortunately for us Plan A came through so we didn’t have to get the ball rolling on B, C or D.

We sent an email to Jenny and David at Chateau de Jalesnes in France where we have volunteered through Helpx twice before to see if they needed any help and would be willing to take us.  Our reasoning was that they have plenty of space where we would still be able to work in exchange for our keep, we would be completely out of the way from other people to self isolate and it would be likely we could stay long term.  We had an email back the same day to confirm that we were welcome as we could self isolate there without any problem and, due to the current situation, there were only Jenny and David and two other helpers there.

So, on Monday we packed up, filled up with diesel, went to Lidl to do a shop to tide us over for our two weeks of isolation and hit the road.  We were stopped by the police in Spain going through a small town south of Ávila.  After my attempt at speaking Portunol (a mangled version of Portuguese and Spanish) the officer called over his colleague to deal with the ‘Inglés’.   The officer was exceptionally polite referring to us all the time as Timothy and Jane and after a passport and driving licence check and a few questions about why we were travelling, where we had come from and where we were going etc we were on our way again with firm advice to get a move on.

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Olives everywhere.
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Empty roads.

A five kilometre queue of traffic greeted us coming up to the border with France at Irun in Northern Spain.  From what I’d read we needed an ‘attestation’ form stating why we were travelling to be able to cross the border into France.  As we had no access to a printer, and I didn’t know if we would be able to pick up the forms at the border, I’d written two forms out by hand which was apparently acceptable.  I was sooo glad I had written them out as the first word the officer said to me as we went over the border was ‘attestation’.  I hadn’t filled them in though as the five valid reasons for travel didn’t include ‘repatriating to home country’ (which we weren’t going to do but he didn’t need to know that).  He just accepted that we had the forms and told us to fill them in on route.

The whole route would have been pretty much stress free had I not had a nagging anxiety that if we were stopped in France and quizzed about where we were going we would be prevented from going there and directed to go straight to Calais.  I had decided that if we were stopped then I would be honest as I know I would unravel under even the mildest of interrogations.   I’m a hopeless liar and they would see through me straight away.

Sticking to the autoroute added an extra sixty kilometres to our journey but when we finally came off it we only had twelve kilometres to do on a minor road which didn’t go through any towns or villages to get us to the chateau so the likelihood of being stopped was considerably less.  Ironically the exit off the autoroute for the final stretch went right past the Gendarmerie National and we were expecting the game to be up, to be stopped, fined and sent packing back to Calais but there was not a single police car in sight.  We arrived at the chateau and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

We’re now in isolation for two weeks and have, very generously, been put up in one of the apartments in the chateau with our own entrance so as to keep us separated.  We have been working in the garden for the last few days which has been just brilliant after nearly two weeks of being ‘van-bound’.

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There’s plenty to do in the grounds.

We are so grateful to be here and know that we are super lucky to be able to be outside in the grounds without the restrictions that everybody else is going through.

Nobody knows how long this situation is going to go on for.

France has just announced a further two weeks of lock-down until 15th April.

It looks like we’ll be here for some time.

Keep safe, keep washing those hands and keep optimistic.

À trés vite!

A hop, skip and a jump across France and Spain…. .

Some days don’t always turn out how you expect them to.  On leaving the chateâu our plan had been to get south of Bordeaux for our first stop.  Unfortunately, the sat nav seemed to be having an ‘off’ day.  After lack of use over several months during the summer I was thinking she was a tad rusty.  She just didn’t want to take us the way I thought she should be taking us.  And she was being really stubborn about it by trying to get us back to where she wanted us to go after I’d over ruled her.  Again.  And again.  And again.  So anyway, after a diversion following a road closure and what seemed like forever we arrived in Cognac well short of our intended first stop.

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Cognac.

Still, Cognac isn’t the worst place we could have ended up in and the aire is just a few metres from the river.  I had thought the quickest route to get us south of Bordeaux avoiding tolls would be via Niort but the sat nav was trying to take us via Poitiers.  On hindsight I should have kept my nose out really and left her to get on with it.  Long story short, and though it pains me to admit it, I think her route via Poitiers would have been better.  Ah well.  I didn’t admit that to Tim until a few days later.  It was baking hot when we arrived in Cognac though so we enjoyed a stroll around the town in the evening.

The following day we did manage to get south of Bordeaux and arrived in the seaside town of Capbreton just before a massive storm.  The sky had been looking ominous for several hours and the heavens opened just as we got parked up at the intermarche.

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It’s not all sunshine and roses you know.

We’d been to Capbreton last year and, as it’s just a short detour from the motorway, it made an ideal stop for the night.  The aire (read: carpark) is directly behind the beach, has electric hook up, water and services and a bread van that visits in the mornings.  €10 a night is all they ask.

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At least the storm blew over for an evenig stroll on the beach at Capbreton.

Fortunately, the aire is fairly sheltered behind the dunes as it lashed down nearly all night.

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The rain came again for most of the night and the next morning though.

Faced with more rain in the morning we were on the road early heading for San Sebastián just over the border into Spain.  The aire in San Sabastián is easy to get to, cheap, quiet and a fifteen minute walk from the seafront.  After visiting for the first time last year we really love it.

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Beach art at San Sebastian.

The town has a really nice vibe to it and we were happy to pass the evening sampling various different Pinxtos, the Basque regions answer to Tapas, in one of the bars.

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Pinxtos (they look fab but in reality they’re a bit too salty and greasy for me).

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img_20191015_173055382_mpEven though we only do about four hours or so of driving per day when we are on the move it does feel like enough.  Having nearly three weeks to get to where we need to be in Southern Portugal we do have time to linger so after four days of driving we pitched up at a campsite twenty kilometres outside Burgos close to a via verde (cycle route on a disused railway) which looked interesting. Tim could swap the driving seat for the saddle for a day.  I’m sure he was thrilled.  No excuses now we have the magic of electric bikes.  Alas, electric bikes don’t shelter you from the rain.  And it was raining again in the morning.  The via verde would have to wait for another time. 

We are both fair weather cyclists.  I don’t mind walking in the rain but I hate cycling in the rain.  We like to think we are quite the ‘outdoorsy’ kind of couple but, in truth, we are quite the ‘indoorsy’ kind of couple when it comes to inclement weather.  We were southern softies before we started our trip and now we are even worse.  We don’t venture out unless it’s dry and at least twenty degrees!  It can be a bit of a hindrance as we have shied away from countries where the temperature is likely to drop into single digits.  I’m looking at you Norway. 

So anyway, the bikes didn’t see the light of day and we were back on the road again heading for Salamanca. 

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Salamanca.

It never ceases to amaze me how inexpensive public transport seems to be everywhere except the UK.  We pitched up for a couple of nights at Don Quijote campsite several kilometres to the east of Salamanca and took the bus into town. At €2.90 return each it was a bargain. 

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Part of the University.

There is a cycleway from the campsite into the city but dodgy weather and the thought in the back of our heads that the bikes might disappear in a large city put paid to that idea.  It’s always in the back of my mind that our bikes are likely to be stolen when left for a few hours in a large city but it doesn’t usually put us off leaving them.  However, knowing that we will be spending four months in Portugal in one place in a couple of weeks time with the bikes as our only form of transport did make me feel a bit precious about them.  It was either that or the fact that I’ve been reading several things about the ‘law of attraction’ recently that made me think if I keep thinking that the bikes are going to be stolen then they probably will be! 

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Museum of Art  Nouveau and Art Deco.

IMG_20191018_113048929_HDR.jpgSalamanca is worth a visit.  It’s quite compact and easy to navigate and explore on foot.  Most of the interesting bits are traffic free giving it a big tick from me.

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The Cathedral.

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Casa de las Conchas – House of the shells.  A symbol of the Order of  Santiago.

The 18th Century square is ‘wow’ inducing even with a book festival being set up in the middle of it. 

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The impressive Plaza Mayor.

IMG_20191018_124802083_HDR.jpgWe stopped in at Cáceres for the night before heading for the border into Portugal. 

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Cáceres

Oh it’s attractive enough but I thought we would be seeing a bit of drama with ‘hanging houses’ perched on rocky outcrops which I’d read about sometime in the dark and distant past.  Obviously if I’d done some research before we arrived I would have realised I’d mixed it up with Cuenca.  Ah well, it’s an easy mistake to make……….maybe. 

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IMG_20191020_121102271_HDR.jpgAnyway, Portugal was on our radar and couldn’t be ignored any longer. 

Hasta luego! 

Time passes très vite at the château…. .

It’s always a risk going somewhere or doing something a second time if you’ve enjoyed your first experience of it.  There’s always the risk that the second time around doesn’t really match up to your expectations or what you were hoping for.  Some things are worth seeing or doing once but you wouldn’t necessarily want to do them again.   We’ve enjoyed all the Helpx’s we have done (some more than others) and they were all worth doing but there are just a few that we have ever considered going back to.  One of them was Donkey HQ in Portugal which we went back to in December last year and another was Chateau de Jalesnes where we are now.

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Helpxing with the donkey’s, Portugal 2018.

There have been rewards and frustrations with all the Helpx’s we have done so far.  I think we have stayed with seven different hosts and, other than Donkey HQ where we stayed two months, we have spent between three and four weeks at a time with a host.

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Helpxing on Jan and Dave’s smallholding in the UK, 2016.

Helpx involves staying with a host (generally a couple or a family) and doing, on average, four hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food.  The types of opportunities you can apply for range from helping out on farms, smallholdings, B&B’s, backpacker’s hostels, summer camps, language exchanges and the like.  They all vary and what the host expect varies as well although they are all supposed to follow the guidelines outlined on the Helpx website.

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The Dairy Farm, Germany 2017.

Generally you live with the host in their home although some hosts provide separate accommodation.  As you can imagine living with other people in their home can be challenging sometimes especially when you are on the mature side like us!  Despite the challenges though we’ve always laughed our way through them and we would still say that all the Helpx opportunities we have done have been worth doing, we’ve learnt loads and we’ve been able to have a go at things that we would never be employed to do without some experience.  I mean no-one was ever going to pay us to be let loose with forty four alpacas without some sort of certificate in Alpaca care were they?

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The Alpacas, Germany 2017.

So, after that rambling introduction, was coming back to Chateau de Jalesnes a second time and committing to staying nearly four week’s worth it?  Absolutely.  I think we can say we have enjoyed our time here more the second time around.  The balance between work and free time has been spot on.

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Free time for a bit of relaxation.

After the wedding the first weekend we were here, when it was all a bit manic, things quietened down considerably as the season came to a close.  The guests have been few but there is still work to be done but it’s not been all go at the chateau.  I mean, it’s not a holiday, you do have to work every day but our hosts, Jenny and David, are exceptional and have just left us to get on with things at our own pace.

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Alex, our Brazilian helper mowing in the rain with great panache.

There’s always something to do either inside or outside. After the wedding guests had left all the beds needed making.  Fortunately, there are a couple of ladies who come in to clean the apartments after an event so we just needed to make the beds.  It was a lot of beds but we had quite a good system going and managed pretty well.

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Who would have thought Tim would be making beds?

Thank the Lord for fitted sheets and whoever invented duvets with slits in the top corners to yank the top of the duvet through is a genius.

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Ta Dah!

We’ve had plenty of free time to ‘do our own thing’ and have had access to the chateau car for trips out.

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Saumur chateau.

I have to confess we’ve not been out a great deal as generally the weather has been poor but also we have been happy to potter about with our own interests during our free time.

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Cafe culture was more enticing than Saumur chateau though.

We’ve frequented one of the local bars in the village a couple of times and were made to feel really welcome.

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When in France…………..
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Challenging the locals to a game of darts.

Tim went along to a local band a couple of times and was made to feel really welcome and I think they were a bit disappointed he wasn’t in the area longer.  I’m not sure Tim was too disappointed though!

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The local band.

We’ve been invited at least twice a week to eat with Jenny and David, our hosts, and Tim has been able to play at a couple of them.

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An evening with our hosts.
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An impromtu ‘Summertime’ from the brides Mum on the last night they were at the chateau.
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Not a bad view.

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Homemade Lamingtons – an Austalian sponge cake rolled in chocolate and coconut.
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A fish and chip night at an English owned bar at one of the nearby villages.

It suits us here as the volunteers are housed in an outbuilding in the garden of the chateau which is affectionately known as the ‘Hi-De-Hi’.

img_20191008_185309960_hdr Anyone middle aged living in the UK will understand why.

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The Hi-De-Hi cast from the 1980’s comedy series.

We’ve shared the Hi-De-Hi with Alex from Brazil and Jigmy from the U.S. who have both been considerate house mates.

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Alex just before he left with his homemade bag made from rope and clingfilm!
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Jigmy.

We are given a weekly allowance each to buy food at the local supermarket and we can just shop for whatever we want and put it on the Chateau tab.

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Tim. Super U. 2019
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Tim. The same Super U. 2016!

We all shopped separately and cooked for ourselves which suited me as on other Helpx’s I’ve ended up doing a fair amount of cooking which takes quite a lot of time and can be a bit tedious if all I really wanted was a sandwich.

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A baguette and cheese does us for lunch.

All the people who had worked at the chateau throughout the season were invited to a lunch as a thank you for all their hard work.

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Retrieving the chairs from a cave in the moat.

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Jenny supervising the caterers!
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The big clean up after.
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Pretty in pink.

The Hi-De-Hi was in need of a freshen up so we were tasked with doing just that.  Now, decorating wouldn’t normally be my kind of fun activity but as the weather had been pretty grim since the wedding guests had left I was quite happy to have an indoor project that would keep us going for several days.

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Painting the Hi-De-Hi.

We’ve managed to get the walls and ceilings done in the three bedrooms, the living room, kitchen and bathroom and we’ll leave all the window frames and doors to the next Helpxer’s.

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Voila!
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Room with a view.

So our time here Helpxing at Chateau de Jalesnes has come to an end and it’s time to hit the road again.

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We hadn’t realised there was a donkey at the neighbours next door until a couple of days ago.  Doh!

Thank you to Jenny and David for hosting us again and being such great hosts.  We’ve been here almost four weeks and it really only feels like two but we’re ready for the next chapter in our travels.

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Au revoir.

We’ve decided not to dilly dally in France for too long so we are heading  towards San Sebastian in Northern Spain as it feels like time for a new country and culture.  We spent a few days in San Sebastian about the same time last year but it had turned really really really cold so we’re hoping this time we can experience it with a bit of sunshine and warmth.

Here’s hoping.

À bientôt!

Escape to the Château… .

So, we’ve been in France more than a week already.  The time has shot past.  We love France as it is sooooo motorhome friendly.  We had a couple of days of relaxation before we were due to arrive at our next Helpx.  We headed straight for the Pays de la Loire region as that is the area we’ll be volunteering in until the middle of October.  We parked up in a little aire just a stones throw from the river Mayenne in the little village of Grez-Neuville just twenty kilometres north west of Angers.

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A free aire by the river in Grez-Neuville.

The aire was free, the sun was out and with a cycle path along the river in either direction it was the perfect place to wind down after our few months working at the campsite.

 

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View round the corner from the aire.

We have visited the  Pays de la Loire region several times over the years and really like it.  Away from the cities it’s a tranquil place to be.

 

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Grez-Neuville.

We took a leisurely bike ride north along the river in the direction of Château-Gontier.

 

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Bikes are well catered for.  There were even charging points for electric bikes.

Within minutes of starting our cycle we were waylaid by these guys.

 

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http://www.savonnerie-lait-anesse.fr

Oh, how happy was I to get some hands on donkey time again.  There must have been about twenty or so of them.  The couple that own them make and sell soaps, shampoo and cremes from the milk of the donkeys.

 

IMG_20190917_113618957_HDR.jpgWe first came across this breed of donkey, les baudet du Poitou, when we were visiting the Ile de Ré in 2016.  They are an endangered breed and the couple, when they created their business, chose the Piotou to help to save the breed.

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Modern France today…….a machine replaces the boulangerie:(

Anyway, as the title of this blog post hints at we are back at Chateau de Jalesnes for a few weeks.

 

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Château de Jalesnes.

 

Some of the long term readers may remember we spent a few weeks here in May 2016.  It was the second Helpx of our trip and we’ve been meaning to come back again but have never quite fitted it in.  Well, now we are back and we are really pleased to be here.  It’s like we have never been away.

 

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The view out back!

There have been some further improvements and the chateau now has about seventeen apartments and is becoming established as a popular wedding venue.  A couple of years ago it was featured on the Channel 4 series ‘Escape to the Chateau’.

 

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It was wedding fever over the weekend.

We were fortunate to be a part of the last wedding of this season over the weekend.  An English couple commandeered the whole chateau for the weekend with just over one hundred guests.

 

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All my own work!

The chateau can accommodate fifty or so guests so some were staying in the local area.  It was a lot of work.

 

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The tables only took about five hours to set up.

Rooms to prepare, lawns to mow, bars to be set up, chairs and tables to be put out blah blah blah.

 

 

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The jumbo bath with a view in the Clock Tower.

Alex (a helper from Brazil) and Tim manned the bar on Friday and Saturday night.

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It’s the first time Tim has ever done barwork!

Everything went according to plan and it was great to be involved.  A three minute deluge of rain in between the cheeses and the dessert where everyone got soaked didn’t seem to matter and I expect everyone will remember it for a long time to come!

 

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Here comes the bride.

We finally got into bed at 4.00am on the Saturday night.  It’s the latest I’d been to bed in a couple of decades that’s for sure!

À bientôt!

 

 

 

Biarritz, Bayonne and the Basque countryside…. .

Well, the continuous run of good weather we’ve been having for the last month finally broke last night.  We were lashed by continuous rain throughout the night which looks like it is set for the day so it’s time for a duvet day and a catch up on the blog.  We are more than happy to have a lazy day after a week or so of sightseeing and walking.  It’s a shame it’s the weekend though as a duvet day is just that little bit more enjoyable on a weekday. Especially a Monday.  But hey ho you can’t time the weather.

So leaving our final stop at Capbreton on the Côte d’Argent we continued south into the La Côte Basque heading for an aire at Anglet at the mouth of the river Adour from where we would be able to walk to Biarritz and Bayonne.  The aire was in an ideal location set below the road at the edge of the river away from the large seafront carpark.  It would have made for a perfectly relaxing couple of nights had we been able to actually get in to it.  Ah, the joys of over engineered machines.  After fifteen minutes of faffing, jabbing, prodding and poking the machine the barrier still wouldn’t budge.  By this time I’d paid twice and been harangued by two French couples simultaneously jabbering away at me in rapid fire French offering me the benefits of their wisdom on the workings of the machine.  I did thank them as they were only trying to help but I couldn’t concentrate on anything with them all talking at once.  The upshot was that the machine was supposed to print out three different tickets but only spat out two (well, four because I’d paid twice) which wasn’t the magic formula for opening the barrier.  Fed up by this point we reversed away from the barrier and decamped to the sea front car park.  Meh.

Ce n’est pas grave as the French would say as we still had an excellent couple of days soaking up the ambience of Biarritz and around for a spot of people watching.  Surfers were out enjoying the waves, families and dog walkers were out strolling in the sunshine and we were out observing it all.  We walked the four or five miles along the sea front to Biarritz which took quite a while as we were waylaid stopping to watch the surfers one side of the path and the golfers on the other.   Before going into decline in the 1950’s, Biarritz was the Monte Carlo of the Atlantic coast and a playground for monarchs and important shiny people but the rise of the Côte d’Azur in the 1960’s put paid to that.  Rediscovered in the early 1990’s by affluent Parisians and a new international surfing set it is now firmly back on the map.

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Grande Plage, Biarritz with the restored 1930’s Casino behind the beach to the right.

Boasting six lovely sandy beaches it’s a great place to lose a few hours sitting at a beachfront cafe eyeballing the surfers.  It definitely has a glamorous but laid back feel to it although every inch of space on the promenade, beach and water is, I suspect, fiercely fought for in the height of the summer.

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Soaking up the surfing vibe with a glass of vino on Grande Plage seafront. 

Bayonne, by contrast, the following day was all but deserted although it was Sunday.  Three miles inland from the coast Bayonne is small by city standards and the narrow streets of the old town are a pleasure to stroll around.  Attractive, tall half timbered buildings abound with the added attraction of the fourteenth century castle and the twin towers of the Cathedral.  The three mile walk along the river from Anglet was pretty unremarkable and a bit noisy and grim though so we made the return journey on the bus.

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Bayonne.

St-Jean-De –Luz, purported to be the most attractive resort on the Basque coast, was our next stop.  We got to the small aire situated just outside the old town and shoe horned ourselves into a space.  Happy campers we were not.  Even though it’s less than a five minute walk to the centre of the town, harbour and beach it has nothing else going for it.  It’s tight for space and sandwiched between four lanes of traffic to the front and a busy railway line to the back.  If we were going to enjoy St-Jean then it was time to spend out on a campsite.  And we are soo glad we did.  For €18 with our ACSI card we had a sea view at Bord de la Mer campsite and it was a lovely two kilometre walk along the coast into town.

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The view from the window at Camping Bord de la Mer, St-Jean-De-Luz.

With its safe, sandy beach, pretty plaza and upmarket boutique shopping it’s a popular spot for holiday makers but also being the only natural harbour between Arcachon and Spain St Jean is still a busy fishing port landing mainly anchovies and tuna.

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St-Jean-De-Luz.

Having hugged the coast for the best part of two hundred kilometres it was time to head into the Basque hinterland for a few days before coming back to the coast to cross the border into Spain.  We based ourselves at an aire at the delightful knoll-top village of Sare as it looked like a good base for walking and we weren’t disappointed.  We took a footpath up the steep hill out of the village which gave us glorious views over the surrounding countryside.

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View towards La Rhune from Sare village.

We weren’t heading anywhere in particular but just climbing up………..and up.

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Climbing up one of the footpaths from the village.

We didn’t realise, until the path cut across the railway track, that a rack and pinion train built between 1912 and 1924 climbs the steep gradient up to the top of La Rhune, the last mountain top at 905 metres before the Pyrenees fall away down to the Atlantic.  We’d passed the station on our way to Sare but thought it was more a funicular thing with the train just going a short way up the mountain to clear the trees to give a nice view.  We were fortunate to arrive a few minutes before a train trundled along on its way down the mountain and we watched and waved as it passed.

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Le petit train.

The train takes thirty five minutes to get to the summit at a sedate nine kilometres an hour.

The following morning we went to the station intending to go on the train but a sign up said that the summit was hidden under a blanket of cloud so we decided we didn’t want to pay €19 each not to be able to see our hands in front of our faces at the top.  Instead we went back to the aire at Sare and I decided to walk up to the top on the off chance that the cloud would clear while Tim pottered about in the van doing various jobs and sorting out some music ready for his next gig………whenever that might be.

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One of the many Pottok ponies, a breed of rural pony living mainly in the Western part of the Basque Country, were freely roaming the hillsides.

Oh I’m so glad I made the effort to walk up as by the time I got to the top the cloud had lifted and I sat eating my lunch in glorious sunshine with a panoramic view.  Merveilleux!

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View on the summit from my lunch spot.

I must have enjoyed it as I walked up again with Tim the next day.

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Three trains on the track below (there is a passing place on the flat section of the track).

It was touch and go whether we’d see anything at the top but we surfaced into the sunshine above the cloud hanging over the summit and had our lunch under warm sunny skies.  Parfait!

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On the top above the clouds.

A quick flit to the pretty village of Ainhoa, lined with seventeenth century houses, ten kilometres away ended our tour of the French side of the Pays Basque and our time in France before we pointed ourselves in the direction of the coast again heading for San Sebastián or Donastia to give it its Basque name.

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The pretty village of Ainhoa where these houses have a ringside view of the Pelota court.

Hasta luego!

La Côte D’Argent…. . 

After leaving our last Helpx near Niort in the Poitou Charente region we headed south beyond Bordeaux bound for the sea on La Côte D’Argent – the Silver Coast.  The big draw for us to this area was the endless sandy beaches.  We do like a nice good, long sandy beach.  The Côte D’Argent covering more than 200km from Pointe de Grave in the north and Bayonne in the south, is, according to our Rough Guide to France, the longest, straightest, sandiest stretch of coastline in Europe which boasts La Dune de Pilat, the largest dune in Europe as well as Les Landes, the largest forest in Western Europe.  There was also the promise of some nice, flat, easy cycling along traffic free cycleways through the forest.

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Le Teich wetland area.

For our first couple of nights we parked up at a free aire at Le Teich, east of Arcachon.  Being one of the most important wetland areas left in France it was a perfect stop off for a couple of days of rest and relaxation to do a spot of birdwatching.  The Parc Ornitholigique du Teich is a bird sanctuary and protected area and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of two different walks.  The wetland area seems a world away from the approach to it as it seemed as if everyone was escaping to the coast from Bordeaux for the weekend.

 

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.  The Parc Ornitholigique du Teich.

We had intended to have a gander around Arcachon but decided against it after seeing the queues of traffic to get there.  Instead we peeled off to the south to the Dune du Pilat.  We caught a glimpse through the trees of a crowd of people on the dune not long before we got to the parking area.  Tim said ‘oh look at all those people on that dune there must be some sort of event going on’.    I said ‘Tim, the dune is the event’.  Tim’s general modus operandi is to just punch in the co-ordinates to the satnav that I give him without asking where or what it is we are headed for.  He is more than happy to wait for everything to unfold before him all in its own time.  I think it must be a nice way to be but I’m too much of a control freak to be able to be like that as I need to know where we are going and why way before we have even started the engine.  It’s fair to say we were both really impressed by the scale of the dune.  We’d parked half a mile away from the main parking area which proved to be a wise decision as a footpath through the forest led to the bottom of the dune where we could make our ascent by ourselves without any company at all.

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Tim almost on his hands and knees climbing to the top of the Dune du Pilat.

At over one hundred metres high, three kilometres long and five hundred metres wide it really was an impressive sight especially as we had the perfect weather for it.

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It’s vast.

P1130698.JPGA very gregarious French chap in the car park called us over just as we were locking up the van and advised us to scramble to the top, walk the length of the ridge, slide down to the beach, then walk back along the beach and to return to the car park via another footpath.  It was good advice as it made for an excellent two hour round trip.

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Coming down the dune towards the beach.
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The beach below.

Numerous sea side resorts which are popular with surfers dot this stretch of coastline whilst inland a string of lakes draw in fishermen, boaters and families as they offer watersports facilities and safe swimming.  We enjoyed a lunch time stop at Cazaux-Sanguinet lake on our way to our overnight stop at Gastes.  It must get absolutely packed in July and August but we were able to enjoy a stroll along the lakeside with just a few other families.

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A lunch stop at Cazaux-Sanguinet lake .

I was absolutely chuffed to bits to watch three young otters feeding in between the moorings at the side of the lake opposite the aire in Gastes the following morning. Oh if only I’d had my camera with me but I was just returning from the early morning walk to the boulangerie with a baguette safely tucked under my arm so hadn’t even thought about taking the camera with me.  C’est la vie!

We were fortunate with the weather for the ten days we spent on the Côte D’Argent as we could imagine the area could be a bit desolate out of season in inclement weather.  Some of the resorts were completely closed up for the season whilst others just had a few cafes open even though we were still basking in sunshine in the low twenties.

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That’s the first time my wetsuit has seen the light of day for over a year…..and I think it’s shrunk as it took me forever to get on!

Fortunately we were spoilt for choice with aires, which ranged from between 6 and 10 euros a night, spending a couple of nights at a time in one place giving us time to get out on the bikes to explore.

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The aire at Contis Plage.

There isn’t a coastal road as such but there is a cycleway that winds its way through the forest and forms part of La Velo Odyssee, a 1200 kilometre cycle route linking Roscoff in northern France to Hendaye on the Spanish border.

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Part of the cycleway through Les Landes.

Traffic free, smooth and pretty much flat we happily tootled along through the pine trees stopping in at a resort or two to have lunch and to watch the few surfers that were out.

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Excellent lunch stop at Saint Girons Plage.

The Landes forest is totally vast and totally manmade.  Until a century ago the constantly shifting dunes made any attempt to settle or cultivate the land impossible.  Pines and grasses were planted to anchor the dunes and they now extend to over 10 000 square kilometres and were declared a parc naturel régional in 1970.  It’s an under-populated area but wealthy thanks to its pinewood and pine derivatives.

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Tim entertaining customers at a bar at Contis Plage.  Without the aid of a safety net he’d asked the barman if they wanted a bit of music and he said ‘Oui, porquoi pas’ or words to that effect!  He was a happy as larry playing into the setting sun with a few complementary beers to keep him going.

Our last port of call along this coast before we moved into the Pays Basque region was Capbreton.  There is a large aire behind the beach which is really just a car park but convenient for getting out onto the beach and soaking up the atmosphere.  It’s a popular area and much more lively with hundreds of surfers out.

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Capbreton.
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World War II bunkers on the beach at Capbreton.

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A perfect evening for a bit of body surfing before the setting sun.

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Next up, the Pays Basque.

Bonne Soirée!