Monthly Archives: September 2012

Dompierre-su-Charente, Charente Maritime, Thursday 16th August 2012

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Spacious Campsite at Dompierre-sur-Charente

This little village by the Charente river has a special place in our hearts and we seem to drift here almost unconsciously.  We wild camped by the usual fishing spot for Adonis last night, but we have now moved into the adjacent campsite to make use of the showers, the washing facilities and electricity.

It’s been very hot and the place is very lively on the river bank, with both campers and day trippers, especially by the ‘bac’, the river crossing barge to Rouffiac, almost like a snap-shot from the past and so nice to see it in operation being manually worked by staff and customers alike!

Wild camping at Dompierre-sur-Charente

We arrived yesterday afternoon after a bit of a dramatic trip on the A10, where our right back tyre burst, just 11km south of our exit at J36.  The funny thing is that it was the first day of rain we’d seen since we crossed from Germany into France back on 22nd July and we had to stand on the hard shoulder under an umbrella until our road rescue arrived, thankfully only 20 minutes!  The mechanic tried to change the tyre there and then, but the spare tyre was not fully inflated and he took us to his garage at Soubran, off J37 to get it up to road-worthy standards.  This all happened just before midday and we finally made it here for 3pm, so we had a very late lunch!  The burst tyre also managed to damage the skirt panel and completely obliterated the mud-guard, so we were lucky we didn’t get hurt.  It certainly made me scream when it burst, but luckily Adonis was driving and he had the van under control.

Le Bac at Dompierre-sur-Charente

After all that excitement and adrenaline flowing, we just chilled by the river bank fishing and reading and I finished ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo’ e-book, which I enjoyed enormously.  I will download the other 2 in the future too and I hope they’ll be just as good.

This morning we drove into Saintes to buy 2 new back tyres, just to be sure, as we don’t want any more nasty surprises.  The front ones were replaced earlier on in the year, so we should be all right for a while.

Tomorrow we are planning to do as little as possible and on Saturday we’d like to visit Cognac and by some of the famous liquor, which will be very comforting in the winter months.

After that, we’ll be heading for V.I.P Pêche (Ayron) near Poitiers again, as I’d like to see it in the summer, after having seen those gorgeous autumn colours last October.

Fishing on the Charente

 

 

 

Dompierre-sur-Charente

Gaumont-sur-Garonne, Lot-et-Garonne Department, Tuesday 14th August 2012

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Gaumont-sur-Garonne motorhome aire

 

We’ve just finished our dinner of Flammekueche with onions and lardons accompanied by the most delicious fresh Marmande tomatoes that we purchased from a lady by the side of the canal on this most fantastic little aire.

 

Having dinner right by the canal

Unusually for us, we travelled after lunch as the aire we had chosen to stop for the day at Casteljaloux was full, even though we arrived there by 11am, so we were forced to find somewhere nearby to stop for lunch and we took our chances down the D6 slightly north east to Le Mas d’Agenais, right on the Garonne river.

 

Le Mas d’Agenais

 

A barge down the canal at Le Mas d’Agenais

 

We found a nice spot by Le-Boat offices in the shade of a tree and we had lunch there, a quick siesta and a swim in the river, as it was extremely hot in the van and needed to cool off.  While we were resting, the sun had shifted and we felt we were being baked alive inside the motorhome, so we felt it was wise to go and find some shaded further down the river on the D143, only about 6km downstream and, as we crossed the little bridge over the canal, we spotted a few motorhomes on the side we’d just come from, so we did a u-turn as soon as it was possible to do so and came back to this little gem on the Garonne, which seems to be free too and has space for 10 vehicles.

 

Fishing at Gaumont-sur-Garonne aire

 

It’s been a very easy day all in all after returning our key to the Tourist Information Office in Barbotan-les-Thermes just after 9am and doing our shopping at Intermarché in Cazaubon.  We then followed the N524 past Gabarrer to join the D933 at Lapeyrade and north to Casteljaloux, which looked very lively by the lake Lac de Clarens, similar to Samatan’s.  It would have cost £10 a night, but it wasn’t meant to be, so since we are full of water and everything is charged up, we can afford to ‘wild camp’ for a couple of nights if necessary and for free!

 

Our parking spot at Gaumont-sur-Garonne aire

We have bought a set of Petanque boules, so next time we stop by a suitable ‘sandy’ pitch, we can try our skills at this ultimate French game.

Adonis is fishing on the canal, not even 5 metres away from the van.  We must remember these golden moments when things get difficult or depressing in the winter.  Thank goodness for pictures!

We’ve met a nice fellow from Liverpool with his dog, the first British motorhomer we’ve seen in weeks!

Our parking spot at Gaumont-sur-Garonne aire

 

 

 

Our parking spot at Gaumont-sur-Garonne aire

Cazaubon Motorhome Aire, Sunday 12th August 2012

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Cazaubon motorhome aire

What can I say?  Yet another superb motorhome aire right by Lac de L’Uby, more or less half-way between Cazaubon and Barbotan-les-Thermes.  It only costs €6 a night, plus a €60 deposit at the Tourist Information Office in Barbotan-les-Thermes, where it is necessary to report in order to get the key for the barrier, as the aires guide book rightly informs.

 

Cazaubon motorhome aire

 

 

I have to say this is the most attractive TIO I have ever seen, as well as the biggest, in a lovely square with ample space for parking and with very friendly and helpful staff.  You book in, pay your deposit and they let you choose, pointing at the map of the aire and lake, between shaded, semi-shaded or sunny pitches for the motorhome.  You then get a key with a pitch number according to your choice.  We got number 26, which is under two mature weeping willows, just perfect for this hot weather and only a few metres away from the lake.  The price also includes electric hook-ups and, of course, there is fresh water and emptying facilities, as well as toilets of the stand-up variety, which are not to my liking and better suited for men.

Plenty of shade at Cazaubon motorhome aire

The aire itself is within cycling distance of the Base de Loisirs (outdoor leisure facilities such as canoeing, sailing, etc) and the campsite, as well as the two villages mentioned above.  The pitches are large and there are lots of picnic spots under trees and wooded areas for walks with dogs, riding or just relaxing.  Not bad at all for just €6 per night.  When will England learn to be so welcoming to motorhomes?

 

A helping hand with a heavy carp

 

This is our second day here and we’re planning to stay tomorrow as well, especially after Adonis caught a 15kg carp this afternoon.  It really was the event of the day, as other fishermen came to help to land this beautiful specimen as well as a number of spectators who found the whole thing very exciting and were taking pictures too.  It’s a shame Adonis wasn’t taking part in the fishing competition going on on the opposite side of the lake:  I’m sure he would have won a prize!  Still, he was the star of the show on this side, which made him happier than a child on Christmas morning!  He was really in his element and it’s wonderful to see him enjoying himself so much.  Well earned, I think.

 

A helping hand with a heavy carp

 

 

The biggest excitement of the day!

A delighted husband with his 15kg carp

This morning, I cycled to both villages, first to Barbotan-les-Thermes, which is obviously mainly dedicated to thermal baths, being a spa town.  All the shops seemed to be closed, so I enjoyed a gently stroll through the quiet streets and the gardens, where I was amazed at some of the aquatic plants growing in the large ponds: they were enormous and I’d never seen anything like it.  They must have been an exotic variety of water lilies, but upright, with large pink flowers at the end of long, upright stalks.  I must find out what they are.  Shame I didn’t have my camera on me.

After that, I cycled in the opposite direction back to Cazaubon, where a carboot sale was being held and where I bought a very pretty net curtain for our motorhome door as well as our daily baguette.  I took the opportunity to wander about the XII century streets too and then I cycled back to the aire.  My t-shirt was soaked in sweat after almost 2 hours cycling, so I really welcomed a swim in the Uby lake.  This is just a wonderful oasis in very hot land and a real find.  It has got everything we need: good weather, a lake for fishing and swimming, lots of shade in the woods, tranquillity and all between two charming little towns.  I’ll certainly remember the thermal baths when I get older and start suffering from aches and pains: a delightful place to heal.

 

Like a child at Christmas!

There are also lots of activities going on in Cazaubon for the summer fêtes, like ‘Concours Landais’, a sort of bull-challenge, wildboar meals, beach rugby, concerts, fireworks, etc, so all kinds of entertainment to please everyone.

We will definitely come back here again, but it’s only open from 1st March to 30th November.  I bet it would be fantastic in the winter too…

Les Reflets du Lac, Miélan, Dept Gers, Friday 10th August 2012

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Les Reflets du Lac camping,, Mielan,

 

This is our second day at this very peaceful and well maintained campsite on Lac de Miélan.  Most pitches are in the welcome shade near the lake and the only drawback is the fact that swimming in the lake itself is not allowed for some peculiar reason.  The notices up by the lake say it’s due to the steep bank and they’ve obviously stopped launching boats from this side of the campsite, but Adonis’s just been in and says it’s alright for a competent swimmer, but not for little kids.  Our guess is that the management doesn’t want to be liable for any possible accidents that might end up with them in court, so it’s all cordoned off with warning signs in place instead.

 

Les Reflets du Lac camping, Mielan,

Les Reflets du Lac camping, Mielan,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a good size swimming pool at this end, as well as a paddling pool for young children and water slides in the day-visitors area near the café-restaurant, so there are plenty of opportunities to cool off in this very dry heat.

 

Les Reflets du Lac camping’s Day Visitors’ area

 

Les Reflets du Lac camping’s Day Visitors’ area

 

 

All in all it has been a nice short break on our slow way back to the northwest and we’d definitely come back here again.  Wifi access is free from the terrace and it’s also fast, unlike the previous campsites we’ve been to, and you can also order your bread from one day to the next, which seems to be standard practice in French campsites.

Evening fishing at Les Reflets du Lac

 

 

We were ‘a bit’ foolish yesterday afternoon when we decided to cycle to the other side of the lake to find a fishing spot for Adonis.  I thought it’d be possible to cycle around the shore of the lake, but we ended up on the main road to Miélan just before 4pm, uphill, in baking heat and no shade!  It was only around 20 minutes, but it seemed to take forever and, although we’d had a swim and a drink before we left the campsite, we nearly melted on the road along with the asphalt, which seemed to be bubbling away.  After all that, when we eventually got to the opposite side of the lake, it didn’t look suitable for swimming at that end, as the water was really low, and the fishing spots were a long way down, which we didn’t fancy.  We came back our bikes uphill from the lake to the village and my mouth felt as dry as if I were in the Sahara desert: I even considered knocking on somebody’s door and ask for a glass of water, but once back in Miélan, it was only another couple of minutes downhill back to the campsite, the shade, the pool and a cold beer!  Poor Adonis wasn’t wearing a hat and he regretted it.

Welcome shady pitches at Les Reflets du Lac

 

Horses at Les Reflets du Lac

 

 

We spent Wednesday at the Base de Loisirs aire at Samatan, again very pleasant with some shade amongst the trees and very close to the lake.  This is obviously a very new holiday complex with very pleasant looking small units around the lake, where one was allowed to swim, but only to the depth of 1.20 metres as the life-guard told us.  We found this a bit patronising, but were happy to comply, as the main thing was to be able to cool down in these 35+°C temperatures.

 

Base de Loisirs at Samatan

 

This aire has room for 10 motorhomes and the guard closed it off with traffic cones when it got full in the afternoon, so it’s advisable to arrive early.  It only cost €3 a night plus 40C per person, so a real bargain.

The beach by the lake was very popular with young families again and it also had big water slides for all, big and small, therefore it was very lively and noisy and I chose to read my kindle on the quiet side over the bridge, where I discovered the lovely weir and was able to relax peacefully in the shade.

 

The Weir at Samatan

 

 

The only thing we found very strange and annoying was some extremely loud music at around 3am that woke us up and which seemed to be part of the village celebrations.  I can’t see how anyone could possibly enjoy such terrible pounding on their ears and if ever there was a case for noise pollution, I think that was it!  How do the locals cope with it?

 

Base de Loisirs at Samatan

Samatan’s beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the plus side, this is Cassoulet country and there’s a hut right by the aire selling local products, so Adonis treated himself to a large jar of Cassoulet Maison au Magret de Canard Confit by Conserves Artisanales C. et J.P. Laffaure, Domaine de Pompiac, for €10, which we’ll keep until the winter.  Nice to have something to look forward to in the cold winter months!

 

 

Each year, a tree will be planted that will lengthen the life of anyone who passes along here out of friendship.

Samatan’s beach

 

 

 

 

 

Lagrasse, Aude, Tuesday 7th August 2012

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Lagrasse Benedictine Abbey

 

We’ve had a wonderful day in this beautiful medieval town, part of the ‘les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ (most beautiful villages in France), and rightly so, on a par with St Cirq-Lapopie.  Its name (Lagrasse) means fertile and, being in the locality of the river Orbieu, in the southern part of the Alaric hills, must help with the abundance of trees and vineyards, despite the unforgiving heat.

The main attraction here, apart from wandering in the narrow medieval streets, is the former Benedictine Abbey of Lagrasse, which goes back to before the end of the 8th century, grew quickly over the 9th and 10th centuries and by the end of the 12th century it owned about 100 churches and 10 monasteries from Languedoc to Zaragoza in Spain.

 

Monks’ dormitory and Benedictine Abbey

Steps leading up to Monks’ dormitory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We really enjoyed our visit to the abbey, which was holding a book fair today, especially the Monks’ dormitory and St Barthélemy chapel, with arched wooden ceilings and paved with enamelled terracotta  tiles dating from the 14th century: definitely well worth a visit for only €2.50 each.

It’s been an extremely hot day today and even now the thermometer is saying it’s 34°C inside the motorhome in the shade at 5 pm!

Motorhome aire at Lagrasse

 

We are staying at the aire in parking 2, which is only €3 for the night.  There’s some shade, but, although we arrived just after 11am this morning, all the shady parking spaces were already taken.  Still, we are using our awning and it’s giving us some protection from this fierce heat.  We’ve also been for a cooling swim in the river right by the abbey, very popular with families.

 

The river Orbieu, Lagrasse. Nice to cool down!

 

 

Medieval street, Lagrasse

Ancient window, Lagrasse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roman bridge, Lagrasse

 

We are moving west now after spending 5 days in Portiragnes in the Herault with Adonis’ mum and dad and Pepo, which was a very welcome and relaxing break.  It was very hot there too, so we spent most of the time in the shade by the pool, swimming or cooling down in the house.  It was good to see Pepo too before he returned to England to spend some time with his friends before the start of the school term.

 

Enjoying the summer faire at Portiragnes

 

While at Portiragnes, we had the opportunity to see the ‘Guardians’ of the Camargue riding their magnificent horses alongside the bulls, a very entertaining spectacle, just like in Arles, as well as joining the locals dancing in the evening, all part of the summer Feria celebrations.  We also had a wonderful meal at L’Ecluse Restaurant, right by the Canal Du Midi.

 

The Guardians of the Camargue

The running of the bulls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running with the bulls in Portiragnes

 

 

Running with the bulls in Portiragnes

 

 

Guardians of the Camargue horses

 

 

After our stay at the France Passion site in St Montan (Ardèche), we carried on south following the river Rhône on the D86/N86/D6086 west of Avignon and, after a bit of a drive round the D2, we found an aire not mentioned in the official guide book at Vallabregues, which looked like an abandoned municipal campsite, but still had the facilities for emptying tanks and filling up with water, plus a nice little lake to cool down.  We ended up here as the aire we were heading for at Comps didn’t have any shade at all and the chemical toilets were out of order, so we took our chances by looking at the map and tried to find a wild camping spot, which was frustrating in this heat, until we were rewarded with the unexpected oasis at Vallabregues.

Unexpected motorhome aire at Vallabregues

 

Tomorrow we are heading for Samatan in the Gers department, west of Toulouse, which should be just over a couple of hours from here, mainly on motorways, but in this heat, it’s the most sensible thing to do.

 

Domaine de la Montmalle, Saint Montan, Dept de L’Ardeche, 31st July 2012

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Domaine de la Montmalle old farmhouse

 

We are now at a very peaceful and charming France Passion site in Ardèche.  They specialise in Syrah and Carignan wines, as well as olive oil, honey, jams and marmalade.   We’ve just been to the little shop and had a long chat with the owner, Francine Robin, who is very friendly and hospitable and who came to greet us the moment we arrived.  We really enjoyed listening to her talk so passionately about her products and how she renovated the farmhouse with the help of her friends and family, as it had been neglected for many years, and she showed us pictures of before and after.  We also tried a couple of her wines and bought 6 bottles of her wines ‘Peiro’ and ‘Defi de Femme’ (Domaine La Montmalle) and a jar of jam.

 

Our morning parking spot

 

 

We parked under the shade of a tree when we first arrived just after midday, but Francine told us we could move to the adjacent field later on when the shade moved around.  The farm itself, like the village of St Montan, dates back to medieval times, which is evident on the architecture of the farm building, previously a summer chateau of the local aristocracy, and its surrounding walls.

 

Our evening parking spot

 

 

In the morning, we went back into the farm building to say our goodbyes and Francine seemed quite touched and emotional and she asked us to come back in the future, which we promised to do and most likely will next summer.  It’s so nice to meet real hard-working people who care so much about their products and work with pride!  These are the people who really matter and make a country be successful.

 

 

 

The old farmhouse

Back of the old farmhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old farmhouse

 

We spent 5 days at the campsite in Cormoranche-sur-Saone and made the most of the lake for swimming, fishing and rowing our inflatable boat.  We also witnessed a mighty storm on Saturday afternoon that helped cool down the earth a bit.  I managed to use the internet for an hour every morning, which was enough to keep in touch with friends and family.

Yesterday morning, we left for another France Passion site at Roussillon, which was fairly easy following the D906 to Villefranche-sur-Saone, where we joined the A6 south, past Lyon and Vienne, where we came off at J9 onto the N7 to Roussillon.

 

Le Clos de Mont Vinon

View through our window at Le Clos de Mont Vinon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The France Passion stop at Le Clos du Mont Vinon is somewhere between Rouissillon and Agnin on the D131C from the police station roundabout and wasn’t all that obvious to find, as we made it all the way to Agnin and had to turn back until we saw said road.  When we got there, we were disappointed to find a locked gate and no signs of life, so we couldn’t introduce ourselves as we are supposed to do, but decided to stay in the lovely area allocated to motorhomes.  We tried several times, but we never saw or heard anyone around and couldn’t buy any of the local products, as we like to do.

It was mainly quiet and peaceful, except for a neighbour using a chainsaw for about 2 hours in the afternoon that almost made us leave the place, but as we started putting things away, he suddenly stopped and we stayed put for the night.

We thoroughly enjoyed a Boeuf Bourguignon that we’d bought at Leclerc at St Georges-de-Reneins, north of Villefranche-sur-Saone, which was utterly delicious and tender, and then we set for the night and watched another episode of Mad Men.

 

 

A quick stop for a drink at Canelle

 

 

 

 

Cormoranche-sur-Saone campsite, Thursday 26th July 2012

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Cormoranche sur Saone

 

We are now at another wonderful campsite after spending a day at the magnificent motorhome aire at Nantua in the Department of L’Ain, just over 20km east of Bourg-en-Bresse.  It was quite an easy drive from Charchilla on the D470, D27 and D31, with just one motorway junction on the A40 from J10 south of Oyonnax to J9.

 

Nantua

 

We were not prepared for the staggering beauty of Nantua, probably one of the most impressive views we’ve had from an aire, and we thought about starting a competition amongst fellow motorhomers: posting pictures of ‘aires with a view’; that’s an idea!

Our bay at Nantua motorhome aire

View of lake from motorhome aire at Nantua

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a very hot and relaxing day at Nantua, parked right by the lake, and enjoyed long swims in its soothing cooling waters.  We tried to find a restaurant to celebrate Adonis’ birthday, but didn’t really fancy the menus on offer and ended up having a chilli con carne and postponed the celebration until we find somewhere suitable in our travels.

 

Evening light at Nantua

 

A gendarme lady came early in the evening to collect the €7 fee for the night, which we were more than happy to pay for such a fantastic spot with clean toilets, fresh water, emptying and recycling facilities.

We left Nantua yesterday morning and did a small shop at Intermarché just outside the town.  We then headed west back on the A40 to J7 south of Bourg-en-Bresse and on the D1079 towards Macon, where we headed south on the D28, past Crottet and Grièges and followed directions to this campsite at Cormoranche-sur-Saone.

 

Sailing in lake at Cormoranche sur Saone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just perfect for us, with large pitches enclosed by mature hedges, plenty of shade, which is very welcome in this heat (36°C inside the van in the shade), an enormous lake to swim, fish and practise our rowing skills in our inflatable boat and there is even a mini theme-park for young families, with lots of inflatable castles type of attractions of various shapes (pirate ship, forest and slides included), sailing, paddling boats, canoes, etc.  The shower and washing facilities block is immaculately kept and you can also order your bread from one day to the next from the bar.  There is even a ‘mobile supermarket’ (épicier ambulant) in a van that comes from 6 to 7 pm.  No need to leave the site!

 

Practising my rowing skills at Cormoranche sur Saone

Plenty of activities for the young at Cormoranche sur Saone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have booked for 5 nights and are really looking forward to chilling out here.

Once again the internet connection has been a problem.  The first night it was out of service, as someone apparently crashed the system by sending thousands of e-mails, and this morning I was given a pass for one hour only, but it was very slow again.  I’ll have another go tomorrow.

 

Fishing at Cormoranche sur Saone

Ready to spend the night by lake at Cormoranche sur Saone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adonis is fishing now in the far side of the lake and we had to take his stuff on our bikes, as it was too far to walk with all the bulky and heavy gear.  We must have been quite a sight, armed with an arsenal of fishing rods, a huge net, landing mat, binoculars, and camera round our necks!

 

Stunning sunset at Cormoranche sur Saone

 

I am going to enjoy my Kindle now: reading Paulo Coelho’s ‘Eleven Minutes’, brilliant as always!

 

Cormoranche sur Saone

Our hedge-enclosed pitch at Cormoranche sur Saone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing and canoeing at Cormoranche sur Saone