Monthly Archives: October 2013

Lac des Varennes, Château-du-Loir, Sarthe, Sunday 25th August 2013

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We just love it here, beautiful Lac des Varennes

We just love it here, beautiful Lac des Varennes

 

It’s pouring down with rain at the moment. I was sitting at the outdoor reception area checking my emails and social media messages, but I had to rush back to the motorhome as laptop was getting wet. I only just made it back before the real downpour started. This is the second day of proper rain we’ve had since we left England, the first one being at Bourget-du-Lac back on 29th July, so we can’t complain and I’m sure the land needs it after such a hot and dry summer.

 

Our favourite pitch (208) at Lac  des Varennes

Our favourite huge pitch (208) at Lac des Varennes (picture taken from the lake shore)

 

We arrived here on Friday just before 1 pm and, as reception was shut, we had to have lunch in the visitors’ car park and wait until 2 pm to install ourselves on our pitch. While we were waiting, we took the opportunity to walk down to the lake to see if our favourite pitch (number 208) was available and, as luck would have it, it was! So Adonis asked if we could take it and here we are for the sixth time on one of the best spots on the campsite, where Adonis can watch his fishing rods from, only a mere 5 metres away!

 

Adonis's in his element, fishing right by our pitch

Adonis’s in his element, fishing right by our pitch

 

It was very hot when we arrived and, as I was about to go for a paddle in my inflatable boat, 2 very friendly children, Ollie and Megan from Stoke, approached me and asked where we were from in England. We talked for a little while and eventually met their dad too, John, who surprised me greatly by asking me if I blogged. On saying I did, he said he’d recognised me and that he’d read my blog and that was the reason why they were there. Isn’t that great? That’s all I ever wanted when I started publishing my diaries as blogs, to share travelling information with fellow travellers, so I’m delighted that my efforts have actually helped someone with a decision about their holiday destination. So John and Sarah, if you’re reading this now: you made my day!!! And thank you for reading.

 

Lac des Varennes.

Just chilling at Lac des Varennes.

 

So we have spent another 3 very lazy days by the lake, fishing, crocheting, reading and occasionally checking my mail and today we’ve met another lovely couple from South Africa living in Southampton who have been travelling in their motorhome for 15 months with loads of interesting stories to tell. I just love meeting all these wonderful travelling people and could listen to them forever.

 

We have one more day here before setting off for Broglie, then shopping at Boulogne-sur-Mer and finally Wissant for our Eurotunnel crossing on Friday 30th. We have brought forward our departure by one day as we’re going to collect our new Jack Russell puppy and we want to spend a whole weekend with him before going back to work.

 

Some needed shade at Souillac's motorhome aire

Some needed shade at Souillac’s motorhome aire

 

Before coming to Lac des Varennes, we spent one night at Souillac’s aire in Le Lot department, which is still free with a bourne for water for 3. It was very hot, but we managed a pitch in the shade of some trees and we enjoyed a couple of swims in the Dordogne river, right by the Camping Las Ondines, only a 5-minute walk from the motorhome aire.

 

Camping La Tete Noire

Camping La Tete Noire

 

After that, we spent one day at Camping La Tête Noire at Buzançais in the Indre department. This is a charming little campsite with plenty of shade and clean facilities with an access ramp for the disabled. It very much reminded me of the municipal campsite at Beaumont-sur-Sarthe. It was also very cheap at just over €14 for the night for the two of us with electricity supply. Another good stop to remember for future reference, as it also had direct access to the river for swimming and fishing.

 

I love this HUGE willow tree at Camping La Tete Noire

I love this HUGE willow tree at Camping La Tete Noire

 

'Inside' the tree.  Well, under the branches.

‘Inside’ the tree. Well, under the branches.

 

I really can’t believe we are now into our 8th week and we only have 5 days to go!

 

Camping La Tete Noire

 Peaceful and charming, Camping La Tete Noire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les Montagnes, Mazamet, Tarn, Tuesday 20th August 2013

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Mazamet Lac

Les Montagnes, Mazamet 

 

 We’ve been very busy since we left the oyster farm at Mèze. We spent Monday at the aire in Marseillan Plage, which again operated on a barrier system for 10 a day, payable before entry, but well worth it, as it was only a 5 minute walk to the beach and all the restaurants and amenities in the town. Marseillan is a very lively seaside town this time of year and we made the most of the beach and the free evening entertainment.

 

At the tapas restaurant

At the very popular tapas restaurant, La Taberna

 

We went for a pizza at La Taberna, a Spanish tapas bar not far from the beach, where we enjoyed a nice meal serenaded by a wonderful blues singer. After our pizza (one of the best I’ve ever had) we joined the local celebrations with the equivalent of ‘The Voice’ being staged and televised from there and we got to see the contestants and vote for our choice. After that there were a couple more acts followed by the Grand Finale courtesy of Les Farfadais, an amazing group of acrobats and dancers that put on an spectacular show the likes of which we had never seen before.

 

The evening entertainment: Fantastic Blues singer

The evening entertainment: Fantastic Blues singer

 

 

We felt our €10 fee for the motorhome aire really paid for itself just by the sheer quality and entertainment value of this incredible show that must be seen to be believed. See more here: https://www.facebook.com/LesFarfadais?fref=ts

 So the night ended on a very high note indeed and we think we might make a point of coming here again next summer to enjoy these wonderful festivities once again.

 

Beautiful Marseillan promenade

Beautiful Marseillan promenade

 

After Marseillan Plage we left for Portiragnes in the Herault Department to spend a few days with Adonis’s parents and our friend and colleague Lesley, who flew from England on Wednesday 14th in order to celebrate Béziers summer festival. This was again another heck of a party and one couldn’t help but being drawn into the madness, chaos and fun of this charming city and its people.

 

The Saysells and Lesley enjoying a sangria at Beziers Feria

The Saysells and Lesley enjoying a sangria at Beziers Feria

 

The party started with an amazing parade very much in the style of the Brazilian Carnival, with very accomplished dancers, acrobats and amazing floats delighting the crowds of holidaymakers and locals alike. We particularly enjoyed the ‘firework-spitting’ dragon accompanying what looked like Orcs from the Lord of the Rings movies: simply jaw-dropping, with men on stilts doing the most impossible somersaults.

 

The Parade

The Parade

 

 

 

Lesley's 076

 

 

Lesley's 077

 

Lesley's 078

 

Lesley's 082

 

The Fireworks Spitting Dragon

The Fireworks Spitting Dragon

 

It was actually scary!

It was actually scary!

 

Somersaulting Orcs!

Amazing Orcs on stilts!

 

 

A Somersaulting orc!  You can just about see blur!

A Somersaulting orc! You can just about see blur!

 

And more amazing contraptions!

And more amazing contraptions!

 

And the Scots made it too!

And the Scots made it too!

 

Thank you for posing especially for me

Thank you for posing especially for me!

 

 

So we partied hard and joined the dancing, singing and drinking (I had never drank so much sangría in my life before) and simply had a whale of a time.

 

Joining in

Joining in

 

Don't ask me what I'm doing here: I don't know, but it was great fun!

Don’t ask me what I’m doing here: I don’t know, but it was great fun!

 

 Whilst at Béziers, we also went to see a Flamenco Mass at the Cathedral, which was beautifully done, but after a while we started to feel a bit dizzy in the heat, surrounded by so many people, and had to leave to get some fresh air and a drink (more sangría, I’m afraid).

 

Sangria

Delicious Sangria

 

While we were enjoying our cold sangría, we had the fortune of watching the beautiful Camargue horses being ridden by gorgeous young girls dressed in very showy Flamenco dresses that were a joy to see.

 

Flamenco dresses on Camargue horses: a perfect combination

Flamenco dresses on Camargue horses: a perfect combination

 

The rest of the time we spent chilling by the pool in the ‘Saysell Villa’ in Portiragnes and walking Huntley the dog, the family gorgeous and affectionate pet.

 

Time to relax at the Saysell's

Time to relax at the Saysell’s

 

We left Portiragnes this morning and headed west on the D612 all the way to Mazamet and after deciding that the aire in town wasn’t quite what we were looking for (being as it was in a car park), we came just a little bit further south on the D118 to this charming aire in the woods by the lake at Les Montagnes, which is free and has clean water and the usual emptying facilities for motorhomes.

 

Sunbathing after cooling swim

Sunbathing after cooling swim

 

We’ve just had a couple of swims in the cooling lake and sunbathed for a bit. It’s much cooler here, being higher up, which is rather welcome, but I expect tomorrow we’ll be going back to higher temperatures again when we come down from the hills. We are heading for Souillac in the Lot department.

 

The cool motohome aire at Montagnes

The cool motorhome aire at Montagnes

 

Mèze, Herault, Sunday 11th August 2013

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Oyster beds in the Bassin de Thau

Oyster beds in the Bassin de Thau, Meze

 

Our stop at the Manade des Baumelles France Passion site at Les Cabannes de Cambon in the heart of the Camargue, 11 km from Stes Maries de la Mer on the D38, was a real treat. As we got there just before lunch yesterday, we went to introduce ourselves at the restaurant and had a ‘bière de Gardians’ and a delicious glass of sangría that had been prepared for a group of people who had booked the special guided tour and lunch. We were very impressed with the restaurant, offering mainly bull meat dishes, but also pork, Angus meat and fish and would have eaten there, except they only open at lunchtime and we simply couldn’t manage a big meal like that at lunch.

 

Manade des Baumelles Bull Farm

Manade des Baumelles Bull Farm

 

Manade des Baumelles Bull Farm

Manade des Baumelles Bull Farm

 

The Restaurant at Manade des Baumelles

The Restaurant at Manade des Baumelles

 

 

Enjoying a beer and a sangria in the shade

Enjoying a beer and a sangria in the shade

 

The place was very quiet all day, with just the sound of the bulls, horses and birds, and we were delighted with our evening walk, at around 9 pm to watch the aquatic birds on the marshes, like the Black wing stilts, pink flamingos flying in formation right over our heads, egrets and others. There was also a crescent moon in a most spectacular blue and purple sky I couldn’t tear my eyes away from.

 

A majestic bull

A majestic bull

 

The bulls

The bulls

 

Saying hello to the friendly horses

Saying hello to the friendly horses

 

Black wing stilts at sunset

Black wing stilts at sunset

 

Flamingos flying overhead

Pink Flamingos flying overhead

 

Another glorious sunset

Another glorious sunset and crescent moon

 

One of the guardians told us in the evening that they would be getting the bulls ready for a local feria at 9 in the morning and that we could go and watch them if we pleased, which of course we did. This was most interesting and we enjoyed watching them (from a safe distance) select the bulls to bring them round to the trailer by the farm. This took the most part of an hour and we finally left the site by 10 am.

 

The Gardians of the Camargue at work rounding up the bulls

The Gardians of the Camargue at work rounding up the bulls

 

Rounding up the bulls

Rounding up the bulls

 

Unfortunately, the downside of La Camargue is the mosquitoes and I hardly slept at all last night, as there were over 30 of them (yes, I counted them as I hunted them down!) in the motorhome. I think at one point I was doing some weird version of Kung Fu in bed trying in vane to fight them off. I’ve got LOADS of bites all over my body and I seem to have reacted to them, as some of them are really big and swollen (2” or 5 cm across), but fortunately they’re not itching too much because I’ve put some cream on which gives instant relief (Marie Rose soothing cream – and I swear by the stuff!).

 

The motorhoe aire at Meze in full-on sun

The motorhoe aire at Meze in full-on sun

 

After the Camargue, the idea was to stop at the large motorhome aire at Palavas-les-Flots, a bit further west and a mere 50 minutes drive, but it was really chock-a-block with motorhomes and too overcrowded for our liking. And that, combined with the fact that we drove round twice trying to find the entrance in a very busy sea-side town, where the summer fête and Sunday market were in full swing, made our minds up to carry on further west to the aire at Mèze.

 

Lunch in the shade at Meze

Lunch in the shade at Meze

 

 This aire in Rue du Stade is in full-on sun, has 6 pitches, it’s free and it has free fresh water and emptying facilities, so after making the most of these services, we drove just a couple of hundred meters down the road and parked in the shade of some pine trees, where we had our lunch and a siesta.

 

Karine and Yvan oyster farm at Meze

Stopping for the night at Karine and Yvan Caussel’s oyster farm and France Passion site at Meze

 

We decided not to stop for the night there after all and headed for this oyster farm France Passion site run by Karine and Yvan Caussel, where we’re hoping to buy some mussels in the morning, which they also sell, as I am not a great lover of the oysters themselves and Adonis had a bad experience with them a few years ago. This site can be found by following the signs from the town of Mèze to ‘Ecosite, Complexe Conchylicole and Ferme Pedagogique’.

 

Bassin de Thau

Bassin de Thau

 

We are overlooking the Bassin de Thau, looking towards Sète and all the oyster beds, very special indeed!

Carro, Bouches du Rhône, Friday 9th August 2013

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Motorhome aire at Carro, right by the Mediterranean

Motorhome aire at Carro, right by the Mediterranean

 

 We have made it to the Mediterranean at last and it’s only taken us 5 weeks! We’ve been here for 2 days at the motorhome aire on Quay Vérandy. We thought this aire was actually going to be in Martigues, which is where we were hoping to stay, but after driving around in Martigues looking for it without success, we entered the co-ordinates given on the aires guide book (‘Le Guide Officiel Aires de Services Camping Cars’: Lat 43º 19′ 46” N Long 5º 2′ 23” E) and it brought us here, about 6 or 7 miles further south!

Taking a walk on the rocky landscape

Taking a walk (and a beer) on the rocky landscape – motorhome aire in background

 

The drive from St Remy de Provence was very easy, following the D99 west to join the D570 south to Arles and from there gently south east on N113 and N568. We just had a quick stop at Supermarché to stock up on food and we were here for 12 noon.

 

Carro

Carro beach

 

It’s still hot here, but very windy, maybe experiencing some of that famous Provençal Mistral, so much so that the wind pushed the motorhome off the levelling blocks earlier on when we were actually inside! It definitely rocked us like never before!

 

Cove and beach

Cove and beach – great for snorkelling

 

Still, it’s been very sunny for the last couple of days and we have enjoyed a few swims in the warm Mediterranean sea. We have also made the most of our snorkelling gear and have enjoyed a very peaceful time spotting the various fish around the rocks surrounding the beach. There is something very special and magical about swimming with the fish, oblivious to everything else, listening only to the sound of your breathing: it’s almost like being on another planet.

 

Strange sights at the fish market

Strange sights at the fish market

 

Carro is mainly a fishing village and this morning we bought some mussels directly from one of the port’s fish stalls by the aire. It was definitely the most popular stall in the market and we had to queue for a few minutes to get our kilo, which I cooked à la Marinière for lunch: fresh and delicious!

 

Preparing the mussels for lunch.  Can't get them fresher than that!

Preparing the mussels for lunch. Can’t get them fresher than that!

 

 

We feel really privileged here on this aire right by the sea: we’re a mere 50 metres from the water’s edge and just 5 minutes’ walk from the little beach in the cove, nicely sheltered and supervised during the day. It’s funny, though, how only around the corner from here, in the open sea, it’s really rough and a few people are enjoying windsurfing and body boarding in the strong current and waves.

 

The rough sea round the corner, perfect for windsurfing, etc

The rough sea round the corner, perfect for windsurfing, etc

 

This aire costs 10 a day, payable at the entrance by credit card: same system as in Bourget-du-Lac, and there is no electricity either, but plenty of water.

 

I just like this seagull hovering over the boats

I just like this seagull in the sun

 

Tomorrow we’re heading for a France Passion bull farm in the Camargue, which should be really different to everything we’ve seen so far.

 

Seagulls enjoying a meal

Carro and marina

Camping Monplaisir, St Remy-de-Provence, Wednesday 7th August 2013

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Camping Monplaisir

Reception at charming Camping Monplaisir

 

 We have enjoyed 3 wonderful days at this excellent 4* campsite just 10 minutes walk from the town centre of St Remy. We were initially thinking of stopping here just 2 days, but then Adonis noticed there was a market in town today, so we extended our stay an extra day as we didn’t want to miss it.

 

The very popular market at St Remy

The very popular market at St Remy

 

And what a market it was! We got there for 10.30 am, as we had to change pitches at the campsite before we left because ours had already been booked for the day, so the market was already heaving with people. We found exactly what we were hoping to find: lots of lavender-related products, which make perfect presents to take back home, as well as other local specialities, such as cheese and saucissons and I musn’t forget the delicious lavender ice-cream, which I’d never seen or heard of before! There was even a Spanish couple selling paella, so we had a kg of that too for our dinner (we simply couldn’t leave it behind).

 

It was a real treat to enjoy all those different market stalls, as often we miss market days quite simply because we’re not in the right place at the right time.

 

 

Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

 

Yesterday, we went to visit the Monastère de St Paul de Mausole (Cloître St Paul), just out of town, where Vincent Van Gogh spent a year after cutting part of his ear off and where he completed more than 150 paintings! The place is still a rest home and patients are still using painting and other art forms as part of their therapy. I found it most touching, especially Van Gogh’s bedroom, so poor and desolate-looking, with bars across the window overlooking the hospital’s garden with its sunflowers and irises. There are over 20 reproductions of his paintings at the very place where they were created, according to our guide. It certainly is a very special place, full of emotion and beauty. The entry ticket was only 4.50.

 

Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

Beautiful cloister at Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

 

Cloister at Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

Cloister at Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

 

Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The barred window at Van Gogh's bedroom

the view from the barred window at Van Gogh’s bedroom

Van Gogh's bedroom whilst convalescing at Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

Van Gogh’s bedroom whilst convalescing at Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The' bathroom'

The’ bathroom’

The view from the 'bathroom'

The view from the ‘bathroom’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lavender and Van Gogh's painting on the spot where they were created

Lavender and Van Gogh’s painting on the spot where they were created

The sunflowers with Monastery in background

The sunflowers with Monastery in background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

Monastère de St Paul de Mausole

 

The Sunflower Thief!

The Sunflower Thief!

 

 

The rest of the time here, we have divided between exercising in the campsite’s fabulous swimming pool, chilling at the bar (lovely alcohol-free mojito!) and relaxing in the shade of our pitch, as it is still very hot down here (34 ºC). Having said that, there was a storm early in the morning and we’ve had some very heavy showers, so today it is only a mere 24 ºC, mercifully!

 

Large pool at Camping Monplaisir

Large pool at Camping Monplaisir

 

 

Chilling at campsite bar

Chilling at campsite bar.  Really enjoyed my alcohol-free Mojito

 

Tomorrow we are off to the Mediterranean coast, heading for Martigue and then Carro.

 

I love all the flip flops hanging around swimmimg area

I love all the flip flops hanging around swimming area

 

 

Château Maucoil, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vaucluse, Sunday 4th August 2013

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Chateau Maucoil

Chateau Maucoil

 

How wonderful to be here again 2 years after our first visit and to find it is just as fantastic as we remember it! This is really a jewel in the France Passion stops, with room for abut 8 motorhomes with stunning views over the Rhône Valley, the gorgeous wines and a swimming pool to boot!

 

The stunning view over the Rhone Valley from Chateau Maucoil

The stunning view over the Rhone Valley from Chateau Maucoil

 

We got here after a bit of a fiddle this morning, as we were really heading for the motorhome aire at Viviers (Ardeche Department), just south of Montélimar on the D86, but that aire seems to have been shut permanently and, although we could have parked for the day at the port fluvial by the river, we couldn’t have stayed the night, as several notices warned.

 

Port Fluvial at Viviers

Port Fluvial at Viviers

 

As it was already midday and very hot still, we didn’t feel like travelling for too long, so we thought that Châteauneuf-du-Pape, just south of Orange, would be a good bet, as we knew we could get some shade and a swim in the pool.

 

Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape village

 

So we followed the N93N and N7 down south to Orange and then the D976 and D17 here, except that the village was celebrating its annual Medieval Fête and we couldn’t drive through it and had to follow the detour signs, a bit of a long way round.

 

view from parking area at the chateau

view from parking area at the chateau

Still, we got here for 1.15 pm and after a swim and a beer, we enjoyed our lunch before a much needed siesta, as this dry heat (37 ºC today!) really takes your energy out of you.

 

Our friendly host, Pierre, with Peter and St Peter!

Our friendly host, Pierre, with Peter and St Peter at Chateau Maucoil

 

At about 4 pm, we went for another swim and a wine tasting session at the cave, where we met our very friendly host, Pierre, and I just happened to mention to him that we had come here 2 years before for Adonis’s birthday and that this year we’d be celebrating my 50th in September and he very kindly gave me a bottle of their 2009 Privelège wine. Isn’t that a wonderful gesture! I’m definitely keeping it till the 8th September. We also bought some very special wines again. That was followed by another swim and we were entertained by some guests staying at the gîte doing some antics on the pool: a lot of good-hearted fun.

 

 

Messing around in the pool

Messing around in the pool at the chateau

 

The pool is shut now, after 8 pm, so we’ve just had a shower using the hose provided to fill water tanks: simply heavenly! Still enjoying the simplest things in life, like a cold water shower when it is so hot!

 

St Hilaire du Rosier Cherry and walnut farm

St Hilaire du Rosier Cherry and walnut farm

 

Yesterday, we stayed at another France Passion site at St Hilaire-du-Rosier (Isere department), where they specialise in cherry products, such as juice, Kirsh, jams, etc as well as walnuts, very aptly named Le Cerices en Fête. This was an easy drive from the campsite at St Pierre d’Albigny following the A43/E70 motorway to Grenoble and A48 and 49 towards Valence, then there’s a choice between the D1092 north or the D1532 south of St Hilaire and we took junction 10 and followed the latter for a more scenic route.

 

Safely parked under the shade of a big tree.

Safely parked under the shade of a big tree.

 

We were there late morning and the proprietor Jocelyne Guilhermet, came to greet us and show us where we could park under a huge tree, where we enjoyed the shade for the rest of the day. She also explained that they would not be there in the afternoon as they were celebrating a friend’s daughter’s wedding, so after lunch, her husband, Jean Paul, gave us a map of a couple of interesting walks we could do and telling us where other motorhomers could park should any more arrive, they left us in charge and off they went. So we relaxed in our new position as custodians of the farm and enjoyed a couple of walks in the surrounding area and down to the river Isere, taking in the views of sunflowers, corn, cherry and walnut trees.

 

Walnut and cherry trees at Les Cerices en Fête

Walnut and cherry trees at Les Cerices en Fête

 

Our walk took us down to the Isere river

Our walk took us down to the Isere river

 

Sunflowers on our walk round the farm

Sunflowers on our walk round the farm

 

 

It was a very quiet evening and night and we didn’t even hear them coming back. This morning I popped into the shop and bought some cherry juice, jam and a 2-kg bag of walnuts, which I look forward to enjoying in the autumn and winter.

 

Walnuts!

Walnuts!

 

 

Fields of corn too

Fields of corn too

After saying goodbye, we followed the D532 towards Romans-sur-Isere and the free portion of the A49 towards Valence, then the N7 south to Viviers.

 

Spectacular sunset at Chateau Maucoil

Spectacular sunset at Chateau Maucoil

 

We are just enjoying the most amazing sunset down in the Rhone valley that really has the ‘WOW!’ factor. This, of course is accompanied by the magic sounds of cicadas, which hasn’t stopped at all all day.

 

The splendid Chateau Maucoil.  Until we meet again!  A bientot!

The splendid Chateau Maucoil. Until we meet again!  A bientot!