Feb/Mar 2009 – France

We were looking forward to our winter trip this year more than ever as we are meeting up with our son and family in Antibes for a couple of weeks.  We left home on 29th Jan and drove down to Les Bordes for our first night stop, arriving just as it was getting dark.  Les Bordes is approximately 50 miles south of Orleans.

Les Bordes

It was very cold and frosty and the small lake was frozen over.  Chase loved rolling in the frosty grass.  The following morning we set off early as we wanted to get south into warmer weather as soon as possible.  We had another long day’s drive and arrived at Millau late in the afternoon.  Driving down the A75 we encountered lots of snow all around us but thankfully the motorway was clear.  Millau was still covered in frost but at least the skies were clear.  We walked around Millau more for a leg stretch than anything and exercise for our Border Collie Chase.  Again after breakfast we set off again with the intention of staying at Arles, however having reached Arles we couldn’t use the Aire as it was undergoing repair work and was all fenced off.  We had a cursory look around Arles and made a note to return one day and continued down to Port St Louis on the eastern side of the Rhone estuary and spent the night there.  We had exchanged the frost for rain.

We continued on the next  morning to Antibes and arrived at the camp site – Les Maurettes,  which is 2 miles east of Antibes centre and the area between Cagnes-sur-Mer and Villeneurve-Loubet.  We have been to this area several times in the past, usually staying at the Veille Ferme site some 400mtrs away but they are under new management now and seem reluctant to accept 8mtr vans.  Les Maurettes is better located as it is close to the supermarket, train station and much closer to the beach – don’t know why we didn’t use this in previous years.

  Antibes

On Monday morning (2nd Feb), we took the quad into Antibes to find the flat our son and family were staying at and spent the rest of the day with the family looking around and showing them the sights of Antibes while dodging the showers.  Throughout the following week it pretty much rained every day and we had to plan activities according to the rain.  We did manage to fit in a walk around Cap Ferrat and Cap d’Antibes.  We used the quad bike whenever possible and BBQ’d between the showers.  Dave and family went up into the hills to find the snow at Greolieres and one day we had Greta our grand daughter over for a sleepover.   Thankfully the camp site had an indoor swimming pool and sauna and that helped with the children.  On week two the weather cleared up a bit but not to the temperatures we had experienced on earlier visits in February.  We spent a day in Cannes, a day in Cagnes walking along the sea front to St Laurent du Var.  Dave celebrated his birthday and Dave and I had a boys day out at the Carrefour hypermarket.

  View of Med from Biot

We went to Biot and looked out towards the coast from the view point.  All in all we had a great time with the family and the time passed too quickly.  Before we knew it Dave and family were off on their way home.  We stayed at Les Maurettes until the Sunday morning then headed west to Frejus, only to find the Aire had closed so we moved on to St Maxime, that was full so ended up at Port Grimaud at the Aire near Cogolin Plage.  We walked into Port Grimaud, a replica fishing village built solely for holiday makers, however it was mostly closed up being the winter period.

 Port Grimaud Aire

All the camp sites around the Port Grimaud area are closed in winter so we  headed out to Le Lavandou a place we are warming to on each visit.  As soon as our family had returned the weather picked up and during our time in Le Lavandou the sun shone every day so we used the time to get some really good walks in.  St Claire is a great walk from Le Lavandou as you walk past the harbour and along a coastal path that hugs the shore line some 5 mtrs above the sea level.  You can control the length of the walk and return at any time, first stopping at any of the cafe stops en-route.  There is another great walk in the opposite direction towards Faviere and round Cap Benat.

  Le Lavandou at Night

Thursday is market day in Le Lavandou and is not to be missed as it is a huge affair with fruit, veg, clothes, trinkets, shoes – even bedding.  We stayed at Le Lavandou for 4 days before deciding to move further west, this time to a new place for us – Carro.

Carro Aire is a dedicated tarmac area on a peninsular by the harbour in the village.  The views all around are quite good and there is a fish market on the harbour quay that opens most mornings from 6am until around 12 – or until all the fish has gone.  Fish is sold directly off the boats and while popular types are not cheap it is certainly fresh.

  Carro Peninsula

The locals of course were buying all the odd looking fish and were paying very little.  We stayed at Carro for another day as the sun was warm and we sun bathed and had a lazy day.  We set off the following morning for Aigues Mortes and stayed at the Aire near the town walls overlooking the canal.

Aigues Morte  used to be a port many years ago before the silt built up and made access impossible and in line with most ports on the coast the town has an impressive wall all around that still stands intact to this day.

  Aigues Mortes

The local market is on Sunday here and is a typical market of the area with local produce being the main stay.  We walked along the canal path to the Etang and back and explored the town centre.

We now headed off towards Cap d’Agde which is a purpose built resort with a very large marina.  At this time of year most of the resort was closed and empty.  The marina area consists of wall to wall cafe’s, restaurants or knicknack shops and clearly leans towards the tourist sector.   We enjoyed our time here though by walking along the cliff tops and beach in lovely weather until the wind started blowing in the afternoon.

  Cap Agde

It was much warmer today and with the warmth out came more of the residents so give a better reflection of the real Cap d’Agde.  We also used the SuperU to restock with food and do all the washing at the laundrette before moving on to Gruissan Plage.

At Gruissan Plage we took the quad bike out and explored the area before ending up in the old town and paid a visit to the Chateau/castle where you get a great view of the area from the top of the tower.  Gruissan is made up of four distinct areas – the old town, the marina, the Etang and the Plage.  The old town being the centre with the Marie office, main shops and the old fishing port.  The marina area is all fairly new and is home to all the yachts and now fishing boats.  The estuary and harbour entrance is all man made and obviously is more suitable to modern day fishing and pleasure craft.

  Gruissan

The Etang is the lake where eels were fished extensively many years ago and is now a wildlife centre with many species of birds, including pink Flamingoes and I guess insects.  The Plage area is the part where holiday apartments and houses are springing up as the beach and promenade attract holiday makers.  The beach is a large very clean one and is safe for children as it it patrolled by life guards during the holiday season.  We enjoyed fresh tuna and king prawns on our BBQ being able to sit out well into the evening.

Now it was time to move on to Trebes where we were meeting up with our friends who were travelling south en-route to Spain.

  Aire at Trebes

The Trebes Aire is one of the best Aires on the south west Mediterranean, situated on the Canal du Midi next door to the town of Trebes.  The Aire owes its popularity to the basin and locks that play host to the many canal boats that are based here and for hire to the general public.    There are one or two restaurants and shops alongside the basin that add atmosphere to the Aire.   Our friends arrived late in the afternoon having made very good time from Calais with only one overnight stop.  It was great to meet up and enjoy good company.

Carcassonne Old city Walls

Unfortunately the weather had other ideas about what we would be allowed to do and the wind blew hard and it rained from afternoon through the evening and all night.

 We woke to more of the same so decided to move over to Carcassone a few miles to the west.  It still rained at Carcassone but at least we had the old cite to visit, the Bastide St Louis and the museum – mostly indoors.  

 Carcassonne Ramparts

Old Carcassone is a medieval walled city dating back to the crusaders with the walls and much of the interior still intact.  The wall and inside of the city is all lit up at night and makes a spectacular sight.  The local speciality is cassolett – a dish of beans with either duck, sausage or pork all mixed into a kind of stew.  The dish varies slightly from town to town but originated in this area.  We couldn’t resist trying it out.

  Riding school at Sts Maries

Again the bad weather persisted and so we all moved back to Trebes then east to Sts Maries de la Mer and parked by the sea wall in the hope of a little shelter – failed and the wind and rain continued.  Getting rather desperate we opted to move north as the forecast appeared more favourable.

The journey to Avignon was at best hairy with severe gales buffeting the camper making driving extremely difficult.   We parked at the campsite on the island in the middle of the Rhone.  Once settled we attempted to walk into Avignon city as the ferry had stopped working due to the severe weather.

  Pont d’Avignon

Having reached the city centre we retired into a coffee shop to assess our next move as even walking around the city was very cold in the gale force winds.  We decided against venturing out that evening and ate in the camper.   Mercifully the following morning the wind dropped, the sun came out at last and we assessed the damage around us with tree branches broken, debris everywhere.  Fortunately neither of us suffered any damage.  We spent the day visiting many of the tourist places in the city, including the indoor market with its unusual exterior facade – all live plants and shrubs.  We had a great day in Avignon and with a rising temperature and a very positive forecast we bade our farewells and headed north towards along the N86 to Lapallaise.

   Lapalaise

We stayed here for the night but were not impressed with the village as many of the shops were derelict and boarded up giving a very run down appearance to the whole village.

The sun shone all the way home and texts messages from our friends reported the temperatures rising well into the 20’s  only added to our gloom at having to return home. We called in Bonny sur Loire to get Chases passport stamped and arrived in Calais to spend the day walking on the front at Escalles until we were “moved on” by the local police.  We had the Seafrance Carnet so we decided to catch the evening ferry instead of spending the night at Gravelines as planned and spent the night outside Dover at the CL farm we have used several times.  We arrived home just after lunch on 11th March.

Overall a good holiday – its always nice to get away in the camper.  The added bonus of spending time with Dave and family was a real pleasure and it was also good to meet up with our friends.  The weather was disappointing – our 4th visit to the south of France and by far the worst weather although we did have some decent days in the middle.

Trip Statistics:

Time away:                  42 days                         Distance Travelled   2800 miles             Cost of ferry:               £62                                Cost of fuel:             £545.54                   Cost of LPG:                £34.09                          Cost of Tolls:          £21.06                      Cost of campsites       £295.09                        Vet Fees:                     £14                  Exchange rate:           £1 = €1.08

 

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