The summer of 2012 in UK has been horrible. The official Met Office statistics showed that the summer of 2012 was the wettest, dullest and coolest for over 100 years so it was with a great deal of expectation that our autumn trip would be blessed with good weather. We didn’t have any specific plans on where to go other than we wanted to visit the family in their new home in Carcassonne. We intended to spent a week or so meandering down visiting some old and new places and taking a new route South via the A20/N20 which runs parallel to but West of the A75. These plans changed when our son asked if we would be in Carcassonne by the 8th of September as he thought it would be nice to take Lucie out for dinner on her birthday and we got to look after the grand children – that didn’t take us long to make up our minds and the children are of an age now where they run up to us and throw their arms around you – just great. We had booked an earlier crossing than usual and wanted to get South of Rouen for our first night’s stopover. The crossing was fine and the sun shone brightly and we made it to Pont De L’Arche for our first stop – just a few miles South of Rouen, arriving there at dusk. Pont De L’Arche was a nice village with cobbled streets and quaint shops however the Aire was occupied at one end by “travellers” in their caravans (even though the sign said camping cars only) Still they presented no problems and kept to themselves so all was well.
The Pretty Village of Uzerche
The following day we decided to have a half day drive to recover from the long day previously so we arrived at Vierzon by lunch and stopped for the day. Vierzon was quite different from our previous visit (apart from the lack of snow) and the town was hosting a large exhibition of local produce and crafts. This included numerous opportunities to sample the local wines of the region – well we couldn’t offend them by not tasting their wines now could we?
I had been surfing the net looking for new haunts and we found a place that looked interesting that was just off the A20 Autoroute. This was the village of Uzerche just South of Limoges. What a wonderful find. The Aire was located at the old railway station by the side of the river with the old village nestling on the other side. Again we arrived by lunch time and spent the afternoon strolling through the village, walking along the river and discovering the history of the village. There is a very beautiful Chateau just off the village
square that has been used as a school for underprivileged children since the turn of the nineteenth century. Just sitting in the old square drinking coffee with the sun shining and temperatures in the mid 20’s was bliss.
Carcassonne Medieval city
The next morning we filled up with fuel at the local supermarket, got fresh bread and a few bits and off we went back on to the A20. This time we decided to stay off the toll sections and only use auto routes that were toll free`. While not a bad run around Toulouse it was slow with several traffic hold ups. Having successfully navigated around Toulouse we were soon parked up on the Aire at Carcassonne and after a cup of coffee it didn’t take us long to seek out our family’s new home in the Bastide area of the city. We spent the next 9 days mainly with the family visiting the local “hot spots”, markets and relaxing on the beach at Gruissan.
The weather was just what the doctor ordered – clear blue skies with temperatures in the high 20’s.
Carcassonne Saturday Market
We had a surprise while we were with the family – they had decided to adopt a puppy – Harley. Harley is a French Shepherd dog and was only 3 months old. What a gorgeous little thing. She was an instant success with the children. Our comment is that she has big feet which says to us that she will grow into a large dog.
One of the nice things about living or holidaying in France (coupled with good weather of course) is that the French do like to eat outside – much more so than the British. We always take advantage of this and eat out as often as we can so it was no surprise that we would meet up with the family and either eat outside on the patio or meet up in the city square and enjoy eating breakfast just watching the world go by. We spent our weekdays exploring Carcassonne and then the weekends in Gruissan by the coast. It was nice to visit one of our old haunts during summer as usually its in January or February that we get to spend time in Gruissan. We do like Gruissan as it is one of the few coastal towns that still functions as a town all year round, unlike some of the other resorts along that coastline that only functions during the months of July and August.
After ten days we decided to meet up with our Brighton friends who had been staying near to St Emillion and all agreed that Rocamadour was a fairly central point so we all met up at L’Hospitalet near to Rocamadour.
Rocamadour from near Camp site
We stayed on the independent site in the centre of the village. Here we spent 5 days re-visiting Rocamadour and soaking up the good weather, good company, good wine and inventive BBQ’s while gossiping well into the nights. Dave, our friend and I always try to cook a new dish each time we meet up and is something to look forward to.
BBQ’ing well into the night
We had arranged to meet up with son Dave and the family back in Carcassonne for the weekend as he wanted to try out his new Kite surfer – a 12 mtr kite that needed a little help in setting up. So back to Gruissan we went and luckily it was the Medieval festival where the locals had dressed up in 12th century costume and acted out a selection of events from that period. The children were amazed at the archery contests, the knights fencing, women making medieval clothing etc. There were BBQ’s from the period, craftsmen and women making arrows, spears, suits of armour. The event went on all weekend. Unfortunately the wind was not strong enough to fly the kite so Dave has to wait for another day.
After a lovely weekend with the family having to go back to work/school, we stopped for a couple of nights at Le Somail on the Canal du Midi. We last visited this place in winter so it was nice to see the village alive and bustling.
Le Somail from the old bridge
All the village bars, cafe’s and restaurants were open and at night it looked real special. Le Somail is rapidly becoming a firm favourite of ours and has certainly replaced Trebes. We managed to fit in a couple of cycle rides while here in Le Somail and picked up our croissants and baguettes from the floating barge shop each morning.
During the next week we decided to explore the Chateaux of Lastours, or should I say the 4 Chateaux of Lastours. In my quest to learn about the Cathars that were prolific during the 11th and 12th century Lastours was a part of that education process. While I have to say the Chateaux required the visitor to climb up a steep crude path (in really warm and humid conditions) they were interesting.
Following our visit we went in the camper van the long way round to arrive at the Lastours view point – a vantage point on the opposite side of the valley and was included in the initial visitors ticket price. The following weekend we went back to Gruissan for another attempt at trying out the Kite but it was not to be. On the Saturday morning we experienced what was to become the worst wet weather we have come across since having the camper van. It rained so heavily that the site quickly became a lake.
We still BBQ’d all through the rain
We weathered the rain throughout Saturday, Saturday night and into Sunday morning. By that time none of us had any dry footwear or dry outdoor clothing so reluctantly called it a day and returned to Carcassonne.
Site after only three hours of rain
I should point out that when we arrived there were some 40 plus camper vans but by the time we left you could count them on one hand.
By now we had spent four weeks more or less with the family and we didn’t want to outstay our welcome as we realise that they have lives to lead and things to do so we decided to make our way slowly back up North. We said our goodbyes and set off towards Millau where we were to spend the next three days.
Thankfully the weather at Millau had returned to the balmy sunny Autumn days we had experienced the week before.
We have visited Millau several times over the past few years but in each case we used it has an overnight stop on our way to somewhere else. This time we decided to stay a while were surprised to discover that Millau has an extensive old town with narrow streets and old market square that is still used today. We also wanted to evaluate the practicality of using it as a base for exploring the Tarn Gorge. We had attempted to explore the Tarn Gorge from Florac several years ago but had come unstuck due to the height of our Flair and Millau is at the opposite end of the Gorge.
There are several problems with using Millau as a base the first being that the Gorge proper is some distance from Millau so walking or cycling is not really practical. The other issue is that if staying in Millau you really need a camp site as the Aire is too restrictive to stay for any length of time and it would be difficult to get Peggy in and out of the garage and all the campsites close at the end of September. We would need Peggy to travel to the start of the Gorge proper.
We used our time assessing which Gorges would be worth visiting. We cycled around 20 kms up the Doubier Gorge and while pretty it didn’t warrant a second visit other than a trip further up on Peggy. Over the next three days we travelled over 65kms on our cycles looking at the approaches to the Tarn Gorge and the numerous campsites along the river Tarn.
We left Millau and headed for the town of Mende but quickly realised that it was too big and bustling a place for us so we continued on to Langogne and stopped by the reservoir at Naussac just outside the town. I think we probably hit Naussac at about the right time of year – after the holiday crowds had gone home but before the cafe’s and restaurants had closed for the year. There are 8 separate areas for parking your camper van and all are sectioned off into groups of 5 pitches, giving everyone a decent sized area to park on.
Lake Naussac (Langogne)
Out came our cycles again and we enjoyed a pleasant ride around part of the lake, stopping at a very nice fisherman’s cafe/restaurant for a coffee. From here we continued on to Le Puy-en-Velay in the heart of the French volcanic region. Clearly Puy has grown over the years but we were only interested in the old town and its fascinating churches and cathedral.
By accident we stumbled on an ideal place to park for the day (and night if we wanted to) – right at the foot of the St Michaels church. We had decided to climb up the steps to the church but thankfully it was closed for lunch so we continued into the old town to visit the cathedral and the “pink lady”
This visit the “pink lady” was obscured by scaffolding but fortunately I had taken photos from our visit in 2008 so knew what it looked like. The cathedral is another well worthwhile visit as is the local shops selling handmade lace. Many of the shops make their own lace items and many of the ladies sit outside demonstrating how they make each item
.The Pink Lady
We decided not to stay at Le Puy-en-Velay and moved on to Loudes for a coffee before moving again to stay the night at Brioude. We arrived at Brioude early evening and after our meal we set off to explore the old town. First of all we were surprised that there is a lift to get you from the carpark up to the old town walls – a rise of around 20 feet. Good for oldies and wheel chair bound folk. The old town was typical of many of the old towns in France and on this occasion was spoilt by the extensive road works being carried out.
The next morning we set off for Bourges to try and visit the cathedral that was closed on our previous visit. On arrival we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a Christmas market type festival going on and all the streets were closed off to accommodate the stalls. We spent a good three hours walking around the exhibits with the closing time arriving just before the rain started. Sadly the cathedral scaffolding had moved from the tower a few metres to engulf the roof.
From Bourges we headed north, spending the night at Lamotte Buveron, a nice little village just South of Orleans. Unfortunately it rained very hard and continuously all night, turning the Aire into a mud pit so we left early the following morning.
Our next stop was the channel coastal port of Le Treport with the intention of spending a final few days exploring that area again before the final push up to Calais and home. We spent the first day exploring the town and its neighbour – Mers-les-Bain and couldn’t resist a trip round the very extensive fish market. That evening the rain reached Le Treport and the weather forecast indicated that the unsettled weather was to continue for the next three days.
Enough was enough so we upped sticks and headed for Calais catching the evening ferry to Dover. We parked on the seafront at Dover for a few hours rest before heading north home and arriving in the early afternoon.
Time away: 38 days Distance Travelled 2554 miles Cost of ferry: £112 Cost of fuel: £579.00 Cost of LPG: £56.80 Cost of Tolls: £53.14 Cost of campsites £76.77 Fuel cost for Peggy £0.00
Exchange rate: £1 = €1.21