After twelve weeks in France, and with just about 2,950 miles on the clock, we crossed the border into Spain this morning. The mileage thing is a bit iffy as I was so busy trying to spot the border sign that I missed checking the mileage until we had gone a few clicks further down the road.
Our first toll road went quite smoothly and we coped with the booths on both sides of the border. There were some obvious differences once we arrived in Spain.
On the French Motorway
So many signs, so incomprehensible! So many tunnels. The scenery however was stunning and so were the enormous birds flying overhead. Some kind of Kite, I believe.
We arrived at our destination bang on midday but of course there was somebody in Reception. In France we would have to hang around until after lunch before seeing anybody.
We settled onto a nicely even pitch looking out to sea. The sea is however a long way down.
We checked out the facilities. Gosh, such luxury after the French campsites; Toilet seats! Paper! Handbasins! SOAP!!!!! Shower cubicles with room to turn around in. Best of all, everything is clean. *sigh* All of the facilities are open too, and that includes the bar and the shop. All of this convenience is going to take some getting used to!
We lunched at the bar on site – there is another bar adjacent to the site, so we have a choice. The daily set menu costs 11 Euros for three courses with bread and a drink – we had a bottle of Spanish cider (extremely different from its Norman and Breton cousins.)
After lunch we tackled the walk to the beach… all 450 steps. Then we failed to find the shops, had a beer and were entertained by the local bird population, which I fed with dog treats, then walked back to the steps and climbed all 450 of them again.
The steps to the town
We can do it all again tomorrow, only this time with shops, I hope.
On the prom in Zarautz
We met this wee chap on our way back up the cliff
While we are in Spain our French SIM card allows us very little in the way of roaming data. Updates may be sparse and intermittent. For now the campsite here offers free wifi but later, who knows. I am working on ways to update using less bandwidth but for now expect fewer images and less burbling.
We are here for three nights at least. No idea whatsoever what will come next!
Last week we had arrived at Arcachon, where we stayed for three nights. It was a very pleasant campsite, with fair to middling sanitaires. There were four washing machines and two dryers so by the time that we left, everything in the van was squeaky clean.
Direct access into the forest meant that Nell was more than happy with her particular lot.
As for ourselves, we walked into town a couple of times and found plenty to occupy us, though the proposed celebratory dinner morphed into crèpes for lunch.
The view of the town from the top of the observatory
Boules in the Parc Mauresque
l’observatoire de Sainte Cécile at Arcachon
Enjoying t he late November sun
We’re going where?!
Tree in the park
Red bench in the park
Arcachon is a pleasant and quite upmarket seaside town with plenty of sandy beach. The weather was such that there were people out on the sands and we even sat on the front eating ice cream one day, watching the carousel turning in the sun.
The carousel filled me with instant joy the moment that I saw it. Even from a distance I could tell that it was a genuine old one and as we came closer and heard the organ music I do believe that I began to squeee. I even attempted to capture a video in order to share the full effect. Sadly, it failed to pick up the music.
The Parc Mauresque completely captured me and I was happy to stroll through more than once. It was fantastic to see the French out and about and using the park in an enthusiastic way that we tend not to see in the UK. There were many games of boules in progress on both afternoons that we passed trough, and quite a few players eschewed the formal squares in order to play in the sunshine on the park pathways. This made negotiating a route quite challenging at times. The young people were in evidence on half day Wednesday too, some of them practising with their skate boards. All very charming.
I had discovered that the town sported a bridge construction and an observation tower, both of which had engaged the hand of Gustave Eiffel in his early career. It is said that his work on the observation tower informed the later work on his better known engineering work in Paris.
Anyway, it was a glorious day when we came to it, far more clear than the previous day had been and I was minded to be brave. I actually climbed to the top despite the wobble and even managed to release my hands from the railings at the top in order to take photographs! I felt very pleased with myself and the view was certainly worth the effort.
By the time that we left Arcachon, the weather had warmed up somewhat and the overnight frosts had passed.
Our next stop was at a beautiful lakeside aire at Gastes, where we stayed for two nights after stopping in Biscarosse first to collect our package. We also had a Chinese lunch…
At the Chinese Restaurant
A garden feature
Scarecrow in one of the bio-diversity areas
On the lake
The aire lies next to a marina and a cycle path runs by, we were not short of walking for Nell. The village is small and what facilities it could boast were closed for the season, sadly. A Friday evening market consisted of one fruit and veg van and a mobile pizzeria.
By the campsite at Castets
After Gastes came Castets, where we are now on our third night. The walking here is not so good but there is a space by the river that borders the site. A cycle route is about half an hour’s walk away. The small town boasts a cinema and a bar and also a rather pleasant restaurant, Les Forges, where we had dinner on Saturday evening.
That’s all from France for now. Tomorrow we hit the motorway and go take a look at Spain to see if we like it.
We find ourselves in Arcachon tonight. That’s on the coast just SW of Bordeaux city.
A parcel is winging its way to us at Biscarosse and we must wait for it to arrive. Having got ahead of ourselves that means that we have several nights to fill in. The campsite at Arcachon is likely to fit the bill, there are places to eat, things to do and see, and forest to walk. Best of all, the washing machines are functioning. Actually, even better than that, there is a cat to cuddle. No toilet seats, though, but one cannot have everything.
The house sale completed today and we just logged on to admire the numbers in our bank account but they aren’t there yet,
Between leaving Le Bilos and arriving here, we stopped off at Pilat to see the dune. “Seeing” apparently meant “climbing”. All I can say is that if it had been the desert I would just have lain down and died.
I bought a hat from one of the tourist tat stalls at the dune. Crazy, I know. Having given away all of my hand-knitted hats, and having brought just one with me, I find that it has felted and shrunk. I could have knitted a new one as I do have some yarn with me but there’s nothing to beat instant gratification and red angora, is there?
Some scenes from today:
In the forest. Now identified as Arbutus and edible so may pick some tomorrw
Seen en route
We’re going up there!
On the dune
At le Bilos
At the dune. Note the man not toiling up the sands. Those two girls at the front were lugging roller blades and crash hats up the dune so heaven only knows what they were going to do
on the dune
On our walk
In the forest
Tomorrow we will go look at the town, gaze at the ocean, and perhaps find somewhere for a celebration dinner. Oh, and I will do the laundry.
So much to catch up on now that I wonder if can really be done or if I should even be trying. I am working very hard to have at least a quick view of our lives inserted daily via Instagram and I do hope that it is enough, not only for our readers but for ourselves. I am afraid of forgetting and really did hope to have a full journal here. Things are just not working out that way, I am afraid.
Au Revoir to Rochefort
So, last time we caught up, we were apparently on the banks of La Loire… a whole calendar month ago. Today we are in Gascony (or almost) on a forest campsite and working our way back to the coast after visiting a whole host of places:
We went from Rochefort sur Loire just a little way along the river to a riverside car park in a small village, St-Clément-des-Leveés and walked along the long distance riverside footpath and that was all very lovely.
Evening sun reflected off the Loire at St-Clément-des-Leveés
Then came Longué-Jumelles, which was not so very nice but we did eat some very pretty food.
Very pretty food
After that we had four wonderful nights at Saumur on a very nice campsite on an island in the middle of the Loire, We had a wonderful “Chinese” meal though not a Moroccan one nor a Michelin starred dinner but we did buy gorgeous cakes and succumbed to our first chocolatier. There were pink umbrellas and feral kittens and lost of blue skies and sunshine.
Twisted spire, not in Chesterfield
The chateau at Saumur
Fish in the Loire
The chateau at Saumur
Umbrellas in Saumur
On leaving Saumur we went a little touristy and visited a mushroom-growing cave.
The aire we were to stop at had gone and the car park bore “No overnighting” signs so instead of staying at Montsoreau we had to move on, we went to Villandry.
The Loire at Montsoreau
Villandry provided a fairly sterile environment and we were soon away on our travels again, this time to land on a France Passion site at Vouvray, at Domaine du Clos de l’Epinay. We slept within the walls of the Clos and bought some very nice wine after a friendly, educational and generous tasting,
Not just vines in the Clos…
Not just vines in the Clos…
Returning to the banks of the Loire, we moved on to Amboise and another of the Loire island campsites. We visited Leonardo da Vinci’s final home but not his resting place and we bought delightful goodies from an upmarket Patisserie but failed to bump into Mick Jagger.
Leo lolling by La Loire
In Leonardo’s Studio
In Leonardo’s garden
In Leonardo’s garden
In Leonardo’s garden
Montrichard was next on our itinerary and at this moment I am struggling to recall what that was like or what we did. Ah, perhaps because the significant portion of our day en route was spent at the Chateau at Chenonceau. Looking back at Lightroom, I find that Montrichard offered us a lovely Aire by the side of the river (Cher, I believe) and a riverside walk into a nice enough town.
Montrèsor the next day offered very basic facilities but the town was really lovely, though the riverside footpath was closed. We had some sensational galettes and crèpes at Barapom and a noisy evening due to Trick or Treating.
Window in Montresor
November began in Rosnay at a quiet campsite that suddenly became startlingly busy in our particular neck of the woods. The town was also startlingly busy due to a public holiday car boot sale.
Saint Pardoux and Lac Frèadour came next, via a wonderful Croque Monsieur at La Trimouille. Sadly the Lac had gone missing but we still had a wonderful time on a campsite that we almost had entirely to ourselves, with lots of walking by the side of the drained lake.
(I should add that throughout all this time the sun just kept on blazing and shorts were very much in evidence even in November.)
We went to visit the Wolves, via an extensive but beautiful and enjoyable Dèviation, and stopped overnight at a small village aire in one of the many villages named Saint-Laurent. The following night we wilded up in the hills at the side of a large lake and the following day visited an island on the lake before travelling to St Germain les Belles, where we stayed for two nights on a campsite there by another lake.
Parked by the lake
On the island
We found a Goldsworthy
Sabots on t he campsite
Our next stop was at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, which was indeed a “Beautiful Place”. The Aire was right by the side of a branch of the Dordogne. A very narrow water course running around the near side of an island in the river. It had been set up for Kayak racing. On the island facing us was the sports field where the school clearly gave their Phys Ed lessons. Lots of noise and whistles. The town though was both ancient and enchanting and the riverside walking on the still side of the weir was breathtakingly beautiful. The sun was still shining and all looked fabulous.
Further along the Dordogne, we went to visit Rocamadour, the Cité Religieuse which clings to the side of the cliffs. We slept at the top of the cliff in the car park by the funicular railway that takes visitors down to the Sanctuary. The bad weather had arrived and the spectacular views that we should have had on our journey there were all shrouded n mist and drizzle. Things were to stay that way for a few days, which was a real shame, given the nature of the scenery around us.
Rocamador was where I thought we may have stumbled across the Holy Grail…
but that theory turned out to be full of holes…
the colander was for holding nails, to be knocked into a log as a recognition of a donation made.
Our following planned stop turned out to be a disappointment but we found sanctuary ourselves at Beynac, in the form of “tolerated parking” in a car park there. We also found a good lunch and a new-to-us dish of Salardaise potatoes, which we had served with Confit Duck. Very nice indeed and compensation for the drizzle.
We pitched up next at a small “CL-style” campsite near Monpazier. Camping Lune sur le Lac is owned and run by an English couple. We all thought that we had the place to ourselves until a couple of Netherlanders landed and there was also the company of a frog in the shower.
The weather turned brighter but was frosty at night by now.
After two nights on the site we planned to move further on but before we left we became aware that the local town was worth visiting. So we did, we visited and we stayed overnight in their generously-provided free Aire (with free services for the motorhome too). Monpazier may well be my favourite town to date. I loved it and would wish to have stayed longer, certainly to return, and maybe even to find our next home there.
Running low on supplies we visited next a France Passion site at Monbazillac. A very quiet, well-heeled and well-kept village – if it only had a Boulangerie and was affordable on the housing side, we could have settled there very happily indeed. Still glorious sunny days but frosty nights. We walked the circular route around the village and joined the 6pm wine-tasting and availed ourselves of the remarkably fine wares. Fabrice Camus makes some very different wines indeed. I wish that we had more room in the van to carry more of it with us.
Things went a little pear-shaped when we left the Avinturiers; the planned stop at Saint Emilion was not at all suitable. We did spend time in the town and had fun with my camera for a while but elected to move on to the following day’s stop instead. However, when we arrived at the campsite, that too proved to be unsuitable and we declined to pay €15 in order to park outside the gates and by the side of a busy and noisy road. We looked up a nearby Aire in the All the Aires book, France Passion being out due to lack of space for further vinous purchases at this juncture, and ended up on a sweet little free aire in Capian. Sized for 4 vans, with services (paid), on the edge of the village and with a Pizza Cabin sited adjacent. Well, we did. Be rude not to, wouldn’t it?
Finally, we came here, to Camping le Bilous, near Salles. It is a forest site, literally; it is possible to stroll out of the rear of the site and straight into the forest, which is exactly what we did yesterday and walked for nearly four hours. Mr Snail and Nell are out doing the same again, which is how I find time to catch up a little on the account of our travels.
Facebook doesn’t seem to know about this site and I am not at all surprised. It is very low-key. The site is almost full of caravans that appear to have been pitched for years. There is no motorhome service point that we can find. It is very, very quiet. It does however sport not only toilet seats but also a heated shower facility that does not have push button controls. This makes me happy. The laundry facility that we came for being out of commission makes me rather less so.
Leaving tomorrow and going to play on the sands…
Tomorrow should be a big day for us, if all goes according to Plan.
We finally knuckled down to recording our journey. Mr Snail is maintaining a spreadsheet. I have copied and pasted it into a WordPress Page so that it is available in the blog. Perhaps I will pretty it up a little and maybe we will add further info, who knows. For now it is just a basic list/table. Hope to add a map route at some point.
It rapidly became clear that this blog could not go on as planned, as a detailed record of our trip with reviews of sites and so on. It proves to be just to difficult to marry together free time with a Wi-Fi signal, available bandwidth and a power supply. Bandwidth has been a particular issue.
Regular readers will have noticed a new style of posting – I am trying out Instagram as a way to squirt a literal snapshot of where we are and what we are up to. I am not very good with Instagram or my phone aps in general so there may continue to be some hiccups until I sort myself out.
Apart from these Instagrams I will try to write odd posts as a summary or to highlight special features. The site reviews are almost certainly going to bite the dust completely.
There is a draft post on file for the fifth week of our trip but as we are leaving the site we are currently on, I may well not be able to complete it for a while yet.
So, here’s a very quick and dirty summary: It is the eighth week of our trip and today begins our fifth week in France. Time is passing quickly and we are enjoying ourselves. We have reached Brittany and are at Camping Les Salines near Plurien and Sables d’Or Les Pins.
The weather has been mostly kind but we have had some refreshing rain from time to time. Will try to add a gallery of photos for our travels whenever I can. Today’s featured photo is from Monet’s garden at Giverny, a stopover that certainly requires a gallery all of its own.