The Ardeche – France 2012 Part 3…………….

pontdarc_jpg

We arrived at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, the entrance to the Ardeche Gorge and the start for many of their journey by canoe through a boat trip and france etc 049picturesque and magnificent landscape.  So to find a campsite, cheap, cheerful, not all singing, all dancing……well that was the plan but like all best laid plans we ended up at a large, relatively expensive (although the prices go down in the last week of August by a few Euros) site on the banks of the Ardeche river just outside the town called Mondial Camping.  I’ve reviewed the campsite here: http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/sites/reviews.asp?revid=12154.   Once again we pitched the Outwell on a large, shady pitch just opposite the path to the river and then took a walk down the path for a quick swim; as it was late evening only a few canoes paddled by and, having negotiated the steep path, rocky shores and boulder strewn river bed with limited injury,  we immersed ourselves in the cool, clear water of the Ardeche…….as a true water babe I was in heaven, my life was complete!

The next morning we considered renting a canoe but I decided to do some research before embarking on such an epic adventure.  I placed myself at the top of the steep slope down to the rocky shore and put my boat trip and france etc 054sunglasses on.  From this vantage point I could observe people negotiating the slope and shore with their canoes and assess with reasonable accuracy a) how likely I was to sustain injury b) a level between 1 & 10 of how ridiculous and ungainly I would look c)whether I’d fit in a canoe.  The first family to come down with their canoes were fit, slim and agile and negotiated all the obstacles in a gazelle like fashion, assuredly but gracefully with only the occasional wobble on a loose stone.  They slid off to join the throng of canoes now gliding down the river, some even facing the right way!  The next couple were more representative of Bruce and I, a little wider than average with a few years on the clock.  Hesitatingly she slid down the slope and was nearly on level ground when hubby sent the canoe down, she avoided direct contact with the runaway canoe by jumping out the way and wobbled precariously before steadying herself.  I learned a few German swear words, thankfully not directed at me but at her husband now sliding down the slope presumably muttering apologies.  This was much more entertaining than the last family, I was thoroughly enjoying my new-found hobby.  Throughout the holiday I would return to my new hobby of watching people wobble, fall and retain their balance whilst trying to maintain dignity – even  I eventually developed a technique of boulder/wobbly stone hopping to my sunbathing spot with only a hint of ungainliness and far less falls than I thought; I even managed to enter the water on one occasion without stubbing my toe…..back to the canoes and the now angry wife and her remorseful husband.  I was relieved to find she did fit in the canoe, with plenty of space to be fair but her husband did have to draw on all his strength reserves to launch it.  Once floating the husband clambered into the boat with only a slight risk of sinking due to water that also entered the boat and they paddled off with the masses, surprisingly and expertly avoiding any major collision.  I determined that with several dummy runs it would be possible to launch the canoe without serious damage to myself or my ego and went back to the tent to relay the good news back to Bruce.  Of course I would need a day to psychologically prepare myself………………

To cut a long story short I made excuses everyday, for some reason I didn’t feel confident and felt my levels of fitness would see me boat trip and france etc 058being rescued and pulled to shore should I embark on such a venture.  This made me sad, I’d had a go at most water sports with various degrees of failure (a pulled muscle water-skiing, a shark encounter that was really dolphins on a jet ski in Florida, windsurfing which I managed for around 3 seconds after hours of practice) but canoeing I’d been relatively successful at in the past so why I would suddenly feel this fear and lack of confidence did get to me.  Bruce was indifferent about canoeing but I felt this indifference masked a similar lack of confidence as we’d had a fair few conversations on steering techniques whilst watching the Ardeche M1 for canoes from our perches on the rocks.  We therefore left for home regretting that we had not taken the plunge (quite literally in our case) and canoed the fantastic Ardeche river beneath the Pont d’Arc, a natural bridge carved from the ancient landscape.

The landscape is indeed ancient and in 1994 2 speleologists (which I presume is something to do with caves) discovered the Chauvet Cave with it’s remarkable 31,000 year old cave drawings.  Due to it’s rarity and importance it isn’t open to the public but we did find a cave that was.  On a hot day this was a cool retreat, in fact as we descended down the numerous steps I came to the conclusion that a vest top was totally inadequate and I shivered around the interior, listening to the French tour guide (my French is limited and I have very little knowledge of any cave related word).  Geographically the caves were spectacular with stalagmites and stalactites and pools and waterfalls and an almost cathedral-like impressiveness about them…natures sculpture park.  But no wall paintings and I guess as someone more interested in people (with a recent interest in all things archaeological) the geology was less exciting.  Bruce was a bit peeved he couldn’t just nip out for a fag after we’d seen the first chamber of the cave and even more peeved to learn we had a few more chambers to go.  But we were both glad we’d seen it and at least immersed ourselves in a bit of the landscapes history.

coco locoValon Pont d’Arc is a lovely old town with a thriving weekly day and evening market.  An added bonus is that whilst we sat in the square sipping coffee and eating a freshly baked croissant, the Merry Go Round played some excellent chilled music including a fair bit of reggae.  We had a meal one evening at a lovely restaurant Coco Loco in the town and spent another evening getting on down to the music at the campsite disco…..as is our tradition we managed to clear the dance floor with our moves and shakes.  Although the campsite was fairly big and organised there was a laid back feel and the owners were very proud of their site.  Another evening was spent drinking wine and watching the stars in our little rocky hideaway down by the river…….all very romantic and amorous until the river security guards spotted us, we managed to restore our modesty before they got to us and upon seeing us just wished us a good evening.  They were intent on intimidating the naughty teenagers and obviously realized that 2 middle-aged, respectable, polite English people would be doing nothing more than drinking wine and star gazing…….little did they know!

All too soon it was time to start the long journey home, we had left it as late as possible and decided to go from south to north in one go.  We left one of my now favourite regions of France, the Ardeche,  at around 10am and by midnight we were on the tunnel train thing heading for a real bed and a good night sleep……would have swapped the real bed for an airbed in the sun of southern France any day.

Advertisements

Lac D’Orient – France 2012 Part 2

aerial lacdorientWe arrived on the sparkling shores of Lac D’Orient refreshed and ready to kick back and chill out.  I had been to site we were heading for before, in my other life, with my ex-husband and 2 small boys in a motorhome.  As we approached I remembered how we’d rented a pedalo with a slide and the fun we’d all had sliding off the back and also the pesky mosquitos’.   It took me back and it always breaks my heart to think of 2 boys that had Mum and Dad together then, through no fault of their own, their world turned upside down.  They are beautiful young men now and suprisingly grounded, their Dad and I have always been amiable but it still makes me sad – as lovely as they are now I miss the days when they were small and I could hold their little hands and a plaster and a cuddle solved most things.  Back to reality, no children little or otherwise and some time to ourselves in the sunshine, life’s not all bad.

I reviewed the campsite, L’Epines Aux Moins,  in Kylas Coolest Camping Part 2 post on this blog, hopefully you will find it here: https://kyla40.wordpress.com/2011/07/page/2/.  The site is on the shores of the Petit Lac and less commercialized than the sites maplacdorientacross the water.  There is now a small shop and snack bar on site and free wi-fi on the terrace.  The pitch sizes are good and we decided to pitch the Outwell instead of just the small 2 man.  For two of us this was luxury once pitched with a bedroom and living area and the option to stand fully upright and pull on your knickers without the 2 man tent tussle. It also meant we could sit inside with just the fly nets up in the evening thus avoiding the mozzies.  To be honest they weren’t as bad as I had remembered probably because although the day had been hot the evening cooled down a lot.  Even so there were a few about and by the end of the 2 nights  we could amuse ourselves comparing bites of varying sizes. Worth it though, the area and lake were as lovely as I remember them and we had the chance to relax and explore a little.

To be honest we did very little exploring for 2 days, choosing to laze about in the sunshine interspersed with the occasional dip in the lake.  On one day we circumnavigated the entire lake, this is excellent cycling country but as we had no bikes (oh what a shame) we took Fugly car instead.  For those who like water-sports there is a marina and water-sports centre near the larger campsites.  We opted for the less active option of a meal and glass of wine in a small bar in one of the towns, Geroudet I believe,  dotted around the lake.  We went to bed early and got up late with nothing to do and no demands – after 2 days we  learned that the weather was turning so decided to break camp and head south early the next morning.  If the sun had continued to shine we would have happily stayed there, sampling champagne and possibly venturing back into Troyes of an evening but we are fickle campers and we hadn’t quite had our full dose of warm, sunny weather.  So on a damp, cool, dismal morning we bundled the tent into the car and headed south for The Ardeche.lacdorient

Troyes – French Adventure 2012 Part 1:

troyeshouses

As soon as I disembark whatever means of transport I’ve chosen to traverse La Mer (Euro-tunnel in this case)  I feel I’ve come home…….it’s never been my home, my French is tres crap and I have no French connections at all but it still feels so right.  I will go to great lengths to get my French fix, lies, bribery, threats, self-denial, gross exaggeration – there is no level I won’t sink to in order to secure my crossing to France. This year had even involved various levels of threats to the passport office finally culminating in tears of despair after they’d made a monumental cock up; we finally received the new passport on the morning we travelled! Thanks to family, friends and the UKCS guys for seeing me through one of my darkest hours.   Therefore on a sunny dawn late August we arrived with very little money (lie number one = “it’s fine hon, we can afford it”) and a whole lot of  joy in my heart – Bruce was snoring loudly in the passenger seat so I’m not entirely sure he felt same elation.  Perhaps I should explain that we were child, or rather teenager free and Bruce was asleep because he’d been doing a gig in London while I slept for a few hours at his sisters house in Rochester before we caught the 5am euro-tunnel-train type thing.

We had endured a wet, miserable summer so far but this weekend the temperature had started to soar and as Fugly chugged along the troyescathedralmotorway, the heat increased.  The air-con still didn’t work, Bruce woke up in a sweat and the benefits of my 1.5 hours sleep were wearing off at an alarming rate.  As we pulled off at Troyes, in the now searing heat, the elation had turned into dehydration and our communication was reduced to a short, clipped bark, sometimes accompanied with a low growl and a cutting remark.  We parked close to the center of Troyes and found a square with some cafes, nice but not remarkable.  After we had sat and lapped up the atmosphere and the coffee we headed to another square with a market place where there was a stage and live music.  I love live music and outdoor concerts but I think tiredness and heat were starting to win the day and my energy levels were such that I couldn’t even be bothered to snap at Bruce in the usual tired and grouchy manner, not even a little snarl.  We started to walk back to the car when I spotted some medieval timber buildings around a corner………….and so began my love affair with Troyes and our holiday for real.

boat trip and france etc 040Troyes is the capital of the Aube department within the region of Champagne-Ardenne, south of Reims, on the road to Lyon.  Troyes history dates back to Roman times and includes Joan of Arc, wrangles and treaties with the English throne, a revolution or two and of course the obligatory Great Fire.  It’s location and annexing from Champagne caused uprisings as late as 1911 and resulted in the wine growers being granted permission to label sparkling wine from this region “Champagne”.  The French and their wine eh? This historical melting pot has resulted in some fine architecture, Troyes cathedral being a fine example.  Work started on the gothic cathedral in the 13th century and continued into the 16th century so it’s worth a look if only to honour the tenacity of the builders and craftsmen.

In medieval times the city was a bustling trade centre and gave its name to Troy Weight which is apparently a measurement for gold, as I have had no gold to weigh I am unfamiliar with this term. In 1524 the Great Fire destroyed the city bar one or two buildings.  All this history and drama serves to make Troyes an interesting place but what really floats my boat is the half-timbered houses that survive from the 16th century in the old town.  Their pretty pastel colours, crookedness and shabby chic authenticity is irresistible to me, I was drawn towards these buildings from a chance glimpse around a corner and soon a whole mini-town opened up before us.  Bruce, who is unmoved by boat trip and france etc 042inanimate pastel coloured buildings and generally doesn’t give a flying fig about history began to to take the tiniest bit of  interest as he caught a whiff of French cooking.  The lunch time menu was being prepared in the numerous restaurants situated in rustic twisted buildings with their tables pouring out onto the narrow sunlit streets flowing effortlessly, like wine, from building to pavement.

boat trip and france etc 043We stopped for lunch, rude not to really.  The restaurant was called Rouge et Noir (ranked 12 out of 111 on TripAdvisor) and we opted for a table in the sunshine against the church wall.  I was so impressed to find a vegetarian option on the menu, in fact I had to look twice and then ask Bruce to confirm that we were in France, meat eater central, and that I had found a restaurant with a vegetarian option.  Slightly taken aback I perused the menu while Bruce ordered drinks.  I opted for the vegetarian platter and the drinks arrived –  Orangina for me (driving and a total lightweight) and the most delicious red wine I have ever tasted for Bruce.  As we sat in the sunshine supping our drinks I watched the stress lines visibly dissapear from Bruces face, his dimples began to reappear and the smiles became more regular.  He was positively elated when he put the first boat trip and france etc 044mouthful of food into his mouth, the whole dining experience including the service couldn’t have been bettered. Viva la France!  The food, the drink, the location, the weather and the ambience combined to provide that perfect holiday feeling expressed with a long, deep sigh of contentment.

Our intention was to motor as far south as possible and find a campsite by 5pm however, after a long, lazy lunch in the sunshine the thought of getting back into a hot car with no air con was about as appealing as eating live cockroaches.  We checked our phones for the latest weather which basically said we were in for a couple of days of hot sunny weather then back to the miserableness that had been our summer in the UK, at which point I suggested we went to Lac D’Orient, a few miles east of Troyes.  We sauntered back to the car hand in hand, the stress and worries of home finally banished and 1 weeks worth of time for each other to look forward to……………

Day 10 – Moving On to Millau

We left Saint Aygulf around mid day to head for Millau, apparently it has a big viaduct there (whoopee) and it has appeared on top gear (fantastic).  I like bridges but not enough to head to one for 2 nights camping, it must be a man thing and I happen to be surrounded by young men so on the hottest day so far I found myself on the autoroute, in the traffic, heading for a bridge – I was not impressed!  As we came off the autorroute and on the road to Millau we came to a viewing point and it was there I got my first view of the viaduct and the gorge running below and what a bridge!  It is magnificent and the contrast between the man-made magnificence of the bridge and the luscious green of the river gorge below blew me away.

We made our way down into the town and then followed a river for about a mile to Camping Saint Lambert.  We hadn’t booked but luckily they had a free pitch by the river for 1 night only and the next day they had another pitch free by the toilet block.  After a hard days drive Bruce and I made our way to the bar for a drink and left the kids to put up the tent, which they did brilliantly.  We then all had pizza and chips from the bar along with a litre of wine all for 27 euro – that’s 1 euro less than a round of drinks in St Tropez.  With the last of our money almost gone we turned in for the night and were lulled to sleep by the gurgle of the river.

Day 9 – St Tropez and packing away!

We decided to leave the south and start heading home on Monday because our money was fast running out.  I had under budgeted by a

Busy striking camp!

longway and for several reasons, the euro exchange rate being the main culprit plus the high costs of food and pitches on the Med, we now needed to head home.  We packed the kids off down to the beach and started to strike camp, taking down the pup tents and generally sorting out.  Around lunch time we stopped for an ice-cold beer at the bar and strangely enough for the first time all holiday we relaxed completely, so much so that when the kids returned they found us both chilling and relaxing in the sun enjoying the peace.

The peace didn’t last long so we set off for St Tropez using the back road to Ste Maxime and the usually horrific coast road around the bay, I say usually because for the first time in years we sailed along the coast road, through Port Grimaud, Cogolin and into St Tropez with hardly any traffic at all – strange!  We parked in the port and had a wander around the town and the harbour and then stopped for a drink.  What was i thinking?  Stopping for a drink in St Tropez is like filling your car up with liquid gold – very expensive! 4 colas and 2 coffees cost 28 euro, almost £28 at todays exchange rate.  I had quite obviously taken leave of my senses and we returned to the car before we became stranded in St Tropez with no money for diesel home. To add insult to injury the route home was as jam-packed as ever and we crawled along among the Ferraris’ and Bentleys in our little old Fugly, they were so obviously impressed with our daisy stickers!

Note to self:Take a flask or remortgage when next visiting St Tropez.

Day 8 – Le Dramont

  Le Dramont is situated near Agay on the otherside of St Raphael from St Aygulf.  I have camped here a few times and decided today was the day we’d all go down to the beach there and spend the day snorkelling and clambering over the rocks.

Just before the Campeole campsite is a free public car park leading to the public beach.  The beach has toilets, a snack shack and life guards.  You can set up camp in the shade of the trees on the grassy bit or pitch your sun shade on the sandy strip of beach or just camp out on the pebbles and rocks.  We went first to a rocky bit of beach and later moved to the shade under the trees.  I like this beach because it’s a bit more interesting than some, there is a small island and boats are often moored up in the shelter of the cove; snorkelling is good fun around the rocks as is a spot of rockpooling.  The kids all put on their sea shoes and started clambering around the rocks and snorkelling.  Later in the day Ollie and Beta spotted a few jelly fish ad spent the next hour or so tracking them in the sea, Ollie even managed to avoid getting stung which is a first.

We spent a pleasant few hours on the beach, about Bruces limit and then returned to camp.  I wanted to go into the village but some occupants of the car were being miserable so I just took the least two miserable beings with me and dropped the others off at camp.  We then went into St Aygulf and sat at a beachside bar eating ice-cream and watching the world go by.  We had decided that we would eat out tonight as a treat so I looked at the prices in the restaurants on the way back to the car, I found one considerably cheaper on the main road between the beachside and the main village, unfortunately I’ve forgotten what it was called.

We all returned later and enjoyed a main course, drinks and wine for 6 of us for 83 euro, which wasn’t too bad a price but a little bit reckless considering our money was fast running out.  Of course no day goes by without a little bit of drama in our family and today was no exception.  As we sat eating our meal a Golden Labrador  that we had seen earlier came sniffing by.  It was obvious she had just had pups but she looked neglected, hungry and lost.  This is where the drama begins because a few members of our party wanted to take her home!! The restaurant gave us the number of the police, who were completely useless and gave me a telephone number so quickly that I hadn’t time to write it down, then they hung up.  We fed her some biscuits and cheese we had in the car and gave her some water and then I turned into the wicked witch of the north and made a decision – we couldn’t take her back to camp or home in case she was suckling puppies, she seemed to know the area and the local people and police were best placed to help her, she looked thin but not emaciated so I said we had to leave her.  I stand by my decision but may have lost a million brownie points – I hope she’s OK.

Day 3 – The Beach & The Campsite

Day 3 – Monday – The Beach:

After a good nights sleep we all felt a little more human.  I had a shower and checked out the facilities; there are ample shower blocks dotted around and all facilities are spotless, no matter what time of day you use them, although the loo roll runs out on occasion so best to take an emergency supply.  The kids were keen to get down to the beach which is 2 miles away down a bumpy track that Fugly had struggled with the day before.  There are alternative ways to the beach in the car but these are a lot longer and inevitably mean sitting in a traffic queue (these can’t be avoided on the coast in the height of summer and are a pain in the buttt, I don’t do queues, so much so that on the way down the one campsite in Regluss that might have had spaces I walked away from after I had stood in reception for 15 minutes in a queue).

We decided to use our bikes and pumped up tyres in readiness.  I have not been on my bike for a long time and a few things had seized up, like the rear brakes, but no matter, I was not going fast enough to use them.  The route down was bumpy but it didn’t take very long and was relatively traffic free.  There is an excellent cycle track along the coast and was so much better on my bottom when we got to it.  After the kids had been sun creamed up we left them with provisions (baguette, meat, drinks, 10 euro, sun cream) we left them to have a coffee at the beach bar, the coffee was awful as it had been stewing in the filter pot for probably the last few days.  So we mounted our cycles and rode to the village of St Aygulf where we found a sandwich bar on the road island and enjoyed coffee and a Salad De Chevre – yum yum and double yum.  Even in a touristy hot spot where they don’t really need to make an effort it seems the French have such a respect for their food that they wouldn’t dream of serving up anything that’s second-rate or unfresh.  We left the kids on the beach all day, well most of the kids, George came back to the campsite and we then went off to Lydl for more provisions, the prices were fairly comparative to home so no major shock there.  When the kids returned we had a big pot of pasta and home-made tomato sauce made in the bowl thing on the Cadac – thanks Mum and Dad for lending us the Cadac it’s a brilliant bit of kit.  We then fell asleep listening to the entertainment – a music quiz – and slept incredibly well once more.

During the day I had a chance to have a quick chat with Veronique about the floods last year.  As she was speaking she became visibly emotional and it bought it home to me how frightening it must have been, she had watched her husband and children swimming for safety and witnessed the helicopters rescuing people from roofs of mobile homes in the campsite next door, Etoile D’Argent.  The river is situated at the bottom of the site and there is launching and mooring facilities, it flows calmly down to the sea passing a few campsites as it does.  It was this river, the Argen, that rose and engulfed the campsites in June last year rendering them all useless for the 2010 season.  The owners and local tradesmen must have worked extremely hard to transform  a site that was flooded up to above head height (there are markers dotted around the site to indicate flood levels) to the pristine and well kept site that stands today.  This is the first season since the floods and obviously one of mixed emotions, I hope Veronique, her family and anyone involved in last years floods don’t have to witness anything like it again.