Cornas, Ardèche - wine country!January 21 in France ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C
Today has seemed like rather a long day. We moved on from the lovely Renaison, where we spent Will's birthday and have finally settled at a car park aire in Cornas. A road runs past the entrance and on each side are houses. There is only one other van here now but the motorhome area is separated from the rest by half logs and height barriers, reminding us that in high season, the demand for free van parking must be high. The perimeter is cordoned off with wooden wine barrels and beyond them, the view through our windscreen shows neatly trained rows of vines leading up a hillside with various winding farm tracks. We've reached the Ardeche and wine country!
The day's travels have taken us over what seems like hundreds of roundabouts. We deliberately avoid the toll motorways when we aren't in a hurry, preferring to take things slow and have time to absorb some of the sights along the way, but at times these roundabouts prompted the idea that we were being made to pay penance for not forking out on the fast route!
The air had an icy chill from the start of the day, but at Saint Étienne, the roads began to narrow and wind round tight bends, climbing and climbing. With each 100 metres we gained in altitude, we lost 1°C in temperature. We'd entered the Des Monts du Pilat and the sparse patches of snow we'd begun to encounter at the sides of the road soon built up to around 20cm. Thankfully the surface was well gritted, so driving wasn't too difficult and we got to enjoy the sight of a winter wonderland from inside a nice warm cab! Our ears popping, we peaked at 1157m above sea level, by which time the outdoor thermometer read -2°C. It was a little surreal to see the snow appear as we climbed, then disappear as we descended over a kilometre to the wide river channel carved for the Rhône.
We decided against staying at the first spot we had found on Park4Night, between the main river and a managed channel that ran alongside. There were signs warning that only service vehicles were allowed; always a bit off putting! We used our watering can to top up with fresh water at Gervans aire. The town had a couple of spots for overnighting, but we fancied somewhere a bit more rural so left €2 in the donation box and moved on to Tournon-sur-Rhone. Here there was a grassy car park amongst trees, overlooking a small river. We hadn't turned the engine off when Will spotted a creature swimming low in the water. Vicky leapt out and began filming what turned out to be a coypu, as it swam right up to the bank we were on!
Feeling excited at having been able to watch this, we settled down for a cuppa and birthday cake, but before the kettle had even boiled, a horn honked and a police car pulled up outside, knocking on our window. Vicky went out to talk to them but as suspected, they were there to move us on. They agreed to let us stay 10 minutes to drink our tea, so we used the time to find and program the position of Cornas's official aire into the sat nav. It wasn't too far away but we felt tired when we arrived, so didn't explore the location. The night was peaceful enough but the service point was out of action so we left as soon as we'd packed up the next morning.
Out of all the countries we've visited on the continent, we've spent most time in Germany and France and have always viewed them both as quite liberal minded when it comes to camping. This is the only time we've been asked to move on here and whilst the police were courteous, an experience like this always increases the level of insecurity you feel travelling in a mobile home. We hope it is a one off anomaly confined to this area. 🤞Read more