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  • Day951

    Vailhan municipal aire

    February 2, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌧 7 °C

    Vailhan is a small hill village, so small in fact that it doesn't even have a boulangerie. However, it does have a 6 place municipal aire, in which we are parked, looking out onto the small olive trees that border it.

    Some might describe today's weather as wet, miserable, overcast or dour. We like to think of it as travelling weather. The landscape has flattened out somewhat. The hills now roll instead of jutting up aggressively towards the sky. Although the views are less arresting, it does make for wider, straighter roads and easier driving. Even so, digital signs above a dual carriageway reminded us that snow chains are obligatory in this region.

    The road to Vailhan led us through kilometres of agricultural land and forested countryside. Although there were olive groves, the main crop was grapes, with many different ages of vines planted neatly and trellised in rows. We were wondering where we could possibly be headed, when the route swung round, climbed and we began to drive past light coloured buildings topped with attractive wavy terracotta tiles.

    The aire sits close to a refurbished sandstone church with bell tower and Auberge du Presbytère, a nouveau cuisine restaurant with prices to match. The rain continued until well after sunset when a warden came round to collect the €5 fee that was clearly stated at the entrance. They were friendly and promised to turn the water tap on when we asked about it. We were happy to make this small contribution towards the town in exchange for our stay.

    The night was wonderfully quite, save for the wind, which picked up and was rocking Martha Motorhome back and forth quite aggressively by morning time.
    At first light Vicky set out along a footpath that was shown on Maps.Me. It climbed the hill, with views of the reservoir below through gaps in the trees. As she climbed woodland gave way to scrubland, with low thorny shrubs, wild grasses, thyme, lavender, and a type of sage. After the hill had plateaud the next low valley revealed itself, spread out for tens of square miles. Skirting round, there was a small, ruined castle perched on a craggy rock and a
    stone shrine of Notre Dame de l'Ascension (Our Lady of the ascension). Vicky climbed up to the latter and was blown so viciously by the wind she almost lost her footing. From here there was a birdseye view over the whole of the village, she could even see the van!

    Descending a steep rocky path the other side, she returned to Vailhan, passing by a well tended, walled allotment garden and even an old village clothes washing trough, of the sort we saw in rural Spain.

    Back at Martha, after breakfast, we were unprepared when a small white van came round and beeped its horn. It had faded grey writing on its side to let people know it was a bread van, but by the time we'd decided we should get some croissants and Will had leapt out, it was driving off. It must travel from a neighbouring village to do daily deliveries. Oh well, never mind.

    Vicky had enjoyed the walk so much that her enthusiasm bubbled over to Will and we revisited the route together before lunch, taking advantage of the dry (if still very windy) weather!
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  • Day953


    February 4, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 7 °C

    Martha is one of 12 motorhomes parked in a row at the riverside aire in Limoux. Although the sun is out now, very large puddles on the gravel and hard earth surface tell of the heavy rains we've had. Ahead of us, the locals, men of all ages and a few women are using the open space to play petanque. Two dozen or so spend all afternoon hurling their shiny steel balls up into the air with a flick of the wrist, aiming to end up closest to the target ball thrown four or so metres away. We suppose it is the same crowd that would be down the local pub on a Monday afternoon in the UK.

    We are making progress west and today the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees have been a far off spectacle to the south, looking like a painted backdrop. They seperate us from Spain and among them nestles the small country of Andorra. We'd initially planned to stay a night here, but with the cold, damp weather, we've changed our minds and opted to stay on low ground, hoping for a bit more warmth before we return to the UK.

    It has been a while since we've eaten out so when we saw a roadside friterie, Will pulled up and ordered a couple of bags as a lunchtime treat. There were signs in English and Spanish warning people not to drop rubbish and as they were cooking the chips, the server told Will we weren't allowed to eat them in the van in the car park because the police had been concerned by the amount of litter and had banned it. Vicky wasn't up to eating in the friterie, so we drove a little way and had our frites in a layby.

    The air temperature was almost in double figures when we arrived, giving our heating and batteries a break. Will sat on the low concrete wall nearby and fished in the River Aude which was teaming with Koypu. Plenty of petanque players came and chatted to him, giving tips on the good spots nearby, that he moved to as the afternoon wore on.

    Heavy rain fell overnight and when Vicky stepped out at 7:30am, it was into a huge, unavoidable puddle. She walked along the riverside, under a couple of stone bridges but the pedestrian bridge to a little island she'd hoped to cross over to was fenced off. The damp concrete buildings and dirty roads with dog mess on the pavement all looked a bit dismal in the weak morning light.

    The town looked interesting and using the Happy Cow app, we'd found a vegan restaurant nearby that we wanted to visit. However, it was only open from 7pm and Vicky didn't have the energy for exploring too far, so as the batteries were getting very low and the forecast was for yet more rain, we decided to move on, hoping better weather would coincide with a quieter, more scenic spot. Before going we visited Gamm Vert, a large garden store only 100m from the aire. We've given up on trying to grow fresh herbs in the van as there simply isn't enough light. Instead, Will bought an aloe vera plant; something we always used to grow when we lived in our house. We missed being able to use the sap to help our skin and occasionally a sore throat, so fingers crossed that it likes vanlife! Vicky also found an air plant, something she'd been looking for for a while to add a bit of greenery without the weight of the soil.

    As we were getting ready to go, two 'boy racer' cars screamed into the car park in front of us. Four youths emerged who didn't look old enough to drive. They lit cigarettes and had a bit of banter, larking about and making crude gestures to each other, they then got their balls out and commenced their game of petanque! Only in France eh!?
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  • Day4

    Euro5000: Alpes-Maritimes - Saint-Tropez

    September 10, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    European5000 - Stage 4&5: The day of extremes, from -2C to +30C in less than 24 hours! #European5000 #ColDeLaBonette #2715m #ColDeTurini #ColDeVar #TeamPetitBateau #PetitBateau #ThanksLuc&Odette #ThanksCindy&Paul #E38 #728 #FunnyChallenges

  • Day955


    February 6, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 10 °C

    Well, previously we've stayed beside outdoor swimming pools, but this time we've gone a step further and are staying in one, albeit a former one. Moissac's pool is now a fenced in, 43 place aire, with a nice flat yellow gravel surface divided into twin sized pitches by wooden log plant beds. The entrance sign displayed the overnight price as €6 including 24 hour electricity. The barrier machine charged €15 for 2 nights, but it was good value either way. They changed the signage while we were there but funnily enough, when we decided we wanted a third night, it had dropped back to €6!

    We weren't the only ones who liked Moissac. Out of the 20 or so other motorhomes, many appeared to be long term occupants. There wasn't a lot of traffic in and out of the aire and each morning there was a steady stream of trolleys carrying empty water barrels and full waste tanks to the service point so people didn't have to pack up their vans. We were eyeballed upon entry, by two aire residents standing near the barrier and many seemed to know each other as you would in a small village.

    Moissac sits of the banks of Le Tarn, but also has Canal Latéral à la Garrone running through it. Arriving in the late afternoon, Will fished in the river and we left exploring the streets to the following day. It's funny sometimes how you just get a feeling for a place, without being able to pin it on anything in particular. Moissac's vibe was a good one and we enjoyed peering at the array of large houseboats moored permanently on the canal as we made our way in.

    Nearing the centre of the large town, a small indoor market caught our eye on the edge of a large car parking area. Only a few food stalls were open but we bought some organic bread and an apple slice while having a banter with the boulanger who was keen to improve their English while we improved our French. We love the interactions you get in smaller shops that rarely happen in supermarkets. On the other side of the square was a printing shop where we were able to print out Will's fishing licence and some new guitar songs for him to 'entertain' Vicky with.

    At the heart of Moissac lays its impressive Abbey, with a huge stone archway, alive with carved figures. Inside, Saint Pierre's cloisters are patterned with what looks like old fashioned wall paper, but on closer inspection is in fact hand painted onto the ancient plaster, crumbling away at points. It's quite a feat to have covered these high walls.

    Close by is a shop advertising 'Produits de Terroir' (local produce), so we pick up some fruit and veg. France seems really good for selling locally grown fare, through both independent stores such as this one and the larger chains. Vicky wasn't feeling her best but we decided to try and find somewhere to eat out. The first place we tried only had a couple of stools at high tables that hadn't been booked, but recommended their neighbours 'Le Flore'. Once it was ascertained the chef could do a veggie meal, we were seated at one of the two, small high tables, which thankfully came with high backed chairs.

    The server brought out a carafe of water and a blackboard on which the plat du jour were written. A nice touch, but it seemed an age before they returned to take our order. Vicky was pleased there was a veggie starter, but despite being the first in, we had to watch as the room filled up and others were served their first courses before our meat platter and leak and potato soup appeared. It was the same with mains, in fact the table next to us, had finished their coffee before we caught sight of Will's lamb and Vicky's 'big salad' (the 3rd in as many restaurants). She has been reading about the success of 'Veganuary' in the UK, with many people saying how great the choice is for vegans now... we guess it hasn't filtered through to France yet.

    The following day was brilliantly sunny so Will set off to enjoy a spot of fishing on the canal. It was lucky he'd managed to get his lisence printed out, because two officials approached him and asked for it, inspecting it closely and scanning the QR code. They may have accepted his proof of purchace but it turned out he was fishing within 50m of a bridge (unbeknownst to Will, this is against French regulations). Luckily they gave him 'a present' and allowed him to continue, provided he moved.

    After 3 days of electric hookup, Martha's batteries were happily recharged and we were ready to move on. Moissac was a great find with very reasonable prices. There were plenty more streets to explore and in better weather we could enjoy a canoe on the river so we'd definitely return if passing.
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  • Day948

    Return to Vallabrègues

    January 30, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    We've ended up at Vallabrègues aire again, exactly a week after we first visited. Avoiding France's over developed southern coast after a foray to Monaco in the east, we are doubling back westwards towards Spain.

    It was another interesting day's drive to get here, over Provence's beautiful wooded hills. Thanks to a a blue sky and wonderfully bright sun, the temperature never dropped below 3°C, but we saw plenty of snow on the ground and needed to be careful in the shade of cliffs and slopes, as the white stuff had piled up at the edge of the carriageway and even remained in the centre of each lane at times. On higher ground it was thick on the branches of wintery oaks, bare but for a few crisp brown leaves persistently clinging on. The wind would occasionally blow a flurry from the trees, splatting it onto Martha's windscreen and bringing gleeful grins to our faces.

    We had programmed an LPG station in, but it must have stopped selling it, because a pump was nowhere to be seen. Here in France we'll often come accross LPG when we have no need for it, but we don't want to risk running out, so will programme another station in along the next leg of our route.

    Despite crossing over our tracks of a week ago we'd planned to stay at another aire close to Vallabrègues, after discovering the town hosted weekly bull fights. However, there was a mixup with waypoints in the sat nav and when we ended up here, Vicky was too tired from the long journey to travel on, so we stayed put.

    There was something comforting about being in a place we knew and while Will fished, Vicky focussed on making arrangements for when we return to the UK. We've been trying to get our rear bumper fixed since a collision in June, but the garage SAGA Insurance directed us to is experiencing massive delays when ordering parts from europe. It looks likely we won't be able to get the work done anytime soon.

    Having already explored the streets of Vallabrègues, we took some time to call our family for a catchup. Hearing about Burns Night meals they'd been having, we got to really fancying some haggis, neaps and tatties. Now, as you can imagine, haggis isn't widely available in France, but Vicky had an idea and looked up a vegan haggis recipe online. Will spent an afternoon cooking and combining all the ingredients, let the concoction rest for a day and baked it the following evening. It was really yummy, especially with a nip of whisky!
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  • Day950


    February 1, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌧 9 °C

    The large overflow carpark on the edge of Sommières is home for today. The original tarmac car park is packed, but thankfully there is plenty of space on the gravel area where we are. The reed lined River Vidourle runs alongside and large flocks of crows call out as they fly to and from their high treetop roosts.

    It rained for most of our journey here, but eased off soon after we arrived in the early afternoon. We are getting used to shops closing for lunch, so Will took the opportunity for a little fish before we headed into the 'centre ville' via an arched Roman bridge, built in the 1st century by Emperor Tiberius. Today it serves as a road bridge, narrowly squeezing two way traffic between its low walls, without leaving much room for pedestrians. They have their own low concrete bridge a little further downstream.

    Currently we are taking a more passive approach to travel; plotting a route that will get us to our ferry and simply seeing what the journey brings. We'd not researched Sommières, so had few expectations and were pleasantly surprised as we took the grand entrance through the town walls, via the archway (complete with portcullis) built into a clock amd bell tower. Tall, terraced shops and homes, their walls leaning inwards, formed narrow alleyways, where we were shocked to see a few people daring to drive, or rather crawl along in their cars.

    Despite its modern creperies and clothes shops, Sommières exuded history. It is one of those towns that has had continued habitation through the centuries. Old has stayed old, but been adapted and extended in an effort to suit the demands of successive new ages. Certain streets were entered into via small stone arches and the rain brought out a smell of damp concrete in some residential areas, adding to the olde worlde feel.

    The businesses around the small main square marked the town out as somewhere people would travel to visit as a treat, with cafés, gift shops, artisan boulangeries, patisseries, galleries and a florists. Spreading out from here were sellers of loose teas, wines and craft beers, fashion boutiques and even a hippy shop where Will found a new pair of trousers. People didn't appear as openly friendly as in many of the smaller places we've been staying, but this is often a consequence of larger settlements. As we were leaving we saw a sign giving notice of a road closure each Saturday for market; we were in luck!

    The following morning even more cars streamed into our car park. We waited for the heavy rain to abate to a constant drizzle and made our way in towards the covered stalls that lined many of Sommières' streets and filled its squares. Apart from a few clothes and nik nak vendors, it was mainly a food market, with fruit and veg, baked and sweet goods, cheese, fish, fresh and processed meats filling the majority of tables. We were a little surprised at how many of each type there were, as competition usually whittles them down to no more than half a dozen. We managed to pick up some organic bread and veg amd opted for three ages of sheep cheese from a very small, local producer.

    The Yellow Vests were actively leafletting and mustering support. One kid of around 11 years even tried to recruit Vicky, bounding up to her and asking 'vous voulez participer avec le gilets jaunes?' They looked intially crestfallen at her stringent 'non', but soon bounded up to the next unsuspecting passer by!
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  • Day952


    February 3, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 7 °C

    The aire at Coursan is a grassy offering on the edge of town, just off a main road. It is surrounded by glossy, dark green shrubs and has a service point beside it. This morning's wind has blown all the clouds away and Vicky's little kalanchoe plants are pressed up against the window, enjoying the sun streaming in.

    We arrived in the late afternoon, the roads are getting larger and easier to drive along but the 25mph winds buffeted us to and fro. Being a Sunday, the day's journey took us over countless roundabouts occupied by the gilets jaunes, in makeshift shacks. Circles of blackened ground, often with a heap of rusted wire, pock marked the tarmac where they had heaped and burned tyres. Approaching one of the toll entry points to the A9, we saw huge plumes of thick black smoke streaming from a series of bases. Luckily we didn't need to pass by them. All that remained of some road signs were jagged metal stubs, others were taped over or sprayed with lurid yellow grafitti. Messages to Macron were chalked or painted onto the carriagway. Whatever their political ambitions, we are annoyed by these tactics.

    Whilst at Coursan we had a look at Maps.Me to scout out the local shops, of which there didn't seem many, apart from a few supermarkets at the other side of town. Will walked a decent distance to get to the river for a fish. It was in flood and unfortunately a gust of wind blew his equipment into the water. He managed to retrieve most of it, but lost the new rod rest he'd got for his birthday. Oh well. Although we've been doing more single night stops than we'd planned, we decided to move on again in the morning. We were grateful for the free stopping place but there just didn't seem to be that much character to Coursan. Hopefully, we'll find somewhere we really like and be able to stay longer than we would have otherwise.

    P.S. We've now uplpaded a 2 minute video of our drive through Monaco on the VnW Travels You Tube Channel:
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  • Day954

    Camping du Lac de la Thesauque

    February 5, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌧 9 °C

    Ahh, peace and quiet, well, apart from the chirping of the birds, which we always enjoy. We've paid €6 to stay in what is effectively a car park outside a campsite. Lac de la Thesauque is close by but hidden from view by the outbuildings bordering the parking area. A crazy golf course with a castle, a windmill and a red and white colour scheme, occupies the grassy bank to our right. Evergreen hedges and bare trees weather the rain. The campsite has chalets available, but is closed to campers between September and June, during which time they can feed €6 into a machine at the barrier and be granted entry to the car park and service point. The only passing traffic is travelling to and from the campsite and nobody hangs around outside. Although we do enjoy observing the comings and goings of locals in the settlements we stay in, it is blissfully relaxing to have this level of solitude.

    Despite the ground being soggy and the weather grotty, the temperature averaged 10°C and Will was drawn out to fish on the lake shore during a break in the rain. It didn't last long and he soon returned, choosing instead to get to work in the dry, making focaccia to dip into baked camembert for tea.
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  • Day1


    October 11, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Wow! Driving a couple of hours we made it to France! We feel so good, eating some grapes and enjoying the audiobook "Money and The Law Of Attraction".

    Yes! Hemos llegado a Francia! Estamos super bien, comiendo uvas y disfrutando el audio libro "Money and The Law Of Attraction"

    Jesss! Saavuttiin parin tunnin ajon jälkeen Ranskaan!! Meillä on kaikki super hyvin. Ollaan syöty vinirypäleitä ja kuunneltu äänikirjaa "Money and the Law of AttractionRead more

  • Day940

    Vallabrègues, Le Rhône

    January 22, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C

    Today we feel we've 'arrived'. The sun shines in a blue sky as we pull into the free aire at Vallabrègues; a grassy patch with gravel pitches radiating out from the centre like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The journey here has buoyed our spirits, as we near the Mediterranean Sea. We followed the course of the widening River Rhône and as we drove, the sights we saw told us we were in 'the south' now. Workers tended vines, honeyed stone castles loomed above on precipitous craggy outcrops, olive and soft fruit orchards were ten to the dozen and we even saw neatly cropped fields of lavender and thyme between curtains of bamboo canes as tall as houses, green leached out of their leaves, leaving crisp, sandy coloured fingers that rustle in the wind. We even saw a few roadside stalls selling clementines, although we think these were probably imported from Spain.

    We associate these surroundings with warm sunny days, outdoor adventures, exotic wildlife, icecream, seafood and wine, so it was with smiles on our faces that we parked up at Vallabrègues. The aire is at the edge of town, on the Rhône's natural flood plain. It's actually below the water level, although a huge embankment has been built to seperate it and protect the town, which flooded back in 2003.

    Wanting to take advantage of the sunshine, Vicky set out on a walk alongside the river, while Will fished in the nearby pond. He was able to stay out later than previous days, because our direction of travel and time of year means we are getting more daylight hours, the sun now setting at 17.38pm!

    Feeling energised, Will explored the narrow streets of Vallabrègues when Vicky was in bed and found a Tabac where, during opening hours, we might get a token to fill the van with fresh water. After an overcast river walk the next morning we returned and managed to buy the 'jeton' for €2. Cars are confined to the edges of town, so we wandered through the quiet alleyways between terraced homes, emerging upon a sandstone gravel square planted with time worn Plane trees and featuring a bandstand. At the edge were two bars with marquees attached to their frontages. Bar du Cours had tables and chairs set up outside and a chalk board displaying the menu du jour for €15. The barhand raised their eyebrows and looked worried when Vicky asked for a veggie meal, but the server knew just the thing: 'a big salade!' We smiled as this is exactly what had been offered at the little auberge we ate at last week. It seems as if Vicky may be eating quite a few 'grandes salades' whilst in France! We were led into the dining room and given our choice of seats. The tables were functional, wipe clean vinyl with paper mats and a few other cutomers sat quietly hunched over their meals. The one striking feature was the homage the room payed to bullfighting; many framed photos and even a bull's head woven out of willow branches and mounted on a plaque. No wonder the barhand had raised their eyebrows at Vicky's request for a vegetarian option! The meal was good, and the server attentive so we tried to ignore the bullfighting photos, but on our way back to Martha, we came across Vallabrègues' bull ring, which advertised weekly events for €3 with free entry for those under 12 years. We hadn't realised this cruel activity was still such a part of local culture in this region, but felt very glad to have avoided being there when a fight was scheduled.

    As March 29th grows closer we are becoming increasingly worried about the effects of Brexit on our travels. With 9 weeks to go there are as yet no arrangements in place that would allow us to stay more than 90 days out of every 180 within the Schengen zone, putting an end to long term touring in Europe. Vodafone have said they'll continue to allow customers to roam with no additional charges, but for how long? We will need to get International Driving Permits when we return to the UK in February, probably one for France and one for Spain. We've also been advised by our insurance company to call them 3 weeks before crossing over to the continent in order to obtain a Green Card. We desperately hope we will be able to continue living life as we have been, but things look set to become a lot more complicated and restrictive. We'll just have to wait and see...
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Occitania, Occitanie, Linguadoca-Rossiglione-Midi-Pirenei

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