27th December – 2nd January
After a lazy start to the morning, we took off for our next destination of Privas. The drive was pleasant enough and we arrived just before lunch so we had that first before venturing into town. Another nice little French town with not much to see but we did have a bit of a walk around. As the sun was shining we decided to move on to our next destination of Ruoms. The drive here was lovely, passing through the mountain ranges and the many vineyards along the way. We are travelling on the Cotes de Rhône route which will take us through several gorges on our way to Avignon. It was quite late once we got here so we will head into the town for a quick look around in the morning.
After a brief walk around Ruoms we got back on the road. Our first stop was Le Pont d’Arc where we walked down to the water to view the natural arch that has formed over millions of years. We drove the full route of the Gorges de l’Ardèche, a length of approx 25kms with some of the most spectacular scenery you could imagine. The best way to see the gorges is by canoe however with it being winter, the hire places were all closed. There are also hiking trails you can venture on in the summer months but we were advised against using them this time of year, especially with rain forecast for today. All that aside, we were still stunned by the scenery with this area being known as the French version of the Grand Canyon. The road was extremely windy and there were many spots for us to stop for a photo of the river hundreds of metres below with huge cliff faces soaring above. We saw a couple of wild goat herds, the second one were very inquisitive, we think they were looking for food. We would recommend it as a drive that everyone should do when down this way. Just past the gorge drive is the sleepy town of St Martin de l’Ardèche. We had a walk along the river into town. I’m sure it is extremely busy during the summer months but we only saw five people! On the other side of the river sat high on the cliff top is an old castle ruin with a couple of houses and a small gothic church. From where we were standing it looked like the houses and church may have been built on what was originally the castle grounds. Our home for the night is in an aire down by the river with a pretty view over the rocks to the cliffs on the other side.
We travelled 55kms on our journey to Avignon through lots of vineyards. As we are well under budget for our Aires for the month due to all of the wildcamping, we are treating ourselves to an ACSI site for three nights to finish the year on. We walked into the town of Villeneuve Lez Avignon which is on one side of the Rhóne and Avignon is on the other side. We walked up the hill to Fort St André which was built in the 14th century and gave a great view across the town and over the Rhóne to Avignon. A walk through the back streets and the local park and it was back to Avignon and a walk along the Rhóne to the Pont St-Bénézet, a bridge which linked Villeneuve Les Avignon with Avignon. Built in the 12th century, it was rebuilt several times before all but four of its spans were washed away in the mid-1600s. We sat by the river for a little while before heading back and a long hot shower and electricity!
Our journey on foot today in the glorious sunshine took us over the bridge and into Avignon. We strolled the cobbled streets which in parts reminded us of Paris and headed up to the Palais des Papes (Papal palace) mainly to check that it was open tomorrow as rain is forecast and we didn’t want to waste the sunshine indoors. We had a walk around the gardens which overlook the river and the Pont St Bénézet stopping at St Didier which is a very old church with remnants of the frescoes on the walls and some beautiful stained glass windows showing the history of the Pont St Bénézet bridge. We continued on around to the Place du Palais square where a golden statue of Virgin Mary (weighing 4.5 tons) stands on the dome of Romanesque Cathédrale Notre Dame des Doms (built in 1671–72). The Christmas markets were still operating so of course we had to visit them. We had our lunch sitting in the square before venturing into the back streets and wandering around gazing at the beautiful old buildings. It was quite crowded and we figured peak season must be a nightmare trying to get into top sights however we were surprised at the number of businesses (hotels, shops and restaurants) that had closed for winter.
As forecast, it was raining when we woke so our plan to visit the Palais des Papes was a good one although it had stopped by the time we left. It is the world’s largest Gothic palace and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Built when Pope Clement V abandoned Rome in 1309 to settle in Avignon, it was the seat of papal power for 70-odd years. The interior is now bare, with everything being relocated to Rome however it is easy to imagine the former luxury of these vast rooms. There are audio-video guides that show 2-D and 3-D imagery of what the rooms would have looked like with 14th-century chapel frescos in several of the rooms. There was lots of information available in the audio guides as well as boards (in French and English) at the entry to each room and near display units. Being New Year’s Eve we treated ourselves to lunch at the Brasserie du Conservatoire and had a nice meal. A short walk around town again before heading back to Tilly for the rest of 2015.
Happy New Year 🎉🎉🎉
We were told by the tourist office that there was nothing planned for New Year’s Eve except some of the restaurants were putting on set menu dinners (starting at €80 each!) which is why we went out for lunch! We watched a music video for awhile before going to bed. We knew it was midnight by the car horns tooting and the locals who set off fireworks which went on until 12.30. After breakfast we said our goodbyes to Avignon and set off for Fontaine de Vaucluse, a minor detour from our original plan and how lucky we are that it was. A pretty hill top town where France’s most powerful spring surges out of nowhere. 1 km from the village at the base of the cliffs the River Sorgue surges from the earth’s depths coming from many areas under the rocks to form the river. The colour of the water in the cave was a beautiful turquoise/emerald green and the river which is formed by the spring is covered with a thick bed of bright green river weed. We had our lunch sitting by the cave before heading up to the castle ruin on the other side of the river which gave a different perspective to the river below. We continued on a path at the back of the castle which was quite steep. After about 45 minutes climbing higher and higher we couldn’t see where the path would lead us so we headed back to town. We are parked right on the river for free with several varieties of ducks and a few other motorhomes to keep us company for the night.
We had a pleasant drive to the hilltop tiered village of Gordes which sits spectacularly on the white rock face of the Vaucluse plateau above the Rivers Sorgue and Calavon. The view from the village down to the valley below is just beautiful. The village itself is made up of stone houses perched on the top and the sides of the hillside which forms an amphitheatre to the valley. We had a nice walk into town and wandered through the back streets past some lovely houses. We had our lunch in the square before heading back for a cuppa. Later in the afternoon we headed out again, this time in the other direction past a large gorge. We walked for a couple of kilometres to the Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque, a Cisterian abbey that is surrounded by lavender fields, that in the spring when they are in full bloom provide a beautiful backdrop. Monks still inhabit the abbey so it is closed to the public however there is a gift shop where you can buy everything lavender. We found a walk path for our journey home which took us past moss covered trees and stone walls that were at least two feet deep and six foot high in places that must have been the path in the olden days from Gordes to the abbey. The heavens opened up on our trip home so we were a bit wet by the time we got back. Still a very pleasant day.
3rd January – 8th January
We did a bit of hilltop hopping after leaving Gordes. Our first stop was Rousillon where some two millennia ago, the Romans used the ochre coloured earth around this beautiful village set in the valley between the Plateau de Vaucluse and the Lubefon range for producing pottery glazes. The whole village has been built in the colour of the area. At the edge of the village, groves of chestnut and pine surround sunset-coloured ochre formations, rising on top of the cliff. We did a 45 minute walk that twists its way through the stunning mini-desert landscape. After a quick walk around the town and our lunch we headed off to our next stop St Saturnin-Les-Apt through hills covered with vineyards and lavender farms which would be a pretty picture when the lavender was in bloom. This town is not on the tourist map but was a lovely surprise. We visited the local church where the priest tried his hardest in French to explain the history of the church. After much sign language I think we got the gist of the age of the building and the fact that the beautiful mural behind the alter had been whitewashed over and was uncovered many years later. From there we ventured up the hill to the Chateau which was built in the 11th century and is now in ruins with views over the surrounding valley and hills. We walked back through town with very few people around and will stay here the night.
We have left our hill top villages in the Provence region with our destination being St Tulle. We drove through the French countryside full of olive groves, lavender farms and fruit trees. We came across a police block however they weren’t interested in foreigners, just locals by the look as we were waved through with a smile! We did our food shopping before continuing on to St Tulle, the halfway point to the Verdon gorge which we hope to see, but the road may not be suitable for Motorhomes. We will check with the tourist office when we get a bit closer, so for tonight we will stay in St Tulle. We had a walk into town through the backstreets into the Main Street, such as it is. Only a few shops however we did pass a couple of 16th century wash houses with the water still flowing past.
Our journey again took us through lavender fields and olive groves to the town of Riez where we stopped to visit the tourist office. We were told that the route through the gorge was safe for Motorhomes and confirmed which of the two roads gave the better view. We stopped in the little village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie with views to the snow covered alps in the distance to have our lunch before starting the gorge drive. It began at the beautiful Lac de Sainte Croix, a huge lake that is fed by the glacial water that runs off the mountains and through the Gorge du Verdon. We only caught glimpses of the water below for the first half of the drive due to the road being quite a distance from the gorge but we did have a good view of the chasm with its extremely high rock walls. Further along the road ran by the rivers edge and the scenery was lovely with aquamarine coloured water flowing through the valley. The end of the journey saw us arrive at Castellane where we will stop for the night. Our view out of the front window is to the river just below us and from the side window is the Notre Dame du roc, a church built on top of a very large rock, as the name suggests. We had a little walk around this very quiet town which thrives in the summer months with lots of options for outdoor activities.
We had a surprisingly cold night with the temperature dropping to -4! No snow but Tilly and the other Motorhomes and cars had a nice covering of ice. After breakfast we headed up to Notre Dame du Roc, 911 metres up. The climb was a bit boggy in parts but most of the path was broken rocks. The views from the top were stunning with mountains all around, the ones in the distance with a covering of snow. The little church was very old, consecrated in 1230. We took another path back down into town and the round trip was about 4kms. As it was so cold last night we decided to move on. We took the Route Napoleon which weaved its way through the mountains with some hair raising turns but some of the most spectacular scenery we have seen for awhile. The road ran right on the edge of the mountains with sheer drops into the valley below and views of the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. I think it was better than the gorge drive we did yesterday. We were heading to Grasse, just outside Cannes on the Côte d’Azur but stopped in the little town of St-Vallier-de-Thiey at the end of Route Napolean where we have decided to stay the night. We would thoroughly recommend this route if you are heading to the coast.
It was a bit warmer last night so we had a good night sleep. The road we travelled on today was downhill most of the way, again with views to the Mediterranean in front of us and the alps behind us. We were going to stop at Grasse on the way however as we are on the Côte d’Azur we were thwarted with height barriers on all of the car parks we could see so we continued on. We drove the extra 20kms to St Laurent-du-Var which is about 10 kms outside of Nice. We are in an Aire that is free but only has 7 spaces. As luck would have it when we arrived the Aire was full however there was a Motorhome leaving so we took their spot thank you very much. The Aire has filling and dumping facilities and a maximum stay of 7 days which we were surprised at given the size and proximity to Nice. We have a nice sunny day so the leisure battery is full, drinking water is full, toilet is empty, sorted! We had a walk into town and have found where the bus departs from for Nice so providing the weather is on our side tomorrow, that will be our destination.
We caught bus 52 from near the Aire and headed into Nice. The journey took about 25 minutes, not because of the distance but the traffic, we would not want to be here in peak season. We hopped off the bus on the Promenade Des Anglais which goes for miles along the beach front and had a walk along it and down the mall. We then headed up to Parc de la Colline du Château where the ruins of the citadel remain. The view over Nice from up here was just amazing. The beautiful Mediterranean on one side, a massive number of apartments on the hill overlooking the Port of Nice which had some very nice boats moored and in the distance the alps. It was just lovely and a lot bigger than we expected. The airport has been built on reclaimed land and is at the end of the promenade which was also visible from the Parc. Back down the hill and into the old town which was a maze of tiny streets full of restaurants and shops. You could spend hours just wandering through the streets which my feet tell me we did without venturing into the main shopping precinct which we didn’t. A short walk along the promenade again until we found our bus stop and back home for a cuppa and a rest. We were lucky with the weather with the sun shining for a lot of the day however rain is forecast for later on and tomorrow.