22nd January – 29th January
The Aire is about 8 kms outside of Marseille and is very secure with key coded gates for both Motorhomes and visitors however as I mentioned before it was a nightmare to get there with the streets being so narrow. I have to say that it was a nightmare to get out as well. We tried a couple of ways and ended up going back to the Aire to ask for directions. There is no way we would have guessed the route that we were advised to take. So off we went and of the 16 arrondissements of Marseille, I think we drove through 10 of them through about 100 sets of traffic lights, or at least that is what it felt like. We did end up finding the autoroute we needed to get to Aix-en-Provence and Dave had a stress free drive to our home for the next two nights. We are in the carpark of Parc de la Torse with another Motorhome and are surrounded plane trees and a nice little river just over the road. We walked into town, a couple of kilometres away and once again were surprised at the size of it with it being a lot larger than we both thought. One side is very modern and the other is full of 17th century buildings that we intend on seeing tomorrow. We wandered through the main pedestrian mall in the old town and a couple of the side streets, visited the tourist office and have our brochures to read through tonight and plan where we will go tomorrow.
We had a leisurely day strolling through the myriad of streets in this very walking friendly town. We visited the local Saturday markets which were selling beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables, cheeses, meats and bric-a-brac. We entered the Cathédrale St-Sauveur thinking that it would just be another church and were amazed at the beauty which included a Romanesque 12th-century nave in its southern aisle, chapels from the 14th and 15th centuries, a 5th-century sarcophagus in the apse and a beautiful 18th-century gilt Baroque organ. We had our lunch watching the locals before venturing back through the streets of the old town.
On the road again, this time to St-Martin-de-Crau, just over half way to Arles travelling mainly on the D roads which ran parallel to the autoroute. The scenery was varied, with little towns, a few farms and a limestone rocky outcrop as we got closer to St-Martin-de-Crau. We are parked in an Aire that is free with free water and dumping facilities. The sun is shining and the leisure battery is charging nicely. We had a nice walk to the Jardin de Gaston (park) where they had some chickens, pigeons and geese housed in wooden cages. There were several ponds with wild birds as well as an aggressive swan who would have ripped your hand off given the chance. Several of the larger ponds had fountains in them and there was a large plantation of different types of trees. A nice place for a stroll.
After the weekly shopping, we headed to Fontvielle, stopping at the Roman viaduct on the way. Dave hopped out for a look before we continued on to Fontvielle to see the bullfight arena that was built in the 19th century. It wasn’t much to see from the outside so we got back on the road to Arles where we are parked next to the Rhóne river. We are having a quiet day, mainly due to little sleep last night because of the church bells chiming every hour!
Happy Australia Day 🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺
We headed into the old town of Arles and this old town is old! There is a huge Roman history here as well as Arles being where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted over 200 paintings although sadly none of them are here. The first stop was the Roman Amphitheater built in the late 1st and early 2nd century. Seating 12,500 spectators to this day it is still used for bullfighting and games. The Roman theatre which was built before the amphitheatre was built in the heart of the Roman city. It was looted for centuries by people looking for building materials and its original function was completely forgotten until is was rediscovered at the end of the 17th century. We visited St Trophime’s church which was built in the 12th century in Provenćal Romanesque style, walked around the Roman baths which date back to the beginning of the 4th century and throughout the old town where remnants of Roman life can still be found, there is even a Roman cemetery. We had lunch in the square before wandering through the backstreets and heading home.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADAM 🎂🎉🎂🎉🎂🎉🎂🎉
We had a walk around the markets in Arles before leaving for Nîmes. The journey was only 20kms long and we travelled mainly through farming, wine and rice growing areas. Yes you read correctly, rice growing which really surprised us. We did make a stop along the way to try and get our mobile phone battery replaced, however we didn’t have any luck so we will visit the Apple Store just outside of Montpellier in a day or so. Our home for the night is a Carrefour carpark just outside of Nîmes and is on the bus route into town which will be handy for tomorrow. We managed to get wifi access from the shopping Centre and after several attempts, finally spoke to Adam for his birthday which we are really happy about.
Like Arles, Nîmes is an old roman city with several sites to visit, however we didn’t end up going into Nîmes as we had a bit of trouble last night. We were asleep and at about 11pm two lads rode up on their motorbike and were hanging around the back of Tilly and Dave was concerned that they would damage her or break in. They took off and 1 or 2 minutes later came back. Dave jumped out of bed and stuck his head out of the window and yelled at them “what do you think your doing?” They had one of the shopping trolleys (which you have to insert a coin to unlock) and it looked like they were either going to wedge it against the door to stop us getting out or maybe ram us. When Dave yelled at them and threatened the police, they took off, and so did we after checking the Motorhome for damage. They had used a knife to slash the bike cover at the back, it could have been so much worse like slashing the tyres. We have stayed in supermarket car parks many times (some are even listed Aires) and always park under lights for extra security. In hindsight we did leave ourselves a little exposed this time as we were very obvious from the road. We weren’t prepared to risk it with them coming back maybe with friends and doing serious damage so we drove to the Aire 10kms away. The gates were closed so we parked just outside and tried to get some sleep. Once daylight came, we drove in and that is where we stayed for the day. We did venture out for a walk around the property which is very large and has guest accommodation with a pool as well as the Aire although this time of year it was very quiet with us being their only guests. We have decided to give Nîmes a miss, we have seen lots of Roman ruins and will see more on our travels.
Our journey through the grape growing region saw us arrive at the pretty town of Sommiéres just a short drive from Nîmes. We walked around the old town first, visiting the Chateau ruins on the hill before walking through the small street of the shopping precinct. There is an old roman bridge that crosses the river just near where we are staying which is outside the bullfighting arena. We had lunch on one of the benches at the pétanque pitch before having another walk around on the other side of the river. It is a beautiful sunny day today and the pétanque game has started early with several groups enjoying the weather.
30th January – 8th February
It was a cold night however the sun was shining and our journey to Palavas les Flots was a pleasant one after we got through two detours due to roadworks. Along the way we stopped at a Motorhome accessory shop and bought the reflector for the bike rack before we get into Spain. We are on the coast again and Palavas les Flots as well as being on the Mediterranean is a flatland which has a lagoon that is a protected bird sanctuary where we saw two huge flocks of wild pink flamingoes. The Aire we are staying at is on one of many marinas and we have some very large Motorhomes nearby that dwarf Tilly. We had a walk along the marina into the small fishing town which has more seafood restaurants than residents. Nearly all of the businesses along the beachfront and the marina area are restaurants which were all doing great business even in off season. We spent an hour or so this afternoon repairing the bike cover with lots of tape and it doesn’t look too bad, thankfully it will still do the job it was bought for.
No detours today and we travelled through more wetlands to our destination of Agde. The must sees in this area are the pink flamingoes and the wild Camargue horses and we were lucky to see both today. We have used the fact that it is Sunday to do chores and the carpark we are staying in, Hyper U (another supermarket chain) has a laundry attached to the petrol station so it is washing day. We also took advantage of the vacuum cleaner of the car wash and cleaned the seats. There is also a McDonald’s here so we had use of their wifi. Checking the Motorhome forum, we have also learnt of another Motorhome that was broken into in Nîmes so that confirms that we got off lightly.
We were asked to move on last night by the security guards so we ended up parked alongside the Canal du Midi as the Aire was closed. We woke to clear skies and after breakfast walked a couple of kilometres into town. Apart from the mainly 12th-century fortress-like Cathédrale St-Étienne which was built from black volcanic basalt there wasn’t much to see. We walked back along the canal to the Hyper U shopping centre where we had parked Tilly for the morning. In the afternoon we moved back to the other side of the Canal du Midi where we will stay for the night.
On the way to our destination of Narbonne with views to the Pyrenees we stopped at Béziers where the Canal du Midi runs through. This canal is man made and runs from Sète to Toulouse and was built mainly by women taking 14 years to complete with many civil engineering structures including a series of nine locks allowing boats to be raised to a height of 21.5 meters over a distance of 300 meters. We drove to the locks and there is a massive remodelling of the surrounding area however we had the best vantage point from the bottom looking up river. From there we walked to the Roman bridge which crosses the canal and gave a fantastic view up to the St. Nazaire Cathedral. A walk up the steep hill to the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre and back to Tilly for lunch. We continued our drive to Narbonne through some of the wine growing region of Languedoc-Roussillon, the largest and oldest in the world and are set for two nights here.
We walked the few kilometres into town on what is a very windy day. Our first stop was the Via Domitia track which was a road that joined Italy to Spain in the second century BC. A section of it was uncovered in 1997 which has been restored and enhanced and sits outside the town hall or the “Hôtel de Ville”. We visited the St Just and St Pasteur cathedral which houses the highest gothic choir in the south of France. A walk along the promenade beside the canal to where the covered market hall is selling all types of produce including ducks, chickens and rabbits still with their heads on! We crossed the merchants bridge, a covered bridge full of shops which link two districts to the city across the canal. We walked through some of the backstreets and around the shops before heading home.
We drove on what is known as Corbiéres Route 20 which passes through more of the wine growing region with restaurants and castles dotted along the way, again with views to the snow covered Pyrenees. We stopped at Lagrasse to visit the Benedictine Abbey which is said to have been founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century. We saw monks working in the gardens and we passed their burial ground, plain wooden crosses with no names on them and course pebbles as the grave covering. We had lunch back in Tilly before we got back on Route 20 through the hills and valleys to Carcassone. As we got there mid afternoon we decided to leave visiting the old town until tomorrow. We are parked in a Casino (supermarket) carpark with views to the mountains and hopefully a quiet night.
After a quiet night and breakfast, we headed on foot the two kilometres to the fortified city of Carcasonne. Perched on a rocky hilltop it looks like something out of a children’s fairytale, with two rampart walls circling the city and 52 stone towers. We walked around the perimeter first before crossing the cobbled bridge and entering the city. We climbed up to the level on the wall where the archers would have stood when defending the city. The view from up there was stunning, with the Pyrenees on one side and vineyards and flowering trees on the other. We walked through the cobbled streets to the lovely Basilique St-Nazaire with its soaring Gothic transept and vivid rose windows. We had a nice coffee in the square before continuing our walk through the narrow lanes before taking a stroll down to the river. Home again, a bite to eat and back on the road, this time to Limoux where we hope to see the “Fecos”, masked figures dressed as Pierrots that dance in the streets. We are parked in a free Aire next to the river l’Aude and sat in the sunshine before visiting the tourist office to get times for the performance. We had a walk around, it is only a small town and is famous for its white wine that is made the same way as Champagne and is called Blanquette de Limoux however we are yet to try it.
We hung around until 11am to see the “Fecos” which have been part of these carnivals for the past 1000 years. It wasn’t quite what we expected with about 20 people dressed up in costumes with some strange looking masks (not Pierrot), some were pigs, men were dressed as brides, there were a couple of chickens! Suffice to say we didn’t stay for the whole thing. On the road again with a massive change of scenery going from vineyards and flowering trees to high limestone peaks jutting out of the earth. We stopped at a picnic spot just outside of Quillan before continuing onto Lapradelle through a beautiful and unexpected gorge. The plan was to hike up to the Castle of Puilaurens, high on the peak of Mont Ardu tomorrow but as we arrived just after 1 and the sun was shining, we decided to do the hike today. It wasn’t the hardest hike we have done but it has been awhile since our last one and it’s amazing how quickly you can loose your fitness! The castle is the most dramatic of the Cathar fortresses and has the full range of medieval defences: double defensive walls, four corner towers and crenellated battlements. The views from the castle were beautiful stretching across the plains and pine woodland with the Pyrenees in the distance. Well worth the effort. It is also one of the only fortresses in southern France that is floodlit at night and looked amazing. Even the rock face leading up to the castle is floodlit with a blue light.
It has been raining heavily for hours and the wind has picked up so our decision to hike to the castle yesterday was a good one and there was fresh snow on the peak behind the castle. We packed up after breakfast and took off on what was to be a longish journey on some very windy roads to Collioure through a varied landscape, ranging from more vineyards, bigger mountains and the Pyrenees again in the distance although each day they get closer. We had a couple of detours again today with the very last street we had to turn into being the narrowest and Tilly needed to tuck in her backside to get through. Some great manoeuvring by Dave with no dents, no frayed tempers and we were glad to be out of there unscathed. We arrived in Collioure after lunch and it is just as windy here, more so being close to the Balearic sea which is full of white caps on the waves as far as the eye can see. The Aire here is €10 per night with all services included, we even have free electricity! Normally capped at 2 hours as there is only 12 outlets, but as there is only one other Motorhome here, we don’t have to share it! 👍👍
We had a lovely day today. We walked the few kilometres through scrubland and vineyards to the seaside town of Collioure with the Balearic sea on our left for most of the way. Collioure is a pretty fishing town, the last French town we will visit before crossing the border into Spain. We spent most of the morning wandering around the beachfront which has a great view to the battlements surrounding the town and the houses washed in soft pastel colours. It is the smallest and most picturesque of the Côte Vermeille resorts. We visited the Eglise Notre Dame des Anges, whose foundations were built in the sea. The belfry was built in the Middle Ages and was used originally as a warning tower for the harbour. We had lunch at a really nice seafood restaurant right on the beachfront with Dave sampling the local seafood of anchovies and sea perch. It was a nice way to end our time in France.