Sunday, 3 April 2016

Heading North through France

Heading North through France

Monday 28th March 2016

We left the massive Capbreton Aire this morning and aimed for another small  Aire at St Paul Les Dax which turned out to be quite lovely.  It had little single bays that were sheltered under old pine trees, and although the Aire was full there was still plenty of space around each van. We settled in and had lunch, and then went for a walk, initially around a very pretty and popular nearby lake, and then out through the town towards the river - but the later was probably a bit of a mistake.  

If I said the bit of the town that we walked through wasn’t attractive - that would be being kind, however we did eventually meet this brute in a flower garden outside yet another bull ring.  

We couldn't decide if he was watching us or we were
watching him!

Sadly, we had to make our return journey through the same drab streets until we were able to rejoin the footpath around the circumference of the lake, and from there our meanderings got better.

We eventually found a way-marked route that led us though a forested area by the side of a stream that we followed back to the T4rdis, and we also noted that part of an additional route could be adapted for cycling so we thought we had a plan for the following day.

Tuesday 29th March 2016

Happy Birthday Sharon xxxx

Plan 'A' this morning was to go cycling but that was scuppered by the inclement weather - when we got up the rain was banging on the T4rdis’s roof as it had done for most of the night. Therefore, a plan 'B' was necessary - first chores in the form of shopping - and following that we decided we may as well move further North, so we picked out an Aire at a place called Labastide d’Armagnac.  

The taste made it worth the smell!
Shopping was soon done - maybe too well done, cos I almost needed a shoe horn to get everything in! Oh, and did I tell you about a phenomenon that has reassured us that we are well and truly back in France - it's the very strong aroma that wafts out of the fridge every time we open the door - I think it's to do with Cheese, even though I double bagged it!

Anyway, once everything was put away we headed for our chosen Aire which turned out to be a very pleasant spot on a grassy area just outside the charming ancient village (it dated back to 1291 )- and the bonus was the Viole Verte cycle route was very nearby.  Only snag was the service area for the Aire was shut broken, so as we knew that the T4rdis would soon need ablutions, we knew we would only be able to stay overnight.   

By now the weather had picked up nicely so we were quite determined to make the most of it, therefore we quickly had a very late lunch and then popped into the village for a little nosey round and to visit the Tourist Info shop for a map of said cycle route - which a very kind English speaking French lady provided.

Then it was a fast change and off on our bikes we went.  The route runs for about 55kms from Mont de Marsan to Gabarret, and nearly all on dedicated path, but because it was already about 4pm we only planned to do a short section of it today.  We were soon peddling merrily along, but like a lot of roads in France the path was more or less dead straight, and although the scenery was pretty - open grassy fields and wooded areas - it soon got a bit boring, therefore, we only went about 13kms before turning around for the return journey.  

In fact the path was so straight that as long as you kept your front wheel from deviating you could have had a quick 40 winks - and that was maybe just what John did because he missed the 3 deer that bounded down from the embankment on our right, bounced on the track a short distance in front of us, and then leaped up the left embankment on the other side before vanishing into the great beyond.  I think he thought I’d made it up!

Wednesday 30th March 2016

The morning dawned bright and sunny but we had no choice other than to move on because the T4rdis was now keeping it’s legs/tyres crossed tightly - so desperate was it for emptying!  So we nipped down the road to another Aire at Roquefort (don’t think it was the cheese place cos there was no wiffy aromas here), and quickly sorted everything out, and ended up staying slightly longer than planned because we got chatting to some fellow Brits who had spent the night there.  

From there we moved onto Frontenac for lunch, and then onto Grezillac where we settled on another little welcoming Aire that overlooks vines and open countryside.  In fact vines have been very much a feature of our drive today - mile after mile of them, you can certainly tell that this is Bordeaux country!

View from the T4rdis window

Then it was time to do a little more exploring - we walked along a very quiet narrow country road that was surrounded by yet more vines that were just showing signs of emerging buds.  We also came across a distillery hidden behind some tumbled  down old cottages, but sadly non of their wears seemed to be for sale!   

From here we didn’t have much further to go before we came to the town of Branne where we found this beautiful old double spired church - Eglise Saint-Etienne.

And the other thing we found  was a Fiat hub cap (there were about 5 in a ditch - all different makes), which we hoped we could use as a replacement for the one we lost back in Spain! John picked it up and quickly assessed if it was likely to fit by measuring it with the span of his hand, then he carried it with us in the fairly sure knowledge that when he offered it up it would slip into place -  just like Cinderella’s slipper - and it did,  perfectly.

The only other interesting aspect of our outing occurred when we paused for a drink on  the bank of the river and spied this little chap basking in the sunshine!

And then it was time to make our return trek to the T4rdis to cool down with a nice cold glass of cider - John nearly blew a hole in the roof when the cork exploded out of the bottle!

Thursday 31st March 2016

Well, the weather forecast was right for today - rain, rain and more rain - mind you, it did brighten up in the evening! So, because the weather was so bad we decided to drive further north - aiming for the Isle de Re. This resulted in a 270 kms drive, and us arriving a day earlier than planned, and what we hadn't allowed for was the fact that most of the camp sites didn't open until the 1st of April - maybe that was an April fool joke on us! We were turned away from 2 sites, but eventually found a home for the night on a municipal site that had slightly higher fees than elsewhere, and where subsequent nights became even more expensive. However, by now it was Hobson's choice! there was nowhere else to go - but we were soon packed up and moving again in the morning to one of our previously chosen ACSI sites that costs less and has better facilities! And the other bonus was Val and John were going to join us there.

Friday 1st April 2016

This morning our move was soon accomplished and we quickly established ourselves on La Tour des Prises camp site which was only a stones throw form the numerous cycle paths that make this island such a haven for cyclists.

The only way to reach Isle de Re is via a 3km toll bridge which costs 8 euros to cross, but what awaits makes it well worth the money. The island is only 5kms wide and 30 kms long but it is festooned with cycle tracks that allow you to explore it's lovely villages, beaches and salt marshes, almost entirely without the need to go on a road at all.

Now we're settled here we plan to stay for 2 or 3 days, and as the weather forecast is good we are going to explore the north west end of the island today and save the south east for tomorrow.

We left the camp site and almost immediately we were cycling along paths that bisected the salt marshes that cover huge areas of the islands land, and we soon came across the buildings that house The Cooperative of Salt Producers.

It doesn't open it's doors to visitors until June but outside there was loads of interesting information concerning the various processes that are necessary to harvest salt from the sea.  The information boards informed us that the salt has the nick name 'white gold' and that it is one of the natural treasures of the island. The marshes cover an area of about 460 hectares but this area is divided into hundreds of small ponds with clay walls that the workers potter along to harvest their treasure - a tradition that date back to the 12th century.

From there we only rode for a couple more kms through the village of Loix and out onto it's beach before we spied an ideal place to stop for our coffee - we wouldn't normally stop quite so soon into a ride but who could blame us.

Then it was forwards and onwards towards the lighthouse - Le Phare des Baleines. It was inaugurated in 1854, and at 57 metres it is one of the tallest in France. It has 257 steps that can be climbed to it's balcony from where views over the island and ocean can be enjoyed. However, because we had our bikes with us we used 'not being able to leave them' as an excuse for not part-taking of this bit of extra exercise. Instead, we followed a little track down onto the beach behind it, and once again, sat and ate our lunch while looking out over the magnificent coast and ocean. 

Following lunch it was time to set off on our return journey, and earlier, when we'd bypassed the village of Ars en Re we'd spotted a land mark that we were going to check out during this section of our ride. It was the black and white church tower of Clocher d'Ars en Re which soars into the air and has apparently been used as a navigational guide in times gone by. In the summer season tourists can climb up into the belfry, but as expected, it was shut today, so instead we made do with exploring the little streets and squares of the lovely town. In fact, we explored so thoroughly (I think we went round 3 times) I asked John if we were lost! 'No' he said - ' I just like exploring Ars!

Then it was back to the T4rdis for tea and a lovely evening where we shared a wee drop of one of Re's other major produce with Val and John. (did I say they grow lots and lots of vines here!) Apparently the Cistercian monks planted the first vine stocks here back in the 12th century, and now 70 winegrowers produce not only red and white wine, but also fine cognac!

Saturday 2nd April 2016

This morning we were soon out on our bikes again and heading in the opposite direction to yesterday, to explore the other half of the island - and I think maybe this was my favourite half. Yesterday we had ridden through many miles of salt marshes, that allowed us to do a fair bit of bird spotting as we went, but today the trails were much more coastal, and for most of the time it was hard to take our eyes of the magical azure ocean. 

And the abundant harvest that was obviously reaped from it was very much in evidence, we hadn't gone far when we came across oyster farms and picturesque cafes selling all manner of sea food to customers seated where they could watch the incoming tide.

A little further down the coast we found the huge fortifications around the village of St Martin - another UNESCO world heritage listed site. And we also had the pleasure of walking around it's massive harbour behind which the streets were lined  with ancient houses that had unusual façades, and that had now changed their function from providing homes to housing numerous eateries and bars.

We also found this archery field and the huge moat that had obviously provided additional protection form the land side of the site

We continued our journey by bypassing La Flotte and heading across the island to Sainte Marie, where we paused for lunch in the hot sunshine on a beach 'plage du Montamer'.   Eventually, we dragged ourselves away and continued our trip by forming a figure of 8 and crossing back over to St Martin, and it was while we were peddling along here that John thought he had lost me!  I had spotted 2 huge black kites dipping and diving and generally putting on a very fine flying display, so I'd stopped while he went sailing on down the road!

Luckily, he hadn't gone to far so I quickly caught up, but then I soon got into trouble again when I fell behind for a second time when I stopped to look at an old windmill that dated back to 1596.  It's the only one on the island to still have it's sails, and now it forms part of a residential building.  John said I should shout and tell him if I want to stop - but I don't think that would make much difference!

Our final stop was in a purpose built picnic area where we noshed on doughnuts and coffee while admiring another spectacular view, and then it was back to the T4rdis to enjoy an afternoon sitting in the sun shine while nattering with Val and John.

Sunday 3rd April 2016

Well, today we're having a day off. We'll do a few chores, a bit of a clean up for the T4rdis and some washing for us, and then we're going to put our feet up and enjoy the rest of the day relaxing or maybe going for a little walk. Val and John have departed this morning but we have a vague plan to catch up with them again at Carrnac, and then it wont be much longer before we're heading for Dieppe ready to catch our ferry back to Blighty. So I'll say cheerio for now, and unless I find a bit more internet before we leave France, I wont be saying hello again before we're back in England xx

Click here to see our French camping spots