Sunday, 10 December 2017

Villandry to Les Barcares in France - Day 7 - 10

Thursday 7th December 2017

Today finds us parked up (and a bit lonely 😁) on a purpose built 'Etapes' Aire in the settlement of Villandry. 'Etapes' have a series of Aires all over France which we're making very good use of because for a small fee (usually about 10 euros) they provide 6 amp electric hook up, services and inclusive Wifi so these sites are proving to be ideal for our one night stopovers!

Villandry is  a town which lies in the Loire Valley and one which owns a very grand chateau with an amazing garden.  However, we hadn't really come to see that - although it is one of 42 chateaux that make up the UNESCO Heritage Site here!  Our plan for our one full day here  (but 2 nights)  was to explore some of the 800 km of Cycle Velo much of which runs alongside the Rivers Cher and Loire.  However, the weather put paid to that - the forecast was for  a big drop in temperature and persistent heavy rain all day which would definitely have made a ride much less than enjoyable.

But as often happens, the prediction wasn't quite 100% accurate and the heavy rain didn't start until 1ish so that just about gave us time to put our quickly hatched plan B into action!  And that was to go and see Chateau Villandry instead!

Built around 1536 during the Renaissance period.
Unfortunately, the actual building was closed, but for a very nominal fee (2 euros) we were able to explore the extensive gardens, which even at this time of year and on a dull grey day, looked absolutely magnificent with colour being displayed very cleverly!  The garden above is one of 9 squares of equal size that make up the kitchen garden.  All of them have different geometric patterns  and are planted with vegetables with different coloured foliage to create the multi coloured 'chessboard' effect.

To the side of them we found the Ornamental Garden where box hedging had been used to create more geometric patterns which as well as the gardens of 'Love' included the Maltese and Basque Crosses.

We also  explored the water garden but didn't quite get what it represented until we got home and examined the literature a bit more carefully!  The large pond in the middle is the glass in a Louis XV mirror!

And what I've described above made up only a small part of what was on offer - there was also a maze, a herb garden and a sun garden, and along with those there were numerous information boards that told us lots about the house's history and also that nearly all the growing methods used in the garden are organic, that the estate contained 1,015 lime trees which take 10 gardeners 3 months to prune, and that if the box hedging was put end to end it would stretch for over 52 kms.  All in all, even on a winter's day, the chateau and it's grounds provided a fantastic place to visit, but we both felt a bit of warmth and sunshine would probably enhance it 100 fold - oh well, that's another place we'll have to put on 'our come back to' list!

But once we'd done at the chateau, even though the promised rain was threatening, we felt we couldn't go home without having a quick look at the river and the cycle paths, and luckily it wasn't very far out of our way.

We walked for a couple of miles  along the pristine path towards Tours, and as we went the loveliness of it reinforced our plan for a return trip.  However eventually the rain and cold did persuade us to turn back, and that proved to be just in the nick of time because as we closed T4rdis2's door the rain proceeded to bounce of our roof and that more or less continued for the rest of the evening.

Friday 8th and Saturday 9th December 2017

Well, because the weather has got much colder and rain kept stopping play, we decided just to make a run for it - much further south and hopefully towards the sunshine!  So on Friday we drove 250 uneventful miles mostly along free motorway and didn't arrive at our destination until nearly dusk.

That night's camping spot was another Etapes Aire - this time in the town of Girac - and quite charming it was too.  We were in a wooded area right on the banks of the River Dordogne and had the two little chaps above for company.  However, when we got up on Saturday morning we were very glad we'd had electric and been able to leave our heating on overnight - Jack Frost appeared to have been very busy and the outside temperature was hovering around -2 with thick mist rising from the river!

But for Saturday the weather didn't really matter because all we'd got planned after our bacon and eggs was more driving - another 160 miles to Castelnaudary near Toulouse.  However, to get there we had to do something we hardly ever do - and that was to go on the Peage (toll)  motorway -  it was the only way we could circumnavigate Toulouse city centre which we certainly didn't want to drive through on a busy Saturday afternoon!  Happily the 40 kilometres that we travelled along only cost 8 euros so we felt it was a small price to pay to avoid the city stress!

We arrived in Castelnaudary and entered into another Etapes Aire at about 4ish, and to our delight we found ourselves right on the banks of the Canal de Midi - another place that may have facilitated a ride on our bikes - but guess what the weather man says it's going to do on Sunday !  Therefore, we had to be satisfied with a short walk out to see part of the 150 mile long canal which starts in Toulouse and ends at the Mediterranean port of Sete.

Rat on Apple iOS 11.2

And it was on this little jaunt that I thought we'd come across a Mahousive Rat swimming about

in a place where some elderly French people had been throwing bread into the water for the πŸ¦†πŸ¦†πŸ¦†!
He was nipping about  hoovering up all the left overs and he wasn't in the least bit timid - however, he wasn't a rat either!  An otter was my second guess but that was also wrong.  My clever husband told me he was a Coypu - apparently a rodent that is quite common it these parts!

Sunday 10th December 2017

Well, last night I did a very VERY Stupid thing - but we didn't realise what it was until this morning - just as we were trying to leave the Etapes camping Aire!  To use these Aires you have to have a card that is pre-loaded with the fee and use it on entry and exit to lift the barrier - and it was as we were queued up to leave that we realised ours was missing from it's usual place!  It always lives in a slot on the dashboard that is located just above our CD player.  But as it wasn't there, and because I was the last one who'd had it I knew exactly where it was and John was absolutely incredulous 😲 and couldn't quite believe what I told him! 

That was that I must have accidentally posted it into the CD player when I was putting it away  last night!  Now, I thought it was quite funny πŸ˜‚
but my grumpy old man wasn't quite so amused 😠 especially when he had to almost dismantle the offending item to retrieve our exit ticket!

So with that and the ongoing miserable weather we didn't really get off to a very good start!  However, looking on the bright side, we hadn't got very far to go (only 60 miles or so), and the scenery and weather both improved as we went.   Our journey took us through many miles of vines set in sandy soil - and it was only while we were travelling that we realised we were in the Languedoc Region where they produce a species of wine that we have yet to sample!  The further we went the more Mediterranean the vistas became and as we approached our final destination, which was Les Barcares, we could see the snow capped Pyrenees looming in the far distance.

Our home for tonight is another Etapes Aire right on the town's marina, and tomorrow our big decision will be "weather" to stay on the French coast for another couple of days or to carry on chasing the sun and cross over into Spain!

We'll let you know in the next episode
Take care πŸ˜—

To see our French camping spots click here