Tuesday 29 August 2023

Charroux and Miremont

Friday 1 September 2023

View from the covered market at Charroux

Nido's parked up in the municipal campsite in the tiny hamlet of Miremont, in a valley in the north of the Auvergne.  We've been here since Wednesday.   It's a very quiet, peaceful spot with little traffic.  These municipal campsites are amazing; there are hundreds of them all over France.  Here, for the sum of €10.50 per night (about £8.90) we have a private grass pitch surrounded by beech hedges.  We have electricity, toilets, unlimited hot showers and a hot-water washing up and clothes washing area.  There are 34 pitches here and only five others are occupied at the moment.  Most of these sites are run by the local commune (parish council); they usually open in April and close at the end of September.  Although basic (ie no swimming pools, bars or restaurants) they are exactly what we like and long may they continue.  

We had a lazy start to Tuesday morning, with a cup of tea and a read, before showers and breakfast.  There were several way marked walking trails running from the village square in Noyant.  We picked a 6km one that took us into the countryside. The signs were easy to follow so the walk was enjoyable without the need to hunt out routes and paths.  We walked down some lovely quiet bridleways, past fields and mature oak trees, even passing a spices wholesaler stood on its own deep in the countryside.

Our next stop over was at an aire - which is really just a large grass field with no facilities - just outside the ancient village of Charroux

There's been a settlement here since Gallo-Roman times. It's a fortified village, with a few large gates to enter the protected citadel.   It's built on a hill with commanding 360' views, just like on the grass aire we were parked on.  Military bases and religious orders camped outside the walls and both the Knights Templars and Hospitaliers had strongholds here, as did Benedictine monks later on.  The narrow streets force them to be pedestrianised, with the majority of people living around the main circular centre.  It's quite touristy now, with a number of bistros and artisanal shops selling jellied and preserved fruits, jams, mustards and candles.

After dinner we left Salty in the van and enjoyed an evening walk around the village.  As we walked into the central citadel the church bells started to peal; a little off-key so we think it was may practice night for the new campanologists! The shops were now closed with only a couple of the bistros open, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves to wander up and down the narrow cobbled streets, taking a nosy at the gardens behind walled enclosures.  A number of plots were derelict and Cathy was planning what she would do with the garden!  We had another quiet night with big skies and views for miles.

The little door on the left is for letters. I guess the big brother door is for parcels!

The little letter box

After breakfast on Wednesday, sat outside the van looking out over the view from our highpoint, we left Charroux.  With a stop off at the Auchan in Gannant, we arrived at the municipal campsite here in Miremont bang on lunch time.  With our pitch set up for the next three days, we took a short walk along the road through the village, which is only about 200m long.  Bearing off to the right and starting to walk up a steep road, we sussed out our walk for the next day, covering a short section of the walk along the river, which Salty enjoyed to the max with much splashing and attempting to drink the river dry - the river won!  The rest of the evening we chilled out before retiring to the van as the light faded to catch up on some YouTube favourites.

Breakfast with a view at Charroux

Miremont municipal campsite

Thursday morning we packed a rucksack and headed out on a walk along the river and them climbing up through ancient deciduous forest heading for the Gorge de Siolet.  We were expecting the typical gorge experience of rocky cliffs with a fast flowing river at the bottom, but the many trees hid this from us.  Climbing out of the forest after about 5km, we sat in a field in warm sunshine to eat our lunch.  The return journey was shorter, mainly along quiet tarmac lanes with big, fat, juicy blackberries in the hedgerow, which we gorged on as we walked back down to emerge by the football pitch next to the campsite.  After a much welcome cup of tea and hot showers, I cooked a vegetable stir fry.  Cathy turned in early and I washed up and put chairs and the awning away, then walked Salty and our rubbish back into the village to the communal recycling bins.  It was another still, peaceful night, with only the cicadas and the occasional owl breaking the silence.

A view of the Puy de Dôme on our walk

Post-walk reward

This morning it was very misty and a bit cooler, although it was forecasting a hot day and, as the sun appeared over the tops of the trees and into the valley, it soon burned off the mist.  I love watching the Tour de France each year.  I've managed to watch it for real a few times, but otherwise I really enjoy seeing the stages on TV.  This year three of the stages were in the area.  Miremont is just a few kilometres north of the part of the route of Stage, which was on 9 July (the day before my 60th birthday) and finished with a huge hill climb up the Puy de Dôme.  There was no way I was going to cycle up that, but I was looking forward to riding just a short section of the Stage.  I rode out of Miremont, past the Chateau then turning left to take the long climb up above the valley, heading for the town of Pontaumur, which was on the route.  Arriving there, I  turned left and almost immediately started to climb the Category 3 Côte de Pontaumur.  It's not too steep at 5.3%, but it climbs for over 3km.  I took my time on what was quite a busy road, stopping occasionally to take some photos of the Tour road graffiti - and to catch my breath! All the way up I kept an eye on the ditches and grass verges to my right, just in case a stray bidon (water bottle) had been tossed by a Tour rider and missed by souvenir hunters on the day...no such luck.  Cat 3 climb done, I celebrated with a coffee outside a bar in La Goutelle.  Here I turned off the busy D941 and headed north towards Saint-Jacques-d'Ambur. It was a quiet hilly road with plenty of ups and downs and I enjoyed a very long downhill stretch heading down to Chazotte on the southern tip of the Lac des Fades Besserve.  After another steady ascent I dropped back down again to return to the campsite.  A great ride.

A misty start to a very hot day

Tour road graffiti and a typical sculpture to celebrate the day

This was Peter Sagan's final Tour before retiring - one of the greats

The summit finish of the Puy de Dôme with 50km still to ride!

Cathy is very happy when I go out cycling as it gives her some me time to give the van a really good clean and eat her breakfast in peace!  The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling out, staying in the shade to avoid the heat of the day.  The forecast for the next few days is hot - up to 33'C - so we'll need to try and find shade where we can.  Later in the afternoon we walked uphill to the 12th Century Église de Miremont and sat on a bench in the shade, with our backs resting on the church wall, enjoying the peace and solitude and looking out at the view over the rocky cliffs and trees of the gorge. After dinner we sat inside with the door open, catching up on a view YouTube videos.

Tomorrow we'll be heading into the mountains of the Parc naturel régiónal des Volcans d'Auvergne.  We'll be doing some walking and hopefully some eagle spotting.  If it's as hot as forecast, we'll also be seeking some shade and perhaps a swim if we can find somewhere suitable...there are waterfalls in these parts!

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