Tuesday 5 September 2023
Nido's parked up on a free aire on a large grass field, in the shade of huge oak trees and about 20m from the water's edge at Lac de Vassivière in the Limousin region. There's about seven other vans here, but it's very quiet, no artificial lights around and the owls are hooting all around us. I can just about see the reflection of the lake in the fading light.
Given the current canicule (heatwave) here in France, we made the decision to head for the coast to try and get some respite. We're a bit sad, as the whole Auvergne region is beautiful and we wanted to see a lot more. We had plans for more walks and visits to some of the fortified towns and villages. Plus we wanted to take the train up the Puy de Dôme. But temperatures at the moment are exceptionally high and are due to stay that way for several more days. Issoire - where we spent yesterday morning doing the laundry - was the second hottest place in France yesterday at 38'C. Whilst the coastal areas aren't forecast to be too much cooler, we should benefit from some sea breeze and also the opportunity to cool off in the ocean. But living in a metal box on wheels can be very challenging in this heat; not only does it affect us (and, I hate to say it, but it gets harder to regulate body temperature as we get older!) but Salty suffers too. So it's the right decision.
We were up at 0700 yesterday morning and set off from Aydat for Issoire. It was an admin day so laundry needed to be done and there was an outdoor laundry machine outside a Carrefour supermarket in town. Also, there was free van servicing just across the road. We arrived at about 0800 and luckily both washing machines were available. We had a bit of a payment issue as neither of our payment cards were accepted, so we had to use notes and coins instead. We thought it might be our UK cards, but a local lady came along later and had the same problem. We explained the issue and showed her how to use Euro notes. She only had a €20 note, but I had two tens, so did a swap with her, as no change is given. So we did our good deed for the day! I also popped into the supermarket to do the shopping and after an hour of using the dryer, we moved across the road to service the van, followed by a diesel fill up.
|These outdoor launderettes are all over France and are now appearing in the UK too|
|Breakfast in a supermarket car park whilst doing the laundry - living the dream!|
The original plan was to stay at a free aire in the small village of Tourzel Ronzières, high up with amazing views over the countryside. It was a bit of strange set up as the aire parking areas were on several narrow terraces, only wide enough to drive on. This meant that if you parked in the middle and other vans came later in front and behind you, there was no way of getting out. But we found a flattish area of grass in a separate space and started to set up. It quickly became obvious that it would be too hot to stay there; the shady spots had already been taken and there was a lot of shooting in the valley, which completely freaked Salty out. So I took another look and found the Camping Car Park site in Auzon, about 45 minutes' drive away. The reviews said there was plenty of shade and a river, plus the hill-top fortified village looked lovely, with the campsite in the valley below.
We found a shaded spot and did our best to keep cool. I took a quick walk and found the river was dried up. Once the sun had dipped behind the trees we walked along a narrow road, past stone cottages, before it turned into a path running alongside the (dry) river bed. It was a good deal cooler amongst the trees and thankfully, in a couple of places, there was enough water to allow Salty to dunk up to his neck - we were very jealous. I cooked outside and we sat well into darkness, enjoying the cooling temperature and looking up at the stars.
This morning we enjoyed the cool, walking the dog and eating breakfast outside, before packing up and starting our journey west. Ideally we only make short daily hops to relax and explore an area, but today was about making some miles towards the coast. I hope one day we'll be able to return to the Auvergne and continue to explore this wonderful region. I stopped off at an 'artisan' boulangerie on the way for a baguette for lunch. Many boulangeries are described as 'artisan' but this one had a wood burning oven and it showed. Alongside the traditional baguette, they made regional loaves of bread, all with the dark, crunchy crust and light, fluffy filling with lots of holes from extended proving. It proved to be delicious as we enjoyed it at one of the many welcome picnic sites found along the roadside.
We arrived at Lac de Vassivière in the heat of the mid-afternoon. I admit to being quite tired and hot when we arrived, so after we'd walked the dog - and he'd had his daily dip - we took him back to the van, changed and walked the short distance to the water's edge. The long awaited swim was divine! The water was warm with the occasional chilly patch. We swam around for a while, washing off the heat and dust of the past few hot days (although he had showered in the van each day of course!). The rest of the day was spent relaxing, reading and looking out over the lake as the sun set. Dinner was a vegetable stir fry with some boiled rice. We're using up food odds and sods; tomorrow will be some form of hotdog, onion and feta calzone made with wheat wraps in the Ridge Monkey, with a salad - don't judge us!
As it's cooler here (30'C in the daytime) we'll stay here another night to walk around part of the lake and take another dip or two, before heading further west.