Showing posts with label provence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label provence. Show all posts

Sunday 30 June 2019

Made it to The Camargue

Sunday 30 June 2019

Nido’s parked up on a large aire in Fontvieille with only one other van for company in a distant corner and nestled between some trees that provided welcome shade in the late afternoon and early evening, before the sun set.  It’s now 2200 and still 29’C outside.  The air is thick with the sound of crickets and cicadas.  

We enjoyed our last day around the pool at Les Salles-sur-Verdon yesterday and really missed a refreshing dip and snooze on the sunbed today.  On my way back to the van yesterday afternoon, a large A Class motorhome with French plates was parked near us, with two small dogs playing outside.  I went to make friends with them and the owner popped his head out and explained in French that they were calm and friendly. When he saw me walking towards my van he reverted to a broad scouse accent. His name was Gary Rimmer and has lived and worked in France for 30 years, latterly living in the Alps in the small village of La Rochette, near Chambery, not far from where we stayed a week or so ago.  We got chatting (over a pastis!) and he explained he’d decided to try something new, having been a long-distance lorry driver most of his life.  So he sold up, bought the motorhome and has now been full-timing for all of two weeks.  His story about his early years and how he ended up in France was fascinating and we had a good chat late into the evening, having invited him to share our supper of chicken curry, rice and chapatis.  He’s in the process of developing a website to document his travels - and is also on Facebook and YouTube.  This is all very new to him and he’s not sure where to head (although he loves the mountains so he’ll most likely head for them), so he was interested to learn more about full-timing and what people do.  I suggested a couple of blogs for him to follow.  It was a lovely, funny and interesting evening and he was good company and I’d recommend taking a look at his social media links; he’s already getting loads of interest from followers.

It was very muggy and hot this morning, so we took our time striking camp after breakfast.  Having said goodbye to Gary and the two dogs - Millie and Happy, we hit the road, heading for an aire in Saint-Chamas.  Our route took us through some lovely Provence villages and countryside, with fields of vineyards, lavender and sunflowers and we stopped at a picnic site for a lunch in the shade.  The aire at Saint-Chamas is next to the marina and right on the water’s edge of Etange de Berre, a saltwater lake on the eastern edge of The Camargue.  However, the aire was closed due to road and marina improvements, although we were still able to park up.  It was really hot but there was a good, if warm, breeze blowing off the lake.  The water was warm and a bit ‘syrupy’ with plenty of algae on the bottom and floating around.  It wasn’t that refreshing and the parking spot was in full sun, so we decided to find somewhere with a bit more shade.

This led us to our current spot in Fontvieille, about 500m from the town centre.  The aire’s hemmed in on two sides by steep limestone cliffs, but there’s plenty of trees so we were able to find some well-needed shade.  Cathy had been feeling the effects of the heat today, so she took some cooling down.  We’ve done very little here except try to cool off, take in fluids and chill out.  I’ve cooked supper and we’re now sat looking at a sky turning purple towards the west.  Thankfully there are fewer flies here than in Les Salles-sur-Verdon, so we’re able to sit outside without resorting to the Avon Skin So Soft to keep the blighters at bay!  We haven’t had the energy to explore the old windmills that we can walk to from here, or the town, but may take a look in the morning.

Given it’s still going to be hot for several days at least, I’ve found another wild swimming spot about 40 minutes to the north, so we’ll head there tomorrow for what we hope will be a cooling river swim.  After that perhaps we’ll be refreshed and ready to explore The Camargue.  In the meantime I’m enjoying sitting outside in the late evening, listening to the cicadas in the trees and grass and the swifts calling as they fly above us.

A shady picnic spot in the Provence countryside
Parked up at Plage Des Cabassons - Saint-Chamas
Swimming in salty warm soup!
Fontvieille aire

Friday 28 June 2019

What to do on a scorching hot day

Friday 28 June 2019

Another night on the aire at Les Salles-sur-Verdon.   The temperature’s broken records in France today - 45’C not far from us in Carpentras - that almost 112’F!  It was about 43’C here and the air felt like someone had opened a hot fan oven door.  It reminded us of being in Karachi, where there’s always a sea breeze, but never a cool one.  Tomorrow could be hotter but thankfully after that it should reduce slightly.  So we’ve been taking it really easy, spending most of the day around the pool of the adjacent hotel, reading, drinking plenty of water and snoozing on the sun-loungers in the shade.

So today I thought I’d give you a walk around the aire and the village of Les Salles-sur-Verdon.  The day started with a baguette and a couple of croissants from the small shop a few metres away (run by the owner of the aire).  With it being so hot, ‘Wishy-Washy’ put a load of laundry to soak in our purple bucket overnight.  The purple bucket has multiple uses - a catcher of the grey water, washing bucket (like today), feet soaking bucket (after a day’s walking), holder of wet swimming shoes, washing-up bowl, even a ‘bird-bath’ if the need arises!  This was pummelled (at a stainless steel sink, not at the village lavoir!), rinsed and hung out to dry on a line rigged around the awning.

This aire is a bit untypical of the norm.  Most have a ‘dalek-like’ contraption for emptying the WC cassette (not a great job in a heatwave), emptying grey water (washing up and showers) and filling up with fresh water (I have a variety of different tap fittings and gadgets depending on the dalek).  You can see from the photo there’s a stainless steel sink with a cold tap (luke warm in this weather).  To the left of that there’s a longer hose and tap for topping up the van’s fresh water and to the left of that the sump for emptying the loo and a separate hose for flushing the cassette.  Some aires don’t have a separate hose for the WC and on a number of occasions I’ve seen people poking the fresh water hose down into their WC cassette - be warned!  In this case, I fill up our 10L water container and use that to pour water into our cassette.  Again, unusually for an aire, there’s one shower and two toilets here; most aires don’t have these.  There are electric hook-up sockets dotted around the aire. On this one you need a two-pin adaptor (European plug) that plugs into the EHU socket and with a male adaptor on the other end to plug your mains cable in to.  These 2-pin EU adaptors are widely available in shops and supermarkets in France.  This particular aire appears to have been adopted by the hotel and petrol station/shop, hence our free use of their pool, for which at the moment we’re eternally grateful!

Although the petrol station shop has some basic items we needed more, so I walked into the village.  It’s a village aimed at the tourist trade and reminded me of some of the villages on L’Ile de Re.  I used the ATM again and sat down at a restaurant for a restorative pression (draught lager) to cool down and watch the world go by, before popping into the Huit a Huit store with my shopping list.  Although they sell themselves as being open from 8(am) to 8(pm), they do actually close for a 2 hour lunch break!!

With the afternoon spent trying to keep cool at the pool, it was too hot to cook in the van, so the pizza parlour next to the petrol station was welcomed.  So that’s pretty much our day.  I suspect tomorrow will be similar, only with much less spent on groceries and eating out!  There’s another load of washing soaking in the purple bucket.

Dhoby Day!

Trying all ways to keep the van cool

Aire service point

The Marie's office 

Well it was hot.....even at 10am!

Steak bar and restaurant

The word 'Mon' caught my eye, particularly as we live on Anglesey (Ynys Mon)

Thursday 27 June 2019

Kayaking in the Verdon Gorge

Thursday 27 June 2019

Nido’s parked back on the aire at Les Salles-sur-Verdon.  There’s still only us and the two Belgian vans that were here when we arrived yesterday.  I think they’ve put down roots; one of the old chaps seems to have injured his leg and is in a wheelchair so perhaps that’s why they’re staying.  I have to say that for €12 a day, it’s a good deal with unlimited electricity, fresh water, shower and toilets and free use of the adjacent hotel’s swimming pool.  The aire owner runs the Total fuel station in front, which also has a shop selling food and drink items, local produce, wines and beers.  Plus the aire has shade…..aagh….. shade!  It’s been very hot today as we’re in the centre of the heatwave plume coming up from Africa - high 30s, maybe even into the 40s today, and getting hotter over the next couple of days.  Having spent the afternoon in the pool and snoozing on the loungers in the shade of the trees, it’s this that’s keeping us here until at least Sunday.  It’s just too hot to be on the road, hoping to find an aire or wild camping spot that’s in the shade, like hundreds of other motorhome owners.  Coupled with the French schools being closed due to the heat, there’s a public holiday feel about the place, with families swimming in the lake and filling the bars and restaurants.  Where we are reminds us a little of Greece, plus we’ve not experienced heat like this since we lived in Pakistan, when the temperature regularly hit the 50s.  Over the last couple of days we’ve even used the van’s cab air conditioning, so it must be hot!  So I’ve booked us in for the next three nights, then we’ll see what Sunday’s like.

It took a long time to get to sleep last night in the hot van - 38’C in the bedroom when we retired.  It did slowly cool and was quite pleasant when we woke at 0700 this morning. I’d set the alarm so we could get on the lake early.  A quick breakfast and we drove into the village as I needed some cash and La Poste Banque had an ATM.  There was a small market in the village square and most of the cafes and restaurants were open serving breakfast.  Les Salles-sur-Verdon is a lovely little village and reminds me of similar places on L’Ile de Re - some quirky bars, affordable bistros and expensive restaurants.  We drove to the large car park we used yesterday and walked down to the guys at Canoe Verdon, where we hired a two person kayak for two hours.  It was only 0900 so we were one of the first on the water and almost had Verdon Gorge to ourselves as we slowly paddled in, looking high up to the grand-canyon-like sides, watching the birds, butterflies and moths and seeing the odd fish plop out in front of us.  We paddled along, in and out of the shade afforded by the high gorge sides, occasionally drifting to take in the sights and reached the return point in the gorge, where we stepped out on the small, muddy beach and had a walk about, before starting the return journey.  By now more people in kayaks and pedalos were making their way up the gorge.  There was a waterfall at one point and, despite Cathy trying to paddle us away, I won out and she enjoyed a cool shower underneath it!  Passing back under the road bridge, we had about 10 minutes remaining on the main lake before returning the kayak.  We loved this boat trip and I would highly recommend it, but go early and beat the crowds.

We stayed by the lake for lunch and found some shade, but it was really hot, so we decided to return to last night’s aire, settle down for a few days on electricity, with the awning out and make the most of the free swimming pool.  It’s really not safe to be out in this weather and there’s no guarantee we’d find somewhere to park up that had shade and allowed us to even sit outside.  We were the only ones at the pool for at least a couple of hours; it was bliss as we swam and snoozed the afternoon away.  Back at the van, it was really hot both in and outside, so after preparing supper, we returned to the pool for another dip and relax under the trees.  Now sat outside at nearly 11pm, it’s still about 28’C; there’s no wind and feels like a night in the tropics.  Cathy’s washed up and put some clothes into soak for rinsing and hanging out tomorrow.  I’ve not even thought about where we’ll head next - I’ll leave it another day before thinking about that.  Tomorrow I may take a walk into the village to buy some groceries, but apart from that I suspect we’ll be around the pool with a good book, snoring the day away!

Small beach at the turnaround point

If you need us over the next few days, we'll be here

Wednesday 26 June 2019

The air (and aire) is hot!

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Nido’s parked up on a basic aire, but it has all we need - some shade thanks to a large willow tree, unlimited fresh water and even a shower to allow for more than a ‘submariner’s dhoby’ in the van.  The aire is in Les Salles-sur-Verdon, close to the shore of Lac de St Croix in Provence, close to the Verdon Gorge.  It’s run by the owners of a small supermarket (which has been shut all the time we’ve been here) and has a pizzeria next door (also shut today!) and a hotel just above us of which, apparently, we have use of their pool.  It’s mega-hot - in the high 30s today - and still in the 30s at 2000, so we’re grateful for the shade and a little bit of evening breeze; the cicadas have started up their sounds and a few butterflies (and the usual annoying house flies) are flying around us.  The original plan was to head for some wild-swimming spots along the Verdon Gorge, but when I read about the long, tortuous road with hairpin bends and sheer drops of 100s of metres to get to the swimming spot, I had flashbacks to yesterday and decided to give it a miss!

The journey from our last stop was easy, on wide roads with no sheer drops today!  As we dropped down we drove into the lavender fields Provence is famous for, although it’s not in full bloom - give it a couple of weeks and it’ll be amazing.  We didn’t get the opportunity to pull over and take any photos, but we did stop at a roadside shop to buy some lavender products as presents for our lovely next door neighbours.  The oils are very powerful and are already filling the van with a lovely scent.  We’ve definitely moved into the Mediterranean area; we can tell by the honey-coloured buildings with their clay tiled roofs, dry fields and olive trees.

Looking down on the electric blue of Lac de St Croix as we drove down, we pulled into a large car park and headed for the beach. The water was clear and deliciously cool, soothing some of the insect bites we’ve suffered over the past few hot nights.  I popped back to the van to make some lunch enjoyed sat on our beach chairs, with some fruit and more water.  We spent a couple of hours swimming and sunbathing.  I checked out one of the companies hiring kayaks to paddle into the Verdon Gorge and we’ll be there at 0900 tomorrow to hire one and enjoy the cooler part of the day on the water, when most people are still having breakfast.

There was a sign for an aire opposite the parking area, run by the adjacent municipal campsite - Le Galletas.  We drove up to get in but were told it’s still closed - in the 3rd week of June!  We tried the campsite but a combination of a rude receptionist and hot, sloping pitches put us off, so it was back to the original plan for this aire at Les Salles-sur-Verdon.  There were three large vans here already and I was surprised that nobody had bagged the shady spot in the corner - that’s now ours!  Supper was eaten outside in the hot air - I think it’ll be a difficult sleep tonight unless it cools down in the early hours.  Still - it beats working! 

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Breathe in and don't look down!

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Nido’s parked up at another free aire in the village of Malijai, on a grassy area adjacent to the 30 pétanque courts (yes - 30!), with the old castle walls on one side and the river Bleone on the other.  It’s still very hot at 2130 and, despite a few swims today, we’re feeling a bit sticky.  Nido’s also nursing a few scratches and bruises after an encounter with a huge cable laying machine on a very narrow mountain road, but his pride’s hurt more and nothing that can’t easily be mended when we get home - more of that later.

The wild camp at Lac de Serre-Poncon last night was very quiet and gradually cool enough to sleep.  Our first stop was in the village of Seyne to do some food shopping. The village has an interesting past, with the name of the village dating back to 1147.  We wandered up the narrow streets and steps to the old citadel with a view over the village and the surrounding countryside and mountains.  The village market was on, so we bought some very fresh fruit and veg, some bread at the boulangerie and finally the Carrefour express supermarket.  It took a while for Cathy to squirrel it all away but, as always, she managed it.

Our route out of Seyne took us up and over a mountain on the narrow and mostly single lane D7, with only a few passing places.  There was a sign about roadworks, but nothing prepared us for when we found the road blocked by heavy plant machinery.  We were heading downhill with a steep ravine to our right and no barrier.  The caterpillar blocked the road, so I parked and walked down. Beyond this was another digger and a huge tracked vehicle with a massive roll of cable on the rear, all blocking the narrow road with an edge that crumbled into the ravine below; there was absolutely no way to turn around or even reverse back up the mountain.  I spoke to the gaffer who walked up with me and moved the caterpillar over towards my left, meaning I had to drive around it - you can see where I had to pass it from where I’m standing in the photo!  Once successfully passed that (with inches to spare on the driver side between the crumbling road and the ravine), the large plant was next; the workmen slowly called me forward, checking left and right for clearance and that my driver side wheels stayed on the road and not the ravine!  The trouble was there were too many in charge and the left didn’t know what the right was waving.  Half way through it finally became obvious to them that Nido wouldn’t fit through, so I had to reverse up a little until they moved the plant forward 6 inches, which allowed me to finally to pass through.  We made our way slowly down the rest of the D7 to the relative safety of the road at the valley bottom and pulled over to recover with a brew and allow Nido’s brakes to cool.  We discovered the scratch high up along his passenger side, which must have happened when they realised we wouldn’t fit; it’s about a foot long but thankfully not deep and has only scrapped off the paintwork, which can easily be fixed at home.   I really think they should have closed the road at the top of the mountain - we were lucky.

Our next stop was to check out the aire in Digne-les-Bains, but it was a concrete wasteland area close to a busy road and with no shade, so a no-go.  By then we were feeling pretty hot and tired.  But luckily I spotted a sign for a ‘Plan d’Eau’ a few hundred metres away.  These are community swimming pools, provided free of charge for all to use - what a great idea!  We parked up, changed and walked down.  The pool was huge and is supplied from natural springs, with grass all around and a bar and restaurant.  Lots of young people were enjoying the hot sun and the pool and we were soon joining them - that cool, clear water was amazing!  We stayed for about an hour and had a couple of cooling swims before returning to the van.  I’d spotted the Malijair aire with free services, so we were happy to see the other vans were parked in a grassy area with shade from some large trees and not in actual aire, which was full of cars anyway.  Cathy took a wander down to the river and found and lovely wild swimming spot, with a stretch of deeper water between the shallower rapids.  Again, it was time for a swim!  The water was really warm and it was great fun drifting down with the current.

Back at the van, we ate supper outside, under the awning in the hot, humid evening air, listening to the swifts calling above us, and the cicadas (les cigales) in the trees.  Later on we took a wander around the village - not much to see but there were some nice narrow streets to walk around.  One interesting note was that Napoleon stayed for a night in the chateau (which is just above us) on his return from Elbe on 4 March 1815.  We also took a walk along the river stones, spotting a couple of ammonite fossils.  Some of the locals were also swimming and some playing pétanque on the courts in front of us, which are now floodlit.  Hopefully it’ll will quieten down and cool down later so we can get some sleep.  Tomorrow, a slight change of plan will see us move further south into deep Provence in search of more cooling swimming spots.  I hope there aren’t any narrow mountain roads!

See where I'm stood? I had pass the machinery by driving there!

Seyne streets

Cow bells

Market day in Seyne

The Plan d'Eau in Dignes-les-Bains - a life saver!

Wishy-Washy hanging out the dhobying!

Nice little spot in Malijai

Wild swim in the Bleone river

Chateau and petanque courts