We had twenty days to travel from the South to Calais, which would allow a very civilised pace by anyone’s standards. It was mid-October and we were in no rush to get North, where it would be colder. With some time to spare, we wanted to find a nice campsite where we could chill out for a few days and lap up some of the last sunshine of the year. Our main criteria was that it needed to be grassy so Bodgie had a comfortable surface to walk on. Our first choice was a smart looking campsite at Orpierre, a small village set in a gorge that is a world-famous climbing destination. But it was gravelly and also set into the gorge, so we would lose the sun early. We set off down the road as I had spotted another campsite online. It was bucolic, grassy and set in a wider part of the valley so would get the sun all day. We plumped for it and took the only flat pitch there was. It was a beautiful few warm, sunny days, even getting quite hot during the day.
The Southern Alps are really scenic and we passed by a couple of picturesque towns that piqued our interest for return trips – Gap and Nyons. Our next stop was at a beautiful hilltop medieval village called Rosans. There was a wide, flat grassy area set beside the village, from where we could look out onto the valley below and the ancient rooftops above. Incredibly scenic. Sadly as it was off-season, nothing was open and the only cafe in the main square was for sale. This seems to be a recurring theme in rural areas all over Europe.
From the forecast it looked like we only had a day or two of sunshine left before the weather turned. We drove west through miles of vineyards towards our destination – a vineyard! We got there and although it had a super view of Mont Ventoux, it was tatty, there was no information, and Bodger immediately got a thorn in his paw from the scrubby land around. We moved on to another place nearby and how pleased we were that we did. It was a smart organic vineyard with a dedicated motorhome area and free services including electricity. Tim lost no time in booking us in for a tasting. The owners were very friendly and we had an enjoyable and chatty time, with Tim’s French really coming into its own (especially as he tasted more wine) while I felt more and more mute with my lack of grammar and vocabulary. We bought some of the excellent wine (well it would be rude not to !) and afterwards went out to dinner in the nearby town – Beaumes de Venise – where we tested out French dog-friendliness by taking Bodger and Charlie to a nice restaurant, where they were welcomed without question. If you’re ever in the area we can recommend the Domaine Bouletin vineyard.
We were still loitering in the south and headed towards the provencal town of Orange, a half an hour’s drive north of Avignon. We parked right next to a completely intact Roman triumphal arch and it was a 5 minute walk into the town. We enjoyed walking around and seeing the Roman theatre. There was also an impressive Romanesque cathedral, where some old frescos and decorative schemes had been restored and which were quite interesting in style and in the colours used. I really like the twelfth century Romanesque era of architecture, there’s a beauty in the simplicity and lack of decoration. It’s the opposite of the eighteenth century Baroque, with its over-the-top, extravagant style.
It was Tim’s turn to choose places to stay for the next three nights. We take it in turns to balance out the amount of research to be done. The rule is that we’re not allowed to question or criticise one another’s choices, (all too easy sometimes, believe me!). I left it to him and told myself sternly to trust his judgement, but his next choice was to drive me potty. Tim had chosen a spot by a lake in the mountains at a place called Pailles, all good so far. But as we passed the second hour of driving and were heading further and further into the mountains, I began to feel more and more uneasy. I don’t enjoy long mountain drives, as I get motion sickness, and I don’t like futile hours of driving for no good reason. We swapped over driving and having a chance to look at the map, I realised the craziness of this route. Basically, we were doing a 2 hour detour so that Bodger could have a swim in a lake. In addition, we would have to drive the same two hours all the way back again, or face an even longer, more circuitous journey to get North. I’m dedicated to our dogs but this was taking the biscuit. As we arrived I had to vent my frustration. He looked a bit sheepish as there wasn’t much to say in his defence, but still had the temerity to chuckle at my outburst 😉
We slowly headed North, stopping at Lyon for two nights to meet up with Tips, an ex-colleague and friend of Tim’s who has relocated there for a new job. I would like to go back to visit Lyon again, it’s a lively place.
We also stopped in Paris for three nights, to see old school friends of Tim’s – Kevin and Lindsay – who had also just relocated there for their work too. It was great to see them and experience the city from a residents’ perspective. I really liked the area they were in, Neuilly-sur-Seine.
However, I can recommend that you don’t cycle around the city on a Sunday like we did. It was meant to be traffic-free because only residents inside the peripherique can use their cars on Sundays. But it certainly wasn’t traffic-free, there are a lot of car-owning residents in Paris and and I almost got run over twice by irate Parisian drivers whilst following Tim around roundabouts. Also, all roads in the centre are one-way, so we got rerouted and eventually got lost.
Far more relaxing was the time we spent in the Bois de Boulogne which was next to our campsite. There were several roads which are completely closed off to traffic and they offered a peaceful and leafy space for walks and cycle rides amidst the joggers, skaters and families enjoying the open air.