France 73 - a tight squeeze, another two aires de camping car and a couple of bastides

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May 28th 2014
Published: May 29th 2014
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Suzy has spent some time checking out the aires de camping car in three bastide towns. Two successful and one not.

The weather has changed and we no longer have that wall to wall sunshine we were delighted with in Spain. It is now colder in the mornings and mist seems the order of the day. It looks like November with its leaden sky the colour of pewter. Cobwebs stretch from branch to branch glistening as if diamonds had been dropped on them and frozen in time. It feels almost Autumnal . Not usual for France at this time of the year and a shock to the system after such lovely weather. The mist rarely clears until gone 10. But when it goes the sun does come out and shines on us.

We already had found the locations of all three bastides we intended to visit. Our homework suggested all three were easily accessible and within walking distance of the towns. Of course reality doesnt always match up.

Our first bastide was to be Gaillac an historical town on the Tarn river just 25 km up the road from Albi. Founded more than a 1000 years ago it is famous for vineyards and the Gaillac wines are supposed to be pretty good. We did sample a bottle just to try out the theory. We knew that all we wanted to see was concentrated on the banks of the river and around the abbey which was built in the 10th century and enhanced and renovated in the 13th, 16th and 20th centuries. There was an interesting Town Hall, few grand town houses and other sites to see. We saw most of it on the way in.

Plan to find the aire. To be fair they are all signed as soon as you get anywhere near the towns. The blue and white motorhome is instantly recognisable. The picture shows a van sitting over a dump in the act of dumping her grey water. And smaller written signs point the way to the aire de camping car. We followed both the sat nav that was chirrping out instructions whilst I kept an eye on the signs.

We found the large car park after a bit of driving round and spotted one motorhome parked along the road in a bigger designated plot. Apart from that we could see nothing that looked suitable for a motorhome. All the other plots were car sized and woe betide a camper van taking up two spaces or spreading itself over more than one widthwise. Another motorhome appeared to be parked further up. We decided we just couldnt find a place suitable so Gaillac would have to be missed. It is not a problem as some you win and some you lose. As long as you dont take it to heart its a case of park it and move on. Having seen most of it through Suzy's window it was never going to be a great hardship.

The journey out of town was rather more fraught than the drive in. Snooper was good at making sure we didnt end up on narrow streets. Sally Sat nav despite knowing our vital statistics has other ideas and we found ourselves being told to get off the main drag and go up a side street. So far so good. Then she bellowed take a right and we found ourselves heading up a street blocked half way up with a van. No sign of the driver and even if Suzy and we had breathed in deeply we had no chance of squeezing through the gap. Behind us the first car pulled up. Behind him another and then a third. Hemmed and with nowhere to go we expected the horns to start up but amazingly the third car, the last in line reversed and turned up the next street. As I got out to guide Glenn back the two behind reversed out of our way and we had a free run at getting out of the mess Sally had got us into.

We were glad to see the back of Gaillac and got on the road again for our next or should I say first bastide of the day L'isle sur Tarn. Now that the mist had cleared and the sun was shining we began to appreciate that mellow yellow brickwork of houses in the Tarn area. The architecture of the houses is stunning and if there was anywhere in France I would choose to live it would be in one of these stunningly beautiful houses in the Dordogne. The hedgerows were wild and left uncut - left sauvage for the insects, the birds and the flowers. Wild roses scrambled over possible inch, pretty pink clover grew thickly and purple orchids were everywhere.

Our camping stop was another aire on the outskirts of town. This time easy to find next to a fishing lake complete with french anglers, ducks swimming on the lake loads of french motorhomes parked up and pretty yellow flag irises lining the lake bank. . It was one of those delightful places that you felt happy to put up and stay. I guess our neighbours all french would be stopping the night. Not for them the price of a campsite when you can get something free. It was one of the nicest aires I have seen with water available , recycling facilities and a lovely view of the lake.

As we got out of Suzy we wished Bon Jour to our neighbours and set off to find the town. It was around a 15 minute walk through modern bungalows and the new part of the town with its school. Eventually we arrived at the old quarter which boasted the largest square in this part of the Bastide area. It followed the same pattern of four entrances easily protected and a central square with arcades around the perimetre. Some of the arcades were older and the woodwork twisted with the weight of the roof could be seen. Further round restoration had been undertaken. A few cafe/bars lined the streets. Nothing took our fancy so we went back to Suzy for a fine dinner of chicken sandwiches and chocolate pudding before leaving this lovely spot for the ride to our last bastide of the day Cordes sur Ciel.

They say that you should leave the best until last. Certainly true of this lovely town. We could see the town clearly from a distance as it is perched on top of a hill. The old town which is pretty in itself lies at the bottom of the hill and contains the usual souvenir shops and restaurants. The car park is large and the aire easy to find although at first it seemed a long way out of town. The road to it took us past the car park and out in to the country again before kinking back on itself and headed back to town. The aire was large and cost 5 euros a night to park plus a little extra for water and electricity. Already there were a number of vans parked up for the night. One of the rules of aires is that they are not camping sites and you should not put out your matting, your tables and chairs nor your awning but yet opposite us was a happy camper with this matting spread out, his tables and chairs out, his awning stretched across and his BBQ fired up. I wonder if anyone came to chastise him. Rules are rules but it is surprising how many break them. Perhaps we are of a generation who grew up with a grammar school education which comprised of many rules and detention if we broke them. No running in the corridor, walk on the left, speak when spoken to, stand up when the teacher came in the room. Perhaps this is why we obey the rules now later in life.

However I digress. Cordes - what can I say? The walk from the aire was up a steep and winding path comprising of steps and ramps. AT the top we entered the old town where the little train awaited for those less inclined to walk again to the upper cite. We pondered the question - a drink at the bottom before attempting the climb or a drink at the top as a reward? The reward won. It wasnt hot but the path up was steep and lined with parking spots for cars. Signs advised that the money from parking went to enhance the cite. We were rewarded as we went up the switchbacks with views across the valley, views through arches to churches or into gardens. Roses rambled everywhere. The smell permeated the air. Up we went a few feet before the path switched back on itself and climbed higher. You couldnt see where you had come from nor where you were going.

At the top it opened out into the most beautiful of squares full of little shops, cafes and bars. Yet again though some were sadly closed. The roads radiated off this central area leading down to the entrance gates. Winding little streets between high yellow stoned houses. We sat at the bar Panoramic which did what it said on the tin - had a view over the valley. The waiters moved us from one table to another rather grumpily - no tip there then! We sat and drank our coffees legs still aching from the climb up. At least the climb down would be easy. There seemed a lot of British tourists about and we have noticed more of this as we move further up France. It is half term in Britain and everyone seems to have come to this part of France. I loved the walk down as we saw that typical french thing - shutters in all pastel colours. Cornflower blue, pale mint green and light lilac. And of course the typical French road on our way out to our next stop Figeac.

Cordes was the joy of the day. A pretty little place. OK you cannot spend all day there but at least a visit of an hour or so is worthwhile just to sit and admire the views over the pretty countryside.


29th May 2014
It can only be France

Ah France
30th May 2014
It can only be France

But it means we are sadly heading home

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