France (and a bit of Spain) 2010 
 
We are experts now.  Oh yes!  A long tour of Europe under our belts and a few long trips in the UK.  We have more of an agenda this year and are armed with loads of PDF print outs of where we are going and whats more we have the Internet!  This really let us down last year but now we have a super powerful Swedish Military Wifi antenna and also a password for an SFR wifi zone kindly provided by a friend who lives in France. 
The general plan is to tour the Dordogne and Lot and then tour the entire length of the Pyrenees from the Med to Atlantic.  There are some big hills down there and I am looking forward to getting up them on the bike.  Its earlier this year though so there may still be snow.  We set off early April and intend to be away two months
 
 

 

Dordogne

 

Last year we drove through the Dordogne without stopping which we later learned was a silly thing to have done.  This year we are armed with loads of info and I have researched all the Aires and I know where I am going.

 

 

It takes us a couple of days to get there mainly because the Aire we stop at on the first night is full of Brits with maps drinking cheap wine and swapping stories.  As a consequence we don’t leave till around lunchtime and only manage 90 miles to just beyond Orleans.

 

 

A good slog the next day sees us arrive in Bergerac around tea time at a nice little Aire at St Sauveur de Bergerac with only us on it which is our home for a couple of days.

 

 

The winter is over!  It’s sunny and 25 degrees in early April.  Off comes the bike and we tear off into the unknown.  I say we are more organised this year but I forgot that French petrol stations are never there when you want one.  Our first trip sees us 20 miles up the road with the fuel gauge showing empty.  Don’t worry I laugh there will be a station on route somewhere.  Nope.  Somehow we manage to coax the bike back to Hank without running out.  I have never quite figured out what I would do if the bike broke down miles from the van as we have no breakdown cover for it.

 

 

We spend the next couple of weeks slowly touring east from Bergerac along the Dordogne and its everything we hoped for.

 

 

Les Eyzies is lovely and the Aire is very nice.  The Vezere Valley is stunning but we are surprised how bare a lot of the trees are.  It was a hard winter though.

 

 

We are loving being out on the bike again and not having to wrap up like we did at Christmas.  Some days we do up to 70 miles.

 

 

La Roque Gageac, Sarlat, Domme and Montfort areas are lovely.  All the aires (well the ones we use) are smashing and usually free.  Oh its great to be back in France.

 

 

Rocamadour

Eventually we turf up at Rocamadour which is officially in the Lot region not the Dordogne as many think.  It doesn’t disappoint.  It’s quite touristy but not in a tacky way.  The medieval town which is built on the side of a steep cliff is stunning.  There is an Aire with no services but it’s a bit naff but there is a small campsite (I know, dirty word) that’s not busy and is only £9 including hookup and free wifi so we book on there for a few days.

 

 

The weather is still lovely and we really chill out here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Med

All good things come to an end and eventually we move on further south.  We head for Perpignan area and the Spanish border in the hope of yet warmer weather and golden sands.  We head for an Aire inland a couple of miles.  All the ones on the coast are rotten but this little gem I researched before we left at a place called Latour Bas Elne.  It’s only a few quid and is run by this really friendly French guy who seems to spend most of his day bombing around on one vehicle or another be it his fancy scooter, mini tractor or ride on lawn mower.  He even takes the battery off our bike and charges it for us.

 

All in all the area is not that interesting.  We have a venture into Spain for the day so I guess we can lay claim to crossing the Pyrenees twice in one day, albeit near the coast where they are not very high.

 

After a few days down by the sea I decide it’s time to head for the real adventure along the length of the Pyrenees.

 

 

 

 

Pyrenees

This is the bit I have really been looking forward to.  We have a few boxes that need to be ticked.  I want to visit the Cirque de Gavarnie, Cauterets and we have to do a trip in a cable car and find some snow.

 

We head off inland just 44 miles to Duilhac Sous Peyrepertuse but it’s in the mountains and takes us two hours.  It’s simply stunning and these are just the smaller hills.

 

 

The bike gets some punishment as we climb to the top of a twisting winding road to some ancient castle.  It’s the hottest day so far and we stupidly end up sun burnt.

 

The Aire is lovely and of course free and the little village is charming.  The views and the peace and quiet are breath taking and the air is so fresh.

 

We have bothed settled into the tour quite nicely.  It always takes me a while to completely chill out and relax.  I could quite happily spend the rest of my life doing this.

 

After a couple of days we decide its time to move on deeper across the Pyrenees.

 

 

 

 

The Pyrenees National Park

 

Over the next few days we head further and further along the Pyrenees on the French side.  The scenery gets more and more stunning with every mile.  The towns and villages don’t appear to be as affluent as they are in the Alps but they still have that French charm.

 

I think late April early May is a great time to visit.  It’s quiet but not so quiet that everywhere is deserted and the weather is still holding.  Not too hot but just right.

 

Eventually after several Aires we end up in Lourdes.  Can’t find the Aire but (and I hope this isn’t becoming a habit) there is a rather nice little campsite for a tenner a night with hookup so we splash out and stay there for a while.  I’m getting really excited as after Lourdes we are going to head deep into the big mountains.

 

When we entered the Hautes Pyrenees area and the Pyrenees national park we started seeing protest graffiti which we think is against the introduction of Bears.  Brown Bears were re-introduced here from Slovenia and one of them, a bear called Franska has gone a bit mental and is terrorising the locals and murdering sheep just for fun.   We see one that actually refers to Franska the Psychotic Bear that’s on the rampage!  Surely we should be ok down here on this campsite but for some reason I have got it into my head that we will somehow come face to face.  Like it’s my destiny or something.  I would probably run a mile but I really want to see a Bear.  Unlikely.

 

Lourdes is amazing.  We visit on a Saturday and it’s bustling.  It’s getting busy and there is a fantastic almost moving atmosphere.  People make pilgrimages here from all over the world and clearly it’s a once in a life time achievement for many just to be here.  They are so happy.  Crowds of teenagers presumably from religious groups cheer, sing and dance their way to the Grotte.  Hordes of old people with various crippling conditions or ailments arrive and make their way to the Grotte presumably in the hope of being cured but I imagine also being close to this sacred place.

 

I’m not overly religious but you can’t help but feel moved by it all and we spend ages watching the spectacle and even take our turn in the queue to enter the cave and touch the walls and drink the all curing water

 

A little further on some enchanting singing is coming from the pools where many people are queuing for their turn to be bathed in the waters.  It’s truly moving and unless you have been there you may think it silly but somehow it doesn’t seem that way.

 

Cauterets and Gavarnie

We slowly make our way up the pass to the ski resort of Cauterets.  It’s always a sense of achievement when I reach somewhere that I have spent ages researching back home.  It’s great that you kind of know somewhere and then see it for real.  It doesn’t disappoint.  The scenery is stunning.

 

There are two Aires, a huge one at the bottom of the town and a smaller one at the top.  We opt for the top Aire which is 8 Euros with full services and 16amp electric.  Spot on!

 

We notice the cable car running out of the centre of town and decide to go and investigate.  We have wanted to do this for ages.  Turns out its only 8 euros each.  We don’t know where it’s going but hop any anyway.  They are little 6 seater pods and it’s quiet so we get one to ourselves.

 

As it accelerates over the edge and into space we laugh and laugh and laugh.  The ride goes up and up all the way to the Cirque Du Lys which is the skiing area at the top of the mountain 7500ft up.  Its 25 degrees at the van and at the top people are still skiing and snowboarding and sunbathing although it’s a tad cooler.

 

We eventually leave and the ride down is as much fun, so much so that at the bottom we charm the attendant and blag another 30 minute free ride to the top and back again!  Awesome

 

The next day we make for Pont D Espagne (Bridge of Spain) which is 5 miles further up the valley almost to the Spanish border and an ancient pass over the mountains into Spain.

 

The ride up tests Pig (Our scooter).  We are lucky to hit 25 mph tops.  Loads of hairpins and a spectacular ride.  The main attraction here is the waterfalls that cascade down the steep valley.

 

We reach the car park at the top and set off on foot on a circular walk to the Pont D Espagne.  It’s awesome and some lovely waterfalls and scenery.  Reality about Franska creeps in when we see a tree with claw marks 7ft up and the bark stripped.  (Gulp)

 

Gavarnie

Sometimes you see things that truly take your breath away and as we approach Gavarnie the Cirque truly does this to us both.  I’m not usually easily impressed but this feature of the Pyrenees truly is the most awesome and beautiful thing I have ever seen.

 

We head up to the top Aire and end up on our own in what can only be described as the most picturesque camping stop we have ever been on

 

We head off back the village park the bike and set off to the cirque.  It’s fantastic but quite a walk.  I go about a mile before letting Michelle continue on her own.

 

It’s pointless trying to explain in words or photographs the scale of the whole thing.  There are 17 peaks, some topping 10000ft.

 

I hobble back to the village and on the way back nearly tread on a snake.  I’m that busy looking up that when I look down I am literally a foot away from stepping on what look s to be a small viper / adder of some description.

 

We go back to the café for Crepes and a drink then head off back up the mountain to Hank the Tank!!!

 

All we could find in the little shop for me to Drink is some rather ominous looking strong beer.  So I buy 6 half litre cans of the 8% rocket fuel lager and go back and promise I will try and make shandy out of it.

 

I sit with a beer in what I would have deemed as the 10 out of 10 wild camping nivarna spot I have been endlessly seeking except I don’t think it can count as officially even though there are no signs it is still an Aire.  So the quest will continue.

 

It’s one of those perfect days and evenings.  I get my guitar out and as there is nobody nearby make a right old racket.  The beer is ok and we eat spag bol and frites!

 

When it gets dark the moon is so bright you can hardly stare at it

 

In the morning I decide to investigate what’s at the top above us.  I know there is a ski resort up there so take off on pig.  It’s a long way up and it just keeps going, hair pin after hair pin. Ffantastic!  At the top the road suddenly turns to a ski run and it’s just snow from there on in.  I must be over 7000ft and Spain is just over the top but I can go no further without attaching skis to Pig.

 

I fly back down the hill and come across a great big Marmot crossing the road.  I stop and there are 2 more in the grass nearby.  Typically I didn’t bring the camera.  The Marmot is basically a cross between a giant shaggy squirrel and a beaver to look at.  The first one is huge.  At least 2ft long with a tail and a lovely shaggy furry coat.  They tweet warnings at each other or at me I can’t tell.  I move on and encounter another one that runs up the road in front of me.

 

Later in the day I take Michelle up.  We can now hear them tweeting near the van but can’t see any.  On the way up one dashes right out in front of us and I nearly squash him although I reckon he would have been big enough to cause us to come off!

 

On the way back we see more Marmots and this time we manage to take some photos.

 

Another day we bike all the way up to the Cirque D’ Tromouse and Cirque D’ Estaube.  The Latter being closed to vehicles so we ride on up to the Tromouse.  It’s fantastic and although bigger than Gavarnie I think Gavarnie is still more impressive.  The highest mountain in the Pyrenees is here 3355 Metres, Mont Purdu (over 11000ft).  The ride up from Gedre is about 8 miles or so and it’s just up and up and up.   Marmots are everywhere up here.

 

It’s been a magical visit to this area.  We have practically had Gavarnie to ourselves.   The weather has been perfect.  Sadly eventually it’s time to move on further west where we will eventually land in Biarritz on the Atlantic coast.

 

Biarritz and the Atlantic

We head further west towards Biarritz and the Atlantic taking in St Jean Pied De Port and Espelet which are in the Basque regions.  Unfortunately the weather turns and it’s all a bit of a wash out.

 

Eventually we hit the coast and Biarritz.  The Aire is a quite busy and noisy and ten euros!  We immediately wish we were back in the mountains but unlike last year we have taken our time and I think we have done justice to the Pyrenees.  An unforgettable adventure.

 

We expect not to like Biarritz but it’s actually quite nice.  There is a real party atmosphere here.  There is some big rugby match going on and we keep seeing this truck with a bloke dressed up as a Red Indian and music playing.  The town folk keep coming out to dance and join in.  It’s really good fun.  We get stuck behind the van though on the way back to the Aire.

 

We manage a trip to San Sebastian in Spain to buy cigarettes mainly.  We spend just a day there and decide to head back up to Biarritz area in France but to a different quieter Aire. 

 

On the way back we visit St Jean De Luz which is a lovely resort just south of Biarritz.

 

The Lot

 

After a few days we decide to head north east up to the Garonne and Lot region (not far from the Dordogne)

There are some great Aires on the way but the weather is a bit changeable again and we get caught out on the bike in torrential rain which actually hurts.

Eventually it changes and we end up on the River Lot at St Sylvester Sur Lot.  There is a hill top village that we want to visit so we leave the van on the car park overlooking the river and head off for a couple of hours on the bike.  When we return the empty car park is now full as Frances biggest Boules tournament has started right near to where we are parked and the van is hemmed in.  Nobody gives us a second glance but there is no way we are getting out.  So we  open a bottle or two and watch the game.  Eventually it’s all over and the all clear off and we are on our own again.  We spend the night though.

We spend a good few days touring further up the Lot valley taking in Cahors, St Cirq Lapopie and Bouzies which are all splendid.  The market at Cahors is superb and we stock up on all sorts of goodies.

Eventually we end up back at Rocamadour and on the same little campsite as before.  Its busier now and has gone up a couple of quid and the wifi is no longer free!  Shocking.

One of the reasons for going back is Michelle wanted to visit the Gouffre De Padirac last time and we never got round to it.  The Gouffre De Padirac is a network of underground tunnels, rivers and caverns near to Rocamadour.

We are so glad we made the effort as its breathtaking and an absolute must do if your nearby.

This is one of the most awesome trips of the adventure!  We take the lift most of the way down but then continue down 150 steps deep into the caverns.  After a while we come to some boats where we continue by underground river for perhaps half a mile.  Its stunning and the best is yet to come.

Once we continue on foot we come to a cavern some 100 metres high with a stalactite that’s 60metres in length.  All this was discovered in the 19th century by Martel.  There are a further 40km of underground caverns and rivers which finally empty into the Dordogne.

There are another 150 steps up to the caverns but I make it ok.  And then we continue back on the boats and steps to the main entrance. 

A Very worthwhile visit.

 

Brittany, Normandy and home

We decide that we would like to revisit Brittany and Normandy again.  So over the next couple of days we work our way up to The Golfe De Morbihan in southern Brittany.  It doesn’t disappoint as nowhere in Brittany ever does .

There are some lovely places to explore.  Superb beaches and the town of Arzon is lovely so we stay there for a few days.

We manage to come across a festival with traditional Bretagne dancing.  It’s all a bit strange but we stay a while and watch just so we don’t look rude.

Eventually we hop across to the north coast to visit some new places and re-visit a few old haunts.  We find a new superb wild spot on the river Rance near Dinan and of course revisit Mont St Michel.

After Brittany we end up at the Landing beaches in Normandy and visit some of the places we didn’t last year including the American Cemetery which also has an excellent (and free) museum.  We spend an afternoon there.  I don’t think any visit to France would be complete without some kind of pilgrimage to honour those that gave their lives for our freedom.

Again all good things must come to an end.   We work our way up the coast towards the Cap Griz Blanc area taking in Honfleur on the way before once again heading back to Blighty.

A fantastic two month trip but over far too quickly.  Where next I wonder.

 

 
 

La Roque Gageac

Sarlat

 
Rickety French barn.  For some reason I love them
 
Rocamadour 
 
Rocamadour
 
Hank on the Aire at Latour Bas Elne 
 
Hank near the Spanish border
 

View from the top near the castle

View of Duilhac Sous Peyrepertuse.  The vans down there somewhere.

Lourdes 
 
Queueing to be healed in Lourdes
 
More queueing
 
View from the Basilica at Lourdes
 
Aire at Cauterets
 
Cauterets below from the cable car
 
Ski Slopes
 
Pont d'Espagne (Bridge of Spain)
 
Our private Aire at Gavarnie
 
Cirque Du Gavarnie 
 
Ran out of road 
 
Franska?  
 
Alan and Roger 
 
More mountains 
 
Chillis Hanging in Basque country
 
Biarittz Madness
 
Lovely Aire on the Garonne 
 
We were hemmed in here 
 
Cirq Lapopie
 
Gouffre De Padirac
 
Gouffre De Padirac
 
Brentagne Dancing, Riveting.
 
Arzon